We are very proud to announce the launch of the new website for Upstream Public Health. Upstream is an Oregon non-profit that researches innovative public health solutions and moves them into the mainstream dialogue, providing expertise in regional policy and decision-making. Upstream’s old website obscured the impact of their work. Upstream enlisted Blue Mouse Monkey to provide them with a distinctive platform to frame issues, provide timely information to their audiences, and express the values and upbeat personality of the organization.
The Northwest Health Foundation wanted a new website to support their work in public policy advocacy. Built on the concept of a video magazine, each issue of Points of View covers a topic germane to the work of the foundation, with a short introduction and a collection of videos that reflect the point of view of the NWHF, along with the many points of view represented by their diverse community partners.
Formerly the Community Health Priorities project, this site has been given a fresh new look as it has morphed into The Conversation, the blog of the Northwest Health Foundation. The blog encourages Oregonians to participate in surveys, share feedback, read news, peruse resources, and apply for grants. Since its inception 2008, participation has climbed steadily, and the site returns data that the Northwest Health Foundation can bring to the state legislature.
Now it’s time to present a personal project! Parts Per Million is a novel about a group of Portland environmental and media activists. I’ve been working on it for a decade, finished it this year, and am in the process of seeking agent representation. Check out the site for photo galleries, excerpts, illustrations by Ryan Alexander-Tanner, and more.
The Obama presidential campaign is sponsoring “Art Works: A Poster Contest to Support American Jobs.”
A poster contest. Where designers create designs for free (“spec work”) and submit them, hoping theirs will be picked. This from an organization that expects to raise a billion dollars in donations.
This kind of “volunteer your creativity!” attitude towards design undermines the entire design industry and the value of designers’ work. It’s a common attitude, the idea that designers somehow shouldn’t expect to be paid for their skills (unlike, say, plumbers, nurses, landscapers, programmers, urban planners, film makers, or any other skilled profession), and it drives me crazy. The attitude often goes hand in hand with another patronizing attitude, that designers are so desperate for “exposure” that they will give away their expertise in exchange for a mere chance of being noticed.
Can you imagine, say, plumbers being asked to donate their plumbing skills to a new wing of the White House, in exchange for a chance that their plumbing design will be chosen among all the others to transport water to and from that wing? Of course not. A plumber would be chosen via a traditional bid system, and they would be compensated for their work.
AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) executive director Richard Grefé wrote an excellent letter demanding the Obama campaign cancel the contest and consider other ways to bring the power of design into the reelection campaign. The text of the letter follows. Emphases mine.
October 21, 2011
Obama for America
130 E. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Dear Mr. Messina:
AIGA, the most established and largest professional association for communication design in the world, urges the Obama campaign to immediately:
- Cancel the Art Works poster contest that trivializes the value of design by failing to compensate for it and assuming ownership of intellectual property rights, against standard professional principles, and
- Consider the role of design in creating social and economic capital as well as innovation and growth, treating it as an economic driver instead of a creative indulgence, and involve the design community in integrating design into an economic strategy for strengthening U.S. competitiveness.
The recent “Art Works: A Poster Contest to Support American Jobs” demonstrates a lack of respect for the design profession, violates global principles and standards for professional design practice, contradicts the intent of creating jobs for American workers and asks designers to give up intellectual and creative property rights.
As executive director of the oldest and largest professional association for communication designers in the country, I speak on behalf of a profession that is central to innovation and creative value in the U.S. economy. We urge you to cancel the poster contest and consider alternative, appropriate approaches to achieving your need for great design that communicates effectively. No creative community in the world is as talented as American designers and as eager to be engaged on challenging assignments to enhance understanding of complex issues. For instance, over the past decade, AIGA and its members have been active participants in enhancing the citizen experience and clarity in the election process through the Design for Democracy initiative.
The Art Works poster contest asks designers to work speculatively, creating designs without compensation for an activity that has value to a potential client, against established global principles in communication design. We are quite certain that public relations consultants, political consultants, networks, telecommunication providers and advertising media are not asked to donate their services and turn their ideas, research and work over to a campaign that is poised to raise $1 billion without compensation. This demonstrated lack of respect for the value of creative endeavors is exacerbated by the stipulation that ownership of all the creative property submitted, whether or not selected, is transferred to the campaign. And it is particularly contemptuous to ask the creative community to donate their services in support of a jobs program for other American workers.
There are ways in which you can seek proposals from designers that do not violate the integrity of the profession (and the client) and we would be willing to work with you in developing a process to solicit ideas leading to retaining a designer to develop an effective design and program to advocate your messages.
The Obama for America campaign would also be well served to shift to a strategic perspective in involving the design profession by exploring with us the means to develop policy proposals to enhance the support of design as a key driver of innovation and economic growth in the U.S. economy. The government, in aggregate, is undoubtedly the largest single client for design services in the economy. Design provides a highly leveraged, relatively low cost means of enhancing the competitiveness of the nation’s products and services as well as a critical element in enhancing effective and efficient citizen-based government services. Recognizing this would follow the example of countries like Korea, China, Singapore and the UK in advancing productivity relevant to the 21st century.
If you choose to proceed with this contest, we will feel compelled to single it out as a reflection of your lack of respect for designers and your perception that design has little value, even while you are encouraging creating work for other workers and professions. Incidentally, it is also undoubtedly injudicious to seem to politicize the current NEA initiative entitled Art Works that is a well-conceived effort to demonstrate the value of art to communities.
AIGA executive director
cc: David Axelrod
Bravo, Mr. Grefé. Thank your for standing up on behalf of all of us designers. Little do some non-designers realize how ugly and non-functional the world would be without us. Our work is not just decorative afterthoughts. It is essential to high quality communication.
There’s this other thing I’ve been doing these past few years; some people know about it, many don’t. When my writing friend Laura Stanfill posted her interview of me on her blog yesterday, it felt like a coming out of sorts. After all, what business does a visual artist and web designer have writing a novel? Well, the project started as a compulsion ten years ago, a story that took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go until I wrote it down in a rush. Then I went back and revised it. Again. And again. And again. I lost track of the number of drafts. Now Parts Per Million is a complete novel. Pared down, tight, thoroughly critiqued by many, and ready to go out into the world. The next step is finding an agent to represent the MS.
Laura’s a wonderful writer with a couple of novels under her belt already. I learned much for her when we sat together at Stevan and Joanna’s Pinewood Table critique group. I’m so grateful for her generosity in including me in her interview series!
Read Laura’s interview here: Novelist Julia Stoops on Anti-War Activism and Using Research to Build a Realistic Fictional World
The Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon (TOFCO) is revitalizing anti-tobacco advocacy in Oregon through a grassroots movement and outreach to communities most impacted by the harmful effects of tobacco use. Blue Mouse Monkey is proud to have worked with TOFCO to create a website that acts like a virtual staff member. The site provides relevant information to community advocates and decision makers, builds the tobacco-free movement support base, increases efficiency, and elevates TOFCO’s presence in the community at large.
Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the “soy issue” has come up a few times. Not from doctors (who appear to care little about what you eat – hah!) but from friends. Well-meaning friends who wish to warn me about the “dangers of soy”, particularly for people with hormone-related cancers.
I’m a vegetarian. I eat soy. I love tofu and eat it in some form almost every day. (I go through a tub of Toby’s Tofu Pate a week. I must have put their kids through college by now). I like miso, but it’s so salty it’s more like a condiment than rib-sticking food. I admit I do like “vegan junk food” like tofurkey slices, smart dogs, and the like. I don’t eat this kind of processed stuff every day, but a couple of times a week I’ll indulge. I don’t like tempeh but will eat it very occasionally if it’s well-disguised. I don’t like soymilk, and rarely drink it. The exception is the occasional winter drink of hot soymilk with maple syrup and a dash of salt. Somehow, maple and salt make it divine.
Aaaaanyhow, my point is, I eat a little bit of soy, often. I don’t believe it gave me cancer. And I don’t believe omitting it from my diet will reduce the risk of cancer returning. Quite the contrary.
Japanese women have the lowest rate of breast cancer in the world. A lot has been written about the Japanese diet, and many epidemiological studies have demonstrated a correlation between soy consumption and reduced breast cancer risk there. Now I know that correlation is not cause, but epidemiological studies are all we have when it comes to understanding the long-term relationship between diet and health. You can’t do a double-blind, controlled experiment following several thousand people for 20 years, during which half of them eat real soy and the other half eat placebo soy. It’s just won’t work. So epidemiological studies are what we have, and particularly useful are meta-studies of those studies.
When a Japanese woman has breast cancer, she is more likely than an American woman to survive long term. Her cancer will likely be slower-growing, less aggressive, and hormone receptive. When a Japanese woman gets breast cancer, her tumor is easier to beat.
My tumor was slow-growing, less aggressive, and highly hormone receptive. There’s no way I’ll ever pinpoint the cause or my cancer, but based on what I understand, it might be the case that my 20 years of soy-eating (and general healthful practices) gave the tumor a less favorable terrain to get really nasty. It’s out now, and my task for the rest of my life is to make sure it doesn’t return. It’s a statistics game: I could do everything possible that’s right and good for health, and the cancer might still come back. But if I do everything that’s right and good, at least I’ll know I did everything I could.
So why does soy have such a bad rap among the general public, and also some alternative medical practitioners such as naturopaths?
If you look at the history, it’s apparent that soy’s reputation has slid for political reasons rather than scientific ones.
Here’s a link to a good article about soy and why the bad rap it’s gotten is based on politics rather than science: Is Soy Safe?
More info on soy and health can be read here: Soy improves breast cancer survival
One government that has particularly obvious anti-soy policies is New Zealand. New Zealand’s small economy is based heavily in animal agriculture. Milk there is like corn here: a massive surplus that the food industry mops up by adding milk products to a lot of processed foods, the way corn products are added to many foods here. (New Zealand is a hard place to be if you’re lactose intolerant!).
New Zelanders internalize anti-soy propaganda to the point where, e.g. my brother in law won’t eat tofu because it will “give him titties”. (Ironically, NZ has one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease, due to high meat and dairy consumption).
Here in the US the economy is so huge and based on so many variables that pressure comes less from the federal government and more from particular industries. The effect is the same: spread of misinformation and fear-mongering.
So, say yes to soy! Food of the gods, in my opinion.
“What a stinker,” my friend said as we exited the theater, and I was relieved to know it wasn’t just orneriness or hormones that had turned me against Avatar. My friends and I spent the rest of evening critiquing the film, but then the next day I opened my laptop to rave reviews. Were we the only three people in the world who found Avatar insulting? Apparently not, and I have gradually become aware of others out there who didn’t become instant Avatarphiles. Despite how gorgeous it is. But more about those other critics later.
Yes, it’s gorgeous. A technical and aesthetic marvel. The plants, the blue indigenous people, the textures, the colors, the light, the planet hanging in the sky of the moon Pandora. Sumptuous. Seamless. No pixel left unedited.
It’s been called “revolutionary.” I assume this adjective refers solely to the digital effects, because if we’re talking plot, memes, politics, or history, it’s not even close.
Ostensibly, the film’s message is anti-imperialist and anti-corporate. The army boss is the epitome of the ugly American invader, and the corporate boss is the epitome of the ugly American capitalist. They are clearly “baddies”: uninformed, insensitive, greedy to win. Their attitude evokes the Bush administration, even down to their use of phrases like “preemptive strike”. One dimensional characters, to be sure, but I get it that they stand for something bigger.
Ostensibly there is a “conversion”. The jarhead (Jake Sully) who is sent to infiltrate the indigenous people, comes to love and respect them. (He also happens to be a “wounded healer” – a new age cliché if ever there was one). Okay. Love and respect are good things.
Ostensibly the indigenous folks drive out the invaders. Now that’s a message I can get behind.
Except that it is undermined in so many ways.
That evening when my friends and I picked Avatar apart, I kept thinking about how it could have been soooo much better. For instance, imagine an Avatar in which it’s not a foreigner jarhead who unites the indigenous people and saves the day, because the indigenous people have the wherewithal to save themselves! Or, to be even more revolutionary, they save the stupid invaders and ALL of them “go native”. And imagine if they solved the problem of their invaders not through Massive Violence, but through cunning. Or playful trickery. Or even diplomacy!
And imagine an Avatar in which the hero doesn’t automatically get the girl. She was, after all, betrothed before her tribe and her god to another, and when she and jarhead hook up it’s really a massive violation when you think about it. Which sorta matters, because folks get mad for a bit, but they don’t have time to be permanently mad or banish her or anything, because they need the violator to save them from ones like himself. Even her formerly-betrothed conveniently comes around after about three minutes of speechifying by the jarhead, and the formerly-betrothed even obediently agrees to translate the jarhead’s further speechifying for the masses. Which struck me as odd because the jarhead by then had managed to pick up the language quite well, I thought.
The formerly-betrothed conveniently dies during the Massive Violence, as does his father, the chief. This leaves a power vacuum into which the jarhead will naturally step. And the indigenous people are down with that because they are in awe of him because he rode the red dragon. And up till then nobody had ridden the red dragon. So he is automatically awesomer than any of them. Even though he had to learn dragon-riding from them. And even tho’ he boinked the chief’s daughter. (Or maybe because — ?)
Which brings me to the dragon-riding. Which starts out with dragon-subduing, because those beasties do NOT want to be subdued and ridden, thank you very much. Like my friend said, it looked a lot like rape. This is how it works:
1. to prove your manhood, you have to subdue and ride a dragon.
2. you and the guys approach the dragon hangout.
3. the guys tell you to go in among the dragons and find the one that will become “yours”. As in “you choose it and it chooses you”. Mutual choosing. Very nice, okay. So you ask how you’ll know when one chooses you? “It will try to kill you,” you’re told. Not so nice after all, but here goes…
4. You go into the dragon hangout. The dragons are pissed. Some leave. One stays and tries to kill you. In a violent struggle you mount it and connect your hair filigree stuff to its hair filigree stuff. A jolt runs through you both, and there’s a glazed look, a grunt. The dragon falls quiet. You feel triumphant and you whisper, “You’re mine now.” to the dragon.
5. The guys, who have been watching, are proud of you. Even the one who is betrothed to the woman you’ll eventually steal from him is grudgingly proud. (Funny how he was right to be suspicious of you all along.) The guys tell you to fly the dragon. “The first flight seals the bond.”
6. You take flight. Awkwardly at first until you realize the dragon is relying on you to control it with your thoughts.
7. Then you and the dragon are flying around gloriously. Awesome. Who doesn’t want to fly a dragon by controlling it with their thoughts? (Well, maybe me, but I’m just generally scared of big animals.)
Now this dragon will be there for you whenever you need it. It’s yours. (Except when you ride the other dragon, the big red dragon – which makes me wonder, did the jarhead’s chosen dragon feel hurt when he abandoned it for the bigger, nastier one? So much for the lifetime bond…)
Anyhow, my point is that considering how beautifully connected the indigenous people are with every living thing around them, couldn’t James Cameron have come up with a way to get them flying dragons without all the struggle, dominance and subjection? Me, I’m tired of that shit. It is so time we moved on.
So why have a jarhead infiltrate a tribe, go native, then save them, anyhow? Avatar is a textbook example of what Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence call the American Monomyth, a variation on the classical monomyth as proposed by Joseph Campbell.
Jewett and Lawrence define the American monomyth as:
A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity.
Except jarhead hardly renounced temptations: he bagged the betrothed girl. But enough about that. Oh wait, I did want to say something more about that. About the indigenous bodies in general. The indigenous people were quite animal-like in some ways. They’d drop to all fours, hiss and spit, leap from branch to branch. But interestingly, they weren’t animal-like in any ways that might make the audience feel uncomfortable.
For instance, they had prehensile tails. Did they ever use them? No. That would make them too monkey-like. But if you watch animals with prehensile tails, they use them all the time, like a fifth limb. And the sex. When jarhead and betrothed-girl hook up it’s all tender and slow and gentle. Very human, actually. But I wish they did it more like bonobos – that would have been funny. Oh and what’s with the bits of necklace artfully stuck to betrothed-girl’s boobs no matter how much she moved? A la Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon, thanks to wardrobe tape there was glorious natural wild nakedness, but not really. Those noble savages have to seem decent, after all. No bouncy bits, please.
And as for the ending. Nice! The bad invaders slink away with their tails between their legs! (Wait, no, they’re not the ones with the tails.) But anyway, all chagrined, the human survivors of the Massive Violence get back on their space ship under the watchful eye of the indigenous people and the few humans who went native and gave up their human bodies for the tall blue bodies. They happen to be brandishing machine guns to make sure the bad humans don’t retaliate again. Peaceful living-in-harmony-with-nature beings still gotta have machine guns, JIC.
But there’s a 500 pound gorilla in this ending. The unobtanium. It’s still there. Under the destroyed home tree. As if the humans won’t be back for it, this time with massive firepower and reinforcements and the taste of vengeance in their throats. Because during the whole course of this movie, NOTHING REALLY CHANGED. NO ONE LEARNED A THING. HISTORY WILL REPEAT ITSELF, and the blue people will be toast when the humans get back. A few leftover machineguns and some fast obedient dragons will be no match for whatever weaponry the humans will unleash.
James Cameron, if you’re such a genius, surely you’re smarter than this?
How much more spectacular it would have been to take us to the fabulous moon Pandora, let us dwell among the fantastic flora and fauna till we fell in love with it, have our expectations of the inhabitants delightfully, inspiringly raised above the level of humdrum response of violent revenge, and watch them solve a massive problem, with multiple stakeholders with conflicting desires, in an ingeniously non-violent way. You could still do it with tension, danger, and excitement. It needn’t be Pollyannaish or preachy. It could be thrilling, with plot twists, shifting alliances, and surprises. It could still be truly entertaining. But, you fell back on the American Monomyth.
Is there software for that? Like you open up a template and do a find-and-replace so all the ‘hero’s become ‘Jake Sully’? And where it says ‘Rise Up In Revenge Speech’ it gives you ten lines to write it because there’s a time limit to what audiences will tolerate?
Making that film must have been enormously challenging. Hard, you could say. It must have been a hard film to make. But how hard would it have been to make it conceptually so much better? You already solved all the technical and aesthetic problems: a better plot should have been relatively easy. All you need for that is a pencil, some paper, and the will to be truly revolutionary.
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What others say:
New Zealand blogger Tom Goulter’s series called The Week Of Trying To Say Anything In The Least Bit Interesting About Avatar.
Avatar…spends two hours talking about how beautiful it is to be peaceful and in tune with nature and what-all and then has a final hour in which the killing of people is fetishistically rendered up for our delectation even as elegiac choral music plays to provide the token suggestion that said killing might be a bad thing.
NYT Columnist David Brooks’ piece, The Messiah Complex,
[Avatar] rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.
From British blogger Jon Brown’s 1000 Tiny Things I Hate
If there’s one thing we can be absolutely sure of the day we finally “make contact” it’s that the extraterrestrial civilisation we encounter will have developed its own uniquely shitty brand of world music.
That was a quote from the chamber of commerce rep who broke up the ‘press conference’ given by not-so-real chamber of commerce reps (I.e. the Yes Men) as they were announcing the COC’s (not really) reversed position on climate change. The ‘reversal’ story made it onto Reuters and several other outlets before it was revealed to be a hoax. A hoax that calls attention to the COC’s official position on climate change.