For the Win

Miley-Cyrus-Foam-Handphoto necolebitchie.com

#MileyCyrus.There, I’ve done it. I have added to the astronomically large tally of tags, hits, keywords and glommed on to the vocabulary of the moment.

Yes, I have seen the infamous VMA performance and the loaded Robin Thicke video. I have also watched the Auckland students’ (warning: explicit) parody video. And I have read some blog posts on what’s what when it comes to walking with your kids through the swamp of exploitation and scandal-hungry media hawkers. And it all has me thinking…

When my son was born I experienced a moment of alarm. Just what the world needs, I thought, another white man. The moment passed in a breath and what came next was the realization that my son was positioned, culturally, by his genetics and the strange circus of patriarchal Western culture, to be an advocate for the disenfranchised. If, by his gender and skin color and whatever other stamps and labels society wants to slap on him, he will give voice to the ones ignored. He will grow to be an oak of respect for women- a shelter from the hail of objectification of his sisters. He will honor sex not as a commodity but as a gift. This, I pray, is his birthright.

As parents we are in an arena where we are unwilling players. Chuck Klosterman (of The New York Times, The Ethicist column September 1, 2013) writes, in response to an inquiry about the morality of performance enhancing drugs, “There are no sound moral arguments against P.E.D.’s. There is, however, an ethical argument. Morality is about personal behavior. Ethics are more contextual. They create a framework for how a culture operates… Any game […] is a type of unreality in which we create and accept whatever the rules happen to be. […] The motive is to create a world- or at least the illusion of a world- where everyone is playing the same game in the same way. P.E.D.’s are forbidden because that’s what our fabricated rules currently dictate.” So what does this have to do with the explicit performances of Blurred Lines? Well, it seems to me that the force of American culture is fielding two teams. Is this a game about morality? And ethics? I believe yes and yes. And it is about sex and inequality and exploitation and fame. Above all, it is about greed: power and money, the Win.

When I watched Thicke’s Blurred Lines video, I have to say the feminist rage in me sat quietly- edgy and poised, but quiet. I think there is a part of me that understands the business of sex, the currency of desire. The women in that video are beautiful (Yes, in a westernized, light-skinned, emaciated sort of way. But still- gorgeous.). The song is dumb. It’s all about the hook (Pharrell Williams would be first to admit). There are moments that pissed me off, sure, where I was offended and disgusted. Times when it was clear that we are allowing corruption in the economy of relationship. But those (professional model)girls were amazing. And I have this love of nudity…

I don’t have this knee-jerk reaction to the naked body. There is the pervasive sentiment that the only logical course is to sexualize a person just because they are no longer clothed. In art school, we would get bored with nudity, there was such an abundance of it. One of my favorite models was this woman who must have weighed about 250 pounds. While my classmates groaned, I loaded up my palette ready to sculpt this beautiful woman with paint. I loved the folds of skins and abundant forms. I appreciate the bodies that I encounter. But I recognize that I am an outlier. And also not…

I judge myself in terms of the value of sexual currency that I hold. I examine my body and label the flaws. I catch myself playing the game.

In the parody of the New Zealand Blurred Lines video, I nodded along. I laughed out loud. I felt vindicated. These were my teammates.

But not really. I agreed with their message and the quality of production was great, but there was something off. Maybe it became too real; the whole Us vs Them encounter. Maybe part of it was an awareness of the complex (albeit twisted)industry behind the “other” video. I’m not sure…

The thing that I keep coming back to in all of this Miley Cyrus frenzy is that the performance was choreographed. That 19-year-old wasn’t alone out there. Yes, that was her tongue licking her own ears, smacking the booty of on of her “back-up bears”, but it would be naive to think that every appropriated step, every pelvic thrust, every foam finger rub wasn’t discussed and planned and rehearsed, repeatedly, by paid adults. It’s like football: you have a coaching staff whose numbers far outweigh that of the actual players. The only difference is that in this game we are reffing it ourselves. We are calling for the reviews and throwing the arbitrary flags and still trying to run the ball. I’m not trained to judge this game. I don’t know the rules. Do you?

Now, I am not saying that I enjoyed Cyrus’ performance. I thought it was awful and stupid. She looked like she was trying to bring Disney to the strip club. There was no sex in it, in my mind. But there was greed. She is playing the game. And she needs a better coach.

Lastly, I feel compelled to touch on the broader implications of this power hungry culture that we are navigating. Our kids might start believing that the game is real. That the MC rapping about ho’s and whatnot is some sort of icon or idol, or worse: a leader. He is expressing himself in all of his basic, unfiltered, insulated hurt, anger and longing. And beyond our measly borders, the images and lyrics – describing women as property, as sex toys, as pets- spread, gaining cultural momentum and picking up specks of truth that seem to give the global illusion that this is right and real and the way things are meant to be.

My hope, my prayer, for my sons and your daughters, is that we will know when to let the game-clock run out and we can make new rules and truly play. With joy and passion and acknowledgment of each others’ strengths and weaknesses: play. Because there is no Win.

(Have a laugh: Twerking explained…)

Common Nonsense

What exactly are “common sense” solutions?

The problem is not obvious. The break is not clean. The parts are no longer available. We can’t fix what we do not understand, what we are ill-equipped to repair.

Ten years ago, my dad called me to tell me that my mom had died. It was a cold February night in Brooklyn. “Is Aaron there?” My dad asked. He wasn’t. “Do you know where to find him?” Yes, what is this about? “Are you sitting down? You need to sit down… Christy, your mom is dead.”

I can feel my heart racing even now. I can hear the world become muffled by a blanket of that falling moment. And then the blanket lifted. Sounds became sharp, piercing. Color radiated and hummed. Texture vibrated. I felt peace and energy and unremitting comfort. This is so good, I told my dad through tears. She is free of the limitations of this world. The brokenness, the despair, the relentless hoping, the unseen faith of waiting and struggle and perseverance. We prayed together, voicing our gratitude for her shared life.

And then I ran.

I ran like one runs in dreams- with the swiftness of purpose, without noticing my breath.

I found Aaron, my then fiancé, in class. He gathered our things, he gathered me, and we drove through the vivid night.

The cause of death was unclear. She had been home alone, reading on the back porch (Her Bible was open to Isaiah 61, amazingly.). She had walked my sister to school that morning, spoken with my dad at several points throughout the day. Nothing had seemed out of place. She was healthy, sound. But when my sister came home and found her lying on the floor, she knew something was wrong. Caroline hid in her room until, not five minutes later, a friend called to speak with my mom. Caroline explained that she couldn’t wake her up and that she had some blue spots on her face. The friend immediately called 911 and came to get Caroline, who was 8 at the time. My dad received the call a short while later from the police and came home with a friend. “She looked cute.” He told me later when I asked if she looked like she had suffered in those final moments. “She looked cute.”The house was treated like a crime scene. Forensic officers were dusting for prints, checking for evidence, looking for pieces. Nothing.

My mom’s body was taken to UVA Hospital for an autopsy. My dad picked up my sister. And then called me.

One week later, there still were no answers. My mom’s body was sent to Richmond for a second autopsy. We were told it would be at least a month before we would be given any¬† indication as to what shut her body down.

There were no answers. The cause was unknown. There were no replacement parts.

And this was an immense and beautiful blessing.

We had been dropped into an ocean of grief, of loss, of confusion but there was no memory of blame, no point of origin. We were here, in this moment, breathing, floating. The ‘why’s’ and ‘what if’s’ were harbored elsewhere, along with their distracting, false hope of rescue. Instead, rafts, life boats of friends and family sailed to us and we bobbed along together.

Eventually, a medical “explanation” was afforded us. But it was superfluous. Basically, it confirmed what we already knew: this was unavoidable and it is final. This we all know. This is our shared knowledge- our common nonsense.

So, loose the weak thread of comfort that we seek in reason. Un-knot the net of tidy solutions. Release our captive souls and those we hold prisoner with our tear-blurred judgement.

Even in the distorted face of a killer, there is the knowledge of pain, the lie of being alone, and the hope for satisfaction. As ugly and horrific and terrifying as it is, we share this pain, these lies and this hope. It permeates our collective, finite humanity. And yet…

Death itself is dying. Decay is submitting to life. Isolation is fading into community. The shredded cords, the frayed ties, our broken heart-strings are woven into the warp and weft of peace.

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