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“We want you back”

It’s only now, 3 days later, than I can begin to cry over the death of Michael Jackson. I experience grief for him the way I’ve grieved for people I know personally; shock, disbelief, sadness; the feeling that the person you’ve lost is everywhere and nowhere at once. Compounding things is the tragedy his life became; the complexity of his legacy; the somber lessons about fame, work, and music that we are to learn from his life & death.

I’ve written before about the need for celebrity grief. Grieving people in the public eye, or with whom we grew up, is necessary and a rite of passage. Our culture is shaped by people who live their lives publicly, and when those lives end we are required to look at them honestly, grieve respectfully, and see them for the complicated, human people they were. Those who want to place Michael (or anyone who has died, for that matter) in an “either/or” box are missing this crucial point: it’s entirely possible that someone can be complicated, deeply flawed even, and yet contribute something of value to the world.

I took special notice of Lisa Marie Presley’s statement, released on her MySpace page. It’s particularly heartbreaking, because Lisa speaks candidly of wanting to “save” someone she loved from his own self-destructive impulses, and of course, being unable to do so. Lisa says,

I became very ill and emotionally/spiritually exhausted in my quest to save him from certain self-destructive behavior and from the awful vampires and leeches he would always manage to magnetize around him.

I was in over my head while trying.

I had my children to care for, I had to make a decision.

The hardest decision I have ever had to make, which was to walk away and let his fate have him, even though I desperately loved him and tried to stop or reverse it somehow.

How many people die every day that could have been “saved?” What is our responsibility to someone who doesn’t want our help? Relatives & loved ones of drug addicts, alcoholics and other risk-takers experience this all the time. How much of ourselves are we supposed to sacrifice? When do we make the decision to stop saving someone else and save ourselves? Which is more important?

Later in her statement, Lisa says she hopes everyone who worried over Michael can be “set free.” I hope she includes herself. And in her case, God bless her, she’s witnessed the same type of death twice, which is two too many for any one lifetime. It doesn’t seem there’s anything anyone could have done.

Perhaps most upsetting is how young Michael seemed; how terribly naïve; how full of energy he appeared to be. Watching him dance and jump and move and laugh is heartbreaking, knowing, simply, that he was so alive and now he isn’t. It’s always a little easier knowing someone died after they were “ready”; when they had made preparations and accepted that their time was over. I don’t think Michael ever could have been in this category as he seemed way too committed to his Peter Pan existence.

And here he is, literally singing to his inner child:

A Sucker for the Bridal Industry

Bride WarsSo my coffee table is *covered* with bridal magazines (and one issue of Fitness). On the mantle, on display, are the gorgeous bargain earrings I picked out. I have hundreds of Internet “favorites” in a folder marked, “Wedding.” Oh no! The industry’s gotten to me!

It was only a matter of time. I am an unabashed romantic. I love love, I love the fact that I’m going to be married, and I’m excited that I am lucky enough to be able to plan a wedding, and most importantly, I love my fiancé.

When it comes to the wedding industry, I generally think it’s perfectly okay to be romantic, enjoy “girly” things, and revel in bridal excitement. I think I can do these things and still be thoughtful and intelligent about it; all aspects of planning a wedding aren’t evil (though the industry as a whole can be) and I enjoy many of the traditions & symbols inherent in weddings.

That said, this weekend I watched two horrible products of the wedding industry and actually enjoyed them! (gasp!)

I watched Bride Wars, which by many accounts, is a terrible movie. It could have been a good satire, and passed up a chance to be an intelligent commentary on such things as the nature of womens’ friendships, the bridal industry, and how wedding planning affects relationships with your fiancé and how we perceive ourselves. And it missed on all counts! The movie is a nightmare. Horribly inconsistent, completely impossible storyline, and inane drama. (Although Anne Hathaway is excellent, as always). And still, I watched it–twice! (For the record, my favorite aspect were the depictions of the friendship between the two women; this, I thought, was relatively well done.)

Also tonight was the premiere of the newest season of “Bridezillas.” Am I completely insane? “Bridezillas” is terrible! I swear, those women must be coached, or maybe paid under the table. But I still watch it. And unfortunately, also the “10 Best Bridezilla Moments” that aired before it.

This show is particularly awful; it perpetuates horrible stereotypes, most notably the White Trash stereotype, but also the “Oh No She Di-in’t” Angry Black Woman stereotype and, new for this season, the fiery hot-Latina stereotype. It’s particularly cruel. And still, I watch. The women are abusive and mean — and fascinating. Most of the time, I turn the show off in the middle because it’s so awful. But I still patronize it. Horrible!

What does it say about women when we buy into the Bridal Industry? Are we all, no matter how intelligent & thoughtful, susceptible to the Wedding Industrial Complex? And, why, much to the chagrin of the feminists, do we treat marriage as an exclusive club to which we have FINALLY gained admission?

In other cultures, the wedding preparation is a time of reflection, when a bride gets together with other women and prepares for the next stage of her life. Fully acknowledged are the different emotions inherent in such a change: sorrow for the bride leaving her family; a sense of mystery about the marriage bed; the anticipation of starting a new life & family. These emotions are still felt, despite Americans’ best attempts to hide them, and I wonder if our bridal-planning stage is our expression of that.

Categories: family, marriage, media

How Pop Culture Helped Me Through My Breakup

In the difficult months following my boyfriend’s disappearance, I’d already uncovered an innate sense that I wanted to surround myself with positive things. I believe that a society’s culture is a window into that society; it reflects our experiences, our hopes, our fears, dreams, intuitions, etc. The key is finding aspects of that culture that will make you better, not worse.

TV: For a while, I couldn’t watch romances. I watched a lot of Law & Order.  But the show that helped me the most was “Charmed.” Yes, “Charmed”! There’s a lot there about trusting your intuition, finding love or finding yourself, when all seems hopeless. In particular, the character of Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) has to learn to trust her intuitions and believe that love will happen for her when it’s supposed to happen. As I was looking ahead to a seemingly endless period of being single, I took particular solace in this.

Film: Two weeks after the breakup, the Sex and the City movie was released. I wrote about it here. The breakup scene, rather than being a trigger, was very well done and thus exceedingly powerful. My decision NOT to be like Carrie was a powerful one.

Another helpful film for me was Shopgirl. The main character’s transition from living life as it happens and falling for an unavailable man, then deciding to give herself freely and receiving love in return, was incredibly helpful. I also found the quiet & slightly ethereal flow of the film incredibly soothing.

Music: This one was hard. I’m a musician, surrounded by music each day, and because of the immense grief I couldn’t stand to hear any music at all for several weeks.

My first return to the world was through the listening of music. Once, on NPR, I heard one of those “new album” reviews. The reviewer described a beautifully sung country song where the singer describes her regret at having left someone who was perfectly fine for her. I related this to my own situation, but in reverse, and my affinity for country music was born.

This was especially poignant, because most pop music (especially R&B) acknowledges romantic pain but offers only misogyny as an anecdote. Hearing singers describe love for their families and their relative happiness was incredibly helpful to me, and I still listen to it.

The album, by the way, was Ashton Shepherd’s Sounds So Good.

I’m in shock…

OBAMA!

“Put a Ring On It”

October 25, 2008 3 comments

I’ve always admired dancers for their ease of movement and the way they always seem intimately aware of & comfortable with their bodies.

I’m entranced by Dancer554 (aka “Shane”) and his interpretation of Beyoncé’s latest, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” It’s amazing! Apparently seduced by the virtuosic, Fosse-inspired choreography of the original, several dance enthusiasts have posted their homages. But Shane, apparently a professional dancer, is the best. And contrary to some of the comments, I love the outfit!

Beyoncé has always graced us with her “Independent Woman” persona, which exudes an impossible self-esteem (in this song, she has the wherewithal to go dancing right after a breakup!) and a constant “all-about-me” assertiveness, which is attractive to those of us who have been known to give a little too much.

It’s a sharp contrast to her very blase “admission” of her marriage to Jay-Z, where she seems to dismiss the whole idea of a wedding or of newly wedded bliss. Why hide the happiness? Wouldn’t the “Miss Independent” of her songs be overjoyed at finally having the love & commitment that she deserves?

Who are we to know what’s in Beyoncé’s head or heart? Either way, “Put a Ring On It” is a fair response to R&B’s rampant mysogynistic lyrics and society’s celebration of commitmentphobic men. Apparently, the song’s protagonist has given three years of her life to yet another guy who wouldn’t move things along (maybe he used the oh-so-ubiquitous “just a piece of paper” argument).

I’ll confess: this type of guy, the “piece of paper” guy, has been a figure that haunted my nightmares for years. I was always worried that I’d get “stuck” with one. You know the type; the one who wants to “live together” indefinitely and have you do everything a married woman would — except be married. The one who says, “I’m not quite ready yet” — and says it for a million years in a row.

This fear remained with me until I , Beyoncé-style, experienced a surge of self-esteem and fearlessness, and realized that being with one of these guys has nothing to do with “waiting for love” and everything to do with rejecting his fear and selfishness, and acknowledging my worth as a woman worth committing to.

A great deal of relationship turmoil forced me to realize that it’s my choice whether or not to be reeled in by one of these Mr. Big types (who, on the surface, usually seem perfectly fine). Loneliness is uncomfortable, but it’s usually just temporary and preferable to being stuck in this endless loop. And if I do end up with a guy like that, you can be sure I’ll be singing this song on my way out the door.

The Price of Integration

September 29, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m a hard core supporter of Barack Obama, since before that February 2007  announcement speech. I have followed his campaign and thought about it intelligently, discussed it, internalized the meaning.

But it wasn’t until I saw Barack’s biographical video during the convention that I finally burst into tears. I allowed myself to feel the gravity of this historic nomination, and it was overwhelming.

Finally, I connected Obama’s candidacy with all the crap I deal with on a daily basis; the daily beat-down of going to work with racists every day, with every single “n” word utterance I’ve had to endure, every time someone has refused me service or refused to hire me, the teachers that didn’t want me in their class. With all the horrible stories my mom has shared, my grandmother and even further back. With all of us.

Other blacks — mostly ones at least a generation older (I’m nearly 30) — had publicly acknowledged this connection months and months ago. What on earth took me so long?

Before Obama was officially nominated, I think there was an implicit pressure for blacks to deny voting for Barack simply because of his race. We didn’t want him branded as the “black” candidate, we didn’t want our Patriotism questioned. It’s a dance he still has to do; he can’t get to angry lest he be labeled an “angry black man.” He can’t be too humorous; don’t want any “shuckin’ & jivin'” comparisons. He must be absolutely perfect, because as many of us are painfully aware, blacks must be 10 times better than whites to be considered equal.

It’s quite possible, however, that there’s a deeper societal message at work here. As a member of the first “integration generation,” I grew up thrust into academic, social, and professional competition with the “mainstream.” In order to be seen as a success, we must be black enough to appease our families but not black enough to alienate whites. In these environments, we spend so much time proving that we can be “one of them” that we must get dangerously close to the “sell-out” line.

Endorsing a black candidate for more obvious reasons upsets this delicate balance. Unlike blacks of previous generations, who spent so much time fighting for civil rights that they could not hope to blend in much, blacks of my generation equate success with a degree of assimilation. Reminding whites that you are black; that your values, history, and viewpoints can be so uncomfortably different than theirs; feels like a threat to everything your parents have worked for.

I certainly didn’t choose Barack over Hilary only because he is black. He shares my views and opinions, he’s obviously qualified and incomparably brilliant, and in a strange bit of trivia, he & I have the same personality type (NFP). There is a reason Jesse Jackson didn’t get as far as Obama has.

But–did you see what just happened? Here is the obvious testament to the mind-fuck of racism — why should I have to justify my support for a candidate who represents me better than any presidential candidate in history? On my own blog, in my own mind? How deeply ingrained are these screwed-up American values?

You’ve got to be kidding.

August 12, 2008 1 comment