RIP American Dream: pro wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes dead at 69

As a performer and storyteller, Virgil Runnels became a working class hero because he was a man of the people.

The American Dream, Dusty RhodesMy best friend Jesse and his family were huge pro wrestling fans. I was pretty young at the time – no more than 10, probably – and I remember the Saturday, sitting in the living room at Jesse’s watching Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, when they announced that The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes, was coming. I had no idea who he was, but Jesse’s mama nearly had a conniption. I deduced, from all the whooping and hollering, that this was a big deal. And it was not good news for The Nature Boy, Ric Flair.

We were working people, all of us, up and down Reid Rd., out Eastview Dr. and down to the end of the dirt lane where I lived with my grandparents. We were not especially enlightened on most matters, and it wasn’t hard to get a good argument boiling over a topic like whether or not wrestling was fake. Later on I’d work all this out, but getting a glimpse behind the curtain never dulled my love for what is now known as “sports entertainment.”  Continue reading

Is the Danny Evans/Planet Hiltron celebrity make under project promoting classism or combating it?

When I first saw this story on NY artist Danny Evans’s Celebrities Make Under project, my first reaction was…well, let me quote my Facebook comment directly:

Oh, this…I mean…gods, no. They…WTF?!

To summarize, Evans has used the magic of Photoshop to “normalize” (my word, not his) some of our artificially beautiful celebrities. “It was a reaction to the insanely over-retouched photos of celebrities that are everywhere,” he says, and if you live in the US, it’s impossible for you not to recognize what he’s talking about.

I did a little analysis on this phenomenon back in 2008, so once I stopped laughing at the pictures, I got to thinking that maybe this is a wonderful way to perhaps make people more aware of the ways in which technology and media are messing with their minds.

I figured out a long time ago, even before I began encountering grad-level feminist critiques, that our media’s stylized construction and portrayal of female beauty was problematic. It’s bad enough that unattractive people don’t appear in movies, on TV or in magazines unless the narrative expressly requires someone unattractive, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. I mean, the star of Ugly Betty isn’t really ugly.

But it goes beyond this. It’s not just that we’re only shown pretty people. It’s not just that we fetishize youth and beauty in all things. It’s that we have now passed the point when natural beauty suffices.

My initial take on Evans was that his celebrity makeunder was interesting and potentially useful culturally.

Then a couple of friends raised an issue in a Facebook exchange. The first was Rori Black, who was one of the co-founders here at S&R, and the second was Kelly Bearden, a colleague over at 5280 Lens Mafia. Both are as sharp as they come, and their reaction to the project went to the core of how we treat and read class.

Rori’s comment suggested that adding some sweat stains and a few extra pounds tells us more about the artist’s view of “normal” than it does anything. Kelly agreed. While this is certainly a valid observation, I wondered if maybe it missed the artist’s intent.

I see it as a bit of cultural warfare. Technology is so routinely used to transform normal looking people into something so perfect that it can’t really exist. Even better than the real thing, if you’re a U2 fan, and more human than human if you prefer White Zombie. It has a nasty, corrosive effect on society, especially where women’s self-image is concerned (to say nothing of what it does to men’s expectations of female appearance). So in this light, I think what is going on is an artist using technology in the reverse direction, seeking to “take back” some normalcy. Yes, he’s gone downscale, from a socioeconomic perspective, so I guess you’d characterize it as exaggerating to make a point.

If you read my 2008 article, you’ll see that I’m very sensitive to the gender image issue, both as it affects women and men.

Kelly’s reply got to the heart of the matter:

i know where you are coming from with this, and that the artist has stated that this was his intention, but there is something still rubbing me the wrong way about making everyone look like they came out of an ’80s trailer park and calling that ordinary. it seems very classist. but maybe that’s just me.

Absolutely. In the Evans vision, normal tends to look pretty downscale, socioeconomically speaking.

But… The thing is that with a number of these celebs, I responded, he’s not taking them to the trailer park so much as he’s taking them BACK to the trailer park. If I were his publicity hack, I’d be saying that Evans is actually removing the classism, because the original use of the imaging technology to artificially beautify these folks stripped their class from the picture. That was a large part of the point, in fact – to make them look less trailer park or ‘hood, depending on their race. I’d argue that the celebs and their handlers were the ones being classist by denying who they are, implicitly validating the idea that one can’t be beautiful and appropriately famous until the working class has been hidden. In that context, what the artist is doing is actually combating classism.

I know, this is a subtle, nuanced double-reverse point, but there is no argument that the engines of fame and beauty are using Photoshop to upscale their subjects.

Kelly doesn’t think Evans pulls it off, though.

ok – i see that, and again, i get it. i just think that the artist in question did not fulfill the promise of this concept. this is great in concept, but the execution of the idea is not fulfilled to the extent that i would have hoped it would have been. because all i see is photoshopped attempts to lower the status of someone famous, and to make that lowering = trailer park, lower socioeconomic status, etc, all i get from this is a exploitative “look at what i did to these people who think they are so much better than us because they are famous!” vibe. if the artist was better at this, i wouldn’t that this was a smug sneering way of sticking it to the rich and famous as well as the lower socioeconomic classes. honestly, i think the artist was lazy and let the concept get way ahead of the execution.

I’m sympathetic to her argument. Evans uses working class tropes to haul people off their pedestals, and if anybody is sensitive to class issues, it’s me. I grew up in the rural working class South and was writing just last week about the challenges you face trying to make a better life for yourself if you grew up on the wrong side of the cultural tracks.

It’s a fascinating question, and one that runs much deeper than I imagine a lot of people reading the article today realize.

Thanks to Kelly and Rori for raising the issue and insisting on a little deeper consideration.

Teaching underclass kids which fork to use

CATEGORY: BusinessFinanceI recently came across a useful article over at Ragan’s PR Daily entitled “What to wear to work in the PR and marketing industry.” After reading through it, my first reaction was that it was mistitled – what it offers is good advice for what to wear to work in just about any industry. From where I sit now, there’s nothing terribly innovative about author Elissa Freeman’s advice, but it’s also true that there’s sometimes significant value in being reminded of the basics and having them presented in a tight, coherent fashion. We have so much noise in our society, so many messages screaming for our attention every waking minute, that it’s easy to lose focus on something as simple as dressing appropriately for a work culture.

The main points? Continue reading

High noon in the garden of polite and evil: the ugly truth about "Southern hospitality" (by a guy who grew up there)

I grew up in the South. I have lived roughly 33 of my 51 years below the Mason-Dixon and past the occasional trip for business or to visit friends and relatives I shan’t be going back. The reasons are numerous, but the one I’m concerned with today involves that most sinister of myths. I’m referring, of course, to Southern hospitality. To the idea that Southerners are so damned nice. Polite. Friendly. Cordial. Welcoming.

This is great as marketing and ideology. The reality of things is somewhat more…complex. Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Unsolicited movie review: Capitalism…

…A love story. Which is what the film is, an unsolicited review of Capitalism. If you’re expecting standard, Michael Moore agit-prop you’ll be mildly disappointed. If you’re expecting a full deconstruction of Capitalism, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re expecting a call to Socialism and all power to the proletariat, you’ll just be mildly confused. It’s a pretty good flick, partly because Moore doesn’t pull many silly stunts and spends less time than usual getting in your face. In fact, he’s downright nostalgic through the better part of the first half. It’s UAW, middle class autobiographical complete with old home movies. Now maybe it’s just that i was raised amidst the UAW middle class at the tail end of its existence, but this focus did a good job of setting me up. I know the way the story ends. His shots of abandoned neighborhood’s are depictions of my own mental imagery rather than cinematic. I’ve already got the sadness, confusion and anger that he’s hoping to build.

I’m curious if the set up works for others from a different background.

Continue reading

Nota Bene #97: toDwI'ma' qoS yItIvqu'!

“To be truly free, and truly to appreciate its freedom, a society must be literate.” Continue reading

Democracy & Elitism 2: performance elitism vs privilege elitism, and why the difference matters

Democracy+ElitismPart two in a series.

“Elite” hasn’t always been an epithet. In fact, if we consider what the dictionary has to say about it, it still signifies something potentially worthy. Potentially. For instance:

e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism (-ltzm, -l-) n.
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.le

That definition, while technically accurate enough, could use a bit of untangling, because it embodies the very nature of our problem with elitism in America. In popular use, the term “elite” and its derivatives has been twisted into a pure, distilled lackwit essence of “liberal” – another once-proud word that fell victim to our moneyed false consciousness machine. Continue reading

Democracy & Elitism: an introduction to the American false consciousness

Democracy+ElitismPart one in a series.

Is there a more radioactive word in American politics today than elitist?

Admit it – you saw the word and had an instinctive negative reaction, didn’t you? If not, then count yourself among the rarest minority in our culture, the fraction of a percent that has not yet had its consciousness colonized by the “evil elitist” meme. If not, you’re one of a handful of people not yet victimized by a cynical public relations frame that poses perhaps the greatest danger to the health of our republic in American history.

Pretty dire language there, huh? Perhaps we’ve ventured a little too deeply into the land of hyperbole? It might seem so at a glance, but in truth the success of any society is largely a function of the things it believes and how those beliefs shape its actions and policies. Continue reading

TunesDay: The best CDs of 2008, pt. 1 – the Gold LPs

Most years are pretty good for music if you know where to look, and 2008 was no exception. It’s a shame that you have to search so hard, of course – once upon a time all you needed to keep track of what was good in the world of music was a radio. These days it requires a little effort, though, and while I lost count a long time ago, I probably sampled a few hundred CDs in the last 365. Thank the gods for the Internet and a growing network of friends who make sure to let me know whenever they hear something worthy, huh?

This is part one of three. The Platinum LP Awards will be along soon, and that will be followed by the CD of the Year post. So here we go with last year’s Gold Awards for Very Good CDs. These are in alphabetical order, more or less. Band Web sites link to the band name, and if the CD is available via eMusic, that links to the CD title. If you want to purchase from eMusic, click on the link in the right column for a really good deal (as in lots of free downloads).

The 2008 Gold LPs Continue reading

Thank god for Wal*Mart

Wow. How bad are things in Cleveland, anyway?

As the world’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart is used to being greeted by large numbers of applicants almost every time it opens a new store.

But the 6,000-plus people who applied for jobs at the new Supercenter in Cleveland’s Steelyard Commons took everyone, even Wal-Mart, by surprise.

“We had to recount [the applications] three times,” said Mia Masten, Wal-Mart’s director of corporate affairs, Midwest division. (Source)

That’s 6,000 applications for 300 jobs. Or 20 for every open slot. The reporter does a nice job of stating the situation succinctly: Continue reading

Reframing the Republican lie about wealth in America

In America, the Republicans are seen as the party of money and wealth. This perception is certainly accurate in one sense – the GOP is the favored party of the wealthy elite. Unfortunately, the party is also supported in large numbers by those who have no wealth, and thanks to the policies of the Republican party, no hope of ever attaining any. But they continue to support the party for reasons that seem irrational to us. Why?

In a nutshell, I want to argue here that they do so because the GOP has, through a long-term and exceptionally effective messaging campaign, drawn around itself the ideology of hope. Forgive a brief over-generalization, but they’re the party that preaches wealth and that tells people they can join the club (never mind that the message is a lie, given our current economic policy structure). In the popular frame, the Republicans are often seen as being about getting and having money while the Democrats are about taking your hard-earned money and giving it to people who didn’t earn it. Continue reading