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September 16, 2009

Are Responses to Obama Reflective of a Hidden Agenda, Paranoia, People's Inability to See Themselves, or Privilege?

What is really happening with our nation’s response to the Obama presidency? Since my professional reality centers upon challenging others/myself to recognize the biases we have that may be counterproductive to our being the best we can be, I need assistance unpacking some observations surrounding “our” first African American president that just don’t make much sense.

Public reaction to the collapse of our economy, our ongoing military presence in Iraq, and reaction to the Health Care plan are all complex. It is par for the course that these concerns are all very serious socio-political realities that leaders of powerful countries must engage. But a president’s legitimacy to serve her/his country is an unbelievable question to still be asking. Does anyone actually think a person named Barack Obama could have ever ascended to the presidency if he didn’t have the proper pedigree? Concerns over his birth/legitimacy even question the adequacy of our vetting process for the most prestigious position in our government. So, what could be the reason why President Obama is receiving treatment far different from other presidents?

The fact that America is no longer a racist society—now that we have elected a Black man to the presidency—allows us to put away the race card, right? Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency suggests that the reasons could no longer be racially motivated because all of us are so much more sophisticated about race relations, right?

Could the motivation be solely political? Does Obama’s presidency somehow threaten the sanctity of our political system, symbolizing the advent of different representation of traditionally disenfranchised voices? Are there concerns that a successful Obama presidency could cause a shift in who will lead us into new eras of our socio-political future? Granted, Obama’s election could be a paradigm shift of a magnitude too large for his opposition to fathom/manage. Is it acceptable that some might be attempting to manage the change through duplicity, questioning his worthiness to have access to our children, and accusing Obama of being a prevaricator? Is this just political posturing at the highest level or politicians who truly believe there are no subconscious motivations at work, or at least none they are capable of seeing.

A president’s privilege to communicate to her/his constituency should be a no-brainer. So, why isn’t it? Suggestions or belief that our elected leader would say something to harm our children are so ridiculous I can’t believe I had to use the keystrokes I just used to address it. That people would believe it suggests that some people’s ways of seeing Obama are heavily mired in not being able to overcome an insidious xenophobic indoctrination. What would have been the outcry if socio-economically deprived parents had denied Bush, Clinton, or Reagan access to their children because of those presidents’ excessive capitalists’ perspectives? Capitalist agendas don’t necessarily suggest immediate change/benefits for people who are often born into a proletariat that enables a bourgeois society to thrive. Why was there no outcry?

People can cloak their Obama dislike, disdain, or dismissals any way they feel necessary. But really listen and then unpack the utterly preposterous answers people give you about why they don’t want our elected “President” speaking to their children.

I was appalled at MSNBC’s Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough’s response to ex-President Jimmy Carter's assertion that many American’s reactions to the Obama presidency could be racist. Scarborough’s reaction was to dismiss the possibility of racism with sweeping generalizations atypical of someone wanting to avoid accusations of racism. It was rejuvenating to watch his colleague Mike Barnicle attempt to mentor him to be professionally responsible and not dismiss the possibility that "some" people "may be" responding to Obama because of their racism. Consider Congressman Joe Wilson’s outcry. Was it racist? We don’t have access to his motives, so asserting it was is problematic. On the other hand, it is possible that he is as racist as all of us are homophobic and sexist in a society that hasn’t figured out how important these types of conversations are to us overcoming our xenophobia.

I recall an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine had a new boyfriend whose racial identity Jerry, George, and Elaine couldn’t quite determine. They all wanted to talk/speculate about his race, but ultimately really didn’t know how to discuss it since they had never had to discuss it before. Eventually they discussed it ineptly by awkwardly attempting to not embarrass themselves by discussing it. Perhaps it is time that we found a way to really discuss our fears.

September 5, 2009

Does Excessive Flattery/Admiration Undercut the Ability to Romance: Is It a Socio-Economic Issue?

It has been a short summer, hasn’t it? I wonder if everyone is happy putting so-called relax time behind them for a while? For me, I’m excited to be back in the mix with the steady flow of my life. This semester excites me more than others because I am teaching my Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage (RSLM) course once again. I only teach it once every third semester and because of that there is usually a healthy number of students clamoring for it by the time it arrives. This energizes me because if you know anything about college electives, it isn’t easy attracting students to do serious work for a class that isn’t required. So, having 50 students in what is essentially a non-required philosophy class to discuss various dimensions of their lived, or soon to be lived lives is what we would call in the vernacular of my old neighborhood “off the hook!”

Having just concluded the second week of class we were engaging the topic of Romance. We looked to Goethe’s first novel “The Sorrows of the Young Werther” and a conversation of Socrates’ in the Symposium to assist us in exploring what John Armstrong calls “the Romantic Vision. We considered various music and film clips to bring some of our romantic concepts to life. One song in particular, “Slow Down” by Bobby Valentino, inspired a conversation about how men are socialized towards seeing women as objects, and in general how people prejudge one another subconsciously relative to the romantic perspectives as much as in any other human interaction. In the instance in Valentino’s song he has a guy overtly fascinated with a woman’s shapely lower backside. In singing about her, his fascination with the movement of her shapely lower backside and his imagination relative to that movement is overtly apparent, even seemingly contradicting other potentially romantic things he is trying to convey (you can “you tube” most of these songs/film clips if you are unfamiliar with these references and want to have more of a feel for what I am talking about).: What he actually says is”

I saw you walking
Down on Melrose
You looked like an angel
Straight out of heaven, girl
I was blown away by
Your sexiness
All I have to do is catch up to you

[Hook:]
Slow down I just wanna get to know you
But don't turn around
Cuz that pretty round thing looks good to me
Slow down never seen anything so lovely
Now turn around
And bless me with your beauty, cutie

A butterfly tattoo
Right above your naval
Your belly button's pierced too just like I like it girl
Come take a walk with me
You'll be impressed by
The game that I kick to you
It's over and for real

The game the guy was attempting to “kick” to her didn’t particularly impress the students and was deemed quite unromantic by many. However, the depth of diversity revealed itself and quite a few women in the class articulated their comfort with having their backsides admired, even celebrated, by someone they might find attractive. Nothing definitive emerged in our pursuit to determine the merits of a romantic encounter. We did however set the mood for the film clips and accompanying scholarship to be engaged. Between the first class and this one we had watched some of the following film clips to establish what exactly is romance or a romantic moment.

Boys Don’t Cry (the scene where Brandon [whom we also know as Teena] and Lana have their first encounter)

Out of Sight (the classic bar/hotel room scene between federal law enforcement officer Jennifer Lopez & escaped convict George Clooney)

Sin City (opening scene with Josh Hartnett exclaiming the sincerity of his growing passion for Marley Shelton)

ER (a hospital scene where two gay men [one HIV positive, the other not] appear to be desirous of sharing HIV positive status, for differing reasons--as a statement of their feelings towards one another).

Love Jones (Larenz Tate romances Nia Long with seductive spoken word during a chance meeting in a nightclub)

Sex and Lucia (Paz Vega romances Tristan Ulloa with a very, very direct approach)

All of these film clips contributed to painting a broad based conversation about romance, or romantic love (infatuation). However, when the conversation centered upon the scene from “Sex and Lucia” that arguably depicted romance, Lucia, initiates an exchange with a renowned local writer in a bar in Madrid by openly acknowledging that she is a fan of his who has been fascinated with him for quite some time (having read his novel) and is in love with him. She also acknowledges having followed him, knowing where he lives and his daily routine. Thrown off guard for a moment, the writer (Lorenzo) recovers to focus upon the fact that this very beautiful woman is quite lucid in the articulation of her desire to be affectionate towards him. Ultimately from that point, it can be argued that they begin a romance. This is when one of the students in the class made the assertion that romance between them couldn’t be possible because a groupie can’t be romanced. Recognizing that we first need to define the problematic, judgmental term “groupie” before we begin to attempt to determine whether he/she can be romanced is necessary, don’t you think?

The stereotypical notion of a groupie is someone who is interested in a relationship with someone else because of their notoriety, fame, or even fortune. Usually this so-called groupie lacks comparable prestige or visibility and therefore his/her self esteem is often tied to a relationship with a person of notoriety, fame or fortune, whom from this point forward we can refer to as a “celebrity” to simplify matters.

In our conversation we eventually linked the two medium’s messages (song and film), accentuated by a few students further substantiating their points with references to pertinent scholarship, and came out with the question is it possible for an ardent admirer of a celebrity (a so-called groupie) to be romanced? Why/Why not? One of the students (Kayte) challenged the class by critiquing their criticism of Lucia’s candidness towards Lorenzo. Most of the class seemed to initially concur that her revelation to him that she began to fall for him through reading his novel was infatuation as well as shallow. Kayte asserted that some in the class were being hypocritical in saying that the guy in Valentino’s song was shallow in his lyrical admiration of her attractive backside and now when someone is acknowledging their attraction to someone’s mind (Lorenzo’s writing) we want to also label her appreciation of him as shallow also. It was actually a profound moment in our discussion because most of the class (including me) had missed this contradiction.

We agreed to some extent that a so-called groupie who is trying to get next to a celebrity will be making moves that could be construed as romantic overtures. But upon the realization that a groupie is interested in the celebrity, does the groupie somewhat yield the right of having their overtures reciprocated? After all, do you have to romance someone that obviously is head over heels towards you, or do you simply have to receive the adoration and affection that they extend? In other words, are you reciprocating romance simply by receiving it?

So, what might be the power dynamics that play out in what could be construed as an unbalanced beginning to a romance? In Sex and Lucia, the woman (Lucia) is a waitress, the man (Alonzo) a writer. Saying it in a stereotypically blunt manner, the woman is a woman, the man a man. So, what does that mean? Well, if she were the prominent writer and him a waiter would their pursuit of romance have played out differently? Could the less economically able person have romanced the other after revealing waiter/groupie status relative to celebrity status? In other words, would the dynamic change if she were the celebrity writer and he was the so-called groupie?

Larger questions that ensue from this conundrum of sorts are:
1. Does our class status accentuate or prevent, help or inhibit us from romancing someone in another socio-economic class?
2. Is it possible to ever transcend this dysfunctional socialization and romance someone as if we live in a classless society?
3. Aren’t we all potentially groupies on the continuum of attraction? What do you think I could possibly imply by this question? This third question is the one which I am most interested in hearing your thoughts. Your response will possibly add to our in-class conversation on romance. A good thing about that is you didn’t even have to register for the class. A bad thing about that is that you aren’t really in the class. Sorry about that…!