Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Fat and Skinny of It

"You can either be fat and jolly or a skinny bitch: pick one." On the first episode of "The Big C," Cathy (played by Laura Linney) dispenses this tidbit of wisdom to her high school student played by Gabourey Sidibe.

At first, this line might seem unnaturally cruel. But, it had me cracking up and got me hooked to the show. What's so funny about it is how true it is, at least in our culture.

Have you ever noticed how many comedians and comediennes are overweight? Or used to be, growing up? Why do you think that is? I attribute this to childhood insecurities. Fact is, when you're not traditionally attractive (or perceive yourself not to be, according to the mainstream), you feel like your personally has to compensate for your looks. As Cathy puts it, "Nobody likes a fat bitch." Ouch. Harsh. But that's how it feels, at least to the fat kid. So, you craft a funny persona. Hide your feels of inadequacy behind a mask of humor. And try to make witty comments whenever you can; that way, people will like you.

Maybe because I was once a chubby kid (I was pretty well traumatized by another kid calling me "thunder thighs")that I divide the women of the world into two categories. I'll admit sometimes I see a particularly skinny young woman and I will say (in my head or aloud to a friend) "Look at that skinny bitch." And when I say skinny bitch, it comes out like this: "skinnybitch." One word. Can't separate the two.

She might be a totally cool chick, but my preconceived notion is that a tall, skinny woman is somehow bitchy. This is obviously a projection of my own insecurity. This distinction also carries a morsel of respect. I have NO willpower. So if you are able to maintain a tiny frame, that earns my respect and somehow entails you to be bitchy.

The pressure to be funny or to be aloof can be suffocating. While it's hard to overcome our body image insecurities, it's possible to change the way people are portrayed in the mainstream. Maybe one day, we'll (our I'll) be able to change these constructs.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gays are Girl's Best Friend

When I first read about Sundance Channel's reality show Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, I was mad that my cable package didn't include Sundance Channel. Long has it been my desire to live out a Will and Grace fantasy. Since I have yet to find my gay, I have to settle for watching other people act out my dream.

So, I know Comcast is an evil monopoly or whatever, but I can't help but love Ondemand. That's where I found free episodes of GWLBWLB, winner of reality show with the most awkward TV title ever.

Now, I've only seen a few episodes of the show, which follows four "couples," but I have to say, it's not as engaging as I thought. I think it's because there are too many characters to follow and every time I get engrossed in one of the cast's story lines, suddenly there's a transition to another person. I guess this is how reality shows create drama. Each shift leaves me hanging.

The eight people who the show revolves around should make for dynamic characters. Unfortunately, because of the off-putting editing, it's hard to maintain interest in each individual. I hope that as this show enters its next season, the editing will improve. The people GWLBWLB trail are interesting on paper.

In one couple, both are writers and the gay best friend is planning his wedding. Another woman and her bff own a vintage clothing store. The black couple are production partners who attend the NAACP Image Awards in one episode.

And finally... the most dysfunctional couple. A young free spirit type and her closeted gay best friend, an immigrant from India. They might be best friends but they seem to inhabit completely different worlds. At this point, I'm watching this show just for Sahil. Poor Sahil. He's gay, but he's never kissed another man. Rosebud, his well-intentioned best friend, keeps pushing him to come out of the closet to his family.

Now, one would think that agreeing to be a part of this show would out him to his family, but since I can't access Sundance Channel, I doubt his family in India would know about the series. What Rosebud doesn't get, which Sahil tries to explain to her, is that in India, being gay is beyond taboo.

As a foreigner and a gay man in America, Sahil feels a double burden. Yet, if he were back at home, no doubt the psychological effects would be far worse. Up until recently, being homosexual was actually illegal in India. Eventually, I would imagine Sahil would have to entertain some conversation with his parents about his sexual orientation. I don't know how old he is, but I'm sure his parents will be expecting him to get married at some point, and perhaps will even attempt to arrange a match for him. I'm going to keep viewing to see how his journey unfolds.

NOTE: I'm pretty sure Sahil is my gay alter ego. -Di

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Read This, Not That

I am so thankful for Winter Break, as it affords me the opportunity to wrap myself up in a blanket, chug a mug of hot chocolate and just read.

If you didn't know, books are like magic to me. Every Sunday when I was a kid, I'd force a parent to drive me over to the library, so I could check out the maximum number of books allowed on my card (which I believe was 40) and wade through a pool of books in the car.

I just finished reading two books of completely different genres and I'm here to urge you to crack one open and to warn you to avoid muddling through the other.

First, the bad. My mother, bless her intentions, brought home several tomes of short stories to inspire me (since I had been developing my own writing with my friend Sha'Donna). One of these books was James Franco's Palo Alto, so named for his hometown. Readers, should some curiosity move you to pick this off the shelf, put it back. Up until now, I have followed his career with admiration. Loved him in Freaks and Geeks, loved him as Spiderman's sidekick and absolutely loved him in Milk. When I heard that he had enrolled in something like four different grad programs, including an MFA in creative writing, and that he had published his work, I was intrigued. I shouldn't have been. His stories are unreadable. The characters are undeveloped and his plots meander. Clearly, his writing ability was a secondary consideration in his book deal. I guess if I was a famous actor, it would be pretty easy for me to get a half-baked book published too.

On the other hand, I recommend all of you try to get your hands on Rebecca Skloot's the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a decade-long investigation into the background of Henrietta Lacks, the women whose cancer cells became the infamous HeLa cells, supposedly one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th Century. HeLa cells have been used in polio vaccines and cancer medications, and have spurred numerous inventions over the years. Tragically, this groundbreaking discovery was ill-gotten, as her doctors collected a sample without her knowledge or consent. It was 1950s Baltimore and doctors in the "colored" wing didn't feel think her family needed to know that her cells were being being shipped around the world, traveling through space and being used for genetic engineering. Today, bio-medical companies make millions of dollars of profit off of her DNA. And her family has not seen a cent of it. In a sad twist of irony, her children, who cannot afford medical insurance, do not have enough money to pay for medications developed from the DNA they share with their mother. Immortal Life opened my eyes to issues of race relations and medical ethics I could never have conceived of. This is not a light read, or a feel-good book, but it is a mind-blower. And yes, there was a part that made me cry. I encourage anyone with an interest in medicine to check it out.

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Open Letter to EA Games

Dear Rock Band distributors,

Could you please, please, please expand the shades of skin color available to Rock Band avatars? While creating a character for your latest version, Rock Band 3, I couldn't help but feel disappointed when I noted the abundance of pale shades in contrast to the ones containing melanin. I had to settle for a burnt sienna shade for my alter ego, but really, it was either that or the color make-up companies often refer to as "sable" that didn't represent what I would consider a Caucasian skin tone.

I expect more from you when you develop Rock Band 4. When I play the game, I don't want to feel like I'm standing at a Clinique counter trying to decide which of their absurdly pigment-lacking foundations match me best.

Rock Band is a ridiculously fun game. It is in fact the only video game I have ever played more than once. It encourages kids to cultivate an interest in music. I just hope you take kids of all different colors into consideration your next go around. You wouldn't want to potentially discourage any future rock stars to be.

Thanks for listening,