Tag Archives: violence

Pathologizing Women’s Sexuality: Then and Now

15 Jul

Pathologizing and medicalizing women’s sexuality is nothing new. Here is a brief timeline of just some of the appalling highlights throughout human history of how women have been treated regarding sex:

Here is a great article from the New York Times on the pathologizing of women’s sex drives in modern times. To briefly cover how women’s sexuality has been pathologized throughout the ages, see below:

1. Actually, low female desire is ‘normal.’ Women have been made to feel that having a low libido means something is wrong with them. Currently women with chronic low libido are pathologized as having a type of female sexual dysfunction called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The trouble is, many of the researchers who have come up its nebulous definition have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.”

2. Freud himself pathologized women’s sexuality to the point of literal “hysteria.” He popularized the idea that a sexually interested woman was not only unhealthy, she was mentally ill and wishing she was really a man with a penis. Though he certainly wasn’t the first person to present these ideas. “In his early theories, Freud simply extended his views of male sexuality to women, viewing women as simply men without penises (Cohler & Galatzer-Levy, 2008). His male perspective of sexuality is understandable, but nonetheless problematic, as it marginalizes female sexuality. Female sexuality, according to early Freudian theory, is exactly the same as male sexuality up until the phallic stage of psychosexual development; since women don’t have a penis, however, they experience penis envy. He also fell prey to the general sexism of the time, writing that in men alone is “the sexual life…accessible to investigation, whereas in the woman it is veiled in impenetrable darkness, partly in consequence of cultural stunting and partly on account of the conventional reticence and dishonesty of women” (Freud, 1905). Dismissing women and their sexuality in such a way seems troublesome not only because he treated many female patients, but because his theories are still so prevalent today, continuing to influence psychologists and sexologists alike (Jayne, 1984).”

3. Victorian ideas about women and sex were particularly appalling. The vibrator was invented by doctors in Victorian England for a stunningly awful reason. During these times, doctors believed that women became unhinged and unhappy due to either having a uterus that was unattached to anything in their body and “roving around” inducing so-called “hysteria,” or they needed either a REMOVAL OF the clitoris (clitorectomy) or stimulation of it. Yes, doctors had well-to-do women in Victorian England visit their offices for the doctor to “perform a treatment” of manual stimulation of their clitoris to induce orgasm. This treatment became popular and therefore the vibrator was invented to save doctors from incessant hand cramps. As hilarious and ridiculous as it sounds, it is but one example of devastating erasure of women’s sexual agency and identity. This is one of the most egregious examples of pathologizing women’s sexuality to the point of extreme violation of their bodies. 

4. The clitorectomy was also popular around this time. From an excellent article on the history of clitorectomies and vibrators: “In a series of papers, Baker-Brown argued that the professional manipulation of the clitoris to induce paroxysms was no cure for hysteria. In his view, it only made the problem worse by feeding the patient’s lust for gratification. The only effective solution, he insisted, was a permanent one: the surgical removal of the clitoral glans. As Martha Coventry wrote in a famous article for Ms., Baker-Brown promised that after a clitoridectomy, “intractable women became happy wives; rebellious teenage girls settled back into the bosom of their families; and married women formerly averse to sexual duties became pregnant.”

Happily, Baker-Brown was soon discredited by his fellow gynecologists, many of whom objected to his habit of performing clitoridectomies on women without their consent. Unfortunately, the surgical procedure he popularized survived his fall from grace. Baker-Brown may have fallen out of favor with his British colleagues, but his ideas found a more enduring footing on the other side of the Atlantic. As early as 1866, American doctors began performing clitoridectomies to stop hysteria, nymphomania, and above all, masturbation. As Coventry discovered, medical textbooks continued to recommend clitoral excisions as late as 1937, and some doctors continued to perform the procedure for at least a decade after that. (Coventry interviewed a Michigan woman who underwent a clitoridectomy in 1944, at age 12: “…as she sat on the exam table, an attendant clamped an ether-soaked rag over her mouth from behind. When she woke up, her clitoris was gone. ‘They tried to keep me from masturbating,’ she said. Then, after a pause, added, ‘Didn’t work.'”)

5. None of this is anything new. During colonial times in Europe: “Although ordinary women could never aspire to [political or religious positions in the public sphere] they had other powers unique to their sex: Women were disorderly, sexual, and lustyÉ With woman’s intellect at the mercy of her lower nature, she would be prone to the evil powers of witchcraft. Her very sensual and deceptive power, in fact, dictated the necessity of her subordination within marriage” (Evans, 22-23).

The medical perspective was limited in that males dominated this profession. “Even diagrams of female anatomy in medical books are limited to male eyes only. Plans to instruct midwives in anatomy were thwarted. Physicians were reluctant to give their patients too much knowledge”(Porter, 86). Women during this period really had nowhere to turn to obtain helpful knowledge about their bodies and/or sexuality in a world dominated by men.

6. Going back further, in ancient Greece and Rome, “women’s sexuality was something to be controlled. To Aristotle, women’s bodies were passive receptacles for men to deposit their seed, what Sophocles called a “field to plow.” Since the key function of women was to produce children, Athenians thought it was pointless to educate them or allow them to participate in public life.” Further, “Rome’s highest priestesses were known as the Vestal Virgins. They were “vestal” because they served the goddess Vesta, and “virgins” in that their untouched bodies were seen as essential to the safety of Roman society. No one else in Rome was expected to stay a virgin, but a single sexual detour by a Vestal was thought to bring pestilence, losses in war and divine displeasure. On several occasions, when no one could figure out why some calamity had befallen Rome, Vestals were accused of no longer being virgins. For that crime, they were buried alive in a tiny room and covered up without a trace.”

7. Back to Victorian times:  “nearly all official measures against venereal disease were directed exclusively against women. In the 19th century, many European governments legalized prostitution, but only to the extent of subjecting real or suspected prostitutes to punishing medical inspections, often called “instrument rapes,” which probably resulted in the transmission of a variety of harmful infections. One French woman described the process in detail:

It is awful work; the attitude they push us into first is so disgusting and so painful, and then those monstrous instruments—often they use several. They seem to tear the passage open first with their hands, and examine us, and then they thrust in instruments, and they pull them out and push them in, and they turn and twist them about; and if you cry out they stifle you….”

8. In modern times, women’s sexual agency is not only pathologized, but women’s lives are at risk throughout the world for exploring their sexuality or deviating from cultural norms. In some countries, honor killings are practiced if a woman’s mere sexual reputation is under threat. Similarly, “crimes of passion” are rampant throughout the world as jealous men attack and murder women for the act or idea of being sexual with another man.

So little wonder that even in modern times, the idea of women having satisfying sex lives according to their own desires is threatening to the fabric of society, since it is built on patriarchal ideals of controlling women’s bodies and sex. Little wonder, then, that politicians are trying to prevent access to reproductive resources such as contraception, emergency birth control, and abortion. Little wonder that young girls don’t receive very much sex education or information about their own sexual pleasure. Little wonder that we can see someone be disemboweled in the movies, but a woman’s face during an orgasm is not allowed to be in even an R-rated movie. Little wonder that the worst thing you can call a woman is a “slut,” especially if she is sexually liberated, yet the worst thing you can call a man is a “woman,” “girl,” or “pussy.” 

This is the legacy upon which our current sexual health conversation is built. I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies to be concerned with women’s health. They are more concerned about making money. Women are going to be pathologized for not wanting sex and for wanting it “too much.” A pill is probably not the answer to this much more complex social issue that reverberates sexism into the interpersonal and sexual-emotional issues in relationships.

Specula from 1847 (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

For more on the systemic violation of women’s sexuality and bodies, review the invention of the speculum by the father of gynecology, who performed “instrument rape” on slave women in early America. That was then, this is now, you say? Yes, and nowadays OB-GYN’s get their license by performing vaginal exams on nonconsenting women who are under anaesthesia for other operations in teaching hospitals. See this article for the testimonies of several doctors who refused to participate and who loudly question the ethics of this practice. The practice is so commonplace for OB-GYN departments of teaching hospitals that in 2003 the residency doctor of Johns Hopkins said, ““I don’t think any of us even think about it. It’s just so standard as to how you train medical students.”

In consequence, there is no precedent set to earn women’s trust regarding their sexual health. It is wise to be suspicious of any product or service that is directed at our sexuality, especially coming from the medical establishment. We like to take a pill for the easy way out. But that may very well cause more trouble than it solves, especially if the root of the issue lay ignored in the context of emotionally unsatisfying relationships that are based on patriarchal norms.

White Paper: Our Lady of Narco – Exploring the Fetishization of “Narcocultura,” and the Intersection of Drugs, Politics, Cults, and Pop Culture

26 Jun

At the crossroads of Mexican and American culture, and where drug policy and pop culture meet, Mexico’s identity is evolving into a dark place. Narcocultura eclipses more aspects of daily life, and the United States is ever complacent and responsible in the transformation that has taken root on both sides of the border. The harsh economic realities and failures of authority to protect its people, and prevent and control violence have led to this crisis which is slowly overtaking the literal and figurative Mexican landscape as it spills over into the United States.

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Two of the most useful theories that relate to this problem are the Social-Conflict Approach and the Symbolic-Interaction Approach. Social-Conflict perceives society as stratified by race, class and gender. Much of the violence and trafficking has resulted from the stark economic reality that if some people in Mexico want to make a living, one of the few options is involvement with drugs. On the other hand, people influence one another’s involvement in the terrifying escalation of violence, as explored by some of the articles explored for this paper. Symbolic-Interactionism suggests that peers play a deeper role in how our society operates and functions. This paper argues that the drug crisis in Mexico, and how it relates to the U.S., is a product of issues that will be analyzed by both of these theoretical frameworks. 

A growing body of research addresses the escalating drug-related violence in Mexico, as well as the social and cultural consequences of this near-decade-long war. Some of the investigations into this crisis make bold and damning critiques of the Mexico and United States governments. Others focus primarily on the increasingly disturbing nature of the violence itself; horror which warrants its very own exploration into the shifting social and cultural paradigms of a country in dire flux. 

First, it’s worthwhile to take a significant step back to evaluate the Mexican drug war as a whole. While conclusive data on who started the war remains elusive, we do know a few things about the escalating violence. For one thing, Mexico’s struggling economy may not provide enough employment and educational opportunities for people. Mexicans may resort to alternative livelihoods in the underground economy to earn an income without other legitimate jobs – but it’s false to assume that the economy is the sole reason for the war. Nonetheless, we do know that the drug and violence situation in Mexico changed dramatically when former president Felipe Calderon took office and declared a war on drugs. It’s also well known that the Mexican cartels exploded onto the scene and grew exponentially in the years after the fall of many Colombian drug organizations that held the vast amount of power in trafficking and production (Campbell, 2014).

More people have died since Calderon’s policies went into effect than the Americans who died during the Vietnam war (Rios, 2013). From 2006 to 2012, violence escalated rapidly. In 2011, 19 out of the world’s 50 most violent cities were in Mexico (Rios, 2013). Appallingly, the violence appears to become increasingly brutal over time. Every cartel seems to attempt to outdo one another in cruelty and vulgarity; and Mexican newspapers and magazines document the public displays of gruesome violence on the front pages of glossy papers, often bought at the grocery store checkout line – one of the most troubling aspects of Mexican drug culture (Campbell, 2014). 

A woman's body was recently found by the side of the road in Michoacan, with her arms and legs tied up.

A woman’s body was recently found by the side of the road in Michoacan, with her arms and legs tied up.

The culture of violence has reached dramatic depths. “The desecration of bodies takes many other forms including inscribing bodies with identifying labels and threats. Specific amputations carry particular meanings. For example, cutting off fingers implies that the dead person was a snitch (dedo, i.e., finger), cutting out the tongue implies that the person was an informant (soplón), cutting off hands signifies that the person stole money or a drug load, etc. Raped, sexually tortured and murdered women are often left in the streets with no clothing or with their undergarments pulled down (this is also done to men). The ritualized presentation or spectacle of dead bodies is such a common and patterned phenomenon that a whole vocabulary has emerged to describe the bodies: enteipados are bodies wrapped in duct tape (to suffocate the victims or prevent them from calling for help or knowing where they are going), descuartizados are bodies that have been quartered, encajuelados are bodies stored in the trunks of cars, entambados are bodies crammed in barrels, while encobijados are bodies wrapped in blankets (to stop blood seepage, to hide cadavers as they are being transported in cars, and for ease in carrying and throwing them)” (Campbell, 2014). Such violence, especially when broadcast in such a public way through mass media, surely has horrifying implications to a traumatized and desensitized society. It is of no wonder that the country has devised its own ways of dealing with it, sometimes as simply as in turn glorifying it. Both the US and Mexico appear to be equally guilty of this. 

The Mexican authorities are not innocent themselves, being highly corrupted in their ranks, and spilling military-style warfare into Mexican streets. In the meantime, the cartels become even more creative and commit worsening acts of violence; kidnapping, extortion, carjacking, and other criminal activities are just a few forms of the crime that threaten to overwhelm Mexico permanently (Campbell, 2014). 

For Mexico, this isn’t just a war between the cops and robbers, or the good guys and bad guys (always subjective in this context). This is a war between good and evil, Heaven and Hell. When headless corpses are routinely shown on evening news during suppertime, and blogs show photos of piles of human body parts that are meant to send a message to a rival cartel, the people of the country reach out to perhaps unlikely heroes. 

Some Mexicans have become so alienated by the corrupt authorities that they prefer the perceived “lesser evil” of the Robin Hood-style cartel leaders (Dotremon & Gonzalez, 2014). In the most lawless places, drug cartel leaders become stand-ins for legal authority and take over the operations of the state. Some take it upon themselves to provide people with protection, employment, education, food, medical care, utilities, as well as the building of infrastructure of roads and buildings (Dotremon & Gonzalez, 2014). Such an arrangement begets a complicated legacy of cultural understanding of drugs in Mexico. These provisions have become so powerful that they have influenced pop culture in a profound way. 

A man walks in front of a store that bears that name of "El Chapo," formerly the world's most wanted drug lord. He invested in local businesses and offered protection and security to his supporters.

A man walks in front of a store that bears that name of “El Chapo,” formerly the world’s most wanted drug lord. He invested in local businesses and offered protection and security to his supporters.

The corrido, a kind of oral history-inspired story-song performed by rural entertainers, has a brand-new sub-genre: the narcocorrido (Loewe, 2010). Some performers are literally cartel employees; that is, they are paid with financial reward and security protection for writing songs about cartel leaders, and often embed critical pan-cartel messages in them. Still others that dare to sing the wrong thing (or who are simply unlucky enough to be spotted in the other cartel’s nightclub turf) are brutally assassinated (Loewe, 2010). 

Narcocorrido singer Tito Torbellino was killed this spring. The Phoenix-born self-styled gangster was shot point-blank eating lunch in Mexico. He was known for singing love songs, a risk that cartel bosses' girlfriends may develop a crush on you.

Narcocorrido singer Tito Torbellino was killed this spring. The Phoenix-born self-styled gangster was shot point-blank eating lunch in Mexico. He was known for singing love songs, a risk that cartel bosses’ girlfriends may develop a crush on you. This poses the question: which is more dangerous, singing about romance or revenge?

The narcocorrido has become so popular that they are played on Spanish-language radio in the United States, and the performers come to tour US venues, especially in border states where the cartel presence is higher. The audiences of these concerts are often high school or college students, suggesting a broad listenership and implications for Mexican-American pop culture (Loewe, 2010). Given that the nature of this violence is often paramilitary in style, such as raids, firefights, and assassinations (Campbell, 2014), it isn’t difficult to imagine the low-income, alienated (especially male) youth of Mexico identifying with this display of power and control over the accepted authority. 

Drug cartels are employing other forms of propaganda directly, both to inform the public and government that they assume to have control over the state, and to recruit. Some other types of propaganda include blog posts, web videos displaying executions and beheadings, and control of media outlets (Campbell, 2014). This appears to be morphing into a pop-culture phenomenon of decreased sensitivity to this type of violence, as well as acceptability of the cartel activities. 

The people, overall, have developed their own response to this crisis in Mexico, whether as a coping mechanism or as an indirect result of cultural influence. The institution of Roman Catholicism is experiencing an enormous shift in Mexico, where its practitioners are incorporating non-Vatican-approved activities. For example, while the country worships the Virgin Guadeloupe freely, the Mother of Jesus, there is a growing cult that presents a dark mother figure, as an archetypal other half to Mary: Santa Muerte. Santisima Muerte (Holy Death), is portrayed as a shrouded skeleton, who holds a sickle and often an owl, both symbols of death and the eternal nighttime (Bastante & Dickieson, 2013). 

A shrine to Santa Muerte in Mexico City.

A shrine to Santa Muerte in Mexico City.

She is not simply the cultural representation of the yang to Mary’s yin; she is the embodiment of Mexico’s cult of death. Mexican culture is unafraid of death – rather, Mexican people embrace death as just the culmination of living, and have much less social taboo surrounding the subject of death. To Mexicans, this is just about balance.  To the Vatican, the new worship of Santa Muerte is sacrilege and devil-worship; symptomatic of Hell breaking open in Mexico itself. Indeed, the Catholic Church is performing more exorcisms in Mexico than anywhere else in the world (International Business Times, 2013). 

To make matters worse for the Vatican (but not the cartels), new unordained Saints have been invented by the people of Mexico – the most popular by far is Jesus Malverde, patron saint of drug traffickers, criminals, convicts, prostitutes, and assassins. (Campbell, 2014). Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde worship is influencing the spiritual consciousness of Mexico just as much as the Church did post-colonial invasion, and just as much as pre-Colombian culture roots the collective culture. 

A shrine to Jesus Malverde. Notice the ofrendas (offerings) of tequila and a gold-plated revolver.

A shrine to Jesus Malverde. Notice the ofrendas (offerings) of tequila and a gold-plated revolver.

This isn’t merely a question of social attitudes; the normalization of violence is effecting the pushing of the envelope by the cartels. Ironically, a culture that worships two female figures as pseudo-goddesses (Santa Maria and Santa Muerte), such violence is defined by a precedent-setting level of brutality in violence against women. Mass graves of dozens of women and girls are routinely unearthed, and photos of brutalized women corpses with their panties around their ankles are often on the front pages of the violence-glossies at the grocery store (Wright, 2011). The practice of “femicide” has become so widespread that it’s a message from the cartels, “we own everyone, and we especially own the women. We will kill you and your wife, daughter, and grandmother. No one is safe.” It’s how the cartels continue to control the social consciousness of the public, and dominate the political dialogue, though the failing state of Mexico has been entirely deficient in combating femicide (Wright, 2011). Such violence against women has taken on enormous political significance and it continues to dominate as an effective narcopolitical tool.

The femicide machine in Juarez has taken countless womens' lives.

The femicide machine in Juarez has taken countless womens’ lives. This is the site of a mass grave full of womens’ bodies. 

Contemporary sociological research has provided alarming conclusions about the escalating nature of violence in Mexico. One study from the University of Texas at El Paso found a strong correlation between religious imagery and risk-taking behavior (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014). The findings of these researchers suggest that drug war terrorism in Mexico may be exacerbated and validated by their usage of Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde in their propaganda and operations. This demonstration has important implications for modern Mexico. Could it also be interpreted conversely; if exposed to religious imagery in a different, anti-drug context, would people be less likely to engage in drug-related activities? If so, perhaps the Catholic Church could become a powerful advocate in deconstructing these narco-obsessive cultural institutions, should they devise such an effective, evidence-based policy. Perhaps the government could also employ these tactics. This context would be a worthwhile topic for future research. 

Past research has revealed that religious images can be used to produce both positive and negative outcomes, with negative consequences being the case most of the time (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014). Could future research pose new solutions to this paradox? Could future research perhaps address the alternative solution to how drug cartels often use religious imagery to this end within their organizational behaviors and propaganda (Shernberger, Smith, & Zarate, 2014)? 

Other important research notes the direct connection between the media and normalizing these increasing levels of violence (Mercille, 2014). Academic analysis has shown that as movies, television, and video games present Mexican cartel violence onscreen, US levels of tolerance increase (Mercille, 2014). This also has startling implications for our own culture and representations of violence in the media. 

As individuals, we often like to think of ourselves as our own social agents, who interpret media images and representations as separate from ourselves, our society, and our identities. We may wish it was that simple, and we may often believe it is – but we are products of the society in which we live, both by media portrayals as well as how we influence one another. As one article points out, these glamorized representations are indeed part of the “corporate establishment,” and often reflect the very same viewpoints expressed by top US policymakers, though it may be in stark contrast with reality and empirical data (Mercille, 2014). 

The most important policy recommendations revolve around addressing the  underlying economic issues that may form the fundamental basis of this socio-political dialogue. The US is the single most critical influencing factor in the Mexican drug violence due to demand for Mexico’s drug supply, loose gun control, and political blindness to our complicity in this disaster (Mercille, 2011). The US is also responsible for “implementing neoliberal policies,” as well as encouraging them in Mexico as an interested and invested player, that have increased the illegal drug trade (Mercille, 2011). “The war on drugs has served as a pretext to intervene in Mexican affairs and to protect US hegemonic projects such as NAFTA, rather than as a genuine attack on drug problems. In particular, the drugs war has been used repeatedly to repress dissent and popular opposition to neoliberal policies in Mexico. Finally, US banks have increased their profits by laundering drug money from Mexico and elsewhere; the failure to implement tighter regulations testifies to the power of the financial community in the US,” (Mercille, 2011). These profoundly damning factors reveal the true forces behind US policy and legislative behavior, that without a doubt influence media and public opinion. Without addressing our responsibility as a nation, we cannot expect to escape the consequences or provide a viable solution. Dramatic implications deserve radical solutions.

Social-Conflict theory applies best here, where the perspective clearly rings true; that in a society stratified by class, profit is prioritized over people. However, Symbolic Interactionism suggests that the people of the US and Mexico are ourselves responsible for accepting the growing violence, and normalizing this in our daily lives through our consumption of media. 

Promotional poster for the TV show. Full disclosure: this is one of my favorite shows ever.

While the debates rage on about how to end the violence, TV shows in Mexico and the US glorify the lives of drug traffickers. The most popular of which, “La Reina del Sur,” which portrayed a female drug lord, set US television records, and Telemundo beat out national networks nearly every night it was broadcast (in almost every demographic age group) (Telemundo, 2011). Musical performers tour the US and Mexico, playing narcocorridos and attracting young Mexican Americans to their shows. Families in Mexico eat their dinners while the television news programs and soap operas both consist of drug-related stories and story-lines. Teenagers listen to the narcocorridos on the radio and in nightclubs, and read tweets, Facebook updates, and blog posts that hail the latest cartel victory (Campbell, 2014). 

Along the rural roads that stretch from Mexico to the American Southwest, spiritual pilgrims stop by roadside shrines to Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde (Campbell, 2014). Armed with assault rifles, they leave bottles of tequila and boxes of ammunition as prayer offerings (Corchado, 2009), asking their patron saints to watch over them as they ride into the next firefight or raid. 

Roadside shrines to the fallen in Mexico. They are also common in the Southwest US.

Annotated Bibliography:

Bastante, P., & Dickieson, B. (2013). Nuestra Señora de las Sombras: the enigmatic identity of Santa Muerte. Journal Of The Southwest, (4), 435.

This article explores the deeply rooted cult of Santa Muerte, or, “Holy Death.” She is seen as a kind of sister to Maria de Guadeloupe, the Holy Mother. Santa Muerte is a kind of Mother of Death. Possibly a manifestation of yin and yang sensibilities that are nearly universal to all religious movements, the prominence of the figure in pop culture on both sides of the border is on the rise. Her popularity with criminals and those in the black market and Mexican underworld is undeniable, and critical to the cartel institutions. 

Campbell, H. (2014). Narco-Propaganda in the Mexican “Drug War”: An Anthropological Perspective. Latin American Perspectives, 41(2), 60. doi:10.1177/0094582X12443519

The political entities of drug cartels employ vast amounts of narco-propaganda. This study examines the exhibitive acts of violence, videos released on the internet, public signs and banners, graffiti, blogs, and control of mass media, that are used as tools for the cartels. This expression of ideology threatens to take total control over the culture of Mexico as well as its political processes. 

Corchado, A. (2009). A fighting chance: as Mexico steps up its war against the brutal cartels that supply the United States’ drug habit, leaders on both sides of the border face tough questions about how to combat a problem that threatens the very fabric of Mexico’s democracy. The Wilson Quarterly, (2), 18.

This paper explores how to prevent drug and arms trafficking and violence, and how it relates to the geopolitics of the US and Mexico. 

Dotremon, D., & Gonzalez, R. (2014). Celebrating Robin Hood in Modern Border Ballads. Journal Of Alternative Perspectives In The Social Sciences, 5(4), 683-705.

Analyses the origins and cultural impact of drug-related music in Mexico. 

International Business, T. (2013, November 30). Mexico: Overworked Exorcists Exhausted by Popularity of Skeleton Saint Cult. International Business Times.

Explores the Catholic Church’s response to suspicions of demonic activity in Mexico. 

Loewe, R. B. (2010). El Narcotraficante: Narcocorridos and the Construction of a Cultural Persona on the U.S.-Mexico Border. Journal Of American Folklore, (489), 365. 

A critique of a scholarly book published on the phenomenon of drug-related music in Mexican and Mexican-American culture. 

Maralason, D. (2013). Dia de los Muertos: Celebrating life through Day of the Dead. Las Vegas Business Press (10712186), 6.

Explores the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertos,” the Day of the Dead, and its cultural practices, meaning and representations. 

Mercille, J. (2011). Violent Narco-Cartels or US Hegemony? The political economy of the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico. Third World Quarterly, 32(9), 1637-1653. doi:10.1080/01436597.2011.619881

Investigates the mainstream perspectives that claim the US is a friendly player in the international drug war, and not a contributor, and that the cartels are the main factor in the drug crisis. 

Mercille, J. (2014). The Media-Entertainment Industry and the “War on Drugs” in Mexico. Latin American Perspectives, 41(2), 110. doi:10.1177/0094582X13509790

An examination and analysis of media representation of cartel violence, as well as a comparison to popular viewpoints of mainstream policymakers and analysts. 

Rios, V. (2013). Who Started the Mexican Drug War? What Google Taught us about the “Narcos”. Kennedy School Review, 1318-22.

Discusses the start of the drug war and the technological solutions that may assist in significant gains in stopping drug violence. 

Shenberger, J. M., Smith, B. A., & Zárate, M. A. (2014). The effect of religious imagery in a risk-taking paradigm. Peace And Conflict: Journal Of Peace Psychology, 20(2), 150-158. doi:10.1037/pac0000022

This research explores the link between religious imagery and risk-taking behavior. Fascinatingly, the study showed that people are more likely to engage in risky behavior when their peers associate somehow with such religious imagery. This has interesting implications for the drug war and understanding the rise of drug culture in Mexico, where certain sub-Catholic/ pre-Colombian-inspired cults, such as Santisima Muerte and Jesus Malverde are commonly worshipped, though they directly relate to gangs, violence, and drugs. 

Telemundo Communications Group, I. c. (2011, January). Telemundo’s Epic Original Production La Reina Del Sur Delivers Highest Premiere Ratings in Network History. Business Wire (English).

Summarizes the records broken by the hit television series, “La Reina del Sur.”

Wright, M. W. (2011). Necropolitics, Narcopolitics, and Femicide: Gendered Violence on the Mexico-U.S. Border. Signs: Journal Of Women In Culture & Society, 36(3), 707-731.

The gender-based violence in Mexico, especially in the borderlands, is explored in this article. Specifically, the article also addresses the response of the authorities, who suggest that this kind of violence is a positive force in society because it rids the population of “undesirable” people such as drug dealers and women with “loose morals.” The author argues that such femicide is the result of a failure and breakdown by the state in protecting the people. 

Show Me the Money

23 Jun

congress-money

Personally, I’d like to think that we, as individuals, are independently responsible for our lives, and how we contribute to society. Ultimately, I do believe that – but it is also ultimately naive. I’d like to believe it’s that simple because it allows us to believe we are in control. In control of ourselves, our environment, our consequences, and our futures.

It’s the false belief that we are our own social agents. This is of course, not true, as much as we wish it was. We aren’t our own social agents – we are social agents, but not entirely independent from one another. There is a complex give-and-take; a balancing act, that determines the processes of constructing our society. It’s about us as individuals, yes – but it’s also about institutions. If we believe otherwise, it creates severe cognitive dissonance within us, because it means we don’t enjoy the control that we believe we should. 

One straightforward example of this is the case of social learning theory, pornography and violence against women. Meta-analysis of many different studies concludes that there is a correlation between acceptance of violence against women and pornography consumption (Malamuth, Hald, Koss, 2012). Other reviews of the historical scholarly literature (more meta-analysis of other studies) points to similar conclusions; that “a relationship exists between consuming pornography and attitudes that are supportive of violence against women, men’s dominance over women, and objectification of women,” (Hernandez, 2011). As they say, “you are what you eat.” 

Many people in this case like to argue that, “Hey, you can watch porn, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and rape women.” But these examples challenge the idea that we are our own social agents, and in this specific case, media influences our attitudes and behavior. The conclusion is simple: discrimination and sexism are exacerbated in society by pornography. It’s not as simple as to say that a few people become rapists and sexists because they’re “just a few bad eggs.” If it was, it would be easier for us to mentally process and comprehend. We have trouble accepting the idea that we don’t have 100% autonomy over ourselves and our own perceptions. 

The more power an institution has in money and political influence, the more power it has to shape our society. Karl Marx suggested that poverty exists due to the wealthy trying to get richer and even more powerful – inevitably taking resources away from those who do not have those resources, making the poor even poorer. Social Conflict theory shows that profit is put over people, time and time again. This is the most applicable theory in our post-industrial world.

Take our own country as an example – we have a number of domestic problems that urgently need to be addressed. Problems that include homelessness, obesity, gun violence, failing educational systems, immigration concerns, poverty, and having an increasingly broke government. Each and every single one of these issues could be addressed appropriately if there were not a powerful corporate lobby behind every issue, working to shape policy in favor of themselves making a profit – but not to better our nation. 

Homelessness could be alleviated by a radical housing program, but according to Amnesty International, there are five vacant houses to every one homeless person in the US (TruthDig, 2011). In my hometown of Washington, DC, Bozzuto Properties and other property management companies are literally throwing together expensive apartment buildings everywhere they can – often on top of former affordable housing projects. They could provide some low-income housing as a service to the community in which they operate and benefit – but they don’t. They only provide the bare minimum of MPDUs (Moderately Priced Dwelling Units) required by law, which is usually one or two units per building. It’s a simple matter of profit over people. This is their right in a capitalist society. We live in America – don’t we also all have the right to live a life that’s free, for the pursuit of happiness? Unobstructed by Kings and Lobbyists?

In the case of obesity, we have a number of big agricultural/ corn companies lobbying to keep their high fructose corn syrup in just about everything you eat – because that makes them richer, and it makes us fatter (Merrion, 2004). 

Gun violence is often in the news – there have been approximately one mass school shooting every six weeks since the Sandy Hook massacre, and 64 other school shootings since (Politifact, 2014). Why hasn’t more action been taken to reform our gun laws? It has lot to do with the exhaustive and successful corporate lobbying and propaganda by the NRA (Stone, 2013). 

Still other issues relate the enormous amount of profit at stake, and the companies behind them. In the case of illegal immigration, undocumented workers are being detained at skyrocketing rates, in dangerous conditions, and often held indefinitely and without trial or representation (Abramsky, 2004 & Mejilla-Cuellar, 2014). 

As far as our government is concerned – well, it’s basically been taken over by corporate ownership now. Our entire democracy has been bought (Krumholz, 2013). 

The common denominator of all of these issues is very simple – there’s big business behind them. Profit over people. 

I’d love to believe that we as individuals have power over our reality. But we don’t enjoy the power we like to believe we do – in the world we live in, money is more important than people. If you believe more in the “personal responsibility” perspective more than the “social” one, then it’s worthwhile to evaluate why we have created a world that we can no longer so easily control. Furthermore, if you subscribe to the “personal responsibility” perspective, then it’s time to take some of our own in allowing some institutions to become so out of control. 

Sources:

Abramsky, S. (2004). Incarceration, Inc. Nation, 279(3), 22-25.

Have there been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook? A closer look at a tricky statistic. (2014). PolitiFact. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/jun/13/everytown-gun-safety/have-there-been-74-school-shootings-sandy-hook-clo/

Hernandez, D. (2011). The Effects of Consuming Pornography: Men’s Attitudes toward Violence against Women, Dominance over and Objectification of Women, and Sexual Expectations of Women.Perspectives (University Of New Hampshire), 116-123.

Krumholz, S. (2013). Campaign Cash and Corruption: Honey in Politics, Post-Citizens United. Social Research, 80(4), 1119-1134.

Malamuth, N., Hald, G., & Koss, M. (2012). Pornography, Individual Differences in Risk and Men’s Acceptance of Violence Against Women in a Representative Sample. Sex Roles, 66(7/8), 427-439. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0082-6

Mejilla-Cuellar, G. (2013). Immigrants for Sale: How Private Prisons Exploit Aspiring Americans. Ella Baker Center. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://ellabakercenter.org/blog/2013/05/immigrants-for-sale-how-private-prisons-exploit-aspiring-americans

Merrion, P. (2004). A sticky mess for agribiz. Crain’s Chicago Business, 27(21), 1.

Stone, P. (2013). THIS GUN’S FOR HIRE. Mother Jones, 38(3), 12-14.

Vacant Houses Outnumber Homeless People in U.S.. (2011). Truthdig Main News. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/more_vacant_homes_than_homeless_in_us

The Way of the Superior Man

25 May

The Way of the Superior Man: Rape culture. Gun culture. Culture of violence. I’d say “may the victims rest in peace,” but their families won’t – and there will only be more violence from alienated, disgruntled white boys who drown in privilege and entitlement, when they rage against their own insecurity.

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I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m furious. Those poor families. What is wrong with us? We allow our society to be driven without direction, and it consumes its collateral not whole, but in a million pieces.

If you think for a second that you’re the master of your own agency, think again. We are what we eat and the bread is rotten. I’m most sad for today’s children because they will inherit the culture we maintained.

Can we please take the blindfolds off and say, “enough?”

Interview: Director of Surf Doc ‘Isolated’

6 May

ISOLATED – Documentary Film Trailer from Something Kreative Films on Vimeo.

Crossroads at the End of the World

At the imagined edge of the world, where one might envision the oceans dropping off into the universe, a ragtag team of feral surfers went on an epic quest for the wave of a lifetime. In the new surf journey film Isolated, the team found both waves of pristine waters – and the limits of humanity. Expecting only to find waves in rogue surf wilderness, the filmmakers stumbled upon an explosive human rights situation in the remote region of West Papua.

Exposing both the bounds of human cruelty, and discovering the inexhaustible human spirit, Isolated takes us on the truest surf pilgrimage yet. For if surfing is an exploration of our own existence, Isolated stands alone as the ultimate surfing adventure.

Without spoiling the story, the premise is groundbreaking; feral surfers break convention (and ignore warnings) to explore West Papua for awesome waves. They try to stay under the radar due to the volatile social and political status of the area, under Indonesian occupation. The group inevitably attracts attention and makes lots of new friends – but just as quickly, they discover that their new friends are in danger, and answer a clarion call for action. The surfers, and their new friends, will never be the same.

At the edge of the world, multinational corporate interests, surf tourism, and the decline of indigenous communities collide at the crossroads of duty and adventure. Isolated is a journey like no other, and a story that demands to be heard.

I traded words with Isolated director Justin LePera about the movie, which is in screenings across the country. Narrated and executive produced by Ryan Phillippe, Isolated is sure to leave its mark on the surf community, and possibly signal a paradigm shift in our collective consciousness.

 

 

What is the number one thing that stayed with you about your time in West Papua? 

The people and the fear they had that no one would ever know about their struggle and come to help them. They are a proud people that live off the land only using what they need and are totally content. They never asked for money, and were always so welcoming. They would do anything for us and really wanted us to be a part of their community. They love their land and are very proud of it. They respect nature and each other. Their huts, beaches and communities are immaculate because they take pride in their homes and culture. There is a lot we could learn from them. The film does an amazing job balancing its competing priorities – being a modest but transformational surf documentary about the eternal search for the perfect wave by feral surfers, and evolving into a second hand account of human rights atrocities on the same scale as Guatemala and Honduras. The film closes with a clarion call to action to raise awareness of the plight of the West Papuan people.
This central storyline is unfortunately a common theme in the narratives of many countries in the world. Multinational corporate interests hire oppressive militaries to crush the local people who stand in the way of profit. Do you think that the public and the international community will respond soon enough to combat the erosion of the way of life of West Papua, the violence against the indigenous people, and to combat the commercial development taking place?

I really do believe as more and more people get awareness of the atrocities going on in West Papua, real change can occur. It was the awareness of East Timor that caused change in that region of Indonesia. I believe one of the main reasons why there has not been much of a response to issue in West Papua is due to the lack of awareness. Indonesia prohibits journalism visas, so until the past few years there hasn’t been much documented in the area. Now with everything going viral and being able to capture video on your cell phones, more and more is being leaked out about the human rights violations in the region and the world is starting to take notice.
Many surf pilgrims travel the world to find incredible stories of suffering in the communities they learn to love. What is your advice to people who may discover their own West Papua story one day? Do you think this film will be a part of a greater paradigm shift in the context of the whole global surfing community, bringing more of a focus on the people and problems encountered, as opposed to just checking in and clocking out when their flight departs?

This is the main theme of our story not just for surfers but for travelers who encounter injustices within the regions they visit. So many people have turned their back to the issues that are occurring in the lands they travel believing they are powerless to creating an impact on the region. The fact is, we all have the power to create change by speaking out and bringing awareness through social media, writing, videos, etc. If those who are committing injustices around the world know that the world is watching, I believe they will be more hesitant to commit human rights abuses, especially if they know they will be punished. Our surfers found a world-class wave and met an amazing group of people, which could easily have been good enough for them, but instead, they decided they would go beyond thinking of only themselves and to do their part to help the people. Doing your little part to help in any way you can creates a movement, and it is that movement that can create change.
Chevron is responsible for one of the world’s worst environmental and humanitarian disasters in the world after spilling crude oil the Ecuadorian rainforest. They are now planning to drill for oil and gas in West Papua. They have spent billions preparing to exploit the resources of the region. How might this affect the people living there? Do you think it is possible to engage the community in an open dialogue one day about the interests of their own landscape?

When we met with four Papuan political figures in a secret meeting protected by guards, fearing the military’s knowledge about our meeting, we discovered that many Papuan’s are very well aware of their valuable natural resources and are very open to doing business with foreign countries. What they were most concerned about were the human rights violations. They fear for their lives constantly. This is the main issue they want to see change in. Papuans are concerned about the amount of money foreign corporations spend on the military for security. The foreign businesses enable Indonesia to have such a strong military presence in the region due to financial backing the military gets from foreign corporations. Without the financial backing, Indonesia could not afford to have such a dominant military presence in West Papua. It is within the Indonesian military where change needs to happen for there to be peace in the region.

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How do you think this will begin to change the approach of the traveling surfer community, if the regions surf pilgrims visit often end up being further developed due to such surf tourism in the first place?

First, I hope surfers will be inspired to get off the boats, on which they travel taking them to perfect breaks, and actually get to know the people of the land. Take in the full experience and engage with those who allow you to ride their perfect waves.

Second, I hope that when they encounter those being treated inhumanely or struggling to survive, they do whatever they can to help. Even if its just tweeting or facebook posting about it. One little post at least gets it out there to the world.

There are those who may often say that a ragtag group of feral surfers should either butt out or won’t be able to change anything when they encounter something of human or environmental concern. What would you say to that?

As human beings it is our obligation to look after one another. Butting out makes you a part of the problem. Those that do butt out are only empowering those who commit the crimes against humanity by allowing them to get away with it. As long as they can get away with it, they will continue to commit heinous acts.

What is the number one thing you want to resonate with people about the film?

To go out and live your adventure! There is so many amazing things this world has to offer. To take in the experience, learn from it, and give back to those that took you in. And most importantly, to know that we all have the power to create change.

This film was never intended to go in the direction it did. At first, we were like most travelers. We knew there was a conflict in the region and tried to avoid it. But when we really started to experience the people and opened ourselves up to the experience, we became better people and humanitarian in our effort.

Visit Isolated.tv now to answer the call for change, and sign a petition asking the White House to address the human rights abuses in West Papua. Like LePera said, change comes from you. You can also pre-order the DVD here.


Happy 102nd International Women’s Day! ♀♡

8 Mar

Celebrate! Yay! We’ve come so far, nationally and globally. But there is much to be done. Patriarchy is the law of the land, and women and girls suffer infinitely because of it.

But there is hope. Not only are we close to achieving certain #MDGS (Millennium Development Goals), but organizations around the world are identifying obstacles, appropriating resources, and implementing solutions.

The best part of International Women’s Day is that warm, fuzzy feeling, when all your year-round hard work amongst advocates everywhere is highlighted in a mainstream way, and you see the results of such work: real change. But a lot of the coverage I have seen lately is on solidarity, momentum, consciousness-raising, and awareness. All of those are all well and good, and indeed, the foundation of change itself. But as we all know, caring is not enough. Not even if everyone cared.

Left to right: Christy Turlington-Burns, Stella Mukasa, (Director of Gender Violence and Rights at ICRW), Sarah Degnan Kambou (ICRW President), Andrea Mitchell (NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent), Michael Elliott, (President of the ONE Campaign), and Ravi Verma (ICRW Asia Director)

Left to right: Christy Turlington-Burns, Stella Mukasa, (Director of Gender Violence and Rights at ICRW), Sarah Degnan Kambou (ICRW President), Andrea Mitchell (NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent), Michael Elliott, (President of the ONE Campaign), and Ravi Verma (ICRW Asia Director)

Our bleeding hearts may break together, but even our collective, synchronized heartbeats won’t deafen reality: we must do more, while simultaneously keeping our voices aimed at raising the profile of the issue. We must work on the issue from all angles, simultaneously, in tandem with one another. Balancing this is hard work.

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Murder on Rt 80: The Long Road from Selma

1 Mar

First of all, put on some Jimi Hendrix. Ok, now you may continue.

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Proud sidenote: Viola was a longtime Unitarian… Go Unitarian Unversalists! (I was born ‘n’ raised, y’all!)

In an instant, teenage Penny Liuzzo was overcome with a sense of dread. While watching television in 1965, she doubled over in a fit of nausea. She knew exactly why. “Oh my God, my mother is dead.” Her mother, Viola Liuzzo, had driven to Selma, Alabama to join the civil rights protests after the Bloody Sunday march to Montgomery. After a premonition, she begged her mother not to go. But Viola, fiercely independent and determined to make a difference, carried on.

Hours later, Penny lied awake in bed, unable to sleep. Her father called. Her intuition was correct. Her mother was dead. ‘Then something happened that Penny still cannot explain 40 years later. Her 6-year-old sister, Sally, walked into the bedroom and said, “No, Mama’s not dead. I just saw her walking in the hall.”‘

…chills!!

Liuzzo’s mother was brutally murdered by the KKK for being a voice in the civil rights movement. Now, the murder that divided a generation is again in the headlines, as it symbolizes a story with a revolving narrative in our society. From FBI conspiracies to the galvanizing of a social movement, to the tragedy of a family forever traumatized by being publicly scapegoated for their tragedy, to the reaching of the point of no return in a nation divided by the murder of a white woman in the deep south of Selma, Alabama.

This story starts out with shock and continues to build upwards past outrageous, finally culminating as an unforgettable injustice made worse by public backlash and government lies. The life and death of one of America’s greatest unsung (s)heroes of the civil rights movement comes to a head as the US Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the 1965 Voting Right’s Act.

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