Monday, May 5, 2014

SNL’s Leslie Jones Uses Slavery to Make a Point About Being Black and Beautiful

SNL’s Leslie Jones Uses Slavery to Make a Point About Being Black and Beautiful

SNL’s Leslie Jones Uses Slavery to Make a Point About Being Black and Beautiful

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:58 AM PDT

Saturday Night Live faced a great deal of well-deserved criticism for the lack of diversity among the show's writers and cast. This year, they finally responded by hiring actor Sasheer Zamata and writers Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes. There is still work to be done toward making the show more diverse and inclusive, but this is a start.

The thing is, when we call for diversity, we often have a very specific idea of what that diversity should look like. There is an unreasonable burden on people who are thrown into such a glaring spotlight. We wanted Saturday Night Live to become more diverse, but it has to be the right kind of diverse—offer up the right kind of message—and everyone has a different opinion of what right looks like.

Each year, People produces a list of the most beautiful people—an arbitrary assortment of famous people with preternaturally good looks, beaming out at you from glossy magazine pages. This year, Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong'o is People's most beautiful person—as well she should be. Nyong'o is a stunning young woman with a luminous smile and a depth of talent.

During this weekend's episode of Saturday Night Live, Jones gave a monologue on Weekend Update about the pick. "The way we view black beauty has changed," Jones says. "I'm six feet tall and I'm strong, Colin. Strong!" Jones goes on to say that she would have been the "number one slave draft pick" and how "massa" would have hooked her up with the best slave on the plantation to breed even better slaves. She referred to herself as a "mandingo," who, with the right partner, would push out babies like Shaq and LeBron. What she had to say was uncomfortable and, at times, downright painful. She was being funny—or not. Humor is relative. Regardless, Jones was accurately commenting on one of the many travesties that took place during the slave era.

People are reacting. I am not here to judge those reactions, but I understand where Jones is coming from. To be considered beautiful as a black woman, you need to be exceptionally beautiful. You need to be slender and smooth, with the sharp cheekbones of a Lupita Nyong'o. All too often, you also need to be fair-skinned, which has made the darker-skinned Nyong'o's rise to such great heights so spectacular to see.

Some people are bristling about how cavalierly Jones dealt with what we know was rape, and how black women and men's bodies were used to produce more stock for white slave owners. As a critic sensitive to how popular culture deals with sexual violence, I understand. But there is so much more taking place within Jones's monologue. I have watched the clip several times now. Beyond the surface of the joke, I see pain. I see rage. I see a woman speaking her truth.

The "black is beautiful" movement has worked to challenge damaging notions about black beauty since the 1960s, but more than 50 years on black women rarely get to be beautiful. Black women get to be strong. We get to be imposing and intimidating. We get to be thick, hypersexual bodies. We get to be exotic. We get to be the dirty secret you won't take home to your family. That is all people want to see in us. When black women are considered beautiful (and this is quite a narrow space), too many people want to be congratulated for briefly expanding their understanding of beauty. Look at how some people have fallen over themselves to express how beautiful they find Nyong'o, how they wait to be praised for such aesthetic benevolence.

Black women are rarely seen for who we are. We are rarely seen or held with any kind of tenderness. We are rarely wanted. Jones was making a joke—or perhaps she wasn't. On Twitter, she defended her monologue and, among other things, she said:

"I'm a comic it is my job to take things and make them funny to make you think. Especially the painful things. Why are y’all so mad. This joke was written from the pain that one night I realized that black men don’t really f–k with me and why am I single. And that in slave days I would have always had a man cause of breeding."

We got diversity on Saturday Night Live, but we don't get to control the narratives that rise from that diversity. We don't get to hear and see only that which makes us comfortable.

Look at Jones's face at the end of her monologue. See what is there. I am haunted by what I see. She was expressing a very specific loneliness I instantly recognized—having a big black body that may never be seen as beautiful or desirable, while carrying so much desire that goes unsatisfied.

It hurts to watch Jones share her rage and hurt veiled in humor. It hurts to realize how the legacy of slavery lingers. I want to take Jones's face in my hands and tell her she is beautiful. She is beautiful. I want to hold all her hurt and rage so she can be free of it, even for a little while. I want to remake this world into something better so black women don't have to recognize this kind of hurt and rage. I want all black women to see the ways in which we are endlessly beautiful even if few others do. I want to believe I am beautiful.

Georgia’s Sweeping Gun Law Sparks Religious Backlash

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:53 AM PDT

Robert Wright, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, sent an open letter last week to the 56,000 members that make up the dozens of Episcopal churches throughout north Georgia with a simple message: Don’t bring guns into the house of God.

The week before, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law one of the most sweeping gun bills in recent memory. The Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014, which goes into effect July 1, allows Georgia residents with concealed carry permits to bring guns into churches that give express permission, while lowering the fine for bringing a gun into a place of worship to $100. It permits guns in bars, school zones, government buildings and certain areas inside airports. It says the state no longer has to fingerprint law-abiding gun owners to renew their licenses, and that dealers won't be required to keep sales records for state purposes (federal government record-keeping laws still apply). The NRA has called it "the most comprehensive pro-gun bill in state history." Opponents have derided it as the "guns everywhere" bill.

But those guns won’t be everywhere. The new law has largely split the state’s Christian denominations between the Georgia Baptist Convention, which supports the bill, and Episcopal and Catholic leaders in the Atlanta area, who have strongly come out against it and expressly told their congregants to leave their guns out of the pews.

"Jesus did not preach a gospel of self-protection, a gospel of live by the sword, die by the sword," Wright says. "Quite the opposite."

Wright says that while he understands the need for Second Amendment protections for those wanting firearms for self-defense or for sport he sees the very idea of guns in church as blasphemous.

"Weapons in a place of sanctuary seem to me to be inconsistent with a God of love," he says. "The prince of peace isn't spelled P-I-E-C-E. It's P-E-A-C-E."

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta issued similar guidelines last week for its parishes, which encompass 69 counties throughout Georgia. "The last thing we need is more firearms in public places, especially in those places frequented by the children and the vulnerable," Archbishop Wilton Gregory wrote in the May 1 issue of the Georgia Bulletin.

The Georgia Baptist Convention, made up of 3,600 Baptist churches throughout the state, lobbied on behalf of the bill largely because it gives its churches more autonomy, allowing each to determine on their own whether to allow firearms.

"We think it's important that churches be able to make their own decisions," says Mike Griffin, a pastor and lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Griffin says that while other denominations often determine policies from the top down, Baptists historically operate from a church-up approach, and the gun bill recognizes that sort of decision-making.

State Rep. Alan Powell, a co-sponsor of Georgia's gun bill, says the law was written with those churches in mind and has no problems with churches banning guns.

"That's their business," Rep. Powell says. "But we had numerous churches testify about wanting to protect themselves from criminal elements. At times, when they're counting tithes, for example, deacons weren't allowed to carry a weapon."

But Bishop Wright says he believes most people of faith in Georgia don't want guns on church property. And it's not just Christians. He says he's heard from Muslim and Jewish leaders as well who oppose it, citing about 200 other religious leaders who have publicly spoken out against the bill.

"I don't know how you reconcile Jesus who says, ‘Love they neighbor, love thy enemy,’ and at the same time being armed to the teeth," Wright says.

Here Are the 10 Best Prom-posals of Prom Season

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:31 AM PDT

It’s the first week of May, which means it’s time for allergies, Cinco de Mayo sombreros, and elaborate romantic gestures by barely post-pubescent teenagers! That’s right, it’s prom-posal season, the most awkward time of the year.

If you don’t know already, prom-posals are when high schoolers ask each other to prom with the level of pomp and circumstance that rivals an actual engagement. Some high schools are gripped by prom-posal hysteria and some aren’t. For those who have found their high schools littered with rose petals and graffiti this week, you’re not alone.

Of course, kids have been asking each other out in elaborate ways ever since the romantic comedies of the ’80s and ’90s gave us all unrealistic expectations of prom (thank you, She’s All That.) The first official prom-posal of recorded history occurred in 2001, or at least that’s the first one to make the papers, but over-the-top prom-posals have become even more frequent in the age of social media. Because what’s the point of asking someone out if you can’t post pictures of it?

Here are the 10 best prom-posals of the internet, courtesy of the @ThePromposal Twitter feed.

The History Buff One:

The One from the Knight and His Noble Steed:

The Worst Pun One:

The One for Someone Who Loves Frozen:

The One that Kills Two Birds With One Stone:

The One That Says “Booty” Too Much:

The One That Was Delivered by Hedwig:

The Wishful Thinking One:

The One That Put Chicken Nuggets on a Car:

The Filthy Truck One:

Because nothing says ‘love’ like a dirt-encrusted truck.

Listen to Juliana Hatfield Cover Elliott Smith for a Wes Anderson Tribute Compilation

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:28 AM PDT

Grab your berets, pull up your knee socks and pull out your portable record player. On May 13, American Laundromat Records will release I Saved Latin: A Tribute to Wes Anderson, a 23-song, two-disk compilation of cover songs culled from Anderson's various films.

The compilation includes contributions from indie faves like Telekinesis, PHOX, Matt Pond, William Fitzsimmons and Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos, a band who took their name from an Anderson character.

Singer-songwriter Juliana Hatfield chose to cover Elliott Smith's "Needle In the Hay," a powerful song that was used to soundtrack a particularly poignant scene in Anderson's 2001 film, Royal Tenenbaums.

Hatfield’s cover of the song shows Smith’s continued influence on her sound — an influence she fully admits. "I have written three fan letters in my life," Hatfield told Paste. "One was to Paul Westerberg, one to the band X — both written when I was a teenager — and later, when I was in my twenties, I wrote to Elliott Smith at Kill Rock Stars. I was so in love with ‘Needle in the Hay’ and the rest of the self-titled album on which it appears that I was compelled to dork out and gush to Elliott that his music moved me."

On the track, Hatfield pays homage to the original song’s devastating intensity while making it uniquely her own. Listen below:

I Saved Latin is available for pre-order now via Amazon, iTunes, or direct from American Laundromat Records.

[via Paste]

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Latvia Watches Nervously As Putin Seeks to Exert Power

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:19 AM PDT

Many residents of Riga, Latvia, will say that their nation of a little more than two million people, nestled on the east coast of the Baltic Sea between Estonia and Lithuania, is not a particularly diverse one. Most everyone within the country has white skin and Caucasian ancestry. By the standards of old European capital cities, it’s far from cosmopolitan.

Yet in this small nation there is at least some increasingly notable heterogeneity. Latvia has a sizable Russian minority, more than a quarter of its population and far larger than the Russian contingents of neighboring Estonia and Lithuania.

That large Russian-speaking population could make Latvia an attractive target for ever-acquisitive Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose ongoing actions in Ukraine—where Russians make up 17.3 percent of the population—have demonstrated what can happen if he covets a nation that has a strong, pro-Russian contingent.

And although Putin’s actions have caused tension through the entire Baltic region, there are indications the President does have a particular interest in Latvia. A Ukrainian scholar of the region says Putin plans on occupying Latvia in hopes of establishing Russian dominance over a part of the world that hasn’t experienced it in years.

Putin is unlikely to make an overt military move toward Latvia, though, as the consequences would be far greater than Russia’s incursion into Crimea. Unlike Ukraine, Latvia is a member of NATO—meaning that, under Article 5 of the treaty, member countries would be obligated to treat any Russian aggression against Latvia as aggression against themselves, and they would need to respond in kind.

But there are ways to destabilize a country without sending tanks across the border. Putin has exerted power in eastern Ukraine with a covert campaign to foment unrest: Russian intelligence officials or special-ops soldiers with unmarked uniforms aiding or encouraging separatist groups and criminal gangs in regions where support for the motherland runs deep.

The fear now is that Latvia would be ripe for a similar kind of shadow incursion. The country’s defense minister told Reuters last week that Russia has already deployed “specially-trained, professional provocateurs” in hopes of destabilizing the nation.

Artis Pabriks, a member of parliament who was Latvia’s Minister of Defense from 2010 until January, told TIME there should be cause for concern. “I’m sorry to sound so hawkish, but the Baltics are a litmus test. Putin will have crushed NATO if our Eastern borders are not the red line.”

Latvia presents a compelling target for Putin to broaden his authority, beyond its demographics. Riga, for example, has plenty of western trappings—the EU has named the city a Capital of Culture for 2014, and an esplanade has gone up in the park to showcase the designation—but odd Soviet-era eyesores stick out among the city’s renowned collection of art nouveau buildings. Latvia adopted the Euro only at the start of this year. The Russian culture and media still have a strong foothold there.

And the Russian media’s prominence in Latvia gives it a shot at outmaneuvering the West, according to a handful of citizens TIME spoke to in a park in Riga this week. Vitaly Parshin, a 26-year-old ethnic Russian student, says most of his friends have been convinced by Russian TV that Putin is a force for good. “They think Putin is trying to free us from the Latvians who hate us.” This belief is particularly widespread in Russified eastern Latvia, close to the border, where a petition recently circulated on Facebook in favor of returning Daugavpils, a city of 100,000, to Russia.

The strife may be generational. The youngest Latvian adults, who have learned both Russian and Latvian in school and have enjoyed the benefits of E.U. membership, have little appreciation for Putin, says Alexander Puziy, a 24-year-old wedding photographer. Besides, he adds, this generation is just barely old enough to remember the unpleasantness of living in the Soviet Union, under Russia’s thumb.

And many Russians, despite their heritage, are predisposed to oppose Putin. According to Pabriks, Russians came to Latvia in four waves in the past five centuries. The first three came to escape Russia after religious persecution, military aggression and the Bolshevik Revolution. But the last wave—Soviet citizens who arrived in Latvia on business or military obligations—came to perpetuate Russia.

This last group, Pabriks says, are the ones Russia might enchant today. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, they had no experience with an independent Latvia. They don’t know what Latvia is. It’s not easy to explain to them that we had our own lives.” Pabriks estimates that 60 percent of this last class, which never learned to speak Latvian, might appreciate a Russian return.

Yet latent Latvian support for Putin has not yet manifested itself in the kind of widespread unrest now being seen in Ukraine. Pabriks thinks it wouldn’t happen unless the region was further destabilized, owing to the presently strong governments in the Baltic states. The people TIME spoke to in the park generally agreed, believing the country to be safe from regional turbulence for now.

But Pabriks says a stable Ukraine is crucial to what happens in Latvia. “Ukraine is burning, and we need firemen there. The Baltics are the nearby houses, and the wind might start blowing the wrong way.”

First MERS Patient in U.S. is Improving

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:15 AM PDT

The first patient in the U.S. to be infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus is improving, and may be sent home soon, doctors said Monday.

The unnamed patient, who was diagnosed with the MERS virus on Friday, is in good condition at Community Hospital in Munster, Ind. He no longer needs oxygen support, said Alan Kumar, chief medical information officer at Community Hospital, in a press conference. The patient is eating and walking around, and the hospital expects that he will be going home soon.

The patient was placed in full isolation upon arrival at the hospital Friday, and all staff members who had contact with him previously have tested negative for the disease. These staff members are still being closely monitored for any symptoms of the virus, and will be allowed to return to work after the incubation period for the disease is over, which could be up to 14 days.

The patient lives in Saudi Arabia, where the virus has infected hundreds and killed at least 100, and works at a hospital there. He came to Indiana on a planned visit to see family, arriving in Chicago and then taking a bus to Indiana. On April 27 he starting feeling ill and went to Community Hospital on the 28th. Authorities said he has been completely cooperative.

MERS is in the same virus family as SARS. It has no vaccine or treatment, and researchers believe the disease may have come from camels. So far, human transmission has only occurred among people with close contact with infected people.

The CDC and Indiana State Department of Health are working together to make sure all necessary precautions are taken. Health officials say that there were about 100 people on his flight and about 10 people on his bus. Three-fourths of the travelers have been contacted.


Did Adele Just Announce Her New Album 25 on Twitter?

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:03 AM PDT

Is Adele finally coming out with a new album? If her Twitter hint can be trusted: Maybe!

It's been three years since Adele released her 30-plus-million-selling, record-breaking, age-titled album 21. But a new album from the British singer may (finally!) be coming out.

Last night — the day before she celebrated her 26th birthday — Adele tweeted "Bye bye 25…See you again later in the year." Fans across the internet are interpreting that mysterious tweet as a sign that the “Rolling in the Deep” singer’s highly-anticipated new — also age-titled — album, 25, is coming out later this year.

Rumors have been swirling around the project for months. In March, Ryan Tedder, who (in addition to penning songs for Beyoncé and Ellie Goulding) worked with Adele on her tracks "Rumour Has It" and "Turning Tables,” confirmed he is working with her on the new project. Also in the mix is Wiz Khalifa, who said his collaboration with Adele was “really hippie.” To round out the unlikely trifecta, Phil Collins announced that he was also working with Adele on new music. (That said, it’s unclear whether the Collins’ songs are for her next album or another project.)

Whatever the end result, fans will undoubtedly be lining up early to hear what the singer has been working on during the three long years since 21 first dominated the charts.

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WATCH: Opening Cider with a Chainsaw Looks Cool in Slow-Motion, But Don’t Try It at Home

Posted: 05 May 2014 10:00 AM PDT

We’ve all been there: Desperate for a drink from a cold beverage, but unable to find a bottle opener. The guys at Slow-Mo Laboratories have come up with a great don’t-try-this-at-home solution to that problem — Use a chainsaw!

The guys who showed us what it looks like to pop bubblegum in slow motion, breath fire in slow motion, and took out their aggression by shooting a gun at a water bottle (and showing us the results in slow motion), have done it again.

This time they’ve taken a chainsaw to both a glass bottle of cider and an icy cold Coke and impressively managed to pop the tops off without shattering the glass. When they slow down the action, the video replay shows both their expert-level skills with a chainsaw (which is still surprisingly fast, even in slow motion) and how you should never, ever try this at home.

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Hunt Continues for Lost Plane, Circus Catastrophe and NBA Playoffs

Posted: 05 May 2014 09:59 AM PDT

Leading off today is the news, or lack thereof, on the missing Malaysian Airlines flight. The hunt continues as the search area widens. Then, the shocking cellphone footage of a circus accident that injured nine acrobats. In sports, the Clippers advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs despite the turmoil surrounding owner Donald Sterling after his racist remarks. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighs in on racism inside and out of sports. To beat the Mondays, we end with a joke, courtesy of President Barack Obama who let them have it at the White House Correspondents Association dinner Saturday night. Here are the 17 meanest jokes from the annual event.

Why ‘I Have a Boyfriend’ Is Still the Best Way to Turn a Guy Down

Posted: 05 May 2014 09:58 AM PDT

You’re out with your friends at a bar, and a guy comes over and starts talking to you. You exchange pleasantries and start chatting. But it soon becomes clear that you’re just not that into him. What’s the best way to turn him down without being a total jerk? A 2013 XOJane column that went viral over the weekend by Alecia Lynn Eberhardt makes the argument that the age-old excuse of “I have a boyfriend” (whether it’s true or not) undermines a woman’s autonomy by suggesting she’s unavailable because she’s “taken” by a man. Eberhardt pulls a popular quote from Tumblr to explain why this excuse deprives a woman of all agency:

Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.

While in theory I agree with this sentiment, I’m going to still argue for the efficacy of the “I have a boyfriend” excuse. When I am out with my friends at a bar trying to enjoy myself, the last thing I want to do is take precious time away from my friends to explain to a stranger why I have no interest in him. Eberhardt’s sketch of how this debate might play out sounds exhausting:

"I'm not interested." Don't apologize and don't excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — "No, I said I'm not interested."

"Oh, so you have a boyfriend?"

"I said, I'm not interested."

"So you're a lesbian, then?"

"Actually, I'm not interested."

"You seem crazy."

"Nope, just not interested."

Et cetera. You could even, if you were feeling particularly outspoken, engage in a bit of debate with the man in question.

I don’t have the patience to get into debates with every man who hits on me. I’ve used the “I’m not interested” excuse before only to be regaled for 10 minutes with stories as to why I should be interested. I’ve seen men sit down at a table with a friend, put their arm around her even after she’s said, “I’m not interested.” I even had a man try this strategy while I was on a date with a boyfriend who was sitting across the table from me.

If, on the other hand, you say, “I have a boyfriend,”— even if that’s a bald-faced lie — guys will flee pretty quickly. Some will say, “So?” But that debate can be ended pretty quickly with “I don’t cheat” or “he just got out of prison.”

So yes, if you think you’re dealing with a rational person who will leave you alone after you utter “I’m not interested” or if you feel like spending your night engaged in spirited debate, do the empowered thing and don’t lie. But that’s often not the case, and while I consider myself a feminist, I’m also someone who cares about efficiency. It’s not my obligation to educate men in bars about society’s gender issues. I want to enjoy my evenings. So I’ll be sticking with “I have a boyfriend” and go home still believing in equal pay, leaning in and that a woman should win the presidency in 2016.


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