When I was in junior high, there was a trend of boys going up to girls they liked (using “liked” rather generously here) and pulling down their pants in public. This was in the time of Juicy Couture sweatpants, those loose-fitting, candy-coloured terry-cloth items that sat low on your hips and really let your muffin top breathe.
The boys targeted the popular girls, eager to see their underwear, the underside of their butt, their pubic bone. Truly, junior high boys are treasures.
The market is huge and about to get much bigger—so why have high-end design companies almost entirely ignored people with disabilities and demand for a next generation wheelchair?
What comes to mind when you think back a decade to 2004? A few things stick out for me: the mounting horror over the Iraq War; the beginning of the long dance of veils to bring Michael Ignatieff into Canadian politics; the speech one Barack H. Obama gave to the Democratic National Convention that year; and, of course, the re-election of George W. Bush that would put Obama on the road to the White House in 2008.
Bush’s re-election was helped in part by nearly a dozen ballot initiatives in red states that banned gay marriage that year, in a time when the Republican Party was, amazingly, even less discreet about its homophobia than it is today. But ten years later, anti-gay measures across the United States are falling before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. There may yet be incremental reversals, but wiser writers than I are confident the forces against marriage equality in America have been dealt a mortal blow.
This is only in part because public opinion has turned around on the question of marriage equality. After all, public opinion has often been a lagging indicator when it comes to human rights—as recently as 1994, a majority of Americans opposed interracial marriage. The majority of Americans do now tolerate gay and lesbian marriage, but there’s a funny wrinkle to that fact: most Americans think the rest of the country is more intolerant than they are.
Reverse fairytale: Valentine’s Day, 2013. While sitting on the toilet after a romantic evening, a beautiful young woman named Reeva Steenkamp was shot to death by her handsome boyfriend, the Paralympian track star Oscar Pistorius. In his murder trial, currently unfolding in a Pretoria courtroom, the judge will want to know why, not if, Oscar killed his paramour. He will explain that he was under a hypnogogic fog in the dark of his bedroom, and mistook his beloved for a violent intruder, emptying half a magazine into the bathroom door behind which she cowered. The prosecutors will insist that Oscar is an entitled celebrity and a violent man with a history of bad behaviour, and his fusillade was aimed at Reeva in all her bountiful blondness, and not at some imaginary bogyman.
In stating their case, the prosecutors will be forced to acknowledge that South Africa is a violent country, in which violent intruders occasionally infiltrate even the up-market, high-security compounds in which Oscar unquestionably killed Reeva. These intrusions are the baseline fear not only of South Africa’s economically blessed white minority, and not only of the country’s increasingly wealthy black middle class (whatever “middle class” means in the South African context), but also of poorest of shack dwellers, who don’t have mercenaries patrolling their neighbourhoods in armoured pick-up trucks, trained to counter any home invasion with violence at least as extreme.
International relations is hard, often opaque, and never as straightforward as we’d like it to be. Most of us probably have no chance of understanding any of its complexities until Netflix hits, say, season five of House of Cards, when Frank Underwood is appointed Secretary-General of the UN.
Take Uganda, for instance. Yoweri Museveni—the well educated, historically left-leaning president heralded throughout the ‘90s in our part of the world as just the sort of leader Africa in general and Uganda in particular needed—takes a big, fat stand against the gays. He growls in a public speech or two. The international community gets its back up. Denmark withdraws funding. Museveni’s people rally. The UK and the US make angry, upright noises about sexuality-based “aid conditionality” and whatnot (as they have, on and off, since at least 2011). His people rally more. A national tabloid with a generally antagonistic relationship to the president runs a supportive cover story about Uganda’s “200 Top Homos.” International activists are outraged. International Facebook wits express relief that, hey, at least the bottoms are safe.
It is a sad paradox of modern existence that on a planet thick with humans—a place chock-full of them—so many are so desperately alone. A recent survey found that more than a third of Americans over 44 are lonely, and almost half of them have felt that way for more than six years. Here we are, desperate mariners floating through a sea of humanity—people everywhere but not a one to have a casual drink with on a Thursday evening while chatting about the latest episode of True Detective. What are we doing wrong?
There are plenty of potential reasons for this state of affairs, enough theories to fill sociological textbooks and fuel a thousand think-pieces. Is the big anonymous city isolating us? Whatever happened to bowling and community? Is it Facebook’s fault? One common explanation, the scapegoat in plenty of vaguely countercultural movies and high-school pot-smoking bullshit sessions, is materialism. Call it the Fight Club Thesis: our love of objects is making us sad.
Is cultural imperialism the wrong phrase to describe Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp? On the surface, it certainly sounds absurd. WhatsApp was, after all, yet another Silicon Valley company that was simply swallowed up by the Valley company par excellence. Typical Palo Alto incest, sure, but imperialism?
Yet, it was the term that leapt to mind as soon as I heard the news. Like millions of people, my family, a diaspora scattered across the globe, uses WhatsApp to stay in touch despite the immense geographic distances that separate us. Now that a company like Facebook owns it, it feels a bit like your favourite band selling out. Even if, in truth, there never really was any pure state to begin with, it still feels odd that a thing that was an intimate part of your life has now been sucked up into the contemporary emblem of the evil empire.
Belgium is a royal signature away from being the first nation on earth to allow children of any age to be euthanized.
Now, many’s the time I’ve wished for someone, somewhere, to sign something like this. Usually, it’s been as I’ve been sitting in a plane, a theatre, a café, or at my screen, acquaintancing friends who have come to think theirs are clever, or cute, or funny, when they are in reality just bog-average spawn who should be kept under wraps until they reach an age when someone might reasonably want to employ or fuck them.
And yet, now that it’s being presented to me on what I can only presume is the actual silver platter on which kings receive the laws they are to sign, I am concerned.
If the arc of this moral universe bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, it doesn’t do so quickly. The curve of the Earth is so gradual we spend the majority of our lives not noticing we live on a sphere. The difficulty, from wherever we stand, is trying to see over the horizon—backwards and forwards.
Looking backwards, it can be hard to understand what the struggle for gay and lesbian rights has already come through. The battle to simply not be subjected to violent police harassment, the battle for loved ones to be able to comfort each other as they succumb to terrible diseases, the battle to call those loved ones “husband” or “wife” and have it mean the same thing it does for everyone else.
Or maybe just the battle to live honestly. In Ellen Page’s speech to the Human Rights Campaign where she came out last week, one of the reasons she listed for coming out was the simple exhaustion of having to live lying by omission.
We should give Russia a break. The more I think about it, the less I think their problem is actually homophobia.
Sure, what’s happening in Russia right now is certainly an expression of homophobia—those roving bands of thugs hurting and humiliating (mostly) boys they think might be too interested in members of their own sex. But that’s the pus, not the infection. I realized in a flash of skin and beard this past week the problem there might be something quite different. I suggest that what we’re seeing is not so much homophobia but, rather, czarphilia, a Highlander-esque imperative that there can be only one, which Vladimir “The Torso” Putin has taken beyond the realm of politics and extended to masculinity itself, and that his serf-like subjects have taken patriotically to heart.
Amy Chua managed to prod two of our most sensitive areas with the whole Tiger Mom kerfuffle—ethnicity and how we raise our children—and so, naturally, doubled down with her most recent book (written with her husband, Jed Rubenfeld), The Triple Package. Its thesis, supposedly drilling into why some (specifically ethnic) groups outperform others, managed to (of course) draw controversy long before the book was even released: that’s the sort of the log-line to which the public can be trusted to react so knee-jerkily it’s a wonder the authors haven’t released branded rubber mallets.
Jay Leno is leaving the Tonight Show, again. With NBC still smarting over the colossal screw-up of the last attempt at ushering Leno out the door—one that caused a public breakup between the network and Conan O’Brien—they’re trying to make the transition as easy as possible for Middle America, whose fondness for Leno and his endless supply of Bill Clinton jokes remains substantial.
Do you know what a quenelle is? It’s fucking ridiculous, is what it is: a new salute—a cutesy spin on the Sieg Heil!—that’s tearing across the European memeosphere as an expression of various sentiments, but mostly anti-Semitism.
Yes, a Nazi-style salute. In Europe. Again. And it’s not just a few dozen idiots. People are doing it, and supporting the forces behind it, in the tens of thousands.
To confident men everywhere,
I love you. I love all that you are and the confidence you bring to each new day. I love that you make your opinions known in restaurants, legislatures, bedrooms, social causes, and your relationships.
It’s so brave of you to make sure your voice is heard. To stand tall with your convictions. To make sure you are always the centre of every conversation. I aspire to one day master your air of easy superiority, the way you let women know if and when you’ve gifted them with your approval.
Layoffs have become such an ingrained part of my journalism experience that, when the latest round was announced at the National Post (where I work in the arts section), it was a surprise mostly because it didn’t come in October, during our annual budget-related purges. That The Globe and Mail announced layoffs within an hour of ours is just part of our ongoing cosmic punishment for constantly resorting to gallows humour.
News organizations being what they are—the paper still has its deadlines, and the web will not even leave you a mournful lunch break—there is relatively little time or space to actually process who is leaving. For reasons that are philosophically obvious but practically kind of redundant—I have only been around in an era when the cuts are inevitable, so I have yet to actually see anyone kick up a fuss—no one is allowed to hang around once they no longer have a job. Commiseration, then, tends to come in the form of an email—and then another email, once you realize they don’t have access to their work account anymore, and maybe a couple tweets for public penance (and maybe to prove to the higher-ups that we’re all tech-savvy digital-age super users), and then a wake a few weeks later, after the still-employed have already begun adjusting to the new reality.
The Internet may have battered book sales, but it hasn’t killed reading—far from it. Today we read more, and in more ways, than ever, and this is thanks to all the book-killing culprits.
For the first 40 years of its existence or so, Starbucks was one of the best things that could happen to its competitors. (Well, the competitors it didn’t directly attempt to put out of business with predatory lease buying and general behemoth-y intimidation, at least.) Though it is one of the faces of homogenizing turn-of-the-millenium corporatism, its talent for selling you warm, dark liquids was actually so incredible that it tended to help out smaller chains and independents wherever it landed. Essentially, Starbucks sold not just lattes but the lifestyle, which allowed its competitors to piggyback into consumers’ changing minds: even if Starbucks got most of the customers, it created enough of them that anyone with an espresso machine could live fat on the leftovers (when Starbucks opened in Omaha in 2003, for instance, it increased coffee house business city-wide by 25%).
Though its consumption, especially outside the home, has steadily risen as Starbucks has expanded, coffee is really only part of the lifestyle the coffeehouse chain has sold so well: the other, arguably larger part, is the house. A crucial part of the Starbucks experience, per its strategizers, is the image of Starbucks as a “third space” for its customers, a place to go to escape the pressures and demands of everyone’s other two spaces, home and work. Implicit in that designation isn’t just that they want you to visit them regularly—it’s also that the place is somehow identifiably yours, a place of comfort or, at worst, dull habit, which is enough of the same thing.
Across the world, generally speaking, the higher the GDP, the higher the incidence of anxiety. So why are wealthy, prosperous nations so damn neurotic?
How do you mourn a man like Mandela? The news crews and somber dignitaries did it one way; the locals—dancing, singing, selling memorabilia—did it quite another.