It’s been merely a couple of years since the world was introduced to “the most viral video of all time”– about two years and nine months to be exact. Kony 2012 and all the hype that surrounded it was, and
probably still is, the viral sensation of our generation. In a post from way back when, I had written about the campaign’s fierce influence on young adults all over the world and how it had managed to engage active participation amongst a modern crowd that’s typically far too inactive when it comes to taking social action. My “inner child” had been been gladly revived and I had been quick and eager to believe that maybe, just maybe, Invisible Children’s (the famed group behind the Kony 2012 film) hard work might slowly pay off after all.
A massive miracle of the hip new digital age– that’s what it would have, could have, and probably should have been. But like most overnight sensations, the San Diego-based non-profit and its over 100 million-viewed/1.3 million-liked YouTube hit had its fifteen minutes of glory and fame. Then it crashed the internet and eventually got lost in a sea of other do-good media initiatives hoping to make some kind of difference in this messed up world we live in.
So wasn’t it just a nice surprise to find out earlier last week that IC would indeed become i-n-v-i-s-i-b-l-e within the next year or so. Slowly but surely they’ll be shutting down all operations– first in the U.S. where only “a handful of remote workers” would stay behind to work on advocacy. In further months, all ground work in East Africa will be handed off to partner organizations.
It really is a shame and I really hate being the Betty Buzzkill that mutters ‘I told you so,’ but it’s time to face the cold hard fact that most– if not all– of us only ever got involved because, well, everyone else was doing it. We were all skeptical from the start, at least I was, about how much of a difference the project would actually make in bringing Joseph Kony and his LRA to justice; in building an international support system that would end Ugandan conflicts once and for all. And I’m pretty sure co-founder Jason Russell’s immensely publicized mental meltdown didn’t help the situation one bit.
Further, it’s pretty safe to say that it was naive on everybody’s part to think that the group would last and, apparently, its founders never meant for it to: “We never built Invisible Children to be something that would last forever,” IC CEO Ben Keesey told NPR. “Frankly, we thought it would be a one- or two-year project.”
However, just to put all criticism, cynicism, and skepticism aside, the fact remains that Invisible Children succeeded in raising a lot of awareness about Kony; in building support for intervention by U.S. forces in Uganda; in galvanizing action to apprehend the warlord. In doing so, the campaign demonstrates that social media activism isn’t necessarily as superficial and ineffective as so many people still think it is.
So, it should be said that the project (though hardly a defining success) seems to have taken activism onto a whole new plateau. It’s gotten a giant group of internet-savvy millennials who would otherwise do absolutely nothing to actually do something. That’s a feat in itself, an accomplishment that should bring us all at least a thimble-sized amount of extra holiday cheer.
“I really hope that we have inspired groups to realize that there are hundreds of millions of people on this planet that desperately want to make a difference in the world. When you give them a chance, engaging them through social media and face-to-face interaction, people show up.”
Nicely said Mr. Keesey. Let’s continue giving, receiving, and creating those chances. There’s always hope for the hopeless.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, the scandals taking part in Ferguson these past couple of months have been on our minds, in our hearts, and about the only thing bombarding breaking news headlines. The recent grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown has “evenly divided” all Americans on the just or un-justness of a lingering problem this nation has held tightly onto since its infamous birth.
It’s a dire circumstance, for sure, a weighty subject to even think about– let alone speak about. Outrage, fury, and numerous violent protests have and are still spreading like wildfire all across the country. From Chicago to Washington D.C. and New York; from Los Angeles all the way back to where it all began– good old Missouri– students are walking out of classes; cars are plowing into large defenseless crowds; rallies are circling viciously around police headquarters; demonstrators are walking onto major highways bringing traffic to a halt in both directions. And this seems only to be the beginning.
All these happenings obviously have much to do with an unending slew of racial tensions that have gripped the United States for centuries (and centuries) too long. But what exactly does it have to do with the hundreds of other minority groups watching helplessly from the sidelines? The ones who can’t identify with either white or black. The millions of ‘some ethnicity hyphen Americans’ who seem to lose all relevance in high profile racialized cases like this one?
America has long been touted as the ‘land of the free’– the land of opportunity, liberty, equality, and justice for all. A country where difference is much more widely accepted than in others, a place seen as a melting pot of cultural ethniticies. Los Angeles, all on its own, is “the world in a city.” It’s a rich patchwork of ethnic enclaves that people from over 140 countries can call their home. From Little Toyko to Little Armenia; from the Fairfax district to Little Ethiopia; L.A. effortlessly brings limitless culture right to our very doorsteps. The San Gabriel Valley, which I’ve spent more than half of my life weaving in and out of, is an “ethnoburb” overfilled with Chinese residents. So where do these millions of minorities stand in relation to the “black and white palette” used to paint incidents like Ferguson? Which camp, specifically, can Asian-Americans (like myself) associate with?
According to a recent article by Jack Linshi in TIME Magazine, neither, really. As always, Asian-Americans are erased from public consioucness. We’re invisible and seem perpetually detached from the ongoing situation, even if our personal/professional lives have become quote-on-quote ‘collateral damage.’ Our concerns are swept swiftly under the rug and we are once again left alone to bite the dust. Well, first we must clean up the mess that’s been made, then bravely “reassess the unfolding reality outside.”
Linshi parallels Michael Brown’s death to numerous other injustices in Asian-American history– and he easily points out how none of these similarly brutal cases resulted in criminal charges, public campaigns in honor of the victim’s memory, or even the tiniest amount of social justice. Unlike Ferguson, Asian-American stories fail to capture the world’s attention, remaining comparatively unknown and quickly forgotten.
Take recent occurrences such as the senseless slaying of yet another Chinese graduate student at USC– only two years after an incident in 2012. Sure, his death made news (as did the two deaths that preceded his), but fervor and an intense call for action has since simmered down, leaving nothing but broken hearts and a scholarship fund set up in the deceased’s name.
How about the 2013 Jimmy Kimmel China controversy that resulted not only in bitter outrage, but a 105,000 signature-padded petition demanding action from the Obama administration? Nothing was done there as well. Both ABC and Jimmy Kimmel had already apologized for the on-air ‘joke’ and according to the White House, this nation was built on the principle of free speech, so there really is nothing else that can be done. Really? I’d hate to see what would happen if a similar wisecrack was made on behalf of another minority group…
So all this may just be me and my useless bantering– a young member of the doomed ‘model minority’ hoping to God that one day, some day, something, not nothing, will actually be done for all ethnicities, all minority groups– not just the ones that tend to stand out more distinctly than others. We’ve got to learn that in life, things are never simply white or black. There’s always a gray area, a middle ground that can slowly foster racial solidarity among all people experiencing the pains of sociopolitical marginalization.
Let’s just hope we can get to that place soon.
I was born on December 25th. Yes, that’s right, I’m one of those Christmas babies everybody makes a huge fuss about. From personal experience, there are either two reactions I’m usually met with, or should I say two distinct sounds: cooing or booing.
There’s the “How cute, you must’ve been the best gift your parents could have asked for!” or “OMG, were you wrapped in a giant stocking when they brought you to your Mom”? And then there’s “Wow, that must totally suck!” and my personal favorite, “You know, you stole Jesus’ birthday…” Seriously.
Needless to say, it gets pretty awkward sometimes, and in the past twenty-four years, I’ve felt my fair share of the pain. However, before I go down into a dramatic fit of self-deprecation, it needs to be said that being a Christmas baby is not as bad as everyone thinks it is.
The truth is, we make our own realities. And the reality is that Birthdays mean only what we make them out to be. Besides, the often-dreaded annual celebrations don’t really mean all that much anyways—they never really have. They’re far too overrated.
That being said, here’s a fun list of a dozen struggles specific to little girls and boys born in and around everybody’s favorite winter holiday:
- Secretly, you hate anyone born in the summer.
- Your present list needs to last you all year long. It’s too bad if your new favorite something comes out in February or June. You’ll be waiting for quite a few months.
- If you’re lucky, you finally get that new and nifty thing you’ve been dreaming about all year only to realize that it’s an inappropriate gift for the winter.
- “Birthday Parties” are simply poorly attended Holiday get togethers…
- Most times, all your friends bail out on you at the last minute, and for no apparent reason.
- People are too tired and busy to celebrate the way you want and those who do end up showing up (bless their hearts!) insist on being more festive.
- Gift-opening time is more of a treasure hunt than something to look forward to– all the packages are wrapped in Christmas paper so finding the Birthday one takes some doing.
- All those wonderful friends and relatives who try to pass off “Birthmas.” Yes, it’s a real thing and it happens all the time.
- You dread telling people when your birthday is because it is inevitably met with something overly odd and dramatic.
- At school or at work, your birthday is most often forgotten about. It never gets properly mentioned or announced and there are, of course, never any brilliant surprise office parties or special homemade cupcakes. I mean, it’s Christmas! Who has the time to remember such trivial things?
- You have mixed feelings towards Santa Clause. On the one hand, the jolly old man does bring you spectacular presents. On the other, he’s a total spotlight stealer.
- Yet despite all of this, you never ever ever dare to complain—you don’t want to be labeled a Grinch.
It’s always the same in the end. We smile and put on a brave face, we act like the bigger and better person. Yet none of this matters because you know that deep down you’re as special as the cherished holiday itself. So keep calm, carry on, and have yourself a Happy Happy Holiday (and Birthday)!!
I know I sure will.
Is it wrong to be an attractive academic, a sexy scientist? What about celebrating one’s feminine appeal or sexiness?
As modern women, we’re no strangers to this age-old conundrum. The issue of female sexuality has no doubt been heavily debated since even before our grandmothers’ times. Earlier last week, public discourse over the weighty subject was renewed once again, starting with the New York City street harassment video that went viral on Tuesday and has since then been spreading like wildfire all across the world-wide web.
Sure, the piece (a collaboration between non-profit organization “Hollaback” and the marketing agency Rob Bliss Creative), which features a young white woman being harassed more than 100 times as she walks around the Big Apple for 10 hours, has been outwardly criticized for its strange play on race, class, and gender– or as feminist writer Roxane Gay bluntly tweeted, its “f—ed up” racial politics. But the overarching theme is clear and simple: The themes of feminism and the female body are still, to this very day, an intriguing, highly charged, and often-too-overlooked social issue that has again and again been addressed– but has again and again been denied a proper solution. Or a definite fix.
Though relieving society entirely of gender bias and inequality would be ideal, we are, unfortunately, not living in a world where such a miracle could happen. Yes, there’s been some progress that’s been made over the years, but sadly, we’re still living in a sexist whirlpool of patriarchy that constantly scrutinizes female appearance and undermines women’s intellectual skill or authority– especially in the professional realm.
As fate would have it, one of primetime’s number one sitcoms decided to jump head on into the messy debate this week as well, with an episode titled ‘The Misinterpretation Agitation.’ Airing last Thursday night to mostly positive reviews, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory took on the theme of female sexuality, specifically as it pertains to women and their appearance in the workplace.
The episode opens with Penny, Amy, and Bernadette gathered in Penny’s apartment. Bernadette has some big news to share with everyone: she’s been asked to be photographed for a magazine feature about sexy scientists. She, of course is overly ecstatic, and Penny’s happy for her too, but Amy is more than appalled. She lays out her reasons why: first and foremost, women shouldn’t have to exploit their sexuality to get ahead; Bernadette (and all women scientists) should be featured in magazines because they’re smart, not because they’re attractive, or happen, in this case, to be voluptuous.
So in typical Amy fashion, she does what she wants to get what she wants. Finding the photo shoot exploitative, Miss Neurobiologist herself pulls some strings to get the story squashed, much to poor Bernadette’s dismay.
The social critique here is insightful, and the interplay between the three actresses feels natural. Bernadette challenges Amy, and wonders why women can’t be both smart and sexy, why we can’t possess both beauty and brains. And though the episode lightheartedly ends without a ‘definite fix’ (surprise surprise!) or neat little conclusion, it did hit many intelligent points, bringing the conversation of feminism to yet another level.
In academia, there have always been unspoken dress codes that, as Francesca Stavrakopoulou put it in an op-ed piece for The Guardian, reflect “the wider policing of women’s bodies in other professional contexts in western society. No matter what their occupation, women are still frequently held to account for their appearance, rather than only their expertise and experience.”
“The implication is that dressing in a more conventionally feminine way is somehow more frivolous, and can undermine perceptions of a woman’s intellectual and professional skills. Dressing in order to be taken seriously indicates that the spectre of older, more explicit forms of sexism still hovers over us: a woman who adopts a more feminine style is too preoccupied with pretty things to be a serious academic, because a woman can’t be both attractive and intelligent – if indeed she can be intelligent at all.”
Well, I say flaunt it if you’ve got it. Our intellectual and professional abilities should be judged solely on our work ethic and our performance– not our appearance. We should not still be living in a world where an obviously successfully woman’s hair or makeup is the focus of critics; where admirable women’s bodies and outer appearances are cruelly dissected from head to toe; where certain wardrobes/closets are the subject of political awe and fascination– “not because the clothes [give] any actual insight into these leaders as individuals, but because they [reinforce] the fact that they [are] women first and people second,” as Amanda Hess of Slate so poignantly put it.
Dress smartly, dress comfortably, dress how you feel you should dress, while keeping in mind the appropriate place and setting of course. As women, we’ve earned and now own a strong place in society, regardless – or in spite of – our appearance.
Paper or plasma? It’s an odd question that we’ve come to know all too well—at least in literary world. These days, Kindles seem to have overshadowed physical books and we’ve slowly but surely entered a new era of reading (and writing). E- reading has become the absolute norm. Like social media, swanky technological gadgets, and smart phones, digital reading has gone mainstream. But like the previously mentioned, it comes at a price.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter have sparked heated debates about privacy; iPads, iPhones and various other tablets and gizmos continue to pull us away from good old fashioned communication, causing worry among the older generation that life in the future will be limited to digital screens and complex buttons.
The once simple act of ‘deep reading’– of physically holding and engaging in a story or book– has now been replaced by ‘scattered reading,’ a loss in attention span, and the slowing down of multiple brain processes. Linear reading and digital distractions have become a serious issue, as recent neurological reports confirm that human beings use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. The more we read on screens, the more our minds shift towards non-linear reading, forcing us to give up on previously acquired brain activity because we are given too much stimulation on the screen.
Basically, it all boils down to this: There’s a significant possibility that deep reading and the physical form of paper may be intertwined. “It’s all one complex web that we need to start disentangling,” researcher Anne Mangen at the Unierosty of Stavanger in Norway says. “The study might still provide fodder for those who insist that reading a novel on a screen just isn’t the same. “It’s a confirmation that these ergonomic dimensions, the tactile feedback of holding paper, might actually matter.”
Perhaps this is why children and students– who seem to be growing up with a digital screen permanently attached to each hand these days– seem to be declining in academic performance when it comes to education in the United States. As mentioned in a post a couple weeks back, nearly one third of all high school graduates are not ready to embark onto college not to mention a career, even with the eighteen long years of education they’ve just attained.
Is this the price we have to pay in order to enjoy the benefits of technological advancement? Are all the available plasma and LED screens ‘dumbing’ us down? It’s something interesting to think about.
I, for one, am one of those print copy romantics who’s known for her massive library of paperback novels. Rarely (if ever) do I use an e-reader and when it comes to printing texts out, I’m sorry to say that I’ve destroyed more than a few trees. I need to have a hardcopy. There’s a certain sensation that comes when grazing your finger over the pages of a book, or when you physically turn the edges of a paper page. It satisfies an old fashioned pleasure– one that’s not so readily available anymore.
But there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for my conventional literary madness. For years now, there’s been a looming prediction that the e-book market will slowly cannibalize print’s dominance. Yet a new Nielsen Study shows that paperbacks and hardcovers are still outselling e-books. Maybe there is hope after all.
These numbers, however, can be great news for everyone– tech lovers and technophobic bibliophiles alike. At Electric Literature, Lincoln Michel says, “Different formats have different strengths, and it is a great thing that there is a healthy ebook market and a healthy print market.”
In the editorial world for example, The California Sunday Magazine, which launched merely one weekend ago, is one of many aiming to combine the best of both markets. Print journalism, as we may all know, has been dealt a severe blow from our move into the digital age and publishers have since been scrambling to find innovative ways to keep up with changing times.
The brainchild of writer/editor Douglas McGray and publisher Chas Edwards, the new West Coast centric zine’ features original, thoughtful content (stories, photography and illustrations) by way of a subscription-based mobile app and website, as well as a monthly printed edition packaged for free with the Sunday issues of the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee (delivering an immediate 400,000-person circulation). A periodical that exists both online and in print. Genius.
“[We understand that] people read all different ways. We like the idea that we can make a magazine for however you like to read,” McGray says.
And so the so-called paper vs. plasma ‘format wars’ may turn out not to be a war at all. As Michel so brilliantly puts it, “We may [instead] see that the various formats can work together to expand literature and create more readers and markets.”
Cheers to that.
As unfortunate as it may seem, domestic violence has been an ongoing problem for years now– and it will continue to be a hot button issue if certain changes are not made to protect the various women that have been hurt, abused, and scarred by partners they’ve often come to know, love and trust. The recent Ray Rice scandal once again brings the topic up, front and center, shedding light on the severity of a situation that has now become common among 1 in every 4 women.
The problem is, so many–or should I say too many– of these cases have been and are still being swept under the rug. Even in this day and age, we still live in a very misogynistic world and it’s become all too easy for men to hide their violent tendencies from outside eyes. Millions of wives, girlfriends, and daughters are silenced as they continue to live with an unnecessary fear of the men in their lives who use violence as a means of power and control.
Appearances can certainly be deceiving. Take the Rice case for example. He, along with his wife Janay are now “born-again Christians” and continue to blame his indecent acts on alcohol use that’s supposedly been put to rest– supposedly being the key word. What’s more is that Rice continues to receive a surprising amount of support and back up from an all-too-silent Janay. Pretty odd, don’t you think?
A couple of days ago, news broke out that ‘Modern Family’ actress Sarah Hyland has also been a victim of abuse by way of ex-boyfriend Matt Prokop, prompting her to file a restraining order against the fellow young actor– who I just happen to have frequently crossed paths with during my time working in film and television. Let me just say this: I would never have guessed that any male acquaintance of mine would be capable of such violence and such hate. This only reinforces the simple fact that appearances are extremely misleading. Like the saying goes, you really cannot judge a [man by his] cover, especially when it comes to cases of domestic violence.
We’ve spoken out about ways to change—and since we’re in Hollywood, none more so than celebrity advocates like Keira Knightley, Charlize Theron, David Schwimmer, etc. Take a look at a powerful PSA Knightley promoted a few years back:
All these viral campaigns have done wonders in addressing ways for women to take strong action against this often-too-shushed-about crime. We’ve come pretty far in terms of raising awareness and inviting men to join us in the fight. We’ve made it loud and clear that women are only half the problem.
There is a need for men to come together as well, and of course, Emma Watson’s recent #HeForShe speech for the UN Conference further highlights how important it is to achieve solidarity among the sexes. It is only by both men and women coming together that clever facades and gender barriers can be permanently broken down. Men who witness domestic violence need–now more than ever– to reach out to their fathers, their brothers, their uncles, and their friends. They must encourage and instigate change among themselves. We must all make it our mission to bravely call out all the wrongdoers, to protect all of the individuals being victimized.
The fight against domestic violence is an uphill battle. But we can all make a difference if we are willing and unafraid to open our eyes, ears, minds and hearts to the various battered women (and men) who are forced everyday to remain silent.
It’s no secret that we live in the Age of Instant Gratification.
In more ways than one, the world has become our oyster. Human beings in this day and age are consistently confronted with a consumer culture that’s almost too good at giving us exactly what we want. From smartphones and search engines to Spotify, Amazon, and Netflix, we now have immediate access to a plethora of digital and physical tools that can anticipate all of our preferences, that can tailor to all our wants, needs, and desires. Or as Paul Roberts recently put it in his excellently written essay in The American Scholar, “it is now entirely normal to demand a personally customized life […] With each transaction and upgrade, each choice and click, life moves closer to us, and the world becomes our world.”
Roberts begins by telling the story of Brett Walker, a former digital junkie who saved himself from the continuous gratifications of the digital economy by kicking an obsession to online gaming that left him “physically weak, financially destitute, and so socially isolated he could barely hold a face-to-face conversation.” For four long years, even as his real life collapsed around him, Walker enjoyed a near-perfect online existence, becoming more and more susceptible to the complex charms of the online world. His became a life that was entirely controlled by impulses– and although his story may not seem at all relevant to those of us who don’t spend our time waging wars against the virtual world, it does shine light on the fact that we have in fact become an ‘Impulse Society.’ We’ve all turned back into that spoiled little child whose world revolves around getting exactly he or she wants. When we want it. And that’s putting it lightly.
Over the years, customization has become not just a consumer choice, but an approach to life, and within this postindustrial world, it’s become perfectly natural for humans to display a “reflexive reach for quick rewards.” More simply put, we’ve become a self-centered culture that’s created norms and expectations that make it increasingly harder to act in thoughtful, civic, and social ways. There’s now easy credit, fast food, instant access to entertainment and shopping. We are provided, in this digital age, immediate pleasure at all times, and consequentedly, we’ve become accustomed to focus only on the present moment– to maximize pleasure and minimize pain within that specific moment. “The notion of future consequences, so essential to our development as functional citizens, as adults,” writes Roberts, “is relegated to the background, inviting us to remain in a state of permanent childhood.”
Yet the human brain was not designed for a world of such easy gratification. Our ancestors had gained strength, knowledge, and perspective only by “enduring adversity, disappointment, and delayed gratification”– and as much as I hate to admit it, we (young Millenials and beyond) really do have it so much easier than our grandparents did.
Today’s culture does everything in its power to convince us that difficulty has no place in our everyday lives, and as a result, we’ve continued to experience the repercussions of declining economic, political, and educational systems. According to a recent report by U.S. News, nearly one-third of all high school graduates are deemed unprepared for college or a career– even after eighteen long years of schooling.
So what does this say about society today? I mean is it truly wrong to live in the moment, to seize the day, to bask in all the immediate pleasures offered so easily to us on a shiny silver platter? Life is meant to be enjoyed, right? Yes, but it is not meant to be wasted. And Roberts concludes his piece by urging us to change as a society, to recognize “the limits—social and personal as well as economic—of an ideology that prioritizes immediate gratification and efficient returns over all other values.”
Surprisingly, a revolt against the values imposed by the Impulse Society is already underway. In many circles, it’s common to find at least one person or group working to separate themselves from a system that puts efficacy ahead of everything else. People like Brett Walker have begun to set themselves free of a solely digital world, they’ve begun to recognize that by embracing self-indulgence, they are losing something “essential and irreplaceable” — they’ve come to realize that we, as a hopelessly childish society, have lost all appreciation for the gifts of life. It’s time for a change, and ironically, it seems like the indivuials who are instigating that change are the very ones creating the gadgets and gizmos that started this whole mess.
Nick Bilton, in a recent article for The New York Times, writes how dumbfounded he was to discover that tech executives and venture capitalists such as Chris Anderson (former editor of Wired), Evan Williams (founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium), and the late Steve Jobs all opt[ed] to unplug from the use of smartphones and social networks when in their homes. Instead, they’ve become known for strictly limiting their childrens’ screen time, “often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends” in order to reclaim more family time. As Anderson so bluntly puts it, he and his wife impose such rules because they’ve “seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” He’s currently a drone maker, the chief executive of 3D Robotics. Pretty interesting.
These dangers, of course, include delayed cognitive development, social disengagement, and emotional fragility– not to mentioned harmful content, bullying, and a never-ending addiction to anything that contains a screen. It’s time to disrupt our self-driven downward spiral and to make a positive shift. It’s time to face our greatest challenge yet, to take on a complicated problem that will require collective discipline, deferred gratification, and long-term commitment. It’s time to live more consciously and more mindfully– because the benefits to be found are too numerous to name and the alternative is no longer an option. It’s time to grow up.
Think about it.
Recently, I began working for Spylight, a fashion and entertainment company based in Los Angeles which, through web and mobile applications, is building the leading platform for monetization of Hollywood content — follow their blog here. In honor of this new position, I thought I’d lend my thoughts on a concept we’ve all come to know, love, and hate: The true meaning of beauty.
Unfortunate as it may seem, beauty seems to define a lot of who people are in this day and age, especially in the entertainment and fashion industries where ideals of who may or may not be “beautiful” lay rigidly inside a small standardized box. For years now, both media-entrenched environments have been challenging for anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘super-white’ standard– just take one look at Forbes’ list of highest paid models and you’ll see what I mean. Simply put, it’s no secret that women of color have much more difficulty working their way to the top, and though both industries have taken great strides in breaking racial barriers in the last couple of decades, there’s still a long, long way to go.
In a recent article for Vogue, Chinese supermodel Liu Wen opens up about her childhood in southern China where she of all people was not considered beautiful as a young girl. “People in my hometown seldom called me piao liang, because my smaller eyes were a far cry from the wide irises of the most beloved television actresses. Further, I was tall and awkward and tended to dress more androgynously as comfort was always my priority,” writes Wen. She was playfully given the nickname “Mulan,” as she blended in much more easily with her male counterparts. Yet, as she learned to ‘tower’ over her classmates, Wen seemed to happily accept that being “outwardly ‘beautiful’ was never in [her] destiny.” But being confident was.
In 2010, Wen became the first Asian woman to become the face of Estee Lauder’s global brand, and within the piece, she shares with readers her experiences about working in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the fashion industry was a lot less accepting of Wen when she first arrived onto the scene– the stereotypes of Asian women as dainty and submissive were still embedded deeply within the Western culture, and new depictions of “adventurous, assertive, career-oriented women” of color were difficult to embrace.
As one who has dabbled in the film and television industry for some time now, I, for one, can personally attest to the multitude of challenges Asian-American women are met with on a daily basis. From casting calls and cattle calls to call backs and actual on- screen representation, the industry’s knowledge of Asian-American actresses (and models) is, as Wen puts it, “quite limited.” On both personal and professional levels, we are met with racial barriers in every direction we choose to go, which, of course, does wonders to our confidence and self-esteem– usually not in the best of ways. I should know.
But what makes Wen’s rise to stardom so inspiring is that we are slowly (but finally) entering a time where individuals who do not represent traditional ideals of beauty can also become as celebrated and respected as those who do. There has certainly been a “profound change in perspective,” and for Wen, her big break in the industry is so much more than just a personal accomplishment, but an affirmation that persistence and confidence serve as reflections of our beauty.
What’s more is that difference and diversity, each individual’s own uniqueness– no matter how quirky or odd– seem to now be valuable assets for anyone to posses. For the fashion industry, people are beginning to understand that the definition of beauty “can encompass more elements than ever before.” In the creative industry, the boundaries between disciplines– whether it’s fashion, drama, music, or art– has become far more fluid, which in turn, has allowed for even greater works to be made and discovered.
Take New York fashion designer and Creative Director of Balenciaga Alexander Wang, for example, who in 2012 shocked the contemporary fashion world by not only becoming the first American (and Asian!) “designer in over a decade to run a heritage French name, but the first designer since the recession to attempt to run two houses.” In a recent piece for The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman talks with Wang, who in more ways than one, looks neither like a “lightning rod ” or “the boss of a storied Parisian atelier.” Instead, as Friedman puts it, he looks more like “a chirpy, black-clad club kid with a messy ponytail.” Yet he is a “facile juggler of brands, people and responsibilities,” a man who will change the prevailing wisdom of the fashion industry.
If we as human beings have learned anything, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Today, there’s no longer just one reason for respect and admiration, there is a whole bevy. I’m happy to be working at a time when profound changes are gradually occurring, especially in the worlds of entertainment and fashion. I’m blessed to be living in an era where a variety of cultures and heritages, as well as modern ideals such as independence and self-confidence, have become more widely accepted than ever before.
The time is now. Our time is now. Let’s get ready to change the world.
His awkward charm erupted in Flubber. His kind hearted spirit shined in Patch Adams. His extraordinary knack for physical comedy sparkled in Mrs. Doubtfire. His versatility as an all around performer was highlighted in Good Will Hunting and his ability to humanize even the nastiest of villains was showcased in August Rush. The list goes on (and on and on), and if I were to give a complete rendering of the plethora of remarkable performances given to us by Robin Williams in his sixty-three years, I’d have a blog post that would most likely last until the end of this year.
Simply said, our beloved Mr. Williams was a genius, not only comedically, but artistically, creatively, and intellectually as well. And as I sit here writing, it has now been a little over a week since that tragic day the world lost another kindred spirit, another especially unique performer that simultaneously warmed our hearts, touched our souls, and brought tears to our eyes with his multifaceted and memorable portrayals of any (and every) single character imaginable to the human mind.
The passing of Robin Williams has undoubtedly triggered an unprecedented outpouring of tributes, memorials and pure grief within the entertainment industry– and the world of social media as a whole. These words, my words, only add to the multitude of mournful sighs and touching reflections that have already graced the public space since we were forced to face a haunting new reality: We’ve lost, yet again, a great actor. What’s more is that this time, we’ve lost our greatest comedian as well– the man who never failed to turn even the most enormous of frowns upside down is forever gone.
It’s depressing to say the least, truly and completely heartbreaking. And it seems that his untimely death, along with that of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s only a mere six months ago (and Cory Monteith’s a year or so ago), initiates an obvious discussion of the connections between creativity, depression, addiction, and suicide. It also forces us to not only acknowledge the seriousness of mental illness, but to carefully examine why such a complex (and sensitive) issue has taken over the lives of so many creative individuals throughout history.
Williams once said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” And for many artists, I think that really just says it all.
Last Monday, one of the world’s brightest lights went out– and though we have lost in Mr. Williams our most gifted comedian, our most cherished magician, and for many of us, the funny and eccentric uncle we never had, I know for a fact that children and adults everywhere will never learn to forget his warmth, his depth, and most of all, his incredible spirit.
In the past couple of years, I’ve had the honor of participating in not one, but two university commencement ceremonies– one undergraduate and one graduate, all back-to-back in the course of merely twenty-four months. To say it’s been a whirlwind of a ride would be an obvious understatement, but as mentioned in an earlier post, I am more than grateful to have been able to embark on two such extraordinary journeys.
Almost three months have passed since Southern California Public Radio President Thomas William Davis gave our commencement speech under a blazing hot Friday morning sun, and though his words were more than memorable, I am still finding inspiration now and again from other fantastic speeches I come across in this post-graduation phase I seem to be dwelling in– like this one, for example.
The New York Review of Books recently published the marvelous speech writer Hilton Als delivered at Columbia University’s School of the Arts this past May. Drawing on prominent figures from American author Truman Capote and the Caribbean-born Jean Rhys to artist Kara Walker and, of course, his not-so-studious collegiate self, Als delves deeply into what it meant to him to become an artist, as well as what it should mean for the sea of eager young faces seated before him– i.e. US, the next generation of creative artists and thinkers.
Als begins by reminiscing about the strange ‘lawlessness’ of New York City in the 1980s, crediting it to helping him better “understand the society that surrounded [him] during [his] time on campus.” He also speaks fondly about his own education in Columbia’s art history department, a field that involved so many of the things that still enthrall him today, “such as cultural production, politics, aesthetics, and words.”
But most importantly, Als offers students one pivotal piece of advice– he encourages us to always remain faithful to the world that gave rise to our ‘art,’ to always remember and pay close attention to the various experiences and incidents that encompass our everyday lives:
“…Memory is your greatest ally and your primary source material, because memory is your body as it was in the world and the world as it was and will be; memory is the people you have loved or wanted to love in the world, and what are we if not bodies filled with reminiscences about all those ghosts in the sunlight?…”
And so he concludes:
“The artist’s memory is a dangerous, necessary thing. Never disavow what you see and remember—it’s your brilliant stock-in-trade: remembering, and making something out of it. Artists remember the world as it is, first, because you have to know what it is you’re reinventing; that’s a rule, perhaps the only one: being cognizant of your source material.”
So listen up all you Creatives. Our thoughts and experiences do in fact matter, even if it doesn’t always seem or feel that way. I, for one, am no stranger to feeling like the odd ball out, the outsider looking in, the girl who seems to always second guess herself a little more than necessary. But as Als so cleverly puts it:
“There’s not an artist on God’s green earth who feels, emotionally speaking, that he or she has been invited to the prom. It’s in our DNA—to stand to the left or outside of life’s fray, in our tennis shoes, in our painter’s smocks, in our director’s caps, in our moth-eaten writer’s sweaters, awash in memory even as it becomes that in the just-now past.”
Inspirational words indeed– a truly refreshing take on what every artist’s personal mantra should be: Be Yourself. Never stop yourself from experiencing the beauties and realities of life. Embrace everything. Fully. Because that’s what makes life so valuable.
We must, first and foremost, ‘claim our space as artists.’ That’s definitely a lesson I need to slowly learn.
Thank you, Mr. Als, for these motivating thoughts.