Gender Wage Gap Face palm

I should know better to click on articles about Fox News talking about women. It’s always an endeavor in self control not to want to throttle people, and I try to be a calm, centered person. But I did anyway. And here we have yet another Fox News anchor discussing the fact that the “war on women” is supposedly fake and that there really isn’t a gender wage gap, despite the fact that women make $0.77 for every $1.00 men make. The US Census Bureau released that number back in September of last year. The phrase “many women make exactly what they’re worth” just sticks in my craw. I suppose that is true if you’re a high paid executive, but since that is an incredibly small subset of working women, I think we need to re-evaluate what we’re valuing in women’s work. For starters, women aren’t trained to ask for larger starting salaries and frequent raises because of the “worth principle,” which runs something like this: the salary offer I’m given is the true indication of my worth to the company, and the fact that they are even offering me a job is enough to know my worth. Women make less because our culture tells them not to ask, even though men do all the time.

I’m actually astonished that the Fox News anchors acknowledged that women having babies and the attendant loss in wages accounts for some of this situation. Yet, this fact did nothing to move them from the position that women aren’t losing in the wages game. Having babies shouldn’t be a reason women get paid less. Men have babies too, something the generous paternity leave policies of other Western countries acknowledge. Taking time to bond and care for tiny humans is something we should reward in our society, not punish by paying women less or not at all when they take maternity leave. Fathers should get to take more than a  week or two off to be with their wives and new kids. Not to mention, women making less actually hurts families as a whole. The more we have income parity, the more stable families will be. How a news station that discusses “family values” all the time misses this point is face palm astounding.

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Song of the Day: Gillian Welch, “Time, the Revelator”

In keeping with Tiny Desk Concert of Patty Griffin, this week is singer songwriter twang week at the Electric Telegraph. Another album and song I’ve adored since I first heard it. Gillian Welch is perhaps still best known for her work on the O, Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, but she and Dave Rawlings craft pure songs that perfectly capture moments of longing.

Tiny Desk Concert: Patty Griffin

I’ve loved Patty Griffin’s brand of singer/song writer twanginess ever since my friend Dan put “Rowing Song” on a Christmas mix many moons ago. I think it was one of the last mixed tapes he made before we switched fully to CDs, and I remember driving down Turtle Creek in the snow, watching the swans dart across the street. Surreally magical. I love Steve Earle’s “Galway Girl” for the same reason. I may put aside the twangy side of my Texas roots; it’s easily subsumed into other parts of who I am. Yet, it’s decidedly a strain in my personality. Guitars, lonely voices, and a slight warble just does it for me. Add a steel guitar or a violin, and I’m hooked.

Song of the Day: Pleasant Grove, “Commander Whatever”

Live video from the Pleasant Grove show I saw on Friday night. I think this was one of the best songs of the set, and I say this despite the fact that it’s probably one of my favorite songs by them. You can actually hear a lot more conversation here than I heard during the show, I assume because it’s being taped from the balcony. From the floor, you couldn’t hear anything but the band. It was completely immersive.

At a wedding this summer, I ended up in a conversation where someone was asking about the best concerts we’d been to. He wanted to brag about a Madonna show he’d just seen. I’m not sure anyone else really responded because it was so apparent that the question wasn’t one about connection. I’m sure Madonna puts on a good show, but I’ve never been a fan of the large concert. I spent my twenties in clubs, small venues, listening to live music. Other people went dancing, bar hopping, etc. I spent my time listening to music. At its best, the connection between a band and the audience can be electrifying and exhilarating. The more intimate the venue, for me at least, the stronger the emotive experience. It lifts you up and out of yourself. I spent most of the Pleasant Grove show with my eyes closed; listening, really listening was the only sense I could conceive of.

Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong

* I’m reposting this from the Read This! blog, the UAFS community literacy program; you can follow my colleagues’ take on Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried at readthisuafs.wordpress.com

I didn’t want to like The Things They Carried.

I didn’t want to dislike it either. In fact, I wanted to read it at pace, brusquely and in a business-like fashion. The Green Berets was the last movie about the Vietnam War I voluntarily watched, and it so traumatized me—I was all of ten or eleven—that I decided that stories about the Vietnam War were a “no go” zone for me. When my professors compared Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to Apocalypse Now, I nodded along, fully resistant to any suggestion that I should actually view this film. I have a low threshold for violence. I jump at loud noises and once told a Navy recruiting officer that I wanted to be a pacifist poet. While I’m fascinated by the affects of war in literature, war literature is something that I’ve unconsciously been able to avoid.

So, I didn’t want to like this novel. I wanted to read The Things They Carried without being affected because of course liking a novel means it has somehow moved you. I didn’t want to be moved by it. The first story disabused me of that notion. Tim O’Brien is a powerful storyteller, using language to draw you into his narrative truths. As with all good storytellers, you cannot walk away from his text without his intended affect. It’s discomfiting actually, because within the first five pages, you realize that you’re in the hands of such a masterful storyteller that any effort you plan on making to not sink into his narrative world is a futile one. O’Brien unhesitatingly brings you along with him.

And then I got to “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.” The tale is a classic story within a story. O’Brien, our main narrator, steps back to let his friend Rat Kiley tell the story of his experiences at the Song Tra Bong base versus O’Brien’s stories of humping it through the Vietnamese jungle. At first, the simple love of Mark Fossie and Mary Anne Bell is refreshing, a cool drink in the midst of a narrative about the fracturing effects of war. Even Mary Anne’s curiosity about this all male world of war seems innocent enough. After all, she’s brave enough to travel half way around the world and into a war zone for love. Surely, she deserves and needs to understand the environment she now finds herself in.

At first that understanding comes in typical ways. She wants to travel into the neighboring village, understand the local culture, and learn the things that soldiers learn. Smart and energetic, Mary Anne bubbles with curiosity, turning the war into a grand adventure. Her naiveté leaves her exposed, as Rat explains:

“Young, that’s all I said. Like you and me. A girl, that’s the only difference, and I’ll tell you something: it didn’t amount to jack. I mean, when we first got here—all of us—we were real young and innocent, full of romantic bullshit, but we learned pretty damned quick. And so did Mary Anne.” [i]

Untrained, she becomes enamored with the jungle, losing herself in the environment the same way she lost herself in her love for Mark Fossie. Here O’Brien channels Conrad, showing how the colonizer or invading force cannot penetrate into the unknown without being changed. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad describes, Kurtz, the station manager absorbed by the Congo jungle, as deficient in restraint, as hollow. In the end, Kurtz recognizes the horror of the darkness that has engulfed him. As Marlow, the narrator, explains: “Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness.” [ii] Mary Anne willing stares over that edge, losing herself in the excitement of night ambushes with the six Green Berets attached to the base. O’Brien describes it as a drug, an intoxicating blend of pleasure and terror to which Mary Anne succumbs: “Vietnam made her glow in the dark.” [iii]

As Rat narrates the dissolution of Mary Anne, he realizes that he and others at the base were in love with her. She reminds him of the girls back home, innocent, wide-eyed, unburden women. Mary Anne, however, understands the horrors of war and the even more terrifying thread of pleasure in that horror. Of course Rat was in love; how could he not be in love with someone who combined the sweetness of nostalgic memory and the knowledge of what war does?

In the opening vignettes, O’Brien suggests that love is not something that will carry you through war. Or at least unrequited, ephemeral romantic love cannot survive unblemished. You can cling to it, pin your hopes on it as if it were a life raft, but ultimately, even it cannot survive the murkiness of the jungle unscathed. Love might be a luxury a soldier cannot carry, a good too fragile to make it through the horrors of how a body can exit this world and the guilt that remains when that body is not your own. Camaraderie, gallows humor, training, a cool head, these things are light enough to take into the jungle. Love weighs too much.

Mary Anne Bell carries her love into the jungle. She is filled with it when she lands. Moment by moment that love ekes away from her, replaced by obsession, “the horror” that Kurtz sees but cannot escape. This may be what happens to love in war.

[i] Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (Boston: Mariner Books, 2009), p. 93.

[ii] Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Longman Anthology, Vol. 2C (Boston: Longman, 2010), p. 2005.a

[iii] Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (Boston: Mariner Books, 2009), p. 108.

Commercials with a Message

I’m not entirely sure why commercials, particularly car commercials, excel at this kind of cultural work in short form, but this one by Honda is doing some interesting work in rejecting the doom and gloom discourse of the last few years. It’s on par with the Chrysler 300 Super Bowl commercial three years ago which rebranded Chrysler while attempting to also rebrand Detroit, a sadly failing endeavor now that Detroit is auctioning off pretty much every cultural item not nailed down. James Fallows discussed this Honda ad yesterday on his blog, and I agree with a lot of what he said about the ad drawing from the innate hopefulness of Millennial youth culture. The cast is mutli-ethnic, young, hipster-light, and enthusiastic; I hesitate to say multi-cultural because the ad doesn’t highlight different cultural positions. The people are all generic representations of a certain kind of middle-class Millennial with approved tastes and quirks probably highlighted at some point on Stuff White People Like. (I wonder if the book or the fact that many of the items apply to middle-class life more so than whiteness now is why the blog stopped going in 2010.) At any rate, it’s an interesting juxtaposition of imagery and blues.

Song of the Day: Frank Turner, “Good and Gone”

I’m not entirely sure why, but even the sad songs on Frank Turner’s Tape Deck Heart make me happy. He entirely captures lost moments, but I’m not convinced he thinks that lost moments are necessarily bad. Perhaps it’s the fact that you can tell he’s getting an enormous kick out of making the kind of music he wants to make and telling the stories he wants to tell. After all, he does write songs about his tattoos as well as ballads about loss.

Song of the Day: The Head and the Heart, “Another Story”

The video is total hipster bait–and I’m not posting this because I got told I was a hipster this week. I’ve been wearing Converse sneakers since I was 14, nothing hipster about it. And no, I wasn’t teaching in them. Video itself aside, the song is just more gorgeous power folk (I’m making up my own genres now; Frank Turner is troubadour punk, for instance) from The Head and the Heart. It’s off another new album from 2013. So many got released that I’m still catching up.