Utahns Strip Down to Break Stereotypes
If you were to associate underwear with Utah in any way, it would probably be a vague recollection of once learning something about Mormons wearing church-mandated underthings. (If you didn’t know this tidbit, please accept our appologies for introducing you to an underlying truth in the world of organized religions: they care about what’s in their practitioners’ pants.)
On September 24, over 3,000 Utahns clad in naught but their skivvies jogged through the streets of Salt Lake City on a two-mile run to the steps of the capitol building. Nate Porter, a local nightclub manager, organized the so-called Undie Run “to change Utah [and] to make this state lighten up once and for all,” he told local news stations. “I think so many people have all these misconceptions about [people from Utah] because the angry, uptight ones are so vocal.” With the New York Times recently running an article about the inanity of Utah’s LDS-inspired liquor laws, the Mormon Church playing a well-known role in backing Prop 8 (and later throwing a gay couple off of their temple grounds for sharing a public kiss), and state senator Chris Buttars calling a bill he disagreed with a “black baby” mid-legislative session in 2008, it’s hard not to think of Utah as a state of stunning natural beauty populated by stunningly conservative blowhards.
The run set a Guinness World Record for the largest number of people in their underwear running together (smashing the previous record of 550). In all seriousness, though, being a Utahn myself, I appreciate this attempt to show a different side of our state. Especially when that side includes the colorfully adorned backsides of so many of my fellow citizens (including several friends who described the run as a rollicking good time).
Participant Keri Sanders said, “it seemed like a ton of fun to just be silly and be a little bit overt about saying, ‘Utah please let down your hair. Please don’t take yourself so seriously.’” Though the aim of the run itself was to shake up Utah’s conservative culture and had no explicit political message, many of the runners also painted their bodies with messages of love and equality in protest of the conservative LDS church’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage.
For those who find this wildly out of character for a state that’s supposed to be red as the devil, think again. Salt Lake City is actually a liberal oasis in the middle of the state, complete with citywide recycling programs and a hip democratic mayor (I see you, Ralph Becker). In fact, the last time the city elected a Republican mayor was in 1972. Plop yourself down in the middle of Salt Lake and you’ll have a hard time differentiating it from any other midsized metropolitan area (although its general cleanliness and happy valley-esque aura of safety might give it away). Nate Porter summed up these frustrations succinctly when he told local news, “I am so sick of hearing all the crazy things Utah is known for, like the liquor laws, and don't even get me started on Prop. 8. I want to show a more interesting side of Utah.” And show it these undie runners did. Hopefully I’ll be reporting from the frontlines of Undie Run 2012, which is already scheduled for next August, but until then all I can say is, Utah, you have done me proud.
Cupcakes Sprinkled with Controversy
Last week, the Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) hosted the “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” offering prices based on the race and gender of customers. The Facebook event page listed prices for men:“White/Caucasian: $2.00, Asian/Asian American: $1.50, Latino/Hispanic: $1.00, Black/African American: $.75, Native American: $.25”--Women received a standard$.25 off of their race’s price.
The controversial event shot the student body into an uproar. The initial “satirical version” of the event was replaced by a less offensive description which explained that the bake sale was a protest of Senate Bill 185 and affirmative action. However, the Associated Students, Berkeley’s student government, still held an emergency town hall two days prior to the sale and passed “A Bill in Support of Respectful ASUC Student Group Conduct,” which “condemns the use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness by any student group” threatening “[t]o revoke the funding of any group found discriminatory.”
The day before the bake sale, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau sent out a campus-wide e-mail urging reflection on how words and actions affect the community. “Freedom of speech is not properly exercised without taking responsibility for its impact,” wrote Birgeneau. “Taking that responsibility does not negate the freedom; it brings an enhanced humanity to it.”
In a letter posted on the group’s website, BCR’s president Shawn Lewis said that the bake sale’s purpose was to protest proposed state legislation mandating affirmative action in university admissions. He writes, “We agree that the event is inherently racist but that is the point.”Despite objections, the BCR held their bake sale as planned the following Tuesday. The university has not punished the Republican group.
Senate Bill 185 passed May 26, and sponsored by CaliforniaState Senator Ed Hernandez, amends education code to require state universities to “ consider race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, [and] geographic origin” when making admissions decisions. It’s a response to Proposition 209, a 1996 ballot initiative that eliminated affirmative action practices throughout California. The California Supreme Court had voted 6-1 in favor of Proposition 209’s constitutionality as recently as August 2010, and a previous bill mirroring Senate Bill 185 was vetoed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R.).
Hernandez credits Prop 209 for the low number of minority students enrolled in state college and universities. On his website he says,“We have seen the damage done by Proposition 209, and it is time we cut away those provisions that keep qualified students from pursuing a higher education.”
Following the bake sale, CNN’s John King hosted a discussion between Hernandez and Lewis on his show John King’s USA. Hernandez criticized the bake sale as “insensitive,” and Lewis justified the controversial pricing by explaining, “we feel like we’re facing a controversial issue.” Lewis questioned how far the university should go for the sake of diversity, asking whether religion or political ideology should be considered in admissions. Hernandez insisted the true intent of the bill was to, “ make sure universities reflect the demographics of the state of California.”
However, noticeably absent from the BCR’s description of the bill and the media’s subsequent coverage was the line including “household income, along with other relevant factors,” which directly follows ethnicity, race, and gender in the bill.
Karen Klein, an opinion columnist for the Los Angeles Times, urges a greater focus on basing admissions decisions on income and school performance. She wrote in a recent column, “Until a few years ago, some of those [high] schools right here in Los Angeles didn't even offer the courses required by the UC or California State University schools.”She credits societal inequalities that primarily affect racial minorities, for the lack of diversity in state colleges.
Perhaps controversy surrounding societal inequalities can be mirrored with a bake sale too. Only students who attended high performing high schools can buy the sweets, and remaining students can make them. It’s not offensive; it’s satiric. In the words of BCR, “Hope to see you all there! If you don’t come, you’re a racist!”
Moms Hate Schweddy Balls
To no one’s surprise, the conservative Christian group One Million Moms is unhappy with the name of a new Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, Schweddy Balls. The name is a reference to a sketch from a 1998 episode of Saturday Night Live, in which Alec Baldwin plays Pete Schweddy, a public radio guest who owns a holiday bakery specializing in balls--his calling card is “the thing that I most like to bring out this time of year are my balls.” You see where this is going.
One Million Moms—an offshoot of the American Family Association—has sent a letter to its members asking them to email Sean Greenwood, Ben & Jerry’s public relations manager, urging the company to take Schweddy Balls off the shelves and to refrain from creating any more ice cream flavors with offensive names (OMM cites last year’s special-edition Hubby Hubby flavor as another of the ice cream company’s controversial names).
Other issues of recent concern to OMM include a transgender contestant on “Dancing With the Stars,” the sale of “adult toys” on the Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS websites, and the Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign, which, for OMM, “suggests disrespect and chaos with no consequences.” The campaign consists of ads with an Americana air, intended to capture a sort of idealistic, pioneering spirit. Among OMM’s objections are a voiceover in one of the commercials that states “your life is your life, the gods wait to delight in you” (they don’t approve of the mention of multiple gods), as well as images of “people running away from something” and “a male rebelling against officers and authority in a riot.”
Despite this conservative opposition, Ben & Jerry’s is still pushing the product, a rum-tinted vanilla ice cream loaded with maltballs. Among the promotions is a Schweddy video greeting card on Facebook, which they recommend sending “to the ones you most cherish.”
In reference to the name, Greenwood told NPR.org that it “is just plain silly … we’ve always been a company that has a sense of humor.” Since OMM’s call-to-arms, Greenwood said, Ben & Jerry’s has received hundreds of emails about the flavor and “90 percent were saying ‘keep doing what you’re doing.’” The company plans to continue selling the product through the end of the holiday season. Regardless of general approval for the taste of Schweddy Balls, try to avoid ordering the flavor at an actual Ben & Jerry’s franchise, as even their employees seem to have trouble resisting the temptation to abuse the double entendre.