2

On Colorblindness in the Theatre

Today, one of my friends posted this as his status on Facebook:

You know what really grinds my gears? When all white high schools put on black shows like Aida and The Wiz.

I’m not usually that person who goes there with someone’s Facebook status, but I found this to be somewhat offensive and felt the urge to say something.

So I did a little research, and responded, saying something along the lines of:

I don’t think that this is a fair statement. MTI, the company that holds the rights to Aida and is very strict about their rules, suggests that ethnic actors would be good for the show, but does not say that the director must cast actors of color; that would be discriminatory. Plus, if it’s high school, it’s for educational purposes, and some rules may not apply.

By the time I pressed the comment button, several other of his friends, black and white, commented similarly, saying that The Wiz was based on The Wizard of Oz, Quvenzhane Wallis is going to be the next Annie, Broadway had an all-black Hello, Dolly!, that not all schools have black students (or enough interested in the arts to cast the show), etc. I was not alone.

His response to me?

Jacob, when did I say MUST? You’re the only one talking about licensing; I’m just saying that they shouldn’t be putting on shows about my people. White people telling the stories of colored people is wack.

My response?

Maybe directors at these schools choose those shows because they like the beauty of the story, not to mention the music and the message. Aida and The Wiz are just as much part of the American musical theatre canon as My Fair LadySouth Pacific, et cetera. They have all the rights in the world to put on whatever show they like; you don’t have any control over that.

His response?

Seriously?

Over that?

A little background: this friend, whom I’ll call Kevin, is an African-American guy I met at the 2006 APO nationals, and again at the 2008 nationals. When I met him, I thought he was funny and nice. I haven’t seen him for a long time, but we’ve remained friends on Facebook. His posts are, one could say, inconsistent. One day, he’ll post something about how black stereotypes are wrong, and the next day, he’ll post something that is a complete stereotype (one of the hard things about Facebook: detecting sarcasm), something like “Oh honeychile’ there is some fake weaves in this here bar.” I always thought that if you’re a person who hates stereotypes, don’t go slinging them around, and then get offended when someone calls you out on it.

The topic of colorblindness in show selection and casting is something I’ve wanted to write my thoughts on for a long time, and I guess now is as good a time as ever.

Since Kevin started us off with high school, let’s rewind to the early 2000s, aka my high school days, where I was so involved in theatre that I actually got a little plaque about it. 100% of the students in my school were Jewish, and 98% of the school was, you could say, white. That didn’t stop us from putting on shows with nonwhite characters. I mean, what are we supposed to do…Fiddler on the Roof every year? Sure, we did some very white-bread shows (Hello, Dolly! and Bye Bye Birdie come to mind), but we also did West Side Story and South Pacific, despite having very few students of color in the school. We didn’t do Aida or The Wiz, but I don’t think anyone would have stopped us had we done them. The two shows Kevin chose, actually, are particularly bad examples…Dreamgirls and Hairspray would’ve been harder to pull off, owing to the racial nature of the plot, but apart from blackface, I don’t see a problem with a school that is entirely or predominantly white putting on Aida or The Wiz.

Kevin, you are a well-educated and well-spoken person, but this is not the 1990s and you’re not Lauryn Hill (who, by the way, apologized for her remarks about white people). If high school theatre went by your logic, does that mean that high schools that don’t have any Asian students shouldn’t put on Flower Drum Song or The King and I? Or that a predominantly black school shouldn’t do My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music?

Sheesh Louise.

Back to my high school days. In my freshman year, we did both West Side Story and South Pacific. Our West Side Story, in particular is a great example of exactly why casting should be talent based, and not looks-based. Two of the main characters, Maria and Anita, are quite clearly Hispanic. We only had one girl with a Hispanic background in the whole school, and even though she auditioned, she didn’t get either part. The part of Maria went to a white girl, who I think did a pretty good job of playing Maria. She was not wearing any sort of makeup other than stage makeup, and she didn’t speak with a Puerto Rican accent, but she got the job done. Anita, on the other hand, was played by one of the only other non-white girls in school; a girl of East Asian descent who happened to be a very talented dancer. Though the character of Anita does a lot of dancing, she also sings. The girl who got the part did not. In fact, she refused to sing, period. For “America,” another Shark girl took her role, and for “Tonight,” Anita sat onstage while the other Shark girls sang around her, as if she was getting ready for a party. I can’t remember what they did for “I Have A Love,” – that number might have been cut for time – but she didn’t sing a note. It was a shame; even though she is a very talented dancer and looked beautiful in the part, she was not cut out for Anita at all. Several of the other girls could have done that role even better, and would have loved to have Anita’s singing lines all to herself. For South Pacific, the girl who played Anita didn’t get Bloody Mary or Liat, roles she probably wouldn’t have liked anyway, instead, she danced in one number while other non-Asian girls played those parts. In contrast, when we did Bye Bye Birdie, the Hispanic girl I was talking about was a front-runner for the role of Kim McAfee, arguably one of the most white-bread roles in the American theatre, and when I’m talking front-runner, I mean that out of all the girls who auditioned, she got called back and was probably in the top four of the director’s choices for the role.

Moving right along, you also say that ever-so-problematic phrase “my people.” Okay, so you’re saying that these are the stories of “your ancestors,” like the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow? Let’s look at the facts. Part of the beauty of The Wiz is the inventive music, which makes it different from The Wizard of Oz but does not make it exclusively for one race. And funny you should bring up Aida, a story from Africa with music and lyrics by “your people”…Tim Rice and Elton John. The original Aida is about as black as a lightly toasted pizza crust; it was a story created in Italy. Furthermore, the story is about Ancient Egypt, and even though Aida was Ethiopian, the other characters may or may not have been dark-skinned. Traditionally, Cleopatra is thought of as “black” or “African,” but even though she was born in Africa and lived there, she had Macedonian and Greek ancestry through Ptolemy. She was most likely olive-skinned if not white, and possibly had green or blue eyes and blond hair. In all likelihood, she probably looked more like Jennifer Aniston than Cicely Tyson.

Now, I don’t know your actual ethnic background, but I do know that you were born in America, and that were you to go to Jamaica or Ghana or Kenya and proclaim them to be “your people,” they’d probably all either laugh at you, or think that you were weird without saying anything to your face about it. The Wiz is as much your story as The Wizard of Oz is my story; basically, not really. All the people in these shows are fictional characters who have been and will be portrayed by actors of many ethnicities, and even mixed ethnicities. I think that’s as far as I’m willing to go in this post about defining ethnicity/race, so let’s move on to another topic.

Before I left Houston, my friend Monica and I were having lunch and talking about musical theatre. Monica is a singer and actress, and I was working on Fiddler on the Roof in Baytown. She also happens to be African-American. When Fiddler entered the conversation, she said something along the lines of how she wouldn’t fit into that show; if you put her in villager clothes, she’d probably look like a slave, which might be true. I agreed with her, saying that even though she could sing and act Golde, it would be tough for her to pull it off. In hindsight, I think I was wrong. In fact, I think she’d make an awesome Golde, regardless of whether Tevye or anyone else in the cast was black. In fact, we did have a black girl in the chorus; granted, she was very tiny and hardly noticeable onstage, but she was there and dressed like a villager. Furthermore, when The Crucible was done at U of H, there were many black actors among the citizens of Salem, and not just Tituba; in fact, the girl who was initially cast as Elizabeth was not only black but of Caribbean descent, and race is very much an issue in that show. Had she stayed, she would have made a wonderful Elizabeth.

If an actor can do the part well, they should indeed, regardless of color. And if a mostly or all white high school wants to do The Wiz, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Oh, and Kevin? Good job showing your true colors; defriending someone who disagrees with you on something in a very nice way without getting riled up about it is obviously a sign of maturity.

That was sarcasm.

And I probably didn’t want to be friends with you anyway.

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Have Mercy

Occasionally, I like to read something easy, a “beach read” if you will, just for fun and pleasure. Call it chick-lit if you want, but if it’s a good, thick book with a rather neutral cover, no one has to know what’s inside it. Sometimes when I read I just want to get into a story, follow some characters around, and not really aim to learn anything. It’s kind of like a soap opera, but probably a better use of my time than watching an actual soap opera, and more satisfying since I can take the descriptions the author provides and imagine my own characters and scenes rather than watch some too-pretty people prance around for an hour and then hate myself for the next three. I almost never hate myself after reading a novel. However, I did have some emotions after reading Mercy by Jodi Picoult.

Mercy

In brief, Mercy is the story of love and the lengths people are willing to go for it. Cameron MacDonald, a police chief, and his wife Allie, a florist, live a normal, boring life in Wheelock, Massachusetts. One day, a guy shows up in town claiming that a) he’s Cam’s cousin Jamie, b) his wife, Maggie, is dead in the passenger seat, and c) he killed her. Well, that’s promising. On the same day, Allie hires a mysterious woman named Mia Townsend to be her assistant after she catches her breaking and entering her shop and playing with the flowers while she’s out dealing with the newfound-cousin mess in the street. Because when someone breaks into your shop, of course the thing to do is hire them.

Of course, now that there are two new, unattached young people in town (Jamie and Mia), Cam and Allie’s relationship as a married couple starts to unravel. Cam finds himself attracted to Mia, who was his waitress at a cafe in Italy awhile back and has somehow found him now, and bored housewife Allie is drawn to Jamie after learning that his wife Maggie had cancer and asked him to kill her when her quality of life got so bad that she didn’t have the will to live anymore. Due to Cam and Jamie’s familial connection, Cam hires his friend Graham to be Jamie’s lawyer, so that Jamie can win his case, and due to Jamie needing to stay within the city limits of Wheelock, Allie volunteers to go to Cummington to get testimonies from Jamie’s friends and neighbors, suddenly trusting Mia with running her shop and conveniently leaving her with not only her keys, but the ability to use them to enter her home and start a love affair with Cam, about which Allie remains completely oblivious for way too long.

There’s a bunch of crap about the MacDonald name, and Cam’s Uncle Angus, who takes Jamie in for the duration, and Mia, who’s a complete flake and keeps running away from town and then returning like nothing happened. And the trial, which is basically just a constant reiteration of the fact that Jamie’s a good guy, he was (and is) in love with his wife, he killed her out of love and at her request, and he’s extremely sad about it. This is information that we found out when we first meet Jamie in Chapter 2, and nothing changes. Jamie’s found innocent, Mia kind of fades off into the sunset, and as for Cam and Allie, despite each of them having affairs (well, really Cam; Allie and Jamie didn’t really go very far on a sexual level), and Allie selling all of his stuff, they stay together. The end.

The back cover tag for this book is What would you do for someone you love? Would you leave? Would you kill?

Well, um, okay. I have to admit that even though the story is slow and purple at times, it kind of touches the topic in a very kid-gloves way. Maggie MacDonald’s death is pretty much an assisted suicide, which has tons of legal, moral, and ethical ramifications, but if Maggie would’ve figured things out and truly made her husband’s life easier after her death, she should have written a living will or some sort of document quantifying her husband’s actions, which would nip the whole thing in the bud. Good going there, Mag. But Jamie exacerbates the whole thing by toting her over to Wheelock and making a big show of things and getting himself arrested when he could’ve just, like, called a coroner and said “Oh, she died all of a sudden, because she had cancer and sometimes people with cancer die because cancer is unpredictable like that,” and cut his losses there. The whole debate was really BS, and actually made me feel like Jamie was the smartest person in the book, although he clearly wasn’t supposed to be. Mia Townsend is just a hot mess, so I’m not even going there. Cameron MacDonald is just a police chief trying to do his job, and people and things sort of get in his way, and even though he’s pretty tactless he doesn’t do anything outwardly stupid, which is more than I can say for his wife.

Allie MacDonald should get a medal or something for possibly being one of the stupidest characters I’ve ever read. She leaves her business in the hands of a beautiful woman who could rob her blind and steal her husband (and almost does the latter). She suspects nothing about Cam and Mia, and even tells Cam to “take care of her” while she’s off playing detective. If you don’t think that’s a recipe for disaster, Allie, I’m never eating in your kitchen. Plus, she puts herself out there for a guy she barely knows and could be totally playing her. Then, she sells all of her husband’s things for no good reason other than that she’s mad at him for being a jerk, which does not justify doing that. She’s so weak and always gives in to Cam, despite all this inner monologue about her standing up for herself, which never really comes to a head because in the end she stays with him despite all the crap he’s done to her.

On the positive side, though, there is a decent story arc here, and the book does address an interesting topic – assisted suicide – and Picoult follows through with both. I could do with a few less scenes about the MacDonald family Scottish memories, and replace some of the drawn-out courtroom scenes with some more info/flashback to Jamie and Maggie’s relationship, because we really never learn that much about Maggie other than that she loves her husband, is terminally ill, and doesn’t want to become a vegetable.

What I learned from Mercy: Gents, if you marry a woman who gets cancer, get that shit in writing. Don’t kill her and then parade her around some random town where you have a cousin. And ladies, if a mysterious woman walks into your life, don’t roll over and give her your keys, your money, and your husband.

And since I would never forgive myself if I didn’t have Uncle Jesse in this post, here we go.

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Lights On But Nobody’s Home

Walking home from Chabad earlier tonight, I saw a car parked outside my building with its lights on.

And the motor running.

And the keys in the ignition.

I don’t know why people think that this is a good idea; it wastes gas, and of course, it would be so easy for someone walking by to just break a window (or open the door, as it’s most likely unlocked) and drive away. I looked to my left and my right, and seeing no one. I just stood there and stared at the car, as if I expected the driver to be hiding on the floor to jump out and surprise me. I walked up to it, very close but not touching, and contemplated just getting in and driving away…serves you right, lazy bum who didn’t want to pay for parking because you were only going to be “just a minute” and your high beams are blinding everyone who is trying to walk down the steep hill. At night. When it’s cold. And there’s a frozen lake at the bottom. I should just move it up the street a little, to mess with you. You made it so easy.

Anyway. Decided to go inside instead, up to my nice warm apartment.

Oh, and as I walked in, a tall, friendly-looking Asian guy was walking out. After he left, I watched to see if it was indeed it his car, and it was, and he drove away. Eh, I wasn’t in the mood to fuck up your day anyways.

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No, You Are Not

***This post was one I was planning a few days ago but ended up going to sleep before posting. Here, it appears in its entirety. Now, back to your regularly scheduled blogging.***

I’ve posted about reality television before, and my love/hate relationship with it over time, but the current state of reality television is deplorable.

Reality TV used to be so cutting-edge, trendy. You had the community building shows of Survivor and The Real World.

And then, other things happened. I’d thought I’d seen the worst of it, from My Super Sweet 16 to The Anna Nicole Show to anything starring Paris Hilton, a Kardashian, or a Real Housewife.

But these were all just mile markers on the road to Hell. I’m not sure we’re quite there yet, but we’re getting close with MTV’s Are You The One? It’s a show where 20 young, pretty and serially single people (10 male, 10 female) are sent to a house in Hawaii. The prize money: one million dollars. The task: find their “true matches” among the group, decided by some combination of “personality tests, interviews with friends/family/exes, computer analyses, and matchmakers (and oh yeah, some producers).”

Normally, right about here and now I would post a picture of something pertaining to the show here, but I can’t even bear to look at it, so here’s Adam Levine with his thoughts on what I’m about to share with you:

Nearly everything about this show is wrong. Completely, categorically, ethically, morally, genuinely, physically, wrong.

Let’s not even start with the people; let’s just start with the concept and given circumstances.

The concept of the show is simple: it’s basically like Concentration, only with human beings instead of cards. There are potentially 1000 (don’t quote me) combinations of housemates. More on that later. But what is MTV trying to prove? There is absolutely no reference to any sort of independent verification that these “couples” are anything other than arbitrary – for all we know, they could be changing them every week just to screw them over and confuse them – no statisticians, no named advisers, no Pat from Ernst & Young with the results envelope. It’s as shady, opaque, and nonsensical as a television show concept can get. This concept might be meant to give viewers at home the impression that “hey, anyone can find love!” but it comes off more as “these attractive people can find love because we picked them to spend every waking moment together for the next few weeks during which they will pair off, sooner rather than later!” Like many other dating shows, it engages in what I’d like to term single-shaming. What I mean by that is that it gives off the message that 1) being single is not okay, 2) if you are single, there is something wrong with you, 3) everyone’s first priority should be to hook up with someone, 4) that someone is worth more if he/she is attractive, 5) hooking up is more important than getting to know someone and 6) if you are sexually promiscuous, you merit one million dollars.

As most MTV shows are, it’s a tropical location in Hawaii, in which most of us can’t even fathom living. And of course, there doesn’t seem to be any food in the house, but more alcohol than a frat party. The above two facts are pretty much staples, but what takes the cake is the bedroom situation. There is only one, gigantic bed for 20 people. Granted, there is a private room with a bed for two, but that’s clearly meant for something else, something that is probably going to happen in the other bed. It’s a tossup as to what MTV is glorifying more in this setup: a bordello or an orgy. Basically, MTV is begging these people to have sex with one another when the whole show is about finding one’s perfect match. If you knew your perfect match was there, would you want to know that he/she has done every other member of the opposite sex in the house? That’s just a setup for major disappointment, pretty much ensuring that none of these relationships will last.

Then, there’s the people.

To start with a positive note, there is plenty of diversity among the group, which is a good thing; only about half of the cast is white. The rest are a mix, however, in true MTV fashion, no Asian males are represented, and the only Asian female could just about pass for white. On the negative side, look at their bodies. All the women are shorter than the men, skinny, toned, and with long hair. All the white girls except one are blonde. All the men are built like athletes, and I believe that all but one or two has tattoos. Not one person on the show is overweight, underweight, has body hair, has any sort of physical disability, and aspires to be anything other than a model/actor/musician/DJ/dancer/singer. Nor are there any homosexuals, when statistically, there should be at least two. And none of them have an ounce of self-respect.

How they’re playing the game is completely wrong. What is more important, getting drunk and having sex on MTV’s dime (which will eventually go away, and soon) or trying to beat MTV at their own game and win the million dollars (which will last longer and have a much bigger impact on their lives, either as couples or as individuals? Obviously, the second, but nobody here is using their brains. They get several chances to discover who the couples are with the “truth booth” and the moonlight ceremony-thing, but it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone to get a pen and paper, make a chart, and plot their guesses rather than taking shots in the dark. Seriously, people? Prioritize.

The “competitions” are the height of lameness and laziness. The first competition did nothing but promote flaunting one’s body, by taking selfies of any part of their body (some of whom merit TV blurs); an activity that is rewarded here, but is seen as shameful in the outside world. Ogling over each other’s pictures and guessing which body part belongs to whom is an exercise in one thing: physical beauty is the only thing that matters.

There is not one iota of truth in any of the interactions or confessionals shown on TV. Usually, on shows like this, sometimes genuine emotions slip in, and sometimes the editors are smooth enough to fool the viewers. Here, nobody’s fooling anyone. Every single thing looks manufactured. One of the episode’s subplots involved two girls fighting over a bed, encountering drama at every turn and involving every single person in the house, regardless of where they were at the time and if they had a stake in – or even knowledge of – the actual problem. When another girl steps in to “help,” you can almost hear the producer whispering in her ear, “hey, go follow her, talk to her, and when she starts to talk, don’t stop and listen, just get louder, and if she won’t stop, just clap your hands at her.” Another subplot was the theft of one of the guys’ personal diaries. It seemed like everyone in the house except for the victim knew where the diary was and who took it. In fact, in one of the confessionals, a girl even says to the camera who did it, thereby killing any sort of suspense. Then, they switch over to the guy who did it, whose reason for doing it is so lame and rehearsed that even a first-grader could make up a better answer. Of course, the diary is found when the camera scrolls to the love seat in which it’s hidden, and the incident completely disappears from the rest of the episode. Oh, and then there’s the fact that the night vision cameras in the “private bedroom” have put things on TV that wouldn’t even appear on the Spice Channel…

I can’t even. I just can’t even. I can’t believe I actually watched this crap. It made me feel dead inside. Screw you, MTV, I want those two hours of my life back.

0

Post Offices in Israel

Going to the post office in Israel can be quite the adventure.

The hardest part?

Finding one.

The Israeli postal service isn’t the greatest, and that’s partially because nobody knows where the heck the post offices are. For the longest time I would go to either the one on Emek Refaim or the one in Kenyon Hadar. Little did I know that there was a tiny post office on Beit Lechem…that I walked past nearly every day. Honestly, it’s like they don’t want you to find them; this one was marked by two random red poles on the side of the street, which obviously say “hey, walk back here behind the building and then come in the side door!”

Right.

After you go through the metal detector, you enter the room and take a number. From a machine. Like the ones at the deli. And they may not call yours for quite a while. One time, at the Ministry of Communications Post Office, I actually got a pleasant 45-minute nap on one of their hard wooden benches. It’s like the DMV or something. Smaller post offices may not have the number system as there is usually less traffic.

Mailing things also can be tough. That year, I was participating in BookCrossing holiday gift giving and had a bunch of postcards to send out. One happened to be going to a member in Lahore, Pakistan. It got handed right back to me, with the postal worker apologetically saying that they can’t accept it, because Israel does not send mail to Pakistan, because they are at war. So now I have a stamped postcard to Pakistan that has absolutely no value.

“What would happen if I sent it?” I asked.

“They would probably send it right back.”

Hmm. Quite a pickle, that. I went home and quickly logged onto the forums and apologized to said person in Pakistan, saying that it would be impossible to send anything to her for political reasons, to which she said ok. Funnily enough, someone in Texas posted that she’d be willing to forward the mail to Pakistan if I sent it to her. I thought about it for a quarter of a second before realizing that not only would it have to cross the Atlantic twice, but get postage paid on it TWICE. All for a 2-shekel postcard.

My experiences with postal people ran the gamut, but two instances were annoying when they happened but funny to laugh about, it retrospect.

The first one happened at the post office on Emek Refaim. I got to the counter and started speaking in English to an older woman at the counter, who just gave me a blank stare in return. It was still early on in my stay there, so I was not as confident with my Hebrew, but I did try to string together a sentence explaining what I wanted. Another blank stare, no remark. All of a sudden, a postal worker two stalls over starts yelling in Hebrew at the lady who’s failing at helping me. My postal worker turned her head to the side to hear the sound…

And that’s when I saw her hearing aid.

Oh…wait…huh?

Her blonde co-worker came over to me and apologetically said, “I sorry, she don’t speak English, only Hebrew,” and started saying some commands in Hebrew as she took my packages and stamped them. As she did this, her hands came up. Then she started using sign language to communicate with the older woman.

Sign. Language.

Really, Israel?

Even though I went back to that branch regularly, I never saw the deaf woman again. Maybe she decided it was time for a change of career. But for her sake, I sure hope it wasn’t as a phone sex operator.

The second incident happened on one of my final days in Israel. I was in downtown Jerusalem mailing out one last batch of postcards to friends around the world. That day, one of my postcards happened to be going to Jessica, a friend of mine from college who now lived in Honolulu. As the girl at the counter went through the postcards, typing in the countries’ names and printing the postage, she came to the one addressed to Honolulu, Hawaii. Without missing a beat, she tapped her long fingernails to the screen and punched the Hebrew letter hey, then vav, then another vav, then aleph, then yud.

To her surprise, nothing came up. She handed it back to me, mumbling in Hebrew, “Hawaii is not in the system. I guess we can’t mail there.”

Are you serious?

Then, I make things worse by suggesting to her she type in USA, because Hawaii is part of the USA. In fact, it’s been the fiftieth state since 1959, and still is, if nothing changed while I was in Israel.

“No, it’s not part of the USA. Hawaii is a country, no?”

Facepalm.

And they say Americans are bad when it comes to knowing about the world around them.

After a few minutes of arguing pointlessly, she called over her supervisor, and punched “Hawaii” back into the computer system, which again, unsurprisingly, came up with an error message. Her supervisor took my side, telling her to “just type it in as USA, because Hawaii is in the USA.”

“Then why doesn’t it say that on the card?”

Whoops. My bad. I had completely forgotten to write “USA” on the line under the city, state, and zip code.

And we all learned a very valuable geography lesson that day.

0

Foodies? What?

First of all, I’d like to dedicate today’s post to my friend Joann, a loyal reader of my blog, so happy birthday, Joann!

The rest of this post has absolutely nothing to do with you at all though.

Ranting is not a hobby of mine – I try not to let little things bother me too much anymore, but sometimes things frustrate me because I don’t quite understand them. So don’t take this as a complaint, but rather as something that I find puzzling, pretentious, and overall, just odd.

Foodie.

So I’ve heard this term being thrown around for awhile, and don’t quite know what it means, but it makes absolutely no sense to me. All of us are humans, and all of us need to eat food to survive. It doesn’t matter whether you have a lobster dinner or a cup of beans – food is food. Sustenance, nourishment, fuel for your brain and body. As far as I know, most people like eating at least one type of food. Even finicky four-year-olds will eventually break down and eat something. Unless you’re allergic to every food in the world, are on a feeding tube,or are on hunger strike, chances are, you’re consuming food at some point during your day. Lately I’ve been eating tiny bits and pieces of things when I get around to it, but yeah, I eat, hopefully at least a few times a day. Simply put, everyone likes food.

What I don’t get is, why people call themselves foodies. What is a foodie? What does it mean? Someone who likes to eat food? I eat food. You eat food. Former teen pop star Deborah Gibson eats food. So…doesn’t that make all of us foodies? Which destroys the purpose of the specialized term?

“But wait, Jacob, I have refined tastes in food.”

Um, doesn’t everyone? Just because you enjoy sushi, iced caramel macchiatos, and pigs-in-a-blanket does mean that someone else, somewhere else in the world (who doesn’t call themselves a foodie) doesn’t? I think that everyone appreciates well-cooked food. It’s not like you go to a restaurant and say, “yeah, I’ll have the uncooked meat, with the inedible slop sauce on the side, and something that’s so burnt that you can’t tell if it’s food or a decomposing animal? Oh, and a Mountain Dew.” People like eating food. Most people, when given the chance to eat exotic, expensive, or delicious food, wouldn’t be so picky or turn it down. They’d eat it. They’d either enjoy it, or not enjoy it, but either way, they’d shut up about it. Besides, not all foods are inherently better tasting than others – everyone possesses a different palate. I’ve eaten pizza and hamburgers that were out of this world, and had cute, tiny, and ultimately tasteless salads and fancy desserts that were beautiful but dry, or spongy, or if I was on that episode of Friends, filled with meat, but, that doesn’t make any sort of food more valuable than any other. Just because the food costs more or requires more effort to make, that doesn’t put you above or below anyone else. It all comes out of you the same way anyway.

“But what about professional food critics/wine critics?”

Okay…now that’s a profession, not a quality of a person. That person may be paid to write reviews of places like Olive Garden (if you haven’t read the review of the first Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota, you are missing out on one of the simplest joys of life, no joke), they aren’t necessarily always eating high-end haute-cuisine every night. Food critics probably eat some meals much like the rest of us – hurriedly and with our fingers – and some may even enjoy Burger King or Subway, any day of the week. And chances are, if you’re reading this and you call yourself a foodie, you’re probably not a food or wine critic in your daily life – you’re just a person with preferences for certain types of food.

So, I went to Professor Wikipedia, where I found this definition:

foodie is a gourmet, or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out for convenience or hunger. While gourmet and epicure can be used as synonyms they have fallen out of favor and bring to mind a stodgy or snobbish attitude. (Wikipedia.org)

Hmmm. Sometimes I like to go out to new restaurants and try new foods. That’s how most people decide what they like and what they don’t like. It’s called using your right of choice to select what you put in your mouth. And that last sentence, about gourmet and epicure falling out of favor? Please. Those words actually sound like you know what you’re talking about when it comes to how you like your food. And the word foodie? Not a bit less “stodgy or snobbish.”

Also on the Wikipedia page, it had a link, under a section entitled “Criticism of the word.” So apparently, I’m not alone. This link led me to a blog post by James Norton on Salon.com called “Chow Down, Dude”. In it, Norton interviews a guy named Chris Onstad, who apparently writes a comic strip about food, and cute animals, which I will read one day and spend several hours ignoring all other responsibilities. In the interview, this exchange happened:

NORTON: Speaking personally as a blogger who once invoked the word “foodie” when writing about your strip, I’m now painfully aware that this is not a term you care for. What’s your distaste for the word “foodie”?

ONSTAD: The first time I ever heard a friend say it, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, my gut twisted, and I felt angry for some reason. Why do we need this fake new word? There are so many words that already describe the concept of people who like food, or enjoy cooking, or enjoy knowing about cooking. “Foodie”: It’s like the infantile diminutive — you put a “y” on the end of everything to make it childlike. We don’t need it. It’s embarrassing. “I’m a foodie.” Oh my God (Norton).

Chris Onstad, I don’t know you, but THANK YOU. “Oh my God” kind of says it all. I’m all for hipster-ness, but it is indeed embarrassing in its pretentiousness. It doesn’t make you sound smarter, it actually makes you sound like kind of a jerk, almost implying that you’re so special that you don’t eat normal-people food but instead you eat sparkly-unicorn-magic food that flies out of a giant kitchen in the sky staffed by angels and served to you by Jesus onto a tiny little snowflake-shaped seven-grain “artisan” cracker. No. That is not true. You eat food, and then you go on with your life. Simple as that. Get over yourself, people.

And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat a hot, steaming plate of boiled inedibles, with an exquisite creme brulee for dessert.

Mmm, creme brulee.

Works Cited

Norton, James. “Chow Down, Dude.” Salon.com10 April 2007. <http://www.salon.com/2007/04/10/onstad_qa/>.

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There She Is?: Miss America 2014, The Day After

Usually, Miss America comes and goes without much fuss, but this year brought the controversy to a whole new level, and it’s a nasty one.

The show itself provided its usual “Miss America” moments:

  • No tripping, but several missed cues by contestants, most notably Miss New York (Nina Davuluri) – when she was called for talent, Miss Georgia (Carly Mathis) accidentally got up and walked toward the stage to sing and was told to turn back. In Davuluri’s defense, she was probably too spellbound by the lights, the adrenaline, and the moment to react, and earlier in the night as she made the top fifteen she had a similar moment, in complete disbelief that her state was called. Mathis, fortunately, got a chance to sing a few girls later. (Spoiler Alert: She was not good.)
  • Miss Kansas (Theresa Vail) in all her tattooed glory, which I found kind of distracting instead of AMERICAN. She did look great though and seemed like a tough but fun chick.
  • Some beautiful gowns, particularly Miss Maryland (Christina Denny) and Miss Minnesota (Rebecca Yeh).
  • Some fantastic talent performances, the highlight of which was Miss New York (explained further below). Other standouts were Maryland (she sounded good, but she didn’t pick a particularly challenging song to sing), Minnesota (great on the violin), Miss Oklahoma (Kelsey Griswold) who did an interesting musical theatre number, and poor Miss Florida (Myrrhanda Jones), made to twirl her batons with one leg in a brace (which she did, impressively)
  • Some pretty wretched talent performances, mostly Georgia‘s country-western interpretation of “On My Own,” and Miss Texas (Ivana Hall)’s off-key, totally un-sultry rendition of “Fever,”
  • For once, everyone tackled their final question well (except, obviously, Florida)
  • Since Brooke Burke-Charvet skipped her hosting gig this year in favor of Dancing With the Stars, Lara Spencer stepped in and was utterly inept at the job. (Even Gretchen Carlson did better than her!)

Although ALL THREE of my hometown girls (MD, TX, WI) made it, the ultimate winner was Miss New York, 24-year-old Nina Davuluri of Fayetteville, NY, a University of Michigan graduate of Indian descent. She is the second consecutive winner from New York, the second ever Miss America of Asian descent (the first was Angela Perez Baraquio of Hawaii back in 2000), and most notably, the first Miss America of South Asian descent. Although her evening gown was kind of meh in my opinion, she looked great in a swimsuit, answered the final question fairly well, and put on a show during the talent portion with a Bollywood number that brought both the wow factor and a healthy expression of culture. It also fit well with Davuluri’s platform, one of diversity, which is becoming more and more pivotal in the changing nature of American society. What we today deem “minorities” – Latina/o, South Asian, East Asian – will soon be the majority, and in certain parts of the country, they are already prevalent.

Within hours – actually, minutes – Twitter and Facebook were all in a tizzy over Davuluri due to her race. She was being called “Miss 7-11,” “Miss Al Qaeda,” and even “Miss Terrorist” by mean people on the Internet hiding behind screen names. She was facing intense scrutiny by the micro-media which was dangerously tilting its way towards the mainstream media. To top it off, she’s a) American-born, raised, and educated, b) Indian-American (not Arab), c) a very talented Bollywood dancer, d) Indian-American (not Arab), e) a great public speaker, and finally, f) Indian-American! NOT ARAB! There’s a difference, people. Yes, her skin is dark, but she’s lighter than a Kardashian on any given day. Middle Eastern does not = South Asian. Get a map, Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 probably has some. Also…did you even watch the show? Did you not see WHY she won Miss America? Not because of her skin color, but because of her fitness, her talent, and her poise. Her skin color was probably the last thing on any judge’s mind.

My thoughts were pretty much the complete opposite of everyone else’s. I thought that Davuluri’s win might actually be a boost to the image of the South Asian in America (although I have heard that the Indian-American community and India itself is quite pleased and appropriately celebrating her win). I thought that maybe people would become more curious about Indian culture and want to learn more about issues in the Indian-American community. I thought that people of other minorities would embrace the new Miss America and see her as not only a champion for Indian-Americans, but for minorities (and minority women) everywhere. Most importantly, I thought that people would think that this isn’t such a huge deal after all – a pretty girl won Miss America, she’s Indian, so what? Is there a rule somewhere stating that Miss America can only be white, with blonde hair and blue eyes? I can only imagine the uproar when a Native American, a Native Hawaiian, an Inuit, or (the horror!) a Latina wins Miss America.

I thought we were beyond that, America. This was a disappointing and shameful reaction. I wish Nina Davuluri the best of luck as Miss America 2014 – she’s beautiful, she’s talented, she seems nice, and overall, she won the competition fair and square.