Feminism is a complicated, messy topic, and if you ask 3 women about it, you’re likely to get 4 different answers. Some women don’t want to define themselves as feminist because it sounds anti-male, others disagree about how much sexism and discrimination exists, and you can always count on folks like Rush Limbaugh to disparage ‘feminazis’ as freeloading sluts who want Uncle Sugar to provide unlimited birth control and abortion on demand. And it’s a tricky issue around my house – my 17-year-old son feels like girls get all the breaks because he’s experienced classic educational bias against boys (everything from early school environments being more conducive to how girls learn, to a cliche-but-real male-hating gym teacher who informed them during the square dance unit that ‘the girls had her permission to slap the boys around if they messed up, because everyone knows boys can’t dance’). My 20-year-old started dancing at age 4, and he was teased mercilessly about it (until high school, when his classmates saw how cute the girls were in dance class, not to mention the revealing dancewear).
So I know there are ways in which it’s harder to be male. But I still believe women have not completely caught up – as the old expression goes, like ballroom dancers, we’re doing everything guys do, but backward and in high heels. (Note to my husband – that expression started as a cartoon about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and then was popularized by former Texas Governor Ann Richards. It did NOT originate as a line for Angel in Rent. But I digress . . . ) And as far as whether or not to use the dreaded ‘f’ word, I love the way writer Caitlin Moran summed it up in her book, How To Be A Woman: “Here is a quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Do you have a vagina? And do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations, you’re a feminist.”
Sure, we’ve come a long way, baby (and we no longer need ‘our own cigarette’ using that phrase . . . please tell me SOMEONE else remembers those hideous ads for Virginia Slims!) But we still have a long way to go, whether it’s the pay gap or minor cost differences at dry cleaners. And many male politicians seem to want to go backwards, whether it’s Todd Akin-type idiocy about pregnancy, Mike Huckabee explaining “Men like to hunt and fish together, and women like to go to the restroom together,” or the Texas legislature permitting concealed firearms in sessions but banning tampons and sanitary pads for fear of them being thrown in protest against an abortion ban (yes, that really happened).
So here’s a musical reminder to these misogynist guys that outdated attitudes towards women just might affect how we vote.
As a political humorist, I gravitate toward bad news and schadenfreude. This is hardly surprising since satirists are often inspired by idiotic comments, horrible laws, and ludicrous judicial decisions.
I’m getting ready to record an album of my “greatest hits,” songs from my weekly videos going back to the 2012 election, and I’m noticing how many of them were inspired by things that would have otherwise made me angry. These include Todd Akin’s “shut that whole thing down,” Paul Ryan blaming poverty on lazy inner city men, the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook, and the dire need for a minimum wage increase. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this— humor has always been used to cope with difficulty by ridiculing authority, highlighting hypocrisy, and helping people laugh at what might otherwise make them cry.
However, it’s nice to change things up a bit. As my dad used to say, “Moderation in all things, including moderation.” (Which is either brilliant, or weirdly redundant. As were most of his aphorisms, including “Eschew obfuscation” – if you need a definition, ask a teenager who just finished SATs. But I digress.)
Last week there was still plenty of news to inspire dark humor, but the ACA enrollment news was surprisingly good. Add that to my love of word play and seeing a short-lived internet pun, and I decided it was time to celebrate instead of skewer. (Okay, I took a few digs at the Obamacare nay-sayers, but gloating is too hard to resist!)
like to joke that I have 3 boys, ages 17, 20 and 47. (One is my husband – cue rim shot.) Husband 2.0 came along when I was a single mother with really young kids, and he proceeded to endear himself to them by doing silly impressions (his Yoda and Scoobie-Doo sort of mesh together) and inventing a game he called ‘Dodgeball In The Dark,’ in which they raced around the backyard throwing whatever wasn’t nailed down. But he really bonded with the boys via male humor – first Simpsons, then Family Guy as they got (almost) old enough, with a healthy dose of “that’s what she said” jokes thrown in.
Many writers have weighed in on why women are less amused by this type of humor – in fact, Google “Why men love The Three Stooges and women don’t” and you’ll get over 2 million entries, with a wide range of explanations. I’m constantly trying to give my boys a bit of refinement and elegance, and moms are traditionally the ones who discourage rough-housing and bad language, but there is also something to be said in favor of letting our hair down a bit – especially since at my house it’s a losing fight anyhow.
I’ve learned to enjoy Family Guy (okay, it can be horribly offensive, but also really funny, and the song parodies are a riot), and I’ve been known to crack an off-color ‘that’s what she said’ on occasion. Plus this week, when I was at my wits’ end trying to figure out a topic for my song, Husband 2.0 suggested I do something juvenile with the rhyming name of Hobby Lobby – and this is the result. (Maybe we’re the reverse of the old saying about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, that he gave her class and she gave him sex appeal. . . I give him class and he gives me bawdy humor suggestions?)
Most of us are familiar with the cliche of the Jewish mother, who urges everyone to eat, nags her adult kids who don’t call her, and who is the butt of dozens of jokes that make people groan instead of laugh. (Although I do love the one about the mom who gives her son two ties for his birthday, the son immediately puts one on, and the mom says “What, you didn’t like the other one?”)
Of course, I’ve always thought I was way too hip for that cliche, but as I find myself nagging my own sons about their eating habits (which are mostly terrible, and would it be so hard for them to eat something green besides green Skittles?), I can hear echoes of my mother and grandmother. Yes, I’m a Jewish mother – but that isn’t as inconsistent with liberal political views as one might imagine, particularly when it comes to gay rights.
For example, many reformed synagogues (including ours) have offered same-sex commitment ceremonies for years. And Jews are disproportionately represented in entertainment (just listen to “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” from Spamalot), with a gay-friendly environment. Plus we’re far more likely to live in urban areas, or suburbs near large cities, which tend to lean more Democrat and thus more tolerant. (In fact, at the large suburban high school my kids attended, the biggest issue with their Gay Straight Alliance club was that it was mostly filled with straight teen girls who, thanks to Glee and Smash, wanted their own gay best friend.)
When my kids were young, I tried to impart this tolerance by making sure my boys spent time with my wonderful gay friends, and urging tolerance whenever I could. (My older son was about 11 when he asked me when I thought he’d be ready to start kissing girls. I responded, quite earnestly, “Your body will tell you when you’re ready, and it will also tell you whether you want to kiss girls or boys, because both are okay.” He rolled his eyes and said, “Geez, mom, give it a rest. I hate to disappoint you, but I’m straight.”)
At any rate, it makes perfect sense that a Jewish mother would not only welcome, but actually want, a gay son – because that way she’d never be replaced by another woman. (Cue rim shot.) But to my surprise, when I googled “Jewish Mothers For Marriage Equality,” there were no exact matches. So clearly, a song was waiting to be born (and now, if you google that phrase, this one will come up!)
Note: Only 5 days left to support these videos through the Kickstarter greatest hits album - http://kck.st/1pPyqT2
One of the advantages of being a teenager’s mother (no, really, there ARE some advantages!) is early knowledge of trends. And it’s not just obsessive texting, video games, or mindless cat videos – my boys both introduced me to the wealth of actual, useful information one can find on youTube. (Although there’s plenty of ridiculous filler – as one comedian observed, we could just combine the youTube, Twitter and Facebook into one giant time-wasting site called “youTwitFace” . . . but I digress.)
My tap-dancer son has shown me great archival footage of the legends he admires, and youTube has introduced a whole new generation to the genius of Bill Robinson, Eleanor Powell, and the Nicholas Brothers. My younger son is a fan of cool science experiments as well as a group that does brilliant out-of-the-box music routines (including one in which a group of musicians created a piece by playing every part of the piano EXCEPT the keys). Because of youTube’s enormous scale (6 billion – yes, billion – hours of videos are watched every month!) I can find a video for anything I might ever want to do, from making homemade brioche to installing sheet rock (neither of which I’m ever likely to do, but it’s still cool to know I COULD if I wanted to!)
Of course, that volume makes it hard to come up with an original concept – someone else has probably already filmed their dog playing with a rubber ducky, no matter how cute yours is. So when Harry Reid made headlines last week by arguing that the GOP was “Addicted to Koch” (the billionaire Koch brothers), I figured someone would turn his memorable line into the obvious song. And while a doctored photo did pop up with a bunch of leggy models and Reid’s head superimposed over Robert Palmer’s, the song itself had yet to turn up on youTube.
Not only was Reid’s comment a great reference to an incredibly popular song (with an iconic video), but I played in a rock band during the ’80s which actually covered a couple of Robert Palmer tunes, so I knew the song in question. And on youTube I found a) the original video, b) hundreds of tutorials on how the makeup artist created that look, c) thousands of bad karaoke versions, and d) a couple of exposes on how a musician was hired to teach the models to mime playing their instruments, but they were so hopeless that he gave up after an hour. (Which explains why none of them seemed to be playing – or dancing – to the same beat. )
And to top it all off, when my son saw me dressed & made-up for the video, he knew exactly what I was parodying . . . .
Every generation in modern history has had its cultural, sartorial or entertainment fads ‘du jour’ – in the 1920s, it was flagpole sitting and Charleston contests, in the 1950s it was Davy Crockett caps and bobby soxers squealing for Frank Sinatra, the 70s had lava lamps and David Cassidy. These trends became popularized first by word of mouth, as a few adventurous souls made things look cool. Then it would take weeks or months for a fad to catch on, and months or years before it became so popular it was no longer cool. (I remember the first puka shell necklace I saw – worn by a 13-year-old at summer camp who was rumored to be so fast, she let boys French kiss her. So anything she wore was bound to be cool and a little dangerous – until about a year later when you could buy plastic puka shell necklaces at Woolworth’s . . . .but I digress)
However, these days trends can start, flare up and die out much more quickly, whether it’s a longer-lasting fad, such as Lululemon yoga pants, or a quick meme, like Mitt Romney’s unfortunate choice of the phrase “binders full of women.”
So it’s probably not surprising that the Oscars weren’t even over before someone created a ‘Travoltify-Your-Name’ app, in honor of John Travolta’s now-legendary mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name. Add in a generation of teen girls who feel empowered by the characters Ms. Menzel has played, as well as the tendency of girl-power-anthems to sound alike, and I may have come up with the ultimate trend-driven, flash-in-the pan pop song.
You’re probably familiar with the rather over-used cliche of technology-impaired adults being at the mercy of youth. The pre-teen rolling her eyes as she tries to teach her mother to text, the intern showing the executive yet again how to log in to Outlook. Mind you, there are plenty of us who are quite capable of more sophisticated tasks (especially now that we’ve figured out there’s a youTube tutorial on doing just about anything).
But it is generally true that the younger generation is more comfortable with technology – they don’t know a world without portable computers & smart phones. (It’s hysterical watching toddlers treat a television like a mobile device, trying to change channels by swiping their hands across the screen. And while I’m not sure how I feel about all these devices for young kids, boy, do I appreciate those iPads when I’m on a plane with young kids!)
I have learned quite a bit from my sons, whether it’s the proper use of ‘twitter’ vs. ‘tweet’ (one is a noun, one is a verb), or how to reboot our cable/internet connection when it goes down at least once a day. My 17-year-old son runs his own youTube channel and is pretty savvy (he’d seen Gangnam Style before it hit 100,000 views!); when I was wondering whether my own youTube videos were doing well, he kindly reassured me by saying, “Well, Mom, anything over 100 views is viral for old people.”
My boys were the ones who turned me on to “Cards Against Humanity” (an off-color, totally inappropriate and hysterically funny variation on category games like “Apples To Apples”). This self-described ‘party game for horrible people’ was launched via Kickstarter, a crowd-funding platform. Notice, I can now use terms like ‘crowd-funding’ and ‘platform’ and sort of sound like I know what they mean!, but in case you’re wondering, crowd-funding is basically a cross between layaway, Renaissance art patronage, and PBS pledge week. Artists and inventors finance projects by soliciting backers, who pledge varying amounts of money in return for ‘rewards’, varying from a copy of a CD or game to a custom-designed song, video, or food item. And you can find all sorts of projects – indie films, steampunk-themed cupcake sprinkles, graphic novels, medieval guitar music, and more.
I’m jumping in, producing an album of ‘greatest hits’ from my weekly songs, and hoping to prove that people over 30 can play in this new playground too, including those of us who grew up without computers, who remember the first ‘car-phones’ that were the size of suitcases, and who actually know the meaning of an “E ticket’ ride at Disneyland.
So I invite you to try out Kickstarter, or IndieGoGo or other similar sites, to see work by inventive people of all ages. (Or at least by a bunch of youngsters plus one feisty 55-year-old who can’t lie about her age because her kids will rat her out.) The project pitches themselves are often very entertaining, and at least in the case of mine, you can amuse yourself by imagining the double dose of hate mail I’m likely to get from my title.
Check it out here.
The Oscars weren’t even over before the internet was buzzing with critical comments about celebrities’ appearance & wardrobe, and with critical comments about those critical comments. Can’t they just enjoy their intimate little industry awards ceremony (televised to millions and millions of watchers) in peace?
When celebrities and politicians put themselves in the public eye, they’re fair game, since they achieved their status through public attention. I do agree that it’s not nice to hit below the belt (although when Joan Rivers does it, it’s pretty entertaining). But it is perfectly appropriate to criticize public figures for the choices they make, whether it’s to dress like a swan, complete with an egg purse (no one will ever top Bjork’s outfit!), or to disregard the one name you’re supposed to introduce (which has already launched apps that will ‘John Travolta’ your name into something unintelligible).
Likewise, when politicians say or do ridiculous things, it is understandable when we mock them, whether it’s John Oliver’s iconic ‘Carlos Danger’ dance when he was subbing on The Daily Show, or all the humor that was prompted by Sarah Palin’s insistence that she could see Russia from her house. (Although even Ms. Palin could be overshadowed by some neighborhoods – during the ’08 election, I had been a runner-up in a Palin impersonation contest, and thus was invited to come in costume to the Castro, San Francisco’s colorful gay neighborhood, to introduce a local news feature on Halloween. I walked several blocks in a red suit & her signature hairstyle and glasses, carrying a larger-than-lifesized stuffed fake moosehead, and no one even stopped to look at me. But I digress . . . )
So sure, sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt at making fun of politicians in these weekly songs. But hey, I can take it as well as dish it out – I know that by posting my videos on youTube, I will get insulted and called a variety of names (which are usually spelled wrong). And if politicians like Ted Cruz do things like urging their supporters to pray for more anti-gay discrimination laws, or insist that if people listen to Ted Nugent, it’s Obama’s fault, then they can’t expect me to resist material like that!
If you’re as old as I am, or a devotee of topical comedy songs, you might be familiar with Tom Lehrer’s song, “Pollution,” in which tourists were advised, when visiting the US, “don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.” Which was making fun of the traditional advice to American tourists visiting other countries, advice which is still given regarding many destinations. (And rightly so in some cases – apparently journalists covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi received notes in their hotel rooms warning them not to drink the tap water or put it on their faces because it ‘contained something bad’ and was a dark yellow color. Some news anchors compared it to the color of beer, although as Jon Stewart pointed it, it looked more like ‘the result of beer.’ But I digress . . . )
No matter what we experience overseas, we expect safe water here in the US, so when it turns into gray sludge (like in North Carolina’s recent coal-ash spill) or smells like licorice (West Virginia’s chemical spill), it attracts quite a bit of attention. We are used to trusting our senses – if it looks or smells funny, we aren’t reassured by public health officials saying the water is fine (just not for pregnant women). Apparently regulations in those areas were so lax, no one had any idea that the pipes or storage tanks were going to fail. Sure, we can have a civilized debate over the best ways to regulate toxic chemical storage – but when several counties in two different states have either gray sludge or licorice water coming out of their faucets, we know something is definitely wrong! So I guess it’s time for a new song about tainted water . . .
When Shirley Temple Black passed away last week, it reminded us how important entertainment had been to American during the Depression. It’s easy to mock statements about that impact – “Gosh, I have no job, no food, and I’m about to get evicted from my tenement, but I don’t care as long as I can watch a curly-haired moppet sing & dance!” – but good songwriting does have the power to connect with our emotions. (Which are not always positive – after my boyfriend dumped me on my 22nd birthday, I wrote a country revenge ballad titled “You Broke My Heart, So Now I Want To Break Your Legs” . . . but I digress.)
There does seem to be a correlation between economic woes and music. The Depression was the heyday of big silly musicals, but it also led to classic songs like “Brother Can You Spare A Dime,” and even the dippy cheerfulness of “We’re In The Money” starts with an incredibly ironic celebration of finding – gasp – a quarter! During the uproar of the 60s, the folk revival turned to protest songs (as embodied by Pete Seeger, another recent loss to the music world). That was also the birth of tongue-in-cheek comedy, including The Smothers Brothers. (If you haven’t heard their rendition of “John Henry” or “Streets of Laredo,” you’re in for a treat!, thanks to youTube.)
So with partisanship and income inequality at all-time highs today, you’d think we’d see yet another form of hard-times-inspired entertainment. Of course, trends are hard to see from within, so it will be a few years before we know whether this era is defined by bubbly escapism (“Gangnam Style,” anyone?), innocuous boy bands like One Direction, or a series of revenge songs penned by Taylor Swift about her various celebrity breakups. However, in the meantime I’ll offer my own contribution to protest songs, 2014-style . . . “The $10.10 Blues.”