Michael Phelps: Man of Privilege

I’ve had as much fun as the next person watching Michael Phelps do the unthinkable in Beijing. But I think Saxon Baird at my other blog, Pushback, raises some really critical points when he reminds us that success and failure at the Olympics are not disconnected from economic or national privilege.

Michael Phelps just put on what was arguably the most spectacular exhibition of athleticism in Olympic history. Newspapers across the country have hailed him as possibly the greatest Olympian of all time. And while Phelps’ talent is undeniable, I can’t help but view his success as not just a demonstration of talent and hard work, but of resources and economic backing. Not to take away from Phelps’ historic Olympic success, but I have to ask: Would Phelps have done as well swimming for a country with fewer economic resources to support its athletes? I doubt it.

The top three medal winning countries as of today are China, the United States, and Russia. All of which are large, economically affluent countries. Australia, Germany, and France make up the fourth through six th spots. In the top 10 medal winners there are only three Asian countries, and none located in Africa or South America. The reason for this is clear: A country’s Olympic success directly correlates to the level of funding and the quality of training it can provide to its Olympic athletes.

I’ll add that Phelps’ success isn’t just about the economic resources of his country, but also about the resources of his family. Not everyone in the world could have the chance to train like he has, and neither could everyone in the United States. Phelps was lucky to be born to a family that could dedicate so much time and money to their son’s athletics.

This isn’t to take anything away from Michael Phelps’ success and athleticism, but I think it is important when we take part in these “if you believe in it, anything is possible” narratives that we also remember some things are more possible for certain people than they are for others.


Salt Lake City–Fightin’ the good fight for me

I just bought and listened to “Didn’t it Feel Kinder,” the new solo album from Amy Ray (also of Indigo Girls). It’s soooo great. The absolute highlight was a track I’d already heard about before the release, a song dedicated to my beloved Salt Lake City. Early this year Ray came to Salt Lake to help Utahns try to save a community-owned radio station, KRCL, which was being completely reformatted (aka, all volunteer DJs were replaced by “professionals), supposedly to attract a broader base of listeners. She was apparently impressed with all the passion of “the kids” in Salt Lake City. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

Salt Lake City radio radio

fightin’ the good fight for me

All the songs, all the words,

don’t get played, don’t get heard

I’m pullin in to the LDS nation

Lookin’ for the community station

‘Cause we heard about the kids in Salt Lake City

and how they fight to be set free

and how they fight for you and me

and radio, radio community.”

Makes me proud about my kids in SLC, but it also makes me sad KRCL couldn’t be saved in its more than 30 year old format. Since the changes, Radio Free Utah is still pretty cool, but it definitely doesn’t feel like it used to, and it doesn’t have the really obscure, but interesting musical selections it used to have. Bah, I guess we’ll have to keep fighting the good fight against big media…

Critical Feminist Fashion Question:

Do you still get the indie cred if the feminist you’re wearing on your shirt is a second waver?

Systemic, economic explanations of human behavior? BORING!

Courtney Martin at Feministing has this really troubling post about being contacted by a morning news program about a story on a social networking site for women looking for sugar daddies (ick, reminds me of this post). After telling the producer what she’d say about some of the social and economic factors that often lead women to seek financial support in men, instead of simply calling these women trash, as the producer wanted, Courtney heard nothing back from them. That just wasn’t good TV. They wanted something a little more… “feisty.”

This is not entirely unexpected, but so bothersome when you hear about how calculated TV news is in a real instance. News media must make money. Sensationalism brings in the viewers and the money. Blaming individuals and framing a debate as a cat fight is sensational. Legitimate, boring explanations that have to do with money and social inequality…meh, we’ll pass. This really is so frustrating.

With stakes like these in the mainstream media, it’s hard to imagine real social change being instigated in these traditional forums…This is part of the reason I’m so grateful for alternative media (like Democracy Now! just as an example), and especially for the existence of blogs. I know we always question just what kind of impact or influence blogs have, but just think where we’d be without them. Though the audiences for blogs are self-selected and certainly more limited than the audience that would be watching the morning news show Courtney was asked to speak on, the very fact that we can turn to Feministing to hear about this instance and to hear the very arguments Courtney wanted to share on TV is a huge step forward. It’s progress, and I think an essential part of the path to positive social change.

Shameless self-promotion: Me at Skirt!

I have a piece in Skirt! Magazine this month on what it means to be a feminist daughter to your mother:

Growing up, I’d never heard my mother identify as a feminist, and her social and political beliefs had been different than my own in many ways. Usually I would try to bridge this gap by forcing my mother to read endless amounts of feminist literature, with the hope that she’d better understand my positions, and maybe, begin to share them. Luckily my mother, God love her, has actually met almost all of my literary demands thus far. But some mother-daughter feminist problems haven’t been simple enough to resolve with a visit to the library, mostly because sometimes being a child to someone conflicts with being a feminist supporter.

Check it out!

Looking for more hits to your blog?

Just write posts about kids’ movies that include the words “androgynous” and “queer.”

My Wall-E post has been read more than 12,000 times, which for my blog is about 11,998 times more than the average post.

Seriously though, where did you people come from?

No BIG vacation this year? Cry me a river

SmartLikeMe at the Feministing community blog has a great post about the classism of all the articles being written about the affect of gas prices on summer vacations. No, they aren’t making families so poor they can’t afford time off work. No, they aren’t making families so poor they have no entertainment budget. Apparently the big tragedy is that this summer families can’t drive or fly thousands of miles away, and they have to find entertainment closer to home, something cutely called, a “staycation.”

Why are middle and upper-middle class families and their precious Disney vacations the face of the rising cost of gasoline and not the working class families who lived month to month as it was before the exponential price increases…who maybe have to skimp on food or medical services, and for whom a Myrtle Beach trip isn’t even on their radar? Instead of moping about being stuck at home, maybe some of these families should spend part of their summer volunteering for charities who help those who will only ever hear about DisneyWorld in the stories told by other more fortunate kids.

Really, though, how did it get like this? No wonder right wing assholes certain people think Americans are babies about the economy — because they don’t stop to think about how these rising prices affect people already barely getting by, and few people in the mainstream media seem to care to show them.

Honestly, if I ever hear about the tragedy of the “staycation” again…no, no, make that, if I ever even hear the word “staycation” again, I may have to take a permanent vacation from reading travel and leisure newspaper sections.