You watch too many scary movies.
In a rare moment of unity, the Internet has enjoyed a collective "WTF" moment watching the case of Natalia Grace unfold.
Most recently, Dr. Phil interviewed the Ukrainian-born orphan who's been accused of masquerading as a child in order to be adopted by an all-American and "unsuspecting Christian couple"—before allegedly attempting to murder them. As the (now divorced) Indiana couple Michael and Kristine Barnett await trial for felony neglect of a minor, Dr. Phil has appointed himself to be the interlocutor to uncover new layers to the mind-boggling story. As if straight out of the 2009 horror movie Orphan, the Barnetts alleged that in 2010 they adopted Natalia from a Florida orphanage believing that she was 6 years old. While they were well-informed that Natalia was born with a rare form of dwarfism, they claim they were "scammed" by the "con artist" whom they allege was at least 20 years old when they adopted her. In 2012, they successfully petitioned a court to legally change Natalia's age to 22, claiming that bone-density tests and anecdotal evidence proved that she'd completed puberty and was a grown adult. Then they rented Natalia her own apartment in Indiana while they moved to Canada with their biological son.
Cue our collective "WTF?!"
From media coverage ranging from The Daily Mail to Buzzfeed News to The Cut, we know that some details of the Barnetts' testimony are in direct contradiction with others who support Natalia. Dispute over the girl's age at the time she was adopted place her anywhere from 6 to 8 to 14 years old, with initial bone density tests never recovered or corroborated by other scans. The Barnetts had Natalia treated for various psychiatric disorders, and while Dr. Phil pointed out that children who grow up in institutional care can experience developmental difficulties, the brain is surprisingly resilient and can compensate for neglect later on. That's to say: No, Natalia Grace is probably not a psychopathic movie villain come to life.
Apparently, Natalia's been living with a new Indiana couple, Antwon and Cynthia Mans, who don't believe she's an "evil dwarf," in Dr. Phil's delicate phrasing. In the interview, Natalia says of the Barnetts, "I actually thought I had found the right family after bouncing around from a lot of families. I thought I had found the right family for me." But soon, as Buzzfeed News notes, "Things started going downhill after she underwent a surgery related to her dwarfism...and Kristine Barnett began questioning her age. 'Everything started happening after that one moment,' Natalia said." She identified her conditions as diastrophic dysplasia, as well as scoliosis. Sitting with Dr. Phil, as Natalia watches video testimony of Kristine Barnett's allegations against her, her open expression clearly wilts. She watches as Kristine alleges that she discovered evidence of Natalia having a menstrual cycle and full pubic hair when she was believed to be 8 years old (which Natalia and Cynthia Mans deny), among other claims that Natalia made threats to murder the family and hid knives in the kitchen. Natalia went into detail to recount her version of the events that drove Kristine Barnett to accuse Natalia of poisoning their coffee and standing at the foot of their bed in the middle of the night while holding a knife. Ultimately, she said she doesn't wish the Barnetts to be sentenced to prison, but "if it comes to that…" so be it. She said the Barnetts should "get right with God." Dr. Phil ends the interview by telling Natalia, "I'm very impressed with you. You're an impressive young woman."
So while we now have Natalia's side of the story, our weirder-than-fiction fascination with the (probably) 16-year-old is refracted through plenty of ableism and xenophobia that still exist within horror stories' tropes.
First, there's the creepy factor of the foreign, adopted child. Orphan worked so well to freak us out because of its excellent play with the Spooky Boy trope (i.e. children are inherently creepy and they Know Things). The good/evil child dichotomy might be filtered through the lens of tiny-psychopath-on-the-loose or the more obvious supernatural threat of possessed children, but depictions of non-biological children have been used to add an eerie quality and signal that The Kids Aren't Alright. From Damien in 1978's The Omen being adopted and maybe being the Antichrist to Macaulay Culkin as a sociopath in 1993's The Good Son to 2009's Orphan, let's acknowledge there's a not-great message that non-biological children pose a danger to our sense of safety underlying some of our classic horror tropes. In one of the most famous examples—get ready for a throwback—we have the patently horrifying appearance of Samara in The Ring. Yes, she's a dead little ghost girl based on Japanese folklore, but her full backstory is that she was a troubled kid with a horrific parentage who was adopted by an uber-Christian couple before she began showing supernatural powers—until her adoptive mother threw her in a well to, you know, protect the village.
The Ring (2002) - Samara Morgan's FULL Death Scene (with Deleted Scenes) www.youtube.com
Moreover, foreign children particularly bear the brunt of this weird, mostly unconscious anxiety, with Esther in Orphan being a young Russian girl. Evil characters using "foreign accents" has long been a not-quite-right problem in media. As carriers of racial or plain xenophobic stereotypes, many movie "villains were constructed based on views of the American people at the times in which the films were created. This would mean that the foreign entanglements at the time of production had a direct impact on the villain character as far as casting and racially biased portrayals," as studied by Bryant University. That is to say: Why, exactly, do all the headlines about Natalia Grace identify her only as the "Ukrainian Orphan"? Regardless of her age, she's indisputably been in the United States since 2008 when she was first adopted, though she was later sent to a Florida orphanage. Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, Natalia has been an American citizen since 2008.
In case you have a headache from how plain an allegory that is for Spooky (Adoptive) Children, let's just mention the obviously ableist aspect of our possessed-by-a-demon tropes. The unsettling truth is that many of history's famous cases of possession have compelling arguments that a medical condition was to blame for the symptoms we now associate with "evil," especially in horror movies: body deformities, strange gait, unusual facial characteristics, unusual voice. After all, who isn't still haunted by Linda Blair crawling down the stairs in The Exorcist? The Insidious franchise is predicated upon a lovely couple witnessing their son Dalton fall prey to supernatural forces, which is signaled by the fact that he falls into an unexplained coma. A sad trope in media, in general, is that of the "Sad Cripple," with plenty of professionals and activists and regular viewers who understand metaphors pointing out that there's a regressive, f*cked up stigma being reinforced about disabilities and disfigurement in today's media.
As Dr. Colleen Donnelly wrote in "Re-visioning Negative Archetypes of Disability and Deformity in Fantasy," "Fantasy and horror often exploit disabled people, presenting them as embodiments of terror and evil...Dwarves have been presented as a race of stout, earth and mountain dwelling miners, sometimes susceptible to obstinacy and greed, as in Tolkien's Hobbit (1937) and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), and made childlike by Disney or in the presentation of munchkins in the Wizard of Oz movie. Often throughout history, villains and malefactors have also been presented as monstrous, disabled or deformed."
So if it's true that the Barnetts' behavior towards Natalia changed after she had an operation related to her medical condition, maybe the Barnetts have simply watched too many horror movies. Natalia told Dr. Phil, "I don't want people to see me as what they have been saying I am…I want them to see my personality...I don't want them to be scared to come say hi because of what they read...I want them to see the genuine me."
'I Don't Want People To See Me As What They Have Been Saying I Am,' Says Ukrainian Orphan youtu.be
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You can bid on a legal document that grants you ownership of a percentage of Grimes' soul.
If you're feeling particularly soulless as of late, you're not alone!
Grimes, who birthed both a studio album and her first son earlier this year, isn't letting a world in shambles keep her from Grimesing on. She's now dabbling into fine art too, making her debut in simultaneous online exhibitions on Gallery Platform Los Angeles (May 28 through June 3) and Maccarone Los Angeles (May 28 through Aug. 31). The show is called Selling Out and features a piece also called "Selling Out" that contains part of Grimes' soul.
The piece reads as a smug, condescending view of Korean culture through a patently white, Western lens.
This morning, The Hollywood Reporter released their much-hyped BTS feature story written by Seth Abramovitch, a senior writer who flew out to South Korea to interview the band.
Trigger Warning: Su*c*de
But while an in-person profile on the world's most popular musical group sounds like a surefire hit, upon reading the article I couldn't help but feel that THR pushed a highly problematic, xenophobic view of South Korea and the K-POP industry as a whole.
Courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment
Now, upfront, I want to give Abramovitch the benefit of the doubt. I don't think he set out to write anything intentionally malicious. But at the same time, his article bleeds Western superiority and invokes a sense of "otherness" in discussing Korea that struck me as ridiculously misguided. The fact that those sentiments were likely subconscious makes them all the more worthy of discussion.
Throughout his piece, Abramovitch alternates between being an ill-prepared outsider ("I admit to being a little fuzzy on some of the finer points of BTS history, like where they came from, why they are so appealing to so many millions or even what BTS stands for") and a biting social critic ("Since its origins in the 1990s, K-pop has been part Motown, part Hunger Games.") The resulting piece reads as a smug, condescending view of Korean culture through a patently white, Western lens.
This is the first line of the BTS article: "The restaurant is called Dotgogi, which means either Sesame Meat or Aged Pork, depending on which online translator I consult." In a profile piece, the first sentence sets the mood. Here, Abramovitch opens with the "otherness" of a Korean word and the possibility of two different translations. This feels like lazy shorthand to convey an implicitly xenophobic sentiment about being in a strange land unlike his own (his being the Western world, where everything is "normal").
Abramovitch goes on to introduce BTS as "the first group since The Beatles...to score three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart in less than a year," before tacking on, "a feat that's all the more astounding considering their songs are mostly in Korean." Again, this strikes me as off-putting. We live in a global society where most people have access to media from all around the world. Nobody bats an eye when a song with Spanish lyrics tops the charts or a LatinX performer enters the public eye. What exactly makes it so much more astounding when the group in question is Asian?
Abramovitch continues to paint the BTS boys as simultaneously affable and fake. He suggests that everyone is carefree and open ("You'd think they were just seven college buddies catching up over a meal") but only up until he starts asking pressing questions about politics. "Indeed, whenever the conversation turns to anything controversial — or just slightly provocative — their answers have all the spontaneity of a Disney animatronic figure," writes Abramovitch. "For instance, when asked if they have any reservations about resuming their tour in America during such a politically fraught period, a switch seems to flip in RM's brain."
This language, again, seems to draw upon racist, xenophobic sentiments about Asians as robots, when, in fact, a lot of Western artists would likely answer politically fraught questions in the same way. That's not being dishonest, and it's not because they live "in a bubble," as Abramovitch writes. It's because many artists with wide global appeal like BTS see their primary job as bringing joy to fans, and alienating any of them, even the ones they may personally disagree with, is not in line with their ethos as performers.
Once again, my goal here isn't to nitpick the writing, but rather to point out how these biases, while probably subconscious, negatively inform the piece as a whole. Throughout the piece, Abramovitch's goal seems less about understanding BTS and their feelings on any particular topic and more about placing them within the context of a Korean industry that Abramovitch sees as problematic.
In fairness, there are a number of issues in the K-POP industry, especially in regards to the way that some companies treat their performers. But at the same time, plenty of Western music labels mistreat their performers, too, and it feels weird to see a white, Western writer paint it as a distinctly Korean issue. The abuse of artists by major companies is an issue well-worth discussing, but the conversation should always include the context of capitalist structures everywhere that seem to incentivize said abuse.
Moreover, in his attempt to explain the evils of the K-POP industry, Abramovitch passively dredges up the death of Jonghyun, a beloved K-POP star from the group SHINee who lost his battle with depression in 2017. Here, Abramovitch writes especially tactlessly, not even referring to Jonghyun by name. "In 2017, the industry drew intense scrutiny after a member of SHINee...took his own life," he writes before excerpting Jonghyun's final note. This feels incredibly disrespectful, especially in light of how the media tends to treat beloved Western artists who've lost similar battles to depression. It would be unimaginable to read an article that referenced beloved comedy icon Robin Williams, who brought joy to so many lives, only as "a movie actor who took his own life." Why, then, is it okay to treat a beloved K-POP star like Jonghyun that way?
Beloved K-POP star, JonghyunHan Myung-Gu/WireImage
In effect, the THR article ignores Jonghyun's personhood and legacy as a wonderful singer, songwriter, dancer, and human being, instead footnoting a tragedy that deeply affected many people just to fit into an argument that doesn't even necessarily hold up. In fact, while Jonghyun's passing did lead to discussions in South Korea about relieving the pressures of the competitive nature of the K-POP industry, it primarily drew attention to the need for mental health awareness, with Jonghyun's family starting a foundation to help support artists struggling with depression. Many people suffer from depression, and blaming someone's lost battle on any one thing seems, at best, to misunderstand the complexity of mental health issues. More importantly, relegating a human being only to their untimely passing without even mentioning their name seems particularly callous. Jonghyun's family, friends, fans, and loved ones deserve better.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with Abramovitch's article is one of representation. Why would THR send a middle-aged, white writer like Abramovitch, who seems to express something akin to pride in his own lack of understanding of Korean culture, to write about Korean culture? Why did they think anyone needed yet another "middle-aged white guy flounders to understand K-POP" take? That's not even to say they shouldn't have sent a middle-aged white writer, but at least send someone who seems to display an interest in researching the culture beforehand. Instead, at best, this BTS profile reads like a xenophobic "othering" of Korean celebrities. At worst, it's just blatant disrespect.
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