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Garth Brooks: Country Music’s Square, Liberal Dad

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Garth Brooks last released an album of original material thirteen years ago. This week, with “Man Against Machine,” the dormant king of pop country returns to a different world. Nobody but Taylor Swift seems to sell records anymore, in any genre. (Brooks has sold more than a hundred and thirty million in twenty-five years). And country music has changed in several rather contradictory ways: it has become more musically innovative and inclusive at the same time that, lyrically and thematically, it has grown, in large part, more conservative and tribal. A hit song like this year’s “This Is How We Roll,” by the duo Florida Georgia Line, with a cameo by another current megastar, Luke Bryan, may sound like any other modern, genre-busting pop song. But the lyrics—“Yeah, we’re proud to be young / We stick to our guns / We love who we love and we wanna have fun”—identifies its singers as defiant members of an insular and unyielding American subgroup, and you’re either in or you’re out.

Brooks, then, who is fifty-two, is doubly out of step. His music sounds much as it did before he entered semi-retirement, in 2001—pop country, but at this point your father’s version of it: stadium rock and piano ballads, marked by a bit of fiddle or slide guitar, and with no hip-hop influences to be found. His cultural politics have also become old-fashioned, in that they remain as broadly progressive and welcoming as they were back in the early nineties. In 1990, Brooks name-checked John Kennedy and Martin Luther King in the video for one his first singles, “The Dance.” In 1992, with “We Shall Be Free,” he got country fans to sway along to such earnest proclamations as:

When we’re free to love anyone we choose
When this world’s big enough for all different views
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew
Then we shall be free.

That song, co-written with Stephanie Davis, was, according to Brooks, inspired by the riots that year in Los Angeles, and it remains the most famous mention of gay rights in a country song. It was a hit, though not his biggest, and Brooks later noted that “We Shall Be Free” was the most controversial song that he’d ever released—which says something about his cautious approach to his own career, and a lot about the politics of country music.

By now, Brooks’s big-tent idealism—cheesy and vague, to be sure, but sincerely and exuberantly expressed—feels like a relic of the early nineties, of a time when Michael Jackson sang “Black or White,” and it felt as though real progress might be just a catchy pop song away. Yet here is Brooks, in late 2014, on “People Loving People,” the first single from the new album, turning back the clock to what seems like a pre-modern age before irony, singing, “People loving people, that’s the enemy of everything that’s evil.” Country music’s liberal conscience has returned to the stage.

It’s odd to think of Garth Brooks as a political artist. His music has always seemed too polished and pleasant to hang anything on it. Throughout his reign in the nineties, Brooks was both celebrated and maligned as the singer who introduced country music to a wide national, and then global, audience. Like all pop supernovas, his success was owed in part to his singularity, and in part to his broad, flat appeal. Millions of fans can’t be wrong, but at the same time, the object of such widespread affection can’t really be doing anything all that interesting. In 1991, the critic David Browne wrote of Brooks, “with his meat-and-potatoes image, goony grin and virtuous all-American values, he is the Kevin Costner of country.” The old knocks about Brooks still hold today. Jon Caramanica, in a mostly admiring but caveat-laden review in the Times, describes the new album as “grand scale and hammy, in places eye-rollingly schlocky and in others outrageously moving.”

We all have certain pop stars whose worst qualities only endear them to us more. For me, it is Brooks in his full, earnest, bombastic, schmaltzy, show-stopping glory: posing ridiculously on album covers in ugly shirts, striding around onstage, sweaty and a bit out of breath, serenading cancer patients. Only Brooks (or maybe George Strait) could sell a pun-filled honky-tonk number called “Rodeo and Juliet,” with lyrics like: “Into our scene of fair Verona / rides a queen from Arizona / the fairest in a pair of blue stud jeans.” Only Brooks could make the May-December affair between a young female construction worker and her hardscrabble older co-worker in “She’s Tired of Boys” seems anything other than unbearably creepy. And certainly only Brooks could make the city of Tacoma (in a song of the same name) seem like a iconic final destination in a full-flame torch song about a man out-driving his heartbreak.

Brooks, an Oklahoma native, won fame in 1989, at the age of twenty-seven, with his self-titled first album. A string of best-selling albums after that put him on a first-name basis with the American public. In 1991, Brooks released what will always be his signature song, “Friends in Low Places,” written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee, a twangy, rollicking party song that is best played in a bar, and sounds as if it were recorded in one. Many of his other biggest hits are about the usual country things: cowboys and the rodeo, new love and broken hearts. And most of them are exceptionally fun, done with a wink and Brooks’s version of a light touch. But it is songs like “The Dance” and “The River”— fable-like ballads with simple morals that somehow manage to work at both weddings and funerals—that are better examples of what made Brooks so massively successful. They are all sentiment with no specificity. These songs could be about anyone, so a wide swathe of listeners thought that they were about them. Brooks led sing-alongs in stadiums across America, but he also played sold-out shows in Europe, and was surprised when everyone in the crowd seemed to know the words.

Purists at the time lamented Brooks’s influence, and sneered that the cowboys he sang about meant little to him, and even less to the suburban fans listening in their cars. Brooks felt the sting. “If in the next five years things go south for country music, I’ll probably get the blame for it,” he told Billboard, in 1995. In interviews he was as likely to cite James Taylor and Billy Joel as his musical heroes as he was to pray at the altar of Hank Williams or George Jones. He discussed his career in relation to singers like Michael Bolton and Whitney Houston. He praised the lyrical sensibility of Hootie & the Blowfish. In 1999, he even tried making his own pop album, infamously transforming himself into an alter ego named Chris Gaines, complete with a dopey haircut, eyeliner, a soul patch, and a voice that seriously stretched the upper limits of his range. Brooks wasn’t the first country singer to ascend to pop stardom—Dolly Parton and others cracked the crossover code before he did—but he ushered in, for better or worse, a new generation of artists who wore their country lightly: Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and the Australian guitar-rocker Keith Urban. Even Darius Rucker, the lead singer of Garth-approved Hootie & the Blowfish, would eventually become a country star.

Yet just as country music seemed to be moving beyond the cultural notes of its past—becoming, depending on your take, either broadminded and modern or denuded and obsolete—the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, led Nashville to circle the wagons. In 2002, Toby Keith sang lustily about America putting a boot in the ass of its enemies on the song “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American).” A year later, he helped run the Dixie Chicks, one of the biggest acts of the previous decade, out of town after the group’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, insulted President Bush while onstage in London. Around the same time, Darryl Worley sang “Have You Forgotten?,” a rabble-rousing propaganda song that argued the Bush Administration’s position that the war in Iraq was a just response to the 9/11 attacks. Country radio continued to air plenty of tunes about love and whiskey, but you heard more about guns and God, too. Some stations started playing the national anthem every day at noon; Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be an American” enjoyed a revival.

The overt political fervor eventually dissipated, but the genre as a whole had moved back toward its foundational identity. Barack Obama could have been referring to the protagonist of a country hit at the time when, in 2008, he made the gaffe of speaking honestly about the white voters he was struggling to win over: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” These days, the genre’s stars sing less about politics than about a de-facto political identity: Jack Daniels and Conway Twitty are the boxes that get checked by artists trying to shore up their all-American bona fides. People are more likely to praise the red-meat conservative Hank Williams, Jr., than they are his populist father—and nobody name-checks Garth Brooks.

Brooks sat out the rightward lurch. He retired following the release of his ninth album, “Scarecrow,” in 2001, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family. And so it was never suggested that he should sing a song about the might of the American military or the rightness of its international adventures. Safely in retirement (he popped up with live shows from time to time) and with all those millions sold, he could have his picture taken with Obama in the Oval Office, in 2010, without worrying too much about what his fans might think. And a year later, when other celebrity endorsers of the President were jumping ship, he could say, “I love him to death and I fully support him and I just wish him well because it’s got to be hell in that office.”

He sings about God on the new album, and people on the Internet this week have taken special joy in mocking his new song, “Mom,” written by Don Sampson and Wynn Varble, in which God comforts a soon-to-be-born child about to enter the scary world. He also covers other durable conservative tropes such as the Greatest Generation, hard-working families, and a time when Americans still made things—but, throughout, he does what he’s always done, which is to sound like an exceedingly nice guy who just wants to make people happy. He seems trustworthy and kind and open and generous and infectiously, if naïvely, exuberant about the unifying possibilities of simple, straightforward pop music. On the album’s title track, “Man Against Machine,” the blue-collar hero isn’t some Joe Sixpack, but the African-American tall-tale legend John Henry. On “Cowboys Forever,” he manages to suggest that the spirit of America’s old-time ropers and rustlers is a shared cultural heritage that anyone, and everyone, might safely claim. Such borrowings and revisions are, at best, a stretch, but Brooks has often managed to make hokum sound like good, open-hearted truth.

Brooks is not the only country artist in recent years to prod at the practical implications of the genre’s cultural narrowness, by which I mean its enduring whiteness. Compared to Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist,” a much derided though sincere duet with LL Cool J, or Eric Church’s “Homeboy,” about white appropriation of hip-hop culture, a song like “People Loving People,” is not a particularly sophisticated mediation on race in modern America. Yet in the world of contemporary country, which is ruled by kids with escapist fantasies, and grownups eager to seem young, Brooks seems fatherly and proudly unhip. He is in a unique position to do some lecturing—to take a leading voice in the genre’s current debates about race, gender, and cultural authenticity.

But there may simply be a limit to what he is willing or able to say, and, judging by his new album, this second act will not be one of reinvention as a culture warrior. Country’s most famous liberal voice has also always been one of its more conventional ones—progressive populism reduced to something more like popularity. For years, Brooks has asked, Can’t we all just get along? By which, he may mean only, Can’t we all sing along?

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Burn and Rave

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I’ve been floated up to the geriatric psych ward and I’m not happy. When I was younger I didn’t sweat working with old people. Back then old age and death seemed impossibly far away. Now, with my fiftieth birthday in sight, the demented elderly chattering around me are a reminder that the clock is ticking.

“I’m looking for my keys,” a woman says to me, her voice quavering. “If I can’t find them I can’t go home.”

“Okay, Gertrude,” I say, taking the woman by the arm. “Let’s go look for them.” There are no keys. Gertrude is sun downing – the agitation many people with dementia and Alzheimer’s suffer when daylight fades.

“I know someone stole my keys,” Gertrude hisses. “You can’t trust the people around here.”

“Let’s keep looking.”

Gertrude and I walk up and down the dayroom, looking under every table and in every drawer. Outside the window the setting sun is flaring magnificently as it makes way for night.

“Are these your keys?” I say, pointing to a plastic knife and fork.

“You found them!” Gertrude says, clutching them to her breast. “Thank you.”

“All part of the friendly service.” I’m not above trickery.

“Now let me go home,” the old lady says.

I shake my head. “I’m sorry Gertrude. I cannot do that.”

“Let me out of here! I have to cook my husband dinner!’

Gertrude has forgotten her husband’s dead and is becoming agitated. To calm her I sit with her and hold her hand. Looking at the patient bracelet dangling from her thin wrist I see her birthdate was November 1914. Gertrude is one hundred years old. Born at the start of The Great War, she was my age when Eisenhower was President. If I reach the century mark my daughter will be fifty-five. One day she might visit me in a place like this, tricking me with fake keys.

The unit is noisy, filled with confused old people complaining about pains and indignities real and imagined. Barely rising above the din, an AARP commercial plays on the television, showing robust and impossibly good looking elderly people singing and dancing. The director of this slick commercial decided to avoid the reality of ageing clamoring angrily around me. I guess decrepitude and adult diapers put a real damper on eternal life fantasies. But let’s face it; even death is packaged with ruthless commercial efficiency. Pre-plan your funeral, buy insurance for your final expenses and, for God’s sake, die a “good death.” Don’t make a fuss.

What the hell is a good death? The patients around me must be failing in this regard. They’re not dispensing quaint tidbits of wisdom or letting go with quiet dignity. They’re pissing in their pants, tormented by failing minds and bitching about the food. They’re going out kicking and screaming.

Perhaps that’s they way it should be, not the narcotized version the media tries peddling to us. “Man is not only the victim of pain and the progressive deterioration of his body,” the Fathers of Vatican II wrote. “He is also and more deeply, tormented by the fear of final extinction…. he rebels against death.”

I’m on record saying I’m not afraid of death, but watching my daughter come out of her mother’s womb changed all that. Watching new life catching fire cast my own life into shadow. That day I realized with absolute certainty that I was going to die. And as I held Natalie for the first time the words of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem thundered in my ears.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Oblivion suddenly became terrifying. And how, I thought to myself, could this new life in my arms ever, ever fade away? In my heart of hearts I knew it was impossible. The words of the church fathers I once studied took on new meaning. “But the instinctive judgment of (man’s) heart is right when he shrinks from, and rejects, the idea of a total collapse and definitive end of his own person.” On that day my gut told me Natalie would not end. I will not end. Maybe those guys in pointy hats were onto something.

Of course I have no idea what this all means. I haven’t dusted off my old breviary and started going to church. But I know if Natalie visits me when I’m a hundred I’ll probably be an old crank fighting to hold on until the end. That’s how we’re built. That’s what it means to be human. Don’t worry about dying a good death.That’s all pre-packaged bullshit. You’ll die how you die. What comes afterwards? I don’t know. There’s no law against hoping for something more.

Holding Gertrude’s hand I remember Dylan Thomas was also born in 1914. Maybe he’s drinking double whiskeys in Elysium right now, enthralling the Seraphim with his dramatic Welsh brogue. That’d be hilarious. Suddenly I’m glad to be among these old people, listening to them burn and rave as day draws to a close.

“Rage,” I say, silently joining their chorus. “Rage against the dying of the light.”

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This Week in Misogyny | Persephone Magazine

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There was a ton of great writing about Bill Cosby this week, and because there needs to be balance in the universe or some shit, a corresponding amount of truly heinous commentary. Let’s dive on in. (As usual, trigger warnings for pretty much everything apply.)

On Bill Cosby

I can’t possibly round up everything that was written about Bill Cosby’s rape allegations, but if I missed anything particularly awesome/heinous, share it in the comments.

  • Model Janice Dickinson revealed that Cosby drugged and raped her in 1982.
  • Cosby refused to answer questions about the allegations during an NPR interview on Saturday.
  • On Monday, one of his lawyers issued a statement that the “discredited allegations” were untrue and that he and his team had no further comment. However, his legal team has made several contradictory statements over the years.
  • NBC, Netflix, and TV Land have all cancelled or indefinitely postponed planned projects with Cosby.
  • Here’s his 1969 comedy routine about wanting to get his hands on some Spanish Fly to slip in girls’ drinks, both as a 13-year-old and as an adult.
  • Ta-Nahesi Coates reflects on his decision to gloss over the allegations when he did a profile on Cosby’s “morality” back in 2008, because though he believed the allegations were true, he didn’t feel like he had enough proof as a journalist to make it part of his article.
  • Roxane Gay talks about how The Cosby Show was important to her when she was a kid, but that we can’t let our fondness for his work cloud our judgement of what he did.
  • In case you need a reminder, here are some of the other scumbags in Hollywood.
  • Bill Cosby’s defenders include Rush Limbaugh and Howard Kurtz from Fox News, which is always a pretty clear sign that you’re very very wrong.
  • CNN’s Don Lemon actually asked Joan Tarshis why she didn’t just bite Cosby’s penis when he forced her to perform oral sex on him, and said, “you know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn’t want to do it.” Fuck you, dude. At least Twitter had some fun mocking his “reporting” style.

An update to #shirtstorm: Matt Taylor apologized for his stupid decision to wear a shirt with nearly-naked ladies on it for the landing of the Philae probe on a comet. And because people are terrible, some of the women who pointed out that his shirt is reflective of the atmosphere that can make women feel unwelcome in STEM workplaces wound up getting death threats on Twitter, and people are freaking out about a “feminist lynch mob.” Which is a totally proportional response to telling him his shirt was stupid and that it was kinda fucked that nobody he worked with suggested that he change clothes. And it’s also telling that the people who are so upset that he got criticized would never speak up for a woman whose appearance was criticized.

Taylor Lianne Chandler, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ (alleged) girlfriend, revealed this week on Facebook that she was born intersex and that while her parents gave her a male name at birth, she’d always felt like a girl and adopted a female name when she was a teenager. After undergoing corrective surgery, she changed her name again so she could start over without being associated with some pretty awful shit she’d gone through. Unfortunately, most of the headlines about her revelation look a hell of a lot like this:

Which is fucked up because she specifically said, “I was never a man, never lived as a man” in her post and because talking about it isn’t an “admission” like it’s something she should feel guilty about.

Terrible People of the Week

  • Indonesia’s police force, which requires women who want to become police to undergo a “virginity test” that doesn’t actually prove whether they’ve had sex and is probably more to discourage women from signing up. (Along with being a virgin, female cops have to be unmarried and age 22 or younger. Some recruitment drive.)
  • House Republicans, for giving 20 of 21 committee chairs for the upcoming congressional session to men (and the one they gave to Rep. Candice Miller is the Committee on House Administration, which basically just keeps the House running smoothly and by one account is the second-least lucrative committee). And 19 of those men are white (Rep. Devin Nunes is Portuguese).
  • House Democrats, who are refusing to let Rep. Tammy Duckworth vote by proxy for the House Democratic Caucus leadership positions, because if they make an exception for her, everyone else will want accommodations too and they don’t want to deal with the hassle. Know why she can’t vote in person? She’s eight months pregnant and her doctor ordered her not to travel. Way to be the party that cares about working women, y’all.
  • Texas State Sen. Donna Campbell, for reintroducing a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ employees and customers (a nearly identical bill she sponsored in 2013 managed to freak out politicians on both sides of the aisle once they realized that broadly allowing anything in the guise of “religious liberty” could backfire spectacularly because different people have different religious beliefs).
  • Uber, for threatening a female journalist who criticized them.
  • The Uber driver who told a cancer patient she deserved to be sick, just because she’d cancelled a ride request one minute after making it because she realized she needed to run back into the hospital to grab her scarf.
  • Paul Elam (of A Voice for Men) and Tom Golden, the MRA douchebags who complained that women destroy workplaces because they come in with their vaginas and make men change the way they’ve always done things. Though their argument does raise some questions. Is the man-destroying power solely stored in the vagina? What about transwomen; are they more or less dangerous? And what about transmen’s vaginas; are they dangerous too?
  • Dean Esmay, another Voice for Men idiot, who said that no one wants to work for female bosses because they’re bitches, but it isn’t sexist to say so because women (supposedly) don’t want to work for women either.
  • Libertarians, for willfully denying that rape culture exists.
  • Nick Conrad, a BBC radio host, who said that men get so “whipped up into a bit of a storm” at the prospect of sex that it’s hard for them to stop if a woman tells them to, therefore women are partly to blame for rape.
  • Paul Chappell, a California pastor who compared women who have sex before marriage to “filthy dishrag[s].”
  • The Chicago hospital that accidentally miscoded the rape exam of one of their own sexual assault forensic nurses (which should have been covered by insurance or a state program for assault victims) and then kept sending her bills and threatened to report her to a collections agency and ruin her credit score.
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District, for arguing in court that a girl who was statutorily raped by a teacher several years ago when she was only 13 or 14 was mature enough to consent and that she was only suing the district for negligence because she wanted money.
  • Blue Cross, for refusing to cover the nearly $1 million hospital bill of one of their policyholders who unexpectedly gave birth more than three months prematurely while visiting Hawaii from Canada; they claim the mother had a pre-existing condition.
  • The Florida Dillard’s that put up a sign reading, “Dear Santa, This year please give me a big fat bank account and a slim body. Please don’t mix those two up like you did last year. Thanks.” in the girls’ department.
  • Cleuci de Oliveira and Jezebel, for saying Saartjie Baartman was “the original booty queen” and then going on to hideously misrepresent her story in a whole lot of racist ways.

Hahahahaha, after getting kicked out of Australia last week, Julien Blanc was denied entrance to the UK this week. Sucks to suck, broseph. And the timing was pretty much perfect.

BAMFs of the Week

  • Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, for trolling GamerGaters by asking them to write up a non-biased account of the movement that would actually meet Wikipedia’s site standards.
  • The Manhattan DA’s office, for pledging $35 million to the Joyful Heart Foundation’s End the Backlog program to process untested rape kits around the country.
  • Misty Copeland is playing the leads in Swan Lake with the Washington Ballet in April!!

A tip of the hat to Karl Stepanovic, the Australian morning show host who wore the same cheap suit almost every day for a year to see if anyone would notice and criticize him the way his female cohost got criticized over what she wore. (No one noticed.)

The MTA will launch a campaign in January to tell men to stop taking up extra seats for their balls while riding NYC’s subways.

Study Break

  • Half of the teenagers who commit suicide in El Salvador are pregnant at the time of their death. The nation has a total ban on abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest, two-thirds of reported rape victims are under the age of 18, pregnant teens are frequently ostracized, 11% of illegal abortions prove to be fatal, and those who survive face jail time if authorities find out (and even sometimes if they have miscarriages).
  • An unexpected side effect of Ebola fears in Sierra Leone is an anecdotal rise in teen pregnancies, either because there’s nothing else to do with schools closed or because they’re engaging in “transactional sex” for food or other favors.
  • The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network surveyed junior high and high school students in 29 states to see how they ranked so far as LGBT students experiencing harassment and assault. Alabama ranked worst for verbal harassment, with 87% of respondents saying they’d been taunted for their sexuality, but even in the best-rated state, Massachusetts, the number was 58%. Physical harassment rates were lower, but several states reached nearly 50%. Rates of physical assault ranged from 5% (Connecticut) to 28% (Alabama).
  • A study of Harvard Business School graduates found that it wasn’t necessarily having kids that held women back from advancing in their careers, but their husbands’ expectations that their careers were more important than their wives’.
  • A small survey of ten police officers in one police force uncovered that officers frequently assumed rape accusations were fake and tried to undermine the credibility of the victim if they thought they were unlikely to prove their case.
  • Very cool — how spaceflight affects men’s and women’s bodies differently.

Recommended Reading

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Douchebag Decree: Uber | Bitch Media

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douchebag decree banner

Here’s the good news about this week’s Uber fiasco: billion dollar corporations actually care what journalists say about them. 

As for the bad news, there’s plenty of it. For one, it turns out that personal taxi company Uber employees track the location of cars and customers.  This revelation came up during reports about how an Uber senior executive, Emil Michael, suggested hiring a team to dig up dirt on critics of Uber to combat recent stories about the company’s  sexist coprorate culture. He outlined his plan at a New York dinner among high-profile company such as actor Ed Norton and publisher Ariana Huffington. It involved spending “a million dollars” to hire four opposition researchers and four journalists to dig into the personal lives and families of reporters like PandoDaily editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy.

Unfortunately for Uber, an unnamed BuzzFeed editor was invited to the dinner. And Uber failed to mention the dinner should be considered off the record. Presto, more bad press for Uber

an ad for uber with a man stepping out a car and the line "anything is possible."Anything is possible... even digging up dirt on journalists. 

The company is now investigating its top New York executive for tracking a Buzzfeed reporter without her permission, but these are far from the first problems with Uber’s culture. Uber’s “bad-boy” CEO Travis Kalanick has been known for disregarding regulations when it comes to the success of his company. He flouted Taxi & Limousine Commission regulations in New York until the company was finally forced to discontinue taxi service in the city, to which he threw an angsty teenager-worthy fit. In Boston and D.C., he pushed through city resistance by crowdsourcing public support. The company even hired campaign managers to aid in their fight against the big, bad preexisting taxi industry. He’s hired teams to poach drivers from competitors like Lyft, complete with burner phones and credit cards.  Uber is facing outrage over surge pricing, where rates can more than quadruple during peak hours. And not long after boasting that Uber’s drivers can make up to $90,000 annually, Kalanick announced excitedly that self-driven cars (and with them, a much more efficient minimization of costs, of course) are in Uber’s future. Drivers won’t be losing quite the income the company boasts, however. The number of weekly hours required to meet that sum is upwards of 100

Even more disturbing than cutthroat business tactics and a disregard for the law is the culture of misogyny promoted in Uber. Especially by Kalanick himself, who has called the company “boober” because his position has been so successful at getting him laid. Or let’s look at the time that, as part of a promotion, Uber’s Lyon office partnered with an app featuring lingerie-clad models called “Avions de Chasse.” The promotion promised one of these “hot chicks” as your driver for a glorious 20 minutes. An Uber blog post announced, “Who said women couldn’t drive?” (it was then quickly removed, but never addressed). Or the time a driver was charged with “kidnap for the purpose of sexual assault” after bringing a drunk female passenger to a motel room for the night. Or the time a driver told this journalist she had “fantastic tits.”

As Sarah Lacy pointed out, a culture of misogyny at most gigantic corporations is one thing. A culture of misogyny in a gigantic corporation that leaves its employees responsible for ferrying around women at all hours of the day and night rises to the level of dangerous douchebaggery. Uber has created a culture that condones a lack of respect and safety for female drivers and passengers, a culture that makes it all the more likely that a driver will think he can get away with taking a drunk female passenger to a motel for the night. Of course, traditional cab drivers can harass people, too. But Uber is a software company that simply connects drivers with riders and arranges the rides through their app. The accountability that exist for cabbies through licensing and training does not exist for Uber. And this lack of regulation poses, and has already proven to be, a serious threat to safety, specifically the safety of women.

This is where journalism comes in. Journalists like Sarah Lacy have worked to expose Uber’s arrogance, misogyny, and disregard for safety, holding Uber accountable for the things its PR team would rather sweep under the rug—or, more fittingly, delete from its history. Emil Michael’s threat of a smear campaign that aims for the target’s family and personal life is undoubtedly terrifying, but also a resounding pat on the back for journalists everywhere who call out big corporations and corrupt CEOs. Exposing the truth has power, and Uber’s attempt at a threat is proof that bad press by good reporters gets under the skin of the people in charge.

Read more Bitch Douchebag Decrees, including a rant against Hobby Lobby.

Sarah Hansell is a Portland, OR freelancer and self-proclaimed book nerd. You can follow her @sjhansell

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VIDEO: First Look - Teaser Trailer for Disney's CINDERELLA, Coming in 2015

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Below, check out a teaser trailer for Disney's CINDERELLA, hitting theaters on March 13, 2015. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film stars Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter
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#MyHungerGames: My Story Of Poverty, And Why The Hashtag Is So Important

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This week the penultimate Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay: Part 1, will hit theaters across the country. It will undoubtedly make a lot of money, and it’s already swathed in media buzz. The Hunger Games book series is popular for clear reasons: Young Adult (YA) dystopian fiction is a box office staple now, and Jennifer Lawrence is beloved by critics and ticket-buyers alike. But more crucial than the Hollywood mechanics of it all is what lies at this series’ center: The Hunger Games resonates in part because it hits at the very human heart of the oppression of poverty. There’s a gap between this film’s marketing and its resonance, and it’s a very human gap.

The Hunger Games is a deeply political story. Mockingjay alone raises questions about reasonable force in wartime and how we use heroes to manipulate the masses — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Young adult movies and superhero franchises often grapple with these kinds of issues. But these movies hit closer to home than your average franchise fare, especially in a time and in a country that is so heavily afflicted with income inequality — and so unwilling to have a real conversation about it.

One of my earliest memories takes place in the car where we used to sleep. I was three. My mother, my 14-year-old brother, and I were living out of a Chevy LUV with a camper shell. My mother would park it next to a southeast Portland playground at night, and so my memories of this time of the three of us living cramped together are unsettlingly pleasant ones: I got to wake up to a 3-year-old’s dream, a jungle gym all to myself at dawn. When you’re a kid, it can be easy not to notice what’s missing around you — you haven’t collected anything to compare it to. The people responsible for you will shield you for as long as they can, even as they’re worrying about where their next paycheck – and your next meal – will be coming from. I didn’t realize the gravity of my family’s situation until we found ourselves without a home again a decade later.

It’s hard to explain to people who didn’t live it what growing up in poverty is like. American culture carries a taboo around discussing the realities of money, possibly because it’s a very slippery slope from there to class. In a country that believes in its own foundational myths about equality, and in the possibility – no, guarantee – of transcending class barriers through hard work and sheer grit, and where a statistically impossible proportion of the population identifies as middle class, we don’t like to talk about class as a barrier. And yet.

It’s been two decades since I last lived in a car, but my mother has found herself there again. I’d take a guess and say that it’s rare that students spend their days thinking about where their teachers sleep at night, but in the case of a handful of vocational students in the Pacific Northwest, the answer is on two thin twin mattresses in the back of a van, nestled in a rest stop off the I-5. The reasons she gives for her current situation provide her three kids with no comfort, but they’re hers to have: Months of job searching yielded nothing closer to home and the nightly commute is too far, the gas too much; her job is too unstable and too low-paying to afford an apartment closer to work. She has a real bed on the weekends, she swears. But four nights a week there she is, curled up in that small steel space. During the day she teaches Medical Assisting to a group of people who will have just as much trouble finding and keeping a job as my mother has. She works hard; her students adore her. It’s not enough. There are some problems too big, too entrenched, too systemic, for individuals to solve on their own.

It’ll be winter soon. My mother tells me to stay warm, but I’m more concerned about her. I think about the bitterness of that cold that cuts through me when I climb into my car in the morning before work. Then I think about sleeping in that cold. I wonder if one day I’ll get a call telling me that the cops had to cut through the frost coating the locks to get to her body. I worry, but it’s hard to speak up when people have been trained not to listen.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s even a thing it’s possible to escape, on levels both psychological and societal.

For many of us, The Hunger Games is personal, not only because we love the writing or the heroine, but because we live under Capitol-like policies ourselves. We live in a culture defined by class divisions, and by an unwillingness to talk honestly, let alone remedy, those divisions. For us, The Hunger Games are not about box office takes or marketing tie-ins with Doritos and Subway (two particularly perverse corporate choices on the part of Lionsgate, who are already making millions on a movie about hunger).

The marketing for The Hunger Games isn’t personal, but this has the power to be a very personal franchise — and a very communal one. We can fill in the gaps — the hundreds of millions of dollars surrounding the Hunger Games franchise does not have to be the prevailing narrative. We can make it our narrative. We can use our voices. We can tell our stories. We can let the world know that this is real. Tell your story — use social media, talk to your friends, take whatever platform you can. From student loans to the minimum wage and deficits based on factors like race and gender, every reality, big and small, matters.

We can explain to the world why this narrative means so much.

These are #MyHungerGames. What are yours?

Alanna Bennett is a pop culture writer. She got her start here at The Mary Sue and is also a writer over at Bustle. You can find more of her writing here and watch her rant endlessly in realtime here.

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