Monday, November 28, 2011

Say It Ain't So, J.Lo

Jennifer Lopez in "My World" for the Fiat 500.
The website The Smoking Gun seemed surprised to learn that Jennifor Lopez did not actually visit the Bronx to film her "My World" commercial for the Fiat 500.  The site reported that a body double drove the little Italian car through the Bronx, while J.Lo's closeups were filmed in the car in Los Angeles.

Bloggers also seemed surprised and insulted that Jenny didn't go back to the Block for filming the commercial, during which she praises her old neighborhood for inspiring her music.

The surprise surprises me.

Just another night on the town.
No one seems outraged at the latest Fiat commercial, "Elegance," which features Lopez in a sexy evening gown driving through "Manhattan" in the black Gucci special edition of the Fiat 500.  No one calls "foul!" on the idea that she drives herself to an event and parks at the curb.  No one is outraged that she is not shown being swarmed by TMZ vultures.

I put "Manhattan" in quotes because the commercial could be a mashup of downtowns from New York City and Los Angeles.  For instance, the top of the Chrysler Building is featured in one shot to clearly communicate New York City.  But I think a shot of Lopez closing the sun roof includes the top of the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles in the background.  (Non-Angelenos would know this as one of the iconic buildings zapped by the aliens in Independence Day.)

Lopez arriving at AMA rehearsals.  Fiat in the trunk?
No one seems upset that Lopez almost certainly does not drive a Fiat 500 anywhere other than a film set.  I have not learned how much Fiat paid her to endorse their venture into the American car market, but American Idol is paying her about $12 million to be a music judge.  Do you think she drives an Italian mini priced at around $22,000?

Lopez appeared in the broadcast of the American Music Awards -- along with a Fiat 500 on the stage with her, but her actual ride to the rehearsals was a Bentley, which probably cost $200,000 or more.

So why the surprise that elements of her Bronx homage are an illusion?  Television commercials are at least 50 percent illusion.  Do we truly think bears use toilet paper?  Do we truly think those corporations who sell their products through patriotic appeals are patriotic?  Do we believe the milk being poured on cereals in TV commercials is actually milk?  It isn't.

And speaking of milk, a "Got Milk?" commercial from early 2011 features Susan Sarandon in her "home" talking about the nutritional value of milk as she puts away toys.  How humble!  How warm!  How motherly!  But her youngest son is now about 20 years old.  I doubt his school backpack is in the den floor.  I doubt he left his skateboard out for his mother to put away.  I doubt he plays with a youth-sized basketball (in the basket where Sarandon puts the skateboard).  In other words, I really doubt Sarandon's home is featured in the commercial.  The commercial is a cinematic ploy to create pleasant associations between viewers and the product.  And no one complained then about that commercial's pleasing deceptions.  So why would people complain about Lopez's?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

School Daze

Class is in session.
I work on a university campus as a professor in the English Department and in the American Indian Studies Program.  On our campus, we like to assume that we all serve the same goals: the advancement of knowledge and the education of students.  We like to think you serve those goals whether you are an instructor, an administrator, an accountant, a receptionist, a librarian, a groundskeeper, or a janitor.

Even if you are a campus police officer.

So it was with particular disgust that I saw this image over the weekend, a picture of University of California Davis Police Lt. John Pike calmly dousing UC Davis students with pepper spray at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration on that campus.

I do not expect university police officers to be giving lectures or handing out pop-quizzes, but they play an important role in making a campus a safe place to learn.  And I can see a situation in which a campus police officer would need to use pepper spray against a student -- if that student threatened the safety of other people on campus.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza cited safety as a concern in defending the use of pepper spray against students: "There was no way out of that circle.  They were cutting the officers off from their support.  It's a very volatile situation."

But in this picture Lt. Pike looks as threatened as the Orkin man does spraying for ants.

On my campus there has been some OWS activity, all of it peaceful.  And we frequently have a variety of demonstrations and protests by students about various causes, such as never-ending fee hikes.  My university generally works to accommodate these events, and many of them are organized or assisted by professors.  That is, the teachers see these activities as an extension of the classroom.

It seems that Lt. Pike does not see himself as an extension of a classroom.

That is not to say there were not lessons being taught that day at UC Davis.

As its name indicates, civil disobedience needs to break some rules, otherwise it is simply a demonstration.  Students need to understand when and how to disobey the rules, and which rules are worth disobeying.  Students need to learn that disobedience frequently has consequences.  Students need to be prepared for those consequences, such as being handcuffed and arrested.

They need to understand that such consequences frequently are the goal of the disobedience -- the protester challenges the authorities to make arrests.  Their actions state, "I am willing to be arrested for my cause.  Are you willing to be seen publicly arresting me for your cause?"

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi seems to have forgotten her school's educational mission when she authorized the police to use such force (whether she authorized it directly or indirectly, she still bears ultimate responsibility -- and the university's faculty association has called for her resignation).  The school could have taught students about the consequences of their civil disobedience with respect and dignity.

Instead, Katehi and Lt. Pike taught the students about the dynamics of asymmetrical power.

The calm demeanor with which Lt. Pike sprays the students says a great deal about the power he felt.  His body language suggests he feels free of any consequences for his actions, that he fears no retaliation, that those whom he sprays are powerless to resist.

He taught the students about the inhumanity of their confrontation.  He did not respect them, their voices nor their bodies.  He did not teach them that groups of people and institutions can oppose one another but still conduct that conflict with compassion and dignity.

Instead, he taught them about the arrogance of power.

There could have been negotiations -- and simply telling people they must leave is not negotiating.  If that failed, there could have been arrests.  Peaceful arrests.  Perhaps Lt. Pike and others felt spraying down the students would have sped up that process, but if the students had been arrested peacefully, this whole event would be over and not in the news. 

How expedient does the pepper spray feel now, Chancellor Katehi and Lt. Pike?

Would you like some pepper with that payback, Lt. Pike?
But now there is another lesson to be taught, and this time Katehi and Pike will be the students.  The students apparently disobeyed university regulations with their demonstrations, but Katehi and Pike disobeyed the campus community's expectations of mutual respect and common decency.  And now it is time for that community to flex its power.

Lt. Pike works on that campus, among the instructors and staff who are very serious about their roles in the school's educational mission.  He now faces their disapproval.  Until he publicly and sincerely apologizes, he needs to become a campus pariah.

He potentially will see those students he sprayed on campus -- going to class, in the library, at the coffee shop, by the bike racks, etc.  He definitely will see other students.  There should be no place to hide from their public disapproval.

I have friends who think Pike should be arrested for assault.  I don't think that is going to happen.  I am sure there will be lawsuits against him.  But I would like to see the campus community flex its power and force Pike to make amends or resign.

That would be a powerful lesson.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Wizards of Wall Street

Mordor Financial District
In their dark towers
they waved their hands
over books and keyboards,
transforming the essence of things
into numbers and values
and then into commodities,
bought and sold,
bought and sold.
Through secret rivers
on maps only they saw
flowed the work of others
to their dark pools
"One CDO to rule them all."

that fed this private alchemy.
The empty ranch house in Atlanta
became the week in St. Barts.
The auctioned condo in Las Vegas:
a shiny black Audi.
The boarded-up duplex in Chicago:
botox and implants.

But the land is drained
and secret rivers are dry.

What now for the dark towers?


This is my contribution to the poetry blog project "99 Poems for the 99 Percent" by my friend and award-winning poet Dean Rader.  According to Dean's site: "Since Walt Whitman, American poetry has been about democracy. It's been about reaching people on issues they care about in a voice they recognize."