Category Archives: Media

Rape Culture: Consent in Movies

I have mentioned before how insidious the negative forces of society can be, and how something that seemed forever innocuous can actually be quite dangerous.

I realised today that there is something we as a society seem to accept wholly and fully that could just be a big part of the rape culture problem.

Picture a big, dramatic love scene between a romantic heroine and the man of the hour.  How does the first kiss usually go?  Most of the time, there is something “spontaneous” about the kiss; one of them, usually the guy, just goes for it, grabs the other, usually the girl, and plants a kiss on their startled mouth.

But guys…  He never asks her if she wants to be kissed.  He doesn’t ask because he assumes that, because she is looking at him a certain way and acting a certain way, she is asking for it.

Doesn’t that ring a large, loud, dangerous bell?

Thankfully the solution is simple.  All that needs to happen from now on is that the guy looks at the girl and asks her: “Can I kiss you?”  Then, after she has stated her consent, he can grab her almost as spontaneously as before and kiss her however way to Sunday.  And I also hope that regularly enough, the girl will say no, and the guy will step back, completely confused of course, but respectful of her wishes.

Are You Being Cheap or Being a Mindful Consumer? Some Thoughts

While most people reacted positively towards my post “What Does My Baby Need?  The Balance Between Necessary Consumption Versus Over-Consumption”, I did receive a few emails from readers alarmed by the fact that I was being ‘cheap’.  In essence, I was told that, if a parent loves their child, they would buy it anything and everything it needs.  According to these readers, there is no such thing as over-consumption when it comes to raising a little one.

These comments—which were shared thoughtfully and respectfully—made me think about the importance we place on material things as tokens of love.  I don’t think that showing love through material things is a bad thing (and those who have given me gifts can attest to how I love receiving them!)  However, thinking that love can only be expressed through the gift of material things makes me quite uncomfortable.

How did this equation come to be?  And what other overly formulaic equations coexist with it?

Companies’ Hope for Consumer Behaviour

The first thought that comes to mind is that, within the context of aiming for ever-increasing profits, companies have to convince consumers that their stuff is worth buying again and again and again, be it because they need to be replaced or updated.  One of the most powerful emotions being that of love, it would make sense for companies to want consumers to link it with purchasing material things.  The most obvious example of a company tying the concept of love with the purchase of an over-inflated item as a token of undying love is, of course, the diamond.  One can’t help but be horrified and fascinated by the meticulous creation of this construct by De Beers, further enhanced by the false belief that diamonds are rare and valuable and therefore an essential sign of esteem (check out this amazing piece in The Atlantic).

And so it could be that an honest belief in consumers that buying more as a token of love is basically the consequence of really good marketing.

A Fear of Poverty

Everyone aims to have some form of security in their lives.  One type of security is financial; one sign of financial security is the ability to be able to buy whatever one needs or wants.

Sometimes I feel like even the act of reusing something is seen as a reflection of financial insecurity.  I remember with crystal clarity an incident that happened to me a couple of years ago; I was reusing my tea bag and someone asked me if everything was OK.  Further into the conversation, it became clear that the person was concerned about my financial situation; they couldn’t understand any other reason for my reusing my tea bag.

For the record, I don’t like waste, don’t drink my tea dark, and oftentimes reuse a tea bag not just twice but even thrice to make three cups of tea that are just as good as the other.

While the friends’ sentiment was really sweet, I found it a little odd that he was convinced that the only reason I was reusing my tea bag was financial insecurity.  It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps this is one of the biggest obstacles to leading environmentally sustainable lifestyle.  Could it be that the first two steps in decreasing our consumption—reducing and reusing—are so intimately linked to signs of financial insecurity that we avoid them, at the cost of the health of the environment?

Feelings of Inadequacy

There seems to be a lot of pressure on the modern day North American parent to do it all for their kids and to do it perfectly, while at the same time having a perfect house, clean cars, an active social life, and being physically perfect.

I don’t know about you guys, but even those of us without children have a tough time pulling all of that together.  How in the world can regular, middle-class parents accomplish the same, what with all the responsibilities they have?

Taking into consideration the way advertising triggers all kind of insecurities to convince consumers that they need to purchase certain products, could it be that buying stuff for one’s kids is a way of covering up feelings of inadequacy, faced with the abovementioned impossible tasks of doing it all, and doing it perfectly?  No doubt a lot of great parents, bombarded with messages that they are not enough, would want to do more, but not having enough resources to be the “good” parents they are told they should be, they take the only path they have access to: buying stuff for their kids?

So…  What’s Next?

Just like with so many things, a mindful step-by-step approach that includes moderation and open-mindedness seems to be essential.  There is no need to stray away from buying anything.  If you want a diamond, go ahead and save and get yourself one.  But don’t feel like you have to get it.

I would say that as consumers, we have to make sure that we are buying the right thing for the right reason.  And as members of a community, we have to accept that “the right thing” and “the right reason” will vary from person to person, from generation to generation, from culture to culture, from one gender to another.

This means that the conversations that can be had in the process of figuring what is “the right thing” and “the right reason” are numerous and no doubt rich—and I look forward to continuing it on my blog.

Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Consumption of Unhealthy Media?

Up until really recently (like, last week), I thought that an audience can consume a lot of media without it having a negative effect on it, as long as members of said audience are media literate, take the time to reflect on the message actually contained in the media they are consuming, and analysing how it fits or clashes with its perception of reality.

So for example, I can read a fashion magazine and, as long as I remember that each model went through hours of makeup and hair, that the clothes are pinned in the back to make the fit perfectly, that the lighting is arranged by the millimeter, and that the pictures are photoshopped, I will be fine.  Why?  Because I’ll know that I can look amazing myself if I were on the same regimen as a fashion model and pictures of me were taken following a similar process (and if I learned how to pose!)

Of course there are extremes that I think will affect a consumer no matter what, especially when the inner nobility of man appears nowhere in a picture/scene/song/etc.  But extreme media based on a complete denial of the higher nature of humans are not the media I have in mind when writing this post.

Unhealthy media can be made healthy by the way we consume them, I used to confidently think.  But last week, as I was Fasting, I thought about this belief of mine in the context of the metaphor of the human body.  If I eat junk food, is there anything I can do to eliminate its negative effects on my body?

I don’t think so.  After all, I’m ingesting/absorbing/welcoming into my very cells a bunch of chemicals that are not really meant to be there in the first place.  Similarly, I’m starting to think that negative media cannot but have a negative effect on us.

There are of course way I can minimize the effects of junk food.  For example, if I lead an overall healthy life that includes a healthy, unprocessed diet and regular exercise; if I limit the intake of junk food; and if I choose less junky junk food—all of these can ensure that whatever junk food I end up eating has a minimal effect.  It can even be argued that in these conditions, the pleasure of eating said junk food might outweigh the negative effect it has on my body, but that’s a whole other topic of conversation (and potentially an excuse for a writer who has a bunch of chocolate permanently stationed on her desk).

If this metaphor stands, it means that whatever negative effect of the media we consume can be countered by certain habits.  What does it mean, though, to lead an overall healthy life with regards to media consumption?  What kind of media is healthy and would help counter the negative effects of unhealthy media?  What is the line between healthy and unhealthy media?  Is it subjective or objective?  And how much unhealthy media can remain healthy-ish?

Taking another step into this discussion is one that bloggers and writers like myself have to seriously consider: is the content that we are producing and sharing healthy or unhealthy?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter!  Feel free to comment below or, as always, if you don’t want to share such intimate thoughts in a public forum, email me at saharsblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

Social Media: Sharing Joy instead of Stroking Envy

Social media is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good…  Or not so good.

In the context of family life, I have been reading on various discussion boards and forums about the effects of social media on family life.

On the one hand, it can be quite inspiring to see how some families manage to lead such fulfilling, active lives.  It can give others the boost needed to reach for higher levels of fulfillment.  But on the other hand, seeing how some families have fulfilling, active lives can stroke envy, competitiveness, and even depression (did you know Facebook can make you unhappy?)

There are different ways of responding to this issue.

One extreme response is to completely unplug from social media—cancel your accounts and stay removed from it all.  Those who have chosen this method are not exposed to the curated pictures of other people’s lives and I assume this makes them less affected by envy, competitiveness, and depression caused by social media consumption.  But I am not sure how wise or healthy it is to cut oneself completely off from a major conversational platform used daily by such a large portion of the population.  I also don’t think this helps eliminate envy, competitiveness, and depression caused by comparing oneself to others; it just limits the challenge to “in real life” exposure.

I feel that the response on the other end of the spectrum has been to share “candid” shots of how messy family life can be, with shots of children crying, messy kitchens, and harried parents.  Seeing how others can be having as much difficulty as we seem to have can come as a relief to many others.  But although the feeling of “being in the same boat” can be a powerful one, I’m not sure this is the best approach either.  Helen Keller is often quoted as having said: “Keep your face to the sunshine and you can never see the shadows.”  Is it really that inspiring to see someone else’s struggle?  I would personally much rather be inspired by the beautiful shots of families having a good day (or even a good hour or good moment) to inspire me to work my way to creating beautiful moments of my own.

Once again, I turn to the concept of how we consume media.  In this case, I wonder if we need to shift away from consuming media with our egos and instead consume it with our hearts.

What I mean by “consuming media with our hearts” is to look at a picture of a family having a great day and feel a surge of love for them, feel joy at their joy, and, if we are having a bad day, feel inspired to reach for that same joy, however it might look for us.

As for “consuming media with our egos”, it’s looking at the same picture with anger, pride, and envy.  We might then feel compelled to take out our frustration on our loved ones; or perhaps we would feel compelled to stage some pictures of our own, at whatever cost, to give the impression that our life is fabulous as well.  We will do anything we can to give the impression that we have this same joy in our lives—even if we don’t.

I wonder if this unhealthy consumption of media could be connected in part to the guilt many parents feel about not being good enough.  Logically speaking, no parent is perfect; so a parent that is “good enough” should be defines as a parent that is giving it their 100%.  But this is not the conversation that surrounds us; rather, just like with so many other things, our deepest insecurities are triggered in a bid to have us consume more to feed the big consumerist machinery that has been set up.

The long term solution then seems to be a transformation of the foundation of our society—i.e. the reasons why we consume in the first place.  And while it is a huge work-in-progress that requires the participation of millions of people, it doesn’t mean that every single one of us can’t start contributing to it, slowly, humbly, but systematically and powerfully.  It requires that we enter the social media forum with the purpose of sharing joy, be it when we post or when we consume a post.  This might not seem like a lot, but I feel it would go a long way into creating a healthier online environment.

Picture courtesy of Chaitra of PinkPot

O, Are You Really About Empowerment? Some Thoughts Post Magazine Ad Dissection

I found an old copy of O, The Oprah Magazine in my stuff earlier this week. I used to read those regularly, part of a chain of friends who would read them, be amazed by the wisdom it contained, and pass them along, sometimes with little notes tucked into it. I smiled and decided to take a break from sorting (aren’t we all always eager to take a break from sorting?) and started flipping through its glossy pages, looking forward to a great trip down memory lane and some advice on empowerment.

That intention was firmly derailed when I realised something: there was a big gap between the idea of becoming’s one better self and a lot of the content in the magazine. While many of the O, The Oprah Magazine articles are indeed tools to becoming one’s better self, the magazine’s other content—mostly ads, but by some of the other articles as well—reflect the understanding that I needed a lot of help to make it. In other words, that one’s better self can only be achieved through the improvements provided by a variety of products.

Most of these messages came in the form of ads—and a LOT of them. In the September 2012 issue of the magazine (the sorting was LONG overdue), there were 18 ads for various skin care products; 11 ads for makeup; 10 fashion related ads; eight ads about financial services; six hair care ads; six ads for Oprah related events or products; six ads about socially conscious related organizations; five ads for food items; four housekeeping related ads; three feminine hygiene product ads; three ads for medication and/or supplements; two entertainment ads; two dental care ads; two jewelry ads; two ads for products for kids; and one ad about dieting.

How can a reader believe that she can attain her better self without the help of these advertised products, when the idea behind some 50 of them is that they make up for the fact that she is not good enough as she is?

I understand that ads are a vital part of a magazine’s profitability. But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way that wouldn’t expose to the double standard, where on the one hand they are told that they are good enough and smart enough and pretty enough, while on the other hand they are told that they need some 18 different skin care products with the implication that without them, they are not good enough. It also makes me realise that this situation could be in part a natural consequence of my decision as a consumer to look for free content rather than pay for it. No doubt this obsession with free content has driven down the source of revenue of many a great writer, creating such dichotomies in the pages of other well-intentioned publications.

Whatever the case may be, it offers us a lot of food for thought as we struggle to figure out what is really needed when it comes to becoming our better self.

Image courtesy of Chad Mauger.

Originally published on Sahar’s Blog on 21 July 2015.

Knowledge as a Source of Empowerment versus a Cause for Despair

I have a confession to make: I’m a little bit of a documentary junkie. I just finished watching Food. Inc for the third time, and I intend to watch it another time… If not more.

Because time is limited, I have to select the documentaries I watch (and re-watch) very carefully; usually they have to do with topics that are dear to me, such as education, social justice and health. As a blogger, and as someone who meets and talks to many people, these documentaries are a steady source of information on which I can reflect on the social reality of the world that I live in, the very world I am contributing to make a better one. They are also a source of inspiration for many a post.

Take Food Inc, for example; it’s simple yet powerful message, that each one of us can vote three times a day on what we want to be served to us in our plates, is extremely empowering.

I do have to be careful though, because there is only so much documentary-watching I can take before I get depressed. Going back to, yes, Food Inc, it’s also rather depressing when one realises just how big the problem is. It makes me want to grab an overly processed and unhealthy candy bar and munch my anxiety away.

I have come to realise that one way to keep positive is in numbers; watching documentaries with friends or, at the very least, calling a couple up after watching one to discuss said documentaries contents is conducive to keeping one’s spirits up. And, of course, taking action immediately, be it with a very small step, is also essential.

I think I’m going to watch either Prom Night in Mississippi or Waiting for Superman next. I know both are again going to be a source of empowerment on the one hand and a cause for despair on the other. But I do hope to mitigate the latter in favour of the former by taking advantage of my fellow nerdy friends.

Thank God for nerds.

Originally published on Sahar’s Blog on 18 March 2011.

Community-Building and Friendship in the Era of Friends and The Big Bang Theory

A community is in part defined by the relationships that binds its inhabitants. More specifically, the number of relationships, their nature, and their quality will have a big influence on the life the community.

Both Friends and The Big Bang Theory have given millions of fans something that seems to be, on screen, very healthy: a close group of friends we can spend time with, talk to about anything, go on trips with, and who will be there for you during the toughest and best times of your life.

Although I still love both shows, an alarm bell regularly rings while watching an episode. Namely, what are these shows telling us about friendship? The characters constantly mock one another other; they tear each other down; they don’t keep one another’s secrets; they use each other’s weakness against them.

Is this really the true meaning of friendship?

Furthermore, can we transform our communities and make the life therein vibrant if all, say, 3,000 people spent the time in the same group of 6-8 people? I have a feeling that not only will community life suffer, but that the nature of the relationships with the small group of friends might become less than loving and nurturing—much like our protagonists in Friends and The Big Bang Theory.

The healthy consuming of media is a recurring topic on this blog. In this case, it is understanding how media is shaping our understanding of friendship and the consequences of these examples on our personal relationships and on the process of building a vibrant community. We often state that the world around us has changed and warrants these developments in interpersonal relationships and community-building. For example, cars make walking to a local store, grocery or otherwise, obsolete, so we don’t cross paths with our fellow community members while walking to the store or shopping. Because of air conditioning, we don’t go outside during the summer as much to cool down in the late afternoon and early evening, and so can’t talk to our neighbours as much. There were fewer distractions—provided by the internet, movies, and television for the most part—and so we would spend more time talking with one another rather than in front of a screen.

But what if the technological advances are not the issue? Could it be that it’s just easier to live the way the characters in Friends and The Big Bang Theory do, and that we are letting ourselves be lulled by the promise, however false it might be? And what are the consequences of us emulating these examples or thinking of them as the pinnacle of relationships without reflecting on the influence on the community-building process?

Image courtesy of Chad Mauger.
First published on Sahar’s Blog on 16 June 2015.

Are the Spice Girls an Unhealthy Media that Should be Purged from My Media Diet?

The rumours that were floating around last week about a potential Spice Girls reunion made me of course reach for my cassette tape and pop in their tape navigate to Emi Music’s YouTube page.

As I worked along to the infectious rhythms of the girl bands’ various songs, I sent the link to the “Spice Up Your Life” video clip to a couple of my friends.  Most of them laughed and spent the rest of the day listening to 1990s pop music.  But one of them challenged me—in the most fruitful kind of way.  Having read last week’s post questioning if there is such a thing as a healthy consumption of unhealthy media, he pointed out that there is nothing healthy about the messages contained in either the way of life the Spice Girls represented nor in their music, and that someone who believes in the things that I do—man’s innate spiritual nobility, detachment, material and spiritual progress, equality of men and women—shouldn’t like them.

He was completely shocked when I immediately agreed that there is, indeed, a seeming dichotomy between what I believe in and what the Spice Girls represent.  I don’t think the girls are role models.  I don’t think they represent girl power.  The lyrics of their songs make little to no sense to me.  And while they are good singers and dancers—much better than me, actually—they do not seem talented enough for me to chalk up their popularity to a set of amazing singing or dancing skills.

But the thing is, they are fun.  And they did work hard to get where they are.  Yes, they also were lucky to be hired as part of the band, and the massive marketing machine they were shoved into really helped launch them into the stratosphere, but their schedules were quite grueling.

This goes back to the question: can we have a healthy consumption of unhealthy media?  Is my knowing that I love the Spice Girls for no other reason than they are fun and remind me of some really great times enough to counter the negative things that they stand for?

Sorry guys, but I don’t know the answer to that!  But I do think that if there is such a thing as healthy consumption of unhealthy media, it has to start with honesty.  I shouldn’t hide behind any excuse to allow myself to like the Spice Girls; knowing what I am exposing myself to is essential to either being able to consume the media in a healthy way, or be able to counter the unhealthiness of said media.

This is where the conversation is at its most important, and yet, tends to get very messy, as guilty pleasures bring up walls of defensiveness.  I tried engaging a couple of friends in a conversation about the Spice Girls this week, and some of them completely shut me down.  One of them was wonderful enough to get back in touch me to share how sensitive she found these conversations.  “As someone who considers herself a feminist,” she told me, “being told that something I love to much—the Spice Girls—goes counter to my beliefs makes me feel like a hypocrite.”

And this is the relationship we have to break.  We have to realise that, for example, liking the Spice Girls and being a feminist are not an example of hypocrisy.  Rather, it offers a great opportunity for discussion which created an environment for constant improvement.  So yes, I love the Spice Girls.  Yes, what they represent goes against a lot of what I believe in.  And yes, I will continue thinking about what I should do about it, unapologetic about how I feel about the girl band.  Hopefully this will help contribute to the very important discourse of the effect of media consumption and the emergence of a healthy relationship between it and us.

Until then, spice up your life, readers.