Flat White

What’s woke this week

14 February 2020

3:00 PM

14 February 2020

3:00 PM

This week kids’ cartoons that will turn your little darlings into global capitalists, Big Brother policing of fashion faux pas, and theatre that can only be reviewed by people of colour have made a splash amongst the wokerati . Why should they be the only ones getting their knickers in a knot? 

Kiddie kapitalists 

What is it with ‘academics’ and kids’ cartoons? Not satisfied with last year’s tawdry traducing of the lovable SpongeBob Squarepants as a colonial racist, now they’re coming for the popular pups of Paw Patrol. 

Dr Liam Kennedy is an assistant professor at Kings University College, Ontario, with qualifications in criminology and sociology. His online bio tells us:  

Broadly, my research investigates and challenges social inequalities in the criminal justice system and sporting world. I seek to document how the ways we think, talk about, and practice crime, deviance, and punishment create anxiety, responsibilize individuals, and exclude large portions of the social body.

His latest research paper is Whenever there’s trouble, just yelp for help”: Crime, conservation, and corporatization in Paw Patrol.   

My theory that there must be something seriously wrong with any adult who would willingly submit to viewing hours and hours of this saccharine, too-good-to-be-true kiddie kitsch seems to be borne out by his conclusion that Paw Patrol a crew of puppy do-gooders who rescue people encourages complicity in a global capitalist system that produces inequalities and causes environmental harms. Which will obviously be the takeaway message for your toddler in a TV-induced trance. 

Specifically, he takes issue with the fact that ‘in this world politicians are presented as incompetent or unethical’. As opposed to the real world of Trump Derangement Syndrome, an impeachment circus and the Iowa caucuses. 

Another pearl-clutching observation of Kennedy’s is that in Paw Patrol crime is committed predominantly by literal outsiders and that wrongdoers are temporarily warehoused or forced to engage in hard labor. No allusions to crime in the US here at all. Perhaps Michael Bloomberg should be making a guest appearance. 

But at least Kennedy practices what he preaches. In the words of a true sociologist academic, Kennedy stated in a recent radio interview that his two-year-old son ‘has now internalized my feelings about the series and knows that we don’t in fact watch Paw Patrol in our house.’ 

I suppose SpongeBob isn’t welcome in the Kennedy household, either. 

Fashion faux farce 

Dior, Gucci and Katy Perry have all felt the opprobrium of woke Twitter fashion police over the last twelve months for racist transgressions ranging from blackface shoes and balaclavas to men’s cologne 

Now design label Prada has fallen foul of not just the bleating, tweeting brigade, but the New York City Commission of Human Rights. And in their ‘handbags at twenty paces’ stand-off, NYC’s very own Big Brother (or should that be Big Sister?) has emerged as the winner. Up until now Sapna V. Raj, the deputy commissioner of the organisation’s law enforcement bureau, has been most famous for outlawing ‘discrimination based on hair’. Bravo. 

More than a year ago a civil rights lawyer and Twitter user posted her outrage at what she saw as ‘blackface dolls and handbag adornments decorating the windows of Prada’s New York store. She subsequently lodged a formal complaint with the Commission.  

Why anyone would want to adorn their handbag with one of the ugly monkey sock puppet lookalikes is beyond the comprehension of any but the hardiest designer devotee but no matter. At the very least the trinkets demonstrated the maker’s inability to read the zeitgeist of a woke world constantly primed to pounce on anything with a whiff of eau de racism.  

This week the New York Times reported on the case, which has been under negotiation since early 2019.  Prada has reached a settlement with the commission that involves all the usual corporate mea culpa diversity concessions like sensitivity and ‘racial equity training for all staff, and the appointment of a diversity and inclusion officer, similar to Gucci’s undertakings after its own blackface fracas.  

But what is it about Prada’s settlement that pushes it into 1984 territory? The selection of Prada’s diversity officer will be subject to the commission’s approval, and in even more of a stretch, the diversity officer  will review  Prada’s designs before they are sold, advertised or promoted in any way in the United States.’ Yep, all of them. Every over-priced handbag, belt, pair of sunglasses, watch or ugly shoe. In addition, Miuccia Prada and her husband, the company’s CEO, based in Milan, will also be subject to the sensitivity training.  

The woke paradise of Oceania just keeps getting bigger.  

Bug Off

In Canada this week a new play opened at a Toronto theatre, which may initially seem unexceptional. The play, entitled Bug, is the brainchild of Yolanda Bonnell, who describes herself as a two-spirit,Ojibwe/South Asian performer and playwright’.  

For the uninitiated  I confess, I had to look this up two-spirit is: 

A modern, pan-Indian, umbrella term used by some Indigenous North Americans to describe Native people in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender (or other gender-variant) ceremonial role in their cultures.

Details about the play are a little thin but given the aforementioned, Bonnell’s passion for ‘decolonising theatre’, and one description of the play as ‘groundbreaking’, you’re probably getting the picture.  

But it’s not the subject matter we’re interested in here at the Speccie.  It’s Bonnell’s insistence that the play only be reviewed by ‘indigenous, black or other people of color’ that caught our eye. Bonnell’s statement includes: 

There is an aspect to cultural work — or in our case, artistic ceremony — which does not align with current colonial reviewing practices. In order to encourage a deeper discussion of the work, we are inviting critiques or thoughts from IBPOC folks only. There is a specific lens that white settlers view cultural work through and at this time, we’re just not interested in bolstering that view, but rather the thoughts and views of fellow marginalized voices and in particular Indigenous women.  

It would seem, though, that Bonnell isn’t averse to the handouts from colonial oppressors that keep her ‘artistic ceremony’ afloat. The major sponsors of Theatre Passe Muraille which is the developer and producer of the play include Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, a government agency and Canada’s leading grants foundation. 

Illustration: Twitter.

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