Beautiful-Ugly Monuments: Should They Stay or Should They Go? How The Beauty of Ugly Monuments Challenges Us

Courtesy of the Daily Mail

All of us have been swept up in the horrible violence and rhetoric that occurred last weekend in Charlottesville, VA.  As you probably know, the initial spark to this was dismantling of the city’s statue/monument memorializing  the Confederacy’s top general, Robert E. Lee.   The city’s leadership wanted it down.  White Nationalists wanted it to stay.  I’m sure most of you, like me, would want that statue not only taken down, but destroyed.  While it may have been crafted beautifully (as President Trump seems to think), it stands for something very, very ugly.

I discussed this with my friends back in May and one challenged me saying that we NEED these monuments to remain. “If we take the beautiful, but, ugly monuments down,” he said, “will we forget the ugliness they symbolize?”  Condoleezza Rice argued the same thing.  A few months back she was quoted saying in the Washington Examiner, “I want us to have to look at those names and recognize what they did and to be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history.  When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better it’s a bad thing…”

I see their point.  There are many beautiful, yet, ugly monuments.  In countries around the world stand beautifully crafted structures that represent ugly behaviors, philosophies and leaders, think Czars’ castles or Egypt’s Pyramids, for example.  But  having them remain is critical.  Not because we endorse the behaviors of the leaders behind these places, but because they force us to remember.   But I think it goes further than that.  Their very beauty challenges us.  We are forced to ask “how can something so beautiful be so bad?”

A few years back I wrote a post around a similar topic: The Stark Contrast Makes It The Most Chilling & Appropriate.  In it I reflect upon journalist’s, Laura Kelly‘s, visit to the beautiful, picturesque village of Wannsee on the outskirts of Berlin.  In this town, and, in particular, in a beautiful villa that still remains there, the Nazis met to conceive the Final Solution.  My initial response to such a place was also “tear it down!”  But then I realize we need to maintain these places.  Like Rice’s point, they remind us of our history.

But why not just keep the ugly reminders: concentration camps, parts of the Berlin wall, or bombed out buildings?  Wouldn’t keeping the beautiful (but ugly) reminders offer the wrong message?  Couldn’t we be at risk of people interpreting the very presence of these beautiful structures as a sign that we should admire this dark history?

But it’s the very beauty of these “ugly” monuments may offer an even more searing effect.  As I wrote in my post: “Seeing the beautiful landscapes of Wannsee don’t deflect from the horrors but actually reinforce them. When we see how beautiful the world CAN and SHOULD be, and then realize how ugly it actually has become in some instances, the ugliness feels that much more jarring.”

I referenced Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as an example of this very thing,  I go on to write: “While the film does an excellent job portraying the horrors of Holocaust, the film is still a masterpiece.  It’s beautifully written, acted and shot.  Perhaps this is why the film still captures our attention to this day.”

If we take down all the beautiful, ugly the monuments will we be effectively letting part of our history go?  Will we forget? And will the very painful dichotomy of beauty and ugliness be spared?

What differs the Robert E. Lee monument from the others I mentioned above, though, is that sadly enough, there remains a critical mass of people who don’t see him or what he stands for as horrible.  In the other cases, the philosophies underlying the monuments are rejected by most of the population: Egypt no longer has Israelite slaves, Russia is no longer ruled by Czars (well, it has another type of despotic ruler but let’s not get off track), and it’s illegal to be a Nazi sympathizer in Germany.

But sometimes the ugliness of beautiful things is too horrible to for us to keep.  And sometimes its the very ACT of tearing it down, vs having it remain or having it gone, which is the point.  We all need to remind those who still support Lee’s beliefs that we won’t, as a nation, tolerate them –years ago, years into the future but especially RIGHT NOW.  We need to actively tear these beliefs down along with the statue that represents them.

So, yes, Robert E. Lee must go.

The Beauty of Social Media isn’t Just Skin Deep

A street in Paris My my trip a few weeks ago

In past posts, I have referenced the anthropology-based work around various technology platforms I had the privilege to develop, including a study on Social Media.  A recent article, “Instagram posts can reveal depression better than anything patients tell their doctors,” brought the insights of this social study to fore for me.  It reminded me of the deep beauty that we can actually derive from social media.  I’m not referring to pretty pictures, though that has an important role in our lives.  I’m referring to the deeper, societal benefit Social gives us.

Yes, for many of us social media is a playful pastime.  We can post great bikini pics or vacation vistas.  We can air our grievances or, at our worst, use it to put others down.  Social media — not matter which sites we frequent or how we’re using them (including the posting of seemingly banal stuff) –serves as greater purpose: one that fundamental and, well, beautiful.

How?  Because of the very elements of social — it’s real time, and raw nature; and the relative anonymity or physical distance from others — we tend to be more real and vulnerable.  And, we will often say things and show things to MANY people that we would either keep to ourselves or only tell a few friends.  In doing so, we often use a sort of language, what we call “poetic language,” (imagery, gifs, emoji’s or slang) that’s full of nuance and emotion to truly convey what we feel.  For example, if you asked me how my day was over text a few years ago, the best I could offer was “good” or “GOOD” of “Way good.”  But now I can add some rainbows, a video clip and an emoji looking up towards heaven to show how amazing it was.

It’s these elements that compel us to share and be open to “hearing” back — whether that’s about the best restaurant in a foreign city or if a woman should leave her abusive boyfriend (true story on Reddit).  And this exchange of ideas, insights and challenges helps us learn about our worlds and our place in it.  We call this “Self-Making through Others.”   What does this mean?  We are less and less motivated by individual self-help and more by interdependence!

So when I saw this article about being able to detect depression in others thanks to Instagram images, I thought:”this is yet another wonderful example of Self-making through Others.”  The article explains how we can help alert others’ to their pain and maybe suggest ways to help them thanks to their Instagram photos.   According to EPJ Data Science, a pair of researchers, Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont and Andrew Reece of Harvard University, were able to analyze Instagram posts based on previously known markers of depression.   The article points out: “Depressed people tend to prefer grayer, darker colors, and to show less evidence of social activity (which the researchers thought might be evidenced by the absence of faces in posted images).”  And depressed people tend not to use filters.

Imagine if you and your social network realized one of your friend’s is experiencing deep, emotional pain and you could help him or her?  Wouldn’t you want to?  Thanks to social media, in this case Instagram, we can.   I realize social media can also contribute to peoples’ pain, for example, when the body-shamers rear their heads.  But as our research indicated, most of what we share and chat about is positive, helpful and insightful; not negative.  And now, thanks to this research, we can be more aware of others’ emotional states, and help them through their situations.

Social media is certainly light and fun, and and we should enjoy that.  But let’s not just sit back an admire people’s images or scroll past them.  Let’s pay closer attention to what others share.  Let’s uplift those even higher who are celebrating their lives and embrace those who are crying out for help.  And we will all be better for it.

 

 

Finally Going East: Creating Ties Through Beauty and Culture

As I hinted in my last post, there were some changes going on with my website which was why I’ve been a bit delinquent about my posts.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I’m officially a member X UNIPX INFLUENCE Program!  In other words, I’m now acting as an influencer in the Chinese market leveraging UNIPX media platforms which focus on pop culture, lifestyle, media and entertainment.  Here is a recent article my friends at UNIPX published that effectively introduces me to the market as a strategist and lover of all things beauty (It’s super easy to translate into English :)).

While I’m going to represent one of many different points of view from the U.S. market, I realize I need to wrap my head around views of beauty in Chinese culture too.  As you can imagine this can be a life long pursuit, but even just peering in to this new world could be give some insight.

So the first thing I did was look into my past research.  To explain to my colleagues and clients how views of beauty differ across cultures, I compared how Americans vs French, Russian and Chinese natives interpret beauty.   Initially I jumped into social media and published research.  While it’s a few years old (I’m looking forward in my new role to motivate me to do update this), and I’ve had to generalize a bit, I believe some of these themes stand the test of time.   What intrigued me the most, and it surfaces in the article written about me linked above, is the true duality of inner and outer beauty in China.  While concepts of inner beauty are in “vogue” in Western culture, when we talk about beauty, let’s face it, we are really referring to our outer appearances.  From an outer beauty perspective, the Chinese tend to view a healthy body and skin, as well as white skin, and an sense of approachability as attractive.

As a woman wrote in social media (translated into English): “Actually health is beauty.  It’s better to get up early, do some exercise everyday and focus on the balance of whole body.”

At the same time, Chinese culture deems traits like confidence, intelligence and honorability as beautiful.  As another stated:

“Out long tradition emphasizes more the inner beauty of a woman.  Beauty is not only your appearance but also your charm, characteristics and nobility…..”

Of course this is only scratching the surface. But imagine if we started thinking about or appreciating beauty this way. I’m not saying that all the Chinese notions of beauty will be right for us here. In fact, maybe by sharing some of our more enlightened notions of beauty with them we can all grow. I’m looking forward to learning more about these differences, experiencing and adopting some of them myself.

Speaking of experiencing them, I tried to do just that.  While I couldn’t take the next flight to Beijing, I did the best I could and headed down to NYC’s famous Chinatown to explore the beauty world.  I went shopping with my friend, Kristi, at the neighborhood beauty shops, and indulged in some beauty treatments a few weeks later.  Not surprisingly, the shops offered way more beauty products from Korea and Japan than from China.   But that didn’t stop us from partaking. 🙂

In terms of beauty treatments, I went on a lark to a place that had a website offering manicure and blow outs on Canal St.  The manicure didn’t seem any different than one I would get at a typical salon uptown.  But the hair experience certainly was.   (Let me caveat by saying this is certainly not a comparison of all Chinatown salons since I only went to one. )  The first thing that happened was I was asked to sit on one the of the blow out chairs while a woman covered my collar in plastic.  She then gave me a 5 minute shoulder massage — which was awesome.  Here is where it gets really interesting: while I’m sitting there, she takes the shampoo, pours it on my head while another woman squeezes water out from a plastic bottle to be mixed with the shampoo.  The first woman washes and massages my scalp for another 5 minutes as I’m sitting right next to a gentleman getting his hair cut.  So I’m thinking, do they not have sinks?  What’s the deal?  They do! I know because after the 5 minute wet hair massage I’m led to the sinks where my hair is rinsed and rewashed and then conditioned.  Clearly a healthy, clean scalp and head of hair is a MUST!

Another interesting difference between “western” blowouts and and the ones I experienced myself or saw on others in the salon, is emphasis on smooth and straight (vs full volume).  I was not surprised at this look given the high preponderance of Japanese straightening products that have made their way around the globe, and especially in Asia.  Given the humidity and my general lifestyle the look lasted a day or so but experience was a blast.

No doubt beauty is more than skin deep.  But I’m not referring just to inner beauty.  Rather I speaking about how much beauty is a product and reflection of culture.  While there may universal truths about physical symmetry and health as markers of beauty, it’s so evident how our rituals around, beliefs of and issues with beauty tells us a world of information regarding our values, social politics, environment and the list goes.  This is one of the key goals of Beautyskew: to shed light on culture through the lens of beauty. More than that, as evidence of my new relationship with UNIPX media, beauty can be a vehicle to connect with and learn from others, even those from a totally different world.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this great new relationship, sharing what I know and learning from others too, maybe just maybe, helping to build some amazing bridges.

To get a taste of some of the Chinese-American beauty influencers on U.S. soil, check out Soothingsista and Francis Lola.