Smarmy Alligator

Politics, pop culture, and self-deprecation

In which I blather on about Mad Men

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This season of Mad Men is getting verrrry interesting, from a feminist perspective (or at least from this feminist’s perspective). And this week, the talk on the lady blogs has been focusing on Peggy’s conversation with political writer Abe about the civil rights movement. Every one seems very disappointed in Peggy for comparing the struggles of blacks in America to her own struggles as a white woman. And no doubt, there is race fail all around. Modern feminists struggle to bring intersectionality to the front of our dialogue and activism,  and to work through the feminist movement’s history of blindness to the problems of women who weren’t privileged and white. Peggy’s comments feel like a huge blunder, in the context of the contemporary feminist movement and the work we’re trying to do.

But Peggy’s comments make complete sense in the context of the show, and I keep being surprised that other feminist writers are ignoring that. In 1965, the feminist movement didn’t exist. Women were working in the civil rights movement, and being told to fetch coffee and clean up after the people doing the “real work,” the men. The civil rights movement was, at this point, actually fairly racist. This was still a time when privileged white men thought they could fix the problems of less privileged non-white men, that it was their responsibility and in their control.

Peggy, as has been pointed out, is not a political being. It doesn’t seem like she even really knows very many black people. A lot of the ideas circulating in this time period seem pretty darn new to her. And I think the writers crafted an accurate, and even forward-thinking for its time, reaction. At this point, people weren’t talking about women’s oppression, which is made abundantly clear when Abe scoffs at the idea of a civil rights march for women. It’s true, women weren’t being shot for trying to vote (although only 60 years previously, they were beaten and arrested for trying to do the same). But I think Peggy’s reaction is exactly what I would have expected it to be, in 1965, for a person with her background and experiences.

In fact, I think it shows a very interesting foreshadowing of the early feminist movement, and I’m just surprised people aren’t seeing it that way. I guess it points up one of my frustrations with the way people sometimes talk about television. Mad Men isn’t a show that’s about trying to show us good people doing good things in a way that makes sense within our historical context. None of these characters is supposed to be a role model. This show is showing us the way it was, and Peggy’s comments are the way it was. If she’d reacted differently it would have been false.

I do think this gives us a way to talk about intersectionality, and the problems with the early feminist movement (and yes, the continuing problems within the feminist movement). I think it’s good to point out why what Peggy is saying is problematic. But it seems silly to wish this character, in this time and place, had said something else.

I, personally, am curious to see more of how Peggy’s political consciousness develops. And I think this aspect of this show can be a very useful way to talk about the beginnings of the feminist movement, and to highlight what’s still wrong with the feminist movement. This bit of dialogue in this show is a pretty good way of showing how the feminist  movement came to be what it was.  Because what it was was very much a product of its time. Just as the current feminist movement is a product of our time, and of all the things that have happened between 1965 and now. Our movement now is still far from perfect, but we can use these moments of pop culture gold to talk about those imperfections and work to change them.

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Written by laura k

September 26, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Posted in television

Ah, Sex and the City

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A few weeks ago, amidst the deluge of really terrible reviews of Sex and the City 2, I decided it was time to go back and watch the original series, the early years, to remember why I loved it so much in my early 20s. I was late to the SATC show, and didn’t start watching it until the last season was airing. I caught myself up just in time to watch the finale with all my girlfriends. I genuinely enjoyed the show six years ago, and as a recent housewarming gift, a friend of mine bought me the first season on DVD. So clearly, it was time for an SATC marathon.

Wow. Now that I’m in my early 30s I’ve discovered that the show is actually kind of infuriating. (And yet, still oddly addictive, in the same way, I think, that fashion magazines can be addictive…perhaps related to some residual, deep-seated masochism?) And these ladies? These ladies I related to and laughed with and commiserated with? Now that I’m actually their age, I loathe them. I wanted to sit down at the table with them and say, “Get a grip! And also, stop being stupid!”

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Written by laura k

June 18, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Lady Issues, television

Weight, Health, and Womanhood

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A few weeks ago, I found myself watching Kirstie Alley on Oprah, talking about her new organic food delivery venture and her continued struggle with weight loss. At one point, Oprah asked her what she eats in the course of a normal day, and Alley began to enumerate her menu, starting with an egg for breakfast. And she justified her eating of the egg by saying that she’s actually very healthy and has low cholesterol and low blood pressure, and I suddenly found myself feeling very, very sad for Kirstie Alley, and for women struggling to be healthy and eat normally everywhere. We are so ignorant and delusional about weight and health that women like Kirstie Alley have to continually enact a public self-flagellation over their bodies and their weight, despite the fact that they might actually be perfectly healthy people who happen to weigh more than 110 pounds.
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Written by laura k

April 4, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Posted in health, Lady Issues

Food Deserts

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Columbia Journalism Review might complain about the use of the term “food apartheid,” but I’m more interested in the story itself: A councilwoman from South Central Los Angeles is trying to get fast food restaurants banned from the community, citing higher rates of obesity and health problems due to the absence of other dining options. This is the kind of stuff I like to see. While the term “food apartheid” might be a bit much, people who live in economically depressed neighborhoods have far fewer choices, and less healthy choices, when it comes to their diets.

I live across the street from a housing project, and every night I see young families buying their “dinners” at a crappy convenience store, dinners that generally consist of sugar-flavored water, potato chips, candy, and frozen, processed food. The market does sell some produce, but none of it looks that good. The closest grocery store is an overpriced food co-op that I often can’t even afford to shop in, and I’m not trying to feed small children on a super limited budget. The restaurants in the neighborhood are mostly pubs, sub shops, or high priced bistros. There is a very clear demarcation in my neighborhood between the people who have money and can afford to eat well, and those who don’t, and therefore, can’t.

I am all for using the power of the government to get better, healthier food into neighborhoods that need it. Frankly, when a company like McDonald’s claims its free speech rights are being violated when it’s pushed out of a neighborhood, I feel more nauseous than I would if I had eaten one of their crap burgers. We’ve let corporations have free reign far too long, and it’s been proven that they aren’t doing us any favors. I’m fully behind a community telling them to get the hell out, even if they do use overblown rhetoric to do so.

Written by laura k

August 1, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Elections in the news

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Here we are, deep in the throes of another election season. And you know, politics still frustrates and sickens me. And at this point it is the media even more than the politicians throwing me into fits of apoplexy. I mean, sure, politicians say ridiculous, calculated, un-nuanced things and I get very upset with them. But journalists are supposed to uncover this ridiculousness, reveal the truth behind it. They are NOT supposed to simply report on the asinine things politicians say as though they are true.

Frankly, Columbia Journalism Review does a far better job than I uncovering the stupidity of the media. I would just end up saying the same things over and over: “You idiotic assholes!”

Sigh. Is there any hope that this will get better? Not as long as people like the fine citizens of Findlay, Ohio still believe every stupid ass rumor that gets spread around and not properly contradicted by journalists who are falling down on the job.

Double sigh.

Written by laura k

July 3, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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I just read this article on how people in Cuba use technology to get around the bans on internet connectivity put in place by the government (“Cyber-Rebels in Cuba Defy State’s Limits,” in NYTimes). While I do think the writer is a little bit leading (“cyber-rebels?”) in his language and whatnot, it’s an interesting glimpse at how information technologies evade containment, and at the ways people will use whatever they can to communicate and share information. It’s an open information world (or at least, it’s headed in that direction) which will force closed and controlling governments (including, in some ways, our own) to react, and hopefully change.

And oh, I thought this was pretty funny, in my anti-capitalist way: Some students forced a government official into an impromptu press conference, demanding to know the reasons for some of the restrictions placed on them. His answer regarding travel limitations set on Cuban citizens: He “suggested that if everyone who wished to were allowed to travel, there would not be enough airspace for the planes.” Heehee. Well, we take care of that here in the capitalist world by ensuring that not everyone who wishes to travel can afford it! Problem taken care of, plenty of airspace for the planes.

Written by laura k

March 7, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

New job new school new stuff

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I am now officially a student. I had my first class yesterday, Technology for Information Professionals. Thankfully, not as basic and mind-numbing as I was expecting. My second class, Reference, is this afternoon. I love being back on a college campus. I'm excited about everything. I'm a little surprised to see the the librarian stereotype is kind of true: I'm surrounded by some seriously dorky people. With social interaction issues. It'll be interesting to be one of the most put together, attractive people in the room for once. Hah.

I did, also, get that job at the Schlesinger library. I work there two days a week and so far I love it. Everyone is very nice and friendly. My boss is already showing an interest in my professional development, which is more than I can say for any boss I had in my last job. The library is beautiful and a very pleasant place to spend a few days a week. Everything is falling into place.

Of course, the fact that Crystal isn't just on vacation but has, in fact, moved is also starting to make itself real to me. Our new housemate hasn't moved in yet, but I"m sure that once she does the final bring in the Crystal's-really-gone wall will be cemented into place. I'm not sure how well that metaphor works, but whatever. She's doing well in Spain, although I'm sure a little bit overwhelmed.

I should head off to school now. Boy, I love saying that.

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Written by laura k

September 6, 2007 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized