Too Serious: Barbie My Birthday Party

Somehow, we have managed to acquire a Barbie storybook which our daughter inexplicably enjoys. While I privately suspect that the interest level is driven purely by the immoderate amount of pink the book is composed of, she is still fascinated by having us read it to her at bedtime.

For those who aren’t aware, Barbie is a feminist icon early childhood reinforcement of patriarchal beauty standards much-beloved kids’ toy. It has expanded from a tool of societal indoctrination line of fashion toys into a multimedia empire of animated films, television shows, video games, music, and books; and I’m left with some very important questions.

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The eponymous protagonist’s story starts with her need to celebrate her birthday by buying lots of stuff and having her friends do the same. There are decorations, cake, sparkly jewellery, and dresses to buy. And lots of butterflies for some reason. I’m not sure if the butterflies are attracted to the inordinate amount of sparkly jewels Barbie and her friends adorn themselves in, or if they are a hallucination due to overconsumption of shrooms, or if the butterflies are actually Death’s Head moths and Barbie’s Fun House is in need of an FBI raid.

This brings me to my first question: how is Barbie funding this lavish lifestyle. I know that Barbie has had many jobs during her life but she never seems to hold them down for any length of time. A lot of those jobs weren’t particularly well paid, and given the number of technical and professional degrees she would have had to obtain, her student debt levels would have to be crippling.*

To my mind, there are three possible explanations for this lavish lifestyle. Barbie is either:

  1. A trust-fund baby living a life of vapid luxury;
  2. A white-collar drug dealer supplying her rich friends with cocaine and party drugs;
  3. Or she is a consumerist wracking up mountains of credit card debt to finance a lavish lifestyle to impress her equally facile friends.**

The drug dealer explanation would certainly explain her impossible body proportions; the amphetamines and cocaine keeping her thin, and with plastic surgery padding the other areas. But another career? That seems a bit far fetched. The credit card funding similarly doesn’t seem likely due to her 30-jobs-a-decade career habit.

The job-hopping would, however, fit with the trust-fund baby explanation. Bored rich kid decides to change careers for the third time this year: not a problem. It would also explain many of the other story inconsistencies. Which brings me to the next issue.

In the story, Barbie is throwing a party for herself. She could have been throwing a surprise party for her friends, or she could have been holding a fundraiser for impoverished people who can’t afford to eat let alone accessorise for their catered birthday party. Instead, we are treated to pages of exposition detailing her choice of dress, make-up, jewellery, hairstyle, and matching her shoes and handbag. Then to top it all off, we see her matching presents to the friends who gave them, as though she is judging the friendship upon the quality of the gifts received.

I’m concerned that in a world of growing inequality that Barbie’s message is one of vapid selfishness that seeks to teach young girls a nasty and mean lesson. This trust-fund image-obsessed wealth flaunter is not an ideal that young girls should be exposed to. The very least Barbie could have done is host a charity fundraiser, although even that is somewhat problematic. Has she learnt nothing from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s examples?

Maybe I’m judging Barbie too harshly. This was, after all, a short Barbie story. It is quite possible that in further adventures many of my above concerns and questions will be addressed. I only hope that those stories have satisfactory explanations and answers.

* I’m also not convinced that she has actually had all of the jobs she has claimed. There is a sense that she is padding her resume for some unknown reason. I mean, how do you manage to be a paratrooper and the US President in the same year and then throw the towel in to become a Spanish teacher the next year?

** There is a fourth option that I don’t wish to include in the main list as I hope it is untrue. Pretty girls like Barbie can make good money escorting and that would certainly explain her expansive wardrobe; her sugar daddies making sure she is always looking pretty. This is a very poor message to send to young girls. Encouraging such a dual-exploitative career as a means to accrue meaningless objects of vanity normalises everything wrong with the sex-industry whilst marginalising its positive aspects.

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Book review: How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley

How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and ThemHow Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascism: coming to a country near you!

Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works is an overview of the ten distinct strategies employed by fascists in their thirst for power. Stanley’s family escaped Nazi Germany, so this is clearly a topic he has a personal affinity with.

Each chapter covers one of the strategies:
1. The Mythic Past – the time when things were as they should be for the chosen ones.
2. Propaganda – have to sell the abhorrent.
3. Anti-Intellectualism – can’t have those pesky thinkers pointing out you’re wrong.
4. Unreality – replace reason with fear and anger.
5. Hierarchy – democracy and equality have no place in fascism.
6. Victimhood – that out-group are trying to destroy us!
7. Law and Order – utilise framing to make the out-group look unlawful then actualise that.
8. Sexual Anxiety – this is related to the hierarchy and how women and LGBTQI people undermine this.
9. (Soddom and Gomorrah) Appeals to the Heartland – this is related to the mythic past, hierarchy, and lionising the base of support.
10. (Arbeit Macht Frei) Work Shall Make You Free – dismantling of public welfare and unity as part of attacking the out-group and seizing power.

Have (or create) a major social and/or economic upheaval that allows for inequality to have created a disgruntled and disenfranchised group. Take those in the group who believe in hierarchies, combine with a leader/movement (demagogue) who promises to create the hierarchy that puts that group where they feel they should be, create an out-group to demonise, gaslight and utilise revisionism for a mythic ideal past, and make sure no one challenges your power.*

There were two things that disappointed me about this book. The first was that there was a decidedly American-centric feel despite the inclusion of examples from Europe and Africa. Whilst I understand that Stanley is an American Yale Professor with his eye on the rise of fascism in the USA under Trump, he only makes passing mention of this rise occurring elsewhere. Considering the causes of the current rise are global in nature, I’d have liked to have seen a more global view.

The second point is related to the first. Stanley does a terrific job of identifying and explaining fascism but he doesn’t go into much depth. I suddenly found myself at the end of the book when I was expecting a bit more, like the above mentioned global view.

These are minor points, however, and overall this is a very good introduction to understanding fascism. Sadly, it is a topical book.

Also see my review of Antifa, my review of a book on how we got here in Winners Take All, and and my post on BlacKkKlansman.

* Then watch it all fall to pieces because fascism tends to destroy itself, but only after doing massive amounts of damage.

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Word limits: or how to learn to stop writing and love the full stop

 

140-characters
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Every now and then I masochistically log onto Twitter to see what passes for civil discourse amongst the people trying to sell you stuff and those not quite racist enough to be booted to Gab. When I recently logged on, a couple of the authors I follow were updating their fans with their novel progress, or what was currently distracting them from writing.

What interested me about these updates was that several authors were talking about having to trim their draft by 50-65%. That’s right, authors who needed to hand in a 100,000 word manuscript to their publisher were having to trim 100-200,000 words from their novel.

Word limits are a funny thing. I’ve never had a problem being succinct, to the point that my editing usually involves added 15-20%. Yet these successful authors* are having to sit down with their editors to cull half their manuscript. And if we’re being honest, some successful authors** should have culled a lot more and saved their readers all that page skipping.

One of the good things that Twitter trains you to do, aside from teaching you that trolling people is perfectly okay, is how to express yourself succinctly in 140 280 characters. It forces you to practice creating a thought or sentence in a manner that may be foreign. For example, the complex phrase:

I disagree with your supposition as it is currently unsupported by any evidence, either presented by yourself or in the scientific literature, thus there is no reason for me to support your statements. I would also question how rational your supposition is, because despite the lack of evidence, there is no reason to suspect that there is any industry conspiracy trying to deny Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson an Oscar for Best Actor.

Can be replaced with:

Lol, moron!

This says everything that is needed and doesn’t dance around the topic. Conversely, the reply to this can be shortened from:

Whilst you are allowed to disagree with me, my opinion still stands. I cannot provide a summary of the relevant scientific literature at this time, but this is information that is readily understood and referenced in the literature. Thus I will endevour to provide a few examples when I am able to, but in the meantime I’d invite you to read further on the topic, as I suspect that you will agree with me once you have. I will admit, however, that the literature on this topic is currently inaccessible due to paywall restrictions, thus this unsourced blog post will have to suffice until such time as the academic publishing model is reformed.

Can be replaced with:

Well screw you and the horse you road up on.

The trick is to start with what your key points are and not overuse exposition to explain those points. The 140 280 character limit can help with this a lot.

In the meantime, if you aren’t a fan of See Mike Draw, I suggest you become one now.

* Maybe that is why they are successful authors and I’m still in that emerging author category. Perhaps it is time to write double the amount I need.

** Obviously not the authors I follow.

Book review: In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

In Praise of IdlenessIn Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”*

In Praise of Idleness is an essay written in between the two world wars and expands upon one of the points made in his Political Ideals essay. Once again, Russell manages to argue a challenging concept in an erudite and concise manner. Even if you disagree with him on the idea of work being overrated, there is value in engaging with what he is saying.

On inequality:
“Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others.”
Variations of this statement are still being made today around inequality. They tend to use far more words.

On wasted efforts:
“Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessities of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war.** At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations.”
I mean, could you be any more scathing of warmongering?

While I think he does make his argument well, there are some points that are taken as a given. The example of the wasted effort of war in the quote above is one of those. There is a valid point made about how society managed to function despite being asked to drop everything and fight a war, but the point about war being a waste of time and that standards of living were still okay just has to be taken as a given.

Worth a read, even if you disagree with Russell on some or all points.

* Parkinson’s Law, coined in 1955.
** WW1
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Book review: Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the WorldWinners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first rule of MarketWorld is you do not criticise MarketWorld.

Winners Take All is a critique of the modern market-driven and capitalistic thinking that dominates the social and political landscape. Giridharadas focuses upon philanthropy in particular, as the more moralistic and benign problem of MarketWorld that is often used to whitewash the more obviously bad actions of those solely interested in the accumulation of wealth and power to the detriment of others.

This was a very interesting read and particularly insightful.* Throughout the book, Giridharadas is able to show us how MarketWorld created itself and now perpetuates and grows itself. And it doesn’t back away from being critical of people who think of themselves as doing good (and in a sense are) and of the system that allows this to happen.

Two topics in the book particularly resonated with me. The first was the idea of the immoral or amoral approach that is used to making money, which is then used for philanthropy later. This money is often made by exploiting people and the commons ruthlessly, and then is whitewashed of guilt by “giving back”, rather than, you know, not exploiting people/commons in the first place and thus negating the need for giving. I’ve previously come across this idea from a few philosophers and people like Alain de Botton who have discussed this on moral grounds.

The second topic was that of the Thought Leader. I’ve long been troubled by the happy-clappy approach to ideas and intellectual thinking we see in popular culture. Whether it be TED talks or deceptive pop-science authors like Malcolm Gladwell, there is a tendency in this field to be anti-intellectual or present a facile understanding of an issue/topic. So I especially enjoyed seeing the Thought Leader taken down a peg or two and the winning formula exposed.

Thought Leader 3-Step:
1) Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator.
In this way, you can avoid dealing with larger systemic issues and instead make smaller changes that have more direct and emotional appeal. Think, telling women to not dress too sexily so they won’t get raped** instead of addressing the issue of rape and rapists.

2) Personalise the political.
Or to put it another way, don’t be a critic pointing out systemic and collective issues, but instead make it about personal and individual dramas.

3) Be constructively actionable.
This is about having some nice and easy steps that people can do to make a difference. Remember to keep it at a personal level!***

This book wasn’t without fault. I’m not a particular fan of the narrative/literary journalism style employed. You commonly see this style in the pretentious long-form essays and “important” journalistic pieces. What it tends to do is obscure hard facts in the narrative and steer away from addressing points fully. This might make for a more “human” piece of writing that many would call more engaging and interesting, but it weakens just about any point and argument made.

I highly recommend this book.

Thanking our sponsors:

*The reason for the insightfulness is obvious if you are familiar with Giridharadas or read the Acknowledgements section. This is his playground. He is the son of a director of the McKinsey Institute consulting firm (they come in for a lot of flak in the book), worked there himself, he’s a Harvard alum, has given TED Talks (thought leader), and was a Henry Crown fellow of the Aspen Institute.

**And ironically, this is a great example of why this sort of focus just doesn’t work. It is a myth that clothing has anything to do with rape, but addressing rape and rapists would require a systemic change that makes many uncomfortable.

***This is why we see IPCC and other climate change reports making recommendations like installing solar panels, installing led lighting, and buying an electric car, rather than demanding a move away from fossil fuel usage at a society level.

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