Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Project Run-awry

On project runway this season, two contestants stood out for very different reasons. Mondo emerged as a season favorite, with his quirky designs and impeccable design work while Micheal Costello was bullied and looked down upon due to his lack of technical knowledge, despite making it to the final four. But aside from the world of design, the two castmates had some similar personal stories to share. Mondo revealed, in a touching episode about personal memories, that he was HIV positive and had been carrying that secret with him for a while. He discussed that he hid his status from his parents because he didn’t want to hurt or burden them with the knowledge and then shared his upbringing. He spoke of how, as a child, his parents had tried to make him more ‘machismo.’ I thought this was interesting, not simply because it was discussed in class, but because of the seemingly pervasiveness of this notion. In a society where we glorify and explicitly distinguish between masculine and female effects, any individual attempting to cross the peripheries of such boundaries faces confusion and even non-acceptance into society. The idea of ‘machismo’ is not simply a Mexican or Latino concept; rather, this idea of ‘machismo’ and playing up masculine (or feminine) traits extends to all societies to an extent and one of the largest barriers for homosexuals and individuals alike. Mondo continued and said how growing up in a Mexican Catholic family led to “different expectations” and how, as a teen, his parents tried to make him play baseball instead of piano. I can understand how culture- any culture, not simply Mexican, or Mexican-Catholic- can foster this sense of identity that excludes the idea of homosexuality or the notion of being different. Mondo ends with “You might doubt if you draw or paint, it might take a little while. But I’m happy.” It was comforting to see that despite personal turmoil, or perhaps due to that, Mondo was able to arrive at a place of comfort, acceptance and peace.

Likewise, Micheal Costello relates a similar story, speaking of unsupportive parents, how him being gay and working in the fashion industry has alienated his parents but in spite of that, he’s very proud of what he has achieved and how far he has come. Both their stories have a common thread of fear and lack of acceptance which stem from a variety of reasons- being gay, working in the fashion industry, HIV- but ultimately celebrate the very basic and universal idea of overcoming obstacles and loving oneself. The insecurities and fears both men revealed were abated and even celebrated when they were able to challenge normalcy and embody greatness.

Desperate for Culture

Recently on desperate housewives, Mexican american family Gabby and Carlos Solis discovered that their child Juanita was actually mistakenly switched at birth and their true biological child had been placed with another Mexican family. This story line has been one of the most interesting to me, not simply because of the sheer emotion and drama the situation has induced but also how it brings to light some interesting sides to the Solis family. The contrast between Gabby and Carlos Solis and Hector and his wife are striking; the new couple highlights the Mexican culture for the Solis family and the extent of its importance. In once scene, Gabby brings home groceries for a ‘Mexican’ oriented Thanksgiving dinner for Hector’s family and hers. The exchange between Gabby and her husband is worth noting.

Gabby: (rummaging through her grocieries) : tamales, frijoles, chorizo stuffing, jalepeno cornbread,...

Carlos asks : where are the cranberries sauce and yams?

Gabby: I wanted to make some of their favorite foods and since they’re used to their mexican dishes..

Carlos: That was very nice of you!

Gabby: I know...Now get to cooking!

Carlos: What??

Gabby: You’re the one who knows about mexican stuff! You roll your r’s, you call soccer “futbol”

Carlos: your mocking me because im proud of culture

Gabby: no im celebrating it..theres two bags of your culture right there! get cooking!

and later in the episode:

gabby: i made margaritas!

Carlos: she is very proud of her culture

This episode, among others, highlights Gabby’s disconnect with her Mexican heritage. This is contrasted with another Mexican couple, who appear to be very in tune with their Mexican background. I wonder, does culture become distilled with wealth? As people move into the higher, upper echelons of 'white' encrusted society, do the roots of culture become less visible and important? I don’t think so- the wealth and luxury of living clearly hasn’t effected Carlos’s attachment to his heritage. I believe that Gabby’s distance from her Mexican heritage has a lot to do with her heritage itself; in past seasons, we’ve learned that she came from a poorer family and that shes always dreamed of ‘making it big’ and escaping her situation; she wanted to very much be a part of that society where jewels, fame,wealth and grandeur were commonplace and jimmy choos were the token of exchange, not tamales. The distance with her culture that is visible on screen, i think, is rooted in personal and emotional conflict and it is that very turmoil she sees manifested in her biological child- a beautiful young girl, stuck in a poorer family, who longs for finer things. Gabby’s detachment from her culture is not necessarily a distaste for her Mexican upbringing but rather, a separation from her past and all things associated with it. It is for this reason that I don’t find her aloof superficiality or nonchalant generalizations about Mexican Culture offensive or demoralizing; rather, I find it a product of her own personal journey. When she very poignantly gives Grace an expensive necklace, it’s not materialism or a disregard for hollow and meaningless she is promoting; rather, it is a tangible part of her that she is giving without words. I just hope that through the course of the season, she can come more to terms with her heritage and past in ways that extend beyond Chanel and Prada.

Clandestine drafting of Arizona immigration law

A couple of weeks ago I found an investigation npr did not the Arizona immigration law that was passed through its state legislature in April of 2010. SB 1070 allows police authorities to stop and request at random, citizenship information/identification from anyone in public. The law encourages racial profiling and targets people of color specifically. If caught without proper paperwork of legal residency in the US, a person is liable to get arrested and be deported. This law raised quite a bit of controversy in the US. Recently, npr did an investigation and found that the private prison industry played a major role in the drafting and initiation of this bill. When I first read this article, I wondered what prisons might have to do with the bill. Apparently, Glenn Nichols, the city manager of a small town in Arizona was approached by two men from the private prison industry. They were selling a prison for immigrant/illegal women and children. They argued that per woman or child imprisoned, the town would be making a lot of money. Npr found that prison companies devised this plan to lock up illegal immigrants so they could make consistent profit off the prisoners. This plan was drafted into a bill and passed as a law. It was backed by many of the state’s officials who supported it on the grounds that it was a safety measure. The notion that a state can derive revenue from locking up illegal immigrants is not only racist but also sexist. Not only are all immigrant women, children and men threatened with deportation, they are also subject to serious racial profiling in public spaces. The private prison system is of course shady because it aims to make money off of prisoners. Its newest design is manipulative and interestingly, relies on illegal immigrants. While national dominant rhetoric often implicates illegal immigrants for plaguing the country, private prisons use the animosity towards immigrants to make money. Under the pretense of ‘safe neighborhood’ act, the bill passed through the Arizona legislature. What is extremely interesting is the profit motive behind locking innocent people up. The infringement of basic human right to privacy is evident because anyone of color is liable to be an illegal immigrant. That the private prison system and the state profit from the ‘safe neighborhood act’ is strengthened by the evidence npr collected.

Check out the story http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130833741
Also, check out the article http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130833741&sc=emaf

ANTM: Latina

I was watching TV when a commercial for "Next Top Model Latina" came on the screen. I decided to look it up to view a few of the auditions--now of course there are actual episodes. This is actually the tamest of the auditions I found.

The judges were rather harsh and focused much more on the racial appearance than the judges on the original ANTM. The judge in the middle was outright rude, telling some girls they overtweezed their eyebrows or their make up was too heavy (alluding to the "excess" theme we talked about in class). She even told one girl that she needed to wear a better bra and hinted that perhaps her butt was a little too big.

It seems interesting to me that this was one of the only girl's auditions shown in which the judges actually liked the candidate. Coincidentally, she was the one who seemed the least "Latina." As we read about in the American Images article, this girl had an olive complexion and a generic face that could pass as Latina or be ambiguous. She was also wearing the least showy clothing out of the other candidates, as most of them wore tight skirts and cleavage bearing shirts.

This show really reminded me of the article and what works for advertising, especially if you want to appeal to both the Latina and Anglo groups.

Empowerment Through Film: Maria Felix plays Juana Gallo

Maria Felix was a Mexican Film Actress and also one of the icons that came out of the Golden Age of Cinema in Mexico that lasted from 1935 to 1959. Although she never claimed to be a feminist she did a lot to empower women and to be idolized by feminists in Mexico and also Gay men. Many of her roles consisted of her being "La Doña"/The Boss and she rarely every played a part in which she was under the domination of any man. I loooooove Maria Felix! One of my favorite movies by her is Juana Gallo. Juana Gallo is about a legendary woman who played a big part in the Mexican Revolution. She was a strong fighter and led a group of men during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. This was significant because during this time, up until the 1930's there were laws that prohibited women from even moving out of their homes unless they married or turned 30 or so. This movie sends empowerment through film to women especially because of the fact that Juana Gallo's agency is clearly exercised when she decides to take a big part in the Mexican Revolution. When discussing disidentifications with Ivan a few weeks ago I thought of Juana Gallo and how she would fit into that whole picture. I think that many gay mexicans, aside from myself, can disidentify with Juana Gallo in the sense that the movie was probably not intended to attract gay men. But, none the less, gay men embraced the film because it completely goes against the norm that women are subservient to "macho" dominant men. I'm not sure if anyone would agree with me that this character, Juana Gallo, can be an icon that the gay mexican can disidentify with but I think it does.

Representations of Undocumented Immigrants: Sharon Angle vs. Under The Same Moon

Sharon Angle ran for Senate during these past November 2nd elections. Thankfully, she LOST. She followed a very common pattern of scapegoating, if you will, during a time of economic crisis when all resources seem to be "taken up" by undocumented immigrants who don't pay taxes. In a video she approved/sponsored undocumented mexican immigrants are villainized while a white couple and white children are victimized. The white characters in the ad are said to be "forced to live in fear" due to the presence of undocumented immigrants who "cross our borders to join gangs." The video is extremely problematic and it became even more so when Sharon Angle was confronted by a group of Mexican students at a school in Nevada, the state she was running for Senate in. When asked about the undocumented immigrants crossing the US-Mexico Border she said that she didn't even know if the people crossing the border in the commercial were Mexican. She claimed to not even know what Mexicans looked like. There is not one standard way to identify what a mexican "looks like" but the people depicted in the ad were for sure Latinos. All of the images of undocumented immigrants were of Men. I think this has to do with the fact that its more difficult to see a woman breaking the law, or of projecting an evil image while showing women. In this sense the commercial is gendered in such a way that more fear is supposed to be translated through the campaign ad. In my 2nd paper that I wrote for this class I discuss how these images of undocumented immigrants dehumanize those being portrayed because they show them in an extremely negative light. Under the Same Moon on the other hand, a movie released in 2008 about an undocumented mother and her child, does the exact opposite. It shows a more realistic view of what undocumented immigrants experience while living in the United States. What I found interesting about the film Under the Same Moon was that all of the white characters were "bad guys." This is exactly what critics pointed out in all the reviews that I read. They were extremely disturbed by it. It may be exaggerated but none the less its the same type of strategy that is used by the anti-immigrant community to make latino immigrants look like the "Bad guys." There is a ton of information out there that easily dismantles this so-called "Latino threat" by the undocumented community but these negative portrayals of undocumented immigrants are still taken in as truths.

Rupaul's Drag Race and Latin@ Queens

RuPaul's Drag Race, which airs on LOGO and logoonline.com is a combination of America's Next Top Model and Project Runway with contestants who are drag queens and female illusionists. I love this show. (As problematic as any beauty contest may be) So far there have been 2 seasons of this show and I could not help but notice something extremely disturbing about it. The ways in which the Puerto Rican Latinas have been treated because of their so-called "language skills."

For the finale of season 1, Nina Flowers and Bebe Zahara Benet were the two finalists. Both Bebe and Nina had accents but on was a French accent and the other was a Puerto Rican accent. Not once on the show was Bebe looked down upon because of her accent, yet that seemed to be the central focus when it came to Nina Flowers' air time and it is almost the main reason as to why she did not win the contest. According to Rupaul, "She would not be able to communicate well enough with her fan base." Her prediction was so weak and so wrong.

When the public was given the opportunity to use for their favorite Drag Queen, Nina Flowers won. Obviously, Nina's "language problem" was not really seen as an issue for the audience of the show. Nina Flowers lost the title becauuse she was not fluent in English. Spanish was her primary language. To keep this short, Jessica Wild in season 2 was also eliminated during episode 7 due to her "language skills." When Jessica Wild proposed her new book to be titled, "Dreams of a Golden Child" the cast members and judges laughed and asked if she was saying "golden shower" because they could not understand what she was saying. WTF. That is so not cool. That moment really upset me. Could they not see that they were humiliating one of the sweetest contestants on the show when she was not laughing at their comment. Poor Jessica Wild didn't even know what a Golden Shower was.

My point is this, as progressive and transgressive as Rupaul may claim to be, she is still perpetuating the notion of America being and "English Only" nation. She is the one in charge of picking the cast and season 3 (which will air this January 2011) has a contestant by the name of Yara Sofia. Yara Sofia is from Puerto Rico and has been part of the same dance club (club krash) where Jessica Wild and Nina Flowers came from. Given what has happened with both Jessica Wild and Nina Flowers it is very disappointing to already know that Yara Sofia will not win because she, just as Nina and Jessica, is not fluent in English. Why must Rupaul knowingly allow these girls to compete if she will not give them a chance to win? Many argue that at least Rupaul helps them in gaining exposure and thus leading to more successful drag careers. I beg to differ. To be content with exposure, while being denied an opportunity to win is almost like saying "Well, at least they're being represented, that should be more than enough." That is not right, its not fair, and its really disappointing to hear Rupaul, one of my great idols, to say these things.