Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Muckraking in the Name of Ovaries

I'm a frequent user of my local fitness club. I like my gym but as anyone who has used a gym before knows, it has very little to do with health and a lot to do with physical appearance. Gyms are all about making money and in order to do that, they bombard you with images of so-and-so after they hired a trainer, or TRY THIS MUSCLE MILK AND YOU'LL BE GIGANTIC, while blasting 46 different televisions playing Cosmopolitan TV and various sports channels. It combines "You Can Do It" with "Because you're a fatty!".

The other day, while attempting to use the washroom, I sat down to face an advertisement. Now ads in washrooms are not unique to gyms, obviously. They are a nuisance in most public washrooms nowadays. But the ones at the gym are almost always related to appearance or "health". This particular ad, which I'm presuming is only in the womyn's washroom, has a giant picture of an empty ice cream container that says "Want to have fewer periods?" followed by the "FIND OUT HOW AT Periodslessoften.ca"

Oh Goddess...

So I went home and checked out Periodslessoften.ca (I encourage you to do the same) and went back to my journalism roots to do some digging.

Turns out *surprise surprise* PeriodsLessOften.ca is hosted by an unnamed "Research Based Pharmaceutical Company" and the way to get less periods is through hormonal birth control. The Pill.

Now anyone who has been on the Pill, which in North America includes most hetereosexual womyn, knows or has heard the Old Tales about how you just take one pack of pills right after the other to skip your period. Nothing all that new here.

But this website is particularly interesting because it uses and re-uses imagery of food (.i.e.: PMS cravings) and makes the focus less on the usual anti-period stuff of crankyness, physical pain, lack of swimming/sex options and turns it into "Have Fewer Periods So You Have Fewer Midnight Triple Chocolate Oreo Cookie Cravings".

Which is something that the website cannot back up because it is false. Although taking hormonal birth control to date your periods and/or taking pack after pack will time and/or delay your period, it will not change your body's desire to jonse for cookies. It has been proven to possibly diminish in some people but it's not an instant cure.

There is a strong school of thought who believe that skipping any period at all is bad for your body. Unfortunately the reality is that as long as you are on the Pill, you will never have a "period" in the truest sense of the word. To be blunt, you can't drop an egg when you're on the Pill so you're having a "Pill Period" as they say and not an actual one. However, that doesn't mean that your body reverts back to being 10. You're still going to have hormone fluctuations because that's what keeps your bones good and strong, thickens your hair, etc.

So the first thing against this whole "TAKE THE PILL AND DROP THE COOKIES" approach is that it's not entirely accurate.

Another thing that is problematic it is that hormonal birth control is being marketed as this pseudo health option and dare I say, weight loss option. The latter of course is a bit of a stretch and kinda hilarious considering that most hormonal birth control pills make people gain weight.

But with the ads juxtaposition of the empty ice cream pale with the Pill, it makes it seem as though one can be cured by the other. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a picture of said ad online, but the website is full of food imagery, including a smiling Gingerbread.

And finally, the website and campaign is also problematic in its so-called attempt to be "neutral" regarding other forms of birth control.

See the website does not mention what pharmaceutical company it works for and so it is attempting to be an "information site" that is neutral and not about marketing a certain product. For this reason, they include this one section "Is the Pill Right For You" which has the legally required information regarding risks of taking the Pill and a sub-section entitled "Non-Hormonal Options". This section's intro:

"Non-hormonal birth control options will not change how often you have your period, meaning that they cannot be used to lengthen the time between your periods. Though most of them have been proven to be less effective than hormonal birth control, non-hormonal options may be right for you. Except for the non-reversible methods and the IUD, these methods must be used every time you have sex. The male condom and female condom can be used with hormonal birth control to help protect against sexual transmitted infections (STIs)." (Source)

Yes, these forms of Birth Control are less effective than hormonal based birth control but most don't cause blood clots, can be used by people over 35 safely and will not put your life at serious risk if you're a smoker. Oh and hey, most will make sure you don't get HIV! Which is, you know, pretty freakin' important, too.

Oh and it's also interesting to note that the tiny words in the disclaimer (for which you need to click onto a seperate site to find) explain that all the "claims" made throughout the website only apply to the United States. Which is pretty interesting considering it's Periodslessoften.CA

But it's obvious that the folks behind "Periodslessoften" are not concerned about sexual health as a whole or a womyn's health in particular. What they are for is the promotion of menstruation as an evil, an evil that will make you want cookies! Which will make you fat! And then, undesirable! And if you're undesirable, then you won't get laid! And then if you don't get laid, you won't need birth control! Ah! The tyranny!

Now I do not wish to diminish the very painful reality of many, many womyn who have excruciating menstrual pain, endure debilitating side effects or who are in dire need of menstruation regulation. However, if you are one of these many womyn, the reality is that Periodslessoften.ca doesn't really care about you anyway. They care about the bottom line and sorry honey, but you ain't it.

Now I'm not knocking takers of the Pill because everyone has their own reasons and the reality is that hormone based birth control is the most effective form of birth control (except for abstinence but who are we kidding?) What I am knocking is pharmaceutical companies who market things inaccurately under the guise of "neutrality".

Let's just call a spade a spade, shall we?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Bruno a No-No?

As a lover of politics and humour, I have a soft spot for satire. I love satire. I love comedy in general, really. But I've found myself in more than one conversation with people about the merits of comedy as a tool of activism.

I've decided that yes, only people of a certain group can mock said group and no, that is not "reverse racism". It's just the reality that in order for something to be reclaimed, it has to take its power from the marginalized group. Otherwise, it's just racism. Now exceptions can be made if you're a well known ally in a certain community; see Kathy Griffin for example. She identifies as straight but is also considered a gay icon and therefore can drop bombs that would be seen as homophobic in another context. The reason being that she's gained the respect of the GLBTQ community, has supported, donated, etc for years and therefore is an ally and not some hillbilly making bad jokes. (Her jokes might be bad, to some, but they're not homophobic).

But what about satire? The big question about satire is:

When is it satire and when is it just stereotyping?

Jon Stewart's The Daily Show = Satire
Stephen Colbert's entire persona = Satire (Sorry Right Wingers; he's on our team)
The Simpsons = Satire

But then it gets tricky. What about Family Guy?

In having these discussions with various people, it seems that the measurement of whether something is satire or whether it's simply stereotyping is to look at both the creator and the audience.

Seth MacFarlane, who created "Family Guy" is also the mastermind behind "American Dad", a clearly satirical cartoon. Which would make one assume that Family Guy is in that category too, but then, I look at the Family Guy audience.

Most Family Guy audience members are not hispters, ex-academics or yuppies. Or even politico junkies. The Family Guy audience is high school dudes. Which is not the pigeonhole all high school aged dudes as being incapable of being down with satire. But "Family Guy"'s following is what troubles the issue for me.

Basically: If it's meant to be satire, but people take it at face value, is it satire anymore?

Ironically enough, this issue has come up in the last few days regarding (in my opinion) brilliant satirist Sasha Baron Cohen. SBC is the genius behind "Da Ali G Show", which consisted of him putting on various characters and then taking them to the streets, so to speak. Ali G was his first big character and since he wasn't exactly that different, nobody really paid any attention. But when SBC gave his one character "Borat" his own movie, then people started paying attention.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" was a huge success in North America. In promoting the movie, SBC stayed in character a la Colbert style. Not only is the guy a brilliant satirist, but he also has amazing timing. North America and the US in particular was really focused on the Middle East upon the release of "Borat" and so SBC attempted (I'll come back to this attempt piece) to highlight how Americans viewed Middle Easterners. The joke was not on people from Kazakhstan but rather on the reactions of real-life people to a Middle Easterner, in the film itself.

BUT! Like "Family Guy", if you don't get satire, then you take the movie at face value and see it as a crazy guy from Kazakhstan who can't speak English and hates Jews. And if that's what you're laughing at, then is it satire anymore?

Sasha Baron Cohen is running into this problem again with his new movie "Bruno" which is based off another "Da Ali G Show" character. This time the character is a flambouyant gay stylist from Austria. Considering Proposition 8 and the opposing Proposition H8 campaign in the US and how it's highlighted GLBTQ folks in the US of A, Sasha's timing is impeccable.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation in the US of A is upset with certain scenes they saw in the pre-screening of "Bruno". These scenes, they say, cross the line of satire and are outright stereotypical; therefore the joke is on them and not the homophobes. But where's that line?

Coming back to the original descriptors of creator and audience, SBC is clearly a satirist and the hope is that the majority of people who see "Bruno" will understand that Sasha Baron Cohen is playing a caricature composed of stereotypes, therefore highlighting the lunacy of these stereotypes rather than promoting them. Like "Borat", the hope is that the viewers will laugh at the homophobic and outlandish responses that "Bruno" gets, rather than siding with said homophobes.

But what if they don't? Does it matter? Do the intentions of the creator matter if the audience takes it in a different direction? It's hard to say.

Although this might seem like a hipster's diatribe, I do think it's important. I think comedy has an important role to play in making social commentary and political commentary in particular. For example, one can't underestimate the role that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert play come election time. Rick Mercer, to a lesser extent, has that effect here in Canada. But their roles have been clearly established; their respective shows are so heavy on politics that they would naturally only attract audiences that are into that, too.

But what about Family Guy? Or hell, The New Yorker?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Federally Funded Journalism at its Best

Anyone who follows my blog here knows that I'm a pretty die-hard CBC.ca reader; it is typically my biggest source of news. But were it not for my years of dedicated CBC.ca reading, I'd throw in the towel on the whole thing today.

This lovely headline appeared on my sidebar today:

Others in Courtepatte case were suspects in prostitute's death, documents reveal

(Trigger Warning)

As someone who studied journalism, there is so much wrong with this picture.

1- This case is not exactly well known and so simply using a name like this does not conjure up an instant recognition for people.

2- If you're going to use the name of one victim, why not use both? Oh yes, because apparently "prostitutes" are not people; they're just prostitutes.

The entire article is convoluted, confusing and needs a major trigger warning. The article goes on to list all these "unproven in court" details that should leave the reader wondering "Why the hell are they even reporting this then?" The details are gruesome and even if they were proven, are completely unnecessary and inappropriate.

The story itself is telling: A man is accused of murdering a 13 year old girl and in a separate case, another womyn in Winnipeg. The man is described by police as a "serial homicidal sex offender" and also, an idiot. He was in custody for the luring/kidnapping/sexual assault/murder of a 13 year old girl but mixed up the details of that murder with the then-unknown murder of another womyn.

If you're going to write an article about this loser and highlight this case, these are the only details one would need. By including the other horrific and graphic details, CBC.ca is pandering to the Perez Hiltons and "National Inquirers" of the world and I call bullshit.

This story on its own is one more example of the war on womyn in this country and around the world. But the way in which this article is presented further demonstrates the point, too. Which blows.

Stay classy, CBC.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fight for your Right to Party

Canadians might be apathetic, but as I've said before, they love their booze.

We don't vote and are generally lazy bastards, but don't take away our booze!

But in all seriousness, I think this doesn't just have to do with booze; I think it's generational, too. Pensioners, especially ex-union members, are tough as nails and don't get pushed around easily. They fight for their rights. Which is commendable these days, even if it's regarding beer.