This week's Commontary comes to us from Steve Kokette.
There are those who hate television, and then there's Kokette, who holds a special reserve of malice for the boob tube and the inroads that the Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby educational videos have made into the St. Louis Public Library.
Kokette, who makes instructional sign-language videos, used to think nothing of selling his videos to parents who intended to teach their toddlers sign language. Then, in 2001, he read a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatricians.
"They recommend that children under two watch no television," Kokette tells Unreal. "My videos are the first to carry a label warning parents that they should not be shown to children under two."
Kokette was plenty steamed when he noticed that the St. Louis Public Library possesses 36 Baby Einstein videos.
"Why would they want to carry DVDs or videos that the AAP claims are going to harm kids?" Kokette asks. "You have to ask the question: Are libraries more concerned with their circulation figures than they are with the health of those that they're serving?"
A reasonable question. So Unreal put it to Patty Carleton, the library's director of youth services.
"We own and use those videos," Carleton confirms. "Why? Two reasons: They win awards, and when something wins a Parents' Choice Award, we're going to end up owning it. Also, we get a lot of requests for the videos."
Noting that the library isn't in the business of telling people what to watch or read, Carleton adds, "I know that using the TV as a babysitter is not good at any age, but I think the Baby Einstein programs can be used as a jumping-off point for educational activity. It boils down to responsible parenting and parenting is always an individual choice."
Kokette counters that he isn't saying the library should tell kids what to read or watch, only that they should inform borrowers about the AAP's study.
"Ninety-one percent of the population is unaware of this study," says Kokette, citing a figure from a Boston-based advocacy group, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "As long as we're going to treat the American Medical Association's ruling on smoking cigarettes almost as Holy Grail, shouldn't we treat the AAP's study the same? We should at least have enough respect for kids that libraries would just back off: To me it's a moral issue.
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The Unusual No-Trump
You say Internet poker's all the rage among Swedish Gen Y-ers? Pish-tosh, say Simon Bech, Sarah Sivelind, Emma Sjöberg and Cecilia "Godzilla" Rimstedt.
'Twas bridge that brought these brainiacs to St. Louis last week.
They were skipping school and work to rip up the tables for ten straight days at the American Contract Bridge League's spring nationals, with 25-year-old Sivelind and 18-year-old Rimstedt, in particular, defending their title as Women's Pairs champs. The gals earned the honors in Hawaii late last year "The youngest pair ever to win it," coach Jill Mellstrom notes proudly.
Unreal hunkered down with the Scandinavian squad for a brief spell last Thursday before the qualifying round.
Unreal: Do you use the bridge thing at bars?
Sjöberg: Yeah! People think it's really cool!
Have you run into Warren Buffett or Bill Gates?
Coach Mellstrom: Rumor has it they'll be here. I've played against them five or six times. They're getting there. Buffett I think is better than Bill Gates. He got Gates into it. But they're just like everybody else. They're just bridge players."
What do you drink to celebrate a big win?
[Blank stares all around.]
How do you like St. Louis?
Sivelind: The bridge area is very good.
Do you have a psych-up song?
[Knowing looks exchanged; Unreal anticipates the unexpected Marvin Gaye, say, or maybe Poison]
Bech: Disney movie soundtracks!
In San Francisco, Unreal hears, there are so many dominatrixes they're having trouble finding work. Sadly, that's not the case in St. Louis.
Enter BenchPress Burlesque, a local group that bills itself as "a multigendered sex-positive queer-positive feminist feast of political performance art." Composed of eight women, one trans (a woman who identifies as a man) and one bio guy (a man who identifies as a man), BPB's preparing to kick off a week-long tour this Saturday with a show at the Lucas School House.
The group models itself after early burlesque, which mixed social commentary with striptease. "We go back to where burlesque started," says BenchPress founder Loretta Loveless. "With a shitload of sex."
By today's standards, the material's tame. Though the costumes favor fishnets and corsets, the skits aim not to titillate but to challenge preconceptions about femininity and gender.
Loveless says she founded the group a year and a half ago, when she was working as a stripper. She has always been something of an anomaly in that field, she adds. "Educated sex workers are really, really rare," asserts Loveless, who attended graduate school in the Ivy League halls of Cornell University before dropping out. "And most sex workers are really sex-negative."
Loveless is anything but sex-negative. After posting fliers around south St. Louis in search of performers, she and her group set about developing their shtick.
Characters include Boi Bella and Fanny Smack, whose moniker is derived from her penchant for fanny packs. She does indeed spank people, she says, but only after getting their consent.
For the record: We resist the temptation.
We're tempted again when Loveless offers to sell us her stripper pole. "It's a nice pole," she says. "It's brass, so it warms up fast, and it spins on ball bearings."
We're sex-positive as all get-out, but we can't fathom how to explain it on the expense report.
Local Blog O' the Week
"The Beautiful Kind"
Author: The Beautiful Kind
About the blogger: The Beautiful Kind is a 34-year-old atheist mom who hates her job, is writing a book, and has a passion for sock monkeys and sex.
Recent Highlight (February 15): Cock n' Bull
The other day I went to my favorite Chinese restaurant, Asiana, with a friend of mine who is Chinese. The plan was for him to order all kinds of exotic vegetarian food for me to try. When we sat down I told J, "One of the reasons why this is my favorite Chinese restaurant is because they have BULL PENIS on the menu."
"Yes! Look!" I pointed it out to him.
"I'll get it."
"Oh, sure. Chinese Food Fear Factor. I've had dog before. And there's this dish called The Duel of the Tiger and Dragon that has cat and snake in it. "
"WHOAH." I'm used to just being grossed out by people eating bacon and steak!
When the server came to take our order, I silently hoped J would order in Chinese, and he totally did, and it was totally hot.
He ordered "greasy stick," which are like unsweet long johns you dip in sweetened, warm soy milk, this melon dish that reminded me of cucumber, diced tofu and 1,000 year old egg (they used to cure the eggs in horse urine, now they just use lye), a beautiful seaweed and egg soup I called "mermaid soup," and for himself, the bull penis and a soup with intestines and pig blood. (Now for all of you going ewww right now, please bear in mind that pepperoni is nothing but blood, fat, and salt, and that bologna has cow vagina in it.)
We ate our food and I alternately freaked out over all the amazing flavors, and by the bull penis sitting next to me on the table. There was a lot of food we had to work our way through, so finally I said to J admonishingly, "You haven't even touched your penis yet."
He told me he would wait until we got to my place to eat it, so I could get a picture. Yessss! So here it is (yes, the Mary Engelbreit bowl is deliberate. I suppose Mary imagined oatmeal with raisins in that bowl, not spicy bull penis):
He said it was good. I'm just wondering one more thing: now that he's eaten this dish, does that make him gay? Or just bull-curious? Know of an Unreal-worthy local blog?
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