Saturday, September 13, 2008

Une Femme a Paris

I will eventually delve into the wonderful parts of Paris, the parts that I love, which are robust and many; but it's important that I tell this story first, to get it out of the way, and because it's important in the context of what it means to be a woman in a foreign city.

The men here are different than in New York. Whereas if a New York man worked up the courage to ask for your phone number and then called you, and you never called back, he would give up and move on to the next woman. Here, it is different. If you make the mistake of giving your phone number to a person you don't intend on ever seeing again, you should know that you'll probably be receiving phone calls from them for weeks afterwards. I drunkenly gave my number to some guy who bought me drinks on the first night I was in Paris, and even though I've never returned his calls or texts, he continued to call me until today when my friend Victoria actually answered the phone and told him to essentially fuck off and leave me alone, since he was clearly not getting the (quite obvious) hint.

I can deal with persistence; in fact, it can be flattering and refreshing considering the head games American men are somewhat notorious for engaging in. It's nice to be chased, and catcalls in French sound a lot sexier. But it's the aggressive twinge that permeates these catcalls that has literally made me nervous to simply walk down the street. If you ignore someone, they continue to bother you, especially if they realize you're American. I don't know why - perhaps it's our reputation for being slutty - but French guys love American girls. Hearing us speak English is apparently an immediate turn on for them. It would be perfect, considering my history of being a tad boy crazy, but instead I constantly feel like I'm having to fend off potential rapists.

Of course not all French guys are like this, and there are many guys in America who are aggressive catcallers. But the men here take it to a whole new level. One guy came up to me and kept telling me he loved me, asking me to kiss him, until finally my friend had to threaten to burn him with her cigarette because he literally would not leave me alone, despite our pleas.

During orientation, one of the women who works at the NYU in Paris center, who happens to be French, warned us against girls wearing short skirts. At the time I thought it was ludicrous. The feminist in me got all uppity and offended: why should I change my behavior and refuse to wear outfits that I like just because men can't control themselves? I should be able to wear a minidress or a knee-length skirt without feeling like I can't leave my apartment for fear of being harassed.

But the woman was right. Here, if you go out in slightly revealing outfits, you are asking to be harassed: it is the sad, fucked up truth. I'm assuming it's why many French women opt for jeans and a sweater: guys are less likely to fuck with you if you're not dressed in little skirts and tops. But the thing is, it's not that much less likely. I've seen poor girls get hit on in sweatpants. And mercilessly hit on, with guys lagging behind them, practically begging. And if you speak in English, you are asking to not only get stared at, but to get hit on constantly.

I guess all this brings me to my story: last night I was on the Metro coming home from my friend's apartment in Montmartre. It wasn't very late - around midnight - and the train was fairly crowded, with most of the seats taken up. I was listening to my iPod, a little teary because I had just sprained my ankle (OF COURSE, I've now sprained it in PA, NY, CA, London and Paris - go me!) and it hurt really badly. So I'm listening to a sad Iron and Wine song, in pain, feeling a little homesick. All the sudden I look up at the guy across from me and he has his dick sticking out of his pants and he's jerking off while staring at me.

I've never encountered something like this before in my life. It's one of those horror stories you hear from girls alone on the subway very late at night in furthest Brooklyn, but you never think it's going to happen to you. It was entirely degrading, humiliating and sickening. I immediately got up and moved to another part of the train - which was pretty crowded! - and started crying hysterically. I was in a foreign city where I was already nervous to go out because of the tension I feel walking around alone as a woman, and here was this guy looking at my tear stained face and jerking off to it in a very public place. Now the idea of anything sexual - things I do frequently like watch porn or even think about sex - makes me literally feel nauseous. I'm sure this will taper, but right now I feel as virginal as the day I was born, mostly because I can't get the image of his dick out of my head. It was like something out of "Little Children."

I ran back to my apartment and was in hysterics for an hour when my roommate finally calmed me down with herbal tea and the promise that we'd try to switch apartments. We're currently in the 13th district and very far out - almost at the end of the Metro line. The place is cheap - a 2 bedroom for 650 Euro/month with washer/dryer, wireless, free local calling and it's pretty big. We're in Chinatown, which I initially thought would be comforting since that's where I live in New York, but instead I find it frustrating because I came here to be immersed in the Parisian lifestyle and instead when I look out my window it totally resembles what I saw from my apartment on Broome and Centre. The biggest problem is that it's entirely unsafe to get here, and it's impractical for my roommate and I to be together all the time. Even though I have an unlimited Metrocard, I took a cab home from the Marais tonight for $13 Euros because I was too afraid to get on the Metro again by myself.

This whole incident is obviously highly personal but I wanted to share it because it speaks to a larger issue of being a woman in a city with different cultural attitudes towards women and sex. Perhaps it is accepted and normal for men to catcall here, to be aggressive, and sure, the Metro incident could have happened in New York as well. But it contributed to a general anxiety I had already been experiencing about my safety alone as an American woman in a city overrun with men who seem to be consistently unable to control their sexual and romantic behavior. This is a grand generalization of course, but my experiences so far have made me wary about venturing away from my apartment when it's dark out. I am not afraid of the typical things one might fear in urban areas: I'm not afraid of being shot or accidentally encountering a drug deal or getting into a fight with someone. Right now, I am nervous to leave my apartment simply because I am a woman, and that is one fucked up reason to be afraid.


-Jess

P.S. I'm going to find some place to buy pepper spray, which I believe will make me feel like less of a victim, because I definitely feel like one right now, which is not a good thing in any way.

Karma Chameleon

I've had a weird day, or rather, couple of days.

Last Wednesday, my iPod began dying. First it would freeze when I selected a song, then the music would only play out of one ear (the left), and finally, last night, when I tried to restart it, I got the sad face of doom.

It's a nice gesture that they give you a URL to consult; however, as expected, Apple ultimately recommends going to the store and buying a new one. The sad face is considered to be the ultimate iPod malfunction; before it dies, you see the sad face. I went online to see if there were any alternative repair methods I could try myself; the fine experts at YouTube suggest smacking your iPod a few times. This is a really stupid idea; nonetheless, it was late and I was desperate, so I banged up my iPod a little bit (waking up my roommate in the process.) Of course, doing that didn't fix the machine and in fact probably furthered the damage to my hard drive.

Defeated and despondent--I love my iPod, and have a reputation for inadvertently ignoring friends on the street because I am too busy choosing the next song to play--I decided that I would visit Tekserve, Manhattan's premier no-warranty-required third-party Apple repair center. After walking eleven blocks to 23rd street because the F train I took to get there was a surprise express train, I found out that the iPod technician is on vacation and won't be back until later next week, so it will be a few days (and 128 dollars) before I get my iPod back. That's cheaper than buying a new one, but still, I was annoyed. Of course my iPod would break when the person who could fix it was out of the city. Of course my iPod would break when I had just put a bunch of new songs on it.

I sound spoiled, I know, but my iPod is the one machine I really can't live without. No laptop? I'll live, and use the library's computers. Broken phone? Not a big deal--people managed to make plans in the time before cell phones. But a busted iPod? Just plain sucks. It's not the end of the world, I know, but I love walking places and listening to my music, and the thoughts of just walking, soundless, is embarrassingly dreadful.

Karma perhaps paid me back, though, in the form of an inexplicable free smoothie at Jamba Juice. My rewards card wasn't filled up yet, but I guess having to wait a few minutes to place my order, combined with the fact that I'm pretty much a regular at the Flatiron location, granted me a free original-sized Orange Refresher with a shot of Daily Vitamins. The woman behind the counter winked as she told me my drink was on the house; I was elated, but also nervous, because now I feel that I have some sort of expectation to live up to--being deserving of a free smoothie--or that I have to flirt back with her in order to stay in her good graces. Whatever. The five bucks I saved on my drink, at least for the moment, made up for the lack of music playing in my ear as I headed back home.

Now I have homework to do before a couple of birthday parties tonight. I haven't been going out much at all these past couple weeks, so the idea of party-hopping is newly foreign to me. And I'm still a little sick, even though I've thus far been able to suppress my symptoms with an intense regimen of DayQuil, Claritin D, and weed. Here's to feeling better, free drinks, and listening to the sounds of the city for the next few days.

-Josh

Friday, September 12, 2008

OMG


100,012.

Christ.

You know what? I don't actually have a big rambling post about this. I just want to thank everyone who reads our blog! Y'all are awesome.

And now J&J is transatlantic. Who knows, our next 100K might come courtesy of a mustachioed French gentleman with a crush on Jess and a startling ability to parse through English posts about new media.

-Josh

Je Suis Arrivee!

I'm here, in France, in my apartment drinking really strong coffee and about to get on the Metro to go to the NYU building. It's cold and raining but that's to be expected. I don't have time to update a lot right now because I have to be at school by 9:30am and my commute is probably about 30 minutes. I love French people, and sandwiches from boulangeries and 2 euro bottles of wine. French men are obsessed with American women and are aggressive but also adorable, saying things like "It's nice to see American women in Paris!" and then promptly tripping and almost doing a full out face plant in the street. My first purchases for my apartment were a promotionally gigantic jar of Nutella and a 3 Euro bottle of Rose. We're in the 13th arrondissement and it's lovely. I have so many stories, like how the French call CSI "Les Experts," (lol!) among other things, which I will do this weekend once I fully get over my jetlag and adjust.

Bissou!
Jess

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blah

I'm sick. Not terribly sick, but enough to make me skip class and stay in bed. (See, I'm actually trying to stay academically motivated this year, so not going to class is a bad thing.) I'd elaborate, but Sarah Bunting has already done that for me. Read it and weep.

-Josh

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is the Concept of Popular Music Dead?


If the Video Music Awards proved anything, it's that, well, MTV has lost its touch. But more than that, it showed that the level of music we call "popular" has broadened its scope over the past couple of years, which actually works to contradict the idea of said music's "popular" status in the first place. Let me explain.

Maybe I've just gotten a little too old to be on top of, say, Z100's current playlist, but I remember back in the 90s and early 00s, I knew every song nominated for a VMA. (Okay, there were always those one or two obscure videos, but I think they were nominated because the videos themselves were cool, not because the songs were necessarily underground smashes.) They were the biggest hits of the year, playing on radio constantly, having their videos be requested around the clock on The Box (sigh, I miss that channel), and just generally pervading the culture.

But this year's VMAs featured such nominees as Ne-Yo, Danity Kane, and Taylor Swift. None of which had huge hits this year, at least at the level that MTV's flagship annual program would concern itself with. (No, "Damaged" was not a hit.) Sure, we also saw Katy Perry and Britney Spears, but...Katy rose to fame on the strength of her digital EP UR So Gay, and for all its buzz, Britney's Blackout wasn't the hit-producing chart-topper some hoped it would be. Which is exactly my point: I think the Internet has destroyed, or at least vastly changed, the concept of popular music.

It used to be that the hit songs were whatever radio and MTV wanted to play, and if you wanted to hear other music you really had to dig. Now, though, we have the Internet, and you can listen to Wolf Parade and Britney Spears with equal ease. iTunes, arguably the largest music store in the world, currently includes lists as its top-selling artists (in terms of Top Songs) T.I., The Pussycat Dolls, and M.I.A. Sure, "Paper Planes" was a breakout hit for the latter artist, but it's remarkable that a song from a Sri Lankan indie darling can achieve equal popularity with with a song by the most popular currently-together girl group in America. I'm happy for M.I.A.; her music is wonderful, and it's great that so many people are getting a chance to hear it. But without the Internet, I don't know if her music would have achieved such popularity. In the days before Pitchfork, you had to go to scour music magazines and go to the record store in order to find artists who weren't carried by Sam Goody; now, though, you can get any kind of music from the same service--iTunes--and new music is but a link away.

So while this increases the scope of popular music, it also limits its power, because once everything is popular, nothing is popular. Being a "top-selling artist" loses its meaning as people download illegally or burn music from friends; it's more about buzz than record sales. So while The Shins can enter the public's consciousness, perhaps Christna Aguilera and Lil' Kim has begun to fade out of it, pushed away by a score of other female pop and hip-hop stars who have seen their careers rise (or re-rise; hi Robyn) due to viral success. The artists from the pre-Internet era who survive today have done so for two reasons: either they have just become such a powerful cultural force that their name has guaranteed a fixed position for them in music culture--Britney, Madonna, etc.--or else they have successfully used the Internet to promote their music--Lil' Wayne has released a bevvy of online mixtapes, for instance, and Radiohead's Internet sale of In Rainbows revolutionized the record sales industry. But popular radio, like Z100 of the Tri-State Area, has lost its meaning; in a world where anyone can download whatever music they want at any time, nobody wants to hear whatever music an overpaid radio DJ has been given a bonus to promote. And YouTube has brought back the music video! As much as we'd all like to see MTV play more videos, hasn't YouTube kind of rendered that network's function obsolete? We don't need to wait for John Norris to introduce the new Kanye West video; we can watch it online instead, right now, for free. (Okay, one link--go watch it here. SO CUTE.)

Is "popular" music now whatever gets the most downloads on iTunes? Whatever the blogs hype the most? Whatever music gets the most word-of-mouth buzz? That's a difficult question, but I can tell you what popular music is not, at least by default: the music playing on Top 40 radio and nominated for a VMA. Actually, let me revise that statement: just because a song is played on Top 40 radio or nominated for a VMA, does not mean it is popular in today's culture. Am I just out of touch, or is it a little weird that Linkin Park won "Best Rock Video"? Because, honestly, who actually listens to Linkin Park anymore? Maybe I'm just too entrenched in New York, but I don't see how fans voted Linkin Park to victory, as nobody I know--in college or back home in Jersey--claims to like them, and I haven't even seen them played on MTV Hits (when...when I watch that network.)

And I didn't see M.I.A. get a single nomination.

-Josh

Monday, September 8, 2008

And I Am Actually Starting to Like That Song Kanye Performed at the VMAS Too


So did you guys know that Kanye made another video for the song "Flashing Lights"? Maybe this is really old news but I thought there was just the car one, which was great on its own. But apparently Kanye felt the need for a do-over, or maybe he just knew that MTV was probably too scared to put the violent original version into heavy rotation, so he made a video to appease them.

I hate this in theory, but Video #2 is actually really great too. Watch it here.

(By the way, the girl in the picture above is Rita G, aka Kanye's killer babe in the original clip.)

-Josh

Just a Question

This question just popped into my head, as I sit here at work (where I've been all morning), about to leave for classes (where I'll be all afternoon):

Is it better to risk your life as you know it, your security, and possibly your dignity in return for being truly happy? As in, say you've got a nice, secure job, you go out to an appropriate (but not overboard) degree, blah blah blah. And you're happy, or at least content. People say to follow your dreams, but sometimes it's not that easy, ya know? Or maybe you want to, but know you'll have to start at the very bottom, and you're already twenty so maybe that ship sailed a long time ago. I guess theoretically it's always best to reach for the stars, but I don't know how practical that is in the real world. I mean, have you achieved your dreams?

-Josh

Statz

Also (yes, it's 5am--I can't sleep), look at our hit counter. Over 99 thousand served. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that's a lot of people reading this blog. What's gonna happen when we hit 100K? A HUGE PARTY?

Ha. We'll probably just make another rambling, reflective post about the nature of blogging in our modern, technologically-driven society. Or something. But there'll be a party going on in my head! And all the free vodka you can hypothetically drink.

-Josh

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The VMAs Were Dumb and Boring and Made Me Actually Miss Courtney Love


The VMAs sucked. Here are some of my thoughts.

> I think the VMAs have sucked recently for two reasons. One, as the Internet has made it easier for "indie," or at least not record-label-crafted artists to grow popular, there isn't such a clear divide between hits and "underground." Like it used to be that I knew all the VMA-nominated songs, because they were the biggest hits from that year. But this year I can think of a few artists who were, in my opinion, snubbed, but I also didn't recognize all of the music. Like Tokio Hotel and Taylor Swift are NOT the best new artists of the music world. Also, like, Danity Kane is totally not a legitimate brand; in fact, MTV made those girls famous. Way to give yourself a blowjob, MTV. The second reason is that once the show left New York, each succeeding Video Music Awards has been less about the live experience and more about making it a cool-looking television show; ironically, this makes for less enthralling television, since we want to watch what we believe is a live show, not some multi-camera Media Thing that lets you know that Miley Cyrus is performing in 11 minutes or whatever. It totally kills the fun when you can tell MTV has full control (hi Britney.)

> Okay, having the cast of Some Stupid Show tell us that "nothing is at it seems" and then that coming to fruition by revealing that Paramore was actually performing live the whole time is the dumbest thing I've ever seen. But then, so is Paramore, and probably that Stupid Show as well.

> Was that like a new song from Kanye? It just was not Kanye West. Way to try to cross over to r&b, Biggest Rapper In Music Today. Stick to what you're good at.

> Speaking of artists performing music that clearly wasn't meant for them, WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT CHRISTINA AGUILERA. That was your new song? Much like the VMAs themselves, it was forced, awkward, and not what the audience expected or wanted. Like, where was the moment where she belted out a high note? Where was the campy goodness that's always marked her best music? Why did that song sound like a Kelly Osbourne reject?

> Put on clothes, Lil' Wayne. I can actually see your buttcheeks hanging over your pants.

> Shut up, Kid Rock. Lynyrd Skynnyrd are rolling in their graves right now. Everyone hates you and you were never relevant. Go home.

> Shut up, Russell Brand. Nobody wants to hear about your support for the political candidate everyone in Hollywood wants to win. You're annoying as fuck. Hosting the VMAS is like the easiest thing to do--you just crack a couple jokes about some starlets and then tell us when Kobe Bryant's coming--yet you managed to suck at it. Back to England with you, right then.

> Speak up, Britney Spears. I know your publicist probably instructed you to keep your mouth shut, smile, and get off the stage, you could have changed up your surely-well-planned acceptance speeches. Talked a little bit about the problems you've faced, been candid about your recent troubling behavior, assured us you're coming back for real, that sort of thing. I'm not saying you should have given your life story or launched into how this year has changed you as a person, but an acknowledgment would have been nice and you could have at least alluded to the fact that you've been a train wreck for the past year or so but now, things are different. Instead, your Stepford Wife act just confirmed with me that something truly isn't right with you, that you require the same amount of supervision as people like Michael Jackson. Don't make me put you in that same category, Britney. Come back--we're all rooting for you this time.

> Finally: Dear MTV--The VMAs are the one time each year that people actually watch you for the music. Don't fucking give us a half-assed deal like this. Again. Seriously, cutting out halfway through the performances of people like Katy Perry, or hardly showing them at all, makes us both not care about those artists and their performances and makes the people at home, like me, not care so much about the show, since your advertisers' time is clearly more important to you than ours. This was the 25th anniversary of the show; maybe you guys need to go back and remember what made the older shows a success. Mainly, you kept your hands, for the most part, off. You didn't have people accepting awards and performing songs in different areas, you didn't keep the actual awards to a minimum, and you gave us programs we wanted to watch again and again. It's shit like this--more than the advent of the Internet in promoting music or a dearth of interest in television in general--that's making you less relevant a network; your lack of concern about the actual music is astonishing. If you want to retain fans instead of having to continually face criticism from those who once loved you, as Justin Timberlake said at last year's awards, play more music videos. And bring the VMAs back to New York, in a traditional theater with one stage, air the performances in full, present more awards, and let the celebrities create their own scandals, as they always do. Love, America.

-Josh

Advice

My flight leaves JFK for Paris tomorrow at 7pm. I asked my friend Dina, who is currently studying in Paris, if there's anything I need to know about living abroad. This was what she said:
Any J&J readers have any European travel tips beyond not being a drunken American dumbass?

-Jess

Some Secrets Should Never Be Told

From this week's Post Secret:

-Jess