Troublemaking Role Model: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Yesterday I posted about Serena Williams as a troublemaking role model who, when asked why she wasn’t smiling and happy in a post-match interview–a question that is imposed of women all the time, resisted the demand to be a polite good girl and challenged the reporter’s right to even ask the question. This morning, while scrolling through some old tweets, I found another example of refusing to be smiley and likable: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her talk at the 2015 Girls Write Now Awards:

I think that what our society teaches young girls and I think it’s also something that’s quite difficult for even older women, self-confessed feminists to shrug off is that idea that likability is an essential part of the space that you occupy in the world….That you’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes and make yourself likable, that you’re supposed to kind of hold back sometimes, pull back, don’t quite say, don’t be too pushy because you have to be likable. And I say that is bullshit.

Yes it is.

Troublemaking Role Model: Serena Williams

Reporter: Serena, you just won the match, and … normally, you smile when you win … you laugh. What happened tonight, is it because you beat Venus or because you’re thinking about [the next match]? What’s wrong?

Serena: It’s 11:30 … to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be in bed right now, and I have to wake up early to practice. And I don’t want to answer any of these questions, and you guys keep asking me the same questions. So … you’re not making it super enjoyable. [laughs] Just being honest.

I love Serena’s response. Makes me think of my problematizer, Smile of Die! from a few years ago.

Make Trouble From the Inside

It’s time to get busy. It’s your turn to cause trouble – but this time in the real world, and this time from the inside (John Waters).

Wow! I just watched John Waters’ awesome commencement speech (via Open Culture).

(check out the transcript)

What great advice for kids! Here are few ideas that I found particularly compelling:

1. Maturity = honing your skills as a troublemaker, not stopping troublemaking

Today may be the end of your juvenile delinquency, but it should also be the first day of your new adult disobedience.

2. Resist/disobey through sneak attacks.

You need to prepare sneak attacks on society. Hairspray is the only really devious movie I ever made. The musical based on it is now being performed in practically every high school in America – and nobody seems to notice it’s a show with two men singing a love song to each other that also encourages white teen girls to date black guys. Pink Flamingos was preaching to the converted. But Hairspray is a Trojan horse: It snuck into Middle America and never got caught. You can do the same thing.

3. Success/fulfillment = avoiding assholes.

I have figured out how to never be around assholes at any time in my personal and professional life. That’s rich. And not being around assholes should be the goal of every graduate here today.

4. Create in ways that challenge, outrage, terrify and beautifully fuck up the world.

I love how he elaborates in this section:

  • Design clothes so hideous that they can’t be worn ironically.
  • Horrify us with new ideas.
  • Outrage outdated critics. Use technology for transgression, not lazy social living.
  • Make me nervous!

Google on Questions

I saw a commercial about the google app last night. Since it was about asking questions, something I really like, I thought I’d post about it here.

A question is a powerful force in the world.
A question can start you on an adventure.
A question can spark a connection.
A question can change how you see the world.
A question can take you anywhere.

Search on. The Google app.

I agree with the underlying logic that Google presents here on the value of questions. A question is powerful. It can lead us on exciting explorations, help us to connect with others, transform our perspectives and take us to many different places. But, beyond this vague (and romanticized) vision of the question, what does the Google app do with these questions? How does it help us to ask them? How does it answer them and do those answers diminish/increase/maintain the transformative power of our questions?

My questions sparked my curiosity so I decided to visit the Google app site to find out what this app actually does. According to Google, in their “Things You Can Do” section, you can use the app to:

1. Talk instead of type by speaking your questions. You can also speak follow-up questions. Here’s the example that they give:

original question: How spicy is a ghost pepper?
follow-up request 1: I’m looking for Curra’s Grill (Mexican Restaurant)
follow-up reqeust 2: Show me the menu
follow-up request 3: How do you say my mouth is on fire in Spanish?
follow-up request 4: Play “Gonna Make you Sweat”

Fun. But (how) does this function tap into the power of asking and exploring questions?

2. Find things around you, “discover great restaurants, cool things to do, and the best ways to get there.”

3. Let Google pose the questions for you by sending email or text questions to friends.

4. Find your stuff: plane tickets, packages, etc.

5. Let Google anticipate your needs and provide you with the information before you ask using Now cards.

Wait. Google’s anticipation of our needs seems to be encouraging us to not ask questions. Who needs to even think about what we need and ask for it when Google will just figure it out for us?

This last function is troubling to me and undercuts the power of using questions to explore new places, new perspectives and new ideas. Much has been written about Google algorithms and the filter bubble or echo chamber that can be created when we rely only on sources that we find through google (or Facebook or twitter, etc). I briefly wrote about it on this blog a few years ago. I don’t want to rehearse those arguments here. Instead, I’ll conclude this post with a rewriting of Google’s commercial to reflect some possible hidden motivations and meanings behind their app and what it does to our questions:

Undisciplined’s Intervention

While a question is a powerful force in the world, its force is severely weakened when the answers that it yields are controlled by an algorithm and motivated by market interests.

A question can start you on an adventure to a place that Google has predetermined that you might should like.

A question can spark a connection to businesses that want to sell you things.

A question can change how you see the world but the answers often dictate and restrict how you interpret and understand that new vision.

A question can take you anywhere if you scroll through enough google search pages.