Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Witty Ditties

We start with a South Korean offering that's been taking the world by storm. Psy mainly sings about Doenjang girls and pokes fun at the excesses of capitalism in 'Gangnam Style', which has become the most watched Youtube video of all time. (Gangnam is a prestigious suburb in Seoul.)

Next we find ourselves in a UK, where Nick Clegg's attempt to recapture the public's sympathy appears to have backfired, as parodies of the apology proliferate.

I don't even know which show this next clip is camping up, but there's something refreshingly over the top about it.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hanging out with the socialists

I've just realised that, while I am wholeheartedly liberal in my approach (go capitalist democracy!), I find myself drawn to, and identifying with, socialists on a regular basis. From the British journalist Laurie Penny, to the Australian editor of Overland, Jeff Sparrow, to American academic Douglas Kellner, I follow the work of a whole bunch of left-wingers, and they frequently move me. I find myself protesting the phrase 'wingnuts' because it implies that fascists can be placed in the same category as these endearing rebels, which does them a disservice.

Perhaps I am drawn to these consumers of 'utopia' because they are part of a much-scorned minority group. Take Slavoj Zizek, for example - his analysis of the world is frequently fascinating, and offers relevant criticism on topics like how liberals assuage their guilt over their nations' histories of Islamophobia (as in his book Violence) without really doing much to address the issue, however his fondness for authoritarian outlooks makes it difficult for me to identify with him beyond a certain extent.

Jeff Sparrow writes that left-wing intellectuals have earned a certain amount of cultural capital amongst the intelligentsia. Indeed, their critiques of the institution of consumerism and democracy are often insightful because it's an atypical perspective they approach our societies with... they make the familiar unfamiliar, the supposedly reassuring and enabling seem oppressive. Their outsider perspective cultivates much in the way of creativity.

However, authoritarianism is authoritarianism, and while I enjoy hanging out and spending some time in their world, eager to learn something new, I can only get so close. I can't humour the self-defeating idealism which sees them prioritise a political system which has failed dismally every time it's been put into practice, because it doesn't allow for freedom of speech. Such naive trust in the power of a group of individuals to remain non-corrupt shows a lack of understanding of human nature, and shouldn't be indulged.

Reality sucks. There will probably always be uneven distributions of power. But at least in a capitalist democracy, we, the people, can write about it, read about it, and have the power to vote for the people we perceive to be the least corrupt - time and time again.

Nevertheless, there is much fun and knowledge to be had from spending time with socialist intellectuals, and I admire their drive and stubborn determination to hold onto views that many people ridicule or find offensive. Not to mention, most socialists are supportive of feminism, queer rights, racial equality and disability rights. More power to those who can contribute to society by being well-educated and well-intentioned, even if we don't share the same politics.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Saying no to white privilige

While lingering in the air conditioned cool of MBK, Bangkok's self-proclaimed 'most visited mall', I was accosted by a group of women in green uniforms who were selling beauty treatments. I usually avoid beauty clinics since they usually play on women's insecurities (with their posters of [most likely Photoshopped] women with almost impossibly smooth skin, big eyes with long, thick lashes, big lips and small noses, dyed and styled hair, etc), charging high prices for an effect of low importance.

That said, I am not completely free of superficiality or immune to being pampered, which is why I get a facial treatment once every 1-2 month(s). I took a look at the brochure proffered, expecting the usual array of skin services but was taken aback to discover that all of them were 'whitening' treatments. I found it insulting that "white skin" was being prioritised over the variegated Asian shades, which are perfectly lovely the way they are. I don't feel like my epidermis colouring makes me any more or less beautiful than any Asian (or African, Latin American, Native American, etc), and it's disconcerting that people should place my whiteness on a pedestal, giving me extra special treatment. It means that, somewhere else, a differently coloured visitor is getting less special treatment, or even outright abuse. People who are identified as having 'blackness' sometimes find that Thais save their smiles for those associated with 'whiteness'. So much suspicion, so much disdain, so much prejudice.

How can we change this? Speak up! I didn't have much Thai and the lady closest to me didn't have much English, but I was able to express how I offended I was to some extent. She went 'ohhh' and looked sad for a moment. Then she reclaimed the brochure and turned to look for another customer. But she got the message: whiteness is not what I associate with beauty.

So I have a message for white people: Please do you your bit to tackle racial prejudice when it rears its ugly head around you. You are perfectly suited to this job because you automatically have the attention of everyone - whites, blacks, Asians, everyone. Without having done a thing to deserve it, people give you more life chances. Use them to undermine the mindset that advantages you and disadvantages others. Use your privilege to point out how unfair it is. Explain that society has let you down because we've all been conditioned to believe that whiteness is better than the rest. Explain that you want to see more confident Asians in your social circle. Explain that you want black people to hold more and higher positions of power in government, the boardroom and the police force. Explain that you don't need white privilege because you are a valuable person in your own right, and it doesn't take anything away from you to elevate other races to the same status. Explain that it would actually add to your experience if non-whites were equally privileged to you.

I look forward to the day when the social construction of beauty does away with whiteness as an ideal, and a world where the darkest shades are as desirable as the lightest... but this isn't going to happen on its own, and change can feel awfully slow. Put yourself in the shoes of a dark-skinned Nepalese who lives in a multicultural white-majority society and has internalised the sentiments around her that her skin colour isn't as attractive as that of lighter women. Now imagine if her self-loathing were gone because she saw many positive representations of people with similar shades of flesh in advertising, or was reading a diet of books the authors of which shared her cultural background, or at least the experience of being an immigrant and/or an ethnic minority. Imagine if she mixed freely with people of every colour, not worrying what her parents might think if the person she loved wasn't of Nepalese background. Imagine if she grew up to be the CEO of Toyota in that country, because her leadership skills and love for this particular kind of transportation saw her be the ideal candidate - and that her race had never been a point of contention to anyone on her team. This is how a life might play out in a racially inclusive (not 'tolerant') society. Her satisfaction would impact that of many others - a well-adjusted person has a wide circle of friends, acquaintances and fans, as well as having special significance to their partner and family. We need more people of Nepalese (and Congolese, and Uruguayan, and Indigenous Australian) background to grow up with the opportunity to thrive in life. We need their happiness because it contributes to the overall happiness, including ours.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Pics from Phuket Town

Enjoy this collection of photos from Thalang Street and around... all images taken by me, Epiphanie Bloom.