White Women Heal Thyself: A Perspective on “Oceans 8”

We know now that Prada has it’s bags and sneakers stitched in China and Vietnam, and perhaps in other nations where labor is still cheaper.

But what struck me once was a statement I remember seeing somewhere in the New York Times. The statement was to the following effect: A French designer brand wants you to understand that while their products are “made”, in the purely physical sense of the term, in one of its ex-colonies, Vietnam, they are conceived of in France.

In other words, France is the site of the birthing–the conception or the brain work, that is, while Vietnam is where the mechanical production takes place.

The above reinforces a typical colonial relationship of superiority and inferiority, embodied by the head and the hands, respectively.

I was surprised to see the relationship reproduced in the film, “Oceans 8.”

A product of the #MeToo, era, “Oceans 8” is keen to show case gender parity between men and women. The message is that women too can conceive of and execute subversion that’s brilliant, grandiose and sexy in its own right.

Women have the power in “Oceans 8”.

But in the process of restoring gender parity, the film creates an ethnic disparity.

Let’s pare down the film’s action thus: Two white women, conceive of a plan for a daring jewelry heist. They come up with a very brainy plan. We admire the duo’s ability to deceive power, money and the establishment; they design a perfect crime that’s bloodless enough to have them get away with it.

Yet, there are members of the all-female gang who do the actual labor without which the heist would not materialize. A Chinese American, a career pickpocket from Manhattan’s China Town, is chosen to do the risky labor of stealing the 100 million + diamond necklace; an African-American does the work of hacking into the security systems–yes, she is brainy, but she still takes orders from the white duo at the helm of affairs (Sandra and Kate command Rihana, not the other way round); lastly, an Indian-American apprises the diamonds and in a near-nerve-wrecking scene, she comes precariously close to getting caught while dis-assembling the necklace into its individual pieces.

All three non-white women–a Chinese, an Indian and a Black–risk incarceration because of their constant proximity to the fetishized commodity, whereas the white duo get by with merely displaying their whiteness as stylish, empowering, regal, class-transcending and smart.

The film has a final thrust. Toward the end we see that the white duo was all along ruled by another woman. The celebrity from whose neck the jewelry was supposedly stolen is complicit in the stealing. Her plan is the archest of the arch plans in the film. She is the ultimate sovereign that rules the hands.

The ultimate sovereign, played wonderfully by Anne Hathaway, is lily white.

 

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No Children of Lesser Gods

The video that went viral and catapulted the current administration’s heartless treatment of migrant children at the U.S. border into a national narrative.

It all began on June 5, 2018. when Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, acting on a hunch, knocked on the doors of a former Walmart center in Brownsville, Texas.

And the rest is history.

Whom Would You Dedicate Your Book To?

If you had a chance–and wrote a book–whom would you dedicate it to?

This is a thought-provoking question as dedications encode the writer’s ethos, just as an epigraph encodes a book or a poem’s kernel (recall the single-sentence epigraph in Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” If they give you a ruled paper, write the other way).

The significance of a dedication has been brought to light in reference to the singer–from the 1990s band Hole–Patty Schemel’s memoir, “Hit So Hard: A Memoir.” The dedication says, “To Beatrice, when she is older.”

The object of the dedication is someone who is yet to be the reader of the book. So, the dedication is temporally precocious, one might say.

Another dedication that flirts with time stands out in my mind. Gloria Steinem dedicates her 2015 memoir, “My Life on the Road,” to an individual, one Dr. Sharpe:

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO

Dr. John Sharpe of London, who in 1957, a decade before physicians in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a twenty-two-year-old American on her way to India.

Knowing only that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, “You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.”

Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death:

I’ve done the best I could with my life.

This book is for you.

Were you to write a book about your life, would you dedicate it to your coterie of familiars or to someone you have carried in your mind for years, as an shaper of your ideology?

 

Cars

In his 1956 poem, “America,” Beat poet Allen Ginsberg had asked a pertinent question about cars in America: Why do cars sell at $2500 apiece, whereas a product of artisanal penmanship like a “strophe” doesn’t sell at all? Yet cars are mass produced, whereas poems are singular works of individual imaginations.

What is a car’s appeal?

A rudimentary response would be that it is a vehicle that transports us across long distances in a short time and in the comfort of privacy.

But a car is more than that; it’s a second home for many. Moreover, to be able to drive a car is deemed a valuable activity, not just in the United States, but now, in light of the legalization of driving for women in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, elsewhere as well.

In Saudi Arabia, driving has been for a while upheld as a right, akin to the right to vote or to shelter and dignity. Thus by getting behind the wheels, Saudi women expect to experience liberty and modernity in a way that they haven’t before.

A car therefore has utility, market value, imparts status and now symbolical value.

Yet, a car, as writer Jesse Balls reminds us in the novel, “Census,” is less than a “mule,” if we allow ourselves to momentarily think of this piece of machinery as just that–a tool, on which we ride.

The following sentence from “Census” is brought to our attention in the “First Sentences” segment of the New York Times:

And, of course, a person riding and singing–isn’t it obvious that this is a superior situation to a man on a mule with a radio?

The sentence has been parsed to yield a meaning:

The narrator has explained why he has never had a car with a radio. A car, he contends, should be like a mule, only less beautiful–just a mute thing that moves you on, steadily and faithfully, toward the place you are going, while [you] sing to pass time.

 

 

 

 

A Late-Capitalist Spectacle

Kim Kardashian

From the New Yorker:

The image appears before us like something out of a bad dream. He is seated behind the Resolute desk, his Chiclet teeth exposed in a rictus of extreme jollity. She is standing slightly behind him, considerably more sombre. In buttoned-up black, her long, dark locks tumbling in abundant waves, she is Botticelli’s Venus as channelled by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark—an icon of the Calabasas Renaissance. Her pose is stiff, her jacket sleeves pushed up in a gesture of can-do, eighties-style power-dressing. The familiar colors of the Oval Office appear newly garish, as if reflecting back to us those posing against them: the golden drapes and the gold of the man’s hair, the salmon chair and his ruddy skin, the flowing flags and the woman’s flowing mane. In an era rife with unbelievability, here was another near-unbelievable moment: the reality-TV mogul Kim Kardashian meeting with the reality-TV mogul Donald J. Trump, at the White House—an “American Gothic” for the age of gaudy, late-capitalist spectacle.

 

Exquisite Rice Noodles

RICE NOODLES

When we say rice noodles, we mean “Oriental.” when we say “Oriental” we mean a coterie of certain sauces and spices and of course the queen of all garnishes–scallion. The rice noodle shown above has all of the fifty or so shades of the usual spices, sauces and garnishes, but it has a lovely transcendental aura to it as well.