Category Archives: American culture

War is Virtual Hell

I’ve seen Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. Very disturbing in so many ways that I won’t go into – whether you agree with Moore or you don’t, this film is not likely to change your mind. But one thing in particular, peripheral to Moore’s arguments, jumped out at me. The film shows an American TV ad recruiting Read More…

I’ve seen Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. Very disturbing in so many ways that I won’t go into – whether you agree with Moore or you don’t, this film is not likely to change your mind. But one thing in particular, peripheral to Moore’s arguments, jumped out at me.

The film shows an American TV ad recruiting people for the national guard. The ad uses computer-generated characters, both men and women, looking very heroic and Lara Croft-ish as they morph between uniforms and street clothes, handling high-tech equipment, flying planes, etc.. Elsewhere in the film, Moore interviews tank soldiers in Iraq, who describe with gusto how their tanks have music systems which allow them to pipe music right into their helmets. “We put this disc on” (showing a black CD with white print, couldn’t quite see the name), “it really gets the adrenaline pumping.”

These two scenes seem to show that the US military is training its people to treat war as a video game – complete with soundtrack! You can roll along a Baghdad street, guns blazing, and not even realize that those are real people you’re killing.

But real people do die, on both sides, and several of the soldiers Moore interviewed commented on how grim and grisly the reality was. Had no one told them, in all their training to kill, what dead bodies look like?

Freakin’ at The Freakers’ Ball

San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair A few years ago, a friend took me to San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair, “the world’s largest leather event.” No, they’re not selling purses. The Fair is the culmination of Leather Week, “a seven-day celebration of all things leather and kink! Each year, the week before Folsom Street Fair is filled Read More…

San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair

A few years ago, a friend took me to San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair, “the world’s largest leather event.” No, they’re not selling purses. The Fair is the culmination of Leather Week, “a seven-day celebration of all things leather and kink! Each year, the week before Folsom Street Fair is filled with motorcycle rides, the Leather Walk, special events, sex parties and other fun activities.” (quote)

I knew what I was getting into, and I’m not easily shocked by anything consenting adults want to do or have done to them. Some other tourists, however, may have been misled by the mayor’s welcome letter, in a brochure handed out all over town, describing this as a “family event.” Uh, Addams Family event, maybe. I did see a few families of mild-mannered middle-American tourists, looking very lost and confused at the Fair.

For me, it was weird, wild, and fun. As you can see in photos at the above-linked sites, it’s a sort of S&M carnival and parade, with people wandering around in various states of undress, and the bits that are covered are generally covered with leather. As a straight woman, I can enjoy crowds of gay men – more often than not, they’ve got bodies well worth leering at, and I don’t have to worry about them leering back (not at me, anyway).

In the context, I could understand the profusion of leather chaps (like cowboys wear, except that real cowboys wear trousers under them), chains, etc. Given the “hellfire” theme of many of the S&M clubs represented, I could also understand the demon costumes: huge leather bat wings, horns, and tails. Some people wore elaborate leather masks like gargoyle heads, others more standard S&M face-covering masks with zippers and chains, and studded leather collars and leashes.

One costume left me completely puzzled. This person’s head was skillfully made up, wig and all, to look like one of the dancers from “Cats.” But his or her (I couldn’t tell) blubbery, barrel-shaped body was covered from neck to toe in a bright purple rubber jumpsuit. Sado-masocats?

There were participatory events, but I declined to be spanked, especially in public. I simply enjoyed watching the sea of leather-clad humanity flow by. Part of the amusement for me was running into people I knew who did not at all expect to seeme there. Nor I them. One colleague caught me completely by surprise. “Not wearing your usual buttoned-down look today,” was all I could think of to say.

*article title from a song by Shel Silverstein:

Italian vs. American Diet

^ ravioli at Lanterna Verde – yum! One of the most boring things in the world is listening to people talk about their diet (hearing them complain about their weight runs a close second). However, in America today there’s nothing to discuss, because everyone is on the Atkins diet (no carbohydrates, but you can eat Read More…

^ ravioli at Lanterna Verde – yum!

One of the most boring things in the world is listening to people talk about their diet (hearing them complain about their weight runs a close second). However, in America today there’s nothing to discuss, because everyone is on the Atkins diet (no carbohydrates, but you can eat as much of anything else as you want).

Food companies and advertisers have been swift to adapt. In the supermarket I saw “low-carbohydrate bread.” I did not read the label to learn how they accomplished this miracle; I had a feeling it would involve chemicals I’d never want to put into my body.

Magazine articles, books, and news items give alarming statistics about obesity, and offer ways to combat it, both in yourself and your children. It seems to me that maintaining a healthy weight is not rocket science, and doesn’t require a diet plan that you have to buy a whole book about, let alone pre-packaged diet meals with counted calories etc. etc. Didn’t we all learn the basics of nutrition in school, the four major food groups and all that? The major lesson I remember is that it never hurts to eat more fruit and vegetables, especially when those replace starches, fats, and sugars in your daily intake.

Perhaps what Americans really need is to revise their attitude towards food. Food seems to occupy two diametrically-opposed places in American consciousness. On the one hand, food is simply fuel – you shovel in whatever comes to hand, to keep you going. It’s this attitude that leads to families rarely eating together, as everyone is rushing off to their extra-curricular activities, grabbing whatever they can to eat along the way.

But food also has a psychological role. Cookbooks, menus, and people tout the concept of “comfort food,” which, when eaten, is supposed to make you feel secure or loved, perhaps by reminding you of your childhood. (Never mind that most of us never had this mythical comforting childhood or that kind of food with it.)

Comfort is a very dangerous role for food to play. You hear the same story over and over again: “I wasn’t overweight, but then I went through a rough patch and felt depressed. I turned to food for comfort, and became a blimp.” At the blimp stage, food is re-cast as the enemy, the secret sin, and the indulgent reward for good behavior (most often, diet-related good behavior: “I was good today, I only had salad for lunch, so I’m entitled to have a brownie now”).

The attitude towards food is one area where Italy really gets it right. This attitude is made explicit by the Slow Food movement, but I think is pervasive throughout Italian culture. In Italy, a meal is neither mere refueling nor comforting self-indulgence. It’s a time for a family to be together, to enjoy good food and each others’ company. It’s not something to be rushed through, neither in preparation nor in consumption. So dinner is eaten far later than in the US, usually around 8 pm. Meals are spread over at least two courses, which also slows you down. You have time to appreciate the food and wine, and to talk to each other. And there’s no rushing through the meal to watch TV afterwards. (I have never heard an Italian, not even a child, leave the table on that pretext.)

The Italian style of family meal has several beneficial side effects. On the nutritional side, everyone tends to eat a more balanced diet, in part because parents are at the table with their kids to ensure that they eat what’s good for them. Taking your time over a meal also ensures that you digest it better. And spending time together is good for families: you know what’s going on with each other.

Needless to say, the Atkins diet is not taking off in Italy, the home of pasta, risotto, polenta, and tasty, crusty bread. Thank god.