Film Focus: Elysium

In the year 2154, Earth has been ravaged by disease, pollution, overpopulation, and widespread poverty. The planet is dotted with slum cities where residents (predominantly people of color) live without access to adequate medical care, or access to employment, and they are closely monitored by brutal robot sentinels.

Decades ago, the extremely wealthy had fled to an artificial satellite world called Elysium where they live in luxurious mansions, have daily pool parties, and have access to instantaneous and highly advanced medical treatment.

For the right dollar amount, citizens of Earth can make a break for Elysium, despite risks of arrest and death. Elysium after all is highly exclusive (and overwhelmingly white).

The protagonist Max De Costa is born into this world of steep class divisions and when he finds himself in desperate need of medical aid, he must risk everything to break through them.

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But this movie isn’t really about Max.

The opening scene is of a mother with her young daughter crowding into one of several junkyard shuttles before they hurtle desperately toward the glowing beacon of Elysium. Only one shuttle makes it through. The mother runs through gunfire and explosions before bursting through expensive French doors to place her child in a medical pod (a standard amenity in Elysium housing). The machine scans the girls’ false ID and instantaneously cures her debilitating bone disease, just seconds before both mother and daughter are subdued,taken into custody, and presumably killed.

If all of this hits a little close to home, director Neill Blomkamp has done his job. Blomkamp also directed District 9, a movie ostensibly about aliens that actually went on to reveal the dehumanizing effect of racism on victims and perpetrators alike. With Elysium, Blomkamp has definitely established himself as a pro at social critique allegories wrapped in explosions (so people will actually go see them).

The opening scene struck me immediately because this wasn’t the year 2154, this was here and this was now. While we were sitting in an air conditioned theater shaking our heads at the awful conditions portrayed on the screen, sympathizing with the characters, and booing the villains; these events and struggles were going on all around us!

The movie was all about the very real issues of immigration, healthcare, and classism as it exists and has existed and probably will exist into the foreseeable future. If you want to see dystopia you need go no further than the daily news.

So why are these issues more striking on a movie screen, acted out by celebrities, and covered in a veneer of special effects?

Is there a better platform for these issues stripped of the glitz and the glamor?

If you saw the movie, what did you take away from it?

4/5 ticket stubs!

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Orange is the New Black, and Pink is the New Blue

I have a big problem with Netflix: it’s too addicting. It has exchanged hours of my life with episodes of Scandal, The Secret Circle, Buffy, Teen Wolf, and Being Human. When I heard the buzz about the new series Orange is the New Black I immediately rejected the urge for me to get hooked on another show. Long story short: I caved.

Orange is the New Black dives very deep into many social justice issues, such as racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. What I find particularly interesting is that the show is also touching on an issue that rarely ever gets the spotlight; much less does it get the forefront of a popular original series. Episode 3 dives into the story line of a woman named Sofia, who we learn is transgender*. The resulting storyline is filled with transphobia that, in my opinion, is extremely realistic.

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Sophia’s partner and son show an uncomfortable stance towards her transition by not fully accepting who she is or her journey to become her ideal self. Her familial discontent echoes the journey of many transgender youth who become strangers amongst their own family. Sophia’s partner tries to shame her for developing her body by saying what she’s doing is “selfish.” Her own son rejects her as a parent. These are depictions of the journey people close to the transitioning person go through. The parents, children, partners, coworkers, and close friends of the transitioning person also have to transition by acknowledging their loved one’s preferred identity. There’s no simple formula for acceptance, but if someone you know is transitioning, it’s important to try to see what they’re going through instead of focusing on your immediate reactions. Education is a powerful tool.

Before she transitioned and was admitted to the prison, Sophia had to hide who she was at her job as a firefighter. Public bathrooms and lockers rooms became unwelcome and potentially hostile places. This reflects the realistic struggles for trans* people who often can’t use public bathrooms due to the anxiety of someone calling them out. The community in the prison shows blatant disrespect and disregard to Sophia’s struggle. There is a lack of understanding and alienation when other people refer to her as a “tranny,” “he-she,” and “transvestite.” Transphobia on the community level stems from a lack of knowledge and trans-sensitive inclusion. Early civil rights campaigns taught society how some perceived concepts were innately racist, like how using the term “colored people” suggests that something happened to a person to make them different instead of being born that way. In a similar manner, people might use the word transgendered or try to short hand use the word tranny, when both are actually offensive. If there exists more representation of the transgender struggle, or if people were to seek out and be mindful of opportunities where they can learn, then society would be a much more accepting place.

We also see another path for transphobia to appear, called institutionalized transphobia. The prison in the show is going through budget cuts, which results in Sophia’s estrogen therapy being reduced, and eventually cut off. Estrogen therapy induces the level of estrogen in a person, and is often used to give feminine features to a person that is transiting to a woman. The prison deems that estrogen therapy is not important, and therefore not necessary. This kind of thinking is common in the corporate world. Many companies are now extending same-sex partnership benefits to their employees, but do not include sex-reassignment surgery or hormone therapy in their benefits to employees. Corporations need to start acknowledging the needs of all their employees, whether it is a surgical need, or the right to see their preferred name in an email listing. It’d do wonders if a company were to introduce a trans-sensitive training program alongside their sexual harassment, racially appropriate, and lgbt sensitive training.

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I highly recommend watching Orange is the New Black, but just make sure you have 8 consecutive hours of free time. Aside from bringing transgender issues to light, the show visits issues around the themes of class, race, sexism, and homophobia. Also, it’s surprisingly addicting. It’s like Netflix took notes about the shows people become hooked on and used it to their advantage.

Transgender: Identity one adopts when one’s gender assigned at birth does not match their gender self-perception.
Cisgender: Majority population, a person whose gender assigned at birth matches their gender self-perception.
Transsexual: A person whose gender identity does not match their gender assigned at birth and has under gone sexual reassignment surgery.
Transvestite: Term historically used to stigmatize individuals who engage in dressing in the opposite gender, typically used in clinical terms to assume pathology. For these reasons this term is generally not used.
Trans*: Umbrella term to signify a person who is transgender, transsexual, gender queer, or gender non-conforming.
Tranny, He-She, She-man: No. Never. Offensive transphobic slurs that should never be used.

Why Don’t You Go Make Me a Sandwich?

My all-time favorite café sandwich would have to be a turkey, bacon, and Havarti panini with a tomato and basil pesto, preferably next to a creamy tomato soup for dipping. I’ve probably ordered this type of sandwich about 30 times in the past year, and never have I ever stopped to wonder if my meal had been made by the hands of a woman or a man. But to be fair, there’s really nothing that will get in the way of me and that sandwich.

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The culinary world is heavily male dominated. According to the Bureau of Labor, only about one in five chefs is a woman. There seems to be a gender barrier that requires women to work five times as hard to be recognized amongst their male peers. And yes, there are women who have made history in the culinary world; we can’t forget about Julia Child, Cat Cora, Christeta Comerford, or Alex Guarnaschelli.

There’s this constant comparison of value amongst the two prominent genders. Extending this phenomenon outside the professional kitchens, we find that the majority of businesses and corporations are male-dominated. It’s in this environment where there manifests this idea that men are superior, and by default, women are inferior. It’s through evaluating worth where society is bisected into “sides,” where one is always winning and one is always losing. And unfortunately, it becomes the social norm to demean the “losing team” by using it as a marker for weakness and vulgarity.

“Stop being such a little girl.”
“Grow a pair.”
“You’re such a slut.”

Using the word b*tch may refer to a female dog, but in social settings it’s used as a marker for women. So when one accuses someone of acting like a b*tch, what they are really saying is “you are acting like a horrible person, but instead of calling you that I will refer to you as a woman, because that’s pretty much the same thing in my eyes.”

Unfortunately this fallacy is being transferred to the younger generation. It’s popular for pre-teens who are online game chatting to yell out “go make me a sandwich!” to mock a female player. Apparently only women make sandwiches so they can fulfill the wishes of their husbands. It’s through this process that the worth of a woman is reduced to only making sandwiches and serving a man (which is misogyny, by the way), which makes it hard for a woman to be noticed as a head chef, doctor, CEO, or any profession that’s typically reserved for a man.

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Here are a few questions for you to think about: What does gender have to do with cooking? What does gender have to do with any profession? My sandwich doesn’t care who made it, and neither do I, because it’s delicious.

“Stop and Frisk” Found Unconstitutional” to No One’s Surprise

Since the 1970s, New York City’s Stop and Frisk policy had allowed police officers to search pedestrians for illegal weapons and other contraband without concrete cause. Most of these searches were performed predominantly on people of color often with no relation to actual suspicion of criminal activity.

StopAndFrisk

The policy was originally credited with reduced crime rates in the city. However, as violent crimes steadily decreased, the number of stop and Frisk searches in Black and Latino neighborhoods continue to comprise 84 percent of all stops, despite constituting only 54 percent of the general population. The innocence level of 89% has remained steady since 2011.

Interestingly enough, the New York police department’s own data states that White New Yorkers are more likely to be in possession of weapons and drugs.

In a leaked recording, Officer Pedro Serrano, a veteran of the NYPD admitted being told to focus searches specifically on “male blacks 14 to 20, 21”.Nearly 1/3 of complaints against the NYPD from 2005-2010 have been related to stop and frisk searches.

Earlier this week, Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the policy violated the constitutional rights of people of color. Even though the policy itself is technically legal, the implementation is flawed and the NYPD now has to completely revamp its program. The city now requires police officers to wear cameras and instituted town hall meetings to help police engage with activists over the policy changes. Many residents of people of color communities have expressed skepticism regarding any genuine change to police tactics.

http://rt.com/usa/stop-frisk-whites-drugs-weapons-667/

http://www.autostraddle.com/nycs-stop-and-frisk-policy-ruled-unconstitutional-because-racial-profiling-is-wrong-and-illegal-190329/

Short Hair,Don’t Care

Remember not too long ago when a few celebrity women started to cut their hair short? Natalie Portman did it for her role in V for Vendetta, and everyone regarded her as such a devoted actress. Emma Watson cut her hair post-Harry Potter and people exclaimed that she was growing up and looked like a mature woman. Miley Cyrus’ short cut made her look edgy and fresh. Apparently the name of this hairdo is a “pixie cut,” could that be a reference to Tinkerbell’s iconic blonde short hair? However, when Beyoncé decided to try this style, people had different things to say.

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“all she did was take the weave out.”
“She’s an egomaniac and I couldn’t care less about her ‘hair’”
“if she’s so ‘proud’ of her negro heritage, why does she try so hard to look ‘white’…?”
“BIG DEAL she took the weave out was probably stinking from never washing it.”
(Source: Comments Section http://www.usatoday.com)

Why there is a backlash when a woman of color decides to cut her hair short. For an introspective to hair culture amongst the Black community, try watching the documentary Good Hair, narrated by Chris Rock. Seriously though, it’s really funny and eye-opening, and we have it here at the Cross Cultural Centers for you to watch. I’ll wait.

good hair

Black women are pressured to “tame” their hair, because only then is it “natural” and “sexy.” By cutting her hair, Beyoncé shows how many Americans shame Black women for doing anything to their hair. These comments to an online article show how America demeans the value of Black hair by labeling her hair as something “false,” and therefore less worthy than the majority’s hair. When Willow Smith cut all of her off, her parents (Jada Pinkett Smith in particular) were slammed with questions such as “how could you let her do that?” Jada responded that there is negative power in the thought that a girl must be allowed to cut her hair. She further commented that “Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.” Jada challenged the notion that long, straight, blonde hair is better than hair in its natural form, or that “socially ideal” hair is better than no hair at all.

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(Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com)
There’s this double sided sword that slashes when a Black woman makes the decision to keep her hair natural, because it’s regarded as “wild” and “unruly.” But when a Black woman decides to wear a weave, relax, bleach, or chop her hair, the sword slashes again because now she’s trying too hard to be white, and is betraying her heritage.
So let’s get real. Will Beyoncé’s hair affect her singing? Will it make her any less of an amazing dancer? Will her concerts be any less fantastic and make me any less jealous when I find out my friends are going without me?
Nope, it certainly will not.

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Petri Dish Burgers: What a Time to Be Alive!

Few foods are as iconically American as the hamburger, even if they’re really German. From coast to coast the combinations and variations are endless and we can argue for hours over which burger joints are the best.
Throughout the years, the basic idea of a hamburger has stayed fairly consistent in our national consciousness that is until the scientific marvel of the $325,000 lab-grown burger patty, dubbed the “Frankenburger” by some media outlets.

why-googles-sergey-brin-paid-330000-for-the-worlds-first-lab-grown-burger

Some people think it’s ingenious, some people think it’s creepy, and most people fall somewhere in between because the technology is so new and there are so many things we do not know about this product. But the first three taste testers to try the lab meat (grown from cultivated cow muscle cells) agreed the texture was spot on but the meat lacked flavor because it was too lean. So it’s back to the drawing board for researchers, but I’m very impressed by their progress.

Even more interesting is that this project is entirely funded by individual donors, not by the government or private organizations so the information is technically public domain.

As long as we don’t come to find out that the meat causes cancer, or you know a hunger for human flesh, I think it could be a very good thing. The meat industry as it exists today is a top contributor to global warming, water pollution, and is rife with animal rights violations. Once mass-produced, lab grown meat could be an environmentally sustainable, healthy, efficient, and affordable option that will also appeal to vegans and vegetarians.

The majority of food grown in the U.S. currently goes toward feeding animals kept in feed lots (where animals are fattened up before they are slaughtered). If less of U.S. and worldwide agricultural efforts were devoted to the meat industry, the food available would be able to feed hundreds of thousands of more people and reduce hunger worldwide.
As a meat –loving vegetarian, I’m very excited by the potential of all of this! I think it’s incredibly inspiring that people can work together to create genuine positive change for the world, even though this will also be a commercial venture.

I want to know your thoughts, questions, comments, petri dish meat: good idea or bad idea?

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/08/opinion/datar-lab-burger/index.html?hpt=hp_c4

Minimum Wage, MAXIMUM Rage!

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“It’s noisy, it’s really hot, fast, they rush you. Sometimes you don’t even get breaks. All for $7.25? It’s crazy.”

“I can’t even order something off the menu with what I earn, it makes me wonder what I’m even doing here.”

“We can sit back and stay silent and continue to live in poverty or, on the other hand, we can step out and say something and let it be known that we need help.”

“On what I’m earning right now you have to choose between paying your rent and eating the next day.”

Fast-food workers in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis staged a one-day walkout/protest in response to unfair working conditions. Their goal is to gain the right to unionize, and raise the minimum wage amount from $7.25 to $15. With living costs substantially higher in New York, it seems reasonable for an area’s wages to meet the area’s need to live. I honestly didn’t think fast-food corporations like McDonalds, KFC, Dominoes, and Wendy’s would ever agree with these people demanding higher wages, but I was surprised to hear what the general population had to say.

“26 years old and still making minimum wage? That’s her fault. Should have paid more attention when she was in school.”

“This is rediculous [sic], these jobs do not require a skill or basic knowledge; that a 3rd grader is capable of completing. I work for a federal agency and have served in the military. I only make 23.50 an hour…”

“The lower class expect more for less…. I suggest one of them puts on a uniform; serves and learns a skill.”

“I couldn’t even walk in Wendy’s because of all the protesters harassing me… When I got home I opened my bag to see a chicken sandwich instead of my double bacon cheeseburger! So I drove back to Wendys… the Manager took forever to help me, she probably didn’t even care about me… and they want to be paid $15 for this?!”

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Classist, racist, and sexist comments stained pages in response to articles and YouTube videos. There are also misconstrued beliefs surrounding the reality of the fast-food business. The top comments I see are worries that an increase in wages will result in an increase in fast-food prices. Obviously that’s what matters most; how much the consumer has to spend for a burger, and not the struggling person supporting a family. Regardless, the McDonalds Company made 5.5 billion dollars in profit alone in the 2012 fiscal year*; so where is this money going if not to the workers? Furthermore, people have stated that raising wages up to $15 an hour would make an entry level position “too comfortable.” Arguably, working over a hot grease cooker for 8 hours isn’t exactly a comfortable situation.

Also, there’s this idea that these people “should just get another job.” Angry commenters state how they invested in a college education and had their first jobs with a double digit salary. However, it’s easy to forget how some people are not privileged with access to higher education, the ability to prefer some jobs over others, negotiate salary, or have the freedom to quit with a financial safety net. It seems that the privileged idealize the fast food worker as a 16 year old who lives at home with parents, and is now just crying for more money. Interestingly so, the Bureau of Labor Statistics** has stated that the mean age of the fast food worker is not 16, but 26, and large amounts are working to support their families. Even more interesting, the average age of women in the fast food industry is 32.

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So is there enough reason to raise the minimum wage? Or should these workers continue to be abused to the point where they can’t even afford to buy the food they serve? I’ve spent my time in the fast food industry, and I know the harsh conditions for the meager pay. I’m privileged enough so that all I’m paying for is my college education, and I can’t imagine how hard it would be to pay for my housing, school, and children.

*http://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-could-double-wages-for-employees-and-make-less-money-2013-7
**http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/11/mcjobs-should-pay-too-inside-fast-food-workers-historic-protest-for-living-wages/265714/