Tuesday, July 22, 2008

19 Moves in 7 years...

I've considered a few potential subjects for posts. I just finished the book Tempting Faith by David Kuo. I would recommend that any politically minded Christian read this book. I also considered writing about all the movies I've seen recently, and may still write up some reviews, mostly because I enjoy writing reviews.

But, no, I felt the need to share this realization. I was talking to a friend the other night and we counted how many times we've moved since we first left our parents' houses for college. Since 2001, I have moved about 19 times, lived in 14 different houses/apartments, and haven't stayed in one place for more than 10 months. This isn't in reference to geographic regions (I spent about 4 years in Rome, Georgia, though with breaks back in Columbus and my time abroad in Italy, so there were several moves in one geographic location). These numbers relate to my physical dwelling places and all the times I had to put all my crap into boxes and shove them in my car and drive to some new place.

I'm tired of moving. I think I'll stay at my latest house for a while.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Spice Girls Revisited

As an ardent fan of only "good music" and a true progressive feminist, I have to openly admit: I still love the Spice Girls.

It has been 10 years since Geri left the band. I remember watching 9 and 10 year old British girls crying on TV. I was 15 and I remember thinking how pathetic it was that 9 year old girls thought their lives were over because Ginger left the group. I was just leaving my pop music stage, opting for artists like Beck and Fiona Apple.

But I loved the Spice Girls. They were so crazy and their music was fun. And they had this mantra of Girl Power that I liked. They even had the 10 Golden Rules of Girl Power:
1. Be positive
2. Be strong
3. Don't let anyone put you down.
4. Be in control of your own life and your destiny.
5. Support your girl friends,
6. and let them support you, too.
7. Say what's on your mind.
8. Approach life with attitude.
9. Don't let anyone tell you that you can never do something because you're a girl.
10. Have fun!

But with 10 years of perspective and maturity, I realize that Spice Girls were a source of conflict instead of empowerment.

They were a fabrication, entirely fake, including their nicknames. All of it was to make money, and I knew it. As much as I consumed their happy music, I knew I was being fooled.

More conflicting, though, was their sexuality. They oozed it, flaunted it, waved it in front of all our faces. Unlike teenage Britney, they knew exactly what they were doing. They were all in their 20s, young and beautiful with no reason to keep covered up. The feminist in me understands but can't quite applaud.

They had legions of young fans. Very young fans. Pre-pubescent fans who didn't understand that blatant sexuality. As a teenager, I was uncomfortable to see the little kids I babysat emulate the Spice Girls. I didn't know how to process the Spice Girls' message - how could they?

I still love Wannabe. I still know most of the words of Say You'll Be There. I admit this 10 years later, still wondering what's appropriate and how feminism can practically adapt to our media-saturated society.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Wal-Mart Effect

I just finished Charles Fishman's book The Wal-Mart Effect. It is a fascinating and potentially ground-breaking look at the retail giant (of giants). Fishman is a seasoned business journalist who, along with his wife, started asking questions about Wal-Mart, which lead him to several different parts of the world in search of answers.

  • How much do we actually know about the ways the company works?
  • What are Wal-Mart's relationships with suppliers like? How do those relationships affect the market and our economy?
  • How much influence and control does Wal-Mart have over our national economy and the global economy?
  • What does the opening of a Wal-Mart actually do to a community, particularly low-income small towns?
  • Just how does it get those "always low prices"? Are those prices worth the consequences?

This book is not simply a rant against Wal-Mart. It is not some left-wing diatribe against consumerism (although ample criticism is there). It is, instead, a thorough investigation of the world's largest company, its practices, and most importantly, its effects on our economy and our lives.

Fishman makes it clear throughout the book that Wal-Mart's values are those of classic Americana - a diligent work ethic, frugality, modesty, unpretentiousness. It's is not a company so cut-throat as to be only about the bottom line (i.e., profit). No, Wal-Mart's bottom line is provide its customers with the lowest prices possible. Wal-Mart is there for the little guy, there to save him money.

But it comes with some interesting consequences. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is conflicted about Wal-Mart and about the corporate high-jacking of our culture. Whether you like Wal-Mart or hate it, this book will give you plenty to think about. The final conclusion isn't "Don't shop at Wal-Mart." Fishman leaves it up to his audience to decide what to do next. He does tell us to ask questions.

After finishing the book, I know now more than ever that I do not want to shop at Wal-Mart. Maybe as other people read this book, we will start a dialogue and find a renewed sense of creativity that will allow us to change our culture and to loosen the corporate grip of control on our lives.

For now, I will leave you with Fishman's closing statement at the end of the book and encourage you all to read it and think about it.

"Wal-Mart is not just a store, or a company, or a powerful institution. It is also a mirror. Wal-Mart is quintessentially American. It mirrors our own energy, our sense of destiny, our appetite for bigness and variety and innovation. And Wal-Mart is not just a reflection of American society. It is a mirror of us as individuals. In a democracy, our individual ambivalence about such a concentrattion of economic power, even when that power is ostensibly on our side, is a signal. Both as individuals and as a society we have an obligation to answer the unanswered questions about Wal-Mart. Otherwise we have surrendered control -- of our communities, of our economy, of some measure of our destiny -- to decisions made in Betonville [Arkansas, the Wal-Mart headquarters]." Charles Fishman, The Wal-Mart Effect, page 247.