by Rhian Sasseen on August 22, 2012
I suppose the upside is that we’ve never seen the word “pussy” appear so many times in the pages of our national news sources.
The downside? – How about everything else?
I am referring, of course, to the recent sentencing of Pussy Riot, the Russian political art collective, and the orgy of self-congratulatory support that has erupted from Western liberaldom in the aftermath of their trial. The counter protests, imitation balaclavas, and celebrity endorsements of the last few days have begun to take on a familiar shape and pattern; like Kony 2012, Free Tibet, and a host of other faux-radical pet projects, the Western reaction to Pussy Riot ignores the cultural complexities of their protest and vision in favor of an opportunity to reaffirm the feel-good consumerism and empty sloganeering that mark the political consciousness of the modern liberal bourgeoisie. Pussy Riot was not about punk, not about riot grrl, and not about the supposed freedoms of Western-style democracy; it was about dissent, a sentiment curiously absent from the Western liberal’s state of mind.
by Rhian Sasseen on July 13, 2012
412 LinkedIn connections. 746 Twitter followers. A profile on every social media site; a resume stuffed with a long list of internships, paid and unpaid. Sunday morning brunches; a closet filled with H&M professional wear. Sentences that begin, “During my summer co-op…”
These are the markers of success for a particular breed of ambitious youth. They are ambitious in name only; in the day-to-day business of their lives, they remain unconcerned with the content, just the image. Commerce, not creativity, rules their actions. Witness the entire career of someone like Taylor Cotter: list-filled clips and a relentless careerism aimed towards a job, any job, rather than producing a body of work that actually matters. It is telling that her apparent idols are Carrie Bradshaw and Harriet the Spy: one, a child, and the other, a grown woman characterized by her childish fixation with shoes. Both fictions, both surrounded by objects, endless objects. Joining them: the individual’s sense of self.
by Rhian Sasseen on June 29, 2012
Permanence, impermanence. Every other person in the café where I am sitting has a visible tattoo.
This is not unusual. The first spate, I noticed, occurred when I was eighteen, when seemingly every other friend or acquaintance of mine decided, upon legality, to mark their flesh forever. Tattoos seemed to divide the adults from the children; those that were oldest, with the earliest birthdays, were made obvious by the designs that dotted their inner wrists. Photo albums documenting the process filled my Facebook feed; “It wasn’t that bad,” my fellow children boasted. “It didn’t hurt that much.”
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by Rhian Sasseen on June 17, 2012
“Fuck!” Even his sweat was ironic. Somehow I had found myself in hell, the back room of a video store in Jamaica Plain, and now a teenage boy was rolling at my feet, screaming “Fuck!” into a microphone over and over again, as though he wasn’t playing lapdog to a music scene in crisis. Punk’s been dead for awhile, and Friday night, in a room of obsolete technology and obsolete sound, I bore witness to its last self-conscious gasps.
What does a do-it-yourself aesthetic mean when nothing is actually being done? Forty years after the genre’s founding, screaming non-contextualized obscenities will only take you so far. Of course, to a band like the Fucktrots and the scene I saw at the Video Underground, this is essentially the point. Everyone’s in on the joke – unfortunately, there’s no real joke to be had.
by Rhian Sasseen on June 13, 2012
On the red line last week, and amidst the tourists headed towards Harvard, the black-clad middle-aged men desperate to be seen as intellectuals, and the middle-class mothers balancing strollers and Eugenides paperbacks I spotted him – a man, no, a boy, a man-boy, puffy with post-adolescence, clothed in a bulky leather jacket and too-big ripped jeans that read “fuck off” on each knee, the words scrawled hastily in ballpoint pen. He wore his rebellion on his sleeve – his meaningless rebellion. His empty sleeve, a white flag waving.
Fashion bores me. Theoretically I can appreciate the distinctions it offers, the classifications of rank and social status that the buttons of a lapel or the worn heels of a sandal can signify. But when we mistake fashion for ideas, for a legitimate questioning of the overarching system at hand, I think we have gone too far. Fashion is not life, it is not an art; it is for the most part an arcane presentation of what the morning’s weather patterns made us feel emotionally.
by Rhian Sasseen on June 7, 2012
Once I watched a man die.
This was six years ago in July, the height of summer’s sweat, and that man was my father. One sticky evening he arrived home diagnosed with cancer and a week later he was dead, a month shy of his fiftieth birthday, a month after my sixteenth.
So you see, I am not entirely unfamiliar with death.
by Rhian Sasseen on June 3, 2012
On the train yesterday morning I stared out the window and watched Boston shutter by as I listened to Vampire Weekend’s debut for what must have been the hundred thousandth time since its release in 2008. It is now 2012 and I have existed for two weeks outside of the rarified and lovely fortress that is the modern-day liberal arts campus; in short, sometimes I think that I am a contra, too.
by Rhian Sasseen on May 30, 2012
At some point in the third wave we ceased to be women and instead became “ladies.” I’m sick of it.
Hypocrisy! – I know. But though these feelings have been brewing silently for a while, it is only now, amidst the backlash towards our reproductive rights that our politicians so love to engage in, that I have solidified my thoughts concerning the power of the word “woman.”
“Woman” is uncompromising. It is matter-of-fact. It is terrifyingly adult – it is hard for me at twenty-one to seriously call myself a woman. But that is what I am.
by Rhian Sasseen on May 27, 2012
There was a time in my more immediately-naive youth in which a good ninety percent of my wardrobe was culled from vintage sources. I told myself that I was green, I told myself that I was quirky; in reality, all I was doing was regurgitating the past in some awful amalgamation of supposed alternativity that really just made the Baby Boomers proud.
“Just like Twiggy!” my parents cooed when at fourteen I took to wearing kicky miniskirts and painted-on lashes. Yes, just like Twiggy – and the year after that was the fifties, and the year after that, the seventies. The Pacific Northwest was awash in vintage boutiques and I visited them all, convinced that by buying into the past I was avoiding the consumerism of my present. Alas, all I was doing was supporting an older generation’s insane self-magnification and obsession.
by Rhian Sasseen on May 24, 2012
An answerable question, of course – on the bookshelf. But though we may have gained our rightful place alongside our male brethren in the bookstore, still we languish. Once on the bookshelf, what happens? – A shelf life of being forgotten.
Three recent events have caused me to believe this. First, the Orange Prize for Fiction, annually awarded to a women author writing in English, has lost its longtime sponsor. Soon after I read this, I happened upon another article concerning gender and writing, this time focused on Esquire‘s recent announcement of a new eBook series, starting in June, titled “Fiction for Men.” (Because, of course, the history of Western literature hasn’t been a history of men.) Finally, while reading stories like these, I cannot banish from my mind the annual VIDA count, which has proven that while the literary world might pay lip service to gender equality, women are still being looked over in the pages of our literary journals, magazines, and newspapers.