There’s a theory in philosophical circles that says if you only consider two sides of an argument you’re committing a fallacy. The False Dilemma fallacy lurks behind dichotomies between man and woman, white and black, East and West, gay and straight. These are all categories that we ascribe assuming they are based on inherent traits rather than arbitrary social constructions. Underlying many of the tensions in today’s pop culture and political debates is the tendency to oversimplify issues into these long-established, false dichotomies. Many fields of modern critical thinking, like third-wave feminism, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory, work to deconstruct these cultural binaries. This semester, kitsch sought to do the same.
Complicating the narrative around common feminist issues, several writers address different ways women are pigeonholed into particular roles. Zoe Ferguson argues that the push for women to enter STEM fields is not enough—we have to also address the sexism that devalues their work in the humanities. Susie Plotkin examines how the media positions Nicki Minaj as a villain, while white pop queens ignore other spheres of privilege at play in favor of the easy men vs. women division. Maura Thomas profiles Tavi Gevinson, writer, fashion entrepreneur, and champion of the under-estimated teenage girl, showing what women and girls can achieve when they reject society’s rigid expectations.
Many of our writers were concerned with the dangers of an “us” vs. “them” mentality when it comes to “The West” and the rest of the world. Yana Lysenko pulls back the curtain on the imperialist implications of America’s obsession with white French fashion. Jael Goldfine and Kira Roybal examine the role of museums and photojournalism in creating a cultural “other,” and the importance of questioning these institutions. Jagravi Dave introduces The Kominas, a punk band that rejects the idea that “muslim” and “punk” are mutually exclusive, and explores questions of identity in America.
Other high profile dichotomies come from America’s two-party political system. Nate Coderre details the life-cycle of a politician who attempted to transcend the Republican/Democrat divide to battle the corrupting influence of big money in politics, while Sarah Chekfa critiques Twitter’s new feature that encourages users to rashly donate to campaigns, prioritizing emotion over reason.
And seeking expertise beyond our kitsch writers staff, we spoke with Mukoma Wa Ngugi about the dangers of perceiving a stable binary between Africans and African-Americans, and the staff at our local Planned Parenthood about the effects of the single- and narrow-minded agenda to defund the organization.
In the end, we all have a predisposition to conflate complicated issues with simplified dichotomies. Can we help from living in a world of analog vs. digital, beer vs. wine, caffeinated vs. decaf, audience vs. writer? But when this inclination to over-simplify and divide carries over from the mundane into the elusive complexities of identity and society, it becomes crucial to critically examine these binaries.
Katie O’Brien & Yana Makuwa