A New Logo, A New Era

The Unitarian Universalist Association unveiled its new logo the other day, and it has generated a tremendous amount of heat and light.

For your consideration, here’s the most recent logo:

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I remember when this one came out. Some hated the “vagina dentata” toothiness of the radiant orb surrounding the chalice. Others liked how much the image hearkened to folk art images of La Virgen de Guadalupe.

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We had many opinions and modes of expressing them. The earnest and heart-felt collided with the snarky. The self-appointed crowd control agents informed everyone that they should just calm down, it’s just a slogan. Those who bristle at being silenced bristled at being silenced.

Here is the new logo:

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I like it. I like the warmth and lines of the design, I like the use of negative space that creates two Us (which was pointed out to me by a lay leader of my congregation who is a graphic designer), I like that it evokes for me the Ottoman tulip design of which I am extremely fond.

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But logos and symbols evoke visceral and very personal reactions, so it does not offend or upset me that so many of my co-religionists hate the new logo and see in it a phallus, or a vagina, or a bomb.

Let me tip my hand here and admit that I am much more interested in the phenomenon of community reaction than I am in the actual logo. FWIW, my own congregation has its own favorite chalice logo that we use in all our materials in order to create a consistent visual message (yes, a “brand”) throughout our organization and community. We may or may not use the new logo ourselves, but I certainly assume we’ll interact or cross-pollinate with it somehow.

We have always had tensions between our independent association of congregations and our covenanted “denominational” identity. One proof of this is how many Unitarian Universalists think that our 7 Principles are their own congregation’s covenant. They are not: The Principles are the covenant between member congregations of the UUA.  Each autonomous congregation may have its own congregational covenant (and, I believe, should — just as much to experience the process of crafting it together than to be bonded in a meaningful way by the resulting statement). None of our congregations has to have anything to do with this logo if they don’t want to.

Putting on my congregational consultant hat, I would have recommended that the UUA leaders be aware that times have changed a LOT since the last time they rolled out a new logo, and that they could expect a huge reaction to explode on Facebook, where thousands of their ministers and lay people would have instant access to the image and where reactions to it would go viral among our little community, with major seepage into the broader community of liberals, who are highly networked on Facebook. If you believe that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the last 24 hours of UUA-wide conversation, hand-wringing, shade throwing and thoughtful reflection has been a fabulous PR campaign. Whether we have shown ourselves in the best light during this moment or not is a matter of opinion.

In addition to instantaneous Facebook reaction, UUs have taken to other social media outlets to express their opinions. This blog post, which might seem to be “of the moment” in terms of the logo roll-out, is actually quite belated in social media concepts of time. By the time I have gotten around to writing this, many of my colleagues have already posted lengthy reflections on the new logo on their own blogs; some have written multiple posts.

If I was consulting with the UUA leadership (and I’m not) I would recommend that they make a list of UU Influencers and enlist their support and involvement before such a big roll-out, not afterwards. There is nothing unethical about being savvy about how social media works and reaching out to influencers in your field. I read the recent UU World articles about board issues and read the president’s report, appreciate that the Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s Programs and Strategy Officer, went onto the UU on-line talk show the VUU to discuss the new logo and to give some of the denominational (technically “associational,” but let’s not open that can of worms) perspective on the new logo.

I watched the VUU episode, but it’s a lot to expect the average UU to sit through an hour of talking heads to get to the part where Dr. Cooley fills them in on this latest branding effort.  I love the VUU because the panelists are close friends of mine, and I have lots of patience for the, let’s say,  homegrown production values of the show. It’s a Google Hangout with five or six people chatting from various locations around the country, and although it’s a very pleasant hour, it has a small viewership and can’t be expected to do much heavy lifting by way of associational communication. One of the most provocative remarks Rev. Dr. Cooley made on the show was that she felt that the UUA had been presenting an “inconsistent message” in the past that confused people. I have no idea what she means by that but it’s a really interesting thing to say. I would love to hear more about that.

I personally think that the furor about the logo has revealed the identity crisis within our Association, and the serious rift between ministers/lay people (people in the local congregation, and especially the little ones) and our UUA leadership. I know that I am very confused by the roll-out of campaigns and initiatives from what used to be referred to as “25 Beacon Street” (we’re moving — but I am guessing that the nickname might stick). We’re drowning in lingo, but the bottom line is that people in the Association have opposing ideas about what our focus is and should be.

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Curses! Foiled Again! Witches In Pop Culture: PeaceBang Reviews “American Horror Story: Coven”

I named myself a Witch way back in fourth grade. It wasn’t just because I was obsessed with “Bewitched,” which I was (Endora was my girl — Samantha was cute, but didn’t interest me any more than Disney princesses interested me. Maleficent, now she interested me). It was because I was a witch and I knew it. I was in touch with the Unseen realm and I knew how to read it and even sort of how to manipulate it. I read everything I could find about witches and witchcraft and the paranormal. There wasn’t a lot. There was nothing in my school library about other cultures or shamanic traditions, for example, that might have shed some light on what I was experiencing. I did my best to educate myself with books of medieval studies, Puritan New England, alchemy and 1970′s pop material on psychic phenomenon.

I am a Witch and witches are real. I don’t do actual spells any more, as I never worked one that wasn’t effective, although they all came with unfortunate side-effects or unanticipated collateral damage. My witchiest years were full of “I Love Lucy” sitcom kinds of moments, which would find me moaning, “Oh my gosh, I just wanted to kiss that guy, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt so I could have that chance!” Or, “Now that I have all that energy coursing through me to get through that test/show/day of work, I don’t know how to turn it off!” Cue obnoxious Energizer Bunny inflicted on family, friends or co-workers.

With my full library of Wiccan resources, courtesy of the 1980′s Harmonic Convergence and subsequent opening of the broom closet for witchy types, I learned to work spells. I raised the cone of energy with pagan groups and studied with priestesses. I became more and more adept at managing energy. This was really thrilling for a long time, until I realized that the sad trombone of unanticipated stupid or even slightly dangerous side effects still seemed to accompany my magical successes, so I stopped before getting myself or anyone else into serious trouble. Today when I pray “Thy will be done,”  I have an intimate relationship to the words. The only spell I want to cast at this point in my life is to more mindfully align myself with Lady Wisdom, who has a traffic pattern and flow worked out that I feel I should not interrupt with my personal desires, no matter how altruistic they may seem to be. I do pray a lot: but only to enter into the spirit of peace, to receive clearer understanding or to connect with God’s will, which I understand as a kind of bus that I need to run to catch and board. I don’t know where it’s going and I’m not driving. But I need to get on.

Given my personal past, I was incredibly excited to hear last year that “American Horror Story: Coven” would deal with witches. Contemporary witches! Yessss! My people!  I knew it would be too much to expect that television writers would write about witches in an entirely responsible way, but I thought it reasonable to expect that the creators might at least deal well with women’s spiritual power. The producers announced that Jessica Lange, Gabourey Sidibe, Kathy Bates, Lily Rabe, Angela Bassett and Frances Conroy would have major roles! How could this fail?

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Miss Angela Bassett gave me LIFE in this role!

Well, it did. It failed miserably. The show bit off far more than it could chew in terms of addressing America’s racist past and present, setting up a rivalry between the Black voudoun priestess Marie Laveau and European white Fiona Goode, “Grand Supreme” of the Salem Witch legacy. That was a disappointment, but not a surprise. It was an audacious theme to raise, and writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were unable to take it anywhere meaningful.

Where Murphy and Falchuk might have been expected to do better — much better- is in imagining the ways that women might use extraordinary powers. In the end, they could only really imagine three ways: To preserve heterosexual, patriarchal norms of beauty, to compete and take revenge on each other, and to manipulate sexual partners. Every one of the witches longed for heterosexual consummation, except for the sweet and dear Misty Dawn (Lily Rabe) who alone represented the accurate historic role of Witch as healer, knitter-together of shredded pieces of people and situations.  I will never forgive Ryan and Falchuk’s despicable treatment of Gabourey Sidibe, a very heavy African American actress whose character sought coitus with a minotaur, and whose body was positioned in humiliating ways throughout the season that the white, slim actresses were never, ever subjected to.  The season is a horrific testament to unconscious hatred of black bodies and fat bodies.

The woman-on-woman violence in this season sickened me. I watched through to the end of the series because I wanted to see if the writers would ever figure out that powerful women have concerns beyond getting the guy and out-performing each other for more (pointless) power and glory. The one female character who was not a witch was a sadist who delighted in torturing black men, a spectacle that Falchuk and Murphy inexcusably played for entertainment value by the final episode.

I wonder what I would have gotten from “American Horror Story: Coven” as a young witch. I’m sure I would have loved the fabulous costumes, the goth drama, and the first promising episodes. Would I have eventually recognized the deep misogyny and racism in the writing? Would I have continued to love the series because it at least recognized energy work and magic, in however distorted a way? I don’t know. I only appreciate that  magical young women these days have many more resources to go to than I did when I was first exploring the contours, possibilities, limits and responsibilities of my own spiritual power. Sister Witches, I’m sorry that “American Horror Story: Coven” treated our kind with such ignorance and disdain. Go out and write a better story.

tumblr_mxoc5zMbeG1s4jr0no1_500Best character from the season. In the end it was all about Myrtle Snow for me (Frances Conroy).

I totally want those hats.

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Dear Lizzie: A Letter To My Girlfriend from “The Blacklist”

Dear Lizzie,

Hey. I haven’t known you for that long, but I watched you last night fighting with your husband about having a baby, and I feel like we need to talk.

I don’t have a husband or kids, Lizzie, and I’m really happy.  To be honest with you, I think you’d be happier if you stopped tormenting yourself about the baby issue. I’ve been watching you, girl. You LIVE FOR YOUR WORK. You totally do. And that’s okay, Lizzie! You’re amazing at catching bad guys! Keep catching bad guys!

I’ve watched you climb an elevator shaft in heels and I just gotta say, a Snuggie is really going to cramp your style.  You won’t even have time to blow-dry your huge, Country Western music star hair anymore. For like, the first ten years of your child’s life. Are you sure you can live with that?

Now let’s get real about your baby daddy. It’s time.  You know you don’t trust him. Neither do I. Neither does the entire UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Lizzie. I’m talking millions of us. We’re worried about you!  Tom says he’s an elementary school teacher but yet he has enough time and energy to make you a totally gourmet dinner and go to an art show opening and flirt with an obviously nefarious female with mean eyes and bad girl lipgloss after a day of work? He’s NOT an elementary school teacher, Lizzie. If he was an elementary school teacher he would be comatose by the television by 8:30 PM with an empty Lean Cuisine container on his chest.

How can you still trust this dude, Lizzie? Maybe it’s because you’re ALWAYS AT WORK DOING WHAT YOU LOVE CHASING SOCIOPATHS and you hardly spend any time with him! No hanging out after work, no grocery shopping together (all that Chinese take-out), no walks with the dog (and I recommend that you two get a dog and see how that goes before adopting a child), no folding laundry together. Who does your laundry, Lizzie? I’ve been wondering.

But I understand, Lizzie, and I sympathize. As a woman who totally loves and lives for her work, I have often made the same mistake about men. Not seeing that they’re shady, lying creeps who are leading double lives, I mean. Don’t feel ashamed. A lot of awesome and brilliant women are really stupid romantically. All I’m saying is, you can’t go having a baby with a man who was recently under FBI investigation. It’s just not wise, you know what I mean? You guys have major trust issues. Also, I could tell you hated being at that baby shower. You can tell me. You hated it. I saw it in your face when you were blindfolded and tasting pureed carrots. You wanted out of there so badly. You were dying to get back to climbing elevator shafts in your high heeled boots. I felt you.

Look, I’m going to say it: you’re not cut out for family life. It’s not that you never make it home on time, it’s that you never make it home at all! You’re obsessed with bringing evil white men to justice (it appears that only white men make the Blacklist, a fact I find somewhat ironic, but aside from a smattering of people of color in your work environment –and in your father figure Red’s personal entourage of people who either protect him or get killed for him– your universe of Criminal Masterminds seems to be 100% snowy white European. I’m more than a little insulted by this, but that’s a conversation we can have another time). You frown all the time. You’re only truly alive when you have a gun in your hand and you’re shouting at Croatian mobsters or serial killers.

Lizzie, Lizzie. You’re never with children! How do you even know that you like them? You have no community of support or social involvement. You never go out to lunch or want to sleep in, and the only incoming calls you get on your cell phone are from the FBI telling you that they found a guy who changes the DNA of his victims in order to fake the deaths of psychopaths who can afford to pay him big money (because we all know that lots of psychopaths have this kind of dough in the bank). My point is, Lizzie, you’re not going to be happy at the park watching a little kid push a toy truck around in the sandbox. You’re going to be really resentful. You’re going to be taking calls from the FBI in the middle of Mommy and Me time because you can’t help it. It’s who you are.  I’ve got news for you: motherhood isn’t going to magically provide you with a personality transplant. You can’t expect one little tiny human being to change you that much. If you had a great hub and you guys were solid, I wouldn’t be so worried. But you guys are SO not a team. He can beam his bright blue eyes on you from behind those fake hipster glasses and say otherwise all he wants, but the guy is SHADY, Lizzie. He’s not there for you. And if he’s not there for you and you’re not there for the bambino on your own or with a partner, someone’s going to wind up in life-long therapy, catch my drift?

So talk to your writers, Liz. It’s all in their hands, really. Tell them that the viewers of America are concerned that you’re pushing a plot line that is totally inconsistent to your character’s integrity. Tell them that we know you’re smarter than to not have had the Honest Talk with Tom yet.  Tell them that they can go ahead and script that talk and that we will all breath a sigh of relief and move on to the real business at hand of Catching Bad Guys and watching James Spader deliver their hilariously psychopathic dialogue with ultimate comic villainy and panache. Oh, and while you’re at it, Lizzie? Please let your writers know that not only white men are capable of being brilliant, dazzlingly creative sociopaths.

We’ll be watching.

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