VICE’s New Channel for Women Aims to be the New Face of Feminism

My post for the Ministers of Design Blog

VICE, the magazine and online platform that has long be THE platform for all things subversive and hip (and arguably, wryly hipsterish), is launching a new channel Broadly, described as a “women’s interest platform that will feature original, reported stories on pretty much everything from a female perspective with online videos and articles.” By women; for women.

Tracie Egan Morrissey, a veteran editor at Jezebel, brought the idea of a site telling stories from a woman’s perspective to Vice cofounders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi last year. “I pitched them this idea,” she says, “and they hired me on the spot.”

At launch, Broadly has “Ovary Action,” a show about the war on women’s reproductive rights; “Style & Error,” a show about women’s fashion, like the iconic power suit; and an interview series called “Broadly Meets,” featuring prominent women like Rose McGowan and Virginie Despentes.

To avoid the terrible trolling that usually besets anything even remotely related to women on the web, Broadly will have no comments section: “When women are speaking online, it’s such a lightning rod for every angle—other feminists are telling you you’re not doing feminism properly, MRAs are coming in and calling you a fat whore,” Morrissey explains.

Vice tends to skew to a rather masculine audience, even if a lot of the readers are female too, but with swagger-ific coverage of things like the Atlanta Twins, porn stars, and Action Brosnon, it’s not exactly Gloria Steinem’s oeuvre either.

“Young women—millennial women—are really smart, are really well educated, and they want this kind of news,” Morrissey adds. “It’s fun to be distracted on Twitter with bullshit here and there, but covering abortion rights and the things happening to women right now is really, really, really needed.”

So how does Broadly intend to deal with the dreaded “feminazi” label or even more the point, the commodification of feminism as “girl power.”  “I think if you’re a woman, and you’re not a feminist, then you’re an idiot,” Morrissey says.

So, here’s to Broadly–the broad news sources for us broads. With its grrl power, rather than “girl power,” ethos, Vice’s “better half” looks to be off to a riotous start. Follow Broadly on Twitter at @Broadly.

Girls With Gluten–Chew On This Grain of Thought

My post for the Ministers of Design Blog

Sales of products with a gluten-free label have doubled in the past four years. Market research firm Nielsen estimated that sales of products with a gluten-free label have doubled in the past four years, rising from $11.5 billion to more than $23 billion. Marketing efforts have certainly played a role–Chobani Greek yogurt and Green Giant vegetables, for instance, added “gluten free” labels onto products that never contained gluten.

Survey data gathered by Packaged Facts in July and August of 2014 showed that more than a third of consumers said a gluten-free/wheat-free label claim is an important factor when they are shopping. A quarter of the survey respondents also said they had purchased or consumed food products labeled as gluten-free in the three months prior to the survey.

Packaged Facts estimates the market for gluten-free foods will exceed $2 billion in 2019.

Yet, less than 1 percent of the population has celiac disease. Approximately 6 percent are gluten intolerant, yet almost 30 percent of American adults are trying to avoid gluten. With Gwyneth Paltrow and Zooey Deschanel extolling the virtues of a grain-free lifestyle, it is no surprise the public is eating it up as the key to better health. It’s generally not. Consider that a Glutino Original New York Style Bagel has 26 percent more calories, 250 percent more fat, 43 percent more sodium, 50 percent less fiber and double the sugar of a Thomas’ Plain Bagel.

And then there’s the cost. The Glutino bagel costs 74 percent more than the Thomas’ bagel. Nabisco’s Gluten-Free Rice Thins cost 84 percent more per cracker than Nabisco’s Multigrain Wheat Thins. As one researcher put it, “The[se] foods can be significantly more expensive and are very trendy to eat, but we discovered a negligible difference when looking at their overall nutrition.”

So, will this gluten-free obsession ever crumble!? Girlswithgluten.com are working against the (gluten-free) grain to separate the wheat from the chaff. Their Instagram account is replete with girls gloriously indulging in all things doughy and delicious. Then there are others who tag themselves with the #hotgirlseatingpizza. About time somebody subvert America’s latest diet obsession and revel in utter gluten glory! Their clever t-shirt slogan “Free Gluten” should be able to bring this group some well-deserved bread.

Blog Post for Yoga District’s Blog

NotForgotten

“Nothing in this shelter makes more sense, makes me understand my purpose more, than to kill bugs on a homeless man’s flesh, to dress him well in donated, cast-off clothes, to see him the next day laughing besides a burning barrel.” Nick Flynn in Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
If home is where the heart is, what happens when you don’t have a home? Well…you are not the heart-less one; if we don’t offer our hearts to you, we are. Having a home is so central to one’s existence–in a practical sense but even more so in an emotional sense. Root-less, place-less…and love-less…recognition-less. 
It’s almost as though having no address condemns you to oblivion; dooms you to live in the shadows, unable to be located. Lost… The homeless are ubiquitous, yet utterly invisible to us, wraith-like as they present themselves to us out of the peripheries of life we choose to pretend doesn’t exist. “That’s someone else’s lot; not mine.”
The vent that his father sleeps on in the winter is no less a prison because it has no walls: “The blower is a room of heat with no walls. My father stands in this room, an invisible man in an invisible room in an invisible city.” He has “plenty of places to go, but no place to be.”
Nick Flynn’s metaphor of standing in one place, if you are lost, so you may be found is especially poignant when he adds, “but they never tell you what to do if both of you are lost, and you both end up in the same place, waiting.” He continues, “I see no end to being lost. It isn’t a station you reach but just the general state of going down.”
SOME seeks to help people, at least temporarily, even if for one night, be visible…be seen…be humanized…and be welcomed. This is why I am teaching a benefit class for them. When I was little, I read “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen and it always stayed with me. A man in Dupont Circle sometimes holds a up a sign,”Please help. You could be in my shoes one day.” He is right.
My dearly-beloved friend Jeffrey Prosser (and the DJ for Yoga District’s NYE class in 2013) recently left us, far too soon. He always spared some change…and some heart. I want to honor his memory and help SOME continue their work so no one stays lost…or forgotten.

The Diplomat Documentary Review AFI Docs

My review of The Diplomat for the Washington City Paper

The Diplomat offers an insider’s view of U.S. foreign policy by examining the storied, 50-year career of Richard Holbrooke, who is widely credited with ending the Bosnian War in 1995, with an accord signed in an Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio. His oldest son David directs, gathering a who’s who of dignitaries to speak on his Dad, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, and a number of top journalists. But this isn’t a wide-eyed paean to diplomacy’s power to bring peace; nor is it a cynical exposé on the backroom dealings of a few powerful men. As The Diplomat traces the legacy of Holbrooke from his days in Vietnam to Bosnia, and finally to Pakistan and Afghanistan, it humanizes diplomacy, yet also shows its dark underbelly—a battle of wills between a select few who are far removed from the front lines. Holbrooke, though surely fallible, was keenly aware of the “service” part of the Foreign Service; The Diplomat shines a light on the strategies he employed to make peace an all-too-rare reality.

Attacking The Devil: Harold Evans and the Last Nazi War Crime Review for AFI Docs

Attacking The Devil: Harold Evans and the Last Nazi War Crime review for the Washington City Paper

Attacking The Devil tells the story of London’s Sunday Times Editor Harold Evans and his fight against the makers of the “morning sickness” drug thalidomide, which left 100,000 babies born in the ’50s and ’60s with severe deformities and caused nerve damage to nearly 500,000 adults. The film is a powerful testament to the importance of good investigative journalism: Sir Evans launched numerous such campaigns to effect changes that would have been unlikely or impossible without his journalistic intervention. His work was epic, both in scope and in the momentous ways in which it changed the status quo. The Distillers Company, the maker of thalidomide, refused to admit malfeasance or compensate the victims for the irreparable damage its drug had caused. Evans devoted space in the paper every day to reveal the company’s wrongdoing, fighting a legal injunction that prevented the discussion of any case under court consideration. Evans’ passion is palpable in this documentary, and it serves as a reminder that speaking truth to power is not an overnight process.

Of Men And War AFI Documentary Review

My review of Of Men And War for the Washington City Paper

The second feature film by French director Laurent Bécue-Renard (War-Wearied) offers an unprecedented and intimate look at PTSD and some of the war-ravaged men and women suffering from it. Set in the Pathway Home, a treatment facility in California for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the film benefits from its fly-on-the-wall approach, squarely turning its lens on the group therapy sessions and residents’ interactions with their families, which allows the soldiers to tell their own stories. They seem unable to extricate themselves from the war zone, forever held hostage and unable to unsee the horrors they’ve witnessed. They describe feeling “embarrassed, small, defective… crazy.” The degree of access granted the filmmaker is truly amazing, and it’s even more impressive considering the degree of trauma with which each of these soldiers is wrestling and the Herculean effort required of them to share something so antithetical to the “be stoic about it” military ethos. An unflinching exploration of the “collateral damage” of war trauma, the film poignantly illustrates that there is nothing collateral about it. Of Men And War is one of today’s most engrossing and gut-wrenching commentaries on the high cost of our recent military conflicts.

The Humble-Bumble Beginnings of a Bee-Loved Brand

My latest blog post for Ministers of Design

A little more than a week ago, the bearded beekeeper and co-founder of Burt’s Bees, Burt Shavitz, passed away. “Burt Shavitz, our co-founder and namesake, has left for greener fields and wilder woods,” the company wrote.

It all started with candles. Shavitz had a honey-making business in Maine when he teamed up with Roxanne Quimby in 1984, who used his leftover beeswax to make candles that she sold at a craft fair.

The candles were a hit — they made $200 at their first fair and $20,000 after a year, according to the company. The pair launched a business together, soon expanding to personal care products like lip balms and soaps.

The brand’s signature and best-selling product, its beeswax balm, was introduced in 1991.

Hold on…how did a bee-loving, business-hating Maine hippie start one of the most beloved cosmetics brands?  Burt Shavitz was not interested in lip balm or moisturizer and definitely not big business. His passions were bees, his golden retrievers, nature…

In the documentary Burt’s Buzz, Shavitz says, “There was no company. My bees were the company. My truck was the company. My chainsaw was the company.”

Then in the summer of 1984, he gave a hitchhiker named Roxanne Quimby a ride. What followed…well, a history of thumbs up and thumbs down. Quimby essentially created the business.

Shavitz and Quimby eventually parted ways and not happily, after the business moved from Maine to North Carolina and grew exponentially. In 1999, she bought him out for $130,000, according to The New Yorker. She later sold most of her share to a private equity firm for more than $140 million. She reportedly gave Shavitz $4 million. “If Mr. Shavitz had held onto the stake he traded to Quimby for $130,000, it would have been worth about $59 million,” the New York Times wrote in 2008.

Burt’s Bees was sold again to the Clorox Company for nearly a billion dollars in 2007. Today, the products are sold in over 50 countries. Shavitz was compensated for the use of his image on the label, and he was paid to make special appearances to promote the brand.

“In the long run, I got the land, and land is everything.  Money is nothing really worth squabbling about. This is what puts people six feet under. You know, I don’t need it.”

In his typically wry way, he commented on the company takeover, “Except for the fact that they’re from Clorox, they’re nice people.”

The reluctant face of Burt’s Bees was an intensely private man: “A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere.”

And this is the story of Burt, who made sharing the hard work of his bee friends some of his beeswax.

Chobani’s “Love This Life” Campaign Courts Controversy

My latest blog post for Ministers of Design

Chobani’s latest ad, part of their “Love This Life” campaign, is certainly high on the cheesy content (apropos for a dairy brand, no?). When I first started watching it, the message I got was “this poor soccer Mom has such few sensory enjoyments in life that she is supposed to be thrown into near-orgasmic paroxysms of delight upon the consumption of yogurt…in some exotic locale straight out of Eat, Pray, Love.” No, seriously–see for yourself. Yet, the “stunning reveal” at the end of the ad–that the ever-ubiquitous snoozing husband is, in fact, a wife is meant to somehow make this edgy!? Confusing, yes; controversial, hardly. It’s yogurt, for Pete’s sakes. Hardly transformative.

Yet, of all of the other “Love This Life” ads, I would say this one is probably the least confusing. Take a look at the 90-second anthem spot, created by Oppermann Weiss. “This is a modern American story,” Chobani CMO Peter McGuinness told Adweek. “It’s a family, and we don’t know what happened with them. Something happened that involved the kids. And then they work through it as a family. And they come out of it stronger and better and closer.” Ummm, OK…I would probably describe this more like a riff on Blue Valentine–a tinge Southern gothic and not even a smidgeon…yogurty. So, how is it that this ad is supposed to convince me to buy Chobani!?

“The point is, Chobani doesn’t see a pretend world—the world of most yogurt commercials. It sees the real world. And when viewers see the authentic, real-life moments in the ads, they may be more inclined to believe the realness of the brand.

It’s an approach that almost turns Chobani into a lifestyle brand—if you buy the lifestyle here, you well may buy the products, too.” Eureka! The so-called lifestyle brand–if I am able to relate to the “realness” and “authenticity” of the lifestyle portrayed in the ads, I am to immediately assume that also translates to Chobani’s “real” and “natural” products. Interesting.

What is a lifestyle brand, you might ask. Lifestyle Brands, associate themselves firmly with a particular way of life. They deliver strong social benefits through which a consumer will be able to subconsciously answer the question, “when I buy this brand, the type of people I relate to are…” They create a sense of belonging or disrupt the status quo. So, Nike aligns people who want to push their limits. Club Med connects those who wish to communicate; The Body Shop, those who value nature.

A lifestyle brand will almost always originally connect with young consumers and represent change. Brands such as Apple, Virgin, and Nike initially grew from a youthful community before convincing more people that adopting them would amplify their personal ethos or identity.

So, to get back to the same-sex couple in the ad. They are a part of “modern American stories.”

“For us, it’s why not [feature a same-sex couple]—not why,” said Chobani CMO Peter McGuinness. “There’s nothing new here, per se. Inclusion and equality has been and is foundational and fundamental to the company.”

Fair enough. In conclusion, gay couples are just as vulnerable to cheeziness and schmaltz, apparently. Sorry to be such a cynic, but see the ad and tell me that it is not cringe-inducingly saccharine (despite the seemingly low sugar content of that particular yogurt). I would dair-ily appreciate your thoughts.

One Cookie (Campaign) That Didn’t Crumble

My latest blog post for Ministers of Design

In last month’s issue of Real Simple magazine (my go-to source for D.I.Ying by household cleaners…kidding not kidding), I chanced upon an ad that grabbed my attention for a lot longer than a second–a true marketer’s dream, indeed. “First the cookie. Then taking on new adventures.” The picture underneath was of a blissfully in love African-American couple, who appeared to be riding a bicycle with a wicker basket in front. Idyllic; check. Perhaps the French country-side…or Portlandia would have been apropos settings.

Innocuous enough, yet I was thoroughly perplexed by this ad. What do cookies have to do with new adventures!? A confusion-causing conflation!

On a practical level, yes, one probably needs to fuel one’s body for new adventures. I, for one, however, would not plan my vacation adventures around the presence or lack thereof of cookies. Clearly, I am in the “I Threw It On The Ground” minority!

The cookie ad was for DoubleTree by Hilton hotels and it has yielded some pretty sweet results for the chain. DoubleTree has been giving a warm chocolate chip cookie to every guest upon check-in since 1986. “At DoubleTree by Hilton, we believe that no matter where you are or what you are doing, cookies have the power to make you smile. It’s the reason we’ve welcomed guests with a warm chocolate chip cookie for more than 25 years,” said John Greenleaf, global head, DoubleTree by Hilton.

The cookies are so popular that one can even order them online. For May 15, the National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (yes, there is such a holiday!), DoubleTree gave a cookie to anyone who visited a hotel, with or without a reservation.

Ketchum has been the PR brains behind this sweet reward-reaping program, generating an ever-evolving campaign that included things like a Cookie Careavan, which traveled country-wide and various impression-yielding hashtags like #cookiecare and “Where in The World is the DoubleTree Cookie?” Facebook campaign. In 2012, there was the “tell-me tree,” where people could tweet the things they most want to get when traveling using the #littlethings hashtag.

What is the confection connection? Why is this campaign so successful?Are cookies really that important to people when traveling!?

“It’s something that seems to transcend all cultures — a chocolate chip cookie,” according to John Greenleaf, the global head of DoubleTree. Consumers look at DoubleTree’s signature cookies as a symbol of the brand’s “care” culture.

No matter how poor or how superb a guest felt about a particular DoubleTree Hotel, s/he often talked about the cookies.

Apparently, this is one small touch that yielded no small crumbs for DoubleTree by Hilton.

True Story Film Review

My review of the film True Story

True Story, the debut of director Rupert Goold, is based on Michael Finkel’s 2005 memoir of the same name. Finkel was a star reporter for the New York Times, who quickly fell from grace and when it was discovered that a Sunday cover story he wrote on modern-day slavery was a little too loose with its details. Finkel (Jonah Hill) retreats to his hometown in Montana to regroup and attempt to rebuild his reputation and career, a feat that proves to be rather difficult. The proverbial “journalistic equivalent of a lottery ticket” falls into his lap: Christian Longo (James Franco), a fugitive accused of murdering his wife and three children, is apprehended in Mexico, where has been calling himself Mike Finkel of the New York Times. Fortuitous and strange, could Mike’s literary redemption come at such a sordid price?

That’s the question True Story attempts to thresh out. This is not a courtroom procedural, a cat-and-mouse game, or a CSI-episode-turned-film. If you are looking for a whodunit, this is not it. In fact, while in some ways, Edward Norton and Richard Gere’s cinematic relationship in Primal Fear is reminiscent of Finkel and Longo’s, this is not an exploration of “look how clever and deceitful sociopaths are.”

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Maybe True Story *is* about “the truth” and how elusive that actually is. As a character study, the film is incredibly compelling. James Franco’s acting is especially superb: in his tete-a-tetes with Mike, Franco is the very embodiment of the word “mercurial.” Forget two-faced–he’s three faced.  Polar opposite emotions literally flitter across his face every second. He’s chilling, sincere, introspective, alluring, repulsive, calculating, heartless… it is all there. In their push-and-pull relationship, it seems that both men are learning more about themselves, actually. We get the sense that the excuses Finkel offers to himself for why he lied in the story are as much of a sham as Longo’s. The film suggests that though the gravity of their transgressions is nowhere near the same caliber, both of them know a thing or two about being a pariah.

True Story explores the idea of culpability in a really interesting way. There is no doubt that Finkel, to a much lesser degree, has a bit of a narcissist in him, but the film really wants us to denounce his ambition and point to it as the proverbial cause of his downfall in a Shakespearean sense (e.g. his fatal character flaw). Yet, Finkel’s actions make a good bit of sense: faced with the prospect of never writing again, he latches on to the one story that someone Longo picks *him* to tell. There is the rub: both men are using each other and need each other. Longo needs to sow the seed of doubt about his guilt and Finkel needs a sensationalistic take on a story literally plugged from the headlines. He needs this “scoop” no less than Longo does.

The portrayal of the journalist in True Story suffers from the same wide-eyed aggrandizing that is ubiquitous in just about every film and TV show on the subject (heck, House of Cards, anyone?). We are supposed to sympathize with Finkel because he only fibbed a little on the details to make the story trenchant enough to make a difference in the lives of the children’s lives he covers. In other words, he does this out of noble motivations. Yet, it would have been no less impacting had it stuck to the truth. In a particularly ironic exchange between Longo and Finkel, Finkel asks Longo why he picked his name to use on the run. “Because he wanted to see what it was like to be Finkel,” he responds. Why not use any other more anonymous name? Well, because Finkel’s name is just that. What a jab to Finkel’s ego and a wry nod to the viewers! What’s in a name? Clearly, one is famous only when one is infamous. Nobody but the most die-hard acolyte would have recognized Finkel’s name.

The push-and-pull relationship between Finkel and Longo is incredibly compelling to watch. If one goes in with the anticipation of watching a character study rather than a crime thriller, True Story would ring true and engrossing.