I blame Miley Cyrus and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

I have a reasonably large vocabulary, I suppose. Some words, particularly newer ones, apparently elude me, however. Twerking and selfie have been added to the Oxford Dictionary of English recently, and I had been largely oblivious to both terms.

Oh, I had vaguely heard of twerking, when some white female celeb was accused of doing it on a video – I no longer know (or particularly care) who – a few months (or years?) ago. But it’s like the name of the second person I meet at a party where I know no one; it slips off into the ether of my mind. It wasn’t until the infamous Miley Cyrus incident on some awards show recently, that I don’t watch but got lots of coverage, did it finally stick. Oh, yeah, twerking: OK, got it.

Whereas I had never, to my recollection, heard, or especially seen, the word “selfie”, meaning “pouty self-portrait typically taken with a smartphone” until I read the complaint about the Rolling Stone cover of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev being a selfie. Since that time, the term has become ubiquitous in my universe. I see it EVERYWHERE now, even in Chuck Miller’s blog. Geraldo Rivera took selfies, which I hope the NSA has captured. I’m sure my ignorance is a function, in part, of not having a smartphone. We have a digital camera, but I understand this trend to be a slightly different animal, gestalt-wise.

A buddy of mine suggested that her ignorance of twerk and selfie “sounds like a sexual hang-up, not a problem of limited vocabulary.” That MAY be true of me as well, especially in the case of the former, although realizing now that Anthony Weiner was taking selfies, maybe the latter as well.

Twerking seems to be in that straight line from Elvis the Pelvis to The Twist to the lambada, plus a bunch of other stuff I wasn’t paying attention to. (You probably DON’T, I mean DO NOT, want to watch this Twerking To Classical Music Via HUFFPOST. Told you so.)

Other new words:

“Dappy – silly, disorganised or lacking concentration: never heard of it. Is it a mix of daffy and happy?
“Digital detox – time spent away from Facebook and Twitter: never heard of this either, though the phenomenon of unplugging I was aware of.
“Girl crush – an intense and typically non-sexual admiration felt by one girl for another”: Is this the female equivalent of bromance? Pretty lame term, I must say.
“Vom – to be sick”: What? It looks like a word already in use, only a syllable longer. Ah, this story explains that it “saves two characters when twittering. Or tweeting. Whatever.”

[Yes, I have stolen this article. But at least it is from myself.]

Beauty: skin deep

The New York Times used exactly the same photo on the cover of their May 5 issue as Rolling Stone did more than two months later.

It’s well established in the literature that attractive people generally fare better. In many cases, humans attribute positive characteristics, such as intelligence and honesty, to physically attractive people without consciously realizing it.

I think that’s why the story of the dental assistant in Iowa who was fired for being too attractive – Cheri noted it recently – got so much attention.

At some level, I think the issue of the recent cover of the magazine Rolling Stone was upsetting to some people because Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not homely.

In TIME magazine, Alexandra Sifferlin quotes psychologist Ellen Berscheid: “While seeing an attractive picture of a villainous person isn’t likely to change our opinion of that individual’s egregious acts, as the uproar over the image indicates, it could lead us to feel some emotions that we may not think are appropriate. That includes sadness, and perhaps even a douse of empathy over why an attractive person would commit a terrible crime.”

William Rivers Pitt in Truthout opined: “The outrage over Tsarnaev’s face on the cover has everything to do with the fact that there is a puppy-dog cuteness about him which is jarring in the context of his alleged crimes… As for glorifying Tsarnaev or potentially upsetting the bombing victims, his face has been on the front page of every newspaper in the Western hemisphere more than once…” In fact, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi noted: “They used an existing photo, one already used by other organizations. The New York Times, in fact, used exactly the same photo on the cover of their May 5 issue.”

The same picture that Rolling Stone used was on the front page of the New York Times a couple of months earlier.

Pitt said: “Putting newsmakers on the cover [of the magazine] is not out of line. Hell, they had Charlie Manson on the cover once upon a time, as well as George W. Bush in 2009.” It’s not as though Rolling Stone dubbed him the sexiest terrorist or something.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe complained the picture was a selfie in a bit of psychobabble I don’t quite follow.

I was reminded that, back in 1994, TIME magazine darkened a cover picture of O.J. Simpson. It was supposed to be some artistic decision, but many people thought it was designed to make him seem more sinister. And TIME has had as Man of the Year Adolf Hitler (1939) and Ayatollah Khomeini (1979), but they weren’t endorsing them, merely noting their significance.

I’m not unsympathetic to those who might find the photo unsettling, and I understand why some stores took it off the shelves. But I don’t think the cover choice is outlandish.

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