Posts Tagged ‘culture’

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Maiden, Mother, Crone, Not ME!

November 7, 2016

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Dani Mathers, the 29-year-old Playboy model who body-shamed a 70-year-old woman in the LA Fitness gym, has been charged with a crime and could face jail time. While this has been ongoing, and somewhat salacious news for a while now, I recently revisited the case and wanted to share some thoughts.

The caption reads, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either” and the image is seen over and over again as a side-by-side of the 70-year-old-woman and the laughing Mathers.

Traditionally in Mythology, there is the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. The Crone, or old woman, is portrayed as the archetypally as being withered and ugly, but as also being known as a Wise Woman. The Crone is the keeper of secrets and has the wisdom of old age. She is the final stage of the lifecycle and is held in reverence as she is she is associated with destruction, decay, and death.

In contrast, Mathers is not just apart of the Maiden archetype, but as a Playboy model she personifies the Goddess of Love through her beauty, which inspires love and passion. Ideally, the Maiden should represent enchantment, inception, expansion, the promise of new beginnings, birth, and youthful enthusiasm.

What happens with the Goddess of Love laughs at the Crone?

Obviously, there has been a hugely negative reaction from the community. Mathers failure to respect privacy is a social and legal transgression. Mathers thought it would be funny to play the role of a trickster by posting the photo, but found that she in turn, was made the fool.

However, beyond that, Mathers has also failed to understand the power of archetypes. She states, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either,” but clearly she isn’t really seeing what she is capturing. For whatever reason, the image portrays the message that Mathers thinks she is immune from becoming a Crone. Apparently she is truly a Goddess, blessed with eternal good looks and desirability. The sensuality and beauty that Mathers depicts is the other side of coin from the wisdom and maturity that of the Crone.

I think we all have a bit of Mathers in us and that is part of the horror that we feel toward this story. We would love to laugh at the Crone and say “hahahaha, not me!” But at the end of the day, that old woman is definitely going to get in the last word.

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Check out the Sutra Journal

January 20, 2016

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Here is a suggestion to check out the Sutra Journal. It is an online, curated journal on art, culture and dharma. They just published one of my articles: ALCHEMY AND THE HERMETIC TRADITION: Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung, and have many more interesting and diverse pieces to read. New editions are released monthly, so add it to your bookmarks!

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“Making a Murderer”: Authoring Fear through Authority

December 28, 2015

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Using authorship in a position of authority without transparency is an abuse of power. Authorship allows for the author of a narrative to have creative autonomy, or freedom. Often associated with the idea of the author who writes a book, the concept of authorship is founded on the idea of the author being in complete control of the world of the text, a pseudo-deity of their tempestuous landscapes. While the author is an authority of their work, not all authorities are authors. An authority is invested with power through the consent of a group. Whether the group is led by the matriarch of a family, a minister of religious affiliation, or the president of a country, authority acknowledges that an individual has the power to make decisions, often to lead and to enforce boundaries. Ideally authority is given through a process of democratic consent, however it also has historically been obtained through consent bullied through violence and/or intimidation.

When authorship is knowingly wielded by authorities to create narratives with the intention of manipulation there is cause to fear. This may be done through creating a narrative that appeals to logical fallacies, such as by eliciting strong emotional responses that trump logical analysis, appealing to vanity, de-contextualizing experiences to distort truth, or by assuming the moral (and/or intellectual) high ground. On a large scale this is the foundation of propaganda. For a time, the aesthetic beauty of Leni Riefenstahl films of Nazi Germany inspired positive emotional responses to the Third Reich with the outright intention of deflating the less aesthetically appealing logical opposition[Political Rites: Initiating Art]. While political propaganda is one of the most historically acknowledged ways that authority may abuse authorship, it is present in all layers of society.

Most recently, the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer is a clear example of how the abuse of authorship by an authority may have dire consequences on both the individual and societal levels. Released in December 2015, this series follows the legal struggles of Steven Avery over a thirty-year time period. The documentary was created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos and must be questioned in itself as a piece of authorship. However, prior to those concerns, the case of Steven Avery as presented by this documentary reveals how many people in authority struggle with imposing authority in authoring events due to feelings of morality, vengeance, superiority, and hate.

Everyone knows that ideologically a lawyer fights for the truth, but practically a lawyer’s job is to create narratives using evidence. In criminal cases, the defense must show that the defendant is innocent either through proving their inability to commit the crime, or by someone else’s guilt. The prosecution must create a narrative that is irrefutably more convincing, responding to these assertions of innocence, and offering proof clear proof of the defendant’s culpability. The narratives that both sides create do not represent the 100% truth of the situation, however they pull on concrete evidence and testimonies. Authenticity of evidence is both objective and subjective and is weighed by jury and judge.

In the history of Steven Avery, the audience witnesses, not once, but twice the manipulation of evidence through abuse of authority to convict him of crimes. In the first instance, he was accused of the attempted rape and brutalization of a local woman and was convicted of the crime despite the fact he had a substantiated alibi and that there was a convicted sex offender with greater probable cause. After serving eighteen years for the crime, he was found innocent through DNA analysis and released.

While in the process of suing the country for his wrongful imprisonment, he was once again arrested, this time for the murder of a woman. Though there was evidence that would include him amongst many possible suspects, it was also possible that some other perpetrator could have scapegoated him. However, rather than analyzing these possibilities, a multitude of situations allowing for the abuse of police, detective, legal and media authority led to Steven Avery and his sixteen year old nephew being the prime (and only) suspects. The coercion of confessions, the continued abuse of the moral high ground by prosecutors, the assumption of guilt before innocence that was encouraged to the media by the police prior to the trial, and the repeated witnessing of evidence being manhandled, and/or manipulated is a nightmare for any practitioner of critical argumentation. He was found guilty and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. However, even after his convictions, the jury members commented that when they entered their deliberations 7/12 members began with him being innocent. One jury member had to leave due to a family emergency and three had reportedly entered the trial with the outspoken conviction of his guilt. In addition, even though he was found to be innocent of his earlier crimes, his reputation as a criminal clearly influenced the perception of his moral character as he stood for sentencing in front of the judge.

Clearly, this is just a very brief summary of what transpired over decades (and I could not more highly recommend watching the series on either Netflix or Youtube and reading up on it through other sources), the troubled legal life of Steven Avery demonstrates the power of authority over authorship. Even when Avery was clearly telling the truth, he could not stand up to the legal narratives that convicted him. This leads us to two important questions: 1) How can we develop critical thinking skills to question, respond, and search for the authentic truth rather than the attractive and easy truths? 2) How can the methods of authority be more clearly derived from critical transparency, authenticity, and ethicacy? Through watching Making a Murderer we learn more about the function of power in our modern, American society. Regardless of Avery’s ultimate guilt or innocence, the abuse of authority through the manipulation of narrative (or authorship) is clearly present throughout this documentary. It presents a depiction of authority that all citizens should be concerned by and not accept as the status quo.

Now, before concluding this article it is essential that we look at the source that inspired this discussion. Everything that I know of this case was presented by two documentarians. After immersing myself in a little over ten hours of the history, I can’t say that I have not been seduced by the aesthetics of the film. If you were to ask me now, I would say from the evidence I saw, there is serious doubt to Steven Avery’s guilt, and if I “theoretically” had been on the jury, I could not have voted to convict.  However, my opinion has been developed through the context of the film that (while extensive) is only ten hours and does have an author’s bias.

So, how does the manipulation of the documentary’s narrative differ from the manipulation that happened during Avery’s trial? First of all, the audience knows that they are watching a documentary that has been pieced together in retrospect. Secondly, the documentary makers are not authorities in the legal system and even if they do take liberties with the narrative they are not sworn to the same ethical obligations. The job of documentary filmmakers is to inspire their audiences to reveal untold truths by asking interesting questions. At the time of Avery’s trials he was not given the question of guilt or innocence by the public, he was only met by social outrage. Now, at the time of this documentary, it is my belief that he will be offered the chance to have the status of his guilt publicly questioned. In addition, new questions regarding authority figures will also be asked—as they specifically relate to the case, and as we accept them in general within our society. So, yes, the documentary is a work of authorship. But, it is not an abuse of authority because it clearly reveals its methodologies, and, rather than leading to one clear response, it calls for critical reform and accountability.

Making A Murderer: Trailer

 

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Île de la Cité

April 19, 2015

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The city surrounds the island, the flow of the two rivers breaks the urbanscape of buildings and the crush of industry is composed of cars, families, machines. The island itself is the same. Surrounded by water, the buildings push against the limits of land and reach toward the opposing shore. Within these labyrinths of survival, we find that what is within the island is also without. One is the shadow of the other, refractions of light revealing lines on the portrait of civilization. But it is not the similiarities that engage us to cross these boundaries. It is the distance. The break that separates the one from the mass. The experience of the bridge that either prefaces the experience of one, an island alone in itself, or the one, whole, together, with all.

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Emotional Intelligence: A Psychopath’s Resource

June 12, 2011

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There are two primary types of Emotional Intelligence (EI). The first is the “Innate Potential Model” and is defined as the “innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions” (Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey, 2007).  Each individual is born with an emotional potential, how that potential is developed or stunted may be related to traumatic experiences, culture, family dynamics, etc.

The second type of EI may be learned or developed throughout the lifespan. Developed EI was also defined by Mayer (1990) and states that “EI is a subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

In both, the innate and learned forms of EI there are four different branches that may be explored.

  1. Perception, Appraisal and Expression of Emotion
  2. Emotional Facilitation of Thinking
  3. Understanding and Analyzing Emotions; Employing Emotional Knowledge
  4. Reflecting Regulation of Emotion to Promote Emotional and Intellectual Growth

While many people unconsciously have the ability to navigate these categories effortlessly, other people find themselves unbalanced or disconnected from emotional content. This may be evident in the ability to read an audience, develop intimate relationships, inability to regulate emotions in relationship to goals, and the lack of feeling differentiation, amongst others.

Interestingly, a critical diagnostic symptoms of a psychopathy is a lack of empathy. In 2011 article by NPR, “ A Psychopath Walks Into A Room. Can You Tell?” it was postulated by “Robert Hare, the eminent Canadian psychologist who invented the psychopath checklist, ….that you’re four times more likely to find a psychopath at the top of the corporate ladder than you are walking around in the janitor’s office.”  Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is divided into two main factors.

    Factor 1: Personality “Aggressive narcissim”

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/ manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow effect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Case history “Socially deviant lifestyle”

  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behavior problems

As we review the list, it is easy to identify behavior characteristics that may be found in many of our acquaintances (family non-exempt). However, this does not mean that they may be immediately categorized as psychopaths. Rather, it is the evaluation of all of these factors that may lead to a diagnosis.

By looking at the extreme absence of EI, we may better understand our own areas of emotional lack, and also better understand our interactions with others. One of the reasons that more psychopaths are found at the higher end of the corporate ladder is that they have learned to manipulate and engage emotional responses of other people. However, this engagement is not reciprocal and allows the psychopath to maneuver without scruples. A contemporary example of this is explored through the TV series Dexter (Look for future posts on this series and EI).

So, if you are a psychopath looking for guidelines to fit into society better, or if you are just an average ranking empathizer, here is a list of suggestions for how to increase your EI sensibility:

1.   Become emotionally literate. Label your feelings, rather than labeling people or situations.

2.   Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.

3.   Take more responsibility for your feelings.

4.   Use your feelings to help make decisions.

5.   Use feelings to set and achieve goals.

6.   Feel energized, not angry.

7.   Validate other people’s feelings.

8.   Use feelings to help show respect for others.

9.   Don’t advise, command, control, criticize, judge or lecture to others.

10.  Avoid people who invalidate you

Below you will find links to the referenced NPR article and an online source where EI is explored in greater depth. Remember that these terms are most often fluid and diagnostic definitions and criteria do change (Check out the DSM-V for more information). In this article these criteria are being used to establish definitions to explore cultural content and behavior depicted in the media, it is not intended for clinical determination.

http://eqi.org/eitoc.htm

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/21/136462824/a-psychopath-walks-into-a-room-can-you-tell 

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The Rigors of Anna Akhmatova

June 11, 2011

Born into pre-revolutionary Russia, Anna Akhmatova lived through nearly every epoch of life within the Soviet Union. A poetess first published in her early teens, Akhmatova was well-known as a thinker and muse amongst the intelligentsia. However, while her ability was clear prior to the revolution, it was her role as witness that has made her legacy. Executions, imprisonment, abandonment, suicide, and slow death defined day-to-day living. Oppression of thought through spies and bugs were typical. And memory became the greatest tool of rebellion.

At one point in this history, for seventeen months Akhmatova waited outside a prison each day to bring food to her son, or to advocate for his release. Published in the St. Petersburg Journal in the New York Times is an account of the day she was recognized:

“One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):

‘Can you describe this?’

And I said: ‘I can.’

“Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.”

Central to this retelling is the ability of the poet to stand as a witness to the misuse of power and the horrors of reality.

Which leads to the question of how can poets be witnesses? The poetry throughout the ages has served different services. Whether to convey liturgical material, regional news, or to instruct, poetry has been a mode of communication steeped in tradition. In classical times, the poetic emphasis lay in form and craft—as seen in both epic works and smaller sonnets (Homer or Sapho). However, the closer one moves toward Modernism, the more the emphasis moves from transcendental romantic themes, toward symbolism—which argued that art should represent absolute truths which could only be described indirectly. Metaphor and the liberation of technique from tradition were both central to the Symbolism Manifesto.

Maturing into the beginning of the 20th century, Akhmatova came into the poetic world just as Symbolism was becoming popular in the western world. Even prior to the revolution, the divide between east and west was strong, and the poets of Russia headed in a different philosophical direction. Developed in 1910, Acmeism was a school of poetry, which focused on the Greek root for acme, “the best age of man.”

Acmeist poetry celebrated craft and rigorous form over the mysticism of imagery—permanence over transience. Choosing not to emigrate, Akhmatova was harshly censored and closely watched throughout the majority of her life. However, her classical diction and direct details revealed not only the factual authenticity, but represented the stark emotional grounds the country was traversing internally.

Here are two examples of her poetry:

Song of the Last Meeting

My heart was chilled and numb,

but my feet were light.

I fumbled the glove for my left hand

onto my right.

It seemed there were many steps,

I knew—there were only three.

Autumn, whispering in the maples,

kept urging: ‘Die with me!

I’m  cheated by joylessness,

changed by a destiny untrue.’

I answered: ‘My dear, my dear!

I too: I’ll die with you.’

The song of the last meeting.

I see that dark house again.

Only bedroom candles burning,

The yellow, indifferent, flame.

Shade

‘ What does a certain woman know

                               of the hour of her death?’  Mandelshtam

Tallest, most suave of us, why Memory,

forcing you to appear from the past, pass

down a train, swaying, to find me

clear profiled through the window-glass?

Angel or bird? How we debated!

The poet thought you translucent straw.

Through dark lashes, your eyes, Georgian,

looked out, with gentleness, on it all.

Shade, forgive. Blue skies, Flaubert,

insomnia, late-blooming lilac flower,

bring you, and the magnificence of the year,

nineteen-thirteen, to mind, and your

unclouded temperate afternoon, memory

difficult for me now—Oh, shade!

In these poems, we can clearly see how the emphasis in Acmeism of traditional form provides a container for the chaos that ensues within the lived world. Rhyme scheme, meter and verse counter the stress and harsh reality of the themes explored there in. Likewise, the use of realistic imagery creates a simple relationship with a reader. The identification of the audience with the author finds common ground in windows, homes, and flowers—possibly the only commonalities available between 21st century America and revolutionary Russia, they allow for some type of identification throughout time and cultural boundaries.

The rigors of Anna Akhmatova are confined to the strict structure of her poetry. The discipline that the Stalinist Soviet Union instituted on its people is paralleled in her craft. However, the themes and hidden memories bear witness to the tears that have fallen, vanished love, and loneliness of lost time.

anna

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Postcultural Identity and the Fashion Photography of Lillian Bassman

June 10, 2011

Born in 1917, Lillian Bassman is most celebrated for her grainy, black and white photographic work. Featured in Harper’s Bazaar Magazine between 1950-1965, her work with models focused on high contrasts and form. Her creative objective focused on pure form. However, when popular tastes in fashion photography changed, Bassman discarded 40 years of negatives and prints. One misplaced bag of 100 images survived. Today, Bassman is recognized as one of the great women fashion photographers and is still working.

Throughout the 20th century, the world of fashion has had a contentious evolution. Both celebrated for it’s aesthetics and criticized for its bourgeoisie decadence, fashion remains one of the most popular and common forms of cultural representation. In this instance, culture is defined as the attitude and behavior characteristics of a particular social group. While it is easy to comment that the attitude reflected in fashion is the starvation of culture, this reduction is a bit too easy.

Existentialism rose from the ruins of two world wars and set the stage for surrealism, deconstruction, and post-modernism. Through the knowledge of mass destruction and global culpability, the question of meaning was desperately explored within the realms of art, religion, philosophy, and other representations of cultural identity. Deconstruction destabilized meaning, but also provided an almost religious assuredness that the center is never stable. As if this instability assured a conceptualization of existence beyond the ability of humans—the religious function of the psyche found an outlet through the labors of theory.

However, while existentialism, or the quest for meaning, has been simultaneously nihilistic and the origin of great creativity, there is another factor that has shaped the last 100 years—globalization. The great American experiment has now passed the two hundred year mark and cultures have now been, not only blended, but forgotten. The fusion of races, traditions, and languages have created a clean palate to adopt and discard the trappings of culture. Americans can be everything or nothing in a simple change of the wardrobe.

In this example, we are going to be looking at Postculturalism as a theory directly related to globalization. In a community set in a densely cultural environment the traditions, expectations, and socio-economic positions have been established over hundreds (if not thousands of years). An individual is not introduced as someone who has existed within one lifetime, rather they are recognized as the son, or daughter, of thus and thus person, who is in turn related to another individual. Everyone is family, the community dictates behavior, and history is remembered.

In Postculturalism, the socio-economic boundaries are broken enabling more opportunity. The lack of a genealogical introduction enables quick movement between economic classes. However, it also means the deterioration of expectations and lifestyle. The concept of the lifespan as shared within a community follows set rituals. Whether that knowing the time to eat during the day, the season to eat ice cream, or the rites of passage into different epochs, the expectations are clearly available. This availability serves a psychological objective in providing a known framework, a system of initiation, and a guide for interactions. In contrast, a Postcultural society must either cull customs from a variety of backgrounds, or, more like, is left to find a framework from a system unrelated to culture—which is usually nestled closely to capitalism.

Leading us back into the phenomenon of fashion photography. Photography has served many functions since it’s invention. Ranging from a bureaucratic tool to high art, photography is both a method and a form of expressionism. In the case of fashion photography, the line between commercialism and art is often blended. The goal of fashion is to sell clothes. To sell clothes, there must be a reason to buy clothes. Fashion is not utilitarian and is fueled by desire. Clothes are a traditional expression of culture and personal identity. Our industry within a community is recognized by what we wear (butcher, baker, candlestick maker), and likewise an individual with the finest clothes is more important than an individual with poorer accessories. We all desire quality in life, and clothes are symbolic of our goals and achievements.

However, in a Postcultural society identity is not established through a cultural history. Which makes fashion an extremely necessary outlet for defining individual identity. A person who is in fashion, has more economic resources, and is therefore identified as being more significant within the social hierarchy. However, fashion is not just branding, it is the artistic development of “looks.” Here is where photography becomes more than a tool for communicating merchandise. The creative aspects of fashion photography create a scene that the viewer desires to identify with. The reenactment, or interaction, with changing fashions is one method to create a persona where prior content does not limit possibilities.

In looking at the photography of Lillian Bassman, we must question the appeal, but also the challenges of her images. Her photography is intensely interested in form, geometry, and high-grainy contrast. When we look at her images, we are looking through a window into another world. The world is attractive, but deeply psychological. The narrative is complex and not always neat. The extreme black and white contrast does not compromise in communicating emotion, tension, and intrIgue. The content that Bassman conveys works within the forum of fashion photography, but the physical identities that she designs convey more about our interior landscapes. Her emphasis on form took her into creative realms that the fashion content was unable to follow. Leading her to find other forums of expression outside of the industry, but also establishing her legacy as a fashion photographer who had much to say to an audience unprepared to listen.

This is a link to Lillian Bassman’s photography as featured in the New York Times.