Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Jocks Stelzer’

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I know that I’m most likely overthinking, overreacting, and overstating this, but I find myself constantly on the defensive over my love of football, probably due to the unrelenting pace of my Facebook posts with tiny hearts and hashtags like #lovethenfl #lovecollegefootball, #adrianpetersonissohot, etc., etc., etc.

21spoy1223I’m a woman. I’m a feminist. I’m an annoyingly self-righteous progressive. So, in light of the social, ethical, and safety concerns brought about by the sport, I’m supposed to be a hater. My love of football is oxymoronic. It befuddles some. It irritates others. It appalls a few. So, I love it.

Like any form of entertainment, art, or sport, football creates a cultural and social space. It’s an integral space where men can be “men” in ways that are stereotypical and sometimes repellant, to be sure, but also kind of awesome. Our society expects men to maintain the precarious balance of command and cooperation, strength and tenderness, primal physicality and intelligence. All of this happens on the football field.  The players we talk about most are aggressive, unrelenting, self-aggrandizing, and Superman-tough, and I usually love those guys, so I catch a lot of shit for it. I’m supposed to oppose this kind of hyper-masculinity, because it upsets the social expectations of my feminist-liberal position. Certainly, I’m not supposed to enjoy the muscles and the trash-talk and the brutality. So, I love it.

Not only is it unrealistic to expect men to maintain the difficult primal/social balance of appetite and acceptable behavior, it is simply NO FUN if we demand that they adhere to such a strict social protocol at all times. Football creates a spacepatrick-willis wherein men can growl, pound their chests, and smash into each other with primal aggression, and I get to watch. Now, THAT is fun. They get to channel animal urges toward a common goal and I get to enjoy, unapologetically, watching men with superior physical strength and mental acumen crash their big, strong bodies into one another and out-think their opponents. Then, they do awesomely cute little dances, flex their muscles for the camera, and slap each other’s asses adorably. So (of course), I love it.

Now, I realize that this celebration of hyper-masculinity is not securely contained within the cultural space of football. I know the serious social and interpersonal problems that present when a man is encouraged to be aggressive and self-important, when physical violence is the go-to solution to a problem, when putting one’s health and future at risk is expected toward the aim of winning a superficial game for money and fame and to enrich a few a-hole owners and a grossly flawed system. These are problems, and I know I should be repulsed, but it makes football dangerous. So, I love it.

I know, football promotes many of the negative aspects of stereotypical masculinity, and it subsequently facilitates serious social problems like domestic violence, economic inequities, and mental illness when those aspects creep from the cultural space of the football field into the social space of the actual world. I get that, and it disturbs me. I don’t mean to embrace or forgive any of these social problems, but football is complex enough, and compelling enough, and fun enough, that these dangers create, for me, a conflicted set of feelings. I’m supposed to hate it. So, I love it.

For these dangers, and the sex-appeal of athletic bodies in strenuous battle, come with another level of complexity. All of these “negative” aspects of masculinity bring with them impressive and undeniable displays of camaraderie, cooperation, intellect, and, yes, tenderness. When eleven men are on the field together, on offense or defense, they must operate withNFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions absolute connectedness to meet their goal and to protect themselves and their teammates from serious harm. Teamwork is real, and it works: WE win when we work together and protect each other. That connection, and the insanely hard work that teammates do together, makes football a space of intimacy and brotherhood, and THAT is beautiful. Intimacy and cooperation is subtly discouraged among men in our culture, which expects a certain level of rogue individuality to achieve an unrealistic masculine ideal: I win; you lose. Cooperation toward a common goal in football demands a level of intelligence and intellect that is often overlooked in discussions of athletics.  Football players are rarely given props for their intellect, but, in order to reach their common goal, these men have to study, collaborate, and think critically about their own, their teammates’, and their opponents’ strengths, weaknesses, and strategies. Teamwork, hard work, and smarts: now, THAT is sexy. I love it. And you should love it, too.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

In high school, my indefatigable math teacher, Mr. Sycz, informed me and the rest of his unsuspecting students that the majority of adult life is spent at work. As such, he wisely advised us to choose our careers carefully. What he failed to mention was that all those hours at work will be spent with other people. Regrettably, there is no way to select our coworkers; the only recourse is to cross your fingers. How fortunate, then, that I love both what I do and the people with whom I work.

I’ve always liked working cooperatively with others, a natural result of growing up with six siblings. At every job I’ve had in my 25 years of RMUILsealwork (Cowgill Printing, McDonald’s, Dimitri’s Restaurant, Mr. Todd’s Cleaners, Royalview Manor, First Community Village, The Courtyard, Country Counter, Dick’s Last Resort, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Grafton Street Pub, Lakeland Community College, Academy at the Lakes, Hillsborough Community College, Harold Washington College, Columbia College, and RMU), I’ve met and worked with fantastic people who’ve helped make any work less tiresome. The same is true here at good ol’ RMU, where I have worked since arriving in Chicago in 2007.

My RMU colleagues are tremendous people, and we know each other incredibly well. Since my coworkers are diligent and dedicated teachers, I am already predisposed to like them and admire their efforts. They are all CLAwonderfully smart, too, of course, each in his or her unique way. Everyone I work with will stop to help a fellow teacher or student. Everyone will devote his or her expertise to our shared purpose: the endlessly worthwhile endeavor of education.

Most importantly, my co-workers at RMU, specifically the CLA members (many of them Turtle writers, too) are generous and thoughtful. What follows is just a small sampling of the everyday—but in no way ordinary—kindnesses my colleagues show to one another.

Paula provides lunch when Fridays involve the dreaded all-day meetings.

If there are cookies next to the coffee pot, they are probably courtesy of Turtle father Michael.

Jenny supplies us all with fresh vegetables from her considerable garden.

Pyle created the “cabinet of wonders,” a repository of free books, Cd’s, and DVD’s to share.

I’d be surprised to find a more sympathetic listener than Ellen.

Cynthia keeps the refrigerator stocked with fancy flavored creams to augment the free coffee.

Pat McNicholas brings homemade fudge every finals week.

Paul jots down the best zingers on his whiteboard to highlight the general goofiness in the CLA suite.

If Peter does anything, you can bet it will be done with “alacrity and aplomb.”

Like any good family, we endure each other’s idiosyncrasies, often turning flaws into perfections of a different kind. Mick tells the same Irish jokes every St. Patrick’s Day, year after year: how excruciatingly wonderful.

When my colleagues aren’t busy conducting research, planning curriculum, teaching classes, grading papers, or attending meetings, we can be found in the CLA office giggling like teenagers. We pretend that we are in a workplace sitcom called “RMU Kiddin’ Me.” We’re all certain the show would be hilarious, of course, which illustrates my good fortune in both terms of my job and my coworkers.

There is nothing quite as delightful as laughing at work, something I enjoy every single day. The funniest line or exchange will be added to Paul’szipper white board. If a joke is too inappropriate, it is designated as “Invisible Whiteboard” material and will remain a joke amongst ourselves.

Today

Paul, “I’ll send you the ZIP file.”

Me, “I can never remember how to unzip things.”

Paul, “Then how do you get dressed in the morning?”

Insert the cutesy sitcom title here.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

Beyoncé is a feminist. No matter what you think. No matter what I think.

Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she decides.

She creates this crazy-dope album that is, in effect, a whole new pop sub-genre that not only demands the “album” experience (we’ve seen the rebirth of the “album” over singles with artists like Nas and Kendrick), it forges a new inextricability between song, beyonce-visual-albumalbum, AND video. No singles, please. You gotta experience the whole damn thing. You listen according to Bey’s direction. And, you watch. And, by the way, you’re happy about that (trust me). She then forgoes the beaten path toward sales (much time, energy, money on hype, little time, energy, money on art) to drop “Beyoncé” as a straight-up surprise. No matter what you cynics say about marketing ploys, “Surprise! Here’s my amazing new album! Enjoy it!” is way better than the uber-strategic beat-us-over-the-head-with-hype-on-your-upcoming-album-so-much-that-we’re-kinda-over-it-before-it-even-drops thing (think: Eminem and Lady Gaga).

Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she controls “the gaze”.

So much is said in feminist theory and cultural criticism about the male gaze, which objectifies and sexualizes women according to masculine desires. The camera, and his eye, is on her. He watches, she moves, for him. Beyoncé shifted the power of the gaze way back with “Video Phone,” when she took control and directed HIM on how to watch her. She does this often on her new album, repeatedly directing his gaze (“Don’t take your eyes off it/Watch it babe”) and in thoughtful and sometimes ironic ruminations on beauty and social distortion (“Pretty hurts/We shine the light on whatever’s worse”) as well as, yes, feminism (by taking the male gaze straight on with the self-celebratory: “I look so good tonight/God damn!/I woke up like this/Flawless”).

Beyonce is a feminist. Because she brags about her sexual prowess.

SO damn hip-hop. She appropriates the common trope of sexual ability from the fellas. Sure, other female artists have done this before (Eve, MC Lyte), but Bey does it bigger. First, she owns what he’s gazing at (like a stone-cold fox): “my fatty, daddy, “, then she makes her demands (like a man): “You rock hard/I rock steady,” and then she declares him worthy of her (like a BOSS!): “Ooh, my sh*t’s so good that it ain’t even right…/…you’re my equivalent/So sexy”.

(Run, don’t walk, now, and listen to “Rocket”. Seriously. Stop reading this, download this album, and listen to that song RIGHT NOW. Uh, huh. You’re welcome.)

Beyonce is a feminist. Because she’s powerful enough to break the rules and to have fun doing it.

Much ado has already been made about the  questionable rhymes her husband, Jay Z, lays on “Drunk in Love,” which reference Ike and Tina Turner’s forcible-cake-eating moment in their abusive marriage. Rightfully so, black feminist bloggers like Black Girl1369078467_beyonce-jay-z-lg Dangerous’s Mia McKenzie and Crunk Feminist Collective (“5 Reason’s I’m Here for Beyonce the feminist“) take on the lyrics, Jay Z, and Bey, for this. Sure, in the pre-“Beyoncé” pop culture space (read: male-dominated), the fact that Jay raps almost jovially about spousal abuse in his wife’s song seems an affront to her, to marriage and to women. However, this is Bey’s world now, y’all; Jay’s just rapping in it. First of all, as McKenzie repeatedly notes, Beyoncé “allows” Jay to spit these lyrics on her album. Secondly, as far as we (the public, audience, fans, even haters) can possibly know, Bey’s and Jay’s is a mutually respectful relationship between equals. They allow us glimpses into their intimacy (Lucky us!), so we must approach their relationship on their terms, and take at face value the fact that this is the (pretended or genuine – no matter) sex life of two equally powerful adults. By the look on her face (in the oh-my-god-I-might-just-die-its-so-sexy video for “Drunk in Love”), and the fact that she mouths the words along with him (while turning her own gaze on him AND on the camera itself, I might add), suggest that this just might be sexual play that SHE demands; he’s just living up to her expectations. Lucky him. Plus, just watch her dance. The woman is running sh*t and she’s having so much fun doing it.

(By the way, no fair judging fantasies. People be kinky, and you know it. Enjoy the show. Whether it’s right or wrong AIN’T your business.)

Beyoncé is a feminist. Because she says so, b*tches.

No matter how earnest, self-righteous, educated, or angry we are, we don’t get to define Beyoncé’s feminism. SHE DOES. This weak-ass defense I offer is no different than some rant about her sexiness or her very public relationship. This gets to the (really important) discussion of the problem with white feminists. We want to decide, to explain, to define, and we have a hard time just listening. Because white women have always been in a (slightly, to be sure) higher position of power than black women, we’ve been able to voice what does or does not constitute feminism, and this definition has often neglected, even degraded the black female experience and the black feminist perspective. Beyoncé’s declaration of feminism is, on the one hand, none of our damn business, and, on the other hand, an opportunity to take a closer look at our own deeply held convictions about beauty, marriage, feminism, sex, and fun.

Nonetheless, this is Bey’s feminism, not yours, so shut up and listen.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

So, I am totally on vacation right now, but, I’m writing this piece to make sure my Turtle peeps don’t hate on me too much. They are all on campus in a freezing-cold downtown Chicago building while I lay on a beach in Michigan right now, trying to keep sand out of my iPhone.

My list comes from my recent weeks of repeats on my iPhone. If you know me well, you’ve seen me (or can imagine me) singing and nodding my head while biking my kids to camp, biking to work out at the YMCA, or biking to bikram yoga.

Disclaimer: My list is only 5 songs long. Come on! I said I’m on vacation!

1. “My Favorite Song” by Chance The Rapper featuring Childish Gambino. Frankly, I would make this Chicago youngster’s mix tape my entire “favorite” list of this summer as it is trippy, sweet, dirty, and confused. Just like growing up. It images (15)makes me feel like a kid. And like I’m in trouble. Big trouble. My real fave on the album right now is “Lost” with Noname Gypsy. Sooo bad. Sooo good.

2. “Kinda Outta Luck” by Lana Del Rey. Summertime favorites have to make you feel like you’d do something you wouldn’t. I wouldn’t, of course, but Lana kinda makes me wanna.

3. “Go Home” by Dessa. A nod to the sad-bastard aesthetic. This song, and Dessa’s voice, makes me weak in the knees and flat-out crushes me. And I love it. Plus, this white-girl rapper is the girl I want to be. Check out “Sadie Hawkins” for a taste of her flow.

4. “I Am a God” by Kanye West. I know: he makes better beats than rhymes. He’s pure ego. He’s made better albums (well, maybe), and white, feminist chicks like me aren’t supposed to like him. But: God. Damn. The rhymes on the Yeezus album are dope, its a punch-in-the-face contemplation on race and exploitation, and, it embodies one thing I LOVE about hip-hop. Unabashed masculinity, anger, and sexuality. God. Damn.

5. “Gold” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Really. What do I want in my music? JOY. Macklemore delivers in all of his work (even the serious stuff, which is totally poignant, personal, and heartbreaking). This song is pure, nod ya head, shake ya booty JOY. It’s theme-song worthy for a girl like me.

Okay, that’s it. You already know about my devotion to JT (his album is my current vacation soundtrack) and as I wrap this up, I’m still giggling about “what rhymes with hug me” as I slip my earbuds back in and end this summer on the beach with a little more joy.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

Students who take classes with both of us usually agree: MSJ = smart and serious, JJS = smart and not-serious. I’m not so sure about the “smart” part, but they’ve pretty much got us pegged as far as teaching styles, music, books, general disposition, and overall proclivities. While MSJ provides the straight dope on historical subjects like WWI, slavery, and the Holocaust, I teach lit with as much sex and cursing in it as I can get away with (Don’t hate. It can be done smartly and hilariously to a delightful affect). While he reads NON-FICTION (read in a big, deep, serious voice), I read hip-hop journalism for my class and contemporary fiction with my book group (read in a “Yay!” voice). While he listens to what we affectionately refer to as “sad bastard music,” (you know, Bon Iver on heavy rotation), I’m always getting in trouble when one of my downloads comes up on our iTunes shuffle with the kids around (What? DMX isn’t appropriate?). Unless it’s JT. Then, we get down.

So, when it comes to the whole “beach reads” discussion, I’m with him on the “read something smart” tip, but I’m so NOT with him on the “read something serious” tip. Here’s what I’ll be reading in the beach chair next to his:

  • Junot Diaz’s “This Is How You Lose Her”. Did I mention that I like smart and hilariousImage cursing? I also like stories about people doing the wrong thing. Diaz’s narrator (and, probably, alter ego) Yunior (whom I met in the also-awesome “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”) is a lying, cheating mother-f’er, and I love him. THAT’S how good Diaz’s writing is.
  • ImageKRS-One’s “The Gospel of Hip-Hop: The First Instrument”. Because how can I claim any kind of street credibility (in hip-hop OR in philosophy) without reading The Teacha’s treatise? I’m following this up with The RZA’s “Wu Tang Manual,” because, why the F not?
  • Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club.” I know, I know: “But, that’s a ‘guy’s Imagebook’!” “But, it’s so violent!” and, “But, his depiction of women?!” The same is said of Fincher’s film which, quite possibly, is my favorite movie. Dudes, chill. This book is FEMINIST, y’all: it’s a comment on excessive machismo, and it’s also super anti-consumerism and supremely shit-disturbing, which I LOVE. Plus, you’ve got that image of Brad Pitt (sans shirt) beating the crap out of someone. That’s the stuff for a beach chair.
  • ImageAnais Nin’s “A Spy in the House of Love”. Seriously, forget “50 Shades.” The first book was fun but, after that, WAY too much authorial effort went toward the plot. We all know what we’re reading it for. It’s summertime.  It’s hot. Get yourself some real erotica. While Henry Miller gets all the props for the books you’re not supposed to read, Nin’s got the chops. Her diaries are great, too, but, in this novel, Sabina gets to do the stuff that Miller only lets men do.

So, friends of MSJ and JJS, when you’re heading to the beach (or, in our case, the pool, where we claim to be hanging with our kids, but, really, we’re just lazing in the sun with our books), you could get all serious and learn lots with him (which is totally cool, really), or, you could get all not-serious with me, and read stuff you’re not supposed to.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

A couple of weeks ago, MSJ (to whom I happen to be married) said something cool: “I’m more interested in what’s unfamiliar to me than what’s familiar.” As I ALWAYS do when he says interesting things, which he does so often, I thought about it for a while. For once, I agree.

N.W.A.

N.W.A.

As you may know, my current intellectual pursuit/guilty pleasure/obsession (depending on your perspective) is rap music. I’ve created a new RMU course called The History and Poetics of Hip-Hop, and I’ve been studiously following blogs, reading criticism, and bobbing my head to Nas’s Illmatic, Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers, and N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, while my students school me on Lil’ Wayne, Lupe Fiasco, and Kanye West. (I know; my job is friggin’ awesome.)

So, many of my friends and colleagues have been all: “Say what? YOU like rap music? YOU? A 30-something, Oak Park-living, food-and-fitness-obsessing, intellectual-pretending, white-being mom?” What interest could you possibly have in the world of hip-hop?

Haters.

First of all, I do happen to have some familiarity with the music and the culture, even if it is simply because I was a suburban (read: white) kid in the 1990’s going to an urban (read: black) high school, and the distributors of rap music, both in tape/CD sales and in the media (MTV) in the ‘90’s made the smart marketing move to target white kids whose disposable income was growing and who needed a new rebellious consciousness to identify with, because Madonna was mainstream, punk was no longer available, and grunge, well, was just too grunge-y. So, my friends and I would ride around in our parents’ cars rapping every Digital Underground, D.O.C., and DJ Qwik lyric at the top of our lungs. We even got into the 2-Live Crew. No joke.

This was the unfamiliar. We were fairly privileged teenaged white girls with a pretty limited sense of how messed up the world really was. Sure, we knew kids at school who were in gangs, our friend groups were quite economically and racially diverse, and we occasionally went to “the east side” to find that lady who would buy beer for minors (good god, I hope my kids never do this). But, for the most part, the larger culture validated our own limited, sheltered experience, and, from the teenager’s perspective, this was WAY too familiar to be cool.

LOS ANGELES FIRES

Los Angeles, 1992.

Our exposure to hip-hop was a cultural awakening to something truly unfamiliar: the reality of lack (said KRS-One) and what it’s like to have a larger culture that marginalizes and, even, villain-izes you. That, frankly, was cool. When we learned of the Rodney King beating and the L.A. riots, we were, I think rightly, compelled to make sense of that marginalized experience. And, in what I now know was a complicated and immature reach toward eliminating the inner racism that made a spectacle of “the ghetto” to people like us, we totally embraced gangsta rap. We recited the aggressive lyrics with all of the white chick swagger we could muster, and complained when our parents or teachers talked about how inappropriate “our” music was as that same distribution and media network slapped the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” sticker over the cover art, compelling us even further to shout “You don’t like how I’m livin’, well f**k you!” and “Me love you long time.” No joke.

After years of New Kids on the Block and Debbie Gibson, which validated our suburban-girl experience and rarely challenged us, we were ready to be challenged. So we embraced the marginalized identity, and the marginalized art that went along with it. Perhaps it was just rebellion, but I think it might be a yearning to empathize with the unfamiliar, really, that draws us to art we don’t immediately understand. Sure, much of what we enjoy and admire is grounded in the universal-ization of our own experience, but, what is REALLY interesting is art that makes the unfamiliar familiar. Regardless of my claims to street credibility simply due to the fact that my friends were diverse and I knew Too $hort’s real name (Todd Shaw, yo.), white privilege rendered me, and the culture that represented my experience, incapable of really understanding what it was like at the time to be outside of the mainstream (read, mistakenly: cool). Embracing rap music was a transgression that both irritated my parents AND gave me a sense of myself as someone unjustly misunderstood and anti-authority, even if it was inauthentic and, looking back, kind of embarrassing. Plus, it felt pretty damn cool to act “hard”.

These days, as I research the social and cultural movements of the 1980’s and 90’s that helped make hip-hop what it is today and apply critical poetic analysis to “6 ‘N the Mornin’” and “Get ‘em High,” I’m a little more self-reflexive in my response to the “Say, what?” question. I’m into rap precisely because it comes from a place that I have little familiarity with, but that I long to feel empathy toward and, for whatever foolish reason, to identify with.

Plus, much to MSJ’s dismay, I can’t resist a phat beat, a dope flow, and a smooth voice.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

“You’re a feminist; how could you be into Shakespeare, what with all of the ‘witches’ and the ‘shrews?’”

Um, I’m pretty sure I never heard that question in grad school or at any point in my academic experience. It’s pretty much understood that, despite the disinheritance of a less-Imagethan-compliant daughter, the taming of an obstinate wife, and the inevitable insanity of the power-hungry femme fatale, it’s cool for a feminist to be into Shakespeare, because he’s good. He’s THAT good.

However, I am continually posed with that question in my current intellectual pursuit:

“You’re a feminist; how could you be into rap, what with all of the ‘bitches’ and the ‘hos?'”

Because, I say, like any art, when rap is good, it’s THAT good.

Why is it totally acceptable to give Shakespeare props for his skills, despite his apparent misogyny, but not, say, Ice Cube? I think it has something to do with who gets to define art. While our cultural reverence for Shakespeare stems from the way that he kicks ass with English (Sound and fury? Damn right.), it is made unquestionable by our acceptance of his stories as universal and his skill as peerless. His cultural position is dominant, white, male. However, we, even feminists, let him speak for us, because he does it so good.

So, Ice Cube brings a perspective that is not just different from that of theImage accepted universal, it is downright unsettling, to understate the matter. It is unsettling in that it doesn’t fit nicely into the cultural definition of art. It can’t. It comes from an angry, black dude, and that angry, black dude could not possibly represent the universal, according to the dominant (white, male) definition.

So, we dis it. It is violent. It is misogynistic. It disturbs the shit that makes us comfortable.

Guess what? That’s art. And, guess what else? When it’s done by the likes of Cube, it’s peerless: the man can rap. Yes, he is THAT good.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

When Hamlet accosts his mother and mind-trips his girlfriend, it’s totally cool because Gertrude’s tumble into “incestuous sheets,” means that Ophelia is sure to be Hamlet’s 100th problem. Yeah, go ahead and mess with your girlfriend’s head to fulfill your revenge fantasy against your mother: “Frailty, thy name is woman.”

ImageWhen Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy blast through America and the “awfully dumb…sweet little girl[s],” we are quick to forgive their youthful indiscretions because they are rebelling against the stifling square-ness of the 1950’s, and because Kerouac does it with such frantic, insanely sexy lyricism: “…I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything…”

When Anna Karenina finally offs herself, the only thing she CAN do in Tolstoy’s Russia (she did cheat on her husband, after all, and he’s got a rep and a fortune to defend, yo), we praise the beauty of the tragic love story: “Sensual desire indulged for its own sake is the misuse of something sacred.” That is, if it’s a woman’s indulgence.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t go mad for these writers. They are amazing, and they tell stories of the human condition in ways that challenge and move us. My point is, though, that this power of (seemingly universal, but, almost always white and male) art is not found only within literature; it is found in a good rapper’s flow.

When Ice Cube claims that “Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money,” he is, as a matter of fact, speaking from the same misogynist universal as all the rest of these dudes, it just happens to arise from the culturally oppressed, rather than the culturally dominant. More importantly, his flow is so urgent, so angry, and so damn smooth against Dre’s hard-driving, irresistible beat, that his mastery is undeniable. So, I give him much respect: “Even saw the lights of the Goodyear blimp, and it read ‘Ice Cube’s a pimp.'”

As for my take on Norman Mailer and Eminem, I’d really like to claim that I represent as a feminist, but, like Jay-Z says, “Ladies is pimps, too.”

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I remember as a child standing in the mall parking lot, thinking about breakfast. “Mmmm. What smells like waffles?”  I asked my mom. She explained that that delicious smell was antifreeze leaking from the car. Let me tell you, Eggos and Aunt Jemima are not the tools with which to disabuse a child of that notion. Indeed, that breakfast smells uncannily similar to a leaky automobile.

Gross. For some reason, many of my childhood memories revolve around the smells of cars and food, and, disconcertingly (now), those smells are often interchangeable. I remember the sharp plasticky smell of the inside of my parents’ blue Chevy station wagon, which made me think of Smoke-Y-Links (and kind of gave me a headache, to tell you the truth), and I remember pulling into the gas station and breathing deeply the stingy, eye-watering smell that makes me think of Combos and pop (my high school lunch). I also remember watching the waves emanate from the vehicles all around us in a McDonald’s drive thru (not “through”): hot asphalt and fries.

Blech. Now, this post isn’t just about how gross car smells remind me of gross food. It’s about memory.  Much of what I remember about growing up seems to have had to do with being in the car and eating processed foods. I grew up in Mid-Michigan. My stay-at-home-mom was 25 and had 3 small kids to feed while she worked to keep her family and her house in order through buying things at stores (and my dad worked, building cars). In the 1980’s, that meant driving around a lot and eating convenience foods because there was no option to do things any other way: life was too busy. This, of course, was painstakingly designed and unabashedly sold.

Ick. “You, harrowed housewife and busy working man, are FAR too busy for the things that slow life down (growing food, locomoting sans vehicle). Don’t you worry, little lady; we’ve got you covered.”  Thus, we got a country built for cars, and a brand-new (note that descriptor) mindset: convenience.

Thirty years later, we know that those mad men were bs-ing us, and we know two things:

  1. The food that was created and processed (instead of cultivated and cooked) to save us time has brought us epidemics of obesity and cancer, and the notion that someone else should be providing sustenance for our families.
  2. The machine that gets each of us going quickly and bestows upon us independence theretofore unknown, has brought us polluted air, an insatiable thirst for a limited resource, and the notion that we are each in this alone.

So, why do we keep it up? Why do we continue to eat foods that are made from the cheapest, grossest stuff possible and are dangerous to us and damaging to our land and water? Why do we continue to demand to move ourselves around with a 2-ton machine that makes dangerous the air we breathe and helps to change our climate? I think it’s because we don’t yet know the third thing:

  1. We are NOT so busy that we must sacrifice our earth, our health, and our happiness for convenient eating and swift transportation.

“Oh, I would LOVE to grow some of my own food…ride a bike…shop locally…etc., but I simply don’t have the time!”

Sure, it feels that way. We’ve got kids to raise and jobs to do and stuff to buy and television to watch and more money to make and more stuff to buy and more driving to do and…etc. Of course. But, really, we act in accordance with what we value.

The interesting thing is that these are all fond memories for me. I enjoyed the time I spent with my family doing the things that we did. The point is that our world has changed, so we need to change with it. I don’t want to raise my kids in the car headed to McDonald’s or Dominick’s. I want their memories to be of the time we spent growing our own food and getting ourselves around on our bikes. I don’t want them to simply believe that that cinnamon roll and/or chocolate smell wafting over Chicago and the ‘burbs is just some little bakery getting ready for their day. It’s the antifreeze leaking from that car that just passed us, or something way grosser.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

Boy, do I hate those Freakonomics guys. I mean, seriously, they write a book that assures us, through the point of view of economists, that we’re better than “drug dealers” and that the way we look askance at names other people give their kids is justified and we buy it like our own prejudices are going out of style. Congratulations, Freakonomics dudes, we all think you’re geniuses because you can see the world from your own point of view.

So, you ask, what’s the problem with seeing things from your own point of view? Nothing, inherently. The problem is in the lack of nuance. Stephen Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, in their book and on Freakonomics Radio, speak from the point of view of economists. The whole enterprise is “surprising” in that they look at “real-world issues” through the lens of economics. Holy crap, economists look at the world through economic paradigms – you don’t say! Dubner and Levitt do, indeed, provide the economics perspective, but their assessment of the issues is myopic (to say the least) in that it fails to take into account the “real” thing about real life: it is nuanced, and it requires ethics.

A few months ago, for the holidays, the Freakonomics guys did this piece on turkeys. In the piece, Stephen Dubner discusses the fact (yes, it’s a fact) that nearly 100% of the turkeys we consume in this country are unable to procreate naturally. Yes, from the point of view of Freakonomics Radio listeners, the artificial insemination of turkeys is not only hilarious; it is “good economics”. Dubner and his interviewer laugh about the “jobs program” created by the fact that millions of turkeys are bred in this country so that their giant breasts (hysterical!) make them unable to stand on their hind legs long enough or to get into the appropriate position to have actual sex. The problem with this piece is that it gets so caught up in the comedy of turkey sex and the “job creation” of artificial insemination that it failed to address any of the ethical nuances of the issue. So, we are left with a humorous (at best) and congratulatory (at worst) piece about the awesomeness of an absurd, horrific, and completely unethical phenomenon that serves the business and consumer point of view nicely.

Freakonomics is not nuanced. Nuance requires the understanding of someone else’s point of view. With nuance comes ethics. I want to argue that it is our point of view that determines our actual ethics (actual, as in the way we ACT).

Earlier this week, NPR ran this story on “Why Good People Do Bad Things”. In this piece, the journalist asks whether it takes a bad person to do unethical things. As it turns out, we are all “frequently blind to ethics” in our decision making, because we approach problems from our own assumed point of view. The piece features (in awesome graphic-novel narrative) a man who, after promising his dying father that he would never be so unethical as his brother, who had just been convicted of fraudulent business activity, finds himself having done the very same thing 22 years later. This totally normal, “good” man had come to assume the identity (and, thus, the point of view) of a business man (like his brother), so, when he lied about his business’s income in order to get the loan that would (he thought) save his failing business, he ACTED as a business man. He acted in a way that was best for his business. Period.

Of course, most of us are not business owners defrauding banks and weakening the global economy, but that doesn’t mean that our own assumed points of view don’t allow us to act unethically on a regular basis. If your point of view is that of a homeowner, you might spray chemicals on your lawn, even though they have been proven dangerous to your local watershed. If your point of view is that of a consumer, you might look for the best bargain and buy the stuff that was made through the cheapest means possible, even though that means extractive, exploitive, and harmful methods. If your point of view is that of a parent, you might send your kid to a private school, even though it is a disinvestment in your community. All of these are reasonable decisions from the point of view of the individual. “Everybody’s doing it.” “It’s legal.” “It’s what’s best for me.” But they are not, generally, the most ethical decisions with regard to others. That’s what happens when we fail to incorporate nuance into our own decisions, and we accept the status quo. Thus, we get best-selling economists celebrating acute poultry suffering for the sake of “job creation” and we accept (even appropriate) their point of view. No nuance; no ethics; no challenge to the status quo.

David Fincher’s (highly nuanced) critique of the status quo point of view AND the fervent rejection of the status quo, “Fight Club” exhibits this problem with its exquisite denoument.  In his rejection of the unethical, corrupting, emasculating point of view of the status quo, Tyler Durden engages in a highly unethical act, but, the way he sees it: “everything’s going to be fine.”

Whether we accept the economic status quo presented by the Freakonomics guys or act to destroy the status quo by any means necessary like Tyler Durden, until we ask ourselves, “Where is my mind?”, we have confused “my point of view” with “the right thing to do”.

By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty.

So, there’s this lovely couple that comes into the Y when I’m leaving my spin class at 7am.

(Yes, I said “leaving at 7. A.M.” I get up and I work out VERY early in the morning. Yes, it’s crazy. No, wait, it’s not crazy. What I mean to say is that I like to be out in the morning. Things are slower in the morning. Calmer. Quieter.)

Anyways, so this couple. They are adorable in so many ways. First, they have to be about 100 years old. Also, they are tiny and wear the coolest clothes ever.

(Wait, am I being totally condescending? I mean to say that it is AMAZING that they are 100 and still hitting the gym at 7am and that they are way more fashionable than me and most people I know in that they wear classic, worn coats, he wears a brown golf cap and she wears this beautiful scarf.)

Okay, so there is this totally cool older couple, and, at 7am they walk down the stairs at the Y. This matters because at 7am I am racing down those stairs to get dressed and rush to work. I pause and try to be patient while these folks make their way down with deliberation.

(What I mean to say is that this is not because they are infirm, but because they are taking their time. I must admit that I have been known to skip past them a few times with a little irritation. Why do we always want everyone else to move at our pace? Why do I use “we” when I really mean “I”? It just makes me feel better about being jerky sometimes, I guess.)

Well, so this couple meanders their way down the stairs to the locker room doors, which, until very recently, had these locks with keys that were difficult to make work much of the time. Every morning when we get to the Y, a few of us who know each other quite well say a quick hello and exchange a few complaints about the difficulty of the lock on the locker room door, which, easily, takes 30-45 seconds of our valuable time. Why, we ask, doesn’t the Y get its act together and give us keys that work? After all, we are busy people, here! Then, we rush off to our workouts.

(Why do I say “we” when I mean “they”? I mean, it really isn’t that big of a deal to take a few extra seconds to get into the locker room and, frankly, the YMCA is a charitable, not-for-profit organization, whose totally adequate facilities we get to use relatively inexpensively, not some fancy health club that we pay a bunch of money to that can spring for new keys to their eucalyptus-scented locker rooms any old day. Plus, 5am is WAY too early to start complaining. Come on, people! Hmmm, I suppose saying “we” when I mean “they” makes me feel a little less dickish when I rant about my friends.)

So, today, after our group starts the morning together with our suspicions that the brand new key-cards probably won’t even work (they worked fine), I get out of spin class and head down the stairs. Today I decided to take my time and walk patiently behind the couple.

(After all, the slow, calm quiet is what I like about the morning.)

The couple and I get to the locker room doors and the woman takes out her key-card. Her husband stops to make sure she gets in. They both smile when the key-card works and she looks over at him and says “Thank you,” with a smile and absolute sincerity. He says “You’re welcome,” with a smile and a pat on her shoulder. The whole exchange took about 30-45 seconds. My first thought was “Oh! I thought they were married!” My second thought was “Wait a minute, why can’t they be married AND considerate of each other at the same time?” Intimacy seems, sometimes, to allow for terse, efficient interactions often focused on complaints or irritations. We’re all busy and in a big hurry and those with whom we’re intimate with understand that the most.

When I stop to think about it, THAT is what makes that couple adorable. They actually take their time, and they actually say what they mean.