Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fair and Lowely

The South Asian obsession with fair skin

Ayesha Patel
January 19, 2008

Not many people in the West have ever heard about skin bleaching, that is, unless they belong to the large South Asian Diaspora. Skin Bleaching is a practice by which individuals use chemicals either orally or topically to lighten the pigmentation of their skin. In South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh skin bleaching is a massive phenomenon, and big business. The fairness industry has exploded in the last five years, and according to statistics from Time Magazine, it has grown by two–thirds to an annual $250 million. An increasing number of women from all levels of society in these countries are buying and using these products.

However, the use of these products does not come without a cost. Many of the bleaching agents such as hydroquinone and mercuric derivatives can cause rosacea, burning sensations and hyper pigmentation. The presence of these chemicals can even become carcinogenic on the skin after long–term use. Despite the knowledge that these products can have major, even deadly, side effects, the increasing rate with which South Asian women continue to use them is alarmingly. It is often baffling for Western observers to understand why South Asians have this strong bias towards fairness, and what drives these women to take such drastic actions to attempt to reach this ideal. Pop culture has undoubtedly had a major influence on skin bleaching in South Asian society. With the advancement of technology, popular culture has become an all–encompassing form of information and representation. It has had an enormous affect on how individuals view themselves and others. At the very core of South Asian, popular culture is Bollywood. Bollywood, or the Hindi Film Industry, is a pervasive and deeply ingrained part of South Asian society that entertains and enigmatically unites people regardless of their economic and social standings, education and religion.

Bollywood celebrities play a vital role in South Asian popular culture and hold near god-like status. They are undoubtedly the most famous and sought after people, possessing a cult like following of literally hundreds of millions of devoted fans. Bollywood actresses are literally venerated in society for their physical appearances and they are portrayed as an ideal standard of beauty. The most noticeable features are quite alarming; the majority of these actresses are unusually fair, many shades lighter than the average South Asian woman. The industry has also started to use biracial (typically, East Indian and European) models to represent South Asian women in Bollywood movies and magazines. Incredibly successful and well received as IndiaĆ¢€™s top two models are Katrina Kaif (who is half English) and Yana Gupta (who is part Czech). Kaif and Gupta look like Europeans with their exceptionally white skin and light colored hair and eyes. The appearance and triumph of these biracial women in South Asian popular culture has augmented the overrepresentation of fair skin and perilously set up impractical standards for South Asian women. Their success represents the elevation of European or ”white“ beauty over East Indian beauty.

According to Sonali Johnson, an expert on color prejudice in India, the dominance of fair women on billboards, in marriage columns and on television demonstrates how deeply entrenched these images are in popular culture and how they have become a standard measure of beauty. Bollywood, and popular culture in general, have always displayed an extremely unrealistic representation of South Asian women through actresses and models. One note of interest is that Bollywood starlets that are considered dark by industry standards, like Rani Mukerji and Kajol, are actually still a few shades lighter than typical South Asian women. This propagates the idea that only women with light skin can be considered beautiful and it places an incredible amount of social pressure on women to take actions to reach this ideal. Many women use bleaching products to become whiter and more like the images of the beautiful celebrity heroines they are continually indoctrinated with. The bleaching cream for the South Asian woman is like the magic diet pill for the North American woman. Like how the unhealthy 100 pound Western model’s physique is incorrectly seen as achievable and has caused young Western women to diet zealously, Johnson confirms that South Asian women believe that extremely fair skin color is attainable. The bleaching cream functions as the vehicle of false hope of offering a magically transformation of the normal South Asian women into the light Bollywood beauty that her society so ardently venerates.

Money talks, and unfortunately in this case, the high profits made from selling bleaching creams has driven the Fairness Industry to use racist advertising that blatantly proliferates racial biases by linking skin color (fairness), with beauty, success, happiness and ultimately self–worth.

Perfect examples of this are the commercials run by India’s largest producer of fairness products, super brand ’Fair and Lovely’. A recent commercial featured a young girl watching cricket games from the field pretending and dreaming of being a cricket announcer. Time passes and she is now shown as a young woman still obsessed with this fantasy. Her mother slips her a tube of Fair and Lovely and she magically becomes many shades lighter, which is demonstrated by images of her face in a literal spectrum from darkest to lightest. With her newfound beauty she has the confidence to submit her demo–tape to a broadcasting agency which is so impressed with her that they sign her as an announcer immediately.

The first half of the commercial, before the use of the fairness cream is shot in black and white and the second half done in glorious color. Her new light skin is associated with beauty, success and fortune. An additional message that could be derived from this specific commercial is the notion that only women who are fair and physically beautiful can have the courage to follow their dreams. Ironically, the Fair and Lovely website heralds this commercial as a step forward in promoting the rights and possibilities for Indian women. The website also states that Fair and Lovely ads ”Showcase stories where the woman challenges the unhealthy societal realities of status quo and discrimination and finds that she is empowered to carve out her own future.“ This statement is extraordinarily absurd as the commercial only intensifies the unhealthy societal realities of skin color biases, and devalues women into objects that are predominantly valued for their physical appearances.

It is also interesting to note that the parent company, which holds 51.55% of the equity of the producers of Fair and Lovely, is Unilever. Unilever has recently been celebrated in the West for Dove’s revolutionary campaign that implores women to love themselves and celebrate their natural beauty. Unilever states: ”As well as making products that help you feel more confident in your own beauty, Dove is actively trying to address the root of the problem of negative self-image.” Unfortunately, Unilever would not allow the same for Indian Women as there is a lot of money to be made selling them racist skin bleaching creams that promote self–hate. Fairness companies and cosmetic companies in general often attempt to portray themselves as supporters of feminist causes and liberators of women. In reality, cosmetic companies usually exploit women’s insecurities through their advertising and marketing campaigns, and then attempt to sell women back their self–esteem through purchase of their products. Ultimately Unilever and Fair and Lovely exist to make as much money as possible in their respective markets.

While nearly all advertisers are guilty of portraying their products as the solution to all problems, the Fairness Industry immorally uses a racist ideology to convey the message that light skin is superior to dark skin. They specifically lure women into using their skin bleaching products by promoting color hierarchies that privilege light skin. The literal color spectrum of faces from darkest to lightest in the Fair and Lovely advertisements highlights this concept. Advertisements for fairness products also encourage women to engage in skin bleaching by equating fairness to beauty, success and social acceptability. Companies that sell fairness products influence skin bleaching by ruthlessly exploiting this social stigma.

The dramatic proliferation of the Fairness Industry and the rise in the practice of skin bleaching can largely be attributed to the over representation, emphasis and veneration of extremely fair actresses and models in South Asian popular culture. Specific forms of media like racist advertisements by Fairness Companies heighten this major social problem and push many women to resort to this practice. Analysis of the growth of this issue highlights the tremendous influence that popular culture has over people in our technological age. It is an all-encompassing phenomenon that controls how people think, act and what they believe in. Pop culture messages and images are so powerful that they can drive people to engage in harmful practices that can create internal racism and destroy the very fabric of society.

Friday, April 25, 2008


University Sociologists Socially Construct New Office Building

Social construction of a new, state of the art office building for staff and faculty of the sociology department has been approved for the spot currently housing East Quad, sources reported earlier today.

The proposal, drafted on department social construction paper, calls for the deconstruction of East Quad, replacing the dormitory with the construction of a post-modern building complete with stratification of resources by floor, a gendered hierarchy, and a Multicultural Room, where multicultural things are bound to happen.

Rumors abound that the new building will also contain five different types of bathrooms to account for all true sexes found in nature.

When asked how they plan to socially construct a building that doesn’t actually exist, Sociology Chair Howard Kimeldorf said, “It's a bit like the movie The Shadow: when we pretend that something is real, it becomes real, because everyone believes it is real and acts like its real. We intend to present our new building as a social fact, a veritable superstructure that no one will be able to deny."

Kimeldorf added, "The new building is also like the movie The Shadow in that no one will go see it because it is a terribly conceived idea and Alec Baldwin blows goats.”

Division of labor on the project is expected to be allocated in the coming days. There is however, a dependency theory
circulating that the department may need to rely heavily on the residents of East Quad to adapt a binary of either living or not living
in their current rooms, with the latter becoming their assumed and dominant social role.

"Basically we need those kids to get the fuck out," said Kimeldorf.

When asked what will happen if social construction fails, Kimeldorf said, “We will have to rely on plan B; taking the essentialist stance that our new building has never been there, never will be there, and there’s no way to change that.”

"It's probably better than the feminist stance, where we all castrate ourselves."

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Why Hollywood sucks

David L. Paletz - The Media in American Politics - Contents and Consequences

pg 5
"...Michael Ryan and Douglas Kellner assert that Hollywood films have historically displayed and therefore legitimated an ideology of 'capitalism (with its values of competition, upward mobility, and the survival of the fittest), patriarchy (with its privileging of men and its positioning of women in a secondary social role), and racism.' They concede that some popular Hollywood movies of the late 1960s and early 1970s registered the social issues and critical perspectives of the civil rights movement, feminism, the sexual revolution, antimilitarism, and environmentalism of the time. Thereafter, however, reflecting the failure of liberalism in the 1970s, 'conservative themes, characters, and styles began to dominate Hollywood film once again.'

Facade of comedy tour

Nothing to laugh at here
Sousan Hammad, The Electronic Intifada, 4 April 2008

The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour ( Four comedians recently came together in Houston, Texas "to promote peace through comedy" under the banner of the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour. However, rather than promoting a just end to the conflict, their material exploits it in a disturbing manner.

"We rely on the conflict; peace would ruin our show," co-founder Ray Hanania said in an interview. When asked by the author if they considered performing for an audience in the West Bank, Hanania joked that he doesn't want to get shot at by Palestinians angry at him for performing with Israelis.

Ray Hanania, a Palestinian-American journalist and Charles Warady, an American Jew who moved to Israel 12 years ago, say the group breaks the taboo of Palestinians refusing to appear and perform with Israelis. However, there are numerous artistic and non-profit organizatins (for example, the Freedom Theatre and the Palestinian Circus School) in the West Bank which have culturally collaborated with Israelis while taking a stance against the occupation, unlike how Hanania's xenophobic image of Palesitnians would lead one to believe.

The other comedians in the group -- Aaron Freeman, a Black, Jewish convert and Yisrael Campbell, an Orthodox Jew who was born a Catholic -- each made their dire and desperate attempt to make people laugh. The show moves through individual acts from the comedians, each one peddling their version of a peace formula.

At the center of Freeman's act is his description of himself as both a Black person and a Jew -- a subject of constant harassment, he said. He was the first to perform on stage, and after a brief sarcastic introduction of stating his goal to end the Palestine-Israel conflict in six years, he went into a musical frenzy, emulating the dramatic singsong approach of The West Bank Story, the Academy Award-winning short film that purports to satirize the conflict but ends up reinforcing stereotypes instead.

Freeman sang the story of a patriotic Palestinian woman who falls in love with an Israeli settler, using an anti-Semitic pun to reference the phonetics of the Arabic and Hebrew languages (dramatically coughing each word in reference to the phonetics of the Arabic and Hebrew languages). Of course the Palestinian is illustrated as precarious and violent, while the Israeli is the rational actor.

In the following act, Warady describes the Arabic script as "backwards" and "tough to read," the basis of his nonsensical explanation as to why Palestinians voted for Hamas. "They must have read 'Hamas' as 'hummus' and 'Fatah' as 'pita,'" he said. Warady then goes on a tangent of how beautiful it is to live in Israel. He insists Israeli women are the world's "hottest" and talks about this to some extent. The audience laughed, apparently not bothered by his bigotry and sexism. Meanwhile the act goes on for a dreadful 20 more minutes as Warady continues to fragment his stories about the "great life" in Israel.

The saddest portion of the night, however, had to go to Hanania, a guest columnist for Israeli publications such as The Jerusalem Post and Ynetnews. Almost every single one of his jokes focused on himself as a Palestinian Muslim, despite being an Orthodox Christian. He joked how as a child, instead of playing with a GI Joe he played with a "GI Abdallah" action figure, while his sister played with a "Fatima" doll instead of a Barbie. He then pointed at different Arab men in the audience, asking them how many wives they had.

Hanania said that after he joined the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour, he had gigs cancelled by five Arab-American organizations because of his performance alongside Israelis. But what Hanania doesn't mention is his problematic perspective on the Palestine-Israel conflict. In December 2007, Hanania wrote an article for The Jerusalem Post titled "Getting past normalization," in which he states Palestinians refuse to accept reality (i.e. normalization of Israeli occupation) and is critical of Palestinians for refusing to work with Israelis even when doing so would undermine their struggle against the occupation.

Ironically, this is a man who says through his comedy he is "defining the moderate Palestinian Arab voice, offering reason to the American, Israeli and Arab public," according to his website. Yet in the same Jerusalem Post article, Hanania calls the Israeli occupation of Palestine, a "self-imposed imprisonment."

Sixty minutes into the night, the concluding performance was finally underway with Campbell appearing on stage in his Orthodox garb. He starts off by making fun of his appearance and then going into a maelstrom narrative of his life, relating anything he said with being a convert to Orthodox Judaism. Campbell, like Warady, also decided to live in Israel and become an Israeli citizen.

The group finished with a performance once again invoking The West Bank Story and reinforced the racist characterization of Palestinians and Israelis through the Orientalist contextualization of the Arab and anti-Semitic illustration of the Jew. Both the short film and the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour claim to promote hope and peace. However, instead of bringing new clarity to this increasingly bloody conflict, they only reinforce the misunderstandings that allow it to rage on.

Political participation

Bucy is one of my current profs

Media participation - A legitimizing mechanism of mass democracy
Erik Bucy and Kimberly S. Gregson

pg 373
"...participation without power is more associated with low socioeconomic status; while power with or without participation is more associated with high socioeconomic status; the rich have numerous ways of influencing politics, the poor very few. Political influence depends not only on civic activity but class standing."

Friday, April 04, 2008

Rapists in the ranks

Sexual assaults are frequent, and frequently ignored, in the armed services.
By Jane Harman
March 31, 2008

The stories are shocking in their simplicity and brutality: A female military recruit is pinned down at knifepoint and raped repeatedly in her own barracks. Her attackers hid their faces but she identified them by their uniforms; they were her fellow soldiers. During a routine gynecological exam, a female soldier is attacked and raped by her military physician. Yet another young soldier, still adapting to life in a war zone, is raped by her commanding officer. Afraid for her standing in her unit, she feels she has nowhere to turn.

These are true stories, and, sadly, not isolated incidents. Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.

The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and the downward spirals many of their lives have since taken.

Numbers reported by the Department of Defense show a sickening pattern. In 2006, 2,947 sexual assaults were reported -- 73% more than in 2004. The DOD's newest report, released this month, indicates that 2,688 reports were made in 2007, but a recent shift from calendar-year reporting to fiscal-year reporting makes comparisons with data from previous years much more difficult.

The Defense Department has made some efforts to manage this epidemic -- most notably in 2005, after the media received anonymous e-mail messages about sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy. The media scrutiny and congressional attention that followed led the DOD to create the Sexual Assault and Response Office. Since its inception, the office has initiated education and training programs, which have improved the reporting of cases of rapes and other sexual assaults. But more must be done to prevent attacks and to increase accountability.

At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through "nonjudicial punishment," which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist. In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time, that was because of "insufficient evidence."

This is in stark contrast to the civilian trend of prosecuting sexual assault. In California, for example, 44% of reported rapes result in arrests, and 64% of those who are arrested are prosecuted, according to the California Department of Justice.

The DOD must close this gap and remove the obstacles to effective investigation and prosecution. Failure to do so produces two harmful consequences: It deters victims from reporting, and it fails to deter offenders. The absence of rigorous prosecution perpetuates a culture tolerant of sexual assault -- an attitude that says "boys will be boys."

I have raised the issue with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Although I believe that he is concerned, thus far, the military's response has been underwhelming -- and the apparent lack of urgency is inexcusable.

Congress is not doing much better. Although these sexual assault statistics are readily available, our oversight has failed to come to grips with the magnitude of the crisis. The abhorrent and graphic nature of the reports may make people uncomfortable, but that is no excuse for inaction. Congressional hearings are urgently needed to highlight the failure of existing policies. Most of our servicewomen and men are patriotic, courageous and hardworking people who embody the best of what it means to be an American. The failure to address military sexual assault runs counter to those ideals and shames us all.

Jane Harman (D-Venice) chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Big media

The New Media Monopoly - Ben H. Bagdikian

pg 27

"By 2003, five men controlled all these media once run by the fifty corporations of twenty years earlier. These five, owners of additional digital corporations, could fit in a generous phone booth."