VICEhttps://www.vice.com/en_inRSS feed for https://www.vice.comenMon, 19 Nov 2018 11:30:00 +0000<![CDATA[Netflix’s Epic 'Dogs' Documentary Series, Reviewed by a Cat Owner]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/pa5pxb/netflixs-epic-dog-documentary-series-reviewed-by-a-cat-ownerMon, 19 Nov 2018 11:30:00 +0000This article originally appeared on VICE US.

I am an obsessive cat dad. If cats come up in conversation—and sometimes even when they don't— within seconds I’ll whip out pictures of my fur son, Rajah, either on a leash at the park (yep, I take my cat to the park on a leash), wearing a Halloween costume (yep, I do this too), or in his incredibly Instagram-friendly cat backpack (yep, I own one).

I rejoiced when Bruno, the extremely extra, 25-pound shelter cat found a forever home. I love cat art and stan Félicette, the first cat in space. I weep for the cats that have been unwillingly shaven, stranded on telephone poles, forced to take acid, or castrated by the state of Israel. I don’t believe the propaganda about cats being mean-spirited, or creating hellish living environments for easily-manipulated humans. I grew up with one dog and many cats, and I’ve always felt more allegiance to the species that can’t be trained to heil Hitler.

However, Netflix’s new six-hour docuseries about man’s best friend, simply titled Dogs, has tilted the scale a tad. In it is beautiful footage of human connections to dogs that's moving in a way the bite-sized dogtent that's all around us—the copious Twitter accounts of adorable doggos, the Instagrams of dog influencers and canine-facing product hawkers—can only touch upon. Each episode is an hour-long cinema verite deep dive into how dogs make human life meaningful; a barrage of wholesome, impactful moments, one after the next.

The source of the wholesomeness is obvious. As for the impact: the show is much more complex than you might expect, and wades into issues like mental health, the environment, poverty, nationalism, and class in ways that are thoroughly profound and completely disarming. All of it told with expert care and considerable heart...through the lens of adorable dogs.

One episode follows a Syrian refugee who escaped to Berlin, but had to leave his dog Zeus behind. (No spoilers but your heart will shatter and be stitched back together over the course the hour). Another follows a family whose eldest daughter suffers from epilepsy. A seizure-detecting dog is her best hope for a normal life. One of the later episodes soars across the world to visit a socially-awkward Japanese dog groomer who has trouble connecting with other humans until a canine companion is in the room. He’s an artist with shears, fur is his canvas, and it’s mesmerizing to watch him work.

1542313518054-Dogs_S01E05_12m25s17883f
Land of Mangy Dogs

The bite-sized stories and pictures of Very Good Boys that populate much of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are perfect for just that—tender, funny moments good for a smile, a share or a bit of our attention. Dogs goes deeper. The series is complex carbohydrates, where everything else is refined sugar. It’s a 12-grain whole wheat loaf next to Wonderbread.

Six hours of full immersion in dog love is refreshing, and I get dogs now in a way I hadn’t before. Don't hold it against me, Rajah. Though I have a new understanding and appreciation of dogs, I still love you most, and will forever remain Cats 4 lyfe (yep, my cat has his own Instagram).

Follow Beckett Mufson on Twitter and Instagram.

]]>
pa5pxbBeckett MufsonBrian McManusCulturedogsdocumentaryNETFLIXcatspupperscute dogsRajahwhat to watch on netflixcat dadbest netflix documentariesvery good boydogtent
<![CDATA[ A "Witch" Tells Us How Her Cat’s Poop Changed Her Whole Life]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/qvqkb7/a-witch-tells-us-how-her-cats-poop-changed-her-whole-lifeMon, 19 Nov 2018 11:18:42 +0000Hira Ravha’s picturesque home lies at the edge of a large tea plantation, a short walk from the main bazaar of Lela village in Assam’s Goalpara district. Flanked by a row of trees, her small hut is the abode of her husband, two children, her old mother, three dogs, four cats and a dozen chickens. Under a shed stands a rickshaw that her husband plies, alongside plants of radish, carrots and cabbage that they sell to sustain themselves.

1542624629406-IMG_20181109_162514-01

As I get ready to take my leave, the whole family comes to see me off to the end of their lane, with their neighbours peeping suspiciously. Before I leave, I ask Ravha why she doesn’t leave this village and go somewhere else. “We depend on the cops and the members of Mission Birubala who protect us from our neighbours,” she says. “Though I feel scared every day, we don’t have the resources to leave. Where else would would we go?”

This story is part of a series that explores the lives of the “witches” in Assam post the anti witch-hunting law that was passed in July this year. Watch out for the next instalment which'll be out next Monday.

Follow Zeyad Masroor Khan on Twitter .

]]>
qvqkb7Zeyad Masroor KhanDhvani SolaniwomenpatriarchySexualityINDIAGenderpersecutionPowerwitchcraftAssamrural India
<![CDATA[Watch Men Do Weird Shit in Toilets]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/8xpqqa/watch-men-do-weird-shit-in-toiletsMon, 19 Nov 2018 10:34:02 +0000Sometimes jokes write themselves, as the universe aligns itself in the shape of a middle finger emoji to put a certain section of humanity in its place. The International Men’s and Toilet Day being on the same date is the latest example of these beautiful—albeit rare—confluences of intent, context and comedy.

Like, I’m not sure if there are studies (yet) to show how many men deserve to be shoved in toilets in a flush-hour cleanse, but one search for the term Me Too shows that we need a pretty large plunger.

To celebrate this magical day, here are some videos of men falling and getting embarrassed in toilets, because why the fuck not?

Aaj yellow hai paani paani.

#NotAllMenFallInToilets

]]>
8xpqqaVICE India StaffPallavi PundirINDIAVice Guide to Right NowWorld Toilet Daytoilet humour me toointernational mens daymens day
<![CDATA[The Guide to Getting into Mariah Carey, the Originator of All This Pop Shit]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/wj3dvm/mariah-carey-best-songs-guide-playlist-essayMon, 19 Nov 2018 10:30:00 +0000Mariah Carey has one of the most iconic episodes of MTV Cribs. Name another episode that flaunted a three-story Tribeca penthouse apartment as someone’s “first apartment ever.” That’s a slight flex. The episode gave her fans a glimpse of her luxurious life which, in 2002, wasn’t as easy as pressing “follow” on Instagram. Inside were over-the-top items like a closet dedicated solely to lingerie, and a piano that belonged to Marilyn Monroe. In the half-hour episode, there were five outfit changes—yes, five—and she even did a few reps on a vertical climber in four-inch stilettos.

To see the 1,100 square feet Carey lived in was to understand the leaps and bounds she took as an artist. Nothing about her living quarters suggested she was ordinary and her voice conjured the same feeling. Twenty-eight years ago, Carey didn’t hold back on “Vision of Love,” the opening track of her self-titled debut. This was her introduction to the world and with a five-octave range, she was anything but average.

When she entered the music world, Carey was a marketing dream. Her voice was transformative. She could bend it, stretch it, and pinch it to her liking, channeling the rolling soul of Aretha Franklin to the feathered falsettos of Minnie Riperton. After catching the eye of executive Tommy Mottola, Columbia Records launched one of the most expensive campaigns for a new artist to make Carey a priority for pop stardom. Poised to be the machine behind Columbia Records meant the black women of pop like Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston were now her peers. For much of Houston’s career, she was made to feel like she wasn’t black enough. But for Carey, who is racially ambiguous, this meant she had greater cross-appeal than her contemporaries. The company didn’t need to peg her solely to an urban market. No matter how Columbia tried to dress up her ballads, elements of gospel, soul, and eventually her trademark blend of hip-hop would seep through.

Carey’s legacy, however, will extend far beyond her overdone aesthetic and being heralded as one of the greatest shade queens of our time. Today, pop music remains, well, popular, and rap has found a space to coexist as more than a subgenre. The collaborations are truly mutually beneficial. It’s why Maroon 5 has a song with nearly every rapper and footage of Oprah dancing to “Havana” without Young Thug exists.

Like many of the black women before her, Carey fought for creative control of her career which came at the end of a divorce with her former boss, Tommy Mottola. The result was 1998’s Butterfly, an album that gave Bone Thugz-N-Harmony’s Wishbone and Krayzie Bone space on an album alongside Dru Hill. In an interview with V Magazine earlier this year, the singer reflected on the days where no one understood her vision. “Now everybody’s like, ‘Oh, it’s so innovative, a pop artist working with rappers!’ I’m like, are you serious? Do you know how much shit I had to go through just to work with anyone in hip-hop?” Carey brought hip-hop to a pop audience not out of necessity, but because it was a part of her identity.

So you want to get into: Mariah Carey, the Pop Princess

Most of Mariah Carey’s traditional pop music exists on her albums that predate 1998’s Butterfly. There is the grandeur of “Emotions,” which Ariana Grande covered in 2012 before Grande nestled into a career that would eventually cause Billboard to name her Woman of the Year. Carey’s voice is often the barometer for talent and though many could not surpass her, whether you fell on the right or wrong side of history was completely up to your vocal prowess. Grande’s choice to cover “Emotions” was a blatant way to step into pop, proving Carey is still the standard two decades later. Built with a strong disco foundation, the pianos dance under her booming vocals and even give her whistled falsetto room to breathe. “You’ve got me feeling emotions / higher than the heavens above,” she sang, moments before she pierced the breakdown with high notes exactly how you’d expect the daughter of an Opera singer to deliver. It’s a hell of a way to open her sophomore album, but Carey was careful she didn’t give up her best work on only her openers.

The pop production of the early 90s felt like it took a one-size-fits-all approach. The drums and synths varied little and the foundation of a song for Madonna could also work for Janet Jackson, who used her whispery tone to find a distinct tone, while Whitney Houston’s booming voice suggested the opposite. Mariah straddled between the two. She gave sultry whispers, sweeping growls and her signature high note to put the Mariah stamp on pop. Songs like Music Box’s “Now That I Know” was proof she didn’t falter when it came to keeping up with the times. C&C Music Factor’s David Cole and Robert Clivilles—the duo who created “Emotions”—used elements of house and dance to amplify Carey’s already dynamic voice. Carey took the song up a notch but added a choir behind her vocals, which layered her gospel influence into something more mainstream.

Playlist: "Emotions" / "Someday" / "Dreamlover" / "Flay Away (Butterfly Reprise)" / "Thank God I Found You" / "Sent from Up Above" / "To Be Around You" / "You're So Cold" / "Prisoner" / "Now That I Know" / "Fantasy" / "Daydream Interlude - Fantasy Sweet Dub Mix" / "The One" / "I'm That Chick" / "I'll Be Lovin U Long Time" / "For the Record" / "Up Out My Face" / "#Beautiful" / You Don't Know What to Do"

So you want to get into: Mariah Carey, Santa’s Biggest Helper?

It’s no secret Mariah Carey invented Christmas—and technically she did. In 1994, before holiday albums were a mainstay for a pop star’s career Mariah did it first and she did it when it was frowned upon. In the early 90s, a Christmas song didn’t have a long shelf life but that didn’t stop Walter Afanasieff, co-writer for “Hero,” and Carey from crafting the only album that matters during the holiday season. The singer decorated the studio with Christmas lights to ignore the fact that they were recording in June. When Carey does Christmas, she doesn’t only stick to the cheer of “All I Want for Christmas,” but she gets a chance to flex her muscles on gospel-tinged songs like “Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child,” and “The First Noel/Born Is the King.” Merry Christmas is the best-selling Christmas album of all time. Not bad for an album no one thought would sell.

Playlist: "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" / "Oh Santa!" / "The First Noel/Born Is The King Interlude" / "Joy to the World" / "Silent Night" / "All I Want for Christmas Is You" / "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home" / "Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child" / "Charlie Brown Christmas" / "Jesus Born on This Day" / "When Christmas Comes" / "All I Want for Christmas Is You"

So you want to get into: Mariah Carey, the Ballad Butterfly

There are few pop stars with a voice powerful enough to will you to tears—that spot is usually reserved for gospel or soul singers. Taking cues from Gladys Knight and the Clark Sisters, it wasn’t long before Carey earned her spot among the ranks. The first time we heard from the singer, she was 20-years-old and making the melismas Houston adopted from the black church her own. Beyoncé even cites Carey’s runs on “Vision of Love” as the template she followed for experimenting with the range of her own voice.

As Carey’s career grew, she became omnipresent. “Hero” was the soundtrack for almost every school recital, and “Always Be My Baby” was absolutely on the breakup mixtape you gave a jilted lover. Beyond her unnatural ability to sing, the voice she possessed in her songwriting was equally as strong. “Even from the beginning, I said, ‘If you want to put me with people to write with and collaborate, that’s fine, but don’t try to force me to record someone else’s song,” she told Rolling Stone in 2006. Writing was a part of establishing her autonomy. In the thick of her marriage to Mottola, who was 21 years older she was, she created Daydream like “I Am Free,” a foreshadowing of the freedom she’d gain after her divorce and “Looking In,” one of her most introspective songs. “She smiles through a thousand tears and harbors adolescent fears / She dreams of all that she can never be,” she sang. Being molded into the label’s definition of who she should be wouldn’t do, and although she’d test the waters on “Fantasy,” it was the remix that would provide the blueprint for her legacy.

Playlist: "Vision of Love" / "One Sweet Day" / "Love Takes Time" / "We Belong Together" / "Hero" / "If It's Over" / "Always Be My Baby" / "Petals" / "After Tonight" / "Till the End of Time" / "Vanishing" / "The Wind" / "Never Forget You" / "Without You" / "Underneath the Stars" / "Open Arms" / "I Am Free" / "Bliss" / "Melt Away" / "Rainbow (Interlude)" / "Looking In" / "Close My Eyes"/ "Vulnerability (Interlude)" / "Butterfly" / "Heavenly (No Ways Tired/Can't Give Up Now)" / "I Want to Know What Love Is"

So you want to get into: Mariah Carey, the Crossover Sensation?

When Wu-Tang’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard appeared on the Bad Boy remix of “Fantasy” it was a brash declaration that Carey knew integrating hip-hop in her music would work. “They laughed at me at the label when I played them my ‘Fantasy’ remix...” she reflected in Rolling Stone. “But you can’t explain to someone who didn’t grow up on hip-hop and who’s wanting to listen to the GoodFellas soundtrack exclusively that this is hot and it will be a classic.”

It worked so well, the single became the first song by a female artist to sit atop Billboard’s Hot 100. When ODB interpolated Marie and Donny Osmond’s “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock N Roll,” convulsing through his verse, it poked fun at what the American standard had been. Mariah was there, with the help of her friends, to dismantle decades of the cookie cutter image.

Aside from “Fantasy,” which spent eight weeks at No. 1, Butterfly was scattered with moments that became her trademark. She sang over Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” on “The Roof,” and emulated the swift flow of Bone Thugs on “Breakdown.” Heartbreaker followed this format, not only with a collaboration from Jay-Z, but an appearance from DJ Clue. The album opened like a mixtape with sporadic DJ drops, a vast departure from the light twinkle that began 1993’s Music Box. Carey reemerged in 2005 with The Emancipation of MiMi, an album that showed she was still a contender of the new millennium. She adopted the writing style of a rapper. Instead of the lyrics that read like journal entries, she was sharp and witty. Under Tommy Mottola’s rule she’d never be able to say “Them chickens is ash and I’m lotioned.” She even released a pretty impressive Mean Girls-inspired diss track aimed at Eminem. Her breath control was even different. She managed to cram words in by the second and it showed in her ballads, too. How long did it take you to be able to successfully sing: “I’m feeling all out of my element / Throwing things, crying, trying to figure out where I went wrong / The pain reflected in this song ain’t even half of what I’m feeling inside.” Mariah manages to fit an entire pre-chorus in under ten seconds. Whether it was collaborations with Cam’Ron, duets with Usher, or Jermaine Dupri, Mariah Carey established a market for both sides of her world.

Playlist: "Fantasy" / "The Roof" / "Heartbreaker (Remix)" / "Boy (I Need You)" / "Long Ago" / "How Much" / "Fourth of July" / "Side Effects" / "I Know What You Want" / "Shake It Off" / "My All/Stay Awhile" / "Honey" / "It's Like That" / "Breakdown" / "The Beautiful Ones" / "You Had Your Chance"/ "Heartbreaker" / "Honey (Remix)" / "X-Girlfriend" / "Always Be My Baby (Remix)" / "You Got Me"/ "Thirsty" / "Babydoll" / "Cruise Control" / "Say Somethin'"

Follow Kristin Corry on Twitter.

]]>
wj3dvmKristin CorryEric SundermannchristmasrapPOPcrossoverMariah CareyEmotionsAll I Want For Christmas Is YoucautionNoisey Guide ToR&Bvision of love
<![CDATA[Targeted Advertising Is Ruining the Internet and Breaking the World]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/xwjden/targeted-advertising-is-ruining-the-internet-and-breaking-the-worldMon, 19 Nov 2018 10:00:00 +0000This article originally appeared on VICE US.

In his testimony to the US Senate last spring, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that his company doesn’t sell user data, as if to reassure policymakers and the public. But the reality—that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media companies sell access to our attention—is just as concerning. Actual user information may not change hands, but the advertising business model drives company decision making in ways that are ultimately toxic to society. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci put it in her 2017 TED talk, “we’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.”

Social media companies are advertising companies. This has never been a secret, of course. Google pioneered the targeted advertising business model in the late 90s, and Sheryl Sandberg brought the practice to Facebook in 2008 when she joined the company as chief operating officer. The cash was flowing in, and companies around Silicon Valley and beyond adopted the same basic strategy: first, grow the user base as quickly as possible without worrying about revenue; second, collect as much data as possible about the users; third, monetize that information by performing big data analytics in order to show users advertising that is narrowly tailored to their demographics and revealed interests; fourth, profit.

For a while this seemed like a win-win: people around the world could watch cat videos, see pictures of each others' babies in Halloween costumes, connect with family, friends, and colleagues around the globe, and more. In return, companies would show them ads that were actually relevant to them. Contextual advertising had supported the print and broadcast media for decades, so this was the logical next step. What could possibly go wrong?

1542394250356-shutterstock_1098814628
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Image: Shutterstock

Plenty, as it turns out. From today's vantage point, the Arab Spring stands out as an iconic cautionary tale of techno-utopianism gone wrong. Sure, would-be revolutionaries, reformers, and human rights defenders were among the first to master the power of what we used to call "Web 2.0," but authorities caught on quickly and used the new tools to crack down on threats to their grasp on power. Similarly, the 2008 Obama campaign was the first to harness online advertising to reach the right voters with the right message with near-surgical precision, but 10 years later the same techniques are propelling right-wing authoritarians to power in the US, the Philippines, and Brazil, and being used to fan the flames of xenophobia, racial hatred, and even genocide around the world—perhaps most devastatingly in Myanmar. How on Earth did we get here?

It all started with targeted advertising, and with the new economic arrangement that Harvard Business School scholar Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism." Just like 20th century firms like General Motors and Ford invented mass production and managerial capitalism, Google and Facebook figured out how to commodify "reality" itself by tracking what people (and not just their users) do online (and increasingly offline too), making predictions about what they might do in the future, devising ways to influence behavior from shopping to voting, and selling that power to whoever is willing to pay.

“As societies, we have never agreed that our private experience is available for extraction as behavioral data, much of which is then fed into supply chains for the manufacture of behavioral predictions,” Zuboff told me in a phone interview.

Zuboff’s new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontiers of Power, examines surveillance capitalism’s 20-year history, from the birth of online advertising in the late 1990s to today’s era of democratic regression. "Surveillance capitalism was invented in the context of targeted advertising," she said. "This was the material, historical context in which it originated in a moment of financial emergency during the dotcom bust. Google was a fledgling firm, and its investors were threatening to bail– in spite of its superior search product. That's when Google turned to previously discarded and ignored data logs and repurposed them as a 'behavioral surplus.' Instead of being used for product improvement, these behavioral data were directed toward an entirely new goal: predicting user behavior."

"If we were looking for a digital revolution, it happened in advertising online"

Zuboff predicts that if left unchecked, surveillance capitalism will be just as destructive as previous variants of capitalism have been, though in wholly new ways. “We are talking about the unilateral claiming of private human experience as raw material for product development and market exchange," she said. "Industrial capitalism claimed nature for itself, and only now are we faced with the consequences of that undertaking. In this new phase of capitalism’s development, it’s the raw material of human nature that drives a new market dynamic, in which predictions of our behavior are told and then sold. The economic imperatives of this new capitalism produce extreme asymmetries of knowledge and the power that accrues from that knowledge. This is unprecedented territory with profound consequences for 21st century society.”

Online tracking is ubiquitous, Tim Libert, of Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, told me in an email. “Across the top one million websites you will be tracked on 91 percent of sites. I’ve been doing these types of scans for years and the results are always the same: you can’t browse the web without being tracked, period. Companies track you when you visit medical websites, pornography websites, websites for lawyers, websites for politicians, newspaper websites, and the same goes for apps. There are very few things that people don’t seek out or share using a computer and nearly all of that is tracked, all the time, by the billion dollar giants you see in the news as well as hundreds of companies you’ve never heard of.”

Companies collect this information in order to monetise it: while we may not see much value in the individual data points about our behaviour, in the aggregate it adds up to big money.

When you visit a webpage that hosts advertising content, the ad network—Google’s DoubleClick, for example—chooses between showing you several ads. Because Google knows so much about you, your friends, your tastes, your habits, and your purchasing power, DoubleClick can calculate which ad you are most likely to click on and ultimately which product you’re most likely to purchase.

"That’s all 'AI' and 'machine learning' is for these companies: getting better at guessing what ads to show you," Libert said. "Every tiny bit of data increases the chances they show the 'right' ad so they never stop, they never sleep, and they never respect your privacy—every single day everybody at Google collectively works to one purpose: getting the percentage of 'right' ads shown slightly higher.”

It's almost impossible to know exactly how this "Digital Influence Machine," as a recent Data & Society report put it, works in a particular instance, just like it's impossible to know how climate change contributes to specific hurricanes. But in the aggregate, the connection is clear and undeniable.

“With advertising technology, political communication has changed dramatically,” Joan Donovan, who researches media manipulation and platform accountability at Data & Society, told me in an email. “If we were looking for a digital revolution, it happened in advertising online. Much of online advertising is completely unregulated and unmanaged. Political strategists understood this new opportunity and capitalized on it by serving up digital disinformation using ads as the delivery system. No politician can campaign ethically under these conditions because they are just out gunned by those who are willing to use these systems to do damage.”

In copying the traditional media's advertising-based business model, internet companies neglected to adopt a crucial rule: the separation between business operations and editorial decisions. Though the rule was far from universally respected, 20th century journalism's code of ethics prohibited financial considerations from influencing news coverage. This ethical screen allowed American capitalism to subsidize the press, which in turn helped keep the government and companies honest: checks and balances at work.

This all fell apart with targeted advertising, which stole journalism's lunch money and used it to sustain platforms whose driving logic isn't to educate, to inform, or to hold the powerful to account, but to keep people "engaged." This logic of "engagement" is motivated by the twin needs to collect more data and show more ads, and manifests itself in algorithms that value popularity over quality. In less than 20 years, Silicon Valley has replaced editorial judgment with mathematical measures of popularity, destabilized the democratic systems of checks and balances by hobbling the Fourth Estate, and hammered nail after nail into the coffin of privacy.

"We are witnessing a full-blown failure of trust in online platforms at a time when they are the most influential force in undermining or protecting democratic ideals around the world"

The targeted advertising business model incentivizes companies to amass as much information as they can: what their users do on the platforms themselves and what they do elsewhere on the internet. Google and Facebook even keep tabs on what people who don’t have an account with them do online, and use that information in their data modeling and to serve ads around the Web. More recently, they’ve started buying data about consumers’ credit card purchases and other offline activity. These digital dossiers contain revealing information about each of us individually and all of us collectively. It’s no surprise that governments are eager to get their hands on that data. For example, the 2013 Edward Snowden revelations contained details about several NSA programs, including PRISM, that relied on obtaining data from major technology companies, both with and without executives’ knowledge. Similar relationships between tech companies (including telecom operators) and state actors can be found in other countries, as well. Consequent human rights harms include extra-judicial surveillance, harassment, and physical harm as well chilling effects stemming from awareness of these risks.

At the group level, targeted advertising automates discrimination and normalizes it by seeming to take individual prejudice out of the equation. As Chris Gilliard explains in a recent essay, “surveillance capitalism turns a profit by making people more comfortable with discrimination,” this is manifested in practices like digital redlining, differential pricing, racist search results, and social media filter bubbles.

Safiya Noble, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of Algorithms of Oppression, told me in an email that “we are dependent upon commercial search engines to sort truth from fiction, yet these too, are unreliable fact-checkers on many social and political issues. In essence, we are witnessing a full-blown failure of trust in online platforms at a time when they are the most influential force in undermining or protecting democratic ideals around the world.”

Targeted advertising causes us to experience the internet, and therefore the world, in different ways based on what the surveillance capitalism assemblage thinks it knows about us. This not a recipe for fairness, equality, or a just society.

Finally, targeted advertising and the algorithmic curation practices associated with it harms democracy itself. Advertising’s shift to digital has cannibalized the news media’s revenue, thus weakening the entire public sphere. And linking advertising to pageviews incentivizes media organizations to produce articles that perform well, sometimes at the expense of material that educates, entertains, or holds power-holders accountable. Targeted advertising provides tools for political advertisers and propagandists to micro-segment audiences in ways that inhibit a common understanding of reality. This creates a perfect storm for authoritarian populists like Rodrigo Duterte, Donald Trump, and Jairo Bolsanaro to seize power, with dire consequences for human rights. Dipayan Ghosh and Ben Scott, authors of the “Digital Deceit” report series, note that “we have permitted technologies that deliver information based on relevance and the desire to maximize attention capture to replace the normative function of editors and newsrooms.”

For decades, thinkers like Hannah Arendt, Karl Polanyi, and many others have repeatedly warned us that fascism is the direct consequence of subordinating human needs to the needs of the market. Having willfully ignored the lessons of history, we have allowed corporate greed to transform our media ecosystem into one that structurally favors authoritarian populism. Saving democracy requires more than reforming internet companies, of course, and the exact recipe for success varies by country. In the United States, we need to reverse 30 years of media deregulation, exponentially increase public support for public interest media, and address the structural inequalities in our electoral system that give power to a party that less than half the electorate supports.

The targeted advertising business model at the heart of surveillance capitalism needs to be restructured, maybe even replaced. But with what, and how do we get there?

Experts disagree on whether the targeted advertising ecosystem can be meaningfully reformed, and whether that will be enough to reverse its harmful impact on society. “Surveillance capitalism is no more limited to targeted advertising than managerial capitalism was limited to the production of the Ford model T,” said Zuboff, whose new book comes out in January. “This logic of accumulation has traveled far beyond its origins to new sectors and new forms of business operations. Like an invasive plant that faced no natural predators, surveillance capitalism has been allowed to take root and flourish in lawless space for two decades.”

Dipayan Ghosh, who studies privacy engineering at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, is more optimistic, but doesn’t rule out regulatory solutions. As the tech companies themselves argue, internet users may find value in targeted advertising that is personalized to their interests and helps them discover opportunities or events that are relevant to them. But the same infrastructure that lets you know when your favorite band is playing in your city also enables bad actors to disseminate nefarious ideas.

"This commercial regime is responsible for huge security threats," Ghosh, who worked as a tech policy advisor in the Obama White House and formerly was a US privacy and public policy advisor at Facebook, said in an interview. "We will need to treat the business model with policy measures in ways that raise up the good and cut off the bad. And if that doesn’t work, we may have to regulate against targeted advertising. I think we can find ways to allow targeted advertising done by Chanel or the NBA, and cut out the nefarious content pushed by Russian propagandists.”

The onus is on Silicon Valley to demonstrate that firms can guard against surveillance capitalism’s gravest harms without uprooting their business models—or better yet, to find new revenue streams that don’t rely on commodifying people’s private behavior. This is all the more important because people can’t meaningfully opt out.

While Google and Facebook let users opt out of seeing targeted ads, it’s impossible to opt out of being tracked or being included in the datasets used to create targeting algorithms. According to Carnegie Mellon’s Libert, “you may assume if you don’t see a targeted ad for shoes they stopped tracking you, but that’s not the case whatsoever. There are technological ways to prevent some level of tracking, but it’s like taking aspirin to cure your cancer, it may make you feel a little better for a few hours but you’re still dealing with cancer. The only way to root out the cancer of targeted advertising is regulation. Europe is conducting a grand experiment right now with GDPR, and the rest of the world is watching.”

Policymakers around the world, including in Washington, are increasingly aware that privacy and data protection are intimately linked to the basic structure of society. Neither they, nor the public, are likely to accept the status quo for much longer.

Dr. Nathalie Maréchal is a senior research fellow at Ranking Digital Rights , where she studies the impact of information and communication technology companies’ business practices on human rights.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

]]>
xwjdenDr. Nathalie MaréchalJason KoeblerFacebookThe Weakest Linktargeted advertisinghacking weekOpinionweakest link
<![CDATA[Meditation Is a Powerful Mental Tool—and For Some People It Goes Terribly Wrong]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/vbaedd/meditation-is-a-powerful-mental-tool-and-for-some-it-goes-terribly-wrongMon, 19 Nov 2018 09:00:00 +0000This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Last November, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, David* was sitting in traffic on his drive home from work. He was suddenly overwhelmed by the realisation that everything he experienced was filtered through his brain, entirely subjective, and possibly a complete fabrication.

“Not a unique or deep thought to be sure, but I felt the world drop out from under me and experienced panic—and a certainty that, if I chose to, I could go insane at that very moment,” he tells me. He rolled down the window, turned on the radio, and carefully made his way home.

That night, he couldn’t fall asleep. He would get very tired, come close to nodding off, and then a jolt of energy would shock him awake. “I was very shaken, suffering chest tension and nausea,” he says. “This continued unabated for six days during which I estimate I slept for a total of six hours. On Sunday evening I went to the emergency room.”

David had a hunch about what had caused his panic attack: his meditation practice.

He had begun meditating in August 2017. His gateway was a book, The Mind Illuminated by John Yates, and then Daniel Ingram's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. He took to it easily. In the first week, he could meditate for about 30 minutes a day, and a month later had a regular practice of two 60-minute sits a day—once in the morning, and once in the evening.

“One thing that I did notice—and this is much clearer in retrospect—is that I was becoming withdrawn," he says. "I started to lose interest in life a bit. I stopped playing guitar, I stopped listening to music, and cooking for my family started to feel more like a chore."

David stopped meditating almost immediately, but he didn't get better. His insomnia was barely manageable with medication, and he continued to struggle with generalised anxiety during the day.

“I would have nausea, stomach and chest pain, and a feeling of existential dread,” he says. “My emotional world essentially shut down. I just felt shattered. I had a job, a wife, and two beautiful children, and yet I felt that I would never experience joy again.”

Isn’t meditation supposed to be the old practice that’s going to cure us of our modern woes? Aside from offering a somewhat secular way to engage in spirituality, meditation is also said to be rooted in science, with empirical evidence backing up its benefits to health. There are mindfulness-based interventions being applied to stress, addiction, chronic pain, mood disorders, psychiatric disorders, and other medical conditions, all with promising results. iTunes is filling up with meditation and mindfulness apps. Mindfulness could even fix your sex life.

Amid all the—often legitimate—hype, sometimes meditation goes wrong. For a minority of people who try it, meditation can lead to enduring changes in personality and mood. As mindfulness meditation and other varieties seep into many areas of life and health, and especially as more people do it on their own, a small group of experts and civilians are pointing out that it does not always do good for the human psyche.

Willoughby Britton, the director of the clinical and affective neuroscience laboratory at Brown University, runs a support group for people like David—people for whom meditation has caused a psychological and physical crisis. Each week, she gets more emails from people who are struggling, asking for her help. “I’m seeing a lot of casualties,” she says.

The group connects online, where people of all ages and backgrounds across nine time zones come together and find solace in the company of others who are also suffering from the negative side effects of meditation.

More than 75 percent of research studies on meditation aren’t measuring or monitoring adverse effects, Britton tells me. Last year, she published the largest study on meditation-related problems, interviewing 100 meditation teachers and other meditators who had personal knowledge of such issues.

In that study, and a followup study she’s working on now, she tells me there were some common symptoms. There’s hyper-arousal: Increases in anxiety, fear, panic, insomnia, trauma flashbacks, and emotional instability. There can also be sensory hypersensitivity, or sensitivity to light and sound. At first, it might be pleasant. Colours get brighter. A person starts noticing more things. “When that keeps going, then suddenly sounds are really irritating, or you can't leave your house because you hear everything and it's really distracting,” she says.

The pendulum can swing the other way, and a person can experience hypo-arousal. This can look like dissociation or disembodiment. A person will feel like they’re outside of their body, or that they can’t feel their body, or that they don’t have a body at all. “People describe a loss of emotion beyond what they wanted, and loss of motivation or enjoyment of things,” Britton tells me.

Around ten years ago, she started Cheetah House, which specialises in taking care of meditators in distress. (Its name is a play on the Pali and Sanskrit word citta, which means “mind.”) Britton gets referrals from meditation centers, meditation teachers, and now apps as well, which she describes as “the new frontier of completely unsupervised meditation in mass quantities.” (Headspace and Calm did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.)

Needless to say, Britton feels wary about our growing tendency to dole out meditation like a generic multivitamin. “I don't see that the programs or the apps or people who are teaching it are taking responsibility for these people,” she says. “If they're calling me, then they're not getting the help they need from the people who are teaching them.”

It’s been well-documented that meditation can lead to troubling sensations—Buddhist traditions have often referred to the varying effects of meditation. “The term nyams refers to a wide range of ‘meditation experiences’—from bliss and visions to intense body pain, physiological disorders, paranoia, sadness, anger and fear,” Britton writes in a 2017 paper. "Zen traditions have also long acknowledged the possibility for certain practice approaches to lead to a prolonged illness-like condition known as 'Zen sickness' or 'meditation sickness.'"

Some meditators refer to it as “The Dark Night,” though the phrase is co-opted from the Roman Catholic meditative tradition, wrote Shinzen Young, a mindfulness teacher and neuroscience consultant who works with universities.

“It is certainly the case that almost everyone who gets anywhere with meditation will pass through periods of negative emotion, confusion, disorientation, and heightened sensitivity to internal and external arisings,” he wrote on his blog in 2011. “This phenomenon, within the Buddhist tradition, is sometimes referred to as 'falling into the Pit of the Void.' It entails an authentic and irreversible insight into Emptiness and No Self. What makes it problematic is that the person interprets it as a bad trip. Instead of being empowering and fulfilling, the way Buddhist literature claims it will be, it turns into the opposite. In a sense, it's Enlightenment's Evil Twin.”

Young argues that for most people, the experience is manageable through guidance from a competent teacher, and though it might take months or years to get through, the end result is “almost always highly positive.” But for those who pick up the practice casually, "falling into the Pit of the Void" isn't necessarily what they signed up for.

31-year-old Patrick* from Tennessee read Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and borrowed the accompanying audio-guided meditations from his local library. He listened to the CDs, which guided him through breathing and body-scan meditations.

“I would say probably four or five days a week I was doing half an hour to 45 minutes, and I was almost never not meditating for a day,” he tells me. “I hit almost every day for like seven weeks.”

Sometimes while he was meditating, he would feel a vertigo-type feeling, or like he was looking at one of those Magic Eye posters. He says he was feeling overall less stressed —about everything. “It's like I figured out how to get around living and having problems,” he says. “So it was really positive at first.”

Then, when his girlfriend would tell him about problems at work, he’d look down from, what he calls, “cloud nine” and think, "Well, I can't really relate to this.” He started to worry that if he kept meditating, he would become a zombie. “Am I not going to be able to relate to people and their stresses?" he asked himself.

Around March 2018, things started to change. He began feeling highly emotional, crying a lot, and dealing with intrusive thoughts. He developed an obsession with the idea of trauma, and the idea that he had a repressed memory. He thought if he felt this terrible, there must have been something in his past that he didn’t remember making him feel this way.

He began to catalog everything he had ever done that he was ashamed or embarrassed about, revealing any secret he’d ever held close. “I was looking for the meaning of why I felt so bad,” he says. “Why did I feel so unlike myself? Why did I feel so upset, or guilty, or negative?”

The thoughts didn’t feel like his own, and yet he couldn’t release them. He started to see doctors after finding Britton’s support group. The first therapist he saw told him that meditation couldn’t possibly have caused his problems. He sought out alternative clinicians, and more than $1,000 in medical expenses later, he found some relief doing cognitive behavioral therapy, and is currently seeing an acupuncturist. He has given up meditation completely.

Nick*, a 25-year-old from Minnesota, got into meditation after he read Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion, by Sam Harris. He downloaded the app Calm and began doing guided meditations at home. In the fall of 2016, he went on a ten-day meditation retreat. “Ultimately, I made it through and it was a really life-changing experience,” Nick tells me. Last summer, he began to volunteer at the retreat, meditating three to four hours a day. Earlier this year, in March, he decided to go on another ten-day retreat. “I didn’t see how it could ever go wrong because I'd been on one before,” he says.

But something did start to go wrong. He says that he was in a traumatic accident when he was 13, and the meditation started to bring up memories of the accident. It didn’t go away when he got home.

He suddenly felt like he was 13 again. He was unable to sleep. “My mind became super fixated on parts of my body, and it was a really intense sensation,” he says. “I was starting to have all these somatic OCD problems, like every time I swallowed, my ear would click, and then I was trapped in this compulsion of swallowing and hearing it, interpreting that as a problem, and that was really distressing and distracting.”

After waiting for around a month, hoping it would go away, he started to become suicidal. He came across Britton’s contact info and she urged him to seek help. He went to the ER and was admitted as a young adult inpatient for about a week.

“This was a thing that had been helping me so much the past few years and I was really passionate about,” he says. “I felt like it brought me a lot of purpose in my life, and now it was causing me so much harm. This year is the most suicidal I ever felt in my life, so it was really hard dealing with that.”

He tells me that he’s only now starting to get back on his feet again. He lost his last job after being absent too many days, and it’s hard to find another because he’s still in an intensive outpatient program. Currently, he’s in therapy as well as Britton’s support group. When I ask him about what he thinks about meditation now, his answer is surprisingly generous.

“I think if people try a little bit, even just a few minutes, or try those guided meditations, I'd say I would recommend for people to at least try it,” Nick says. “But be very cautious about doing anything intense, and if you notice anything, even just doing it for a few minutes, to stop or talk to someone about it.”

Many of the mechanisms that are responsible for the benefits of meditation may also in fact be responsible for these adverse effects. Meditation has been shown to strengthen the prefrontal cortex, an area of your brain related to attention and also executive control; it keeps regions like the limbic system and amygdala—both emotion centers—under control. “That will result in reduced emotional reactivity,” Britton says.

For people who have a lot of emotional reactivity, that can be a good thing. It can make you calm, and less reactive to moments in daily life. The problem, Britton tells me, is that for some people, it can go too far.

The amygdala isn’t only involved in negative emotions, but also positive ones. If you decrease one, the other may follow. “People in our research complain of not having any emotions, even positive ones, not feeling any kind of love or affection for their families,” Britton says. “That's like too much of that same once-beneficial process.”

There are many types of meditation, and Britton thinks that each confers a different kind of skill. Britton defines meditation as a group of activities that intentionally cultivate specific qualities of body, mind, or behavior—and then quickly acknowledges that this broad definition could mean almost anything. “The point is that it's intentional and that it has a specific goal in mind and that it cultivates that goal through repetition,” she says.

Rebecca Semmens-Wheeler, a psychology lecturer at Birmingham City Unity in the UK who studies hypnosis and meditation, thinks that contemporary trends seem to have led to a cherry-picked approach to the meditation tradition. The purpose of mindfulness is not to make you dissociated, she argues, and our over-focus on one type could be what’s leading to complications.

“It's very confusing to the consumer, but it's also really problematic from a research perspective when you're trying to figure out what mindfulness does to the brain, or what kind of psychological effect mindfulness has,” Britton says. “There are a lot of different types of practices, sometimes with the same name.”

Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, is widely known for his work on the benefits of meditation and other contemplative practices. He emphasizes to me at the outset of our phone call that he respects Britton both as a scientist and a practitioner. “I believe that she is doing a useful service by calling attention to these potential issues,” he tells me. “I think they've done a good and careful job.”

But, he also thinks that many people who have adverse effects had a pre-existing vulnerability that was exacerbated by their meditation practice. “I think that it underscores the importance for individuals who have had struggles with mental illness, and are interested in meditation, to do it in the care of a mental health practitioner who also is a meditation practitioner," he says. "There aren't that many of those people, unfortunately.”

If you were interested in learning another complex skill, like playing the violin, he asks me, wouldn’t you seek out a teacher? Perhaps. But we live in an age where people turn to the internet for everything. I could probably learn the violin through YouTube videos and apps. Nonetheless, he says, when it comes to meditation, a practice that alters your mind, it’s time to be more cautious.

“I certainly understand the disposition to want to find a shortcut, or get there quickly, but the fact is that if you really want to undertake the learning of a new skill, a particularly complex skill, having an expert guide you is really important," he says.

When people have bad side effects from meditating alone, Davidson says, it’s hard to know what they were doing that caused the harm. “I think that many of the people who are having difficulty and who are reporting that their problems are exacerbated by meditation are not meditating correctly, to put it simply and coarsely," he says. "Some might even say that they're not meditating. That they think they're meditating, but they're not really meditating.”

Britton tells me that Davidson’s position is a common one: That this only happens to people with pre-existing vulnerabilities. Maybe David was practicing too much, incorrectly, or Patrick was doing it incorrectly without supervision.

“I hear that all the time, sometimes even describing my research,” she says. “I want to make very clear that that is not what we're finding. We have found exceptions to all of these things. People in our study were meditation teachers themselves and were doing the practices correctly, under supervision of other very, very well-known teachers, and many of them, almost half, did not have a psychiatric or trauma history.”

The people who reached out to me from Britton’s support group all asked for their identities to be protected. They didn’t want their peers, bosses, teachers or families to find out they had suffered so intensely from a practice most consider healing. “Mindfulness is really seen as a positive end-all/cure-all,” Sofia** tells me. “A panacea. Everyone who does it boasts about its benefits. Having it be public that for me it actually exacerbated my symptoms would bring a lot of shame and guilt. It makes me feel like an outsider.“

Sofia was 22 when her friend told her about a meditation retreat that was going to “change her life.” She had dabbled a little in meditation before, and had a healthy yoga practice, so decided to go in the summer of 2016.

“I came back from there totally broken and completely unstable,” she tells me. The first few days were great. But around the seventh day, she started to feel dizzy and strange. Her teacher told her it was just the process of meditation, and not to worry about it.

Shortly after, she had two severe panic attacks where her entire body was paralyzed and she couldn’t move. “I've never had a panic attack my whole life,” Sofia says. “I've always been top A-student, always overachieving, always on top of my game, and suddenly, I was completely debilitated, and I couldn't function well for the next year, actually.”

For the next year she experienced depersonalization and dissociation—the feeling of being separated from one’s body, or that you have no self. She continued to have panic attacks. “For a year, also, I was living with these inexplicable tinglings,” she says. “Heightened anxiety. I would wake up with, not fear, but with terror, which was a very difficult experience for me to grasp.”

Sofia says that people who hear about her meditation problems immediately think there must have been something wrong with her to begin with. She admits, she hasn’t had the easiest life— was she somehow susceptible?

“I come from the Middle East, and I had been through war, and I had been through insanely abusive relationships, and I never had such symptoms,” she tells me. “But I've always been able to cope with prior trauma, but suddenly in this retreat, I was unable to function, which is what still really wows me till now.”

It’s not that psychiatric or trauma history or practice amount can’t play a role, Britton tells me. It's that difficulties can occur under optimal conditions, and they can happen to anyone.

Mike*, a 24-year-old graduate student in Boston, tells me that he’s thought a lot about the issue of pre-existing vulnerabilities. He’s sure that there are some people who begin to meditate who do exacerbate a pre-existing trauma or illnesses. But he’s also met people who don’t meet these criteria. The answer here may be that we all exist on a bell curve, he says. There’s not a clear distinction between people with vulnerabilities and people without. A specific kind of meditation at a specific time in your life could trigger a response, no matter who you are.

He read a couple books by Jack Kornfield and started to meditate when he was 18, through book instructions and friends. Eventually, he went to formal sittings and retreats as well. At first, it provided him distance between his “self” and his thoughts in a new way. He felt freer of old insecurities and narratives he had held himself to before.

“I had a lot of beliefs about what I was capable of, what I should be, what people had said about me,” he says. “Realizing what those were, and noting them, was insightful and helpful.”

But slowly, a nihilistic depression started to set in. “I do remember it creeping up through time because I could feel the character of how I related to myself was changing,” he says. “My motivations for behavior were starting to seem very hazy and very unimportant.”

It felt like being on the edge of insanity. “My nervous system was tied in knots, completely losing touch with self and reality and very caught in this nihilistic void where things were happening and I couldn't discern boundaries,” he says. “I was terrified to tell anybody because I was terrified to find out what it might be. I was also terrified that I might get locked up if I was truly honest about my experience.”

When Mike came across Britton’s research and connected with her, he was able to change his perspective. Instead of viewing his symptoms as a step in the path towards ultimate enlightenment, he started to think about how his nervous system was responding to the practice. As a science student, this resonated with him. It helped him realize how crucial personal connections were to him.

“That's what's most important to me, is my experience of two separate beings connecting in that special kind of way,” he says. His symptoms improved a lot when he stopped meditating and started taking his need for social interaction seriously again, rather than noting them and letting them go.

I’ve been told to seek out meditation or mindfulness for nearly every medical problem I face— Generalized anxiety, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, OCD—and plenty of non-medical ones too, like mindful eating or mindful running. In many cases, it has helped. I meditate before going to sleep; acknowledging anxious thoughts, and then letting them go can, can make anxiety feel a lot better. How do we grapple with when this type of practice works, when it doesn’t, and when it will hurt?

"I do realise these practices remain beneficial to people,” Mike tells me. “Some people will do this their whole life and just experience the positive aspects and the fleeting experiences of no self and they don't get into this kind of territory. But I do worry about spreading a technology of mind that is designed to deconstruct the self.”

What all the researchers and meditators can find common ground in, perhaps, and what’s ignored by the deluge of meditation apps and casual recommendations is this: Meditation is powerful. It’s a skill not to be taken lightly, and in the right circumstance can provide incredible benefit, and in others, harm.

Because meditation types are grouped together without discrimination, we don’t know enough about each type and its effects on the brain. “There are literally hundreds of different kinds of meditation practices,” Davidson says, “only a very small variety of which have been seriously studied scientifically, and have been championed in Western popular culture. One of the important challenges and tasks in modern research is to be able to specify with more precision what kinds of practices may be best for which kinds of people.”

In Britton’s perfect world, mindfulness could be a tool that people use to get a sense of what their baseline levels are. I tell her about how I have OCD, and one of my obsessions leads to hyperawareness of my body. I definitely don’t need to turn the dial up on my attention to what’s going on with me physically. Does that mean I can’t meditate? Not at all. But it might mean that if I do a specific kind of meditation that increases interoception too much—like, say, the kind where you scan your body and take stock of every little sensation going on from head to toe—I might end up with adverse side effects. Instead, I could look for a practice that trains exteroception, which is noticing what’s around me and outside of me.

“That would be my ideal sort of mindfulness program, would be to have multiple dimensions of different processes; use your own mindfulness or your monitoring skills to understand where you are, and then know which practices are going to get you to a more optimal level of each one,” Britton says. “Everybody's going to be different.”

*First name only was used

** Name has been changed

]]>
vbaeddShayla LoveKate Lowensteinmental healthMeditationBuddhismbrainpsychologymindneurosciencemindfulness
<![CDATA[I Binged All 11 ‘Harry Potter’ Movies and Yes, They Are Gay as Hell]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/pa5pj8/i-binged-all-11-harry-potter-movies-and-yes-they-are-gay-as-hellMon, 19 Nov 2018 08:30:00 +0000This article originally appeared on VICE US.

I’ve been told that I’m a Slytherin, but not because I’m an evil twink. I didn’t grow up reading Harry Potter, for no other reason than I was probably too busy watching Melrose Place and wasting my youth at the mall. I saw no point in catching the Harry Potter movies on the big screen, either.

But with the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on November 16—and increasingly gag-worthy red carpet appearances by Ezra Miller—I heard rumors that this movie was maybe going to be gay as hell. But also, maybe not gay enough. So I figured why not watch every single one of the Harry Potter movies in one homosexual go? What did I have to lose aside from my grasp on reality and a full week of my life?

Here’s what happened when I hopped on the Hogwarts Express, grabbed a heap of Chocolate Frogs, and watched 17 years worth of this wizarding madness.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

A cat just turned into Maggie Smith! (Are all cats secretly Maggie Smith?) We meet baby Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter living in a closet, and I feel very seen. Fiona Shaw appears as his aunt looking like Julianne Moore in The Hours, followed by Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape in a wig that looks like Winona Ryder’s hair from Reality Bites, and I am literally screaming. The gang meets on the train on the way to Hogwarts, where I realize how desperately I want my own fat white owl and immediately miss college. I know Emma Watson’s Hermione is meant to be a know-it-all, but really all these legacy white boys are just not ready.

An escaped troll wreaks havoc, Quidditch is played (the CGI is so 90s!) and we meet my favorite character so far, Hagrid’s enormous Mastiff named Fang. A three-headed pooch is also guarding the plot of this movie: a stone that grants immortality and Voldemort’s plan to use it to return from the dead. Harry, Hermione, and Ron (Rupert Grint) play the most violent game of chess ever, after which we learn that...Snape isn’t the baddie? Guess it was stuttering Professor Quirrell (Ian Hart) all along. Voldemort pops out the back of Quirrell’s head to tell Harry, “There is no good and evil, only power!” He’s not wrong! A Voldemort-shaped smear flies away and Harry’s out of this joint for summer break.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Look whose voice changed! Harry’s growing up so fast. I never imagined a snake caught in the pipes could cause so much fuss (2 hours and 41 minutes, if we’re counting). Some fool let it out of its room and now kids are walking around getting “petrified” in the halls. Their only hope is a potion derived from shrieking mandrakes, who remind me of every nightmare I’ve had about killing a houseplant. Turns out only the heir of Slytherin could’ve sprung the monster, so of course it was Voldemort. This time he’s assumed the form of Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson), a memory of Voldy’s teenage self magically preserved in his diary. (Rowling loves an anagram; TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE = I AM LORD VOLDEMORT, remember?) Oh also, the diary possessed Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) and had her doing the Dark Lord’s dirty work. Harry slays the serpent, rescues her, and stabs Tom’s diary till it bleeds (no returning that one to the library!). I know from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (the Broadway play) that Harry and Ginny wind up together (spoiler alert), so I’m already seeing the heart-eye emoji.

In other news, Kenneth Branagh may think he’s the heartthrob of this movie as celebrity author Gilderoy Lockhart, but I’m here to tell you that Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) is a ZADDY. I’m having flashbacks to The OA and am strangely jealous of Dobby, his house elf servant (lock me up, Lucius!). Something had to make up for the shit-ton of spiders in this movie, especially the massive ones who conveniently showed up at the same time as my take out. Also this movie looks like a theme park, and I’m ready to be done with director Chris Columbus.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

So much happens in this one! But by far the most important plot point is Harry getting his Daenerys moment, riding a hippogriff (a horse-eagle hybrid?) through the sky like a regular mother of dragons. Also, Hermione punching Draco in the face is such a 2018 mood.

Let’s see if I’ve got this: Oscar winner Gary Oldman (aka Sirius Black) has broken out of prison, (supposedly) to kill Harry and he (supposedly) led the Potter parents to slaughter at the hands of (you guessed it!) Voldemort. Only, the culprit was really… Ron’s pet rat Scabbers? Who is actually Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall), only in rat form. Peter, Sirius, and Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) were all school chums with Harry’s dad—oh, and Lupin is also a werewolf. Somehow it all gets sorted deep underground beneath a tree.

Harry and Hermione also have a little Back to the Future adventure in which they save my fave hippogriff from execution (thank god) and Harry and Sirius from the Dementors, who are feeding on their souls like a hoard of ex-boyfriends who won’t die. I love that this movie was Alfonso Cuarón’s follow up to Y Tu Mamá También. This man can do it all! (Seriously, go see Roma.)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Wow, I was not ready for this Hunger Games-Twilight crossover!!! I’ll carry the shame of not knowing Robert Pattinson was in this movie for the rest of my days. But the real standout to me is “Bulgarian bonbon” Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), who need not utter a word to have my full support in the Battle of the Hogwarts Baes (aka the Triwizard Tournament) that dominates most of this movie. But first, the Yule Ball serves up a John Hughes-worthy interlude of teen angst over who’s going with whom and how mortifying dancing with the opposite sex will be. Hermione gets a Belle-style glow up, but Ron is beastly enough not to ask her to the ball. Ugh, boys. (Also, why doesn’t Harry take Ginny?)

Meanwhile, the mop on Harry’s head grows exponentially as he slays a dragon, dives into a magical lake with mermaids and has his Ariel moment, and navigates a hedge maze where Voldemort presides over a Night of the Living Dead-style MeetUp™ and finally transforms from Baby Gollum into a full-fledged evil diva. (Those black silk robes! Diana Ross is shaking!) This whole scene is insane. Harry’s parents pull some Star Wars shit and show up as holograms, while their son goes head to head with his nemesis and barely escapes. I knew Pattinson’s Cedric was toast. How else could he come back as Twilight’s twunk vampire? (#TeamEdward) Oh, and one-eyed Professor Moody (Brendan Gleeson) was maybe evil for a second, but really it was Dr. Who (aka David Tennant playing Barty Crouch Jr.) who’s to blame for advancing the plot, I guess?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

Everyone got a haircut! Thank god. I can finally see Harry’s mom’s eyes from beneath his sensible bangs. In a Sandlot-meets-Twister opening scene, Harry saves his sniveling cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) from a couple renegade Dementors and gets himself expelled from school. The Ministry of Magic is going all GOP and denying Voldemort’s existence, inadvertently fostering his rise. Harry is allowed back to school, where he heads up an Occupy Hogwarts student resistance (aka Dumbledore’s Army). Meanwhile, I’ve forgotten all about Ginny and am hardcore shipping Harry and Cho Chang (Katie Leung). #Chorry4Life.

Where has Helena Bonham Carter been this whole franchise? I’m so glad her character, Bellatrix Lestrange, gets broken out of prison, even though she winds up killing Sirius XM (RIP). Is it weird that I’m also shipping Bellatrix and Lucius Malfoy? I know he’s totally evil now, but what can I say? I love terrible men. Speaking of, Voldemort and Dumbledore finally face off in a wizard duel. Harry learns that the key to resisting Voldy’s mind control is to focus on how much he’s loved (aww). We’re also treated to the Most Obvious Prophesy Ever, that either Harry or Mr. V is gonna have to die at the end of all this. No shit, you guys!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Voldemort is back on his bullshit, terrorizing London and making mincemeat of the Millennial Bridge. (I’ve always been terrified of that thing!) On the bright side, we get a shot of Dumbledore on the Tube platform. (Wizards, they’re nothing like us.) Harry gets his hands on an advanced spellbook that belonged to the “Half-Blood Prince,” who turns out to be Snape (gasp!). Only in magic school would reading an advanced course book be the basis for an entire movie.

But really, this one should be called How to Be a Player: The Ron Weasley Story, because boy is getting around! After drinking performance-enhancing “luck potion,” Ron becomes a quidditch star, attracting a crazed groupie named Lavender (Jessie Cave), who promptly becomes his partner in PDA. Hermione is heartbroken (sob!) until Ron, recovering from a love potion slipped to him by another groupie, wakes up saying her name in the hospital. Brutal! Lavender seems like she might go full Fatal Attraction. Not to be outdone, Harry and Ginny finally lock lips and I’m shipping them all over again.

Oh, right—the plot! Harry finally gets Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to hand over his memory of Tom Riddle (Frank Dillane) asking WTF a Horcrux is. Turns out the faceless wonder left pieces of his soul in seven objects, and Harry’s gotta catch ‘em all to kill him. He and Dumbledore go after one of the Horcruxes, only it’s already been taken. They return to Hogwarts where… Snape kills Dumbledore!!! I was just starting to stan Snape. Sigh.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–Part 1 (2010)

The bad news is V-Diddy is growing stronger than ever. The good news is the Ministry of Magic is so compromised by the GOP, er... I mean Death Eaters, that the kids get out of going to school. Yay? When Voldemort turns to Zaddy Malfoy at the Board Meeting of Evil and says, “I require your wand." Yeah, I felt that. Also everyone turned into Harry for a moment, leading to the shocking revelation that Harry’s got a hairy chest! Kids really do grow up, don’t they? Can I also just say the Weasley twins (Oliver and James Phelps) are looking more and more like the Winklevosses?

Okay, let’s get these Horcruxes, bitches! First the trio track down and steal a locket. But it can only be destroyed by the Sword of Gryffindor, which Dumbledore left Harry in his will, but is somehow at the bottom of a frozen lake? Fortunately, Harry somehow knows when he sees a light-up deer that its leading him to the sword, so he takes off his clothes and dives into the frozen lake? We also get a lengthy tangent about the Deathly Hallows, and I guess all you need to be the Master of Death are a wand, a stone, and an invisibility cloak. Evil Helena Bonham Carter captures all the kiddos, but Dobby helps them escape, getting himself killed in the process. Wait. Dobby nooooooo!!! Ugh. This is too much.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–Part 2 (2011)

V-Yeazy is a grave robber now, jacking the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s cold dead hands! You nasty, V. The Horcrux hunt continues with a visit to Evil Helena Bonham Carter’s vault, whose contents multiply to the touch until the kids are swimming in gold cups, Scrooge McDuck-style. They escape on a dragon (natch) who breaks through the bank’s glass ceiling like a female CEO finally getting her due. Speaking of HBICs, Maggie Smith throws down in front of the whole school to protect Harry from Snape, expelling him in a blaze of fire and sending all the Slytherins to the dungeon!

Ron and Hermione get hot and heavy after destroying another Horcrux while V for Vendetta and his evil army surround Hogwarts. Shit is getting so real, kids are dying! We find out Harry and V’s snake are the last two Horcruxes, so they’re both going to have to die, too. Viggie Smalls sics his snake on Snape, who we find out was good all along, kind of. Harry surrenders, gets killed (omg!), comes back to life, and finally (finally!) vanquishes the Big Bad V for good (maybe??). No spoilers, but read or go see Harry Potter and The Cursed Child on Broadway to flash forward, because now I gather we’re going back in time.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

If being a Niffler means Eddie Redmayne will carry me around the world in a suitcase and tickle me upside down when I’ve been naughty until money and jewels rain down from my marsupial pockets—THEN SIGN ME UP! Newt Scamander (Redmayne) has brought me and my beastly pals to 1920s NYC and we’re running amok. So, half of this movie is about Newt’s quest to reclaim us, with a baker (Dan Fogler) and their love interests Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) in tow.

For some reason there’s a very tangential plot involving Jon Voight and his mayoral candidate son who gets killed by a mysterious black cloud. If you couldn’t tell from that Uniqlo-inspired puffy gown he wore to the Paris premiere of the next film, Ezra Miller is that black cloud. His character, Credence, is an Obscurus, which is an evil parasite that attacks kids who suppress their magic. (Moral of the story: unleash your magic, kids!)

Anyone who tells me that Credence and Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves are not fully getting it on is lying. There is no other explanation for their back alley whispers and intimate touching. Do not toy with me, Rowling! Also I was HORRIFIED when my bae Farrell morphed into MOTHERFUCKING JOHNNY DEPP!!! Ugh. Why? The Obscurus is (mostly) destroyed, though I know Ezra is back for the sequel. Also, can we get an obliviate storm to wipe our memories of 2018?

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

I’ll be honest, I had to Google WTF these movies have to do with the OG Harry Potter-verse or whether I wasted some 30 hours of my life just for the LOLs. This one is much more clearly connected to the main franchise with the appearance of Jude Law as Dumbledore (swoon) and yes, a return to Hogwarts! I admit, even this Slytherin felt lukewarm and fuzzy. In other news, Newt’s forward-facing mullet has only grown and he’s got a hot vanilla sundae of a brother (Callum Turner, hi!) who works in magical law enforcement and is therefore kind of boring.

The whole gang is back, most notably the top third of Ezra Miller’s forehead, and the plot is cockamamie! We’re talking half brothers and sisters who’ve never met, intergenerational revenge plots, trips back and forth between London and Paris, and one MAJOR final reveal.

Now, before diving headlong into this hokum, I could have given two shits whether Dumbledore is really gay and Grindelwald his first love. J.K. Rowling will do anything for a RT, queerbaiting her fans certainly included. But, you guys—THESE DUDES ARE GAY AS HELL!!! I mean, if their “blood pact” as teenagers weren’t enough, in the end Grindelwald beckons his followers with reams of flowing black taffeta to a Parisian graveyard! If that’s not the queeniest evil summons ever, IDK what dick looks like. And he is so obviously hot for Ezra—maybe the one thing he cannot be blamed for.

With all said and done, if being a Slytherin buys me congress with Zaddy Lucius and (maybe, possibly) Ezra Miller’s forehead as my future partner in crime, I’m all in. I’ll make the Potterverse gay enough for everyone. I’ll even frost my hair! After all, winter is coming.

Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter.

]]>
pa5pj8Naveen KumarAlex ZaragozaCultureFilmSexualityBooksgayentertainmentmoviesLGBTQharry pottermovie marathonFantastic Beastsbinge watch
<![CDATA[How One Dev Is Using Games as Therapy to Reach Across Generations]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/8xpgev/how-one-dev-is-using-games-as-therapy-to-reach-across-generationsMon, 19 Nov 2018 07:30:00 +0000This article originally appeared on VICE US.

In the 1931 Frankenstein film, there is a scene where Frankenstein’s monster (played by the late Boris Karloff) is locked in an underground dungeon, darkness all around him. As the sun comes up, he reaches for the beams of sunlight, holds his hands up to it, trying to grasp it.

“That’s what it feels like,” says game designer Alex Jimenez, “You’re trying to grasp that sunlight. He’s surrounded in darkness, and he’s trying to pull that light into himself—to warm himself up. It just brings tears to me when I see it. You look at that, and it’s this ridiculous monster movie, but it expresses exactly to me what it’s like to suffer from depression.”

It’s a scene that Jimenez credits for his inspiration for Daylight, a cooperative card game about dealing with mental health. Jimenez reached out to his long-time friend, Tim Burns, to collaborate in creating a game that could be used both as a therapeutic tool and a party game.

Timothy Burns is a social worker who uses games (both the video and tabletop variants) as a way to reach youth in crisis. “My take on it is that I hate the clinical makeup of social work. I think that you’re much better at connecting with youth in nontraditional ways. Using games really allowed for this—playing Rocket League with youth opens up a conversation.”

Daylight game

The game revolves around a twofold victory mechanic system: Players will each receive an individual goal (kept secret) as well as a single group victory goal, laid face up on the table. Players must contribute to the group victory before declaring an individual victory—Jimenez views it as a way to foster cooperation and communication between players. “Yeah, you won, but you also contributed at the same time.”

One of the things Burns notes about cooperative multiplayer games (both digital or physical) is that allowing some tweaks to the ruleset can build on cooperative instincts that youth may feel sheepish about acknowledging in other settings. The ability to add mods to digital games is especially useful, as making more zombies spawn in a Minecraft server can force a play group to work together, or lowering resource spawn rates in Terraria encourages communal building.

Both Burns and Jimenez credit games as part of their way of dealing with personal mental health issues. For Burns, it was Stardew Valley, which he cites as one of the things that helped him through a particularly bad depressive period of his life. For Jimenez, Daylight is a possibility to give back to players, but also to White Bird Medical, a local free health clinic in Eugene, Oregon that he credits with keeping him from serious self-harm. He plans to donate 5% of profits from Daylight to White Bird.

Jimenez isn’t a stranger to the game design world. He’s worked in and out of digital and tabletop games for the greater part of the last three decades. He was one of the original creators of many Capcom arcade hits, including Darkstalkers, Marvel Super Heroes, the Dungeons & Dragons arcade games ( Tower of Doom and Shadows Over Mystara), among many others. After leaving Capcom in 1997, he’s worked as a consultant, writer, and creative lead at numerous other studios, as well as working as an educator at multiple colleges of game design. In 2014, he started Heavily Medicated Games, his own studio specifically angled at tabletop games for younger audiences.

"I thought that the most frustrating thing about it is that it’s… so hard to explain to people what’s going on inside.”

“You know, we called our company Heavily Medicated Games, why don’t we do a game that spotlights mental health?” Jimenez explains. “There are so many people that struggle with mental health (myself included) that have fought it for years, and I thought that the most frustrating thing about it is that it’s… so hard to explain to people what’s going on inside.”

The power of games to be a tool in helping mental wellness and helping communities is on the mind of both Jimenez and Burns, but they are confident that no matter what happens with Daylight, they’ll be satisfied.

“I’ve had a wonderful career,” Jimenez says. “I’ve had a magnificent life making games. I’ve dedicated my life to helping people have fun. My wife pointed that out: You spent twenty-seven years making people laugh, and making people happy. That’s not bad. This game will be a capstone on that. It’s my chance to give back.”

]]>
8xpgevDante DouglasPatrick KlepekDanielle Riendeaumental healthBoard GamesTabletop GamesGames and healthgames and mental healthHeavily Medicated Games
<![CDATA[Mexico Is Zero Percent Happy About Elon Musk's 'Teslaquila']]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/pa5pqv/mexico-is-zero-percent-happy-about-elon-musks-teslaquilaMon, 19 Nov 2018 07:00:00 +0000This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Earlier this year, Elon Musk filed a trademark application for Teslaquila branded tequila, because of course he did. Elon Musk is what happens when you combine Tony Stark with the Trollface meme, which explains the flamethrowers, the underground tunnels, and the willingness to call someone a ‘pedo’ when they don’t recognize the value of your contributions.

But when it comes to this Teslaquila thing, Musk might not be able to insult his way out of it. Or into it, as it were. According to Reuters, the Consejo Regulador del Tequila or Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) has politely told Musk that he’s not selling that shit as real tequila.

“If [Tesla] wants to make Teslaquila viable as a tequila it would have to associate itself with an authorized tequila producer, comply with certain standards and request authorization from Mexico’s Industrial Property Institute,” the CRT said in a statement. “Otherwise it would be making unauthorized use of the denomination of origin for tequila.”

That’s the thing: Tequila is a protected word that can only be used for spirits that are made in accordance with certain standards, including that Mexican designation of origin. To be called tequila, the spirit must be made with blue agave and it must be produced in one of five Mexican states: either in Jalisco, or in small designated municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas.

Although Musk’s trademark application specifies that Teslaquila would be either a “distilled agave liquor” and “distilled blue agave liquor,” that doesn’t address the other, just-as-important requirement to use Musk’s proposed brand name. “The name ‘Teslaquila’ evokes the word Tequila [and] Tequila is a protected word,” the CRT wrote.

The idea for Teslaquila started as a joke. On April Fools Day, Musk posted a three-tweet faux press release about Tesla’s “bankruptcy.’ “Elon was found passed out against a Tesla Model 3, surrounded by ‘Teslaquilla’ bottles, the tracks of dried tears still visible on his cheeks,” he wrote, accompanying it with a photo of himself under a piece of corrugated cardboard.

In mid-October, he tweeted about it again, including a link to a CNBC report about his trademark filing, and a photo of its proposed label. “Teslaquila coming soon,” he wrote.

It didn’t take long for the CRT to respond with its own “Nah, we’re good.” But, as the organization said, he could partner with an existing tequila producer, purchase its liquor, and bottle and sell it under his own name. Still, something tells us that Musk isn’t going that route.

“We will fight Big Tequila!” he tweeted on Wednesday. Of course you will.

]]>
pa5pqvJelisa CastrodaleHilary PollackmexicoAgavealcoholtequilaTeslaelon muskVice Guide to Right Nowteslaquila
<![CDATA[Sadly, Gwen Stefani Has Been Problematic This Whole Time]]>https://www.vice.com/en_in/article/nepnqq/gwen-stefani-cultural-appropriation-legacyMon, 19 Nov 2018 06:30:00 +0000This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Growing up as an adolescent in the late 1990s, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera dominated mainstream pop-related discussions. Their perfectly packaged music and looks appealed to tweens and teens who wanted to be like the pretty, chart-topping pop stars plastered everywhere. While I indulged in the shared fascination, Gwen Stefani intrigued me like none other. Not only did Stefani have a different sound, but as the front-woman of SoCal rock band No Doubt, she cultivated a look that was sweet yet rugged.

As I transitioned into a young adult, my fascination with Stefani turned to criticism once I became old enough to grasp what was truly happening: cultural appropriation.

Gwen Stefani with Harajuku girls
Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage

“Hollaback Girl” was a commercial success and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four consecutive weeks. Despite the album debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, the introduction of the Harajuku Girls, four Japanese backup dancers who accompanied Stefani in videos and promotional events, became a focal point in the singer's career. The group made numerous appearances in Stefani's videos and ultimately became a powerful marketing tool throughout her solo run. Introduced in the music video, "What You Waiting For,” the Harajuku Girls were strategically placed in the visual whilst Gwen sings the bridge: "I can't wait to go / Back into Japan / Get me lots of brand new fans / Osaka, Tokyo / You Harajuku girls / Damn, you've got some wicked style."

The second single, "Rich Girl" featuring Eve showed the girls once again being used as props to push Stefani's agenda of cultural relevance. In the catchy single, she even proclaims that she sees the Harajuku Girls as possessions: “I'd get me four Harajuku girls to (uh huh) / Inspire me and they'd come to my rescue / I'd dress them wicked, I'd give them names (yeah) / Love, angel, music, baby / Hurry up and come and save me."

In a 2005 Salon article about the Harajuku Girls, writer Mihi Ahn says, "Stefani fawns over harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women." Ahn also notes that the Harajuku Girls were reportedly contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, "even though it's rumored they're just plain old Americans and their English is just fine. "

Unfortunately, her fetishization didn't stop there. The "Luxurious" video featuring Slim Thug found Stefani transfixed by SoCal Chola-influenced fashion and beauty. The video also has scenes where Stefani intentionally resembles Mexican painter Frida Kahlo while beating a series of piñatas and softly caressing herself while wearing a shirt of the religious figure, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Somewhere around 2006 when Stefani was still traveling with the Harajuku Girls, I began to realize that the singer’s knack for cultural appropriation was a major problem.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t until I joined Twitter years later and became more aware of how pop-culture often sucks the life from disenfranchised communities as fodder, that I realised that various people shared similar thoughts about Stefani’s offensive actions.

When asked about the Harajuku Girls in 2014, Stefani brazenly told TIME that she doesn't regret her decision to hire and feature them, despite intense criticism. She went on to say, “There’s always going to be two sides to everything. For me, everything that I did with the Harajuku Girls was just a pure compliment and being a fan… Seriously, that was all meant out of love.”

It's almost as if Stefani paints a revisionist history where she sees herself as the bridge connecting American and Japanese culture, instead of owning up to exploiting Asian women for profit and notoriety. Despite her blunders during her solo career, Stefani has seen herself in more controversies since her days with the Harajuku Girls. In 2012, after reuniting with No Doubt, the group pulled their music video "Looking Hot" a day after its debut due to stereotypical portrayal of Indigenous people. In 2016, the singer was in hot water after her backup dancers dressed in African-inspired pieces pulled from Valentino's "wild Africa" themed Spring/Summer 2016 collection during an episode of The Voice.

Despite her missteps, Stefani has been able to maintain a thriving career without any major cancellations. In a culture where social media prides itself on putting a dent in high-profile careers, Stefani has somehow been able to remain unscathed without her cultural infractions being used against her.

Looking back, Gwen's earnest adaptations of cultures feel more like gimmicks made in an attempt to make her look more "cultured" than the next pop girl. What Stefani failed to understand is that co-opting entire cultures—especially as a white woman of privilege—never was or will be OK. The crux of appropriation is not just in the stealing of one’s likeness, it’s also in profiting from a disenfranchised community with utter disregard.

Like Fergie, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea, and countless other white women in pop culture that came after Stefani, cultural appropriation is nothing but a formula for success that rests upon the likeness of people of color. Co-opting cultures has trickled down to regular people who see no problem in wearing somebody’s culture as a costume. Recently, white women who "cosplay" as Black women on social media confirmed the idea that white women forcefully position themselves in cultures/races they have no business in. Yes, this is apparently a problem for famous and non-famous white women.

While a sincere apology from Stefani would be a step in the right direction as it would show growth and courage, I doubt Stefani will admit defeat anytime soon. As long as the industry continues to reward white entertainers for “trying something new" Stefani's actions will go by the wayside. Luckily, I grew up, built a strong conscience, and walked away from Stefani with or without her recompense.

]]>
nepnqqWanna ThompsonDanielle Kwateng-ClarkSara DavidCultureMusicpop musicNo DoubtGwen StefaniCultural AppropiationCold TakesOpinion