Category Archives: Arts

From Rihanna to Mandy Moore: Slowing and Stripping Down to get to the Truth

Communication is something that, as a writer, I am constantly thinking about.  Misunderstandings abound even when the various skills that make quality communication possible are present—and it seems like, unfortunately, these skills are not as honed anymore as they used to be.

On top of that, it seems all the more difficult to convey a deeper meaning as a writer because of the competition for eyeballs currently raging on the internet.  Some of the advice that bloggers get in order to get more readers seems to completely defy the very purpose of why I started blogging in the first place.

In this post, uploaded back in September 2008 on this blog, I compared Rihanna’s version of the hit song “Umbrella” with the cover done by Mandy Moore (video to both embedded below).  I still can’t help but think that, although Rihanna’s version is catchier, Mandy Moores’ conveys the meaning much more skillfully.

In light of recent events related to the rapid dissemination of fake news and the related lack of fact checking, it seems all the more important to let go of the fun but distracting, Rihanna-like trappings and focus on the core message.  As a blogger and author, it means resisting the temptation of going down the path of attention-grabbing and stay true to the purpose why I started writing in the first place: to contribute to the betterment of the word, one post at a time.

Mandy Moore’s Umbrella Cover

Rihanna’s Original Version

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

An Artist’s Life And An Artist’s Art: How Coherent Should They Be?

I wasn’t very good with titles back in 2008, and this post is solid proof of the lack of title-writing skills.  The reflection though is still something that I constantly think about: the ever-present dichotomy the work of some artists and their personal lives.  And in this case, think of “artist” in the broad sense of the word.

This reflection is especially weighing on my mind these days as I work my way through a detailed outline for the third volume of Spirit Within Club.  Is the message I am trying to convey in this series undermined by the choices that I am making in my own life?  Thankfully, I don’t seem to have obvious dichotomies, such as an artist portraying women as sex objects who back up organisations working to, say, empower young women.  But of course, there are less obvious dichotomies that litter my life.  Sometimes I ask myself: how, then, do I dare write a book for impressionable young children on a topic as important as leading a life of service?

This was one of the major questions that delayed the writing of the second volume of the series—that is, until I had a conversation with a very wise individual who pointed out that approaching the plotline itself as a learning process and not proposing formulaic solutions, but rather, focusing on the process of consulting about an issue, studying various documents on the matter, acting on any decision that is taken, and then reflecting on how well this action effected a change on the issue.

Because, in a way, if we expect the arts to be perfect, then their creator should be perfect as well—and that is an impossibility.  Yet again, it implies that our consumption of media needs to be an open yet aware one, in which we question things that are presented to us.

In light of that, I will definitely be revising the wording used in the series to ensure that I am not presenting anything as THE solution to a problem, but rather to emphasize the process that the characters are going through.  I’m sure that, in the future, I will learn more about writing fiction in a way that triggers reflections rather than imposes formulas.  Until then, I take solace in the fact that parents will hopefully reading right along with their children, and will point out to them (and maybe even email me?  Please?) the dichotomies and contradictions I have unwillingly introduced between my life and my art.

{ Sahar’s Blog is all about being in a constant state of learning.  So it only made sense for me to go back to all my previous posts and see how my thoughts on certain topics have changed over the last nine years.  In this new, ongoing series of posts, I’ll be rereading some of my older posts and reflecting on the same topic in light of what I’ve learned since then.  It’s going to be very interesting to see how things have changed! }

Putting Justice Back at the Centre of the Legal System: the Case of Kesha and Dr. Luke

On Friday 19 February 2016, a judge in New York ruled that Kesha could not cancel her six album contract with Sony. From what I understand, Kesha wants to break all ties with Sony, where she would continue to have some form of contact with Dr. Luke, the producer she said drugged her, raped her, and emotionally abused her to keep her pliable. This is why she hasn’t accepted Sony’s option to work with another producer—she wants out of an environment in which she doesn’t feel safe.

Lena Dunham explained this situation with a very relatable metaphor: “Imagine someone really hurt you, physically and emotionally. Scared you and abused you, threatened your family. The judge says that you don’t have to see them again, BUT they still own your house. So they can decide when to turn the heat on and off, whether they’ll pay the telephone bill or fix the roof when it leaks. After everything you’ve been through, do you feel safe living in that house? Do you trust them to protect you?”

There are a lot of posts online related to this case about its legal ramifications, about the implications for future contract negotiations, about how to deal with false accusations, etc. But I have yet to find an article about the most important aspect of this entire situation: justice. So here is my attempt to put that vital concept back at the heart of the conversation.

Justice at a Personal Level

What is the truth of what happened between Kesha and Dr. Luke? How can we determine said truth, when there is no proof other than words? There might be no way of being able to do so, which means we might be stuck in a she-said, he-said situation, a seemingly unsolvable dilemma.

But what if we took a step back?

Contextual Justice In This Situation

Taking a step back reminds us that nothing happens in a vacuum. Whatever happens between two people happens within a larger context. The context within which this situation between Kesha and Dr. Luke is happening includes the following:

  1. The legal system requires physical proof that a crime was committed, and there is a lack of physical proof that Kesha was drugged, raped, and emotionally abused.
  2. There have been cases of women falsely accusing men of rape, in which case the falsely accused man’s life was ruined.
  3. The media loves a good drama between two individuals, such as accusation of abuse in the entertainment business (hello, Chris Brown and Rihanna.)
  4. It is the responsibility of the community and of the institutions governing it to protect vulnerable individuals.

How are These Concerns being Currently Addressed?

So maybe we can never find out what really happened between Kesha and Dr. Luke. But taking a step back to embrace the context of the situation helps us see that there are other things that can be done in the name of justice and how, by the same token, there are things we are currently doing that are unjust.

  1. There might not be any physical proof anymore, but has there been any form of investigation? I have not yet seen any sign of an investigation into the allegations. So Kesha’s statement seems to remain ignored for lack of physical proof.
  2. It seems that we are leaning towards protecting Dr. Luke in case Kesha is lying. The way media reports are formulated seem to imply that Kesha is questionable while Dr. Luke is not.
  3. There isn’t much about the case being covered in the media other than the focus on the contract between Sony and Kesha where, again, Kesha is being painted as acting solely for personal financial gain.
  4. Contractually, Kesha has to work relatively near Dr. Luke. So we are letting a potentially vulnerable person remain close to the potentially aggressive person.

What Does the Way we are Currently Addressing these Concerns Say/Imply About Us?

This is not looking good, guys. Even if we don’t know what happened, there are things in the list below that I find difficult to accept that we are, as a society, letting happen.

  1. An allegation of rape is only valid if there is physical proof. There is no physical proof, and so either there is no investigation, or no one is paying attention to whatever investigation might be going on.
  2. We are OK with Kesha being in danger even if it turns out that she is telling the truth, because we don’t want Dr. Luke to be falsely accused. This is reinforced by the fact that we seem OK with protecting Dr. Luke even if it means that Kesha might be falsely accused of lying (i.e. she is telling the truth).
  3. Other than the fight over the contract, nothing much about this case is deemed worthy to be covered by the media.
  4. We are willing to put a vulnerable person at risk.

What Are We Ignoring?

The list above seems to have been made ignoring a slew of information such as:

  1. How often is there physical proof in cases of rape? And how often, even with physical proof, is a woman’s accusation ignored?
  2. As visualised in a very informative infographic posted by Demi Lovato (featured at the end of this post), not many rape allegations end up being false.
  3. Our focus is about financial justice only, at the cost of human justice.
  4. What if Kesha is telling the truth? What if Dr. Luke is lying?

The Big Question of the Moment

It seems to me that we are focused on a very small portion of the issue, and, because of various biases (women lie about being raped; money is the most important thing) we end up, as a species, doing something that no other species on this planet does.

You see, animals usually protect their young ones for the sake of the perpetuation of their species. Kesha is young and has contributed a lot to pop culture already; she is now contributing to the all-important conversation about gender. And yet, we are not moving in to protect her.

I’m not implying that I’m 100% certain she is telling the truth. I am in no position to comment on that. But fact is that there is at least a 50% chance that she is a potential victim. And yet, what is written about this situation and the actions that have been taken seem to imply that she is 99% guilty.

This begs the question: why we are not protecting a potential victim? Do we have to be 100% sure that she has been raped to protect her?

Justice implies that we have to assume someone is innocent until proven guilty. We are so concerned that Dr. Luke will be falsely accused that we have created a non-existent dichotomy: protecting Kesha means accepting that Dr. Luke is guilty. And yet, we are OK with not protecting Kesha, which means that we are accepting that she is guilty of lying.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty when it comes to Kesha’s potential lie, then?

And… What if she’s telling the truth?

If a child claims to be in danger, protective services immediately react, despite the fact that a child is not considered mature enough to make life decisions and that there have been a number of false claims. But just in case this child, a vulnerable member of society, is in actual danger, we immediately react.

If Kesha is telling the truth… If she was drugged and raped and emotionally abused for ten years… If she developed an eating disorder because of this situation… If this situation caused her to get to such a bad place she needed rehab… Knowing that women are objectified constantly all around us… Knowing the rate of rape in general and in the entertainment business… Knowing that the number of false accusations is minute compared to the number of true accusations that are dismissed…

Can we afford, as a society, to dismiss out of hand what Kesha is claiming happened?

That we are focusing on preserving the sanctity of a contract “typical of the industry” over the break of the sanctity of a trusting relationship between a producer and an artist, rather than rethinking of what is “typical of the industry” … What does this say about us?

What does it say when no one is trying to determine the truth, or that, at the very least, we do not seem concerned with it?

What does it say that we are not willing to accept that there is a 50% chance that Kesha is being truthful and come up with a way for her to continue working?

It says that we have a big, big, BIG mess to clean up.

And let’s say it turns out Kesha is lying. I would be so proud of my human family if it had taken the approach to protect her even more because someone who lies about this has vulnerabilities as well.

We do not need to protect Kesha at Dr. Luke’s expense, but we do not need to protect Dr. Luke at Kesha’s expense.

They are both innocent until proven guilty in both cases.  Dr. Luke is innocent of raping Kesha until proven guilty; Kesha is innocent of lying until proven guilty. We have to break away from a two dimensional view of a complex situation and figure out another way of approaching it.

Let’s say it comes out that Kesha lied…

But what if she didn’t?

There are a lot more good men that bad ones, so man bashing won’t help and needs to stop.

There are more women telling the truth than lying about being raped, so woman bashing isn’t helping either and needs to stop.

We have to stop being children obsessed with pointing fingers and issuing one dimensional sentences; we need to become adults capable of complex thinking and reasoning.


Sahar's Blog 2016 03 15 Putting Justice Back at the Centre of the Legal System the Case of Kesha and Dr. LukeAs posted on Demi Lovato’s Instagram account: “As most people know, I tend to get fired up about the things I believe in, and although my heart and intentions are always in the right place, unfortunately sometimes my passion gets the best of me and causes me to say things that I probably shouldn’t say. And when doing so it takes away from the real reason I am speaking up in the first place. Our focus should be on the topic of victims of sexual and physical abuse being afraid to come forward with their stories. They’re more likely to face retaliation and harassment than to see justice being served. Especially women. It baffles me that when it comes to serious issues like equality and abuse, too often women are not taken as seriously as men. All I want to see is women coming together and actually making a difference. A real change and shift in society. Everyone has their own way of giving support to others , and at the end of the day, helping victims is all that matters. Ultimately, the message I want people to hear is it’s okay to come forward with your abuse and if you do decide to take action, you are not alone.”

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 15 March 2016

Art as Service: The Importance of Leading a Coherent Life

A couple of my artist friends and I, concerned with the well-being of our communities, have been trying to figure out how to balance out a desire to create the kind of art that contributes to building a better world while at the same time making it a financially sustainable career path. In other words, how not to be a sell-out while at the same time making a decent, modest living.

The tendency nowadays seems to be to create art mired in dichotomies. The song “Sweet Sixteen” by Destiny’s Child popped up on a friend’s playlist recently. It discusses the issue of teenage pregnancy, telling sixteen-year-old girls that they should “slow down” because “there’s so much ahead” of them. I completely agree with this message, but the song always rubbed me the wrong way. Because of the 17 tracks on the album it is featured on, The Writing’s On The Wall, eight are promoting sexual behavior of some kind, either through suggestive lyrics (“Confessions”; “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”; “She Can’t Love You”; “Stay”) or through video clips featuring provocative outfits and dance moves (“Bills, Bills, Bills”; “Bug A Boo”; “Get On The Bus”; “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”; “Say My Name”). No wonder, then, that “Sweet Sixteen” bothers me so much. It’s a demonstration of lack of coherence, kind of like a Public Service Announcement about conserving energy recorded by someone who drives a Hummer.

Coherence lends authenticity that makes an artistic creation resonate with so many for long periods of time. One thing my friends and I have come to realise is that our art has to be coherent with the message we are sharing and the life we are leading; if not the message we want to share with the best of intentions will be forever tainted, like a glass of pure water would be with but one drop of poison. In short, would you be able to take a post of mine on the importance of chastity seriously if I wrote an erotic novel?

It’s a lot more difficult to stay on the straight path than the beginning of this post makes it seem. There are so many temptations that shirk the line just a little bit, little enough that it might it wouldn’t hurt to shirk. I know for example that when it comes to writing, my posts on more serious matters such as this one do not attract nearly as much as those on fashion and beauty, nor as those on flying through a tornado. This means that I don’t get as much traffic because of the choice that I made. Which means less possibilities for me to monetize my blog.

And it’s not like I have to completely go to the dark side for the sake of monetization. When it comes to writing for example, it is very tempting to dip into that which will attract readers, even if it doesn’t convey the purpose that first inspired me to put pen to paper. Fashion doesn’t go against my personal values; neither does beauty. So writing about fashion as a form of beauty isn’t at all something that goes against my personal values.

But what door do I open if I start writing about fashion and beauty? There are a lot of readers who would much rather read about fashion and beauty; will I be able to resist the temptation of consistently getting hundreds of hits a post a day if the feedback that I get is “fashion and beauty trumps all”? There are also a lot of opportunities for fashion and beauty bloggers; what is to say that I won’t slowly slip into the fold and wake up one day in 10 years only to realise that my blog has completely morphed from its original purpose?

This might seem like a drastic approach, but I think the forces of society are very strong; we only have to look into research in the effects of violence in the media on our behavior and of the effects of viewing beauty photoshoots on our self-image. It’s all the more important to be careful of these forces as there are so many we don’t understand. Strict avoidance is neither needed nor wise; but careful examination of every step seems to be vital in ensuring that art remains coherent with the rest of an artist’s beliefs. And it is even more vital for consumers of art to support such artists.

Image courtesy of Death to Stock.