Cultural Anthropology’s CAR Feature

The journal Cultural Anthropology has been at the forefront of melding scholarship with the internet. It began going open-access recently, and has been running Hot Spots features for a few years now. Hot Spots are a collection of short essays written, curated, and edited by scholars addressing a specific topic.

I’ve been reading my way through the recent Hot Spots features on-and-off over the last couple of months. My thesis reader, Sara Shneiderman, co-edited a batch of essays on the ‘post-conflict’ in South Asia that is provides interesting insight on an idea (being ‘post-conflict’) across the wide region. Prior to that, there was a feature on protests in Brazil that are worth a look, especially now that the World Cup has brought the spotlight back to Brazil’s ongoing unrest.

But the reason I’m writing this post is to draw your attention to the most recent Hot Spots feature, edited by Louisa Lombard. It is a collection of eleven essays on the current violence in Central African Republic, and it includes some really, really great work that at once problematizes simplistic narratives and helps makes sense of complex issues. If you’re interested in anthropology, history, violence, of CAR, there’s something there for you.

Torture is Wrong – But So Is Rape.

Wednesday night my wife and I went to see Christopher Durang’s Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, a 2009 play that was being performed at the Yale Cabaret. It’s a story about how quickly things can escalate, especially when you’re surrounded by men with guns, and it lampoons conservative ideals that justify torture and promote preemptive strikes. It is also a piece of rape redemption.

It didn’t start that way (or maybe it did, more on that below). I was enjoying the show at one point, but by the end of it my wife and I were exchanging unimpressed, disapproving, and then angry-as-fuck glances. The rant we found ourselves in during our walk home informs this here blog post. Without further ado, Why Rape is Wrong, and the People Who Write Pro-Rape Plays.

I should’ve known something was up in the opening scenes, when our female protagonist Felicity realizes that her new husband Zamir drugged her the night they were married (and even says that he married her only so that she would sleep with him) and then drugged her again in a subsequent scene before fondling her unconscious body. Every time Felicity talks about this act – in which he drugs her and rapes her – she suspects him of slipping her a date rape drug. She never says he might have raped her. Not once. It may be inferred, but it is never said.

Felicity doesn’t know anything about Zamir, and suspects that he might be a terrorist, or a mobster, or a serial killer. Most of the rest of the play is Felicity’s fruitless effort to get an annulment (but every time she brings it up, Zamir threatens her with explicit violence) and her father’s misguided quest to stop Zamir’s alleged terrorist plot. Both Zamir and Felicity’s father have anger problems and love to put women in their place. Her father is the ultimate Crazy Conservative Dad, hating on Jane Fonda, blaming gay marriage for ruining everything, caring more about Terri Schiavo and fetuses than his own wife, and constantly threatening to use his 2nd Amendment right to blow Zamir to pieces.

The story is dotted with Felicity’s mother’s peculiarity, a peculiarity which is reaching the breaking point of unhinged. It also becomes clear that she is unhappy in her loveless marriage. These facts are not unrelated. At various points in the play, we see her battling with the role of the quiet, subdued woman whose husband tells her how to dress and how to act, eventually erupting in a monologue, declaring her own opinions, dammit, and reveling in her power to be her own self. And then she promptly goes back to being a kind, quiet wife.

The story progresses, things escalate (as they do when you’re around men with guns), and after an unfortunate series of misunderstandings, Felicity’s father captures Zamir and tortures him until he makes up a story about a bombing, while Felicity tries to convince him it’s all a misunderstanding. Ha, we’ve successfully made fun of the pro-torture crowd! That’s when Felicity halts the play and tells the narrator she wants to go back to before things all went wrong and make them better.

From this point on, things actually get worse as far as rape apologia is concerned. The Yale Cab’s program asks, “how do we create a reality that we find acceptable in a world gone mad?” Let’s see Felicity’s attempts to make her world more “acceptable,” to – in her own words – have “the same characters, only with better aspects.”

First, we reverse to the morning when she introduces Zamir to her parents. She has already been raped at least once and will be raped again that night, and the scene escalates in the same way it had before. She declares this a no-go, and we have to go back further – to before she ever met Zamir. This makes sense because the only “acceptable” world is one where men don’t rape women.

Rewind to the bar. She meets Zamir, and he promptly slips pills in her drink. She stops the scene, declares that a no-go and – rather than exit stage right and find a non-rapist man to date – she tells Zamir they’ve got to work on those types of things. Same characters. Better aspects. She then explains that the pills and the drinking were how she got herself into this mess, and so Zamir orders her a selzer water. At one particularly teachable moment, Felicity looks out at the audience and says, “women should make better choices,” just in case she hadn’t made her point clear enough. After a man just tried to slip drugs in her drink, she victim blames herself. She also tries to get Zamir’s rage in line, but it takes a couple more stop-the-play moments (that is, he has a couple more outbursts of anger bordering on violence).

Let’s be clear here. A man raped a woman multiple times, and she gets the chance to go back in time to make things better. And by make things better, she tut-tuts him for trying to drug her, divides the blame for her subsequent rape evenly between the date-rapist for drugging her and herself for drinking too much, and then tries to stay with him and make things better by keeping his rapist tendencies and bursts of violent rage in check with kind reminders. Women don’t need to make better choices, but Felicity sure does. The writer who created her had some other options, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, Felicity’s mother is back in full wife-mode, and is elated that her husband is feeling so much empathy that he said sorry when he stepped on her foot while dancing. There’s hope yet, ladies. Earlier in the play, she had said that she was still waiting for her husband to come around, after decades of unhappiness and feeling trapped. Also earlier in the play, Felicity talks to the reverend who married her and Zamir to get advice about an annulment. He asks if she could maybe forgive him, and she says “maybe I could forgive him in a couple of years,” but that “right now” she wants to get out of the marriage.

Again, let’s be clear. If you’re in a relationship with a man who doesn’t value you, pay attention to you, or respect you in any ways, just wait. If you’re in a relationship with a man who hurts you and you are angry, maybe forgive him.

At one point, Felicity’s mother says that she doesn’t know what “normal” is, and that that’s why she goes to the theater. But the “normal” that this performance projects is not a good one for women.

In the final scene, Felicity and a rape-redeemed Zamir slow-dance their way to the end. After showing Zamir as a rapist with an anger problem who hates “American women” and their opinions, the final scenes tell the audience that all Felicity needed to do was try harder at changing him and getting the better aspects of his character to come out. Faced with the possibility of changing the outcome, she opted to not be raped, but still stay with the predatory man who would have tried to rape her. It seems that Christopher Durang, the playwright, was so focused on caricaturing neoconservative warmongerers that he didn’t mind the rape apologia that came with it.

The play is billed as a satire, and it’s a good one when it comes to right-wing, hyper-masculine, trigger-happy men and the security state’s use of torture. But where it discusses the rapist tendencies of masculinity and misogyny, it is not written to draw laughs. Felicity’s moral lines in the closing scenes are the most revealing parts of the play’s misogyny. At the play’s most teachable moment, the play says this: if a man drugs you and rapes you and terrorizes your family and makes you feel insecure, just try to change him for the better, a la Beauty and the Beast.

A New York Times review of the play says that the story is marked by a “subliminal, creepy buzz generated by an addiction to violence that transcends cultures but is apparently coded in the male chromosome.” That might be right. But, while there is plenty of commentary on rage and gun violence, there is little said about rape and denying women agency.

According to the program, Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them lets the audience “laugh while also recognizing the painful truth of our present social and political reality” and shows “little glimmers of hope that change may, indeed, be possible.” But when it comes to the social ills of our present reality, rape culture was not among the things being criticized, and the change that came still had the rapist go home with the girl, he just hadn’t drugged her yet.

Last Week in Entmoot News

Bringing you the latest news from the meeting of Ents in Derndingle.

Ents meet at the Entmoot in Derndingle to debate a war resolution.

Ents meet at the Entmoot in Derndingle to debate a war resolution.

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U.S. Representative Leafhand Orofarnë (R-KY) shook leaves today when he went on an anti-immigration rant during a news segment on Westfold Today. In response to a question of whether undocumented youth should be granted citizenship, Orofarnë decried the idea as amnesty. “That may have worked in Lothlórien, but look where that got them – the Elves have all fled to the Grey Havens because of the immigrant problem. I don’t know about you, but I’m an Ent, and Ents don’t have a fancy oceanfront heaven like the Elves do. If you ask me, we should close the borders before we’re covered in Orcs or worse – Huorns.”

Orofarnë’s office was quick to walk back the statements, taking great ent-strides to explain what he really meant. “Representative Orofarnë is proud of America’s multicultural values and our immigrant history,” a spokesperson later said. “He was merely pointing to the Elves’ history and in light of what large numbers of Hobbits might do to our economy.”

When asked for comment, U.S. Representative Rowanoke Bregalad (D-KY) criticized Orofarnë’s portrayal of the DREAM Act as amnesty. “Some trees are growing Ent-ish, and some Ents are growing tree-ish, you see,” she said. “I’m afraid Leafhand has gone tree-ish of late. Hoom hom hoom.”

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In a rural townhall meeting in Dane County, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) stated that the federal government has a spending problem. “We have poured money into higher education,” Johnson explained, “[but] we’ve made it so much more unaffordable.” He also called for more accountability on federal spending.

When asked how to do this, Johnson responded, “let’s not be too hasty.” He then chided his constituents for being rash. He ended the meeting with a loud, echoing “hoom” before stomping back to Oshkosh for a fundraiser.

*             *

In the House today, Representatives discussed the ongoing fighting between the Rohirrim and the Wildmen of Dunland in western Rohan. Some Representatives sympathetic to the plight of the Dunlendings have introduced a bill to authorize arms sales to the rebel group, but the non-interventionist majority of Congress questioned the efforts. In addition, a lobbying firm with ties to Dunland has accused Rohan of trumping up charges to justify further fighting.

Somewhere, Éomer Éadig turned his head and said, “warmongering?”

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The National Air and Space Museum was evacuated this afternoon after a drunk Huorn crushed several horses. Authorities would not release the name of the Huorn, but stated that a breathalyzer test found that he was stomping under the influence. “It’s amazing what a little too much Entwash can do to some of these younger tree-kin,” Capitol Police Officer Ecthelion IV said in a press conference.

The horses belonged to a group of Rohirrim visiting Derndingle on a school field trip. One of the teachers, Théowyn daughter of Thengel, has stated that the children may not make it home in time for 4th of July celebrations. Supporters have started a GoFundMe page to assist the school with transportation needs.

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The Office of U.S. Senator John McCain III (R-AZ) released the following statement today declaring his position on the prisoner exchange regarding Sgt. Bergdahl: Hrum, Hoom.

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After weeks of debate on the dangers of misogyny in the country, and in light of the recent #YesAllWomen trend on Twitter, New Jersey businessman and senatorial candidate Grassyfoot Ciryahir released a new controversial television ad blaming feminism. The ad depicts Ciryahir walking through the woods. “I haven’t seen an Entwife in decades, maybe centuries,” he says. “Now they come back and cry ‘misogyny?’”

The ad has drawn criticism from numerous women’s rights groups and even a protest outside Ciryahir’s Trenton campaign headquarters. “The fact that this Ent is running for elected office and he continues to refer to all women by ‘wife’ is a testament to his backward-thinking views,” said Salvia of Trenton, who was among protesters there. “I thought this was 2014 of the Fourth Age.”

*             *

On the 519th day of the 113th Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) finished saying “good morning.”

Weekend Reading

Last week, in links.

They send a cop to the homes of defendants seeking to apply for the public defender and have him interview and investigate them.

[...]

When put in perspective, you begin to see why Edwards has seen a drop in applications. It might have to do with the fact that people don’t want a police officer coming into their homes and asking them questions.

[...]

So the county sends a police officer to the homes of poor, underprivileged people in the guise of conducting an investigation into just how poor they are, exactly, and then use that opportunity to investigate other criminal activity and arrest those people.

This isn’t an option that is given to poor people seeking the assistance of a lawyer. This is a condition precedent to getting a lawyer.

The ubiquitous negotiations and morning-after bruises and disappearing condoms aren’t what we talk about when we talk about sexual violence. Samantha needs it to be “not that bad,” but so too, it seems, does the movement. I’m thinking of a little graphic that I saw on a friend’s Instagram feed a few weeks ago. It’s a flowchart. “Do you believe women are equal to men?” If you follow the “yes” arrow, you’re a feminist. If not, you’re an asshole. It is this same principle behind the #AllMenCan hashtag campaign that overwhelmed #YesAllWomen. The latter documented widespread gender-based violence in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting; the former insisted that men can just lean into not being misogynists and we’ll all be fine.

The flowchart and all the men who can insist that feminism is easy. It’s so obvious. This vision depends on an assumption that violence is a discrete patch on our community, the outline already visible and perforated: if we just push gently, it will pop out of our lives like a paper doll from cardboard. That’s a comforting idea for those who lack power (change is possible!) and those who hold it (but not that much change is needed!). And because the narrower definition of violence is more palatable to men, it is also strategically useful. Nice girls with proper manners are allowed at the dinner table and on Upworthy if we don’t ask for anything too disruptive.

Contemporary Art/South Africa

 

"Contemporary Art/South Africa," Yale University Art Gallery

“Contemporary Art / South Africa,” Yale University Art Gallery

There’s an exhibition of contemporary art from South Africa running all summer at the Yale Art Gallery, and I think you should come over here and see it. Curated by a group of students from various disciplines, it explores a combination of ideas through contemporary art and South Africa.

The exhibition focuses in on three bisected themes, drawing attention to connections and separations of those themes and looking at South African history as well as art. These themes are the personal and the social, art and politics, and “here” and “there.” It includes established South African artists as well as some seldom seen outside of the continent.

I’ve put a couple of photos, links, and thoughts below the cut. I’d encourage you to come see the whole exhibition if this type of thing interests you and you’re in the area. It will run through September 14, although one video installation (Subotzky’s) will be taken down s
Continue reading

Weekend Reading

A spoonful of reading:

In some mixed-income developments, the CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] renters cannot have grills on their balconies, while the homeowners can. They cannot use exercise facilities built in the condo buildings; they cannot have friends and family visit them freely; the property managers check their units for good upkeep. They can’t have parties. They report palpable surveillance at all times.

Again and again, former residents of Chicago’s public housing projects tell stories of the community they built there. Some narratives are recurrent: going door-to-door to collect ingredients for dinner during hard times, knowing one’s neighbors, the process of surviving together.

The flipped classroom, a learning technique that requires students to watch lectures as homework rather than in class, is another trend Powers applauded. Unfortunately, it has the potential to be equally problematic. Instructors can record their own lectures for students to play back at their leisure. Yet secondary school teachers, who tend not to have academic freedom or necessary resources, often rely on outside content providers like Khan Academy to flip their classrooms.

What happens if your administrators want to flip your classroom for you? A contract to license MOOC content from a major provider like Coursera or Udacity would certainly be the most efficient way to make use of that content. What if some professors are not familiar with or do not want to teach the content the administration licensed? At the very least, the quality of education that students receive will suffer and the traditional prerogative of the professors whose classrooms get flipped for them will effectively disappear.

Content Notes on Course Syllabi

A lot of people have been writing about (not) including content notes/trigger warnings on their class syllabi. An inordinately large number of writers have come out against the idea, and the issue has reached headlines as student groups have pushed for their use and administrations grapple with whether or not to implement such guidelines. This hubbub, and the pushback, was surprising to me – especially given how small the request is. I’m amenable to their use, and I see no reason to not use them – they don’t have to impinge on academic freedom, change course material, or feature prominently – but they could help students deal with sensitive material.

That’s why I was very happy to see Angus Johnston’s piece in Inside Higher Ed address how he plans to use content notes in his courses from now on. I appreciated not only his direct demonstration of how he planned to use them, but his effort to move beyond merely avoiding triggering post-traumatic episodes and towards creating a safer space for learning – something all educators should want to do. He writes:

These warnings prepare the reader for what’s coming, so their attention isn’t hijacked when it arrives. Even a pleasant surprise can be distracting, and if the surprise is unpleasant the distraction will be that much more severe.

Shortly after reading this, I wrote on social media about my own miniature experience with this type of warning. When I was student teaching a few years ago, I showed my students Atomic Cafe, a documentary about the nuclear age. It includes a scene showing footage of victims of the atomic bombings in Japan, and I had forgotten how graphic it was. Some students in my first class were caught off-guard by the footage, and I don’t think they got much out of the rest of the film. I gave my subsequent classes notice, both at the beginning of the video and right before the scene, and I think that helped prepare them.

This is a small example, but is exactly the kind of thing that can help make students aware of the course material without constraining the curriculum at all. Be sure to read all of Johnston’s piece, as I think it’s a good contribution to the ongoing debate, as well this follow-up post from his friend on disability and access in education.

Weekend Reading

The early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office. The laments about “black pathology,” the criticism of black family structures by pundits and intellectuals, ring hollow in a country whose existence was predicated on the torture of black fathers, on the rape of black mothers, on the sale of black children. An honest assessment of America’s relationship to the black family reveals the country to be not its nurturer but its destroyer.

And this destruction did not end with slavery. Discriminatory laws joined the equal burden of citizenship to unequal distribution of its bounty. These laws reached their apex in the mid-20th century, when the federal government—through housing policies—engineered the wealth gap, which remains with us to this day. When we think of white supremacy, we pictureColored Only signs, but we should picture pirate flags.

Trustee boards are an opening for universities to sink their claws into the ranks of the elite; naturally it’s also an opening for the elite sink their claws into universities. University presidents gain access to new high-dollar donors, increasingly complicated endowment investments, and firm allies in the quest for increased administration size and control. Board members gain the social prestige that all charitable efforts by the 1% engender and an outlet for one of the favorite pastimes of the business class: dispensing advice for which their only qualification is their wealth. Even more important, they also get privileged access to the financial decisions of multi-million (sometimes multi-billion) dollar organizations. An investigation by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that one out of every four private colleges directly do business with their trustees, which can take the form of noncompetitive contracts for construction, financial investment of endowment funds.

It’s important to note that the very idea that marriage could extend to two people of the same gender may only be possible because feminists broke out marriage from the hierarchical system it had been in and reinvented it as a relationship between equals. Those who are threatened by marriage equality are, many things suggest, as threatened by the idea of equality between heterosexual couples as same-sex couples. Liberation is a contagious project, speaking of birds coming home to roost.

Homophobia, like misogyny, is still terrible, just not as terrible as it was in, say, 1970. Finding ways to appreciate advances without embracing complacency is a delicate task. It involves being hopeful and motivated and keeping eyes on the prize ahead. Saying that everything is fine or that it will never get any better are ways of going nowhere or of making it impossible to go anywhere. Either approach implies that there is no road out or that, if there is, you don’t need to or can’t go down it. You can. We have.

Coates on Reparations

The latest issue of The Atlantic features an important piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the issue of reparations for the U.S.’s racist history. It went live on Thursday to a lot of hubbub, but I wanted to dedicate a short post to tell you all to read the whole thing in full.

Coates uses housing as his framework for viewing America’s history, focusing on the long plunder of the 20th century. He spends much of the rest of the article arguing for reparations by showing how the repercussions of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration continue to punish black people. He also criticizes efforts to help the disadvantaged without taking race into account.

Coates also wrote here about tracing his line of thinking from opposing reparations four years ago. It includes links to several interesting pieces, all factors in his thought process. Coates also penned this short footnote to the article, highlighting why it is an important issue to tackle. Both are worth perusing if you’re interested.

In response, Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote this piece about education’s role in inequality and the (lack of) potential it has for being the channel through which we can attain a more equitable future. She brings numbers to the game, for those who like them, from a recent economic policy paper. Summarizing the findings, she states: “No matter what black college grads do, they are more sensitive than non-blacks to every negative macro labor market trend. They are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, and hold low quality jobs even when they have STEM degrees.” She closes by arguing that “[w]hen we allow education to be sold as a fix for wealth inequality, we set a public good up to fail and black folks that do everything “right” to take the blame when it goes “wrong”.”

Alyssa Rosenberg also wrote this piece reflecting on how culture would have to change in order for such reparations to occur. She sheds some light on American media and how much attention has been paid to slavery and racism through what we watch. There’s also an interesting piece on the recent Caribbean effort to gain reparations from European countries for 400 years of slavery and colonization, and this piece outlining ways to actually see reparations through.

(If you know of other good pieces on Coates’ article, leave them in the comments.)

Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading, categorized (kind of) for your convenience.

Africa:

Education:

Since 2000, the average cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled, while student loan debt has grown at double-digit rates and well-paying jobs have all but vanished. Since 2001, employment in low-wage occupations has increased by 8.7 percent while employment in middle-wage occupations has decreased by 7.3 percent. The most popular industries pay poorly: According to the April 2014 jobs report, four of the top six industries that saw job creation were in the lowest paying fields. Meanwhile, in prestigious professions entry-level jobs have been replaced with full-time, unpaid internships.

Today’s youth are thbest educated generation in US history. But opportunities are reserved only for those who can buy them. Young US citizens have inherited an entrenched meritocracy that combines the baby boomers’ emphasis on education with the class rigidity of the WASP aristocracy it allegedly undermined.

Everything Else:

Jezebel’s is a feminism that seeks its scapegoat in altered images. To refrain from Photoshop is girl-positive marketing gold. Dove Campaign for Real Beauty delights itself by putting out fake filters that chide retouchers. Magazines sign “No Photoshop” pledges. Clothing companies crow that they’ve never taken a clone stamp to their models’ thighs.

To these feminists, Photoshop is to blame to unrealistic body standards, poor self-esteem, and anorexia in teenage girls. The campaign against Photoshop is the perfect cause for white, middle-class women whose primary problem is feeling their bodies do not match an increasingly surreal media ideal.

[...]

Anyone who’s been at a photo shoot knows that even untouched photos bear only the scantest resemblance to a subject. A photo is frozen. A model sweats and bloats, ages, and dies. Framing is a lie. Lighting is a lie. Cropping is a lie. When you suck in your stomach, or turn your head so the light washes out your laugh lines, you’re lying as much as any liquefy tool. Untruth is baked into the process: Photographer Syreeta McFadden writes how the chemical makeup of some films is biased against dark skin tones. Even snapshots often don’t look like you, because you are not static. You are a three-dimensional being, torn by time. Photos are pixel ghosts.

Photos are lies because art is a lie. Art is artifice. Art makes things as they are not—occasionally in the service of greater truths.