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Forwards and backwards
A palindrome poem by Camonghne Felix
Framer is a newsletter that offers re-frames so that we can imagine other realities.
Ah, February… a most slippery month. Whadda ya know! Time? It continues to pass.
Have you ever seen a poem that’s a palindrome before? It’s genius. I love the structure; how it works both forwards and backwards.
For me, the structure of this poem does two things:
It shows how there can be multiple dimensions to the same reality. The same events, the same words, but two versions. This could be a nod to how you see yourself vs. how the world sees you (especially true for Tonya Harding)
It plays with my perception of rhythm and what is forward vs. backward
Tonya Harding is an interesting subject for a poem about multiple sides to a story — there is a difference in how she saw herself (strong, hard-working, unashamed) vs. how the figure skating society and media treated her (poor, white trash, inelegant). This poem is a time machine to the 90’s, forcing us to think about class differences, then and now.
Tonya Harding did not fit the mold of upscale figure skating. Because Tonya Harding had to make her own costumes, it was obvious to judges (and everyone else watching) that she didn’t belong.
There’s a rumor that Tonya Harding made her own fur coat. On one hand, a fur coat is a luxury, a sign of wealth; on the other hand, skinning an animal and making a coat is rugged and laborious. It’s a symbol with an interesting duality.
Aside from outfits, Tonya Harding worked hard to bootstrap her American dream, and yet she still fell short. She was treated like a curiosity.
So, what can we say about the American dream?
As a society, I’m not sure we appreciate hard work as much as we think we do. We celebrate overnight successes (glossing over how much effort it took to get there), and we’re fascinated by stories of people who game the system. America doesn’t care how hard you work, America cares how much you have. We are a society built on marketing and aspiration.
At this point, in 2022, what is the ultimate symbol of wealth?
Having free time and flexibility? Having enough money to launch yourself into space? How many people get to experience these luxuries?
Are we making progress?
Tonya’s story and Camonghne’s poem also remind me of how female celebrities were treated in the 90’s and 00’s. We seem to be revisiting this era in a cultural reckoning, given how many documentaries and biopics have been coming out about celebrities who didn’t get a chance to tell their own stories back then.
Aside from I, Tonya which came out in 2018, Paris Hilton made a documentary in 2020, speaking out about abusive boarding schools (like the one she was sent to in Utah) and the lasting trauma they cause. Multiple documentaries came out about Britney Spears and her conservatorship during the #FreeBritney movement in 2021. The story of Brittany Murphy’s tragic death and her sheisty husband came out in 2021. And of course, the 6-part series Pam + Tommy has caught everyone’s attention this year (I’d argue partly because of the insane hair and makeup that makes the actors look so much like Anderson and Lee).
Are these films helping us see multiple sides to the story? At what cost? Britney Spears and Pamela Anderson have both spoken out about these films being hurtful — hashing up painful events from long ago that they’ve worked hard to move past (even if the filmmaker’s aim is to change the narrative about these women).
When you’re a celebrity in America, the dynamics around your story are totally different — your perception of reality is vulnerable to other people’s interpretations, which is often used as entertainment. As a celebrity, you are dehumanized and consumed; your feelings don’t matter if you’re part of a larger cultural moment.
Is this dynamic changing at all? Are these films as voyeuristic as the paparazzi was back then?
What feels different now is that we seem to be searching for more context. Public attention changed the course of Britney’s conservatorship, and hopefully the laws change for good (because there are still other celebrities who are under this system, like Amanda Bynes for example).
What’s obvious to me after watching Pam + Tommy is that Rand Gauthier wanted revenge against Tommy, and instead hurt Pamela. Does this context change anything?
We know more now, but are we getting any better at listening and truly seeing the multiple dimensions within each person?