Thursday, March 27, 2008

Best. Toy. Ever.

Not to turn this into bionic week, but this is why I love YouTube. If you had told me four years ago that I'd be able to view the commercial for what was only my favorite childhood toy EVER, I'd have said, "That's crazy talk." I got this one Christmas, and I'd play with it now if I could find it. And yeah, I know it was probably a piece of crap.

For the record, my hairstylist has never checked my vitals.

Bionic Bonding

So my 8-year-old son recently took notice of the "Six Million Dollar Man" T-shirt I bought at a vintage shop last year. I know it seems cliche — Gen X parent trots out ironic, retro gear. Only, there is no irony. If F/X aired a marathon of "SMDM" episodes, I would be at home watching them right now. They wouldn't be nearly as good as I remember them, but that doesn't matter. Bring on the Bigfoot and Maskatron episodes.

Anyway, son was curious about the man on the shirt. Was he a superhero? ("Sort of. He was an astronaut who got hurt in a crash, and then the government rebuilt him so he could do all kinds of neat things.") Like what? ("Well, he could jump really high, run fast and beat up bad guys. He also had a bionic eye so he could see things far away.") Did he have a costume? ("Not really. He wore a red jogging suit sometimes, but mostly regular clothes.") So this was a really long time ago, when you were a kid, right? ("Mommy had the doll and everything. And he had a super girlfriend doll, the Bionic Woman.") Cool. ("Yes, sweetie. It was very cool.")

This is the kind of mother-son talk I can get behind. I don't have to grapple with my bordering-on-Deist beliefs when he asks about God or tap dance through the "Are you and Daddy going to die?" discussion. It's a hell of a lot more fun than explaining, again, why he isn't going to have a little brother or reassuring him that the big, friendly dog next door is not going to jump the fence and attack him.

Son and I are a lot alike in ways that aren't necessarily good. We are both high-strung, quick-tempered and sensitive, and often inscrutable to the people who love us. We argue. A lot. So it helps that we speak the same language about certain things and relish a good superhero fantasy. I wonder if Netflix has the DVDs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Support Kilpatrick? Chile, Please

I knew this was going to happen. As soon as text-happy Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was arraigned, the "support our brother" crowd would materialize and rally around him. I just didn't expect it to happen in one of my university alumni forums.

OK. I did.

While there were only 15 official supporters when I checked, the reasons given for supporting Kilpatrick strained logic to the breaking point: No one is perfect. Don't we all have dirty laundry? Only God can judge.

Oh, please. Technically, the rap against him falls into the "alleged" category until the court has its say. But the case against him is damning, and it paints a picture of an arrogant, vindictive toolbag who went to great lengths to hide his tomfoolery. Yeah, nobody's perfect, but few of us have the power to cover our arses using millions in taxpayer dollars. And you know what? I don't care that he's a fellow alum, a so-called role model in public office, whatever. Wouldn't it be a better idea to "support" the family he has so greatly humiliated? Or the citizens of Detroit who are suffering through this tawdry sideshow?

I worked at three different newspapers, and each time a high-profile, trifling black man set off a scandal, he had supporters who blamed the media instead of decrying the activity that got our attention. I remember being at a meeting for a private organization I used to belong to, and one woman suggested that we show up at a county commission meeting to applaud the return of a scandal-ridden official because he was "family." Applaud! Thank God the response was crickets chirping.

There are pea-brained racists who use these examples to denigrate black people, but I don't give a crap about them. They are idiots. What I really want to know is why otherwise lucid people feel the need to support the likes of Kilpatrick — let alone the R. Kellys, Michael Vicks and Mike Tysons of the world.

Monday, March 24, 2008

HBCUs vs. PWIs: It's On

The good folks at sparked one of the site's most provocative debates yet with a March 21 post on Howard University. The blog item took a lighthearted poke at HU, which has long been considered one of the top historically black colleges, along with Spelman and Morehouse. My husband's parents met at Howard's law school back in the day, so I thought the post was pretty funny. Plus, I went to a well-known HBCU in the South that used to have a bit of a complex about Howard.

But as so often happens, some of the comments that followed took an ugly, personal tone. There was the expected braying (some in all caps) from HU graduates about how it's the best school ever, etc. Which elicited this pointed (and frankly hilarious) response: "And that's precisely the arrogance and lack of humility that makes motherfuckas laugh at you and not take you seriously."

But then! Several people claiming to have graduated from ivies and other predominately white institutions said real educated black people go to schools like Brown, Harvard and Cornell, and that HBCUs are third-string: "As a freshmen (sic) at top university my Black friends and I would sit in the cafeteria and thank God we didnt (sic) attend an HBCU. "

This discussion is rife with the kind of intraracial class issues that I suspect would surprise many outsiders. We're not talking about the middle class vs. the poor here. Rather, it's a lot of solidly middle-class-to-wealthy types arguing about who's REALLY educated. Which is so stupid it makes my head hurt. — especially when you consider that only 11 percent of black Americans have a four-year college degree to begin with (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education). And the median income gap between blacks with a high school degree and those with at least a bachelor's degree is huge.

Look, I have black friends who went to HBCUs and others who went to top-ranked, predominately white universities. I don't remember us ever having a conversation about who was more likely to succeed, because that would have been lame as hell. None of us grew up wealthy, and we all had a sense that we were fortunate to have a shot at higher education, period.

But hey, if you enjoy an old-fashioned house-field squabble, be my guest. It's only 2008.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Comic Strips: Don't Play the 'Children' Card

I have children, but I am so tired of "the children" being used as a reason to whitewash every blessed thing. Especially newspaper comics.

As a kid, I was a voracious reader. But while I remember being interested in the Sunday funnies, I was far more likely to be reading a comic book or something by Beverly Cleary. "Snuffy Smith" wasn't funny to me, even when I was 6.

Apparently some readers got their knickers in a wad over the March 9 "Brenda Starr" comic strip, which references a threesome. My local paper doesn't carry "Brenda Starr," but the threesome angle involves a sleazy senator's aide who's being set up by two women. I was thrilled when the strip's writer, Mary Schmich, told the Chicago Tribune's public editor: "The comics are not any more 'for kids' than the rest of the paper is 'for kids.' "

This issue crops up whenever a strip gets the tiniest bit edgy, like when a "Zits" strip — which revolves around a teenaged boy — used the word "sucks." Imagine that. Today's teens use the word "sucks" in conversation! And I remember when newspapers got complaints about gay characters in "For Better or For Worse" and "Doonesbury."

This is all so very silly. Not once has my 8-year-old son expressed a burning desire to see what "Hi & Lois" or "Garfield" are up to. He doesn't care. Even if he did, any references to sex would go right over his head. And, God forbid, if he actually had a question about the content, we'd give him an age-appropriate answer or tell him "That's grown-up stuff." The end.

Sometimes I wonder who these readers are and why they've got some newspaper editors so cowed. They're probably the same ones who think "Marmaduke" is on the cutting edge.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Keep Your Polka Dots Off My Pants

My sister, an under-30 clotheshorse who works in the fashion industry, once told me that I took shopping too personally. She's usually the first person I call when I score a particularly great outfit off the rack, which is rare. She's also the first person I call when I've gone to seemingly every store in my mid-sized city and been confronted with rack after rack of the tackiest, plus-sized crap ever.

I take that extremely personally, because it speaks volumes about what certain stores (or at least the clueless buyers) think of women sizes 14 and up.

Even though I've been working out with a trainer, I'll likely be shopping in the plus-sized department for a while. Thanks largely to luck, the Internet and a handful of fashion-forward, niche designers, I've managed to assemble a semi-stylish wardrobe that doesn't make me look like a church deaconess. But sometimes a girl's got to go to the mall, or to Target. And with a few exceptions, what I've seen isn't pretty.

For starters, the plus-size department is always located in the back of department store because it's, you know, shameful. But I could get past that if the larger clothes resembled the offerings in the Misses department. I happen to like simple, classic, grownup clothes — the kind of stuff you'd find in Ann Taylor. Flat-front pants with a modern shape, wrap dresses, pencil skirts, etc. Nothing crazy. And none of these things are hard to translate to larger sizes, especially if you have a reasonably proportioned figure.

But in most of the department stores where I live, "plus-sized" is interpreted as either "Thick 'n Sassy" (snaps!) or "Matronly and Fond of Embroidery." In the first category, we have clothes that are fine for certain nightclubs, but not so much for work: plunging necklines, eye-assaulting colors, an abundance of bedazzling. In the second, there are items (usually dumpy) with all manner of WTF elements — gigantic dragonflies on the pockets, sailboat anchors along the hem and polka dots. Instead of offering a simple, elegant shirtdress — like the one across the aisle in Misses — the designers of these clothes opt to slap cat faces or strawberries on their gear. It's as if to say, "We're going to punish you for being bigger."

Even at my beloved Target, the plus-sized clothes are mixed in among the maternity wear ("Plus, pregnant; it's all the same!). Worse, the cute designer stuff is just out of my reach, fit-wise.

I understand that fashion is all about aspiration, etc., etc. But this isn't about the latest, cutting-edge offerings from the catwalk — this is about middle America, where I'm told the average woman is a size 14. Some of us have read a fashion magazine in the last five years, and we'd like our wardrobes to reflect that. And we have money to spend. This is why certain online boutiques and catalogs have been so successful. (Thanks, guys. Seriously.) Still, it would be nice not to have to wait for a package to arrive before trying something on.

The antagonist might say, "You want to wear nicer clothes? Lose some weight." But that shouldn't be a prerequisite for "deserving" certain kinds of clothes. And even if weight loss is the goal, what's wrong with having something attractive to wear in the meantime?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nightwing's Newest Fan

Certain readers of this blog know I have a thing for current and former residents of Wayne Manor. But I was never compelled to follow the adventures of Nightwing — the original Robin, Dick Grayson — until now. Major props to writer Peter Tomasi and artist Rags Morales, who have managed to pack the last three issues with engaging, multilayered storytelling and compelling artwork.

One of the best things about Tomasi's approach is the interplay between Nightwing, Batman, Alfred and the current Robin, Tim Drake. In particular, the scenes with Dick and Tim (in or out of costume) crackle. I'm looking forward to seeing how Tomasi further explores that brother-like bond.

How good is it? Let's just say that it almost makes up for Gail Simone exiting the much-loved Birds of Prey series. Almost.