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October 25, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY

BlogsCulture and Context

Progress and Regress 3

The third installment of this weekly feature runs down the best and worst in this week’s pop culture news, including Looking, a “living doll,” and House of Cards.

Progress: HBO’s Looking (yes, four episodes after writing a lukewarm review, I’m still talking about this show, used an accessible “Ross and Rachel” metaphor to introduce all 12 (just an estimate) of its straight viewers to what might be the most enduring and pervasive form of internalized homophobia: bottom-shaming. This hurtful form of discrimination, which comes from within the queer community, is a major factor in perpetuated stereotypes about gay relationships. (Under that last link lies an unflattering but enlightening photo of me. Enjoy the knowledge.)

Regress: The hypercreepy hyperfetishized living doll movement (the My Strange Addiction episode will tell you everything you need to know about this beauty-obsessed subculture that values artificiality and youth) has taken a really scary new turn as “living Barbie” Blondie Bennett has spoken out about the hypnotherapy techniques she’s using to lower her own IQ. (Can science explain that to me, please?) I’m a little curious about why the people in her life are neglecting to intervene, but I imagine that they know that in the world of bizarre stories, this one’s a 1999 Limited-Edition Crystal Jubilee.

Progress: Despite concerns that his newfound fame as the first openly gay athlete in a major professional sport would make him a distraction for the NBA, Jason Collins sealed his place in history by signing with the Brooklyn Nets. As of press time, he is expected to play at tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, his first game since coming out.

Sorry Not Sorry: Going against everything the Olympics stand for, I (and millions of others) continue to be fascinated by the medal count. The spirit and official guidelines of the Olympics call for friendly competition between individuals, not heated rivalries between nations. Besides, nations with higher GDPs are at an enormous advantage for winning medals (higher funding for training, equipment, facilities, etc), so in the end, the countries going home with the most gold are often the ones who started out with the most gold, anyway. We came in second, by the way. God Bless America.

Progress: Breaking the longest-such streak in the Rock Era (1955-today), Pharrell Williams is expected to finally become the first black artist to lead a Hot 100 #1 single since Rihanna did it with “Diamonds” in 2012. Pharrell’s “Happy,” a Best Original Song Oscar contender, hopefully represents the beginning of the end of the least-diverse string of music industry champions ever. Meanwhile, we haven’t seen a #1 by an Asian-American (or Asian) artist since Far East Movement’s “Like a G6” over three years ago.

Progress: Facebook is finalizing plans to expand its gender options beyond “male” and “female” to allow users to express the broad spectrum of gender identities. New options will include gender-fluid, two-spirit, male-to-female trans, and genderqueer. No word on how this will effect “Interested In” options, which is a shame, because I’d honestly and genuinely love to get a call from my grandmother asking “What’s a Kinsey 5?”

(Spoiler Alert) Toss-Up: Let’s talk House of Cards. This season cranked up the “Hot-Button Issues” meter to 11, tackling nuanced discussions of rape, abortion, suicide, and mental illness, as well as allusions to a probably upcoming storyline about antihero Frank Underwood’s sexuality. The reason this one’s a toss-up for me, though, is that the issues are portrayed through the actions of extremely ruthless characters, leaving the audience a bit unsure of how they’re supposed to feel. I want to applaud Claire Underwood for speaking openly about her choice to have an abortion on a live CNN interview, but I cringe at her use of a fellow victim toward her own agenda. I’m infuriated with the American people for wanting to impeach their President on the grounds that he didn’t disclose his use of psychotropic medication to the public (among other things), but wonder whether it’s ableist discrimination at play or a sincere concern about his honesty as a leader. Underwood’s relations with other men could be an opportunity to explore the fluidity of sexual orientation, but instead are brief “shock value” interjections to the broader story. The way things are moving, though, I trust that Season 3 will bring these stories in a very satisfying direction, opening the show’s viewers to some crucial conversations.

Coming this week to Culture and ContextDo “Disney princesses” really matter?, and the last thing I’ll ever write about Sochi 2014.