March 9, 2015

UMRAO JAAN 1

The first time I fell in love, it was with black eyeliner. My enormous eyes benefitted from articulation, I guessed, and a steady sweep above my eyelashes could make even the act of blinking seductive, right? You see, I’m a child of Bollywood, and Aishwarya’s Umrao is enough to hush every champion of subtlety. I winged and winged until I couldn’t wing anymore, hoarding kajol and kohl, collecting impossibly expensive angled brushes for endless pots of black paste. People would comment that I looked tired if I ever missed a day. “What’s up with your eyes? They’re so naked!”

Kajol is a mainstay in both South Asian beauty practices and in Hindi poetry. It’s considered performative: a choice made by a woman to call attention to her assets and flex her wiles. In the grand scheme of heterosexual, gender-normative seduction, the white ‘little black dress’ is replaced with the brown ‘heavy graphic black eyeliner.’

Aishwarya Rai in Umrao Jaan (2006)

Aishwarya Rai in Umrao Jaan (2006)

Black eyeliner is a subtle nod to a woman’s agency, her interest in sex despite the given that she’s an unlearned innocent lamb. Soft enough to be considered demure, its blurred sensuality can be dismissed as unintentional. It is easily controlled by those threatened by female desire – dismissed as an aimless consequence of facial beautification. But it’s present enough to cause a stir if aimed true.

Black eyeliner is a subtle nod to a woman’s agency, her interest in sex despite the given that she’s an unlearned innocent lamb.

In Bollywood the eyes are erogenous zones, bowing closed in ‘sharam’ at even the slightest suggestion of sex  ‘sharam’ literally translates to ‘shame’ but, in this context, it reads more like the vulnerability of feminine desire). They are adorned in glitter, caked with mascara and emphasized with lined blackness. A single glance with kohl-lined eyes moans, “Come overtake me.”

In 2006’s Fanaa, two lovers played by Aamir Khan and Kajol (The very same! Imagine calling your daughter Bioderma or Clé de Peau) proclaim their affection for one another. Playback singers Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan croon:

“Jaise saath saath chanda ke hain raat,
Jitne paas nainon ke kajol,
Jitne paas paas saagar ke lehar,
Utne paas tu rehna humsafar.”

Which translates to:

“As the moon is to the night,
As the eyes are to kajol,
As the waves are to the water,
Stay as close to me, my love.”

Of course, the majority of current Bollywood fare has morphed into musicals à la Michael Bay – an unfortunate side effect of the Americanization of Indian cinema. And of course, despite the drawbacks, on-screen gender dynamics should evolve as female empowerment and sexual agency are recognized and celebrated on a larger scale in both Indian culture and public policy. Traditionalized gender roles have wreaked havoc on the nation in more ways than one.

A single glance with kohl-lined eyes moans, “Come overtake me.”

But there is something to the shrouded romance of songs like “Aankhon Ki Gustakhiyan”, an interlude that is nothing if not choreography for eyes. A pair of lovers float around a party, faking disinterest and flirting through gesture, teasing one another with casual glances. The accompanying song, a lush arrangement written by Mehboob and sung by Kumar Sanu and Kavita Krishnamurthy, laments the limitations of speech between two people irrevocably in love. “Uthi aankhein jo baat na kah saki, jhuki aankhein voh kahti hain;” the lowered gaze confides what is impossible to say while looking into your eyes.

My thing for eyeliner was born out of a fascination with the resourcefulness of forbidden love, as well as the sweet frustration of sexual restraint. In a culture where tradition casts overt sexuality as garish, subtle gestures and fine details create a little world of privatized sensuality. Romantic intention, every bit as potent as in American or French or Italian cinema, is here delivered through arched eyebrows, light touches, and risky choices.

— Elizabeth Haq

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March 2, 2015

theSkimm-founders-in-their-office

“Every morning, my parents got the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal delivered and I still remember the sound of the paper when they dropped it off outside the door. But we were never allowed to touch the paper until after my dad had gone through it, so we usually read the papers at night, when he came home from work.”

That’s Carly Zakin, co-founder of the The Skimm, in an interview for Into the Gloss on her newfound start-up success. The Skimm is a daily newsletter that breaks down the day’s news into bite-size, neatly labelled components. Since its founding in 2012, it has amassed over 500,000 subscribers and a bevy of high-profile supporters (Oprah, Chelsea Handler).

I scoured local convenience stores for magazines with fancy covers and heavy pages, fascinated with how smart I felt lugging them around.

On the Skimm website, Zakin and her partner Danielle Weisberg explain how they arrived at this convenient solution for those who can’t make it past the front page of the newspaper. They discovered that “Reading the news is time consuming; Wanting to read the news is a hobby; lastly, not everyone has the time or interest.” From the language used to the marketing strategy to the logo (a slim female figure in heels, a skirt and hair in a neat updo), it’s hit-me-over-the-head-with-a-mallet clear that the Skimm is being angled to 20-something women with college educations.

The Skimm, in its Starbucks-toting Sassy-Girl-in-a-21st-Century-World way, effectively squashes any chance at intelligent media consumption, informed conversation and organic development of opinion. It indicates that young women should not seek out information for themselves. And if you’re paying attention, you’ll find that its oversimplification teeters heavily on the side of condescension.

The section entitled “Repeat After Me” is followed by a series of “What To Say When”– recent examples include “What To Say At The Morning Meeting” and “What To Say When Someone Manspreads On The Subway” (this, pretty inexplicably, in relation to Turkey’s rescue mission for soldiers trapped in Syria). There are no authors credited, which not only makes it impossible to interrogate the writer’s prejudice or follow-up with specific feedback, but gives the dangerous impression that this information is beyond editorial bias.

Skimm Excerpt

An example of the February 17th newsletter. Subject line: “Daily Skimm: It’s what’s for breakfast”

In deference to a lack of “time or interest” in news, the Skimm carves up complex issues into the blackest black and the whitest white: What’s the Keystone XL? So What’s the Issue? So What Just Happened? Perhaps most egregiously, the newsletter provides neat little conclusions for major issues, aptly labelled “TheSkimm”. That’s the part that lets you know how you should feel about the issues that are actively shaping your existence.

There are no authors credited, which gives the dangerous impression that this information is beyond editorial bias.

The Skimm isn’t journalism and it’s not trying to be (Or is it? What’s the definition of journalism these days?). But it suggests that well-informed means meeting the absolute lowest requirement for being informed. That it’s okay to leave it up to someone else to critique the media being hurled at you 24/7. That reading, absorbing and comprehending information is not a worthy use of time. (Says a “Skimm’r” with great priorities: “I respect a business plan that doesn’t try to compete with brunch.”)

For my part, like Carly, I poured over the Times as a kid. I also scoured local convenience stores for magazines with fancy covers and heavy pages, fascinated with how smart I felt lugging them around. As an only child, I clocked tons of hours around adult conversation and participated when I could with tidbits from my newspaper collection. I noted when my grandpa’s views differed from those of the writer in question. He would say things like, “That columnist always sides with so-and-so” or counsel that some papers were “better” than others. I would counter, “But that’s just what you think, right?”

A resounding endorsement from the person that has a $6.25 million stake in the company, according to CNN

Over time, through regular media consumption and constant questioning, I was able to navigate bias based on party, socio-economic status, culture, race, heritage and education. I deciphered tone and word choice, how certain phrases and terms can alter meaning entirely. Later I used this understanding to decode online media, from front page layout to share button placement to the labyrinth that is sponsored content. I learned to read media, not just “the news.”

The Skimm indicates that young women should not seek out information for themselves.

You don’t need to be told this again but here goes anyways: the amount of media the average person consumes today is unprecedented. In an given hour you’re been inundated with think pieces, blog posts, banner ads, regular ol’ ads, sponsored tweets, regular ol’ tweets, gifs, headlines, Instagram photos, Pinterest photos, Facebook photos, promoted videos, long-form articles, infographics etc. You get the picture. In this world, being able to navigate media successfully is as essential as looking both ways before crossing the street.

And that’s the problem with the Skimm. Well-informed people don’t simply rattle off trivia gleaned from petite briefings; they’ve digested the world to the best of their ability and understand it in relation to themselves. They’ve figured out where they stand and why, and can defend their position to others while engaging in productive debate.

In a featured testimonial on The Skimm homepage, The Today Show raves that the Skimm is “The only way to become a better conversation starter.” So, apparently actually reading stuff is passé?

— Elizabeth Haq

2 Comments

  1. Juliana
    November 19, 2015

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you. Been looking for someone who shared my thoughts on this. Sharing immediately.

    Reply
  2. Matthew
    December 9, 2015

    Im curious if not TheSkimm what’s a good site to go to for non-biased news. The Skimm never seemed biased to me recently. Is there any other examples of specific biased in their articles besides the one shown here? I’m honestly just trying to find a news source that I can trust

    Reply

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February 18, 2015

life_itself_2

During a particularly gruesome scene in Life Itself, Roger Ebert gingerly pulls his mouth back from one side in a painstaking attempt at a smile. By this point, cancer and its complications have melted his jaw off like the wax of an extinguished candlestick. This scene filled me with jealousy.

Let me explain.

Like all writers, I’m defined primarily by my insecurities and then by my ego. I’m a whirlpool of studied boastfulness and tempered self-hate. I love to argue and hate to lose, but I despise an easy fight much more. Truly, I’m a joy to date. And it seems that Roger and I had these things in common.

But Life Itself is a portrait of a man whose excitement for two things, movies and his wife, not only sustained him through hell but added poetry and grace to his struggle. His childlike fascination for the vastness of life injected clarity in a situation that seemed beyond understanding. He possessed a particular skill: the ability to dispense levity without trivializing pain.

Sure, the world afforded him a great favour: to do what he loved for a living and achieve widespread recognition for it on his terms. But it’s clear that even without the success he would have drowned himself in the things he loved, simply because it seemed to him the only sane choice.

So my jealousy was not inspired by Roger’s talent for arranging words with a precision that cut to the heart of images, their impact and being human. It wasn’t prompted by the inspiring friends he acquired or the incredible places he visited. (Well, maybe a little.)

I’m jealous because he figured out this whole living thing well before his flame was blown out. He poured himself into it all, and in the end was one of the few people in this world to get out alive.

Rest in peace, you incredible genius.

life_itself_1

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