Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: April 2010 (page 1 of 4)

You Can’t Take It With You

I woke up this morning to a jarring phone call from my roommate; one of us had accidentally left the front door unlocked and my cat had escaped (to the fourth floor, where she was coddled until we popped up there and retrieved her).  So you can imagine the mood I was in when I logged in to Facebook and discovered a new change: My info page was now full of linked, public information where private lists had once been.  Rather than a simple list of my favorite books, movies, and music, I now had a list of links which, if one were to follow, they would be able to connect back to my name (never mind the fact that my profile is set to friends-only, and in reality, limited even farther than that, hidden from certain people I’d rather not allow dissect my faves).  Frustrated, I immediately removed all of the information from my profile.

Now, those of you who know me are probably wondering why I care.  After all, I’ve been blogging for almost ten years, I share all sorts of personal stuff on Twitter, and I don’t bother to ask Flickr users to remove unflattering photos of me.  I live very publicly.  So what gives, right?  In all of those instances, I choose what I share and with whom I share it.

Honestly, this is the third time I’ve been tempted to just give it all up and leave Facebook.  I don’t particularly love the site, and I’m more active on Twitter and elsewhere, but there remains one problem: Facebook is not just a platform; it’s a network. And you can’t take it with you.

That explains why there are so few Facebook refugees.  Each time the company changes its privacy controls, there’s a massive uproar from organizations and privacy activists, and yet…nobody deletes their accounts.  Same with the activists whose accounts get deactivated–rather than realize that Facebook poses inherent risks, they fight for their rights to return, often successfully.  Why?  Because you can’t take your network with you.

So what’s a disillusioned Facebook user to do?  There aren’t a whole lot of alternatives…you can leave and go to MySpace, orkut, Ning, or a local network.  You can limit your profile heavily, but it doesn’t really matter, since Facebook retains your information even after you leave.  You can join FacebookWatch, a fledgling project with the goal of unionizing Facebook users.

I don’t profess to know the solution; personally, I think I’ll stay for now, if only because it’s where my people are.  One thing’s for sure, however…I won’t be shutting up about it anytime soon.

The Price of Beauty

Yesterday, I watched an episode of Jessica Simpson’s The Price of Beauty which took place in Marrakesh. I hadn’t seen the show before, so had no idea what to expect, but knowing J.Simp’s provocative attire, imagined that I was in for a treat.

The first surprise was who Jessica’s host was – Khansa Batmaa! I could only wonder if the Simps did her research beforehand. The second shock was seeing how Khansa dressed Jessica and her friend before going out into Djamaa el Fna – like elderly Moroccan women (below), while Khansa herself wore a short djellaba and no hijab.

In the episode, Jessica and her friends shop in the Marrakesh medina, visit a hammam (a co-ed one, which apparently exists, or was set up just for this episode), eat sheep brain, and sit down with three generations of Moroccan women to get their opinions on beauty.

The most interesting bit to me was in the clip above, when Jessica was sitting down with the three generations of women; one of the younger women, Laila, was wearing a low-cut shirt showing her cleavage, and jeans, but pointed to Jessica’s shorts, saying she was showing too much skin. Jessica was shocked, but eventually stated that she didn’t understand how a woman showing so much cleavage could judge her for wearing shorts, thus proving my long-held theory that in Morocco, legs are way more provocative than breasts. Jessica’s friend (Ken, I think) showed a moment of lucidity, explaining that what is provocative in Morocco (in this case, shorts) is completely standard in the United States.

Jessica was her usually harebrained self, and made all sorts of stupid comments, but Morocco was given fair treatment. I haven’t seen any of the other episodes yet, so I’m not sure if Jessica went to any other countries I’ve spent time in, but I might watch another episode…on mute.

Couscous, Djellaba, Tajine.

Originally posted at Talk Morocco

Julia Roberts, McDonald’s, Mickey Mouse.

This was how a young Moroccan student of mine described the United States to me. Images from his youth: Pretty Woman, glimpsed illicitly on satellite TV as a boy, or downloaded by BitTorrent. McDonald’s, which arrived in his hometown when he was eight, a beacon of American consumerism. Mickey Mouse, drawn on medina walls, advertising a kindergarten down the street. If those are his images of America, then they are too my images of Morocco, mixed with salty black olives bought from the local hanout and Amazir wine, hidden in paper bags for the journey home.

I am not Moroccan, and so my musings on Moroccan identity exist only from the perspective as an outsider. Moroccan identity has been fetishized and orientalized by Westerners since the time of Edith Wharton, and continues to be. In popular travel writing, Moroccans are described as mystical beings, devoutly attached to Islam but yearning for modernity, in love with everything Francophone, and confused, caught somewhere between east and west, tradition and modernity. To them, Moroccans fit one singular, albeit complex, mold. In my classroom, Moroccan students themselves would often refer to the “Moroccan mentality,” an intangible thing that needn’t be defined, as everyone knew quite what it was. Everyone except me, that is.

When I first settled into my life in Morocco six years ago, I was indeed struck by certain paradoxes: How my newfound friends could pray the Maghrib prayer then go out clubbing that night, stumbling home intoxicated, just to start over again the next morning. How a female friend would tell me she longed to wear hijab but simply couldn’t, because her parents wouldn’t allow it. But with time, these things seem far less strange; they are small patches in the fabric of Moroccan society, things we just live with.

At the same time, I recall being frustrated with the stagnancy of discussion around certain topics. It took almost a year for a close friend to admit to me that she was an atheist, and even then, it’s still our little secret. And forget bringing up the Western Sahara–despite global opinion to the contrary, nearly every Moroccan I’ve ever met believes it to be wholly and unarguably part of their country.

But over time, the diversity that I at first thought was lacking made itself apparent to me, as I navigated Morocco’s tightly woven hip hop scene, met atheists and punks, lesbians, and young Sufi hopefuls. What was nearly impossible to crack on the surface slowly revealed itself to me in my friendships, and as time passed, I found that much of what keeps these “secrets” hidden is a desire to keep up appearances…not so different from life in my own country.

Ultimately, however, there is a unifying thread amongst Moroccans that is hard to put a finger on. It is made up of thousands of small parts: it is in the overwhelming sense of hospitality, the willingness to offer–and drink–a glass of mint tea with a stranger. It is in the language, the darija of the streets that puzzles other Arabs but which holds the key to so many doors in Morocco. And yes, it is in couscous, and djellabas, and tajines, things with roots across the region but that have become so quintessentially Moroccan, synonymous really, just as (for better or for worse) Julia Roberts, McDonald’s, and Mickey Mouse are to the United States.

What Morocco is not, however, is a simple place stuck in time, contrary to what many travel writers would have you believe. It is too easy, as many travel writers have found, to stick with the same simplistic tropes: “a place stuck in time,” “a disorienting and surreal mix of old and new.” In focusing on the contrasts, one misses out on what makes Morocco so fantastic: its people and their ability and willingness to reassess identity as time goes on. As Morocco grows and develops, so does Moroccan identity.

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