Posts Tagged ‘class’

The most popular TED talks tend to be uncontroversial and, to use TED’s own terminology, “jaw-dropping.” People want to stare in wonderment or be blown away by the advances we have made in the sciences or hear about a new discovery.

People don’t like to hear about race, poverty, and justice, so Bryan Stevenson’s TEDTalk is a bit outside of TED’s usual purview of Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

But to me, this fits perfectly into the question of design. When we design something, we must think about its purpose; design is more than attractive chairs. Institutional design determines how we administer justice in our society. What are the values we uphold? What does the design of our systems tell us about the answer to that question?

Stevenson’s talk doesn’t quite answer those questions, but it digs at the heart of what we believe to be a justice system and the shrugging apathy we afford it.

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I hate the Real Housewives shows. Hate them. Every time my girlfriend watches them, I am filled with inexplicable rage. I don’t wish the Housewives any harm (I’m a pacifist, of course), but I wish they would just disappear to some nice tropical island resort, without any cameras, so I never have to see or hear from them ever again.

All this led me to wonder, though, what the appeal of the Real Housewives is. The shows are wildly successful, and their spinoffs get viewers, too. Anecdotally, my girlfriend watches these shows all the time. There’s something to the idea of a primal drama — it’s fun to watch people who hate each other. Yet, the blend of diva behavior, extravagant wealth, and self-aware snark has somehow yielded a phenomenon greater than the sum of its parts. Is this where feminism has gone?

Part of the show’s appeal is aspirational: women would like to be the Real Housewives. The Real Housewives are neither Real (unless we mean “The Real World”) nor Housewives (many are unmarried or have variously attached beaus). The Real Housewives don’t appear to have jobs, even though many of them do. The shows rarely focus on their careers — heaven forbid! — and instead focus on their constant intrigues.

The intrigues fuel the other part of the show’s appeal: voyeurism. The Real Housewives mostly drink too much too early in the day, and spend most of their time (onscreen) shopping, eating at fancy restaurants, or having parties. Who wouldn’t want this lifestyle? The shows model consumption — how to consume, where to consume, what to consume. The Real Housewives shows have broken away from a model where women must have their lives dictated by the men that surround them; instead the Real Housewives dictate their lives on their own terms. Certainly, the Real Housewives do not suffer from the “Bechdel Test” problem of women only discussing men; the Housewives only discuss each other (and themselves).

Yet, this self-assuredness manifests itself as outrageous diva behavior. Instead of being mediated through a husband, the Housewives have only one concern — their own egos. Their egomaniacal behavior is merely one manifestation of a general trend. Women routinely undermine each other in the workplace (warning, long law review article in PDF), and the “liberated” woman’s solidarity with other women has splintered. The empowerment movement has not led to liberation from false posturing for men; instead, it has led to yet another posture — one of vindictiveness and neediness — performed for other women. (more…)

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