Friday, March 7, 2014
Astra Taylor’s forthcoming book The People’s Platform, about who has power and who gets paid in the age of the Internet, mentions the following quote about the virtues of “open-source” (read: unpaid) labor from Internet guru Yochai Benkler:
“Remember, money isn’t always the best motivator. If you leave a fifty-dollar check after dinner with friends, you don’t increase the probability of being invited back. And if dinner doesn’t make it entirely obvious, think of sex.”
That quote, unsurprisingly, is from a TED Talk. The talk's audience chose to reflexively laugh rather than actually think about sex or about work. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone in the audience that there might be times when you make dinner for friends and expect in return only to hear boring stories and bad jokes, and other times when you serve strangers and expect in return to be paid, and that it is possible to maintain dignity and basic rights in both situations. And it certainly doesn’t occur to anyone that a similar dynamic might hold true for sex.
This has, however, occurred to Melissa Gira Grant, whose new book Playing The Whore considers sex work as work—or, rather, as a catchall term for many different kinds of work (“Escorting, street hustling, hostessing, stripping, performing sex for videos and webcams—the range of labor that falls under the umbrella of ‘the sex industry’ makes speaking of just one sometimes feel inadequate.”)
Sex workers, though, face one obstacle that most of the rest of us don’t: self-appointed rescuers.
Grant’s concise but exhaustively researched book makes a convincing case that police action against sex work—even when intended to “rescue” sex workers and even when ostensibly targeted against the people looking to buy sex rather than sell it—achieves little beyond enabling police violence and harassment. (One appalling fact among many: “In New York, the practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution is so routine that the supporting depositions used by cops upon arrest have a standard field available to record the number of condoms seized from suspected sex workers.... Sex workers refuse condoms from outreach workers, and from each other, as a way to stay safe from arrest.”)
Sex workers are entitled to the rights that all workers have or should have, not least among these the right to hate your job without having it taken away from you. With typical bracing lucidity (the book is a model of excellent nonfiction prose, infinitely better than that of one of Grant’s primary targets, columnist-cum-Mighty-Mouse Nicholas Kristof), Grant decries the fact that “sex workers must prove that they have made an empowered choice, as if empowerment is some intangible state attained through self-perfection and not through a continuous and collective negotiation of power.”
Perhaps removing the stigma from sex work will help us all think more clearly about work and life; this is why Grant draws the connection below between her book and Miya Tokumitsu’s recent dazzling Jacobin essay, “In the Name Of Love,” which pointed out the dirty secret in the culture-wide dictum to “Do What You Love”: “It hides the fact that if we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.” READ MORE
Fri! Fri. You made it; we made it; it's almost time to have a drink. Before we go, here is where we've been this week:
• In the bedroom, to have sober sex for the first time.
• To space (?) and back with our resident astrologer Galactic Rabbit.
• To the hair salon with... Dr. Oz?
• To school. Homeschool.
Thanks for joining us. Jia and I will be away from the Internet next week, but we'll have some surprise guests around these parts to keep you company. They're bringing the confetti.
Photo via tekniskamuseet/flickr.
Something happened last week in the True Detective response ether: up to this point, online discussion had mostly rotated around the McConnaissance, the aesthetics, or the thickening mythology. But we woke up last Monday to a slew of pieces on the treatment of women on the show—see Grantland’s Molly Lambert, Slate’s Willa Paskin, and The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, all grappling with the same overarching question: the women on this show are treated like shit. But what does that mean?
AHP: For me, this comes down to a tension I see pulsing through a lot of contemporary media: when you present a misogynist environment, are you fetishizing it or critiquing it? I always think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo here—in the books, Stieg Larsson paints a world of incredible violence, physical and cultural, against women, but his goal, as a feminist writer, is to implicitly critique that world. The Swedish title of the original book was Men Who Hate Women, and the narrative was intended to manifest the extent of evil that extends, in all directions, from the viewpoint. The movies, however—especially the American ones—neglected the critique in favor of Fincher-style aestheticism, effectively evacuating the politics.
So what’s happening with True Detective? Is the narrative so beautiful that we forget that its in service of the exploitation of women’s bodies? Or is the dystopia itself a polemic against misogyny? Put differently, do the ends justify the means?
SES: Mainly, it's that McConaughey's knife-edge cheekbones are so beautiful that I'm just now emerging from the stupor they put me into. (AHP: Preach.) When Marty flew into his rage at Lisa's apartment was when I started to pull back. If you're going to make a dead sex worker the inciting incident for your story, if one of the central characters is defined by his rage about the sexual purity of the women in his life, it needs to pay off in the form of story advancement and character development, otherwise it's just gratuitous, sensational, "edgy." And for the last several episodes, it's become clear that the only satisfying way for the mystery to end is for Rust or Marty to be the killer. But we're gonna get some dumb conspiracy of Louisiana good ol' boys who worship the devil, which is going to be unsatisfying and also not give the proper payoff to all that violence against women, which then becomes just so many witchy antler decorations with no clear meaning.
So, are we getting that payoff? If Marty's rage about the sex lives of 1) his mistress 2) his daughter and 3) his wife change him, we do. READ MORE
We had seen "Drunk In Love" in emoji; we had seen "Drunk In Love" remixed into an ode to Dunkin' Donuts; we had seen "Drunk In Love" Katy B'd and smooth jazz'd; we had not yet seen "Drunk In Love" with young Blue Ivy Carter coming in at the end to make everyone's face melt off with a single, "watermelon." This, a clip from Bey's Grammy rehearsal (not the Jay Z stand-in), is the zenith; there shall be no more "Drunk In Loves." [Full video here]
Dr. Oz has a new magazine. It's called The Good Life, and according to Dr. Oz’s editor’s note, the purpose of this new venture is “to make your life more vital and more meaningful... Every word will be treated as preciously as the person reading it.” So I read the magazine, asking myself as I went: Did The Good Life make my life feel more vital and more meaningful? Did every word make me feel precious? Please join me on this very personal journey through Dr. Oz’s The Good Life.
Reading about Alison Brower’s fiery passion for health, I was forced to ask myself: “Do I have a fiery passion for health?” While I definitely, definitely think breathing and walking around and stuff are cool, I’m pretty sure I don’t have the kind of residual excitement about either that one could transfer to a readership. So in a way, being made aware of Brower’s fiery passion for health was good, because I know they’ve given the job to the right person, and this realization did make me feel weirdly vital, and I also felt like life was kind of meaningful, because Alison Brower had matched up her passions with her job. On the other hand, being forced to confront my own lack of a fiery passion for health made me feel a little inadequate, which did not make me feel precious.
Vitality grade: C
Meaningfulness grade: D
Preciousness grade: F
I really like cats, so, from the moment I laid eyes on it this article had a head start. Then I saw the phrase “Chinese jerky treats,” and felt extremely precious, because if ever a phrase was invented just for my enjoyment, that phrase is "Chinese jerky treats." And it made me feel remarkably vital to think of all the lucky people moving through life identifying themselves as “Feed Control Officials.” But the last bulleted point, wherein Ohio State veterinary professor C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM stated that “it is difficult to strike the right nutritional balance when making pet food” made my life feel a little less meaningful, because if I can’t even figure out how to make cat food, what’s the point?
Preciousness: A READ MORE
If you like emojis and the show Breaking Bad, or you think you might like Breaking Bad but would rather experience it as a sequence of emojis (yes), then perhaps you will enjoy these Unofficial Breaking Bad Emoji Mugs, brought to you by the lovely Starlee Kine and Russell Quinn. A mere $20.
[The Hubble Space Telescope has] resolved the slow-moving debris of an asteroid that is in the process of breaking up. The asteroid, designated P/2013 R3, hasn’t hit anything, as the fragments are moving too slow — it just seems to be falling apart. -Discovery News
The asteroid hasn't hit anything; it just seems to be falling apart. The asteroid promises it didn't meet anyone new. The asteroid wonders if it was under too much pressure from the sun. The asteroid thinks it just started spinning too fast. The asteroid is still listening to How To Dress Well, the asteroid feels its own bones in bed, an old couple smiled at the asteroid while it was in line at the grocery store and the asteroid wanted to disappear completely. The asteroid ponders finality. The asteroid is afraid of ever again wanting to be known. The asteroid fears its own messiness and then accepts it, sends out knobby-kneed messages in the darkness, hoping that someone will see.
Pictures, and actual information, here.
Here's a great story at Smithsonian Mag:
Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) was a millionaire heiress and Chicago society dame with a very unusual hobby for a woman raised according to the strictest standards of nineteenth century domestic life: investigating murder.
At first, she just had unusual taste in friends:
Rather than using her well cultivated domestic skills to throw lavish parties for debutantes, tycoons, and other society types, [Glessner Lee] subverted the notions typically enforced upon a woman of her standing by hosting elaborate dinners for investigators who would share with her, in sometimes gory detail, the intricacies of their profession.
Then she got to work:
In her conversations with police officers, scholars and scientists, she came to understand that through careful observation and evaluation of a crime scene, evidence can reveal what transpired within that space... If a crime scene were properly studied, the truth would ultimately be revealed.
To help her investigator friends learn to assess evidence and apply deductive reasoning, to help them “find the truth in a nutshell,” Frances Glessner Lee created what she called “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” a series of lovingly crafted dioramas at the scale of one inch to one foot, each one a fully furnished picturesque scene of domesticity with one glaringly subversive element: a dead body.
How To Dress Well's latest track is fully in Tom Krell's sweet spot of modernist, sonically star-scattered, intimately lonely R&B, but it's also immediately extraordinary, one of his best yet: a song full of corners and swells, a hymn layered with curses and lamentation. I am having a hard time dealing with what it's doing to me! I've looped the part between 1:57 and 2:00 about a dozen times now and I keep physically gasping, so maybe I should just quote Jane here: "I've been sitting here trying to think of a less crass/more nuanced way of describing what I'm feeling, but I can't: this  is seriously almost giving me an orgasm."
Three years later, an answer: Nicole Kidman is Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco. Check out the trailer here. Proposed tagline: Can Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly have it all? Elsewhere, Andre 3000 really is Jimi Hendrix, and zombie beavers are as real as hoverboards and shall be called Zombeavers. You can make your jokes, but I think the trailer already handled most of them.
When I moved to New York from Germany, I didn’t have words. I had written for prominent papers in Hamburg, but in New York my German faded quickly and English was slow to take its place. After a few months here I found myself close to aphasic. All I had now was a hasty, unhappy marriage and an apartment in Bushwick that was cheap and hot. Through the window bars I could see glimpses of a trash-filled backyard and an alley cat with kittens. During the day I could hear the termites in the backyard destroying the wooden benches that were built by the old German winemaker who owned the building at the turn of the century. I could see the neighbors in their cemented yard dancing to reggaeton. Voiceless, I listened to unfamiliar sounds. Everything around me was falling apart: my marriage, the benches, my brain, my language. I decided to take in the cat and her kittens.
As my first, desolate New York summer was thrust away by fall, the outdoor music subsided. The sound of the termites was replaced by that of the mice making their winter nests in my walls.
“Neighborhood was bad when Germans lived here,” my old Puerto Rican neighbor Mira told me one day when I was finally able to ask her whether she, too, could hear the mice in the walls and the termites in the benches. Our short conversations were guessing games. Our English was rudimentary.
I used arrogant expressions like sustainable living, but Mira outdid me in colloquialisms and American pop culture. She knew what There is more than one way to skin a cat meant, for example. At least that’s what she said when we discussed mice extermination. Mira also conspiratorially called me “Sabrina, the teenage witch.” I didn’t get the reference, and I felt insulted.
Had Bushwick really been worse when “the Germans” still made up its majority? At the end of the 19th century, I’d read, the neighborhood was known as “the beer capital of the Northeast”; in 1890 there were 14 beer breweries operating within a 14-block radius. How could it have been worse? I glanced at the gnawed-off chicken wings in my yard. (“To feed the poor cats,” Mira said apologetically when I addressed the garbage flying past my windows. She offered no explanation for the old batteries that littered my yard, possibly one of her ways to skin a cat.)
The mouse problem got worse. Trying to buy mouse traps and being handed mustard in return was beginning to take its toll. The cat, although now employing her kittens, wasn’t able to catch up. She became fixated on my compost pile, which I had started partly to teach Mira a lesson about sustainable living. Later I found out that my compost had attracted rats, which explained the cat’s fascination.
I sat on my noisy backyard benches with my back to the compost and the rats, sipping a glass of wine and fantasizing about the good old times when Bushwick was still primarily German, when people were clean, square and predictable. They understood each other. They carried their walking sticks up their asses. I was embarrassed by my nationalistic sentiments, but in times of chaos, want and uncertainty, humans—particularly German humans—gravitate toward order and safety.
It was then that I received a phone call from my friend Franzi, another recent German immigrant.
Franzi wanted to know if I was interested in searching for words. The German artist Karin Sander had hired her to collect one word from each language spoken in New York City for a conceptual art project titled wordsearch. To add dimension (and because conceptual art works in mysterious and inflated ways), each word was to be translated into the other 250 languages we would find. A grid of 250 x 250 words, wordsearch was to be published as a giant word sculpture in the stock listings of the New York Times. Since there are more than 250 languages spoken in New York, Franzi needed an assistant.
I was happy to accept the challenge to gather words from real New Yorkers, or “word donors” as we called them. I’d spent all of my time in New York searching for words, so the idea of getting paid $25 an hour for it seemed like a small miracle. READ MORE
“Once you go Asian, you can’t go Caucasian. Once you go yellow—hello!” JT Tran told his audience of hopeful men.
This was in a Manhattan conference room on Valentine's Day, and JT was running a weekend-long bootcamp with a simple mission: to help Asian men get some skin in the dating game, and maybe even get laid.
The class's methods and language were taken straight from the pickup artists' world. And yet, the course also resembled a rollicking post-grad symposium on race. Yellow fever. That infamous OKCupid survey that showed Asian women overwhelmingly preferred white men. The culture clash between an Asian upbringing and a Western world that has different expectations for success. And the ease with which people speak racistly of Asian men—like the way Lorde and her Asian boyfriend were recently torn into on Twitter. READ MORE