Pop Culture Homework

Alright. I watched Taylor Swift’s video for Shake It Off. I hadn’t heard the song before, up til then. I knew it existed, somehow (read: subliminal messages from Internet) but I just hadn’t bothered until today.

The catalyst to this is my best Russian friend. He’s 31 and, like many Russian men his age, enjoys Nickelback and patriotism and cannons and, I dunno, manliness. So when he brightly, openly told me he’s been listening to “Shake It Off” on repeat, I decided it was something interesting, something I needed to hear.

As a result, I’ve cracked. I watched the video, and you know what? Taylor Swift is a CUTIE. I love all the dancers in her music video, especially the guy with the noodly arms?!, and I am perfectly fine with having little girls dress and dance and sing and talk like everything it represents. Does that include crawling through a kaleidoscopic pyramid of twerking? Yes. Because pretty much everything in this video is fun, and the parts that I didn’t like are easy for me to brush off. (Things like cultural appropriation and the petty “break down” about “something something ex-girlfriend”.)

Why is it easy for me to shake off? Because the whole video seems to be a collection of pop music video tropes. Emotive dancing, break dancing with a crew, twerking, cheerleaders bitching about ex-girlfriends, culminating with a gregarious group of frolicking humans… all stuff we’ve seen many times before in pop videos. :)

For once, my pop culture homework hasn’t made me uncomfortable. (Not like my last adventure with “Too Many Cooks.” I shudder to type it… Ya know, I’m not even going to link to that one. Oy.) So I’m kind of sorry it’s taken me so long to give this song a chance.

And I’m SO looking forward to seeing if I can make my aforementioned friend dance to it this weekend.


Sex Policies

In this confessional post about a “sexual misconduct” claim filed against him, Patrick Witt describes how the faulty claim messed up his personal, academic, and professional life. He claims that he is innocent of whatever claim his ex-girlfriend filed against him, but explains that he is unable to make a clear case of his innocence because he was never allowed to learn the nature of the claims. In his post, he uses these and other examples to criticize Harvard and Yale’s sexual harassment policies.

Reading his story, I didn’t really care whether or not Witt was guilty.  It’s natural to form a judgment based on what we read, especially if the writing is persuasive, BUT, I reminded myself that guilt and truth are not matters that anyone can claim to decide simply by reading one side of a story.

So, decisions of guilt and innocence aside, what’s important to me is that he appears to have been treated as if he was guilty, based on no evidence at all and without any opportunity to defend himself.

If he’s innocent, then I really feel for him, for everything he lost because of this claim. How could this happen to him? Was his ex-girlfriend vindictive, nasty, and crazy enough to destroy his dreams based on a break-up? (I’ve seen lots of sane people go crazy because of love, so I wouldn’t be too surprised!)

Personally, I doubt that ‘crazed ex-lover’ explanation, as melodramatically satisfying as it sounds. What seems more likely to me is that there was a miscommunication between the alleged victim and the accused while they were dating, something that led the girlfriend to believe she had been sexually abused when her boyfriend didn’t see anything wrong with his actions. Maybe he persuaded her to do something she didn’t want to do in bed, but didn’t realize he had pushed her too far. Or maybe he did something he thought would excite her but actually frightened her. These possibilities seem quite likely to me.

I don’t want to assume that he’s a villain, and I also don’t want to assume he did ‘nothing’ wrong– because if I had to guess, I would put my money behind the ‘miscommunication’ scenario.

But again, this post of mine is not about guilt. The bottom line is, I tentatively agree with him that the policy is (read: appears to be) unbalanced and very flawed. I’d love to read the arguments for and against these kinds of policies to get a better understanding of them.

Censorship and President Putin’s Approval Rating

You’ve probably heard of Russia’s relatively-new ‘law on bloggers’. It demands that bloggers with at least 3000 subscribers conform to state media regulations and provide personal author information, among other requirements. (I guess my tiny blog is exempt. ^^)

I’ve been reading about Russian censorship, looking for possible links to President Putin’s high approval rating. Here is what I’ve read today with some quotes and commentary. You should read the articles for yourself, too!

Russian Internet Censorship, Social Media Crackdown
Make It Easy For Putin To Stay Popular

The ‘law on bloggers’ bans writers from lying, but ‘lying’ is tricky to define.

“If a blogger insinuates that a public official is corrupt and they can’t provide [proof] they could face very steep fines … It’s certainly not like the American law when you can call President Obama a Nazi Martian and he can’t do anything about it just because he’s a public official.”


“Starting in September 2016, if U.S.-based companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook want to operate on Russian soil, they must also be prepared to turn over data to Russian security services upon request, without a court ruling or any kind of justification.”

Although I guess Facebook, at least, would be keen to comply, since that creepy company thinks everyone should be completely transparent, anyway. (And would you look at that, I’ve just provided a splendid example of criticism without proof. See how easy it is to violate that rule?)

Russia Moves Toward China-Style Internet Censorship

So in in the near future, data will have to be stored in Russia and will be readily-available to the Kremlin. What are some implications? This Businessweek article says (quoting Matthew Schaaf from Freedom House):

“It could have a serious chilling effect on online expression in Russia, making users stop to think how their Google searches and Facebook posts could be used against them.”

Also note that since February of this year, Russia’s media regulator, Roskomnadzor, can take down Web sites they deem “extremist or a threat to public order” (quoting the article.) Indeed, Roskomnadzor blocked sites of parties who were rallying against Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, thus putting this new law into action.

My main question here is: does President Putin’s high approval rating have anything to do with censorship?

Actually, I feel silly for writing that. I think that’s just politics: whoever is in power will do what they can to keep their image in a good light. The right question is: How much does Russia’s censorship affect the approval rating?

Unfortunately, today’s reading hasn’t given me any answers. What I did find was this cool article from Forbes:

Vladimir Putin’s Approval Rate Is Still Near An All-Time High

The author expresses surprise that approval of Putin has actually risen since the “nationalist euphoria over the ‘return’ of Crimea was at its peak.” This article, which is about a month old, cites an out-of-this-world 86% approval rating! But, the author also believes that this approval will fall shortly, assuming Russians will hold Putin accountable for whatever hardships are expected as a result of the sanctions against Russia.

I’ll have to do some more reading to see if anyone has commented on the link between censorship and this incredible 86% approval. Meanwhile, I really hope the Russian people don’t suffer because of all this..