(Where m.snowe has a moment of philosophical inquiry about parades)
m.snowe just walked into work (yes, it’s Sunday–whatevers) and on her walk, had the chance to observe a parade making its way downtown on Madison Ave. The music was loud, the crowd not very deep. It was an annual parade for some middle-eastern country. The floats were small, and pulled by old trucks and in some cases, tinny SUVs. At one point, there were three men on horseback, and a handful of lady dancers in vibrant colors moving slowly but with purpose to the blaring music. One float got m.snowe’s attention–it had four people dressed in various costumes or full character suits–and was clearly a promotion for some kind of cartoon television show or movie. The costumes were not well done–they looked nothing like the pictures of the characters that were pasted on the sides of the float. It didn’t seem to matter to the costumed crew, though. They waved and smiled with abandon.
m.snowe watched the parade for a bit more, and the “quality” of the floats, or the number and dress of the people marching did not improve–it was ramshackle at best, and tattery at worst. m.snowe had a moment when she thought it was sad, that the not-so-deep crowds lining Madison were cheering for such a display of what m.snowe rather prejudicially dubbed “the shabbiest tourism pitch ever.” It was clear that the american standard of what constitutes a vibrant society is partly its cultural displays–and if america is good at something, it’s at showing off how cool it is (even when it really isn’t). Usually, that takes money–and it’s clear that these paraders were operating on a low budget, and you can’t fault them for working with what they had. m.snowe’s disgustingly american sensibility, however, pitied them for a moment, and she thought “if they take this seriously, how sad…”
But only for a moment. The relative shabbiness of the parade made it easier to see the decrepitude of culture that depends on materialism/capitalism, and the depressing notion that when you place your worth on your ability to show off, you are in effect creating your own “culture bubble” when times are good. Like the economy, people who live in a culture with money can ignore their foolish reliance on materialism, because of the sparkle and shine of it. But once that bubble bursts, you’re left with maybe three horses, and a crappy character suit (that is probably infected with lice or crabs or something). And maybe it is depressing to exhibit–but it’s also more real. What m.snowe really means to say is that sometimes people are so caught up in the extragance, in the artificial beauty that was created to sell things, not enrich things, that perhaps seeing an alternate form of pride and capitalism, is a healthy, healthy thing.
m.snowe loved that parade–it was more real than anything she’s seen during the Macy’s Day.
m.snowe is not at all confused as to why artists of all forms have certain accoutrements about them. Writers have a pen, musicians have drum sticks, guitars, etc., painters have brushes, performers have microphones, and so on and so forth. All of these “extensions” of self that represent the “instruments” of one’s art, the fountainheads of one’s inspiration…well, m.snowe thinks you’re clever enough to see where she’s going with this. And of course, that’s somewhere pointy, and phallic. Of course, this theoretical argument only works for the male artists, and begs a very different question about what women get out of the deal–but let’s ignore that very valid argument for just a few sentences.
The question m.snowe would like to have answered is this one: if we know it’s all for show… if we know that the extensions of self through art are indeed separate and unconnected (i.e. a musician isn’t encapsulated in one song or their performance of it, a painter is not one painting…m.snowe hopes, anyways), then why are so many otherwise level-headed people given to swoons around artists of all shapes and sizes? How do they translate beautiful music, or breathtaking art, into a false-sense of intimacy with the creator, who unlike the art, could be cruel, ugly, or just plain stupid?
m.snowe herself is guilty of such blind admiration (she hates to say, in certain circumstances), but also hopes the reader will carefully weigh the evidence–exhibits being that artists are indeed a troublesome lot. One should not cast their wills with them so casually. And one should always understand that although art in all forms, when experienced, can speak many more words than any of us in our lifetimes, an artist is the vessel–and can be anything–kind, wicked, crooked, deceitful. m.snowe asks for others (and herself) that in viewing the art, one is not blinded to the life around it.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Keats may have been onto something here–stick to the art, separate from the creator. [Think what wonders that would do if we applied that to religion!]
(M.snowe originally posted this on March 12, 2008, but it’s been clicked on a few times recently, so she thought: “Hey, why not see where we were a year ago this month?” and then she thought: “I’m hungry, and where’s my coffee?”)
Gender, race, and sexual orientation inequalities run around naked all day for everyone to observe, all over the world (though many turn a blind, scandalized eye). But one rather juicy piece of exposed, bigoted flesh should get some extra ogling today, after a recent CDC report. It elucidates the inequality of gender-, race-, and orientation-based health tests/studies. Invariably, these tests are not only biased, they are blatantly so; in turn, the media reports and methods of prevention and reform are also skewed towards unequal and unfair consideration.
The latest report, which came out this week, details the CDC’s finding that among US teenage women, 1 in 4 have some sort of STD. Those reported STDs ranged from chlamydia, to HPV, to HIV/AIDS. HPV, as many media outlets have been clear about reporting in the past year or so, is the virus that can lead to cervical cancer –obviously a disease that only effects those of us with cervices. But men are at least “carriers” of all the diseases listed (though with most STDs, men suffer the same symptoms as women).
The way the CDC, and those reporting this supposedly news worthy story, is the first issue. It’s not “roughly 25% of teenage women,” it’s not “One-fourth of the female teenage population,” or anything of that nature. They make this study personal: One in Four Teenage Girls. (and this is how practically every media outlet is phrasing it) Let’s break this down. “One in Four”: this implies proximity. Not one-fourth, which suggests a fraction, which by definition means only a part. By saying “one in four” the reader (and especially the white male reader) is implored to consider the obvious: “think of four women–you know quite a few. Well, one might have the clap.” Next, consider “teenage girls“. The term “girls” suggests that these sexually active women can’t possibly take care of their own sexual health. This is the best type of fear mongering we’ve seen in a while: it not only admonishes young women, it scares parents, potential sexual partners, and women themselves. The article practically screams: “Why, don’t you see: these young “girls” shouldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions about their sexual lives. They’ve gone and mucked up all the boys’ fun.”
But the problem with this saddening study (because 25% of teens with STDs IS saddening) is that it completely disregards the male aspect of this report. Doing a quick search on the CDC website, and special section on STD prevention, you can find reports on women, and the general population as a whole, and minorities, and studies broken out based on sexual orientation. What you cannot find is a good study on the rates of STDs among your average, straight, white males. Hmmm. Why is it that we place the research blame on women and minorities and gays? In the study, it also highlights how black women have an even higher risk of STDs. What about white and black men? Why is it solely the responsibility of the woman to get tested for STDs, as the CDC heartily recommends? Oh, and telling your partner about any STDs you might have–that’s a woman’s job too. Because men, well, they’re only having sex with one woman, always. And that’s verily true, it is–we got this little tidbit from Elliot Spitzer, so you know it’s legit. And women should be the ones with whom the responsibility to get treated lies. Men don’t need the HPV vaccine, because they wouldn’t ever get cancer. But, ahem, they can still transmit it. If you found the cure for HIV, would you exclude giving it to any population that was only a carrier and didn’t themselves contract full blown AIDS? I think not. In order to best serve the women, it would be a valid argument to vaccine both sexes. For more, read here why men should be similarly vaccinated.
And this just in:
Here’s another orientation, gender, and race skewed report by the CDC, that hopes to incite fear and reinforce bias. It talks about how gay men are reportedly more likely to contract syphilis. The study does say that men are six times more likely to contract this disease, but they quickly include that the primary transmitters are gay, and that the researchers “also called rises [in syphilis] among women and blacks troubling.” The article also points out that the increase stems from “high-risk behaviors” (whatever that means) and “multiple partners.” This language is even more insidious than that of the teenage girl article, because it suggests, very overtly, that gay males are in some way more apt to commit risky or irresponsible behaviors. Well, sorry, but high-risk behavior (like unprotected sex, and other, non-vaginal forms of sex) as well as having multiple partners, happens with ALL sexual people–regardless of orientation or sex. And the rather tactless implication of this article is that only gay men practice certain behaviors. The fact of the matters (sexual and otherwise) is that white, straight, rich men have a better ability, and the need and want to cover up their sexual activities. What’s more is that often what is reported by certain groups varies–is a middle aged married man willing to admit to his sexual escapades, especially if they’re Spitzer-style risky? What is reported, and what is happening in the collective sex life of all Americans is much more than meets the eye, and you can bet the CDC.
(Where M.snowe reflects on her travels to Northwestern Arkansas)
M.snowe has never really spent a lot of time in the South, excepting Florida, which really in her mind is separate from the Southern Ideal (too much theme park, too little barbecue). And when she says “Southern Ideal,” m.snowe must admit with some trepidation that, being a Northerner through and through, a true Yankee, the idea of the South (in literature, in history, in her mind) has become something of a double-edged idee fixe. At once fascinated by the sprawling landscapes, and appalled by some of the more notorious past (and present for that matter!), The South, both capitalized words taken as a notion, has entertained too many daydreams and day-mares than m.snowe would really prefer to admit. Despite the morbid and/or fantastic obsession that grants the South a sort of inner kinship with m.snowe, the South is absolutely “the other.” And perhaps, therein lies the fascination.
M.snowe wishes she had brought her camera, because the juxtaposition of extreme poverty with extreme wealth was visually and conceptually jarring. Literally, a motor home of what looked to be ill-repute was right next to a huge lot with an over-sized new development house, or an almost-mansion. And the strangest part (perhaps) was that no matter what angle you looked from, it was always the richer, bloated domicile that looked out-of-place. Even if the smaller, more run-down houses didn’t exist in the landscape, the thought of a house with fake-French stone towers named “beau chalet” in the Northwest spanse of dry and rolling-hilled Arkansas would give someone either the creeps or at least the slightest tinge of revulsion at the utter dissonance of the situation. It made m.snowe wonder about the people who live in those fake mansions, and how they survive without the constant bristle of dystopic sensitivity. The headquarters of Walmart is based out in this part of Arkansas, and it happens to be one of the only businesses that is making a steady profit in our crap economy. Walmart Corp. itself is a microcosm (or synecdoche if you will) of this little nook of the country–peddling the waters of poverty and extreme wealth, yet sitting comfortably from its mansion with little or no regard for its neighbors’ well-being as they slowly drown. (Yes, there were some mixed metaphors there, but you, the savvy reader, get it). M.snowe hopes to see more of The South, because she does not want these images burned into her brain, at least not to represent the whole.
New York City was covered in snow today. As it forms part of her namesake, m.snowe felt necessary to reflect.
M.snowe has always lived in wintry climes, and knew no end to the piles of snow and slush and icy mix that clogged her sidewalks and streets as a child. But for the longest time, m.snowe loved the white watery stuff. In fact, she still possesses a certain camaraderie with it–a factor of some mutual acceptance that comes from two odd people that have shared the same good memories, but never really talked. Going sledding, building snow forts, skiing, etc., etc. And all these things in some way made impossible things true–this simple equation of hydrogen, oxygen and a cold temperature allowed for traveling faster than running via sled, invisible hideaways, you name it. It was a white blindness, a method of hiding in plain sight. It was also, and dichotomously, an equalizer–kids aren’t too fast or agile in a few feet of snow–it’s like being caught on a crowded bouncy-bounce, or a deep, netted ball room. Also, kids are concealed by their overly large snowsuits, pants (with overalls) included. M.snowe remembers only one sound during all this winter outdoor romp–the fast swish-swoosh of poly-blend snowsuits that possibly signaled an impending snowball.
But all of that has quickly changed. In the city, the snow doesn’t really stick to the ground. It will faintly coat the odd tree that lines the streets, or melt into a gray slush, the same color m.snowe imagines slush would take if it was really a trick of the sun bouncing off all New York City’s cold concrete, sort of like the relationship between the ocean and the sky. There’s no where to hide in this great big salt shaker, and nothing to equalize (except maybe the economy…msnowe is joking of course). It might be rather poetic to say that New York doesn’t allow the simplest of nature’s pleasures because it is so harsh and unforgiving, or to just blame the heat that the city generates and radiates from the pavement. But m.snowe doesn’t think that’s a good enough reason why. Perhaps it has more to do with our abilities to lose ourselves in certain situations. Despite the whiteout of a blurry winter storm, New York will always be visible. It is what makes it at once so assuring, dominating, and so suffocating. We cannot forget where we are, and it becomes a part of who we are, for better or worse. So m.snowe will let the snow make that briefest of coatings, and marvel at the change.