Archive for June, 2011

Reasons why The Voice > American Idol

June 30, 2011

After randomly watching a rerun of The Voice, I became hooked. Initially, I wasn’t too interested in watching because so many singing-related talent shows have been infiltrating the airwaves. You’ve seen the shows: The Sing-Off, X-Factor, America’s Got Talent, and, of course, American Idol — in fact, I watched American Idol religiously in its first few seasons but eventually grew bored with it.

But I’ve become engrossed in The Voice. My boyfriend and I watch it every week, vote for the contestants, download the songs, tweet about it constantly, and spend way too much time critiquing the performances afterward (yes, we devoted 90 percent of our dinner conversation Monday night to The Voice). So what makes The Voice so much better than American Idol, the premier singing competition reality show?

1. The contestant pool 

American Idol‘s restrictions on its contestants are aimed to attract young, raw talent. The rules stipulate that you can’t have an agent, manager, recording contract, acting contract, or any other contract that the producers think would stop you from participating in the show; if you’ve been on the show before, you can’t re-audition if you made it past certain levels previously; and you have to be between 15 and 28 years old. Their restrictive contract also turns off applicants — Vicci Martinez made it to the regionals of American Idol but didn’t want to sign the restrictive contract and dropped out.

The Voice has more lax eligibility restrictions. Like Idol you can’t be related to anyone who works for the show or the production company, but the only age restriction is that you must be at least 16 years old. You can’t be holding or running for public office, either. In fact, Voice winner Javier Colon (34) and top four contender Beverly McClellan (41) wouldn’t be eligible to audition for American Idol.

The contestants on American Idol are typically less refined, lacking in professional experience, and are young — and sometimes it’s neat to see someone young like Diana DeGarmo make it to the final two, but it also makes for a lot of mediocre talent as you watch the numbers dwindle from 24 to, say, the top four. The Voice allows for more honed talent, with people like Dia Frampton — whose band Meg and Dia has been to Warped Tour several times and releases a few albums; Javier has released two albums; Vicci boasts eight albums; and Beverly boasts five.

Whereas American Idol wants raw, untapped talent, The Voice allows contestants who have had record contracts and albums but haven’t achieved mainstream success. I like that all the competitors are at the top of their game, have training, and are equally, highly talented with experience in the industry. It makes the competition more fierce and exciting to watch.

2. The time lapse 

I lose interest in American Idol because it drags on for months. Week by week, one by one, the dead weight gets voted off. I’m not interested or sad to see mediocre talent get voted off — wake me up when the best singers are left. But even then, the performers still sometimes aren’t that dynamic (likely because of inexperience). I like the fast pace of The Voice — two episodes (maybe three?) of auditions, then battle rounds, then quick cuts on each team from eight to four to two to one.

It’s hard to see talented people so quickly get kicked off the show, but it makes you want to watch when the cuts will be so dramatic. And the show doesn’t lose your attention because there’s only four episodes of voting. I can’t handle American Idol‘s six episodes of auditions, plus a few weeks of Hollywood auditions, plus 12 weeks or so of live voting.

3. The audition/competition structure 

I know everyone loves to see people humiliated on American Idol, but I like the idea of blind auditions only for people who are actually talented. No exploiting people for ratings because you know the ridiculous contestants get ratings, no wasting the judges’ time, and an element of mystery for the judges who have nothing to judge contestants on but their voice. I find this refreshing and interesting.

I also like how the judges have a personal, invested interest in specific people in the competition. I loved the battle rounds most of all — hearing two people sing a song and deciding who I thought sang it better. It really gets to the point — there’s no room to float by in the middle for a while, you need to be on your A-game because there’s no floating by. If you are mediocre, you won’t make it past the blind auditions (if you manage to get picked for a team).

The thing I lament about the structure is that most of the judges this season didn’t want to choose when it came time to allocate votes between their final two contestants. They evenly delegated 50 votes of 100 votes to each person, not wanting to make a decision. This hurt their finalists more than anything, because it gave the audience complete control to choose who stayed and went.

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Overall, The Voice is just more fast-paced, fun to watch, and is seeping with talent than American Idol. The Voice focuses on the well of experienced musicians who had small successes (I actually had a song from Dia’s band on my iPod, courtesy of seeing their music video on MTVu in college), but are stuck in a musical limbo where they’ve put out albums or signed record deals but aren’t seeing mainstream success (artists shouldn’t be “past their prime” just because they aren’t in their 20s anymore). I prefer the fast-paced, highly competitive, talent overflow of The Voice to the dragged out, hit or miss American Idol. 

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On abortion being safe, legal, and rare

June 29, 2011

I like Hillary Clinton’s oft-quoted stance on abortion — that it should be safe, legal, and rare.

But if abortions are going to be safe, then they need to be performed by trained medical professionals. Legislation passed the U.S. House, however, that would ban health centers from using federal money to train medical students about how to perform abortions. If they are going to be safe, they also need to be performed in a reputable location. Legislation exists and has passed legislatures countrywide, however, that attempts to shut down abortion clinics — either by re-regulating them as hospitals or surgical centers so they can’t afford to renovate and meet the new building standards, or by taking away their government funds in hopes it will require clinics to shut down.

If abortions are going to be legal, then attempts to so severely restrict abortion access need to end. Ohio’s “heartbeat” bill passed the Ohio House and is headed to the Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans. To restrict abortions to a narrow window when most women wouldn’t even recognize they are pregnant — even in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger — is essentially banning most abortions unless you immediately take a pregnancy test upon missing your period, and even then you have to hope your body is producing the pregnancy hormones to register the test as positive. In South Dakota, there is only one abortion clinic and now they require a 72-hour waiting period and a consultation with a pregnancy crisis center before you’re allowed to get the abortion. Some want to mandate that life starts at conception, effectively making all abortions illegal.

If abortions are going to be rare, then attempts to de-fund family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood need to end altogether. Contraception takes up 35 percent of the services that Planned Parenthood performs — can you imagine how many more abortions women would seek if they didn’t have access to affordable, pregnancy-preventing contraceptives (or men without access to affordable vasectomies)? Pregnancy prevention is integral in preventing abortions. You can restrict access to safe, legal abortions, but that doesn’t mean women won’t seek illegal, unsafe abortions elsewhere — and that puts the mother in severe danger (though states like Ohio obviously aren’t concerned with saving mothers’ lives). Also, increased contraception use has proved most effective in preventing teen pregnancies — a solid argument for the importance of comprehensive sex ed as opposed to abstinence-only sex ed. Abortions should be rare because of better contraceptive use, not because of restrictive laws.

It’s unfortunate that the motto for many anti-choicers instead is unsafe, illegal, and never — often taken to extremes that would criminalize women for even thinking about abortion or miscarrying.

These bills’ transitioning from outlandish propositions to approved legislation showcases that however unconstitutional, illegal, or ridiculous these proposals are, they have a real chance at passing GOP-dominated legislatures. In fact, Amanda Marcotte recently outlined why Roe v. Wade is not safe from being overturned. Safe, legal, and rare is a reasonable goal, but anti-choicers are quickly creating barriers to reaching it — which is why it’s necessary to remain vocal with local, state, and congressional representatives when it comes to abortion and reproductive rights.

Massey kept 2 sets of safety records, hid hazards from gov’t

June 29, 2011

New information regarding the mine explosion that killed 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia details how mine operator Massey Energy kept separate sets of safety records, some entryways and tunnels weren’t treated for excessive coal dust because they were too small to fit the equipment needed to do so, and readings taken at the mine dispel Massey’s claim that a sudden, natural burst of Methane caused the explosion.

NPR reports:

Mine owner Massey Energy kept two sets of records that chronicled safety problems. One internal set of production reports detailed those problems and how they delayed coal production. But the other records, which are reviewed by federal mine safety inspectors and required by federal law, failed to mention the same safety hazards. Some of the hazards that were not disclosed are identical to those believed to have contributed to the explosion.

Massey needs to be held responsible for these deceptions — they intentionally hid from safety inspectors that their mining operations were hazardous, and this led to the deaths of 29 people. Coal is dangerous not only to the environment, but to the coal miners for this very reason — people like Massey’s former CEO Don Blankenship are so obsessed with profits that they’ll stop at nothing to produce as much coal as possible with little regard to the consequences.

Attention cheating men: Nature didn’t cause your infidelity

June 28, 2011

I feel so bad for men and their instinctual inability not to cheat on their significant others:

When a girl is literally unzipping your pants, men can’t say no. We’re not built that way.

This is a quote from a recent article in Marie Claire about bachelor parties and what really happens at them. The man quoted above used this line as an excuse for why it was OK for him to cheat on his wife at a bachelor party — because when a woman propositions to hook up, a man’s unstoppable instinct is to oblige. In fact, Dilbert creator Scott Adams recently went so far as to group “tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive” as examples of bad behavior that really are “natural instincts of men [that] are shameful and criminal” according to society.

This is a tired and untrue claim made by men who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions — that their sexual desires and urges are so powerful that if a woman is naked in front of them, they are helpless to overcome their instinct to get laid. What this really speaks to isn’t a natural instinct, but a lack of willpower, self-control, and forethought. If a woman comes on to you and you are in a relationship where hooking up with other people is considered cheating, then you have the agency to decline, push her away, walk away, etc. If you literally can’t fight these temptations and they overwhelm your life, you likely need to seek professional help for a sex addiction.

Hugo Schwyzer at the Good Men Project says that this type of bachelor party behavior isn’t natural male instinct, but a social response from peers to prove one’s masculinity and maintain male camaraderie by hooking up with women:

What’s curiously absent in the Marie Claire article (and in the research on male homosociality and heterosexual behavior) is lust. Most of us were raised to believe that young men are in a state of near-constant arousal, with sex first and foremost on their minds. The reality […] is that orgasm is secondary in importance to homosocial validation.

I’ve seen this kind of male peer pressure countless times — the most recent, documented example is from The Real World when Leroy harasses Dustin to kiss Cooke. Dustin seemed to relent only because of Leroy’s goading, and I’m sure proving his heterosexuality to male roommates after his gay-porn-star past was revealed also factored into that decision. But what he lost in making his on-and-off roommate girlfriend Heather mad, he gained in respect and validation from Leroy.

The mantra that men can’t fight their sexual temptations (see also this video which begs women to dress modestly because men can’t fight their lustful and sinful temptations) ignores that people come equipped with reason and logic. And I know that many men don’t employ the sex-crazed mantra, and many men wouldn’t encourage their buddies at bachelor parties to cheat on their significant others, but this excuse is thrown around so much in regard to sexual behavior generally that it’s unsettling. And it becomes most unsettling when used as Adams does, to excuse rape as a natural male instinct because men can’t control their sexual urges.

Or as Dan Rottenberg wants to excuse rape, as the quintessential “drama” that men — the “human animal” — naturally crave:

Conquering an unwilling sex partner is about as much drama as a man can find without shooting a gun— and, of course, guns haven’t disappeared either.

This is an example of rape apologism that I haven’t heard before — that forcing a woman against her will to have sex with you is a real thrill that men naturally seek — but follows the same rhetoric of excusing behavior because it’s deemed natural for men to do. Considering that we’re a species that prides itself on its intelligence, it’s merely a matter of convenience to revert to the “it’s just uncontrollable instinct” defense to escape accountability for “bad” behavior.

So instead of, “We’re not built to stay faithful to our significant others,” maybe cheating men should try being more honest with themselves. Some possible truths include, “I’m not really committed to my current partner,” “I’m caving to peer pressure,” or “I’m a douchebag who simply hopes to cheat on his partner, lie about it, and get away with it just because I can.”

Sexual histories: Is it lying if you don’t talk about them?

June 16, 2011

Unless you haven’t dated or ever been physical with anyone before, you undoubtedly enter new relationships with a history. Past flings, past relationships, past experiences — everyone’s history is different, from the number of people in your relation Rolodex to the extent of your relationships with those past people. But if you don’t share this history with your partner(s), are you lying to them?

That was the claim made on the reunion special of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Here’s the rundown: Alexis and Jim have been married for seven years, and Alexis and Peggy have been friends for four years. About 15 or so years ago, Jim and Peggy “hung out” (Peggy’s euphemism) but then decided they’d be better off as friends. When Peggy asked Jim if Alexis knew about their past, he said Alexis didn’t know and “would never know.” A few months ago, Alexis found out about Jim and Peggy’s fling.

The other housewives said they thought Jim had lied to Alexis, and Tamra was insistent that this constituted Jim keeping secrets from her. But Alexis said they agreed at the beginning of their relationship not to discuss their histories. They were starting a new chapter together, and they weren’t interested in the previous ones.

Rarely do I agree with anything Alexis says, but in this case, she’s right. It’s important for partners to create those boundaries when it comes to discussing their past relations, so that both parties are clear about what they do and don’t want to know. There is value to knowing — and it’s essential to ask about — whether that person is free of sexually transmitted infections in every case; the value of knowing how many partners someone has had and the explicit details of what they’ve done is on a case-by-case basis, depending on the person receiving the info.

So Jim and Alexis decide and agree that they don’t want to know about each other’s past. When Jim doesn’t tell Alexis about his fling with Peggy, that isn’t lying or keeping secrets — it’s simply keeping to the agreement because Alexis doesn’t want to know about Jim’s past. I also agree with Alexis that if Peggy thought it was important to tell, Peggy should’ve mentioned it to Alexis — Jim has no obligation to disclose that information because of the no-info-sharing agreement, but Peggy isn’t under any such contractual constraints.

Sharing info can be a slippery slope. My boyfriend and I have discussed, in relation to Real World‘s Dustin not telling Heather about his porn star past, how the line is blurry when it comes to what you have an obligation to tell your partner. Questions like, “Have you been tested for STIs?” or “How many sexual partners have you had?” or “How many long-term relationships have you had?” are easy to think of and might even come up in casual conversation. “Have you ever done gay porn?” probably isn’t.

But here, the line was drawn firmly in the sand — they don’t want to know anything, so Jim isn’t a liar. This would be much more complicated if there was no agreement in place — should Jim warn Alexis about his fling with Peggy? Is it up to Alexis to ask Jim if he’s slept with every new woman they meet? Is he a liar for not disclosing at all, even if she never asks? “Liar” isn’t accurate unless he denies a fling with Peggy, but withholding information you think your partner should or would want to know is deceptive — not to mention it puts that person in the sucky everyone-knows-about-this-but-you position.

(On a sidenote, hearing Peggy’s side of the story and how determined Jim sounded not to let Alexis find out makes me curious whether they actually did have such an agreement and/or whether he had lied about it to Alexis in the past.)

Michele Bachmann vows to axe EPA if elected president

June 14, 2011

You know what would be a great idea? Axing the Environmental Protection Agency. Because voters don’t really like clean water or air, anyway.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann promised to eliminate the “job killing federal agency” if elected president in 2012, playing off the misconceptions that (1) the EPA’s only job is to try to regulate carbon dioxide and (2) since global warming is a big hoax, the EPA really isn’t necessary. So without the EPA, who exactly would ensure that drinking water is safe or that toxic waste is properly disposed of?

Does anyone actually think that without the EPA, polluters would simply self-regulate and voluntarily take steps to reduce pollution? That they would be more concerned with human health than their own profits and wouldn’t exceed EPA pollutant levels without the government checking in on them? And it’s not just about regulating carbon dioxide, which some people think is harmless to the environment — it’s lead, it’s arsenic, it’s radiation, it’s acid rain, it’s nitrous oxide, it’s volatile organic compounds, it’s countless toxins that have been proved hazardous to our health.

People like Bachmann want to frame environmental issues only in terms of climate change so that climate change skeptics become environmental skeptics. But by attacking the EPA as a whole, Bachmann is playing a risky hand — people might be skeptical of climate change, but people also want safe drinking water, clean air, and protection from hazardous chemicals. Suggest putting those in jeopardy, and you’ll lose support from all sides of the political spectrum.

RHOC: Domestic abuse, unhappy marriages, excessive cattiness

June 1, 2011

While catching up on Real Housewives of Orange County today, I couldn’t help but notice some interesting themes: victim-blaming concerning domestic abuse, independent women and the institution of marriage, and also some of the women’s comments that make me concerned for humanity in general (I’m looking at you, Gretchen and Alexis).

1. I didn’t see any abuse, so you must be lying

Oh Jeana Keough, I loved you on this show when you were a regular cast member. You seemed down to earth, said funny things, and didn’t fit the typical blond-haired, plastic-surgery-filled mold that many cast members do. But your friendship with Tamra’s ex-husband Simon has shown a new side to you, a side that is all too common when it comes to allegations of domestic abuse: X is my friend, and I haven’t seen him act abusive toward you, so I think you’re lying.

This sentiment rings far too often when it comes to allegations of abuse. Admittedly I started watching halfway into Jeana’s sit-down talk with Tamra so I didn’t see the entire conversation, but they were discussing Tamra’s calling the police and Simon being arrested on a domestic violence charge last September. According to Radar Online, Tamra and Simon shared custody of their dog, and Simon was at the house they shared and when Tamra arrived home, Simon threw a retractable dog leash at her head.

Tamra described it to Jeana a little differently and implied that Simon was in her house, not their house, so the details there are a little hazy (maybe they were better explained in the minutes before I tuned in). But Jeana’s defense of Simon’s actions included the following:

  • Jeana said she hung out with Simon and Tamra a lot when they were married and it didn’t seem like an abusive relationship, so she doubted Simon was actually abusive;
  • Jeana doubted that Tamra actually felt threatened by Simon being in her house;
  • Jeana implied that because Tamra waited until after Simon left to call the police, this somehow makes her story less plausible;
  • Jeana noted that people often throw things to a person and the object isn’t caught, so it’s likely that he simply was tossing the dog leash to her and she didn’t catch it; and
  • Jeana thinks Tamra’s calling the police is a calculated attempt to ruin Simon’s life.

Let me address these things in order. Firstly, not seeing someone physically abuse their partner is not concrete evidence that abuse doesn’t happen. It’s difficult to consider that your friends might have sides to themselves that they don’t show to you, but you can’t assume an accuser is lying simply because you personally didn’t see abuse happen. Abusers — like most criminals — aren’t usually interested in committing their crimes in front of an audience of friends and witnesses.

So when Jeana says she didn’t see it so it didn’t happen, or Bernard-Henri Levy says Dominique Strauss-Kahn is his friend and he doesn’t seem like a rapist, those bits of anecdotal evidence don’t really prove anything except that their respective friends weren’t abusive to them or in front of them. One in four women — 25 percent of women —
experiences domestic violence in her life; I wonder how many of these women’s abusers’ seemed perfectly fine to their friends?

Secondly, Jeana’s idea of abuse follows a stereotypical — and inaccurate — portrayal of how “real abuse” looks. Because Simon didn’t leave a physical mark on her, Jeana assumes that he wasn’t a threat to Tamra. But it’s up to Tamra to determine whether she feels threatened, not Jeana. And does it make more sense to call the police before abuse escalates to the point of serious violent behavior or after? In a perfect scenario, you call the police when a crime happens — when you’re faced with a person who you feel threatened by, you might feel safer waiting (if the person is leaving) so that the phone call doesn’t provoke more violence.

And the most problematic excuse of all? That calling the police can ruin someone’s life. This mentality is one reason a lot of domestic violence goes unreported — you have feelings for the person who is abusive, you care for them, and you don’t want to give them or add to a criminal record. These are often women’s husbands, people they are legally tied to, committed to, living with, the fathers of their children, and having them hauled off in handcuffs and a police car is seen as a very last resort because of these close relationships. Finally calling the cops? That could ruin someone’s life; but then again, so could constant abuse.

Jeana’s defense really pissed me off, because she threw around the classic arguments that merely blame the victims of domestic violence for the abuse they endure. You should’ve called the police sooner, you shouldn’t have acted like everything was fine, XYZ action really isn’t abuse, you’re just trying to tarnish his reputation or ruin his life — all statements commonly thrown at women who accuse men of domestic abuse, and all statements that don’t at all consider the complexity and the danger that comes with abuse.

2. All you women who independent 

Vicki is this show’s independent woman — she is the breadwinner of the family, she works long hours and prides herself on building her own business from the ground up, and she doesn’t rely on her husband Donn for anything. But this independent exterior broke into pieces as she confessed to Tamra that she was convinced she should stay in a loveless, passionless marriage with Donn.

“I believe in my commitment to him as a wife,” Vicki told Tamra. It is a bit surprising that she holds traditional values inside the home when it comes to gender roles, considering how outside the home she doesn’t follow these gender roles. She believes in the institution of marriage (though she has been married once before), and she believes as a woman that she should honor the commitment she made to Donn under any and all circumstances.

She goes so far as to acknowledge to Tamra that continuing her marriage would be out of obligation and not desire. “I can exist in this,” she tells Tamra. “If I have to, I will.” This is what I find so remarkable about the idea of marriage as an institution, and the disdain many people have toward divorce. Everyone gets married with the intent to stay together forever, but the reality is that people change and become incompatible. Or the marriage becomes unhealthy. Or both parties are just miserable. Should people be forced to stay legally bound to each other to satisfy some social institution’s expectations?

Personally, I think not. Divorce is very sad and shouldn’t be taken lightly (I don’t think marriage should be taken lightly, either), but people shouldn’t stay in unhealthy marriages simply because they feel obligated by the pressures of society. Vicki feels that her obligation as a wife is to stay committed to Donn even when they are both unhappy, don’t communicate, and don’t even hug each other. Vicki’s views on marriage are also based on her faith, and I can’t really speak to the religious background of how extensively the Bible promotes marriage and/or condemns divorce.

3. Things people say that make me bang my head against my desk 

Gretchen is sometimes annoying, but she really took the cake when she insisted that Vicki’s absence at Alexis’s fashion show was rude. Oh, by the way, Vicki was being rushed to the hospital because she was hemorrhaging out of somewhere in her body (Tamra implied it was her ass?) and bleeding internally, but Gretchen thought it was “ironic” that Vicki was hospitalized at the exact time of Alexis’s photo shoot.

First of all, “ironic” doesn’t mean “suspiciously coincidental” or “weird” so stop repeatedly saying it’s “ironic” because it’s not. Secondly, shit happens. Thirdly, as someone who does start drama at events that are going peacefully, Gretchen should not be making accusations that Vicki and Tamra are always trying to rain on everybody’s parade. Who’s first inclination when someone is claiming they are hemorrhaging is to think that’s just an elaborate excuse??

Fourthly, Alexis, why on earth are you more concerned with how “rude” it is for someone to keep leaving their seat at your faux fashion show to check on a friend who is in the hospital than that person actually being OK? You are promoting a fashion line that isn’t even out yet and is already being criticized by your guests, and Vicki is potentially bleeding to death. If she wanted to skip your event, I think she would’ve just skipped it instead of claiming she was on the operating table. Gretchen and Alexis: currently making me question humanity.