Thursday, December 9, 2010

Private bodies, public assault: TSA body scans and national security

--Lindsey Cohen

The recent uproar over the TSA’s use of the full body scans in airports across the United States presents an interesting study over the way in which personal privacy is protected in the face of national security. After September 11, 2001, airport security measures increased dramatically. This happened rightfully so, taking into consideration that if such measures had been in place before the incident, then it might not have happened. However, at what point do these security measures become too much? Is it worth it to risk personal civil liberties protected by the Bill of Rights in order to further enhance airline security?

Beginning in 2007, full body scanners were introduced to airports nationwide. The concept behind the scanners is that they produce a black and white three-dimensional image of the person being scanned, and any anomalies (i.e. potential items of harm) will be further investigated. However, as evidenced by the images shown here, the images produced by the scanners are clearly quite invasive, because, essentially, all clothes have been removed from the person being scanned; and the image is left to be scrutinized by a TSA officer. However invasive this may seem, the alternative does not offer that much of a greater option. Should someone choose to not go through the body scanner; they must receive a full-body pat down by one of the TSA officers. For both males and females, this pat down is highly intrusive for the person’s body. TSA officers are required to feel up into the groin region and also in-between the breasts in females. Is this really any better than a random TSA officer viewing an almost naked picture of you?

According to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Surely, through both the body scans and the pat down, most people will begin to feel at least some levels of discomfort; this contradicting the right of a person to be “secure” in their own body. Furthermore, if any random person on the street were to touch another person in the way the TSA officers do during a pat down; then it would be akin to sexual assault; clearly, another injustice of the U.S. legal system. Following the ideals of Luce Irigaray in “The Sex Which is Not One,” it is clear how men and women are reduced purely to their physical bodies and nothing else, when images are produced of them in the body scanners.

On November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving (an extremely busy transport day for airports), thousands of people against the body scanners participated in “National Opt Out Day,” where instead of being scanned, passengers would opt out and receive a pat-down by one of the TSA officers. While acts of the constituent public like this are not enough to completely disregard the flagrancies of the TSA, in order to show disapproval; action must be taken in order to uphold personal rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Homogenity and curiosity in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands

-Lindsey Cohen

In Tim Burton’s 1990 film Edward Scissorhands, Burton portrays the highly stigmatized society of suburban life in the late 1970s and the repercussions that ensue when something threatens this homogenized lifestyle. Everything from the neighborhood to the men and women that live in it are extremely one-dimensional and display the quintessential values and appearance of a suburban neighborhood of the 70’s.

The residents of the neighborhood are comprised of the standard nuclear family, with a mother, a father, and kids; leaving little room for any exceptions to this norm. In creating these characters, Burton displays a highly satirical view of essentialist philosophy to produce such one-sided individuals. All of the women are very much the same in regards to roles and characteristics. Jobless, as per the standard of suburbia, during the day, the women will get together on the street corner to gossip about the latest news, and rush home to see to their husbands when they arrive home from work.

In the same way, all of the men follow the same pattern. They all drive the same cars, and leave and arrive home all at the same time. While families may strive for individuality in their sickly pastel colored homes, as every home in the neighborhood displays similar sorts of garish coatings; all desire for separation and distinction is forgotten in the face of an overwhelming sense of sameness.

Upon the arrival of Edward Scissorhands to the neighborhood, everything from his physiognomy to his attire is a complete deviation from the norm expressed in this community. The fact that he has had little social interaction with others is practically negligible in a space where appearance defines who you are. Thus, someone who has scissors for hands is clearly not going to be accepted. Furthermore, Edward’s outlandish attire sets himself even further apart with his dark clothing set against an otherwise colorful place. While Edward is clearly an outsider to this community, a curious thing happens when Edward is taken up by the community as an object of curiosity. Once Edward’s skills of cutting greenery and hair are discovered, all pretenses of abnormality and rejection are disregarded.
The acceptance of Edward into the community represents the fickle nature of the members of this neighborhood. Once it is seen that is the trendy thing to do to be enamored by such an anomaly as Edward clearly is, pretenses of his initial abnormality are forgotten. Perhaps everyone is so enchanted by Edward because he is such a stark contrast to the community; where all sense of individuality has been lost.
Overall, many foils exist between the many differences of Edward in comparison to the neighborhood he is brought to. Before he was brought into the neighborhood, he lived upon a dark, dilapidated mountain home, a stark contrast to the perfect pastel homes below. Despite the dreariness of Edward’s home though, he relished in the landscaping of bushes to create garden images. Edward brings his landscaping skills with him and begins creating them all over the neighborhood. While these garden fixtures would have been viewed as garish and outlandish; the hype placed over Edward makes them acceptable.

Further expressing the neighborhood’s fickle nature, when Edward is taken advantage of by several of the kids in the neighborhood and tricked into breaking into a house; everyone suddenly turns on Edward as if he is some vile creature and forget whatever fascination they had with him to begin with. Burton’s expression of the flippant nature of the community display how afraid everyone is of being ousted to the margins of society. Thus, the bandwagon effect almost exists in hyper mode in this community where ostracism is akin to social suicide.
In all, Burton strives to express the dangers of a community becoming a solidified homogenized group wherein all sense of distinctiveness is lost. Such a community faces the loss of ability to think for themselves and decide what they themselves truly believe in as opposed to the majority as a whole.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Feminist hall design competition

A fellow WS100 instructor decided to do a modified version of the design competition exercise with her students. The instructions were to design a feminist dorm hall, paying attention to programming, the allocation of space, and potential spatial inhabitants. Here is what the students came up with:

Truth Hall (named after Sojourner Truth)
Goal: to develop residents’ understanding of equality, promote emotional, physical, intellectual, social growth that will turn them into exceptional feminists and citizens of their community
Space: somewhat traditional residence hall, accessible bathrooms and elevator; common space in the middle of the hall which includes kitchen, laundry room, study space, and, at the center, circular couches to promote discussion (thus furthering mission statement)
Selection of students: application included three interesting essay questions
Leadership: elected (to allow for development of leadership skills); conflicts handled by leadership, residents encouraged to submit questions on Learnlink conference
Rules: no gender or racial slurs, no gender-specific facilities, must use inclusive language
Events: volunteer requirements, group discussions, movie nights, hall would also plan a Feminism Awareness Night for the Emory community

Defying DefiNation
Goal: to reject essential identity categories
Space: space has no definite boundaries, lots of moveable partitions (based on the idea that defined spaces – i.e. kitchen, bedroom, etc. – have historically restricted women); also have common area for cooking, garage with communal vehicles
Leadership: leadership is shared equally, decisions made through discussion (vote if necessary)
Events: bi-weekly discussion dinners organized by 3 teams (cooking, cleaning, discussion); also require volunteer work; will participate in an existing Emory wide event

A Prescription for Society
Goal: to promote unity and community across genders. Its residents seek not only to explore their own personal views but the Emory community as a whole.
Space: Used existing Emory floor plan; designed “bitter pills” (facts about gender inequality) to decorate floor
Selection of students: students must complete one Women’s Studies class to live on the floor
Leadership/Conflicts: will have two RAs (one male, one female) to resolve disputes
Maintenance of common areas: designed a “chore wheel” to assign chores fairly
Events: will have monthly events based on theme for each month
Rules: residents must participate actively in the community, complete chores, and use respectful language

Results: The students who did not participate voted for the best proposal. Truth Hall received 2 votes, Defying DefiNation received 1 vote, and A Prescription for Society received 2 votes. Each proposal had strong elements and all groups had put a lot of work into their proposals. The instructor choose Defying DefiNation as the winner – they had clearly thought about the relationship between the goal of the floor (break down essentialist identity categories) and the space of the floor (no definite boundaries, moveable partitions). They had also thought carefully about other aspects of their proposal, including advertising, decision-making structure, events, and rules.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Profit and the deathly aesthetics of place: MAC cosmetics' Rodarte collection

--Lindsey Cohen

Going for that perfect “dead” look? Try adding some Sleepwalker eye shadow with some Bordertown in the crease. For extra deathliness you can try adding some Ghost Town to the lips.

Sounds crazy right? Not so much to MAC..

Exploitation in the name of beauty has sadly become a reality as evidenced by MAC Cosmetics’ release of the Rodarte Makeup collection. At first glance, the collection may seem innocent and unassuming, but greater insight to the collection tells a different story. With names of products like “ghost town,” “factory,” and “pale,” what was once inspiration for beauty, becomes much more entangled in deeper issues of exploitation.

Inspiration for the collection was drawn upon Rodarte designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy’s road trip from El Paso to Marfa, Texas. Upon their journey, they were struck by the “ethereal landscape and the impoverished factory workers floating to work at dawn in a sleepy, dreamlike state.” Out of context, these drawn upon inspirations may seem enchanting and glorified; however, the true background story of this inspiration is quite horrific in nature. In essence, the ‘inspiration’ for this collection was based off the mass femicides in Juarez that have been ongoing since 1993. The majority of the victims are women between the ages of 12 and 22 who work in maquiladora factories. While there have only been around 400 reported cases of women; many local residents estimate as many as 5,000 women have been killed. Given the current state of the police force in Mexico, the femicides have been given extremely minimal attention in the face of greater issues ongoing in Mexico, such as the drug wars; thus resulting in the underestimated amount of reported cases by police. Furthermore, inspiration for names such as “sleepless” and “sleepwalker,” was based off the fact that, because of the constant threat of rape and murder, women factory workers are forced to undertake the cover of night to travel to and from work just to get there safely.

Such glamorization of the wanton and unrecognized murder of women in Juarez for pure profit is completely unacceptable. MAC cosmetics, with their frequent release of new collections, are pure money-makers. Such that, the fact that MAC would take advantage of the plight of women in Juarez for money is of little importance to them.

In the face of such an egregious mistake in the release of this collection on MAC’s part; it is uplifting to know that the public would not stand for the release of this collection. Upon the initial promotion of the collection, there was uproar from the fans of MAC who disapproved. In response, MAC decided that it would change some of the most offending names in the collection and donate $100,000 to a non-profit organization benefiting the women of Juarez. However, after even further backlash, it was decided that the entire collection was to be pulled completely (the money would still be donated though).

While it’s comfortable to know that the public won’t stand for such a flagrant err in sensitivity; it’s unfortunate that this collection never fazed the creators as even being the slightest bit offensive. Clearly, there is so much focus on the profit aspect, that no attention is paid to whether or not such a collection is even socially acceptable. Furthermore, the initial advertising that was made for the collection brings into the question as to why no one ever stood up before the public backlash in questioning what might be seen as a sensitive topic to some. The women portrayed in the advertising photos essentially look like they’re dead. With their sunken in eyes and walls that look like blood is streaming down them; it is difficult to see how this type of photo could be celebrating beauty when the names and photos of the collection so blatantly connote a sense of death.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Toys and the "Proper" Body

--Nicole Gage

After recently reading an article on entitled “15 Unintentionally Perverted Toys for Children,” I was horrified at the idea that some of the toys on the list were ever put on the market. The article explains and shows pictures of toys that are overly sexualized and very inappropriate for young children. Some of the toys also promote ideas about gender, as the sexualized aspect of them makes children of certain sexes feel they must identify with a certain gender.

One of the toys presented on the list is called “Growing Up Skipper,” a doll produced by Mattel that “was supposed to be Barbie’s little sister”. The doll grows taller and her breasts increase in size when her arm is turned around. This is supposed to be representative of puberty, but poses problems since it is only marketed towards young girls. This can be determined by the pink packaging and feminine clothing accessories that come along with the doll. This reinforces the norm that girls should play with dolls, while boys should be focusing their attention on something else. If a young boy were to pick up the doll, it would be going against social norms because the doll portrays a developed female body. Many parents would be frowned upon for giving a young boy this doll, and the boy might be seen as strange if he enjoys playing with it or shows any interest in appearing similar to it. Girls who want to look like their dolls, however, are not seen as strange. Some dolls even come in packages that provide makeup for the doll and the same makeup for the person who owns it. This marketing towards genders not only promotes stereotypes, but shows the fear that our culture has of different sexes identifying with other body types.

The “Batman Water Gun,” which is also described on the list, is marketed primarily to boys since it comes in dark colors and portrays very masculine themes. This water gun also promotes ideas of the body, as batman appears to be very muscular and strong. Thus, boys who pick up this toy are meant to identify with batman’s body type and strive to achieve it. This poses problems once again, as boys who might not feel inclined to look that way feel excluded. It would also be interesting to see the reactions that would occur if a young girl were to pick up the toy and associate with it or its body type more than she does with her dolls. I do not think that young girls are given as much pressure to follow gender roles as boys, because “tomboys” do not seem to face any discrimination while effeminate boys do. However such toys still help to create gender roles early on, which is just as significant a problem as the sexualization of such toys.
Finally, after reading this article, I began to wonder whether or not all the toys were truly “unintentionally perverted”. It seems plausible that sexualization of toys could be just another outlet for companies to promote ideas about gendered bodies. While such toys might appear to merely promote ideas about the body, they also potentially make those who do not identify with their “proper” body feel very excluded or confused.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sniff to Steer: Disability to Ability

--Simi Alalade

Scientist in Israel have invented a device that paraplegics and quadriplegics can use to maneuver a wheelchair and communicate simply by sniffing. Using a tube, one side is connected to the nose and the other is connected to a pressure sensor.
It works like this:
• 2 sniffs in tell the wheelchair to move forward
• 2 sniffs out tell the wheelchair to reverse
• 1 sniff out turns the wheelchair to the left
• 1 sniff in turns the wheelchair to the right
The tests show remarkable results. It took approximately 15 min for users to learn to efficiently use the device.

In a society where mobility is very important in order to fully function and be a part of social connections to others, people with disabilities can feel helpless and isolated. To be social, it becomes imperative to leave one’s home and interact with outside spaces that other people interact with as well. Mobility is necessary in public space. Its space encompasses consistent movement and change. Immobility can hinder that specific blending into open spaces. These social spaces consist of simple places like parks, grocery stores, movie theaters, libraries, and museums. It is very easy for people with disabilities to be excluded.

Barriers in architectural society are main reasons. Writer, Nancy Mairs, in her book, Waist High in the World, elaborates on her disability and the different obstacles she faces in everyday life, including entering in to public spaces. Architectural critic, David Gissen, writes about his mobility impairment and how it affects his life, job, and perceptions. His impairment affects him in a significant way, and complete mobility impairment can seem as a blockage of social and public connections. New inventions, however, can open up these obstacles.

In order to fully utilize open access for those with disabilities, inventions such as this one are needed. With a simple action as sniffing, people can use their own bodies to help assist other impaired body parts, giving them self-control.

The special part of the device is that it is so simplistic. It does not draw extreme attention, and can give assurance to the impaired that their differences do not require excess assistance. The device thus provides a sense of independence for people with disabilities.

In many instances, medical practices towards impairment only look at those with disabilities as people with deformed or unnatural bodies. Instead of thinking of people with disabilities as different bodies, medicine compares them to a standard of “normalcy." In addition, many people with impairments believe that supplemental machines, devices, and technology are trying to change and get rid of impairments and human diversity. Advocates of disability rights believe that architecture and society should include those with all types of bodies, allowing them to fully integrate into society with much less worry and trouble.

I believe this invention is a balance between both medical views and disability rights views of impairment. I think it does change the way we look at normal. It does not force people to conform but is more of a support. The medical device does not control the disabled; the disabled control the device. They use it and it does not use them. Using technology can help integrate people with impairments into society, but in many ways, the environments must advance and transform to sustain differently-abled bodies.

With inventions like this, it is important to continue to build and construct architectural environments that encompass all types of bodies and additional structures that assist bodies. Curb cuts, inclined pathways, and other adjustments in such a “concrete environment” are just a few of the many and many more needed changes in society in order to integrate those with different bodies. Overall, this invention is low-tech and simple. As for now, it is not on the market but will be affordable because its simplicity. I think it is a great step towards turning disability into ability.

Sexual freedom or object of sexual attention: How young is too young?

--Carly Cindrich

Yesterday, my friend sent me this link to the music video of Willow Smith, daughter of actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, singing her debut single “Whip My Hair.” I must have watched this video upwards of ten times already, staring completely dumbfounded at the screen each time. When I learned that yet another one of the young Smith brood has made their way into the limelight, I was unfazed. However the lyrics and video I have been listening to and watching over and over is the farthest thing I expected from a nine-year-old girl, no matter her legacy.

When you take this song for face value it is simply about having fun and letting go of inhibitions. Also, the frequent mentions of shaking off “haters” introduce the theme of not letting other people bring you down. However, while you can try all you’d like to acknowledge the cutesy message and nothing else, some of her lyrics make this almost impossible. One of the verses in the song is

I'ma get more shine than a little bit
Soon as I hit the stage applause I’m hearing it
Whether its black stars black cars I’m feeling it
But can't none of them whip it like I do
I, I gets it in mmm yea I go hard
When they see me pull up
I whip it real hard
I whip it real hard
Real hard
I whip it real hard

If Willow Smith (or her songwriter) is going to plainly include adult themes in the song such as cars, her audience cannot be expected to ignore the very adult messages expressed, for example, by the repetition of the words “real heard” four consecutive times. Her insistence on this phrase combined with her knowing looks to the camera instantly change the meaning from “I fiercely whip my hair around at a high velocity when I’m dancing” to something very different. It is also interesting to look at the gender evoked by this particular verse. A very masculine ego shines through in lines like “none of them whip it like I do.” More notably, male sexuality is highly present in phrases such as “I gets it in” and the recurrence of the words “I whip it real hard.” Of course, the latter is supposed to refer to her hair, but once this line is paired with other possibly phallic allusions like getting it in, it makes it all the more difficult to block out the prevalence of sexual references in a song sung by a fourth grader. These are my main grounds for believing that Smith did not write this song herself, and furthermore, that her songwriter is probably male. There is no information yet on the internet to confirm or deny this.

With this song, Smith is clearly not trying to appeal to her own contemporaries. Granted, most hip-hop music nowadays is hardly PG, but while Nikki Minaj raps about sex and cars, she also is not aiming her music towards nine-year-olds. Although anyone old enough to maneuver a remote control could turn on VH1 or MTV and see women dancing in skimpy outfits, the music video by Willow Smith is particularly egregious because although her body is sufficiently covered, her makeup, hair, and nails combined with her questionable lyrics instantly changes the image of childhood. Children often take cues from their parents, older siblings, and even cultural icons on how to act, but mostly they learn by examples from their peers. Willow Smith is a minor, a young little girl. She can’t drive, drink, get into nightclubs or understand most innuendos, so it really doesn’t make sense for her to be singing about them.

The bigger picture here is that if it is okay to sexualize a nine-year-old, then what does that say about society’s treatment and expectations of females in general? Are all girls supposed to be objects of sexual attention as soon as they’re old enough to wear the same kinds of clothes as older girls or perhaps just old enough to make a music video? Furthermore, the urban themes in “Whip My Hair” add a racial aspect to the argument. If a nine-year-old African American girl can sing about almost the same things as Nikki Minaj, Rihanna, and BeyoncĂ©, and wear the same makeup and hairstyles as them, then why should Willow Smith’s birth year alone change the way people interpret her lyrics and dance moves?

Many female music artists use their “fierceness” as a vehicle for empowerment. For them to show it through their physical appearance and in their lyrics is their prerogative as legal, independent adults. However, Willow Smith is setting a precedent with her song “Whip My Hair” for not only other girls her age to act like diva adult women but also for her fans of all ages to accept adult messages from a mere child and carelessly lost sight of a little girl’s age.