Interlude: Art

I've needed a break.  I took one from blogging.  I don't think it's quite over yet, but soon.  Sadly, it's harder to take a break from Real Life.

Anyway, here's a picture from the Guggenheim this weekend, a some random opinions on art.

Honestly, about as "modern" as my modern art tastes get is 1930 or so.  After that, art is kinda lost on me, depending on the artist.  Example: Bonnard, yes, Dali, no.  (Unless you're talking deviantART, in which case, I'm down.)  Now, that's a huge generalization.    Let's just say that I can do reasonably well at MoMA, where reside various works by Redon, Boccioni, Van Gogh, Chagall, Severini, even some later Monet.  And The Guggenheim has a smattering of Cézanne, even a Manet out right now.

But I really just. can't. appreciate. four boulders and a black piece of rubber, with one of the boulders daringly off the rubber of its corner, while the other three boulders obligingly comply with authority and weight down the rubber corners.  I could stare at rock formations in nature until my eyes dried up and fell out of their sockets, but.... no.  I do not need to pay $18 to see boulders on black rubber.  Sorry.  I am just Not A Modern Art Person.  (Point of fact: I did not pay, my mom did.)

Several months ago (a year ago? more?) I saw a play brought over by the Donmar Warehouse, starring Alfred Molina.  It was about Mark Rothko in his later years, and while it gave me some appreciation for Rothko's more famous stuff (as opposed to his earlier stuff, which I actually do enjoy), I mostly still look at a Rothko and see.... red.

And isn't that the neat thing about art?  I can totally understand that there are people out there who probably go on major Rothko pilgrimages, whereas it is my life goal to somehow set up a tent on the grounds of Giverny (Quidditch World Cup style, of course).  It's a totally accepted reality that different art will speak to different people at different times in their lives, and for the most part (except with snobs and Jerry Falwell), that's okay with everyone.

Wow, I would really like to keep thinking about art rather than all the other crap I have to think about.


The Society Pages post on "Hail to the V"

I was waiting for this one.  Short and sweet.  The last paragraph pretty much sums it up:

Vertical smile? Are they serious with this? And as Finette says, “They’ve managed to combine ‘less than fresh down there’ vagina-shaming [omg, what subtle hints has your vagina been trying to get your attention with?!] with ethnic stereotypes! Awesome!”


On the Reaction to Reading Into Ads

So, apparently a lot of people are interested in the Summer's Eve ad.  A LOT of people are Googling it, I can tell you that much.  The reactions I've seen cover many and varied responses, most often that the ad is gross, inappropriate, hilarious, clever, or spot-on.

Whatever it is, it's an effective ad.  You can bet that more people are thinking about Summer's Eve than have done in some time.

The reactions to my own initial thoughts on the ad cover a similar spectrum, from almost point by point agreement, to telling me I'm overanalyzing something that's just supposed to be funny, or making too much of something that's basically true anyway.

Here's the thing: I don't think I am overanalyzing the campaign.  I just think I'm analyzing it.

I tend to believe that just because something is funny, doesn't mean that's all it is.  The campaign is "women are their vaginas" disguised as body positivism.  It's cute, it's clever, it's pretty, it's tongue-in-cheek, but it's still "women are their vaginas."  Summer's Eve is an entire brand built around the supposition that vaginas aren't acceptable in their natural, unscented, un-douched state.  It follows that their ad campaigns will always spring - no matter how clever - from a foundation of "not right," or at least, "not good enough."  To turn it around and try to make the products into a female empowerment brand is either dewy-eyed naivete, or cynicism.  Given that we're talking about advertising, I'd hazard a guess at the latter.

I am, naturally, keenly interested in messages that reduce women to their bodies, or parts thereof.  If the idea of woman's body as sole signifier and resource isn't a semiotic seed for cultural germination of eating disorders, then I don't know what is.

But more particularly, in this case, I'm interested in what it means that Cleopatra's most precious resource was her vagina, not her unparalleled skill at negotiations and intimidation campaigns.  I'm interested in an ad campaign that wants to claim the power and non-taboo of the word "vagina," but uses the euphemism "V" throughout.  I'm interested in how a product based around telling women that the most important piece of them is their vagina, and that this most important piece is unloved if it isn't bathed in chemicals, decides to cast itself as empowering.

And most particularly, I'm interested in the reaction to my reaction.  I'm interested in people's assertion that humor is all that's there, and that we should stop in our reading of the ad once we've had a laugh at it.  I'm interested in the insistence that looking beyond the ad's presumably self-aware humor is unnecessary, and an overreaction.  If you go into observation afraid of overanalyzing or overreacting, then eventually you're going to end up taking everything at its face value.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but once you assume everything is only what it first appears to be, how many chances will you lose to learn?


Harry Potter and the Summer's Eve Ad? What?

I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 today.  ~contented sigh~

What follows is not thoughts on the movie (~contented sigh~), but a tl;dr post about an ad that ran with my theater's reel.  (Well, "reel.")

It was a Summer's Eve commercial, from which I gather they have a new ad campaign going.  The tagline of the campaign is "Hail to the V."  I can find videos online that involve talking hands (positioned vertically, because they are representing vaginas), but I can't find the ad they screened in our theater.  If I find it later, I'll update with it here.  For now, here's what I remember:

First we see a woman holding an infant up to the moonlight, in a suggestion of a prehistoric kind of setting.  The next scene is a Cleopatra-like figure walking out on a dais above her adoring subjects.  She thrusts her arms above her head in a victorious V and they all cheer.  Third, we see a Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon type fight (in a bamboo forest and everything) between two men battling, presumably over the young woman watching them amidst the bamboo.  Finally, it shows a joust with two knights riding toward each other, and a queen or noblewoman watching them with evident excitement and possibly lust.  All throughout, the narration is along the lines of, "It is the foundation [or something like that] of society; [stuff I don't remember]; through time men have fought for it [at the bamboo shots], even died for it [on the joust hit]" etc.  

Then at the end of the joust scene, it cuts to a woman in a grocery store ladies' bizness aisle, and the narrator cries something like, "So show it some love, ladies!"  

"It" is of course the vagina, and the grocery store woman is holding a Summer's Eve "feminine wash" product.  

When I'd seen the martial arts scene with two men clearly fighting over a woman, I started thinking, "What is it, love?"  And then the jousting I thought, "Yeah, I guess, love."  

But no, they're not talking about love, or even love as metaphor for sex.  They are literally talking about literal vagina.  (Though presumably Summer's Eve non-douche products have more to do with the vulva and labia?)

On the face of it, the campaign is about empowering women about their bodies through knowledge and confidence.  And I can entertain the idea that the creative team really was working from such a place.  Because - again, on the face of it - we're talking about the awesome and unique power of the vagina, about how special and awesome the vagina is, and isn't the vagina just awesome you guyz?  

We see an infant lifted up to the moonlight, the moon being your prototypical female celestial body, aside from Venus.  (Discounting the part where the uterus has really more to do with the production of an infant than a vagina does, particularly if the birth isn't vaginal?)  We see a female Pharaoh (looks older than Cleopatra, but I'm not assuming the design team knows the difference between Cleopatra and Hatshepsut), and who doesn't associate the female Pharaohs with ultimate lady power?  We see obviously skilled and powerful men just aching to beat each other out for the chance at love from a woman who clearly holds power over their fates.

The scene of the two martial arts fighters battling in the bamboo forest with the young woman watching them from behind the stalks edges into more problematic territory:  Are they going to kill each other?  Is she just letting that happen?  Does she have any agency in who "wins" her when the fight is over, or is this like a mountain goat situation where brawn means all, regardless of her desires?  Ditto on the jousting scene, though in the idiom of courtly love it's hardly assumed that this noblewoman (queen?) will actually sleep with her sponsored knight.  If anything, the jousting scene, because of that reality about how the ideal of courtly love worked, doesn't really belong in the ad. (NOT that it was free from sex or adultery or fornication or what have you, but by and large, it was not assumed that the lady whose favor a knight vied for would sleep with said knight.) 

Now, I'll give you that the ad was supposed to be lighthearted and humorous, and I'll give you that I laughed.  But I wasn't laughing at the content of the ad, at least not in the way I was meant to.  I was laughing a) at the ridiculousness of having a Summer's Eve commercial with a HARRY POTTER MOVIE, and b) at the thinly veiled sexism that defined the whole ad, and just how balls to the wall it was.  (To use a wholly inappropriate expression.) A sexism that works both ways, by the way.  Is this ad saying that men are totally powerless over the allure of the birth canal and adjacent outer bits?  That's not terribly flattering to men.

I think we can skirt over the surface issue of, "We all know that Summer's Eve is actually more likely to irritate the external female genitalia than to make it healthier, yes?"  And at this point we can definitely gloss over the problem of, "We all know that in the vast majority of cases douching is actually unhealthy, right?"  

Let's just skip that and take it as a given that the existence of Summer's Eve as a long-standing brand is basically thanks to the scariness of the female genitalia and the ickiness of the vagina in the minds of popular culture.  (You guys!  It has mucus membranes!  Eeeww!)

So let's posit that to "show [the vagina and vulva] some love" is all this ad campaign wants to do.  Fine.

The entire construction of this particular ad is founded on the presumption that all the power, all the influence over society, over culture, over child-rearing, and hell, over finding love that women have ever had was always and forever based solely on their literal vaginas.

The most important thing a woman ever gives an infant is pushing it out of her vagina.  The reason empires followed and enemies fell to female Pharaohs was that they had vaginas, which were, presumably, available if the right price was paid.  The only reason two men would have to compete for the attentions of a woman is the sexy sex her vagina can bestow.  (Particularly if she's a queen or landholder - there's definitely no other reason to want to get on her good side then, no treaties to be had or laws to be hammered out or anything.)  The website has articles about breaking the verbal taboo of "vagina."  Cool.  So use the word in your commercials and print ads, then.  According to the print ads of this campaign, Cleopatra's vagina (well, her "V") was "her most precious resource."  Really?  REALLY??  The only way to make sense of that assertion is by dropping acid.

Ladies, all you are, in the end, is a vagina.  Hillary Clinton is just a vagina.  Elizabeth I was just a vagina.  Sally Ride is just a vagina.  Aung San Suu Kyi is just a vagina.  We are all just stinky, unloved vaginas that can maybe smell like delicate blossoms and be adored if we buy Summer's Eve!

Do I think that's actually what the ad's creative team was thinking when they sat down and storyboarded it?  No, absolutely not.  I think they imagined they were being funny and memorable.  I'll definitely give them memorable.  I'm even willing to bet that advances in science mean that today's Summer's Eve products are for the most part innocuous if you're not sensitive-skinned.

But the reduction of women to their vaginas, to objects - that's the reduction the ad's creative team worked from.  I find it entirely easy to believe that not a single person in the brainstorming session sat up and went, "Hey, you guys realize we're reducing every accomplishment women have ever achieved and every contribution they've made to society to men's uncontrollable greed for vaginal sex, right?"

I hate that I went into my final first experience of a Harry Potter movie distracted by this stupid ad.  I'm glad I was the only one I heard laugh in my theater.  If no one else was as disbelieving as I was, at least no one else thought it was very funny.  

Edit: Thanks to anon for finding a link:


Don't Have a Title, Do Have a Headache

My normal doctor is out of town, so as with my tetanus shot after slicing my thumb this spring, I saw one of her residents today.  Residents tickle me a bit in their thoroughness.  They're still trying things out, particularly patient interaction, when you're in a GP setting.

I happened to be there today for a thing that needed thoroughness.  I've been having such incredible anxiety that not only has it escalated my incidence of purging, it's actually got me dizzy and headachy and blue-lipped and faint.

Of course, when you have an eating disorder, those can be symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance or a cardiac abnormality just as much as they can be the gaudy trappings of panic attacks.  Best to have a blood draw, check the ol' electrolytes, said I.

"We need to do an EKG," said the resident. We did the EKG.  It looked normal.  (Although when I had my blood pressure taken prior to the actual visit, it was 133/70, like, jeeeeeez, chill out a little.)  (But more on that in a moment.)

After the EKG, the resident ran the results by the attending who was there, and who actually came in to introduce herself to me.  "We're concerned," she said.  She handed me info on, of all places, Renfrew.  I explained my history with Renfrew, but thanked them for the thought.

From there I went to get blood drawn, the EKG having relieved a portion of my blood pressure-raising anxiety.

I couldn't stop obsessing about my weight, though, and that's the other thing I want to talk about.  Back to the blood pressure reading.

When I arrived at the office they did the entry vitals - weight, pulse, blood pressure.  I stepped on the scale backwards, and so we didn't have a repeat of what happened last time, I said, very clearly, "I don't want to know my weight."

When I stepped off the scale, I sat in the BP/pulse chair and the nurse wrapped the cuff around my arm.  "What?  You think you're too fat?" the nurse said.

I didn't really know what to make of her tone of voice.  It could have been scorn, it could have been light ribbing, it could have been just plain "you're an idiot" or a more innocuous "you're weird."

I just plain told her (because now the other patient who'd been getting vitals was out of the room), "Well, I see Dr. A to monitor an eating disorder, so it's better that I just not know."

She gave me a very neutral (maaaaybe insightful?) "oh."

I'm not sure why they don't make notations on the charts.  Or, maybe they do.  My normal doctor has told me she's written on the chart that I'm not to be weighed.  Either way, this same office keeps missing steps with me, and I'm aware that it's not the most horrible thing in the world to say, but it really is irritating.

Then I saw my weight on a chart that the resident had sitting on the corner of her desk, anyway.  Fail.

You'd think I'd be glad the EKG was probably normal, after that appointment.  You'd think I'd be content that the panic attack I was in the midst of during the first half hour of the appointment has cleared out.

But, no.  I'm just thinking about that number, trying to rationalize it, trying to excuse it, trying to think of a way to get out of it.

It's giving me a headache.