cultural criticism

On Inevitability

After turning 30, the universe revealed certain truths to me. One of which is: you ain't gettin any younger, homegirl.

The other day I could no longer fake that I didn't need eye cream (after a brief moment of wait, are those, and wait, aagh?!?) and also could no longer fake that I didn't have an overwhelming urge for...comfortable shoes.

This was an aberration for me, as after a lifetime of ballet, running, hiking, rollerblading and general prediliction for high heels, the thought of not having blood blisters, clinched toes, water blisters, and seemingly permanent discomfort seemed impossible. But then I realized that...it was possible. Because it was my choice. Knowing that if I didn't start taking care of my feet (and by extension, my knees, hamstrings, and lower lumbar) physical discomfort would inevitably become a series of physical problems.

As I biked around today in comfortable sandals, it was nice to know that in taking care of my feet, I'm taking care of  my journey. And that's a good step forward.

Bill and Aloe

In honor of Memorial Day, this week's cultural analogy stays within the borders of the USA. 
Contemporary soul singer Aloe Blacc is to __________ (legendary soul singer Bill Withers).
The two men have similar stories - living and recording in LA, the City of Angels - and beyond that, their sounds are strikingly similar. 
Listen below - isn't Aloe Blacc the new Bill Withers?

Here's Aloe Blacc's song I Need A Dollar: 
  [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFZP8zQ5kzk]

 And here's Bill Withers's song Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPK9kr4_imM]

Linda and Gal

Who says the US and Brazil don't have much in common? Besides common histories and geographies, some of our cultural icons look alike.

In the case of 70's music stars Linda Ronstadt and Gal Costa, they look startlingly alike.
Here is a young Linda Ronstadt: 

And her music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58id5JIzFao]

And here is young Gal Costa: 


And her music:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries?index=42&list=PL1DD83DFEAFCE5ECB&hl=en_US]

Gal has the same soft combed out hair and easy-living breeze that made Linda a star. In their times, these mestiza ladies defined music in their countries and throughout the whole hemisphere. The only difference? (According to Gal Costa), when you sing in Brazil, you don't have to wear a bra.

Friends With Kids. And Problems.

Everybody has friends with kids. Everybody knows that having kids is complicated. But not everybody is brave enough to make a movie about it.

Writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt is. In her film Friends with Kids, she explores the increasingly common predicament of the late-thirties, unmarried, and aspirational woman who wants to have a child, but doesn't have a partner. (Hence the big Atlantic article All the Single Ladies.) Given that millenials are the most unmarried generation in all of American history, someone needs to address the scary but important topic of how people are going to about the business of family-making, unpartnered.

Friends with Kids does, but with a tense, scared approach. Although it is witty and engaging, Friends with Kids is unsettling. The plot preface is that the utter dysfunction of four out of the six main character's is due to "their kids," but it isn't due to their kids at all - it's due to who they are. They're spoiled and emotionally underdeveloped, and while the protagonist is high-minded, her constant anxiety affects her speech and even her facial expressions, making you feel sorry for her instead of rooting for her tough decision to raise a child by herself.

This unfortunately makes what was potentially a bold movie about alternative choices a story paralyzed by the terrors of yuppie-dom. The degree of neurosis at the heart of Friends with Kids makes Woody Allen look like Cary Grant, and Sarah Jessica Parker look like...Marilyn Monroe? There are, and will be, plenty of new American families with plenty of new, modern problems. ABC has an Emmy-winning show about just that subject. But on that show, and in real life, friends with kids don't look this uncomfortable - in fact, they look pretty happy, in spite of their problems.

Living on the Day of the Dead

In this week's fantastic Alt Latino show on NPR, the first song they play is La Bruja/The Witch, in which the signer cries, "Oh, how beautiful it is to fly/At two in the morning/ At two in the morning, how beautiful it is to fly, ay, mama".

He's flying with a witch.

A hot witch.

The beautiful thing about Day of the Dead is its sex appeal - the Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day, is about celebrating the duality of life. It's about creation, and also about destruction. It embraces the two sides of existence, and in it, the poetry of existence itself. The Day of the Dead is about staring life down to the end of the road, and smiling.

The holiday is a glorious whirl of marigolds and miel; but this year, with as much death as there is in the Americas, and particularly in Mexico and Central America (where it is celebrated the strongest), it has a different tone. The drug wars in Mexico have turned it into a pais de lloronas, in the literal sense.

It might be easy to let death have the final word; to just give in, and fly with it. Let it slowly lessen the value of life, and overshadow its glow.

That's the lazy option, and it's the wrong one.

The harder one is to get on with the business of living. We know we respect the dead, and that the dead respect us. But let's also have a little more respect for the living, - and live it like we mean it.

Let's make policies and communities that are life-affirming. Start by signing this Washington Office on Latin America petition to stop the arms smuggling that's driving so much death in Mexico by clicking here. Solo faltan 300 - they only need 300 more.

As the famous Los Fabulosos Cadillacs song Skeletons and Devils/Calaveras y Diablitos, reminds us:

Las tumbas son para los muertos...
Graves are for the dead
La vida es para gozarla
Life is about living well
La vida es para vivirla mejor.
Life is about living it better and better all the time.

Romeo + Juliet, Revisited

It's been almost fifteen years since director Baz Luhrmann re-made Romeo and Juliet. I loved it at the time, but didn't realize how prescient it was. Although it was made in the nineties, and was supposed to be about Europe, I realize it looks a lot like the Americas in 2010.
The re-make takes place in a vaguely Latin-ate place of neon crucifixes and low-riders. The technical scene is Italy, but barons get around in private helicopters as they do in Sao Paolo, and shirtless, aimless twenty-somethings hang out on the beach as they do in Miami or Los Angeles. Gangsters sport the Virgen de Guadalupe on their vests, and walk around in silver-spurred boots.
The Romeo + Juliet world looks like Shakespeare's, but with a charged,  electro-twist:

The word "Catholic" means universal. This scenario is now universal throughout our hemisphere: feuding families monopolizing cities, from New Jersey to Nuevo Leon. Maybe in Shakespeare's time feuding families traded other goods, but in the post-Bush, pre-Santos Americas, the Capulet - Montague feud just looks like two warring drug cartels.

If the Church was what "universalized" our hemisphere 500 years ago, are drugs our new church? Is cocaine the new communion?