Monday, December 23, 2013

Understanding Taiwan's Tobacco Labels

A Disassociated Press Public Service Memo [黑色幽默, kuso, satire]

by Eric Mader

The Chinese writing system is the world's most difficult--by a long shot. Foreigners who move to Taiwan engage in a daily uphill battle to read shop signs, posters and product labels.

Having been here awhile, and studied Chinese, I thought I should do my part to help newcomers make sense of their environment. Today I'll post these translations of Taiwan's tobacco warning labels for the foreigner smokers here who can't yet read Chinese.

Label 1

This one says: The wife and kid getting on your nerves? Time to step out for a quiet smoke. And why not stop in at the pub for a pint while you're at it?

Label 2

This one says: One of these lungs belongs to a street-smart big city detective always one step ahead of the game. The other belongs to a suburbanite flake who believes in crystal healing. Can you tell which is which?

Label 3

This one says: Yes, it is possible to continue smoking while having sex. Just be careful you don't stub your cigarette.

Label 4

This one says: Colas and other soft drinks not only rot your teeth, they can also lead to obesity. Tobacco, a known appetite suppressant, can help you shed those unwanted pounds.

Label 5

This one says: Smoking is one of life's great pleasures. Given the current state of smoking technology, however, you will have to wait to be born before you can begin.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Megyn Kelly can't whitewash her Jesus and Santa rant

Dear Megyn Kelly:

So you went and said something moronic on air about how Santa Claus and Jesus are both "white men". I have to admit, when I first saw your quoted remarks I wasn't really surprised, because I know you work for a network where everyone is paid to say moronic things. Comments like these are pretty much par for the course, no?

But still I'm disappointed, Megyn. And when I watched the actual clip, the seven-minute segment of your show where you went on repeating your "white" assertion, I felt I really needed to drop you a note. I think it's time you and your colleagues grew up and started recognizing what the world is really like.

"Santa just IS white. . . . Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change, you know. . . . Jesus was a white man too." --Megyn Kelly bringing the Christmas cheer on Fox News.

From the outset I should point out that I think it's fine if you picture Santa or Jesus to yourself as "white". If you are a Christian, you probably have an image of Jesus in your mind, and of course you have your own mental images of Santa Claus too. People all around the world do.

What bothers me is that it seems to matter so deeply to you that Santa and Jesus "ARE white", as you put it--that they are actually in essence somehow white. So that you start to get angry if you see them depicted otherwise, as if real history were being distorted or your rights were being trampled on.

As for me, though I am "white" like you, Megyn, and come from the "American heartland", I now live in a country where Santa is often shown as Asian, and I have also been in churches where Jesus and his apostles are shown as Chinese, churches where they are shown as black, churches where they look like Central American farmers.

None of these depictions bothers me in the least. Maybe if you got out of your little white shell now and then, you would feel less bothered yourself. The fact is that each culture will tend to represent Jesus or Santa as one of their own. It helps people feel closer to these figures. And this, after all, is the point, is it not?

But I want to consider the problem of your remarks in a bit more depth. I find your assertion that Santa is white and your assertion that Jesus is white each troubling in its own way. Because whereas the one remark suggests almost a kind of psychosis, the other can only come from deep historical ignorance. Yes, it's true your network has accomplished much by repeatedly combining these two (psychosis and ignorance) but I remain kind of old school when it comes to thinking through cultural or religious issues. I prefer to separate out the strands, as it were.

Let's consider Santa's case first. When I hear you assert that Santa is a white man, I feel kind of like I might feel if an adult were to tell me in all seriousness that the Tooth Fairy is a brunette and NOT a blonde, and that I SHOULDN'T START THINKING OF THE TOOTH FAIRY AS A BLONDE. That IT WOULD OFFEND THE TOOTH FAIRY TO TALK THIS WAY.

Are you actually an adult, Megyn? Because this is how ridiculous you sound. After all, Santa Claus, as gift-bearing benefactor from the North Pole, doesn't even exist. He's a legendary figure, as even Sean Hannity might know, and any community can represent him as whatever race they want. And this is in fact what they do.

But here is the image of Santa you ran on your show as an example of what Santa "really" looks like:

This guy is fine if it works for you, Megyn. But everyone is entitled to have their own Santa. My Santa, for instance, looks like this:

Or sometimes like this:

But the simple truth, Megyn, is that Santa Claus, to the extent there is a verifiable historical figure behind him, wasn't even what you would call "white". Our legendary Santa is historically based on St Nicholas, a 4th century saint who lived in what is now Turkey. Based on careful study of his relics, combined with knowledge of the historical community he was born in, a facial anthropologist working with a digital artist projected what the saint may well have looked like. The project was completed in 2004. Here, then, is as close as we can get to the "real" Santa:

I know you, Megyn. If a man looking like this sat down next to you on a flight, you would feel a bit uneasy. Certainly you'd never mistake him for what you think of as a "white man". And if he then told you, a minute after seating himself, "Did you know, Megyn? I'm not just any old flyer. I'm actually Santa Claus. And I've brought something just for you in my luggage"--if he told you this I think you'd try to get yourself off that plane before takeoff. But that would be very ungrateful of you, Megyn, wouldn't it? Because next to you in that seat was the REAL Santa Claus! And you, in your hysterical fear, went and offended him!

But let's move on from Santa to a historical figure I care much more about, namely Jesus of Nazareth. Again I want to say, Megyn, that it's fine with me if you imagine Jesus as a "white man". Here are a few images of the Jesus you probably conjure in your mind when you think of him:

There's nothing wrong with these images (although I find the first one kind of frightening, as if Jesus were a mix between Orlando Bloom and E.T., with a bit of Taylor Swift thrown in). Still, we know from history and forensic anthropology that the actual Jesus almost certainly didn't look like these images, that instead he probably looked more like this:

This is a projection of Jesus' possible appearance based on the historical time and place he came from. This image of Jesus doesn't bother me at all. Does it bother you?

In any case, Megyn, I think you need to ask yourself the question: Is this an image of what you would consider a "white man"? I don't know. But the ball is in your court. Is this the kind of face you have in mind when you insist so confidently that Jesus was white? This face of a Middle Eastern man, which is what, of course, Jesus was?

Your remarks were deeply disappointing, Megyn. In front of millions of viewers you let yourself get angry that people outside your narrow community want to represent Jesus or Santa as closer to their own racial group. As if these people were out to distort the truth, a truth you think you somehow own. It's this last thing that disgusts the most: that you really seem to think you own the truth.

Though I am a "white American" myself, I don't at all feel black or Asian or Latino Christians are out to distort the truth. I think you need to grow up, Megyn. You don't accept that others will represent Santa or Jesus in their own way, and yet your white community has done exactly same thing: You've represented Jesus and Santa as "white men", simply because this suits your racial preferences.

Yours Caucasianally,

Eric Mader

* * *

Update: After a storm of criticism, Megyn Kelly now claims her remarks were "tongue-in-cheek" and that her critics are "race baiting" and willfully misunderstanding her. She claims she was trying to inject a little "humor" into the discussion. At this one must cry foul. It's clear to anyone who watches the original exchange that Kelly was was not trying to get a laugh: her tone is one of peevish annoyance, not humor. She ends the segment by trying to dismiss comments by a guest who points out, contrary to her wishes, that our images of Santa can be "inclusive". "You had to go there, didn't you?" she says.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Vaginal Knitting: Yarn and Yawn

If a man trains himself to thump out a ditty on a piano using his erect penis, we think of it as a joke, a kind of sick gag. YouTube will cut the video soon enough. But if a woman somehow manages to knit using her vagina--well, that's what we call "performance art". It is considered art in part because the reason the woman did it was, as she says, to raise awareness about a shunned and supposedly misunderstood part of female anatomy.

Uh-huh. Cue Casey Jenkins.

Now Casey Jenkins seems like an easygoing and open-minded woman. And she certainly seems earnest about her work here. But I would have to suggest, even so, that she is drowning in a narcissistic craving for attention. And she is perversely exploiting her own sex organs to get this attention.

When last month I read about the poor dope who nailed his scrotum to the pavement on Red Square I thought a new low in attention-grabbing antics had been reached. And I thought this new low might hold for awhile. At least for a year or so.

Russian artist Petr Pavlensky

But I was too hasty in my judgment. Not even a month has passed and this Australian "craftivist" Jenkins comes in and, uh, snatches the trophy away. She gets the trophy because her work, regardless of the earnestness she seems to show, cannot escape being ridiculous--reaching a new level of ridiculous in fact. It is the stuff of humor and scoffing and a vague or even strong sense of aversion. And these emotions are not, contrary to what her ideological statements suggest, because there is anything inherently scoff-worthy in a woman's vagina. No, the humor and scoffing and revulsion are not due to her vagina itself, but to the way she is exploiting it to get attention.

Some consider her work a "brave" feminist statement. Yaaaawwwwnnn. In what is it brave? Is it brave because she is openly courting ridicule by doing something so evidently ridiculous? Jenkins' performance doesn't even subvert any boundaries (unless you consider the boundary between scarf and tampon worth subverting, which I don't). Vaginal motorcycle repair, now that might provoke some thought, but vaginal knitting? C'mon. Muffs and knitting go way back. My grandma knit muffs in her day.

So you see I'm starting to take the humorous end of this yarn and run with it. Ouch. Because I think this is what Jenkins' work calls for.

I can credit Femen with bravery when they do actions in authoritarian states and risk arrest. I can certainly credit Muslim women with bravery when they stand against forces like the Taliban. But a woman in Australia publicly fetishizing her own sex organs is not bravery: it's silly narcissism grasping for the status of art. She knows she's almost certain to make a name for herself among the community of like-minded feminists and "artists". And she risks nothing but being laughed at for her trouble.

While we're on the silly antics of performance artists in rich Western countries, why not try to craft a vaginal art project of our own? I'm neither a woman nor an artist but even I have better ideas how to make political statements with vaginas than Casey Jenkins. If such a sentence as this last one offends and incites feminists to rage, all the better.

"Misogynist asshole! So you think you understands women better than women do, huh? Typical! What a fuckin' jerk!!! We need more women like Casey in the world!!!!"

Thought you'd say something like that.

But in fact I don't think I understand women or vaginas better than women do. I just think I, along with millions of other people, understand the subversive potential of art better than Casey Jenkins does. Even if this art involves employing the vagina.

You doubt it? Consider: We all know our planet is it trouble, and we all know one of the reasons is the unnecessary over-consumption that comes with capitalism. Many people try to link an ethic of environmental protection with the nurturing feminine, claiming that our destruction of the environment is mainly a result of patriarchy. I don't buy it, but no matter. For performance artists it's plausible enough. So here's my plan, my own contribution to snatch art: How about a group of women activists/artists who come forward and pledge that for the duration of a year they will buy nothing from shopping malls that they can't insert and carry out in their vaginas? Now that would constitute a subversive political statement! What's more, if enough women took up the cause, it would actually put a damper on excessive consumption. Just think--a whole year with no high-end bags being sold. Or a fall season without any chic urban trench coats going. Because who's going to be able to buy a new trench coat? If you've ever tried to stuff a whole trench coat in your vagina, you'll know what I mean. Yes, it's true those first-floor cosmetics companies wouldn't really be hurt, given the smooth little canisters they sell, but guys like Louboutin would be in deep trouble.

If my project sounds utterly ridiculous, if it sounds like a joke even as it's being formulated, there's good reason for that. It's because making art with your sex organs is a dubious strategy in any case. But putting the ludic element aside, I would still insist: my project is way more subversive and consciousness-raising than vaginal knitting. And maybe, you might be saying, I should actually start work on this project.

But look: there are two things that keep me from making a name for myself as the creator of Vaginal Shopping: 1) I have a penis and so am disqualified from even proposing the idea; 2) I have a sense of the positive aspects of the mild taboo we in the West still hold in relation to genitals, and so would consider the project degrading.

The one redeeming element I can see in Jenkins' project is that she's knitting just a single long scarf rather than a series of scarves. One long scarf can't be worn, and that's all for the better, I'd say. I shudder to think of her knitting and selling wearable scarves. And so I close with the following:


"Mom, why does my scarf smell like . . . ."

"Like fish, dear?"


"That's because that scarf is very special. It was made by a performance artist."

"What is a performance artist?"

"A performance artist is a person who does something obscene or ridiculous to get attention, but claims they're doing it because they care about some social issue."

"Do they really care about the social issue?"

"Maybe a little, honey. But the important thing is for them to get their name to appear in the media."



"Why do I have to leave this little hair stuck in the scarf?"

"That's like a signature, honey. I paid extra for the scarf because it had that hair. Try not to lose it."