When is a life finally “together”?

Recently, I was wondering what it means to get your life “together”. I’m sure you hear it too; especially when you see commercials concerning young people and for-profit education. I heard a young mother, who was probably in her very early 20s, say about a national medical assisting school: “I was so excited when I made the call [to the school to enroll]. I felt like I was getting my life together”.

So, what does it mean to get your life “together”? Better yet, how do you know when you’re there? When you’re “together”?

If we leave it up to for-profit schools, a person is only “together” if they are engaged in overpriced, questionably-accredited education. Apparently, being a parent or a loved one, earning an income (regardless of where you earn), and generally being alive and healthy doesn’t quite cut it in the “together” department.

This, I think, raises a precarious but important question: if we rely on the media or other institutions (like higher ed, for example) to let us know when we’re “together”, wouldn’t it be quite in their interest if we never made it to that point?

Naturally.

So then, this has been a reminder to rebuke, reject, and downright deny any other entity instructing you of when you are “together”. Leave that to the experts: ourselves. Maybe, this is as good as it gets. And maybe, that’s just fine.

Disneyland: Where Commercial Dreams Come True

A magical land of sales, branding, and products peddled by the apathetic, underpaid, and costumed

A magical land of sales, branding, and products peddled by the apathetic, underpaid, and costumed

My husband and recently headed down to Palm Springs, CA. For him, it was yet another business trip. For me, I was looking forward to the short drive to Disneyland which we had planned to do after his business responsibilities were finished.

Yes, that’s right. I wanted to go Disneyland. Now, you may wonder what a 30-something year old with only her husband and no children in tow (or that existed, for that matter) wanted to do at Disneyland. Well, the reason is sentimental. The first time I ever heard the most genuine, child-like laughter was at Disneyland, and I just wanted to hear it once more.

It was years ago, when Al and I visited Disneyland together, under the pretense that neither of us had been here when we could control the experience we had. You know what I mean; the crazy family Disney trips where “fun” was so diffused among all the people involved that no one was really satisfied. Well, we were there to reclaim what we were sure existed there at the park, without the cranky, tired adults.

After a rather tumultuous day that really was too long (you may think all day at the fun park is awesome as a child, it’s just downright exhausting as an adult) and generally uncomfortable (crowds don’t bother you as much as a child either, apparently), we stood in line for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. In case you are unaware, the ride is somewhat roller coaster-like but without any loop-de-loops that cause spontaneous loss of both equilibrium and lunch. We boarded the ride rather quickly, since it was the tail-end of the day, and the train began to hustle and jostle down the tracks. I was having fun, in a general sort of way, when I heard this wonderful, pure, child-like laughter ringing away beside me. My husband Al was utterly enjoying the experience in a way I couldn’t seem to myself. His joy was unabashed for those few minutes on the zooming train, and I was so taken by the sound of it that I forgot to pay attention to rest of the ride.

Since that day years ago, I knew I wanted to return to Disneyland and experience that unbridled joy with Al again. You see, I’m a serious sort of person. I actually have trouble experiencing fun because I am analytic and critical; a consequence of both my upbringing and my educational background which interferes with my ability to just enjoy something for enjoyment’s sake. Al, on the other hand, can and does. My intention to return to Disneyland was to hear the sound of his sweet, shameless laughter again.

Unfortunately, Disney had decided to change in the meantime. In a BIG way. Well, perhaps it had changed slowly and perhaps others didn’t notice like I did, but to us, it was a massive, uneasy change.

The park was practically busting at the seams with vendors, merchants, and stores. There was so much commercialization that Al and I had trouble navigating around the park, even though it was a Wednesday afternoon, school was in, and no holidays were in sight. Every street, thoroughfare, and pathway around the park was teeming with sales. It was so outlandish that Al and I had to take shelter in the “Tomorrowland” pizza restaurant to collect ourselves, modeled after the film Toy Story’s “Pizza Planet”.

As we munched on our slices of pizza, whose quality best matched the “Totino’s” variety but literally cost us nearly $30.00, we discussed how we couldn’t believe how saturated the park was with stores. Neither of us could remember it being so crowded with vendors and sales opportunities when we were there just a few years before. In fact, Al reminded me that it actually took us searching around for a store to purchase a souvenir the last time we visited the park.

This problem of the past had apparently been solved, ten times over.

By the time we left the pizza joint, we were both struggling to hang on to the reasons we had come to Disneyland in the first place. Over the past few years,

A theatrical show featuring the "Princesses", our ready and willing role models for little girls, and in some cases, adults.

A theatrical show featuring the “Princesses”, our ready and willing role models for little girls, and in some cases, adults. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Disney had become an immense conglomerate of a business, which now included ABC, Hyperion Books and brands such as Marvel and LucasArts. Everywhere we looked, images and references to Iron Man, the newer, child-centered Star Wars films and animations, and Thor reigned supreme in “Tomorrowland”, while “Disney Princess” had rather appropriated whatever resources were available in “Storybookland”. Older animations, such as Dumbo, Pinocchio, and The Sword in the Stone which apparently had limited brand appeal had given way to the plethora of princess-inspired junk that was offered at every single turn, nook, and cranny. Honestly, I don’t know how Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or the Davy Crockett Canoes have survived. Nearly every little girl at the park we spotted was swathed in some kind of Disney Princess gear. Oh, and the boys didn’t escape the masterwork of branding either. I know I saw at least one fully-costumed Iron Man child, and most of the others were decked out in t-shirts, hats or even backpacks covered in various promotions.

And, that was only the beginning.

Al and I charged away to get to the Big Thunder train ride. Earlier, I had explained to him just why I wanted to visit Disney again, so if nothing else, we both wanted to accomplish that much. We crossed the park into “Frontierland” where we were dumbfounded as we walked past a true-to-life “Mammy” standing in her long skirt and perpetual apron outside of the “Big Bayou” creole/Cajun restaurant, overlooking Tom Sawyer’s Island. Apparently, it isn’t just porn that remains the final bastion of overt racism, but Disneyland too.

We swung around a section of “Frontierland” heading for the train, noting how many new restaurants had seemed to literally “grow” up in the spaces between other buildings, like dispersed plants scraping a living out between two rocks. Both of us frowned as we walked on; neither of us could find the train. I couldn’t hear the roaring of its heavy, segmented body on the old, metallic tracks, and we couldn’t find them either. It wasn’t until we nearly circled around the train ride completely before we spotted the sign attached to a tall, makeshift wall:

“Big Thunder Mountain Railroad closed for maintenance (or something) until early 2014”.

I felt like I was suddenly in the movie Vacation.

Yeah. That was pretty much it for me. I couldn’t help but cry. I hadn’t even thought about checking to see if the one ride I wanted to re-experience with Al was even available before we came to the park. But, by then, the super-commercial joke was on me.

Both of us decided to leave. We hadn’t gone on a single ride but we DID have the lingering “joy” of two slices of $30.00 pizza and water, so cutting our losses was making more and more sense. We headed out through the main thoroughfare, jam-packed with shops and lingering, indecisive consumers with insistent children covered in Disney branding.

But, just like in Vacation, the fun wasn’t over yet.

As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice that we never seemed to actually exit the park. I couldn’t believe it, but as we left, we were quickly absorbed into a new abomination called “Downtown Disney”. Literally, it was an outdoor mall that had taken up residence directly outside of Disneyland, presumably because the shops out here were unable to infiltrate the park and instead, set up shop as close as possible.

After leaving the commerce-saturated park, Al and I were then forced to trudge our way through and entire outdoor mall, laden with shops that carried even more Disney products and brands, among other retailers. The whole ordeal was so insulting, I almost didn’t react to this sign I happened to see while we were escaping the mall:

...what did I expect, anyway?

…what did I expect, anyway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a disappointing trip.

The Many Facets of Japanese Love Hotels

I’m very happy to say that my required biology class in order to complete my entrance into the master of social work program is finally behind me. I completed the last exam last night and am now free for a few weeks to figure out what I got myself into.

In the meantime, let’s discuss something else.

While I was leaving class after the exam last night, I was casually talking with some classmates about a controversial topic to many westerners: Japanese love hotels. I thought I’d talk about it with everyone today.

"Love Hotel Hill" in the Dougenzaka area of Shibuya, Tokyo- picture from lonelyplanet.com.

“Love Hotel Hill” in the Dougenzaka area of Shibuya, Tokyo- picture from lonelyplanet.com.

Have you ever heard of a “love hotel”? If you have, and you’re a westerner, you probably heard that they are places where people can have affairs with no questions asked and people in the sex industry can practice their trade without it falling into legal question. “Prostitution” is illegal in Japan –that is, “intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment”- isn’t legal, which is how Japanese law defines prostitution. However, the sex industry is differentiated in Japanese culture from “prostitution”, and accessible spaces for different types of sexual expression exist, such as love hotels (moral outrage and backlash does still occur, however). This is due to the fact that Japanese law doesn’t equate sexual actions that do not result in vaginal penetration with sex. Due to this, a world of sex play that includes oral sex and various fetish-style sexual behaviors, are fair game. In fact, soaplands, a place where a person can receive a personalized “bathing experience” via a lovely and –skilled- woman, have noted a distinct increase in older adult customers and Chinese tourists as of late, and they even come armed with ED medication. You can read about it here.

Despite how these areas are generally regarded in the western imagination, the meaning and function of love hotels appears to be far more complex than any binary, right-and-wrong, cultural or social explanation.

In Sarah Chaplin’s 2007 book, “Japanese Love Hotels: A Cultural History”, Chaplin discusses the concept of a love hotel as a meaningful part of a changing culture of Japan, heavily influenced by the post-war occupation and subsequent Japanese postmodernization. She calls love hotels, “…a democratic and accessible place at the service of the general public, the love hotel offers a powerful window on the changing nature of the Japanese relationship both to their own culture and to other cultures, which has become embodied in the design and use of the love hotel” (Chaplin, 2007 p.4). And while love hotels and other spaces for sexual activity in Japan are easy to criticize by westerners, it is important to remember that love hotels and other sexually-charged areas are common throughout the world, although they tend to be associated with Japan.

However, I didn’t plan on discussing how people in the sex industry intersects with love hotels or any moral or ethical issues therein, but how some married

A menu/sign, typical of a love hotel, listing the rates and services within the establishment

A menu/sign, typical of a love hotel, listing the rates for using the establishment

couples utilize love hotels. Yeah, I said married couples. I thought I’d demonstrate how these spaces can and are used in ways that westerners may not expect, just as some food for thought. Turns out, love hotels aren’t just for “illicit” sexual activity, but are actually among the only ways for some couples and married people to gain privacy for intimacy.

In a most fascinating article in Asian Studies Review by Ho Swee Lin in 2008 entitled, “Private Love in Public Space: Love Hotels and the Transformation of Intimacy in Contemporary Japan”, Lin discusses how many couples rely on love hotels for their own intimate lives. Thanks to typically very small living spaces and many Japanese homes utilizing shoji doors (that use paper as a barrier), privacy between couples can be complicated to the point where sex can disappear. In these cases, a few hours away in a love hotel can keep a marriage or relationship alive and flourishing. As it stands, sex in Japan is often problematic, as working long hours as well as company socializing over drinks and food afterwards, are not only normal but quite expected. This creates a situation where being home with energy and time for sex can be rare. Entangled further by a lack of privacy can make sex impossible for some. In this way, love hotels are an important resource for not just the sexual expression of strangers or clients, but also couples and married people.

A love hotel with no windows, presumably for privacy located in Kabuki-cho (from wikipedia)

A love hotel with no windows, presumably for privacy located in Kabuki-cho (from wikipedia)

Additionally, and among the most interesting points Lin discusses, is how the very separateness of a love hotel, as a different and distinct space from the home, empowers women to pursue love and relationships without compromising their independence. Without bringing a lover into the home to engage in intimacy, women who are in relationships with children from prior marriages or who just simply want relief from the persistent social pressure to have certain types of relationships, can control how intimacy takes place in their lives and in their children’s lives. The love hotel can enable women to remain in control of their family lives while not compromising their own sexual needs or desires.

So then, the sex industry in Japan -and probably everywhere- has unexpected roles in many people’s lives. I hope this article has created a more diverse way of looking at the sex industry in Japan, love hotels, and the concept of contemporary love and sex. It’s unfortunate that in many cases, the way westerners come to understand eastern culture is to hear only the most grotesque and extreme, so I hope this discussion has provided some “rounding-out” of the concepts and a more intermediate notion of the role of love hotels in Japan.

What do you all think?

Fear of Change: Zombie Apocalypse and Monster Plagues

Are you ready...for change?

Are you ready…for change?

My husband Al and I are gamers, I suppose. We play video games together nearly every night, with titles ranging from the new Tomb Raider to Borderlands 2, the Assassin’s Creed games and one of my personal favorites, Skyrim (The Elder Scrolls). I don’t like to call myself a “gamer” per say, I don’t care for the string of assumptive baggage that follows the label, but I do say it on occasion for clarity sake. Last night, we started a new game we had been anticipating –with very good reason- called “The Last of Us.”

“The Last of Us” was developed by Naughty Dog (known for its very successful “Uncharted” series featuring the –somewhat- charming Nathan Drake) and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, released just in June of this year. The game is described as a “post-apocalyptic urban” horror, with a plague rendering the globe into a survival landscape chock-full of things that want to eat you, tear off your face, or anything else to get you dead. Horrifically dead.

But the game –even though it’s one of the most phenomenal I’ve seen so far in many technical and play aspects- is not really what I wanted to discuss today. Rather, the theme of “The Last of Us” is what I want to focus on. One that is shared by a plethora of other contemporary media types: games, movies, books… Yeah, that theme. The one about the world suddenly going haywire; coming to a grinding, terrible halt that scares the crap out of everyone, full of indiscriminate and instant death. Where one moment you are putting your child to sleep and brushing your teeth for bed, thinking about tomorrow and your tiresome job- and the next- your neighbors are trying to eat your face after devouring your child in front of you.

I’m talking about a sign of the times.

Just so we are all on the same page...

Just so we are all on the same page…

Just like Huxley’s Brave New World reflected fears about very real and eminent threats to what many felt were safe and familiar (growing mass production, totalitarianism, reproductive engineering, etc.), so much of today’s media reflects contemporary fears and apprehension about the pace of change. And that pace is higher than it has ever been in human history. Thanks to a shrinking of the globe due to technologies that bridge gaps between people and facilitate nearly endless communication, technological and social change is incredibly fast. Break neck, even.

So fast, many of us can’t keep up. And this can make a person…nervous.

So what do you do, in an environment that feels out of control, vaguely dangerous, and just confusing at times? You consume mass amounts of media that echo that sense of sudden and unpredictable change.

You watch those big, epic films where the world becomes a zombie apocalypse and play video games where a seemingly normal life is interrupted by a

by a nightmarish catastrophe, pulling out all the stops and leaving you feeling just as gutted and emotionally wrecked as the character you play. I mean, did anyone else feel this way at the end of the introduction in “The End of Us”?

A poster from theminorityreport.co, that kind of...well..sexualizes the hell out of catastrophic disaster

A poster from theminorityreport.co, that kind of…well..sexualizes the hell out of catastrophic disaster

I am fascinated how our media today is such a mirror of the contemporary world. I know, this isn’t exactly news. When hasn’t the media been a reflection of the contemporary world? But wow, we live in a really interesting time. Decades from now, maybe longer, people may look back and characterize our time as one of such change that the entire population was preoccupied with it, even when experiencing leisure time. Change was the god of our time, they’ll say, and everyone worshiped with utmost sincerity. I mean, hey, just Google “zombie apocalypse”. Go ahead. Surprise yourself.

Anyone else noticed this interesting trend in media, or elsewhere? How does this kind of media make you feel? Does it make you feel prepared for impending disaster…? Perhaps does it make you feel that disaster is further away if it can be contained and made cleaner in the media? I mean, has anyone else seen how the whole zombie apocalypse thing is romanticized and even sexualized…?

Are we really looking forward to the zombie apocalypse…?

The Erotic Heritage Museum of Las Vegas: A Misadventure in Mainstream Pornography

Las Vegas' Erotic Heritage Museum

Las Vegas’ Erotic Heritage Museum

Ok!! I finally stole some free time to finish up my review of the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. Thank you readers for being so patient! :D Oh and, before I begin, let me just say that as a person who studies sex and gender is multicultural contexts, I am very sensitive to human sexuality and to the controversy of sex work and its hotly debated legitimacy. My intention with this post is the critical analysis of the Erotic Heritage Museum and its themes -which deserves it- not about the legitimacy of sex work or the porn industry.

Recently, I went with my husband and a friend (Northy) to the Erotic Heritage Museum here in Las Vegas (check out his article here!!). Yeah, I know…the last place you may expect to find a museum about sex, right? Well, that’s one part of the joke; it was actually located directly next to a sex shop and a strip club. The building was even decked out in pink with garish neon signage to match the décor of the sex shop and club. From the onset, the museum made no mystery of its intimate connection (pun intended) to the sex industry, particularly with the porn industry. Unfortunately, this was the primary focus of the museum concerning the complex subject of human sexuality.

I really had no idea what to expect when we arrived and I was only slightly chagrinned at the location of the place and its conspicuous proximity to the shop and the club. I mean, I’m pretty desensitized to the Vegas way of self-promotion and exploitation. My husband Al and I went inside and were quickly greeted by a fellow who described the museum as “sociological” in terms of its theoretical underpinnings (I assume)…after my friend was told to stay out of the “library” section he wandered into, which was not open to the public. This was only the beginning of the museum’s internal irony.

We paid the price of admission and entered the experience though a “Red Light District” prop exhibit, which was a hallway filled with neon lit advertisements for sex and titillation that reminded me of several scenes from the films “Taxi Driver”. Since the three of us were the only ones there (we were told it was a quiet afternoon), we spent little time in the echoing, dark, neon-buzzing area in search of the sociology of sex.

In exiting our sample area of a red light district, the hall opened up to a floor riddled with shelves and displays in the center, and lined along the outside with the many manifestations of the mainstream porn industry, including their founders such as Larry Flynt, the creator of Hustler magazine in 1974. Much of the displays were either prints, like movie prints and film posters of sexual films (think Deepthroat) as well as artifacts in glass cases such as carvings and sculptures of people engaging in sexual activity, models of penises, and “deflowering” tools from all around the world. Each of us agreed that the artifacts might have been engaging if they had any cultural context; instead each item had a small card associated with it with a title for the object (i.e. Japanese deflowering tool) along with the collection or donor name (several actually listed “the Japanese Government”) or where it was found (i.e. a Shinto temple). Nearly always, the artifacts had no date or description of how or why the object was used socially, politically or culturally. It was as if we were to accept that these items were simply sex toys to be appreciated on our own culturally-centric and contemporary terms. Maybe I am the only one that encounters a difference between a “deflowering tool” of unknown temporal context and a contemporary personal dildo, but hey, who am I?

As I stated above, the outside perimeter of the first floor of the museum was comprised of the pornography industry, including a display of life-size standups of several female porn stars among some stripper pole props, a sado-masochistic display using life-size dolls, and lots of wall-mounted televisions showing people having sex or doing sexual things. There was even a small section of a collection of the penis bones of different animals, including a whale. Finally, tucked away near a small display of sexual health information apparently set up by Planned Parenthood were a few images of some transsexual folks, boldly baring it all for the viewer.

The second floor was full of sculptural, photographic and painted sexual art of various styles and times and also had a section on the concept of peep shows in America. This area had some amateur, non-mainstream sex media (video) and was the only place I saw older adults depicted in engaging in sexual activity. This floor was also the only place I saw sexual behavior as it related to younger, adolescent people (it was one, small cartoon). The mainstream pornography industry was present on the second floor as well, with many Playboy covers and biographies of duck-lipped porn stars.

The museum also had a wedding area which consisted of a main aisle with two, ruby-red velvet beds flanking it…presumably where guests would sit.

OK, now…I kind of flew through that physical description of the museum so I could get to my critique. All and all, I was very disappointed at the lack of unifying narrative organizing the props, displays and artifacts and even more disappointed in the lack  of  theory to guide the concept of human sexuality. To provide the context for the concept of human sexuality, the museum relied almost completely on western, contemporary pornography. And mainstream porn at that, despite there being a wealth of sex work and pornography in other cultures and among amateur groups.

Also, I was really confused and put off by the “Wall of Shame” that Northy discussed and provided pictures for in his discussion of the museum. While this intensely political segment was already abrasive, it was also oddly contradictory. One news article that was hung in this section involved a singer who attempted to solicit sex from another man –I believe it was a police officer- which forced him to have to come out publically as a gay man. With the huge wall covered in (what I assume was) the museum’s statement of basic human sexual rights (see Northy’s images for this set of would-be legalistic statements) why did this unsuccessful sexual attempt result in a declaration of shame from the museum? Additionally, the Wall threw critical light on some politicians and preachers who were publicly against certain types of sexual activity who were caught doing exactly what they discriminated against, but neglected to view this as a type of sexual behavior in of itself. What these people were doing were “crimes”, while sex work, especially work in dancing and pornography, was the only legitimate form of sexuality being oppressed. Sure, it’s frustrating and unfair when people act hypocritical and discriminatory, but aren’t their acts involving sex also part of the story of human sexuality? I mean, under the “About Us” section of the museum’s website, they claim to be, “…dedicated to the belief that sexual pleasure and fun are natural aspects of the human experience, that such pleasure must be made available to all, and that our individual sexuality belongs to each of us.” This cherry-picking use of a critical lens was disappointing and appeared shallow.

With a stronger presence of scholarly and multicultural work, the museum could really shine as a resource for human sexuality- one of the most ancient and fascinating aspects of human life. Hell, not even just human life. All life. However in its ultimately political, agenda-driven and mainstream sex work perspective, the museum cannot be what it claims to be. Without a unified theory and organization to the art and artifacts, and a broader context involving both multicultural research from experts as well as laypeople and artists, the museum ends up a parade of western sex work at the expense of a host of other important facets of human sexuality. Sex trafficking, sex work in other countries, sex throughout the human life course, transgender and transsexuality in a multicultural context, the meanings of sex within different groups…all of this was sorely lacking or missing altogether. It was even difficult to find a person of color in the images and art and the portrayed lesbian activity all reeked of mainstream pornography’s narrowly-defined, heterosexual male interest.

I think my disappointment is pretty clear, but if any of my readers come on down to Vegas and visit the museum, I’d be interested in hearing what you think! And, if you just have a thought, feel free to share away!

A Summer Class Delay…

Yeah....with a sudden summer course with my masters program hanging in the balance....

Yeah….with a sudden summer course with my masters program hanging in the balance….

Hi readers!! I wanted to apologize how long it is taking to get the next post up, which is about me, my husband and a good friend’s visit to the Erotic Heritage Museum, here in Las Vegas. My friend Northy wrote about his analysis here, which is a very snappy and poignant review. If you haven’t been able to read it, its a fair and critical analysis that I respect.

In short, my excuse is that I was accepted to the master of social work program at UNLV last month; something I had been working hard to get into after I decided that pursuing a master of education may not be the best and most competitive route here in Vegas. When I was accepted the grad college alerted me that I needed to complete a Biology course that my sociology degree did not require, before I begin this fall. I had to scramble to find a bio class at the local community college (College of Southern Nevada) that would get me the requirement completed by the end of summer, which I found, but I had to begin literally a week after I was accepted.

That meant my job was bye-bye. With only a week before the class begun, I had to leave with basically no notice. I hope that doesn’t affect things too much in the future, but I really had no other option.

So I began my class about a month ago, and at 4 days a week with a lab (which I don’t need, by the way) twice a week, it is very difficult and super time-consuming. I have to achieve at least a C in the course for it to apply to my masters program, so there is some…pressure.

So far, I have a B average and have just 3 more weeks to go. I cant wait to see it behind me, but in the meantime the sudden necessity of the class has usurped nearly all of my free time. Hence why the article on the Erotic Heritage Museum is still pending.

So, again, my apologies, I will have it up just as soon as I can. In the meantime, here is a taste:

“Recently, I went with my husband and a friend (Northy) to the Erotic Heritage Museum here in Las Vegas. Yeah, I know…the last place you may expect to find a museum about sex, right? Well, that’s one part of the joke; it was actually located directly next to a sex shop and a strip club. The building was even decked out in pink with garish neon signage to match the décor of the sex shop and club. From the onset, the museum made no mystery of its intimate connection (pun intended) to the sex industry, particularly with the porn industry. Unfortunately, this was the primary focus of the museum, concerning the complex subject of human sexuality.”

I’ll have the rest of it up soon! Until then, take care. :D