When Nature Fails Us

August 7, 2009

So there’s a new Spanish doll called Bebé Glotón – or Baby Glutton in English – that is designed to simulate breastfeeding for young girls with blossoming maternal instincts.  Here’s how it works: the child puts on a vest with two quaint little flowers where the nipples should be, holds the doll’s mouth to their chest and, in an expression of approval, the hunk of plastic produces “nursing sounds.”

Here’s a demo:

Now, I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with this, but a writer from the San Francisco Chronicle, my information source for this thing, made a curious and thought-provoking claim:  that the doll is “meant to impress upon kids that nursing is natural.”

There may be truth to this statement, but I find it problematic that an artificial object exist as an example of the inherent nature behind a thing or act.  Breast-feeding should feel natural, but alternative methods are slowly becoming “the normal way” to do it.

My last post briefly mentioned the documentary film The Business of Being Born, which centered around the distance between the modern woman and natural birth.  In both the cases of breastfeeding and childbirth, artificial methods have all but eliminated natural means, at least in this part of the world.  That our solution for the former seems to be recreating the act with a toy to socialize our kids into acceptance is telling of how dependent we are on witnessing a simulation to make sense  our own lives.

If our perceptions of the world depend on vicarious observation, consider what the youth is being exposed to today.  TV and the internet are quite literally raising children at this point – they offer moral codes, dating advice, and family outlines, in addition to maternal nursing.

Then of course there are popular role models.  With the sensationalism of celebrity vices, it is virtually unheard of to follow behind a hyped actor or musician without a trail of scandal at their heals.  Of course, no one is perfect, but some of our biggest stars that get the most media attention are the most fucked up (not coincidentally of course).  Young girls have especially unstable pop stars to look up to.

Three come to mind immediately:

1. Amy Winehouse, who, at 25, has overdosed at least twice since becoming an overnight sensation,

2. Rihanna, whose dangerously abusive relationship with celebrity boyfriend Chris Brown has manifested itself publicly in bruises and the desperate attempts from family and fans to elicit a break up, and

3.  Britney Spears, whose public meltdown is monumental in its media coverage.

All of these girls are young enough (25, 21, and 27) to not recall a life outside of television, and more specifically, MTV, which is largely responsible for their respective levels of fame.  Madonna, with music videos, created the blueprint for what a young starlet should be and these girls have all followed that outline with little deviation.  Before Madonna, there was Marilyn Monroe.  The cycle continues, only now the lives of young pop stars are so publicized its difficult to distinguish the personal from the professional anymore.  They don’t play characters, they are the characters, and viewing them as such, in some way, alleviates the guilt while at once continuing to inspire our sympathy.

But what does this all mean?  Why is it worth talking about?  When we rely too much on artificiality, such as dolls and television, we move further away from ourselves.  I think Joanna Newsom summed it up nicely when she said “never get so attached to a poem/ you’ll forget truth that lacks lyricism” (10 points to whomever can spot the irony there).

In the same way that Faye Dunaway’s character in the almost prophetic mid 70’s film Network was the first studio exec to have grown up with TV, so have young’ns today (including myself).  And the effects, perhaps, are a removal from the things that make us human (things like intuition, passion, fear, and sadness).

These observations are not designed as anti-technological, but as simple reminders that we should be more in command of who we are, and that begins with a little less focus on assimilating ourselves to pop culture and a little more focus on creating our own.

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Semi-Recent Docs That’ll Rock your Socks

July 13, 2009

So the top search engine term people use to find my blog?  You guessed it: “Tracy Chapman.”  Far and away.  You’d think tagging “Fergie” in every single post would account for at least 1/10 of my hits but that poor excuse for a feminine role model is out, Tracy’s apparently in, and I couldn’t be more confused.

In the past month or so I’ve been watching some great documentaries, many of which have been released in the past 5-10 years and are therefore still pretty relevant.  I’ve decided to share a handful of my more impressionable discoveries:

Lake of Fire (2006)

Director: Tony Kaye

An evenly weighed black and white documentary on the highly provocative topic of abortion in the US.  Director Tony Kaye (American History X) is phenomenal at complicating the issue rather than simplifying it – a skill the masters of pathos Michael Moore and Bill Maher would benefit in imitating.  The film also provides some disturbing imagery and uncomfortably personal accounts of patients undergoing the procedure.  It is refreshingly informative and rivetting without ever really feeling manipulative.

The Business of Being Born (2007)

Director: Abby Epstein

Here in America, anything outside of a hospital birth is not only rare, it is often unthinkable.  This film explores the alternative most women don’t seem to consider – childbirth through a midwife.  It delves into the often questionable historical practices of hospital births, including the use of untested drugs resulting in infant deformities and the favoring of doctor over the maternal patient.

C-sections, for example, are often unnecessary, but quick and convenient, and the standard position in which a mother lays in front of the doctor delivering the baby actually inhibits her ability to birth comfortably.  At home births tend to mean more bodily control on the mother’s part.  Contrast the documentary’s footage of a series of home births with the terrifying Hollywood standard of screaming women in labor experiencing the worst pain of their lives and you’ve got two completely different worlds.  I can’t recommend this one enough.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Director: Ari Folman

Waltz with Bashir?  But that’s just a cartoon!  Cartoons aren’t real!

First off – shut up.  This from what I can tell, is a first of its kind.  It takes real interviews with former soldiers of the Lebanese war in the 1980’s and re-enacts their stories with animation.  The style?  Something vaguely reminiscent of rotoscoping that is actually a mix of Adobe Flash and classic (hand drawn) animation.  The visuals are lovely, but above all, the stories are confounding.  Great commentary here about the nature of memory and the bizarre concept of young, unprepared human beings trying aimlessly to engage in war.  There are many reasons I can justifiably call this one of the best movies of the past decade.

So throw away your scratched and unloved Cars DVD and see something that will stimulate rather than numb your brain.

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