I’m a fan of Estée Lalonde’s funny YouTube channel, so I recently picked up a copy of Darling Magazine’s current issue, which features an essay by LaLonde and an accompanying photo series. Previously unfamiliar with the magazine, I was curious after Lalonde mentioned that it celebrates women and never uses Photoshop to “alter women’s bodies or faces.” It sounded like the kind of magazine I’d love to read, so I jumped at the chance and ordered a copy directly from Darling’s site.
Once it arrived, I eagerly read Lalonde’s essay on “Who I Am,” which was interesting, but almost sounded like she was writing a piece for a college application. Lalonde’s bubbly personality and crazy, improvised remarks make her channel a hit. Watching Estée online, she’s the cool girl, but reading her piece in print, she just falls flat. Her styled photos are lovely, but I don’t think they capture who she really is, which is kind of the point.
As I thumbed through the rest of Darling, I began to notice a common thread throughout the magazine’s stories. It wasn’t overtly obvious, but because I’m familiar with certain buzzwords and key phrases used by various church groups (I grew up in a Presbyterian church and was raised by a Southern Baptist mother and a Catholic father), I recognized an underlying Christian theme running throughout the magazine’s pages. In fact, the covert aspect became glaringly obvious by the time I reached the last page. Christian magazines for women have their place in popular culture, but I admit that I was surprised to notice this in a fairly mainstream publication that’s sold at Anthropologie.
Darling Magazine, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a lot like Kinfolk, but specifically geared to women. There are a lot of dreamy photos and beautiful pictures drawn by hand. It’s a substantial magazine printed on heavy paper, so it’s the kind of publication you linger over and save. Everyone knows that Kinfolk was started by a handful of students from Brigham Young University, but according to Nathan Williams, the magazine’s creator, it’s definitely not faith-based at all. Darling, on the other hand, definitely seems to target a certain demographic of Christian women, though you might have to squint really hard to realize it.
Darling’s mission statement appears on the back cover of the magazine, and it seems like a modern-day version of the Proverbs 31 Woman, an idea many Evangelical Christian women work endlessly to emulate. Darling focuses on “the arts of virtue, wit, modesty, and wisdom, all the while creating beauty and embodying love.” In the twenty-first century, what does that even mean? Are the magazine’s readers supposed to exhibit these traits, which seem to spring directly from a Jane Austen novel or a Shakespearean play? I find it very confusing.
No less confusing is the article about the dangers of pornography in Darling’s current issue. It’s written by the director of communications for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which, until its name change last year, was known as Morality in Media, a faith-based organization working to stamp out pornography and other issues it views as harmful to the “decency” of American media. You can see where this is going. Should a print magazine try to manage the morality of its readers? Shouldn’t it be more concerned with avoiding issues of censorship since Darling is, you know, a magazine that women buy?
To further add to this muddle, Darling’s winter issue also features an insightful interview with Uzo Aduba, the wonderful actress who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” in “Orange is the New Black.” Aduba hints at her own spirituality, a mixture of New Age philosophy mixed with mentions of God, the universe, and Marianne Williamson. And, in case you haven’t seen the show on Netflix yet, much of the most recent season focuses on Suzanne’s talent as a writer of erotic stories, hilariously known as the Time Hump Chronicles. As Suzanne herself explains when her counselor calls the stories pornographic, “No, it’s not just sex. It’s love. It’s two people connecting…with four other people…and aliens.”
Another confusing aspect of Darling is its “Choose Your Own Adventure” list of personas at the bottom of the magazine’s site. Readers can pick a persona, with choices ranging from dreamer to stylist to beautician to intellectual, and find a selection of articles suited to each. But a persona isn’t real, it’s something you take on, a role, and the idea of women assuming these alternative identities, as they strive to be virtuous, witty, and modest, seems contrary to Darling’s professed desire for authenticity.
Darling doesn’t seem to know who or what it is as a magazine, and that obvious confusion sends a very conflicted message to its readers. It’s fine to be a Christian magazine, or an aspirational magazine meant to help women relax and escape for a bit, but it needs to figure things out. Until then, the overall theme just gets lost in translation.
Last Friday, some of my fellow Ethical Writers Coalition members and I got together virtually to watch and discuss Mission Blue, the recent documentary featuring Dr. Sylvia Earle, the well-known marine biologist working to preserve our oceans. We’ve compiled our thoughts and created a group post that we hope will encourage you to watch the film. We’re planning to make this a regular event, too.
I found Mission Blue incredibly insightful and inspiring. As one of the first women in the field of marine biology during the 1950s and 60s, Dr. Earle struggled to establish her place among a world dominated by men. Her determination paid off, and Dr. Earle has become a respected teacher and author on the subject of the world’s diminishing oceans. Her first love is the ocean, and this is literally reflected in everything she does. Today, at 80 years old, Dr. Earle continues to travel and raise awareness for Mission Blue, her foundation that actively works to create marine protected areas, called “Hope Spots,” across the world.
Dr. Earle is an avid scuba diver and her film takes us deep into the oceans, allowing viewers to see the death and desolation she witnesses every time she dives. It’s disheartening, and I was especially disturbed by her characterization of the Gulf Coast as the “sewer” of the United States. This is the body of water closest to my home, where my family vacations each summer, and massive amounts of pollution flow south to the Gulf of Mexico, essentially killing it slowly over time.
The world’s oceans sustain life, not just for their creatures and plants, but for us as well. If we ignore this fact and let our oceans die, Dr. Earle explains, our planet will eventually look very much like Mars. That’s a sobering thought, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Mission Blue has helped to create 50 Hope Spots across the world, and as more are created, they will eventually link together, restoring the oceans to their former glory. It’s an enormous job that can’t be accomplished by one single person, and Dr. Earle is calling upon everyone to find a way to contribute. To learn more, visit her site, Mission Blue.
From Elizabeth Stilwell of The Note Passer:
Sylvia Earle, a woman I previously knew nothing about, has become one of my heroes. Throughout Mission Blue, she exemplifies grace as she passionately advocates for marine life and conservation. Sylvia discusses the demise of our oceans with the tolerance of a kindergarten teacher, patiently explaining to interviewers, the UN, and conference goers the disastrous effects of pollution, oil drilling, and overfishing. One of the most memorable scenes for me was her visit to Tokyo’s fish market. I tried to imagine her thoughts as she wandered the rows of dead tuna and tanks of live octopuses, aghast at the volume and casual treatment of the fish. Read an insightful interview with Sylvia, including her thoughts on eating seafood, here.
Sometimes called “Her Deepness,” Sylvia earned her Ph.D. in 1966 and was doing exceptional work in marine biology at a time when women were not always welcomed or respected in the field. Sexism is constant throughout the documentary, from demeaning headlines and remarks about her work, to partners intimidated by her intelligence and success. Sylvia seems to take it all in stride, however, never making apologies for her passionate pursuits.
Despite all the bad news on oceanic life — dwindling fish populations, acidification, dead spots, oil spills — Sylvia remains optimistic. Her blend of education, hope, and passion seem to strike the right balance for action and her optimism is contagious. Tireless advocacy has led to the development of what she calls Hope Spots, which are like underwater wildlife sanctuaries. This network of preservation is slowly growing and Hope Spots are flourishing.
Towards the end of the film, when she’s walking alone along the beach taking photos, I reflected on my own love of the ocean, swimming, and environmentalism. I took marine biology courses in high school and went to the Florida Keys on an expedition, but ultimately went another way in my studies. I wonder if, perhaps, I missed my opportunity to become another Sylvia.
From Annie Zhu’s personal blog:
At 80 years old, Sylvia Earle looks like an awestruck kid when she’s underwater. The ocean is her one true love, and her love is infectious. The filmmakers were smart. Instead of making a depressing film about how messed up our oceans have become, they focused on making us empathize with Sylvia by focusing on her life story. When she’s at the Japanese fish market looking at all the dead fish, I feel her sadness. When she is underwater among the dead coral reefs, I also mourn for what the ocean used to be.
I’m not a good swimmer, but I came away wanting to do some deep sea diving myself. I’m not a vegetarian, but now I’m definitely going to limit my consumption of seafood and fish products. Overfishing is unnecessary, especially when a lot of the fish are going to waste. The shark fin industry is deplorable. They catch the sharks, cut off their fins and throw them back into the waters. As Sylvia says, if you eat fish you should really do so with great respect.
Yes, I did find some of the facts about our dying ocean to be depressing. Instead of reacting with outrage, Sylvia campaigns with great calm. She’s not didactic and never positions herself as a victim. She can point fingers, but in a graceful, matter-of-fact way. A great example is her Ted Talk. She just makes us want to be on her side.
The ending touched on Hope Spots, places where oceans are being protected. Less than 3% of the ocean is now protected, and they strive to get to 20% by 2020. That’s fantastic. We can support the mission in 3 ways.
From Magdalena Antuña of Selva Beat:
I first went vegan because I wanted to live a life dictated by both compassion and environmentalism. I stopped eating fish as a result, but didn’t exactly find myself becoming a voice for them, either.
Mission Blue is a great first step for anyone seeking to broaden their current impact, vegan or not.
The documentary subject, Sylvia, dedicates her life to being an advocate for oceans, not just the fish that we habitually eat as a society. I was excited to learn, through her, that marine life conservation has a curious advantage. Sharks, menhaden, octopi – none of these creatures roam the private farms or acres of homestead that cows and pigs often do. They exist, free, in the no man’s land that is open sea. By creating Hope Spots – protected areas barred from detrimental human activity – Earle ensures guardianship to a wide array of life, including our own. It’s a brilliant plan, unique to the ocean. And it’s especially profound when Earle reiterates in the film that “no ocean, [means] no us.”
Her optimism is weighted by a sense of urgency (See climate change) and it’s hard, as a viewer, not to be enchanted by her tenacity. The whole film is a rich meditation on speciesism and conservation, and I feel far better equipped to advocate for oceans and marine life having seen it.
Over the holidays, my Twitter feed and favorite news sites were filled with articles about Making a Murderer, the new Netflix series literally taking the country by storm. Curious, I decided to check it out, too. I made it through the third episode before my feelings of anger and disgust set in, and I just couldn’t bring myself to continue watching more.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of crime stories, though I sometimes read about them in the news. I shy away from shows like Dexter and CSI because I find them creepy. I tried listening to Serial last year, since I’m a big This American Life fan, but I just found it uncompelling. And as I watched those first episodes of Making A Murderer, I became aware of a theme, something I first noticed in Serial.
What about the victims, I kept thinking; where are their stories?
Both Serial and Making a Murderer focus on the violent deaths of two young women, and the Netflix series also covers a brutal sexual assault in which the victim fought her attacker and survived. The details of each crime are excruciating to hear, and because both stories cover the subsequent trials and imprisonment of the accused, the cases are meticulously poured over for our understanding and our entertainment. But Serial and Making a Murderer share a common characteristic that we easily forget. They are real cases, with real crimes committed against real victims. And in both of these instances, real lives were ended.
The stories are definitely interesting and relevant, and have always held a place of interest for newspaper readers and television viewers alike. In the wake of recent police shootings of black men and women and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, corruption within law enforcement and local government is on the minds of many. Both Serial and Making a Murderer examine the obviously botched murder investigations and unfair trials of the accused, shedding light on the many flaws of our criminal justice system. It’s a fair discussion to have, and Chitra Ramaswamy’s recent article in The Guardian suggests that Making A Murderer marks the shift of the true-crime genre into “mainstream and even highbrow culture.”
As the investigation into these crimes and unfair trials play out, the focus shifts from the victims of the attacks to the alleged perpetrators, and the women who were killed at the hands of angry men fall into the background. That’s what bothers me.
Ann Brocklehurst, a journalist and private investigator, calls these shows “Injustice Porn” in her recent blog post about the topic. She notices the interesting dichotomy that these crimes were committed against women by men, yet women are also the creators of Serial and Making a Murderer, which portray the accused as victims of law enforcement and the justice system. The goal of these programs is to shed light on the men’s stories, to educate the public about the wrongs of our nation’s legal system, and also, to entertain us. In the process, the language and techniques used to explain the men’s experiences often downplay or even insult the victims.
The popularity of Making a Murderer is so immense that it’s become a national phenomenon, requiring a response from the White House after a recent petition to free the accused garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures and continues to grow. Everyone wants a piece of the story, and half-baked, click-bait posts like Slate’s recent article by Leon Neyfakh on Penny Beerntsen, the sexual assault victim featured in Making a Murderer, only add to the problem. Neyfakh titled the piece, “What It Feels Like to Send an Innocent Person to Prison for 18 Years,” effectively placing blame upon the victim’s shoulders, when in reality, she was led astray purposely by inept and corrupt law enforcement. The actual URL for this story even contains a misspelling of Beerntsen’s first name (calling her ‘Peggy;’ her last name is often misspelled), yet nobody at Slate has noticed. What Leon Neyfakh fails to cover in his piece is better explained in Romper’s article, written by Jamie Kenney. I encourage you to read that to comprehend the courage and grace Mrs. Beerntsen possesses.
It’s also worth noting that Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, the creators of Making a Murderer, chose to include clips of local reporters interviewing the accused and reporting on the crime within the series. Calling the local press “window characters” in an interview with Jen Yamato for The Daily Beast, the filmmakers show the bias already present among the reporters, before the victim is found and the trial even takes place. And near the beginning of the series, reporters were shown constantly asking Steven Avery if he forgave Penny Beerntsen, as if she was the one who set out to frame him for her own sexual assault.
That complete disregard for the victims of these crimes is incredibly hard to take. I noticed it first within Serial and later, while watching Making A Murderer, and I just couldn’t watch any longer. Demos and Ricciardi have been called biased in their own reporting, which they deny, but I think they were careless in the representation of the female victims. It was most likely not intentional and came from a desire to portray Steven Avery, the show’s main subject, in the most empathetic way. Yet, by doing so, it ultimately creates a bias that is palpable, in my opinion.
The crimes explored within Serial and Making a Murderer are tragic and senseless, and their subsequent investigations and trials are equally frustrating. But there has to be a better way to examine this difficult topic without forgetting the women who lost their lives. They weren’t characters in poorly written crime dramas on broadcast television, but actual living people whose stories deserve to be told. Making a Murderer falls far short of this purpose and quickly lost me as a viewer for this reason.
Bronwen Dickey, in her piece for Slate, examines some of the other emotional issues at work within Making a Murderer. Kathryn Schulz, in a New Yorker piece out this week, carefully explores how the show gets it wrong. And recently, the New York Times Magazine featured a long-form article that goes behind the scenes of a special victims unit in Connecticut. It’s both insightful and respectfully written.
From Ann Brocklehurst’s blog: “‘Injustice Porn’ like Serial and Making a Murderer celebrates men who kill and abuse women.”
From The New Yorker: “Dead Certainty: How Making a Murderer Goes Wrong” by Kathryn Schulz.
From The New York Times Magazine: “To Catch a Rapist” by Kathy Dobie.