Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Invasion of the Pop Culture “Housewife” Phenomenon

The glitz and the glam of private jets, personal chefs, make-up artists and stylists, homes in Aspen, shopping on Rodeo Drive, walk-in closets stocked with haute couture clothing and top-of-the-line cars to cruise your city of choice in “class!” These are just some of the elements of the lifestyle of the “housewives” that America has fallen deeply in love with. This inside peep into the “real” life of these ladies of leisure exploded onto television networks about 4 years ago and has been growing incessantly ever since. Never being a fan or avid viewer of shows such as these, I often wondered what this fascination with the Real Housewives of New York, Beverly Hills, Atlanta, etc. and Basketball Wives was all about; my question was....let's just say  well-informed while home for the holidays.
In between my endless outings to restaurants, movies, lunch, parties and clubs with my family and friends, I found myself watching some programs on the tube to find out “what I’ve been missing,” since I’ve chosen against having cable in my place of residence. As I flipped through the numerous stations, I saw several marathons of the Real Housewives of Atlanta and Beverly Hills, along with Basketball Wives on VH1 scheduled to be aired. Having previously heard so much hype about it, I thought, “ok….let me see what all the fuss is about.” I only watched these shows for a few minutes at a time, as that was about all I could stomach given the overly dramatized and superficial nature of each of the shows; the fights and gossiping, the limitless conversations about “Gucci this” and “Fendi that,” and the empty rhetoric about the “glamorous life.”  I LITERALLY felt as though I was losing brain cells every single second I watched the highly publicized shows.
What is it about these [and other] “reality” television shows that have caused such a sensation among viewers? Could it be the presumed “affluent” lifestyle of these specific people? Does merely watching someone else’s life, a life that society at large deems as “desirable,” make a person feel better about their own existence?!  Maybe it’s the sheer mentioning of designer labels, expensive jewelry, etc., that makes people think “hey!!!.....I want MY life to be like this!!!” Or could it be the constant sensationalized verbal and physical fights, (i.e. throwing water in a women’s faces, excessive use of the word bitc*, hair pulling, etc.) bickering, and exaggerated storylines that keep viewers glued to the tube? In my deep, albeit short-lived study of this pop culture spectacle, I’ve come to the realization that all of these aspects, [and I’m sure many more,] fuel the beast better known as the Housewives. The question in my mind is….. “is anyone else disturbed by the multi-layered subjugation and obtrusive stereotypes within these highly popular voyeuristic shows?”
For me, one of the most troubling features of these particular shows, [apart from the EXTREMELY superficial, self-indulgent, and artificial nature of the shows,] are the stark gender-based stereotypes heavily present among the Housewives’ programs. We’ve all heard it before right?..........…”women are catty,” “women are gossip-fiends,” “women are materialistic and gold diggers,” “women are full of drama,” and the list goes on and on and on! We all know [or at least I hope that people know that these conjectures MUST be taken on a case-by-case basis, as generalizing one group of people is highly dangerous, ignorant, and harmful; blanketed oversimplifications of an entire group of people fails to acknowledge the vast diversity within that group as no two people are the same. With that said, these hyped-up Housewives shows only perpetuate and reinforce those very same gender-based labels that link ALL women together in a pool of undying bondage. These and other shows, like Desperate Housewives for example, portray women in such a destructive and antediluvian manner, placing women back into an 18th-century Victorian era where women were equated with property and mere objects of male-oriented socially constructed projections of femininity. The term “housewife” in itself is quite offensive due to the numerous implications of domestic servitude and isolation among women due to some “innate” or “biological” inclinations. Do men not also possess genetic codes, but more so basic human characteristics to nurture and care for the ones they love and adore or are they too bound to the oppressive determinants of our society? Short answer…NO! That stated, the very obvious element to the term housewife is ACTUALLY being a wife and interestingly enough, most of the women on these shows ARE NOT MARRIED! So I guess I too can create a show called “World’s Wealthiest Unknown Woman” or “World’s Best Surgeon” and cast myself as the star! For those women, [while the minority,] that are married, they typically lead incredibly lonely lives as their husbands are habitually away from home
fulfilling their masculine destinies of being the “bread winners.” Is this aspect of the “lifestyle” that viewers so voraciously crave alluring at all?! I would think that utter happiness, (i.e. constant laughter and joy stimulated by substantive moments with deeply loved ones and the ability to make pure and authentic memories from beautiful life experiences) would be the lifestyle sought after because as we’ve seen from these “ladies of leisure,” even with the diamonds, luxury cars, designer clothing, and large bank accounts [or maybe just extensive lines of credit,] you can be more desolate and alone than the person with even the most economically depressed circumstances; TRUE happiness is not attached to, nor determined by material possessions!
I know that most people would say that the Real Housewives and Basketball Wives tv shows are just that…shows. Innocuous, guilty-pleasure programs that people only view, but never take seriously. The truth is, these shows are highly influential, persuasive, and harmful just like many films, books and other vehicles of propaganda due to the infusion of capitalist, Western, and gender-based stereotypical ideologies that exist at the core of these entities. Sure...people have freewill to watch, consume, and subscribe to any and every facet of life that they desire. The danger exists, however when a) there is no alternative to the mainstream phenomenon that holds those viewers so firmly in its clutches, b) people begin to actually desire and identify with this way of life and c) when we exist within a global society that thrives and sustains on the race of androids it purposefully produces; an entire group of people trained and programmed to adopt mandated belief systems, economic philosophies, “leading” racial/ethnic cultural traits and habits, and “socially acceptable” ways of life without question. If one never questions the hidden meaning of…well everything, then manifestations of our “modern-day” culture will always be seen as just a show or just a movie, etc. Nothing is ever just… like humans, there is always so much more than what’s on the surface!  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Holidays: Part 2

Happy New Year everyone! So sorry I’ve been away for a while; I’ve been away for a little vacation time and have been doing some reflecting and examination on a lot of issues that affect our society in so many ways. Taking that time to reflect has been fantastic and will allow me to bring some hopefully very interesting topics to you, beginning with Part 2 of Holidays!
As we end the winter holiday season, we begin to enter a series of holidays also fueled by Western capitalist political ideology. The first holiday on the list: Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day
Ahhhh yes…..a dozen red roses, boxes full of decadent chocolates, fluffy teddy bears holding hearts that say “I Love You” and “Be Mine,” pictures of chubby cherubs (often blonde haired and blue-eyed to further advance the Eurocentric ideologies of religion and God as “White,”) and incessant commercials from jewelry companies, like DeBeers and Jared, flashing enticing images of an array of sparkling jewels to really let your significant other know just how much you love them, are all “classic” elements of the “season of love!” Let me say that the thought of a celebration of love [in all its forms] is a great concept indeed; honoring a day to spread love to the one(s) you care about is a truly humanistic frame of mind. What is not humanistic is the capitalist, superficial and obligatory manner in which most people show their ”love” or “admiration” for their significant other, often without even being aware of it! Moreover, the question is, do most people even know the true origin of Valentine’s Day?
Over the winter holiday season while visiting my family and friends in my hometown Atlanta, I was out running some errands with my mom at Wal-Mart just 2 days after Christmas and saw several rows drenched in and adorned with Valentine’s Day d├ęcor ripe for the picking! “Are you serious?!” was the immediate thought that came to my mind and soon after, out of my mouth. Christmas was literally just days ago and already [frantic and consumeristic] shoppers are being bombarded with subtle, yet glaringly obvious messages to “BUY NOW FOR THE APPROACHING SEASON OF LOVE!!!” Not even completely out of one commercialized holiday, conduits of capitalism (i.e. multi-service stores like Wal-Mart, etc.) fulfill their duties and loyalties to the capitalist regime by displaying an excess of those previously mentioned quintessential items in visually striking colors of red and pink, sure to catch not only the eyes, but the pockets of unsuspecting consumers! This premature and overzealous marketing tactic used to lure the disposable income of “helpless romantics” [or possibly those that simply want to purchase their gifts early], is unquestionably seen during other holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, as mentioned in Part 1 of the Holidays series. The sole motivation of stores, such as Wal-Mart and other similar stores, is to merely divest the consumer of their funds, while acting under the guise of the “holiday spirit!”

In addition to the capitalist and over commercialization of Valentine’s Day, the celebration of this day, like Thanksgiving and others, is done in such a superficial and almost obligatory manner, which yields the question, “Is it really love or a social requisite?” Every year as the moments creep closer and closer to V-Day, millions of people across the nation [and the world] flood department stores, jewelry stores, florist shops, and online businesses for the perfect “gift(s)” to express their feelings to that special someone in their life. These “gifts,” almost always tangible in nature, run the gamut of heart-shaped pendants and diamond bracelets, to long stemmed roses and other floral arrangements, cards from Hallmark written in flowery tones expressing the admiration and love felt for the another, to boxes of sweet chocolates for an intended love. Advertisements from businesses that sell these very items, promote the acquisition of these products with messages like, “show her you care with this diamond solitaire,” or “tell her you love her with this ornate floral arrangement.” [notice how the commercials are almost always targeted towards men to purchase items for women on this holiday!....a truly gender-based economic tactic.] So, by showing someone that you really and truly love them, you give them things…right?! Tangible objects solidify the bond between two people correct?! If all we had to do to show someone that we cared for or loved them was to merely give them gifts, I’m sure more relationships would stand the test of time, as no genuine or substantive emotions [which most people find to be an utterly arduous task] are required! The fact is, simply buying gifts which in no way possess any originality or depth of thought to show someone you care does absolutely nothing to create an authentic bond or connection to another; a relationship [of any kind] based on material worth and the giving/receiving of things is the epitome of a one-dimensional and failed union. Furthermore, what I find to also be shallow and banal about this public holiday is how we “celebrate” a day of love ONE DAY out of an entire year. Just like Thanksgiving where people “show their thanks” one day a year, people are somehow only able to “show their love” on February 14th. I wonder if the same people that so eagerly participate in V-Day are just as enthusiastic to the one(s) they love 364 days out of the year?!
Apart from the mechanical, superficial and capitalist participation of millions of people on Valentine’s Day, it’s quite interesting to know that most don’t know the history (or what is told as history) behind this holiday. While there is no one succinct story, many historical references state that the origins of Valentine’s Day derive from an ancient Roman and Christian fertility celebration formerly honored on February 15th. It wasn’t until the rise of Christianity throughout Europe that this and other holidays became named after designated Christian martyrs, hence the name Valentine after St. Valentine, and  the date became changed to the 14th; [many holidays were altered to more religiously appropriate ones due to their “pagan” foundations.] St. Valentine was selected as the person to honor for this celebration due to his status as a bishop who performed secret marriages during a time when lawful unions were banned by Roman ruler Claudius II; he believed that marriage was a distraction to men needed for their armed forces. The story continues that, being of a kind-hearted and Christian nature, St. Valentine continued to marry “young lovers” in secret until his resultant arrest. Because of his humanity and refusal to renounce his Christian faith, St. Valentine was executed on February 14th 270 AD, making him a martyr for agape/Christian love, not romantic or passionate love. Like so many other holidays, Valentine’s day was later transformed into a day to celebrate Eros (passionate love) in the Middle Ages and in the 18th-century, card giving became incredibly popular which led to the mass production of greeting cards in the 1840s.
While I’m sure the history behind Valentine’s Day is much more extensive and detailed, my central point is simple: knowing the origin [as accurate or close as you can possibly find] of holidays allows you to not only understand the meaning of specific celebrations, but moreover, your own personal reasons as to why YOU participate and how. Merely involving oneself in a task without any historical context or knowledge of origin is comparable to someone attending church or any other religious sect and not truly understanding the foundation of that dogmatic order or living a lifestyle which opposes that religion...a mere robot programmed to execute certain assignments on command.
Other widely celebrated holidays are recognized with just as much capitalist and superficial intent as V-Day. Take St. Patrick’s Day for example: Quick historical reference: This religious holiday, initiated in Ireland, recognized to honor St. Patrick who, through his “manifest destiny,” converted innumerable Gaelic Irish into Christians, as they possessed a “pagan” belief system of polytheism. [It’s quite interesting to note that St. Patrick or Patricius was not actually Irish himself, but Roman-British.] As the centuries passed, this formerly religious holiday became more secular in Ireland as it extended to other areas of the world, such as the U.S. So, just how do people “honor” St. Patrick today?....millions upon millions of people, many of whom couldn’t be further from having any Irish heritage, swarm bars and pubs adorning green attire, while intentionally drinking massive amounts of alcohol (i.e. Irish Car Bombs) to enjoy the “spirit” of the day! Oh yes…..intentional drunkenness and  resultant alcohol poisoning are truly cornerstone facets of a formerly religious holiday!
What about Mother’s and Father’s Day: Again, only one day a year do we widely pay homage to those that have given life to and/or raised the carriers of their lineage, and how do we show it….with trite and overly commercialized gifts that only further fuel the voracious economic beast known as capitalism. Interestingly enough, [from my personal conversations with people through my life,] the millions of individuals that rush out to get the “perfect” for their parent on that specified day, hardly ever spend true quality time with them throughout the rest of the year. With holidays such as Mother’s and Father’s Day, it seems as though socially mandated material gifts have replaced the essential bond or spiritual connection needed in any relationship, especially that between a parent and child!
From Halloween to “Independence Day,” there are common trends among these holidays that offer deeper insight into the true nature of these holidays, but more importantly, how our society has become imprisoned to a value and ideological system that places material worth over the fundamental elements of what constitute truly being of the human/spiritual form. Commemorating profound historical figures and events are definitely an integral part to the  dissemination of one’s roots, culture and identity, while paying reverence to those that have preceded us. And being able to share those traditions with the world at large brings all of us that much closer together. The line between authentic celebratory veneration and hedonistic capitalist ignorance becomes blurred when there is a complete absence of knowledge on the true history of holidays and how our society grossly capitalizes from it. Central message: self-education to free your mind!