Linkin Park and the Space of the Vulnerable Man — July 24, 2017

Linkin Park and the Space of the Vulnerable Man

Photo cred: Linkin Park official Twitter

As fans and former emo kids around the world know by now, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington committed suicide last week at the age of 41. Fans mourned the loss of the singer, describing him as one of the great rock vocalists of our generation and the leader of a band that progressed the alternative music genre. But in these posthumous tributes, Bennington was often described with words like “angst” and “victim.” Much of Linkin Park’s discography revolves around the lead singer’s emotional point of view. If Bennington was feeling a negative emotion, like sadness, anger, or even nihilism, he expressed that wholeheartedly and without reservation. As a man in this society, Bennington displayed a vulnerability and raw emotion that was unprecedented for rock frontmen that came before him. And even in his class of rock stars, with pop punk peers like Blink-182 and later Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy, Linkin Park stood out. Their songs spoke to heavy themes of loss, trauma, and degradation that transcended the superficial pain of not getting a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

And that is, I believe, Chester Bennington’s most important legacy. He shattered the emotional glass ceiling that men have to live under in their everyday lives. His vulnerable masculinity told millions of teenage boys it was okay to feel things and sit in the sadness for a little while.

Bennington’s own personal struggles have been well documented and openly discussed by the singer. He was a victim of child sexual abuse and spoke about how that trauma informed the lyrical content of his band’s songs. In addition, he turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with the depression that his traumatic experience caused. He said these substances gave him a boost of “confidence” to face the world and control his surroundings. While Bennington overcame his addictions for the most part, pain and the journey to overcome it remained a consistent theme in Linkin Park’s music up until Bennington’s death.

But it is perhaps because of the depth of this pain, or in spite of it, that Bennington felt compelled to express himself so openly to his fans. And that action was groundbreaking. To the very end, Bennington used his music to grieve and work through his emotional turmoil. Society demands that boys and men stifle unpleasant or “feminine” emotions in favor of presenting “masculine” strength. They must not cry or express sadness, for fear of being perceived as weak. They must not linger on instances where they have been hurt, but instead “suck it up” and move on. They can be angry, but only with malicious intentions and not as a feeling of desperation. The fact that Chester Bennington did all of these things was an act of defiance to society’s norms of masculinity, despite Linkin Park’s sound being very masculine with intense vocals and at times aggressive, brooding melodies.

Bennington’s message could not have been lost on the male youth in America. This is the country where despite men having lower rates of depression than women, male suicide rates are exceptionally high. Suicide was the leading cause of death among men younger than 35 in 2014, and four out of five suicides involve men. Not only that, but while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to be successful in their attempts, due to the more lethal methods that men tend to use. Research has also shown that depression is harder to diagnose in men because they often downplay their own symptoms; this has led researchers to conclude that the percentage of men suffering with depression is likely higher than what is statistically reported, simply because men are less likely to seek help for or recognize symptoms. The behavior of men in terms of their mental well being is carried from adolescence, and teens who are not encouraged to speak out will grow into adults who repress their deepest feelings.

Linkin Park gave young boys an outlet to sit in the murkiness of feelings they couldn’t express. Chester Bennington as a sensitive and victimized man himself gave voice to emotionally stunted young men across the nation, letting them know they weren’t alone. He refused to suffer in silence, and because of his powerful music, his young male fans now know they don’t have to either. Linkin Park’s music maay not be the antidote to the toxins that poison young boys into believing they must hide behind a facade of cool stoicism. And society still has many questions to answer as far as methods to best support our boys in teaching them to understand and work through their experiences. But it may help alleviate some of the stress of pretending. If only for four minutes at a time.

Enough With the Goddamn Remakes — May 26, 2017

Enough With the Goddamn Remakes

Photo cred: Yahoo (ABC)

In the last decade or so, the silver and small screens alike have been saturated with remakes. From beloved sitcoms like Fuller House to remakes of remakes like the upcoming Mummy film, Hollywood studios can’t seem to get enough of updating already adored shows, films, and franchises.

And I’m sick of it.

I get it. I really do. Showrunners and directors are capitalizing on my generation’s (yes, those Millennials adults on the internet seem to hate so much) collective nostalgic personality. Eighties and nineties babies grew up in a time of rapid technological and cultural growth; many of us remember growing up with VCRs and flip phones and graduated to DVD players and smartphones as teens. We groan at our ’90s and ’00s fashion tastes compared to our current ones and reminisce about summers playing outside until sunset with our friends before we could spend hours inside waiting for our YouTube videos to buffer. And of course, we remember fondly all of the shows and movies we watched growing up, even if some of those gems predated our birth (gotta love cable TV reruns).

I will preface my critique of remakes with an acknowledgment that there are exceptions to the cursed remake trend: any remake of a Marvel or DC film (now with the juggernaut studios that each respective enterprise has) is generally good and acceptable, and long-awaited sequels like Star Wars or Jurassic World can be enjoyable precisely because they are fresh continuations of dated treasures. (Also Ghostbusters was not that bad, just throwing that out there for fanboys.)

But for almost anything else, remakes fall short of the magic of the originals. This is because remaking most classic series or movies entails that those films, in a way, are de-contextualized and re-manufactured with today’s industry trends and cultural norms. And the act of doing that, in and of itself, will doom these remakes to fail.

I write this post with several recent/upcoming remakes in mind. The first and most obvious one is the Dirty Dancing remake that premiered on this past week on ABC. This version was a made-for-TV movie. We can stop right there. How many made-for-TV movies are on your top ten list?

There has been much written even in a matter of days about how bad this version of the 1987 Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey classic was, but without even reading them all I can say what the common theme was; this version did not have the same charm as the original. It was stiff and forced, and made changes to original format and storyline that made the new one feel….inauthentic. The 1987 version made the world swoon because it was befitting of the period in which it premiered. You love Dirty Dancing now because it is so obviously dated, but still timeless. You love it because of its dated charm, not in spite of it.

Another remake on the horizon is Roseanne. Although it will be a reboot rather than a remake of the old series, it will still feel present with the times because, well, we’re in the present. Even though the ending of the series left many fans upset, I still don’t believe that it warrants a new perspective on the Connor family, even if the original cast is on board. Roseanne in particular is an interesting case of a remake. I liked the series growing up, as it was a representation that, at the time, felt different than other sitcoms I was used to seeing. One of the main reasons Roseanne stuck with audiences is because it offered a narrative that countered the typical white, perfect, middle to upper-middle class nuclear family that had dominated television screens for decades prior to its debut. It presented a blue-collar, working class, semi-miserable white family that had children who talked back and a matriarch that wasn’t afraid to stand down to her husband. The two leads, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, were also fat, which was another representation of whiteness that was subversive in the ’90s (despite it being more normal on black sitcoms). America — or more precisely, white America — was ready for a white working class narrative, and the show’s popularity made sense in an era of Democrat Bill Clinton, the good ol’ Southern boy that became a politician, as President.

But since Roseanne’s rise and end, and perhaps because of it, the visibility of the white working class has increased. The landscape of America has changed culturally and politically. And audiences crave more diverse representations on television, those which include more people of color, LGBT people, and women to name a few. Roseanne was diverse for its time. Television simply doesn’t need its narrative anymore.

Back on the film side, Halloween, my favorite film franchise of all time, is also supposedly getting a remake. The Rob Zombie films of the ’00s were okay, albeit unnecessarily gruesome in parts. But even though this new iteration has the approval of the film’s original director John Carpenter, it still won’t work in 2017. The original film is almost 40 years old, having hit theaters in 1978. It arguably pioneered the slasher genre. With its famously low budget and simplistic scares, it somehow became one of the most commercially successful franchises of its generation of horror films. Halloween’s success rested on its understated production. It was scary without gore; it was a suspenseful story rather than a horrific one. We may scoff at the slasher formula today because it’s been done to death, but for its time, Halloween was hella scary because there had simply not been a film like it before to that point. Therefore, to attempt to add big budgets, special effects, and hitting-you-over-the-head violent death scenes to Halloween would be taking away what made the original film fantastically fearsome. And with the way the genre has evolved, to not do these things would be difficult for filmmakers today and expect the film to break even in profits.

Lastly, let us not forget the trainwreck that was the 2016 made-for-TV production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Starring Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, this production failed to hit with fans of the cult classic. The consensus was that it tried too hard to recreate the quirkiness of the 1975 Tim Curry film. But that’s the thing — you can’t just try to be camp. The very nature of camp assumes that the object, be it a piece of media or clothing, is cheeky without having to try. Campiness is as effortless as it is over-the-top. (See: Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.”) The original movie was so strange, so absurd, and so kitschy in part because it was everything you loved about 1970s humor, science fiction, and taboo. Now, with drag culture having gone mainstream and Broadway shows like Kinky Boots putting butts in seats, by the time Rocky Horror premiered on FOX, camp had become much less shocking to the senses. The TV musical production became part of a landscape where it is the norm to have a self-awareness of your own exaggerated performance. The ’70s was a period when being “meta” wasn’t a trend, when being campy wasn’t cool. That’s why Rocky Horror worked back then, and doesn’t now.

To love a piece of media means loving it for everything it is and is not. But to love an old television series or movie doesn’t mean that you want that media text to be brought back to life. Sometimes, loving something means letting it be exactly what it was, forever. That was, after all, the way it was when you first fell in love with it. You can’t force something to be magic again, otherwise it wouldn’t be called magic in the first place.

I Was On A Panel at C2E2! — April 24, 2017
How Is My Transition Going?: What I’ve Learned About My Hair So Far — April 19, 2017

How Is My Transition Going?: What I’ve Learned About My Hair So Far

It’s been 5 months since I last had a relaxer, and at this point I have enough new growth to be able to talk about my natural tresses! I have about an inch and a half all around my head, with certain areas a little longer or shorter depending on the location of the growth. For context, I did successfully make it through six weeks of protective styling with Marley twists. Because I hadn’t had a protective style since 8th grade, it took some getting used to all of the extra hair and weight on my head. After the first week, though, I grew used to the twists and the general upkeep. After three weeks, however, I was ready for them to come out. After five weeks, the twists got frizzy and matted. Despite this, when I went back to the shop for my takedown, the stylists said the twists were in good condition and I could have kept them in longer. It wasn’t that I disliked the twists (although admittedly I think box braids would have looked better and fared better throughout the weeks), I simply missed being able to touch and feel my own hair. Yet, it was for this exact reason that I needed them to begin with — to keep my hands out of my hair and allow it to grow. And boy did it grow. With my first wash post-twists, the hair at my roots was so thick that I had to section my hair differently as I washed just to make sure I got to it all. Not only that, but the texture of both my natural hair and relaxed ends is different now. So let’s talk about my hair!

My hair is…thick!
If the sample of hair I have at my roots is any indication, my natural hair will be thick in density. Right now, the thickness of my roots makes it difficult to style my relaxed ends which have absolutely no body. Therefore, it’s also harder to blend the two textures. Speaking of…

My hair is…textured differently throughout! It seems as if my hair has different textures in different parts of my head. The top and sides of my head are the loosest; there’s a weird wave-slash-poof thing going on in this section. Because the pattern is so loose, this section has the most visible length with minimal shrinkage. The middle-back portion of my head has the tightest curl pattern. This section has about the same amount of growth as the front and sides but shrunken. The strands in this area have to be stretched in order to see their full length. And the nape of my neck is a mystery. When my hair was relaxed, this part of my hair grew the slowest and reverted the quickest, so I think that fickleness is carrying over to my natural growth. The only way to describe this section is kINKY. I can’t see a defined curl pattern except at the very roots, where the pattern seems to match the middle-back portion. After a trim a few weeks ago, there’s next to no relaxed hair in this portion of my head, so I’m not sure what that means for the texture…
Across all areas of my head, it feels like my hair’s curl pattern is that of a Z that varies in looseness or tightness.

My hair is…soft and fine! It’s uncommon for naturals to have hair that is both dense and soft at the same time. I’m discovering that this is the case for me. When moisturized correctly, my hair is suuuper soft. And I love it! When I was relaxed, one of the things I hated was once my hair reverted, it would become extremely dry, coarse, and brittle. But now I know I just wasn’t moisturizing enough. It’ll be difficult to figure out what’s best for my hair when I’m trying to incorporate products that will be thick enough to reach my dense tresses but delicate enough to not weigh my strands down, especially my weak relaxed ends.

My hair…is developing different needs! As my transition continues, I am learning that my hair’s needs have changed since more of it is natural. I’ve had to reconsider or even switch out products that I was using pre-twists. My hair needs to be detangled now at the roots or it’s pretty much unmanageable. I tried the coveted Kinky Curly Knot Today, and after two tries, figured out that my hair HATES it! You live and you learn; Knot Today does not contain water as a primary ingredient, and my hair noticed immediately. Rather than loosening up my strands, Knot Today caused them to matt together into a goopy mess. If anything, the product made it more difficult to detangle my hair than the crappy (Carol’s Daughter) liquid leave-in I was using before. On the flipside, my hair absolutely loves shea butter! Hence, any SheaMoisture product I’ve used in my hair I’ve loved and had great results. I’m looking to try the Peace Rose Oil Complex Shampoo and Conditioner combo to replace my Whole Foods shea shampoo and Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Threat Conditioner. I want to see if using a shampoo and conditioner from the same product line improves my results. After all, if a line isn’t cohesive, then what’s the point? Further along in my transition, I’d also like to try out SheaMoisture’s High Porosity Deep Conditioner.

I’m still styling my hair with bantu knots, but I now have to really be diligent about doing more knots to achieve a curl that will last through the week. Right now, co-washing in the middle of the week doesn’t fit into my schedule, and this was previously when I would refresh my curls. Nine-to-five jobs don’t exactly create the time to wash and style on a Wednesday. Also, because my roots are filled out now, if I style in bigger sections for each knot, the parts in my scalp will be visible because the relaxed hair at my ends (which is usually the curl) doesn’t have enough body to fill the style out. Just imagine a triangle in your head: a wide base meeting at a smaller point. That’s what it looks like if I section too big. The smaller the section, the tighter the curl and the more filled out the style looks. And smaller curls means more longevity out of the style — for now at least.

I really want to experiment with flat twists, but I think my hair is too short at this point. But whenever I do go through with the style, it has to be on dry hair; my relaxed ends are too limp to be manipulated into any sort of braid or twist style when wet.

That’s about it for now. I forsee a challenge in the next few months, as it’ll be the first time I’ll have to deal with my natural hair (and styling) in heat. I have to find the right balance and ways to keep moisturized when the elements are trying to suck my hair dry. We’ll see if adding fresh aloe vera to my regimen quenches its thirst.

Grow long and prosper!

The Gift That Art Gives Us — March 18, 2017

The Gift That Art Gives Us

Photo cred:

At the Oscars, Viola Davis in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress in Fences paid tribute to her craft by eloquently saying that the artist community “[is] the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” While the internet perhaps took too much from these words in the aftermath of the ceremony, I took her statement at face value. Even still, as I heard the words leave her lips I didn’t quite understand them. I appreciated her insight on why art is important for the artists that create and perform, but as the camera panned to an audience of rich actors and producers, I couldn’t connect to her words as a viewer, a consumer of art. Her statement felt very personal to the acting community, therefore I felt distance from it.

But Thursday night as I sat on my couch watching Scandal, the episode entitled “Extinction,” I had a revelation about the meaning of Viola Davis’ words for lovers of art and media. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Continue reading

All About My Natural Hair Transition: The Process Explained — January 27, 2017

All About My Natural Hair Transition: The Process Explained

As I explained in detail in a previous post, I am currently in the process of transitioning my hair to natural. Since I’ve made the announcement to my friends and family, I’ve gotten awkward questions like, “So how does it work?” or “When will it be natural?”

While these questions are well-intentioned, they stem from ignorance of black natural hair and how it works, both on the part of black and non-black people. I hope I’m able to answer some of the questions many people curious about natural hair are too afraid to ask, the first being,

What is “transitioning”?
Transitioning is the process of growing out one’s relaxed, heat damaged, or chemically processed hair. Rather than doing a Big Chop right off the bat (cutting off the hair completely and starting with new, natural growth), transitioning allows you to retain the length of your strands while your natural hair grows in from the roots. Transitioning is great for people who aren’t quite ready for a TWA (Teeny Weeny Afro) and those who want to practice healthy hair habits before the Big Chop day comes. Long-term transitioners are those who keep their relaxed ends for at least a year. I plan to transition for 13 months, or Big Chop by the very end of 2017. The trick with transitioning is working with two different hair textures (straight or damaged ends with curly or kinky roots) and finding styles that blend the two so people can’t tell. You also must make sure you’re being gentle with the line of demarcation, or the point where your relaxed hair meets your natural texture. Because it’s so sensitive, it is very prone to breakage, and too much breakage can cause you to Big Chop earlier than you want to.

If you said you’re going natural, why doesn’t your hair “look natural” yet?

Natural hair doesn’t happen overnight. Right now, I’m still in the early stages of transitioning at 10 weeks post (relaxer). At almost three months, my natural growth is still minimal. But, it is becoming more visible at my roots to the glancing eye. It will be a couple more months before I have significant enough growth to hold and style in my hands.

So what are you doing differently with your hair now?

In the rule book of Going Natural 101, the first step to transitioning is to stop doing the thing that damaged your hair to begin with. For me, this is realxing my strands. Second, you stop using chemically harmful products with sulfates and alcohol and swap them out for hair products with natural ingredients like shea butter and various kinds of oils (olive, almond, avocado, grapeseed, Jamaican black castor, etc.). I now shampoo my hair once a week and co-wash in between shampoo sessions. (Co-washing is conditioner washing, or refreshing your hair with a conditioner that won’t remove the dirt from/strip your hair like a shampoo would.) I also deep condition once a week. Lastly, I use protective styles to retain the moisture of every step in the wash or co-washing process. Needless to say, I spend hours tending to my hair every week, and I’ve almost tripled the amount of products I use on my hair, and I’d say my product collection is minimal at the moment. That’s how little I was taking care of my hair before.

20161209_143457.jpgThe products I’m currently using.

My go-to styles are perm rod sets and bantu knots. My hair is at an awkward length right now, so these are really the only two styles that will curl my hair to retain moisture. I recently tried bantu knots, and I’m in love with them. I could never get the perm rods to wrap and roll the way I wanted them to, and the curls didn’t spiral the way they’re supposed to. But, with bantu knots, the strands of my curls hold together longer, and the curls as a whole don’t go flat as quickly.

bantu-knotsSource: Pinterest

Still, because my hair is mostly relaxed, the sucky thing is that it’s hard to make protective styles last without completely starting over by wetting my hair. When you have a head full of natural curls, your hair is a lot easier to manipulate and style because the strands are already inclined to curl or coil. I also can’t do wash and go’s because I don’t have a natural curl pattern to fall back on.

I’m planning on getting Marley twists in the next month to protect my hair through the rest of the winter, when it is most prone to breakage and damage due to the cold. It will also allow my natural hair to grow in without me constantly manipulating and styling it, which is good for it every few months or so whether you’re transitioning or completely natural. After I keep my twists in for eight weeks, I’ll take them out and re-assess the needs of my hair. I may need to change up my routine or the products I use, since I’ll have a significant portion of natural hair at my roots by then. I also plan to cut my hair a little so that my strands are equal length throughout my head.

So far, I’m satisfied with my hair growth, but still learning what healthy looks like on my hair. The next few months, from what I’ve read, will likely be the most troublesome, so I’m really trying to nail down a routine that retains my hair’s moisture from roots to tips. Stay tuned in the coming moths for the latest on my Road to BC!