Simulation and Stimulation: How We Imagine Ourselves part 7

Yesterday we looked at Madan Sarup’s notions around identity. Some of that work overlaps with the work of French social critic and lapsed sociologist Jean Baudrillard.  In order to properly receive Baudrillard’s perspective – and address how it relates to contemporary conceptions of identity and belonging – a little background is appropriate. Sarup explains:

Our identities are influenced, among other things, by what we consume, what we wear, the commodities that we buy, what we see and read, how we conceive our sexuality, what we think of society and the changes we believe it is undergoing.[1]

In Baudrillard’s view “identity is increasingly dependant upon images” and this leads to replication, imitation and simulation.  This is marked off in four stages:

  1. the first is faithful copies,
  2. the second is a perversion of reality,
  3. the third is an absence of profound reality (but where there is a pretension to a faithful copy),
  4. the final stage is pure simulation.[2]

This is the concept of simulacra - which is composed of all “references with no referents, a hyperreality.”[3]
Baudrillard is very clear in his description:

Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.

This is an intimidating turn for an address of social conception of identity and community. Long held markers of tribe or clan are dissolved. More modern boundaries or nation or even imagined community seem far off. Contemporary indicators – even those up for review – like ‘race’, gender and ethnicity are compromised and suspect within this simulated context.

In a hyper-real environment, both memory and identity are illusive. Sarup says that: “Identity is contradictory and fractured. Identity in postmodern thought is not a thing; the self is necessarily incomplete, unfinished – it is ‘the subject in process’.”[4]  Recognizing the illusive nature of past identifiers is one thing. Preparing for the radically redefined and abstract nature of a consumer culture is quite another.

In previous generation addressing the means of production was a significant engagement. Now we are talking about a ‘vast system of production’ in which a consumer must invest large amounts of time and energy in order to orient themselves to new products and brands. Consumers “cannot avoid the obligation to consume” because consumption itself provided the “primary mode of social integration and the primary ethic and activity within the consumer society.”[5]money_and_god

Thus researching the products, earning the money to purchase them, mastering their use, and embracing the brand associated with them is a laborious task.

Branding and brand identification is a result of simulacra where icons, logos and images provide a proliferation of signs.[6] These signs provide indicators of identity and belonging in a new fashion with ‘hyper-reality’ where “images, spectacles, and the play of signs have replaced the logic of production and class conflict.”[7]

The collateral damage of this development is catastrophic. The devastation is not only to cultural elements of community and memory but physical and environmental realities. Umberto Eco elaborates:

The technological society is tending to become a society of used and useless objects, whereas in the countryside we see deforestation, abandonment of cultivation, pollution of water, atmosphere, and vegetation, the extinction of animal species and so on.[8]

The ripples of implications effect everything from sex and sexuality as a commodity to politics –which Baudrillard equates to advertising, publicity, sports, fashion and special effects.[9]

It is spectacle, stimulation, and simulation.

Our emerging context is filled with simulacra and the hyper-real. Constructing notions of social identity and community belonging is only going to become more difficult and more elusive.

Tomorrow we wrap up the series with ‘Body and Embodied’. 


[1] Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World, 105.

[2] Jesse Russell and Ronald Cohn, Simulacra and Simulation (Book on Demand, 2012), 6.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World, 47.

[5] Ibid., 107.

[6] Baudrillard follows the work of Marshall McLuhan closely here.

[7] Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World, 111.

[8] Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990), 78.

[9] Sarup, Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World, 116.

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It’s Not Miley That I Am Worried About

If you saw the VMA award’s show on Sunday night you will know what I am writing about. Miley Cyrus stages her best impression of Madonna  – who (by the way) was the top earning female performer last year over Gaga and Katy Perry – for the broadcast. Miley VMA

But that is not the point … at least not initially.

My concern is about my pre-teen and teenaged girls who watch her and imitate what she does.

 

There is plenty of conversation out there about the effect that her antics might have on emerging generations. I get that.

My concern is not generated from a holiness, pietistic or modesty-oriented perspective. I am under the impression that we need to address female sexuality with a 21st century ethic that is free from the bonds of “who gives this women to married this day” morality standards of patriarchal repressive ‘Leave It To Beaver’ era domesticity.

My concern is much deeper. I am concerned with young women – who I know by name – and what they picture when they think of ‘female’ and ‘sexuality’. 

Unfortunately, none of them have read Baudrillard. More telling, none of them probably know who Andy Warhol is. Which is a shame because even more than ‘Reviving Ophelia’ (of which they also have no awareness) they are impacted so deeply by the issues that Baudrillard addresses.

In Baudrillard’s view “identity is increasingly dependant upon images” and this leads to replication, imitation and simulation.  This is marked off in four stages:

  1. the first is faithful copies
  2. the second is a perversion of reality
  3. the third is an absence of profound reality (but where there is a pretension to a faithful copy)
  4. and the final stage is pure simulation.

This is the concept of simulacra - which is composed of all “references with no referents, a hyperreality.”

Simulacra and Simulation explains:

Simulation, Baudrillard claims, is the current stage of the simulacrum: All is composed of references with no referents, a hyperreality. Progressing historically from the Renaissance, in which the dominant simulacrum was in the form of the counterfeit—mostly people or objects appearing to stand for a real referent (for instance, royalty, nobility, holiness, etc.) that does not exist, in other words, in the spirit of pretense, in dissimulating others that a person or a thing does not really “have it”—to the industrial revolution, in which the dominant simulacrum is the product, the series, which can be propagated on an endless production line; and finally to current times, in which the dominant simulacrum is the model, which by its nature already stands for endless reproducibility, and is itself already reproduced.

In other words – the original has been reproduced so many times (simulation) that the concept itself has been corrupted and the reproductions are increasingly corrupted to the point that the original is almost unrecognizable.

And the further this continues, the less reality is contained in the imitations. They become references to references and, at some point, become copies of copies which have no intrinsic value within themselves.

Miley Cyrus’ performance is, therefore, not the end of the line.

It is the penultimate in a long line of reproductions. 

 

I am not concerned with Miley’s performance Sunday night. It was simply a poor imitation of a real mold. What I am concerned with is those who might imitate her poor impression. This is the clear cross-over from simulation to Simulacra and hyper-reality.

I’m not concerned with Miley’s performance or her fame (even a simulation of  a Madonna-like performance in order to access her level of fame).  I am concerned with those pre-teen and teenage girls who want to be famous (first and foremost) and who think they need to be imitate that behavior (simulate) in order to do so (stimulate).

I am not concerned with Miley’s or Madonna’s sexuality. That is what it is.  I will even say that the latter is specimen and the former is a simulation. What I am concerned with the Simulacra that is to follow.

 

2 quick notes:  

1) I know that some people hate Wikipedia links but for the audience I am most concerned with, it is the accessible.
2) I know that there is a whole conversation to be had about reproduction in art. We will do that some other time. 

 

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Privilege is not Racism, Sexism or Oppression: a proposal

If you have been following the blog-o-sphere or twitter-verse this past 2 weeks, then you will know that race, gender, sexuality and social location have been quite contentious issues. Boy at Cockflight_3

It just so happens that I have been far out of the loop as I have been on hiatus while renovating my parents house – so I have watched all of this from a safe distance. 

I was asked last week to write something regarding the issue. After reading every possible link, blog and tweet that I could, I have decided to forego commenting on the events themselves – for reasons contained in this post – and instead put forward a constructive proposal for going forward. 

 

In order to accomplish the desired conversation, I first need to clarify a couple of things:

  1. Next year I will attempt write a dissertation within the discipline of practical theology which addresses the issue of White privilege.
  2. This post is only reporting a distinction that I will employ in my work.
  3. I am not telling anyone else what to do, what words to use – nor am I attempting to limit others or re-define the terms or ground rules for engagement.

 

Two Fatal Flaws: 

The conversation around issues of Race-Gender-Class and Identity Politics usually breaks down and becomes unfruitful due to two fatal flaws in how the conversation is framed.

  • The first flaw is the use of either-or binaries and dualism that are too limiting and not nearly complex enough to accurately reflect the reality of the issue that attempting to address.
  • The second flaw is the sloppy mixing of words and categories without clear distinction.

 

Here is an example of each:

I am a person of privilege in almost every category. That privilege allows me to benefit from systems that oppress, hurt, and marginalize people. Does that mean that I am an oppressor? In the current binary configuration, I am not oppressed so I must be an oppressor.  We have seen all too well how this line of reasoning goes. 

As a white person, I am located in a place of racial privilege. Does that make me a racist? While I benefit from systemic racism, I am not consciously attempting to participate in or reinforce the prevailing racist structures… in fact, I may even be attempting to undermine them and confront them.

 

A Change: 

I would like to see us move away from either-or options based on limited binaries and make a move toward multiplicity that more accurately reflects the complexity of the situation. This would be done by first adding a third category – then and here is the big one – by distinguishing within each of those at least 2 postures: active and passive.

We would then have
A) Privilege
B) Racism/Sexism
C) Oppression/Marginalization

AND each of those would be clarified by a passive or active posture/participation.

 

You could then have someone who is in a place of racial privilege who is passively (and possibly ignorantly) benefiting from the privilege without 1) being very aware of it 2) actively contributing to the marginalization or oppression of another group – and certainly not being overtly racist.

In this configuration we could distinguish between those who are active and those who are passive in their privilege – active and passive in the racist/sexist structures – and active passive in the marginalization/ oppression that results.

These seem to be important distinctions that prevent the oppressed-oppressor either-or binary that is so prevalent in Identity Politics but which is so alienating and confusing to those who have yet to confront/consider issues of Race-Gender-Class in this way.

 

Definitions: 

I am utilizing concepts from ‘Race, Class, and Gender in the United States’ by Paula S. Rothenberg. The two major distinctions that I am interacting with come from Peggy McIntosh and Beverly Daniels Tatum respectively.

Peggy McIntosh on White privilege:

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

This privilege, as Brekke El (@WrdsandFlsh on twitter) points out, “Privilege in America is BUILT on institutions of racism, sexism & oppression”.

Beverly Daniels Tatum distinguishes between active and passive racism:

… All White people, intentionally or unintentionally, do benefit from racism. (A Klan member or the name calling Archie Bunker are) images (that) represent what might be called active racism, blatant, intentional acts of racial bigotry and discrimination. Passive racism is more subtle and can be seen in the collusion of laughing when a racist joke is told, of letting exclusionary hiring practices go unchallenged, of accepting as appropriate the omissions of people of color from the curriculum, and of avoiding difficult race-related issues.
Because racism is so ingrained in the fabric of America institutions, it is easily self-perpetuating. All that is required to maintain it is business as usual.

 

Here is why I am taking this approach: 

These issues are far too important to resign ourselves to the round-and-round in-house binaries of generations past that have not delivered the desired results and have not initiated those in places of power/privilege into constructive examinations of the systems and structures that benefit them.

These issues would seem to be matters that people of faith would be more interested in than the culture as a whole (due to the nature of the material) but which seem to have largely the opposite reaction in a sizable portion of that population.

We need to alter the way in which the conversation is framed if we want to both affect different outcomes than have already been achieved OR if we want to involve ever-increasing amounts of people in expanding rings of influence.

 

Again, I am not trying to tell anyone else what to do – I am in no place to do so. I am only attempting to share a distinction that I will be utilizing in my future project in the hopes that others might find it equally useful. 

 

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Beauty, Bodies and Blunders

President Obama got in some hot water for a compliment he paid California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He said:

You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It’s true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. [via The Los Angeles Times]

A remark like that is never going to go over well. It was just one sentence but we could talk for days about it!

I know that I am an odd bird in that I often see the silver lining in things that other people think are really bad – like taking the Lord’s name in vain. I like that people do it. It means that the name of God still carries some gravity. No one is cursing Thor when they smash their thumb with a hammer. No one is blaspheming Zeus when they get cut off in traffic. Anyway …

I was happy to see the outrage and level of outcry over the President’s remarks. I love when stuff like this happens outside the walls of the church and I think to myself “Ok, it’s not just us that are sensitive, reactive and protest-ant. Good, I was starting to worry”.

You have to forgive me. I come from a very muscular – testosterone – ‘Wild at Heart’ brand of Christianity. In the last decade I have migrated to a progressive – critical theory – ‘She Who Is’ brand of faith.

The thing that has been most difficult for me is to figure out what to do with the body. 

As a contextual theologian and an Ancient-Future practitioner, I am deeply concerned with issues of incarnation and embodiment of the gospel. Our faith can not be merely intellectual, super-natural or institutional. Our faith must embodied, or in-bodied and lived-out. 

I have figured out, through 6 years of blogging, how to talk with conservative, evangelical, and charismatic Christians about almost everything  related to faith and practice in ways that they can hear. The issues of sexuality remain the most illusive.

The problem seems to relate to a giant pot-hole in the road to understanding that is so treacherous it almost doesn’t leave enough room to move without careening into the pit of ‘natural design’.

What complicates matter all the more is that there is a serious ditch on the other side of the road – one that was dug by Augustine’s legacy  (I hate Augustine’s influence on church history) regarding the badness of the body, a specifically sexuality.

Here then is the issue: If I am talking about somebody and I’m listing all of that they bring to the table in areas of smarts, relationship, experience, and capacity … am I to act like they don’t have a flesh container? It asks me to act like they have no body.

Yes. That is what we want you to do.  Jonathan Chait at New York explains:

For those who don’t see the problem here, the degree to which women are judged by their appearance remains an important hurdle to gender equality in the workforce. Women have a hard time being judged purely on their merits. Discussing their appearance in the context of evaluating their job performance makes it worse. It’s not a compliment. And for a president who has become a cultural model for many of his supporters in so many other ways, the example he’s setting here is disgraceful. [New York]

Even while I write this I can hear my more conservative Christian brothers saying “That is ridiculous! This is the sissy-fication of our culture.”  To which I can only reply,”Yes. It is the leveling of a historically unequal playing field.” obamakamala1_1365167806

I get why culturally, we don’t want the President even acknowledging her flesh container at all. We don’t want pastors commenting on congregant’s looks. I get it.

But as thinking christians, is anyone else worried about the implications for this kind of willful charade? Do we think that President Obama doesn’t see her? Are we under the impression that he doesn’t notice her beauty? Do we think that she, in her private moments, doesn’t want to be found attractive? Do we think that she doesn’t invest time and energy in her looks?

“It doesn’t matter! Just don’t say it. Not ever ever ever.”  And I get that. What I am asking about is the ramifications for the embodied practices of the life of faith. What we have learned from church history  (and reality TV)- from fundamentalist pastor’s daughters to celibate priests – is that repression of desires in one place (public) is bound to cause pressure which bubbles up some place else (private).

We have to break the ‘old boys network’ mentality. I get that. I am worried about the secondary effect of perpetuating a deadly dualism between body and mind/soul.

I clearly need help thinking this through. Anyone want to chime in on this? 

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Rob Bell is Gay Affirming but not everyone is happy about it

Rob Bell, among others, has come out as open to Same Sex Marriage (SSM) - but not everyone is on-board with it. SquareDesign_ver1

David Fitch (with a Canadian connection) posted this:

Who is Rob Bell speaking for/to in affirming gay marriage? His (former) church? Christians at large? The press? Culture observers? Gay Christians (in Grace Church SF)? Why or who should be paying attention to him? and Why?

More and more I’m seeing Christian leaders who have no congregation/people they’re accountable to (who yet carry media/publishing driven leadership) create division with pronouncements. This results in damage to the church’s wherewithal for witness in a world that sees all this. I don’t know if Rob Bell is to blame (for the media) but I do think we Christians should not encourage this nonsense. (On the other hand, I can listen to the Pope differently because he stands within 2000 years of a tradition so that he cannot make statements without being accountable to it).

When we listen to a Christian leader we should first and foremost look at place of ministry/accountability from which he/she speaks. What say you? agree?

Jason Postma (another Canadian connection)  added this:

Newsflash: Neither is Rob Bell is not the first Christian to “come out” in support of marriage equality nor is he single-handedly destroying the Church in sharing his opinion.
I would go as so far as to say that the culture-warrior saber rattling in response to Bell is more divisive than anything else precisely because it serves to marshal support and draw lines in the sand, none of which is helpful for unity or for opening the possibility for a charitable discussion.

I should point out that Postma added many bold posts including:

Question: when did support for marriage equality become a theology boundary that could not be crossed when there remains a robust theological pluralism on things that are central to the faith, like, I don’t know, the atonement, justification, ecclesiology, etc.?

Here is my thought on the issue: 

It can be difficult as a local church pastor to speak out on a very controversial issues.

  • You feel the weight of your congregation’s expectations.
  • You feel a responsibility to your denomination/ ordaining body.
  • You feel the pastoral/shepherding responsibility to your community.

Those 3 things weigh heavily on you. SO when you are in the pulpit/in the employment of a local congregation – you might not feel all that free to share where you are on any given issue.

Rob Bell, then, being independent of his official responsibilities and obligations, is free to say what he really thinks – and by doing so – to further the cultural conversation in a way that helps those of us who are currently employed at churches within denominations that may not allow us (at the current time) to say such things.

I, for one, am glad that Rob Bell came out as affirming.

No – he is not employed at local congregation any more.  But that should not disqualify him from weighing in on the matter.

In fact, his willingness to do so may be the exact opportunity that some of us who have:
A) a smaller spotlight and
B) responsibilities at a local church
to speak up for something that we have deep convictions about but don’t want to assume our entire congregations are with us is.

What do you think? 
Is Rob out-of-line as a out-of-work minister?
How do we give voice to issues that our congregations may not be 100% with us? 

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Day 12: The Voice of God in Others

I have always been haunted by the insight that: Neighbors & Wisemen

“The voice of God is often found in the mouth of a friend”.

I need so much grace. I require so much help in the things of life. I need others … and I don’t always like that.

I am blogging my way through Neighbors and Wisemen for Lent. I was suddenly without a computer on my weekend retreat so I apologize for the delay on this post.  

Tony tells the story of a man who was very different from him in chapter 12. This many was from a different region of the country. He had a different skin color, had walked a different road, and lived a different life than Tony. He struggled with different things and experienced the world in a different way.

He, like the woman in the previous chapter, had something to teach Tony. These things are often hard to hear and even tougher to receive. There is often a translation that is needed.

Too often the burden of translation falls to the one doing the speaking. The responsibility to ‘say it in a way the other person can hear’.  I get the most of the time.

There are other times, however, when the energy of translating falls to the one who needs to hear so badly.

The problem is that we often don’t recognize that it is us who are in such a need. It is a deadly little dance of dullness and deafness.

This past weekend I was spending time with a church community who is not from my area. They are not of my same tradition. They are a diverse community – economically, educationally, and generationally.

How do we hear from people who are a different age, color, and tradition than us?

Why is it so hard to listen and receive from those whose experience is so different from yours? When there is a gap in age, experience, education, economics, and so many other variables … why is that so hard to bridge sometimes?

Why is it so difficult to bridge that gap and  to hear the word of the Lord in the mouth of someone else … especially when we need it so badly?

I would love to hear your thoughts. 

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Is the Internet for Women and Gays?

“Is the internet for women and gays?” may seem like at odd question at first – but there is a story behind it. I am coming at the question as a researcher.  I am doing research design at UCLA right now in preparation for my dissertation next year. One of the research questions is in relation to technology, the community of users interacts with the technology, and possible issues related to who conceived of and  designed the technology. recycle-resized-600

An interesting case study is found in the Grindr social network community.  Grindr is a widely popular mobile, GPS-enabled hook-up app for gays. The folks at Grindr  had the idea to launch a ‘straight’ version called Blendr, and it has been massive failure. [You can read about why it failed here and here and here ]

One of the theories is that Grindr was conceived of and designed by gays. A hypothesis we were testing is that embedded in the ‘DNA’ of the technology was something inherently ‘gay’ that resonated with its users but was lost in translation when the conversion to Blendr was attempted.

During this research I have also become aware of a growing problem of cyber-bullying, particularly of women and LBGT persons. It shows up on Facebook, Xbox chat rooms during multi-player games, and blogs.

One article about women bloggers contained two different women’s experience.

“The death threat was pretty scary,” says HollaBack! cofounder Emily May. “And there have been several rape threats. But it’s mostly ‘I want to rape you’ or ‘Somebody should rape you.’ Most are not physical threats–they’re more about how ugly I am, how nobody would bother raping me because I’m so fat and hideous. Once, after reading all these posts, I just sat in my living room and bawled like a 12-year-old.”

Jennifer Pozner agrees. “Very rarely have I gotten negative feedback that doesn’t include either a rape threat or calling me ugly and fat. Or sometimes they tell me I’m hot, but they hate what I’m saying– they’d rather watch me on TV with the mute on.” Pozner’s threats have not been limited to online: One man left a letter at her door saying he’d “find you and your mom and rape you both.”

Ponzer says “It’s about the policing of women … using threats to keep us silent.”

It is clear that many of the same oppressive behaviors, patriarchal attitudes and hurtful rhetoric that plague us in the ‘real world’ show up in cyberspace. Is a matter for concern? Is this a surprising reality? Does this need to be addressed?

The question “Is the internet for women and gays?” seems to have 3 initial answers that each expose some significant underlying assumptions.

  • The first possible answer is “Of course it is! In fact, it is a powerful leveler of the social hierarchies and power structures that dominate our inherited cultural history” . The internet is seen to be a democratic space that allows for harmful elements to be exposed and for the community to vocalize and govern in ways that are newly empowering. It allows us the possibility to combat bullies and shame those who are hurtful to others.
  • The second possible answer relates to the idea that embedded in the DNA of technology  are the values and priorities (as well a biases) of it’s designer. In this case, it would make sense that many of the same problems in Western culture are carried over into the technologies that are conceived of and designed by folks from the culture. It is the same shit by different means. Same prejudice – different medium.
  • A third possible answer is that technology is an empty vessel when it comes to values and we, as users, supply it with meaning and content. So a message board, Facebook page, blog and XBox chat room are just spaces that we utilize. They are neutral and can be used in socially positive (welcoming) or negative (aggressive or discriminatory) ways.

 

Why am I concerned about this? 

This issues concerns me in two ways:

1) I am deeply troubled to read of women bloggers being threatened and intimidated – even virtually. I am concerned about stories I hear from the girls in my youth group about their Facebook experiences. My wife has worked in both Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Counseling while I have been in youth ministry. Issues related intimidation, violence and  oppression-suppression are serious and deeply impact the quality of someone’s life, their mental and emotional health and their capacity to participate in family, church and society.

2) Technology seems to be a good test case for a much larger concern that I have regarding leadership and community development in the next generation. This particular issue gives me great hesitation about getting too excited regarding this potential new era of open-mindedness, equality, acceptance and freedom.  The issue is simply this:
We who have been trained, groomed, shaped, and socialized into the old forms – bring with us into the new forms, our patterns, values, ideas, permissions and prejudices. 

It’s like whenever someone complains about a perceived shortcoming in the Emerging Church, I find myself saying

“yes … but part of that has to do with that which we are emerging from. These are inherited patterns because we are all embedded in systems that contain inherent values. It will take a while to entirely emerge out of that.”

To take this back to our initial question about technology. Technology isn’t the solution to the problems that haunt us. They may be helpful for bringing about the solution – but simply have an open room – Facebook, Xbox chat or blog – is not a fix in itself. The prejudices and issues of power that are ‘outside’ the room are brought in with the people who come in to use the space.

This seems to me to be an import issue to vocalize. My hope is that in simply naming it to raise awareness that technology is not inherently neutral, safe, or equal. There is more going on in our use of Facebook, Xbox chats and blogs than just our use of those technologies. They are not absent of the values, patterns, prejudices and social power dynamics of the world and culture that made them.

We need to be vigilant to address hurtful and harmful material in our technologies. Technology is not neutral – it is embedded with meaning and value.

 

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The Silent White Guy and Invisible Black Women

A record number of people read the post yesterday “Beyonce and the Bigger Question”. I want to thank everyone who commented on the blog, FaceBook and Twitter for making the conversation so fruitful and constructive.  It is a difficult question and we certainly have an issue with race in our society. beyonce-super-bowl1

I am also glad that people seemed to like the idea of Critical Theory and the structure of the questions that I put forward.

 I did notice 2 places where the conversation trickled to an drip. 

  • One is the issue of what white guys are allowed to talk about.
  • Two is the way to talk about the role of black women in our society without picking on Beyonce.

Let me give those some background:

My friend Hollie Baker-Lutz tweeted yesterday a sentiment that I hear quite frequently

“Uh oh, overheard in the university cafe: “and I can’t say anything in that class cuz I’m a white male, which is the worst thing u can be.”

I get this all the time from guys young and old alike.  I think something may be missing from that equation however.
Here are two things it would be helpful to add to the mix:

  1. an acknowledgement that the world is changing.
  2. a familiarity of the word hegemony.

If you add those 2 things, it has been my experience that people are generally open to hear what you have to say. People are quite interested.

What they are not interested in is the hegemonic refrain.  See, here is the problem: because that is the dominant cultural narrative … they have already heard it. They know it well. They may know it better than you because they have had to deal with it –  whereas you have only assumed it and benefited uncritically from it.

 

The second issue came from my friend Janisha when she wrote in response to yesterday’s post:

I appreciate your article and your attempt to think deeply. I don’t think anyone except for black women can truly determine what are primary and secondary issues.
The place of black women in society as a primary issue has with it endless complications, including “taking back one’s physicality in the face of generations of oppression and marginalization.”
My place in this culture is directly linked to taking back my physicality, because my black womanhood is my physicality. They aren’t different. they cannot be separated. I will argue again, that this conversation is difficult to have unless you are a black woman, because who else can fully understand the implications of Beyonce?

MP responded: 

I get what you (Janisha) are saying about the black woman conversation and I don’t want to butt into it, white man that I am. But that conversation would be about actual black womanhood, whereas this one is about public spectacle, one created and much enjoyed by white men. So there’s a white man conversation to be had about why we (white men) have created a category of “black women” who occupy this particular place in our spectacle. 

… Bo, I wonder how to tackle the issue of “what place black women hold in our culture” without picking apart actual cases like Beyonce’s half-time show??

 

MP makes 2 excellent points!  

The first situation I would compare to ‘reader response’ approaches to text. We have the author-text-reader.
In this case we have Beyonce-Performance-Viewer.

So each of us viewers is related to the performance differently so ‘white men’ and ‘black women’ may be relating to the performance differently.

In the second I just think that we need to be VERY clear the difference between an example and an anecdote.  Focusing in one example can be illustrative or it can be problematic.

I would hesitate to use this performance by Beyonce as an example – she is not the only one who dances like this. Lots of performers do. Also white women (like Christina and Britney) do.   So it is not unprecedented.

NFL Cheerleading squads do many of the same moves in much the same outfits … the difference is that
A) they don’t have a microphone  and
B) we don’t know their name.

Which is a HUGE difference.
If we want to talk about male sexuality and football we should have the Cheerleader conversation. That is every team – every week.  Women walking

If we want to have the ‘place that black women hold in our society’ conversation, then we would ask a different set of questions. Like ‘where were the other black women during the 5 hour broadcast of America’s largest TV event of the year?’  Since it is a commercial event … maybe we would even take a look at the commercials and ask how black women were represented.

Either way – isolating the one performance by Beyonce is not our best starting point.

 

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Beyoncé and the Bigger Question

Pepsi Super Bowl XLVII Halftime ShowIt is with great interest that I have read the blowback over the Beyoncé SuperBowl Half-Time Show. I have read several interesting articles – both in support and in criticism – of the spectacle.

I get why people want to talk about her outfit, her moves, and her assembled cast of all females – about modesty, sexuality, and female empowerment. I get why those are conversation points.

What is becoming a trend, however, is that I have little interest in that conversation – not until we have a more significant conversation first.

I think that it is time I lay all my cards on the table.

While I was in seminary, my mentor Randy Woodley, showed me how to look at bigger systems and structures than I was used to. I have continued down that road and during my time at Claremont have been in dialogue with a school of thought called ‘Critical Theory’.

Critical Theory has taught me to ask 3 initial questions in order to examine an issue:

  1. Is there a pattern visible?
  2. Is there something behind the main thing?
  3. Is there any issue of power differential?

The Critical part is that we are going beyond the initial perceptions, the popular approach and the cultural conversation. The Theory part is that we are going to see if we might offer an explanation about the deeper issue.

SO let’s ask our 3 questions about the SuperBowl Half-Time hullaballoo.

  • Is there a pattern visible?  

I would argue that there is. I noticed it just before kickoff – during the Nation Anthem to be specific. Alecia Keys was introduced, Jennifer Hudson had just sang with the kids from Sandy Hook … and I knew that Beyoncé was the halftime show.

I thought to myself:

“It’s odd that the only 3 black women involved in this TV spectacular are all singers.” Pam oliver

I noticed that CBS didn’t even have a black female sideline reporter like Pam Oliver (on FOX) for its NFL broadcasts. I watched the rest of the festivities – including all the military stuff – and was struck by the noticeable lack of black women associated with the event. Walter Payton’s daughter presented Jason Witten with the NFL Man of the Year award … but that was about it.  None of the coaches or commentators … not even many of the commercials involved black women.  This seemed significant since so many of the on-screen TV personalities, coaches and players are black.

 

  • Is there something behind the main thing? 

It is easy to see the answer to this one. The answer is consumerism. While the game itself is ‘the main event’ the commercial aspect of the SuperBowl has become at-least or almost as big. Commercials this year sold for a reported 4 million dollars a piece. Like the controversy we covered yesterday in the ‘So God Made a Farmer’, commercialism-capitalism-consumerism is the unspoken thing.

It might be hard to see in a short blog post like this but Beyoncé isn’t the telling controversy. The more telling one was the criticism of Alicia Keys’ soulful rendition of the national anthem. People criticized her not just for sitting at a piano (!) but for altering the tried and true version of the song.

In CT when something is assumed – even if unstated – as a dominant form, it is called hegemony. It is a type of power or influence that may or may not be overtly communicated. If one were to look at just the first half of the SuperBowl broadcast, it might be possible to say that the major narrative when it comes black women is twofold:

  • you can sing – we like that.
  • but make sure you do it our way. Don’t do anything too much or too … you know… that’s not why you are here.

 

  • Is there any issue of power differential?

This is the one that we never get around to talking about. Maybe it’s because we don’t know how to or don’t have frameworks for it.  There is a question that needs to be asked though: who decided that Jennifer Hudson, Alecia Keys and Beyoncé would sing? What did that committee look like?  Who are in those seats of power?

Did the group that decided who would sing look like Jennifer Hudson, Alecia Keys, and Beyoncé?

I don’t know, I’m asking an honest question. It’s the tough question that no one wants to ask. Who has the resources? Who has the influence? Who makes the decisions? Who sits in the seats of power?

 

Now you can see why I am not interested in talking about whether Beyoncé should have had more clothes on, should have gyrated less or is a model for taking back one’s physicality in the face of generations of oppression and marginalization. 

Those are all secondary conversations.

The primary conversation is about what place black women hold in our culture.

It is a much bigger conversation with much deeper consequences than if Beyonce’s hips and wardrobe were appropriate for a Half-Time show.

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Human Trafficking – Carlos J. Correa Bernier

Carlos J. Correa Bernier is Director of the Romero Center. He sits down with Deacon Stephen Keating to talk about human trafficking and issues related to the border. Go to www.theromerocenter.org for more information and to connect with their many programs and resources.

Centro Romero,located in San Ysidro, California, less than 20 minutes from the Mexican border city of Tijuana, is one of the Centers for Education and Social Transformation, a concept created at the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ  in 2005. The Daniel F. Romero Center for Border Ministries was envisioned as a Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ.

Stephen Keating blogged about his experience this summer (Hell On Earth: A Sex Trafficking Survivor’s Story) and it continues to daily be the most searched for blog of the year. He is on twitter as @stephenmk 

This episode is sponsored by Slave Free Earth – they are asking the deacons to join them in ending human trafficking and specifically sex slavery. Go to SlaveFreeEarth.com and join the 7 Community. Pledge to:

  • Pray 7 minutes a week
  • Give 7 dollars a month
  • Challenge 7 people a year to join

Send us the confirmation email of your joining and we will give you a shout out on the podcast – send up a question with that email and we will respond to it on the next TNT podcast.

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