Monday, January 24, 2011

I think we lost the keys to the kingdom

A tiger of another stripe

Ken Lum, A Tale of Two Children, 2005

In recent weeks there has been much debate in "the blogosphere" (so the kids call it) about Amy Chua's controversial article, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" published in The Wall Street Journal. I know, I know, we are so over it already (I, too, am surprised at how long a politically sensitive person such as myself took to respond to this), but considering our readership here at WWS is up to maybe 5 individuals, I thought I would move past the shame of tardiness.

How does one begin to respond to such a contentious article with an even more unfortunate title? To start, it should be noted that the article is mostly composed of excerpts from Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011), in which Chua recounts her childhood experiences while expounding a method of parenting that mirrors the strict child-rearing regime she was raised under. This includes not allowing her daughters to attend sleepovers, have playdates, be in school plays, watch television, or play any instrument that was not a piano or a violin. Academic grades below an A are also unacceptable. Chua acknowledges that she uses the term "Chinese mother" loosely, recognizing that this form of disciplinarian parenting is common in many other immigrant households.

Without surprise, the article has incited numerous heated debates, with many individuals taking immediate offense to Chua's open admission that once at a dinner party she angrily called her daughter "garbage". While some minority bloggers have had more hostile responses to the article ("So, fuck you Amy Chua..."), others have been more favourable, with Chua's own 18 year-old daughter Sophia coming to her defense in a letter to the New York Post (despite being the recipient of the garbage comment, no less).

The difficulty in locating my position within this debate speaks to my own complicated relationship with my mother, and to a past that I can make amends with but obviously am unable to change. In this situation I would avoid disclosing too much information about my own childhood (who wants to open up that whole can of worms), but can say without discretion that some of Chua's parenting tactics were reminiscent of my mother's, and it is one shared by many immigrant parents. I was allowed to attend sleepovers, but often begrudgingly. I played the piano for 8 years. Any remote interaction with a boy, almost always harmless in nature, indicated I was headed for a life of sexual depravity and corruption (I was barely allowed to play cards). My creative pursuits were eventually accepted, but again, begrudgingly, and after several years of anxiety, frustration, anger, and dry heaving in the bathroom. Those years, they were not easy.

Would I have preferred otherwise? Yes and no. Growing up I was incredibly jealous of my friends for having parents that subscribed to what I viewed as liberal parenting methods, but in retrospect it is also challenging to directly place fault on my parents for my own psychological trauma from that time period (oh, woe is me). Am I permanently damaged from the severity of their parenting? Probably, in the way we all are. But I have also received immense benefit from their rigour - I gained a desire to always want more, to improve, to progress, and to do so through organization, control, and persistence. The process is the purpose, and the achievement is merely the brief encouragement to continue on.

One of the most complex issues Chua raises is that Non-Western parents are given a certain levity when it comes to the extreme and horrific things they can do to their children in comparison to Western parents (back to the garbage again). Her reasoning for this inconsistency in perception is in part due to the sensitivity and concern Western parents have towards the psychological well-being of their offspring, and the fact that immigrant parents feel their children are permanently indebted to them beyond reason. Whether intended or not, Chua's article sparks an important conversation about second-generation immigrant children and the complexities of being raised in a place with conflicting cultural practices.

So where does that situate myself? Somewhere in between, I imagine.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Style Icons: Cristina Raines in The Sentinel

Just when I thought I'd seen all the good demon-possession/portal to hell/coming of the antichrist movies of the '70s, I uncovered this little gem:

The Sentinel!

It's a story about a young model with daddy issues who moves into a spacious Manhattan apartment which just happens to be the gateway to hell. This discovery, as you might imagine, takes a toll on our poor heroine, but not on her wardrobe.

Despite her emotional unravelling, she wears amazing wide-legged, high-waisted jeans and floaty disco dresses right up to the point of her demise, when, after losing her boyfriend (played by Chris Sarandon) to the dark side, she sacrifices her burgeoning modeling career to become The Sentinel!

Co-starring Beverly D'Angelo as the masturbating neighbor,

and Jeff Goldblum as a young photographer.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Sorry Professor, but you are no more a curator than I am a doctor.

Are we experiencing a thesaurus shortage? Perhaps all the synonyms for select, decide, choose, edit, and gather disappeared into a void and now all we are left with is the word curate. As a result, we have an influx of curators roaming the streets. They are carefully curating dj sets, films, book reviews, cured meats and cheeses, technological wares, and runway shows. The other day someone came into the gallery I work at and asked in regards to our new art bookstore, "Who curates the bookstore?" I said, "No one, it's a bookstore."

At risk of being petty and defensive, I will say it now: making a selection or composing a list does not a curator make, and putting together a collection of vegetables does not mean you and I are one and the same. I should be pleased that people are so taken with my profession that it has become a laudatory term for making choices, but I am not. In actuality, the liberal use of this term trivializes my career.

This is not to detract from the work of musicians, literary reviewers, writers, restaurant and bookstore owners, chefs, or fashion designers. In fact, my unending respect for these professions is what sparks my defensiveness. Back off, get your own sandwich! People have a hard enough time understanding what I do, I don't need my job to be muddled with aspects of your job that are vastly more interesting.

We all can't be curators of cheese, okay?

To the top of the mountain!