Dora the Explorer and the global economy

Check out this wonderfully enlightening piece from Bitch Magazine about the socioeconomic realities of U.S. consumer relationships with Latina labor, in contrast to the unreality American parents love about the hit children’s cartoon Dora the Explorer. Here’s just a sample:

Throughout her adventures, Dora enjoys an unusual geographic mobility, crossing landscapes but never distinct borders, always returning home rather than staying somewhere new. Her animated domain is devoid of references to social class, labor, or a currency-based economy.

But in reality, Dora is less a global citizen than a global commodity, a marketing dream of multicultural merchandise that simultaneously appeals to Anglo and Latino parents and children. Ultimately, Dora is the product of a global television market and serves the transnational capital interests of Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon, and Mattel, whose subsidiary Fisher-Price makes Dora toys that are sold worldwide. As the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood documents, the Dora franchise has earned over $3.6 billion dollars in retail sales since debuting in 2000.

Dora’s starring role in the lucrative global television market stands in sharp contrast to the role real Latinas have played in a more literal form of television production, in which maquiladora trumps exploradora. First created in the 1960s, maquiladoras are foreign-owned Mexican factories in which imported raw materials and components are assembled into products that are exported for sale. Women constitute about 80 percent of the maquiladora workforce; according to Maquilapolis, a documentary by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre, women are recruited because factory owners consider them docile low-wage laborers.

Ah, I just love hard-hitting, pop cultural criticism.

NYT: College grads taking the big paycheck over service

The New York Times has an article today about a trend in which students at top universities (aka, Harvard and the other Ivies) seem to be taking default paths toward investment jobs after graduation. The piece contains interviews with a few professors and students who say they’re troubled that so many of the nation’s brightest go directly on to big paying, private-sector jobs instead of using their intelligence in public service.

First, I’ll say I don’t even fully believe that this is a real “default” choice. The mix of my friends who have gone onto high paying jobs vs. those who are going straight to grad school or taking service-type jobs (peace corps, non-profits) is pretty even. I realize this isn’t exactly a scientific poll, but it’s as scientific as the anecdotes the NYT shares to defend its position.

But let’s, just for a moment, assume there truly is a complete lack of imagination going into the post-college decisions of America’s brightest. Might there be a better explanation than the implied, “God, kids today are selfish”?

Since I’m on an Ani roll from last night, these lyrics came to mind right away (from Not a Pretty Girl):

and generally my generation
wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man
and generally I agree with them
trouble is you gotta have youself an alternate plan
and I have earned my disillusionment
I have been working all of my life
and I am a patriot
I have been fighting the good fight

Ok, so these lyrics don’t exactly say everything I want to say, but they seemed too perfect not to post. And I think there’s definitely an element of a possible explanation in these lyrics. With the wealth gap growing and unemployment rising, it’s difficult to imagine new college graduates wouldn’t be concerned about their personal financial stability in the future. And I know from personal experience just how difficult it is to find that “alternate plan.”

No, I can’t become a folk songstress like Ani has. No, I can’t find work at a non-profit with my complete lack of “significant” work experience. See, students have already done the low-paying work for years, and they, like everyone else, are looking for ways to get away from it. The fact is, it’s pretty difficult to manage to do so when “The Man” has your hands tied behind your back with the debt you face from student loans and the fact that there aren’t exactly people knocking on your doors to get you into public service (meanwhile, corporations are truly knocking on the doors of these Ivies to recruit the most intelligent students, and they’ve got a host of entry-level positions designed just to acclimate you).

And let’s face it, universities could be doing a little more to show students how they can make a living without selling out to work they don’t care about. Instead liberal arts colleges seem to present two possible paths for students immediately after graduation: 1-Take the careerist approach to finding the most lucrative offer or 2- Go into academia and continue to explore ideas like your professors do. Finding a third path requires a fair amount of originality, passion, and sticktoitiveness.

In an economy and super-competitive culture like this one, it just makes sense that we’re going to have trouble finding many people willing to find and then make those public service sacrifices before they’ve been able to secure their own well being. Selfish? Maybe. But that’s what this economy and universities tend to breed.

Martyn Joseph and some good old-fashioned protest music

So this guy, Martyn Joseph, opened for Ani last night. Obviously he’s a talented guitarist and he has a nice voice, but he sings pretty generic protest music. Still, I really enjoyed it, especially in a live setting. Plus, I will probably always have a soft spot for anti-war music or anyone who can write a song called “liberal backslider,” no matter how typical it may be:

Turkey hits a comeback turkey

(you know how in bowling, if you get three strikes in a row, they call it turkey? Yeah, I was trying to be punny)

The comeback kids of this Euro Cup, a Turkey team nobody thought would make past the first round, have just beaten 5-1 favored Croatia after going to penalty kicks after a last second tying goal at the end of the second overtime period. It was one of the best finishes I’ve ever seen.

I do feel bad for Croatia, not necessarily because they lost, but really just because they fell apart so completely in PKs.

Anyway, I’ll put up some video for those who missed it, as soon as they become available (it ended no more than 10 minutes ago)

tl;dr God, I love an underdog story!

*Update: Go see highlights here

Ani Difranco + Solstice Celebration + Me = Love

One of my faaaave feminist artists, Ani Difranco, is performing tomorrow night for a solstice festival (Happy birthday K!). It promises to provide loads of entertainment and lots of hippy love.

New MTV show to unspoil spoiled rich kids?

Latoya at Racialicious brings MTV’s latest “reality” tv endeavor to our attention:

Watching My Super Sweet 16 can give us a glimpse of “the good life.” Amidst the demanding divas and epic meltdowns that lead up to insanely over-the-top teenage birthday bashes, we get a look at the posh lives of wealthy families. And while we take that often envious look at how the other half lives, how many of us sit there wishing that these spoiled teens could be slapped with a serious dose of reality?

Wish no more, because they’re about to get Exiled! Fed up with their seemingly endless mooching, their parents have had enough of this Sweet 16 set and are ready to send them away to learn the lesson of a lifetime. They’ve arranged to place their children in remote parts of the world with host families who have never tasted anything close to the high society life.

A few years after tossing the parties that made them stars in their schools and fueled rivalries among the rich kids, you’re going to see some of the Sweet 16-ers you loved to hate the most — Ava, Sierra, Amanda, Bjorn, Marissa, Chelsi, Meleny and Alex — shipped away from their plush homes and easy lives and Exiled to foreign locations such as the jungles of the Amazon, the tundra of the Arctic Circle, the Andes mountains and remote islands in the South Pacific where they’ll have to live like local commoners with none of the amenities of their normally privileged lives.

So, here’s the thing, I’ve complained about a billion times about how MTV’s reality tv either shows the ridiculously fabulous and trivial lives of the wealthy or the “trashy” and drama filled lives of the lower-middle class (shows like True Life, Engaged and Underaged) with virtually no in between, where poverty and wealth are spectacles which really define the characters and plot.

This is something relatively new, of course. For a change, we’ll see these rich kids not getting everything they want. But I’m with Latoya in her first objection:

One, they are only gone for a week. A WEEK! How is a week going to undo a whole lifetime of obnoxious behavior?

This totally reminds me of those Spring Break trips college kids can do to find out how hard it is to be homeless, where they’ll live on the streets for that week. I’m sure it’s an eye-opening experience, but I don’t know why we should kid ourselves into thinking so short a trip to the “other side” will create anything close to actual empathy or down-to-earthness. I’ll be surprised if this Exiled show doesn’t embrace such a narrative…

Aside from all this, why do these awakenings have to take place in foreign countries with foreign families? Are we to believe there aren’t families in the U.S. these kids could live with to learn what its like not to have their usual amenities of privilege? Wouldn’t a week with the family who lives just on the other side of the tracks be an even greater shock to the system?

World Cup 2010: At whose cost?

Dave Zirin at The Nation reports that preparations for World Cup 2010 are likely to exacerbate violence and unrest in the host country, South Africa.

Cities such as Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg will be the nexus for thousands of foreign fans and dignitaries. Meanwhile, the building of five new mega-stadiums would, according to some South African politicians, “clear the slums by 2010.” Le Monde Diplomatique wrote in May about the World Cup preparations: “Construction–and corruption–is booming. But almost none of the building or the money can be accessed by the poor who live in shantytowns without proper water, sanitation or electricity.” Housing prices in the twenty-first century have gone up 92 percent, while wages have risen a mere 8 percent. As slums are cleared, tensions will surely rise.

Now, I like to think I’m a real soccer hooligan and the World Cup is like 100 times cooler than Christmas for me. And I was as excited as the next person at the chance to finally have an African nation as the host country. But how can this be justified? The people paying the price for this Cup by having their neighborhoods demolished won’t even see any of the benefits of the games. So they’re displaced for what exactly? Just so South Africa can do what it takes to host a soccer tournament?

AC/DC sign with Wal-Mart?

Rolling Stone reports that AC/DC will be following the path of several other artists by selling their new album exclusively through Wal-Mart this fall. By foregoing a deal with a record label, and instead going directly through a retailer, AC/DC and others are able to sell their albums to customers for $15, about $5 less than the price of most newly released albums.

I won’t be shedding any tears for the neglected record labels. I actually like the idea of this. I just hope Wal-Mart won’t be the only retailer to take this direct-to-shelves approach to cd sales. I don’t really like the idea of being forced to give a corporation like Wal-Mart my money in order to get access to music I want. But in truth, I think a good number of the artists I like would never get in bed with Wal-Mart, making it impossible for me to ever benefit from these lower prices, anyway… On the whole, the idea that one retailer will have exclusive rights to sell a product doesn’t really bother me, if it means lower prices. As it is, with cd prices so high, I already feel like I’m cornered into buying mp3s through iTunes, and not everyone has an mp3 player or a computer. Deals like this might mean people who couldn’t get access to the music otherwise can now afford it.

NBA Finals: Ratings, Rivalries, Rigging

Last year when the San Antonio Spurs took on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, the television ratings were some of the lowest of all time for Finals games shown during primetime. But last night’s game three in the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics brought the NBA the highest ratings it has seen for an NBA finals game three since 2004, up over 40% since last year.

There are plenty of contributing factors that could be causing this rise in ratings: Kobe Bryant is a show stopper with a major fan-following from all over the country. The NBA itself has been hyping the nostalgia of the series based on the Celtics-Lakers battles of the 80s, and everyone knows viewers love a good rivalry. And maybe, just maybe, the Spurs were too boring to make anyone want to watch, and this ratings boom is simply a natural effect of not having the Spurs involved. I also have a theory that Jack Nicholson and the other celebrities the Lakers draw in provide some interest for our celebrity-obsessed culture.

Additionally, that record-breaking game three last night came on the heels of allegations from the jailbound former referee Tim Donaghy that the NBA told the referees to make sure the Lakers beat the Kings in game six of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, to bring about a game 7 — a game 7 the Lakers eventually won. While this news could certainly raise interest in the goings on of the NBA, it might also raise some doubts about the purity of the buildup to these finals and the neck-and-neck results we’re seeing now.

Kings fans may feel completely ripped off, but fans of other teams too may believe they have grounds to complain as well. For fans of teams from areas less populated than L.A. or Boston, this boom in ratings, as it coincides with allegations of NBA corruption, can give rise to some major conspiracy theories. Major cities like L.A., Chicago, Boston, and New York, bring with them huge populations of potential viewers and merchandise consumers, and since one of the major allegations against the NBA is that it fixed a Western Conference Final game to lift the Lakers over the Kings, many fans (especially embittered fans of the teams who didn’t make it to the finals and got knocked out by those pesky Lakers) might be tempted to jump to some additional conclusions about NBA corruption.

From a business point of view, given the option between, say, a Sacramento team, and a team like the Lakers, it’s clear one result would seem more profitable than the other. Just like, and I’m sure my fellow Jazz fans will agree here, when Michael Jordan, millionaire and marketing man’s dream, won his fifth and sixth titles, that was probably a more appealing result than giving those back-to-basics Jazz from a state with a total population of just over 3 million any title at all. This isn’t to say either of those Jazz-Bulls series was rigged or any games in the 2008 playoffs were rigged so the NBA could get this dream matchup… But the recent allegations make it seem more believable than ever before that it could have happened… Let’s just say I won’t be at all surprised if this series happens to go all the way to a much-hyped game seven.

An American Girl and the Great Depression

This weekend Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl opens in theaters. The movie is based on a series of books about American Girl character/doll, Kitt Kittredge. While I was totally into American Girl dolls and their books as a kid, I think Kitt was introduced to the group a few years after my American Girl prime. But my little sister had the doll and loved the books.

I’ve always loved that the American girls were girl characters with a lot of spunk, a lot of ambition, and a lot of strength, which is rare for girl characters written just for girl readers. Kitt is especially interesting to me because her story is set during the Great Depression. I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen that has depicted this era of extreme American poverty, let alone from a child’s perspective, so I’m excited to see how they depict it here in a kids’ movie. I plan to see it when it opens this weekend (with the little sister and perhaps a gaggle of her friends). Review to come.

Here’s the trailer: