Friday, August 11, 2017

My top 15 songs of 2017 so far

In no particular order:

That new Arcade Fire album

Okay, so yes: Arcade Fire's new album, "Everything Now," is their least impressive outing in 13 years of being unparalleled indie-rock darlings. In 2004, when "Funeral" turned Pitchfork and much of the indie-admiring world weak-kneed, I'd been in Seattle (and working for Seattle Weekly) for a couple of years and was becoming aware that a few lucky indie bands, whether several albums in or after a single release, blow up. This was, after all, the year of Modest Mouse's "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" (their fourth album), whose massive smash single "Float On" elevated them to indie royalty (for a few crazy years). That same year, Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut exploded, too. And, oh yeah, the Killers' "Hot Fuss." Holy crap was 2004 busy for indie fans. And "Funeral" added a powerful measure of dreamy, almost otherworldly storytelling and sound that was also, somehow, profoundly moving and relevant and ridiculously millennial. Album of the 2000s, and maybe of the young century thus far, thou art "Funeral."

In 2007, Arcade Fire somehow surmounted the unbelievable pressure of following up "Funeral" by releasing "Neon Bible," which was darker, satirized religion, and consisted almost entirely of irresistibly escalating, triumphal anthems (or anti-anthems, in the case of the haunting "My Body is a Cage" and "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations"). I was at the Seattle Times by then, and I still remember the version of "Neon Bible" I listened to obsessively in my trusty Discman. The track listing was markedly different from what ended up being the final, official one. "Intervention" started that alternatively ordered album, and it still seems much more appropriate than "Black Mirror" (second on that disc) as an opening track. Anyway, I fell madly in love with the gorgeous, doomy "Neon Bible," and though I will probably find, as I revisit "Funeral" now, that it's at least as strong as its predecessors, on some level Arcade Fire's sophomore set may forever be my favorite album of theirs.

"The Suburbs," in 2010, leaked out to me track by track via YouTube. "Rococo" struck me as pure, beautiful Arcade Fire bombast, a heavy, rolling destroyer of a song that more or less kicked off the band's ongoing reflection -- sometimes pretentious, sometimes self-lacerating, occasionally both -- on fame itself, and what it's like to be The Most Important Band Ever all of a sudden. "The Suburbs" won the album of the year Grammy, and it is indeed a lovely, ambitious project. As a suburban kid, and especially as one who spent most of his first 10 years in a classic American suburb (Warren, Michigan), I do think a lot of this quasi-concept album captures vital things about suburban life, including the sadness and isolation that can persist despite everyone's houses being built so damn close to each other. Parts of "The Suburbs" still grab me, but as a whole it didn't hit me as hard as the band's first two records.

"Reflektor" came out in 2013, right around the time Liz and I bought our house. I took immediately to "Joan of Arc" and "Normal Person," both of which riffed memorably on the notion that being a nonconformist misfit sucks, but the only thing worse is being a rigidly conventional, boring bully. (Basically: the plot of "Carrie," minus the firestorm.) "Afterlife" served as a lovely climax near the end of the album's dance-y, angst-y arc, and I loved the use of rhythms and sounds of Haiti (co-lead signer Regine Chassagne's ancestral homeland, which the band name-checked with a song title on "Funeral") throughout the record -- especially on "Here Comes the Night Time." After the big concept and epic sprawl of "The Suburbs," "Reflektor" couldn't help but feel like a more minor album. Still, the work and care that went into it was evident, and it had plenty of that Arcade Fire ache -- the emotional charge, the yearning, the thrilling interplay between sadness and joy.

"Everything Now" has some of it, too, but not nearly as much. Think of it as an extended EP: "Everything Now," "Creature Comfort," "Electric Blue," "Put Your Money On Me," and "We Don't Deserve Love," and you're pretty much good to go. Even critics who've ragged on the record as a whole admit that "Creature Comfort" has some of that old-time Arcade Fire magic, what with the "everybody sings at once!" wall-of-sound moments and the lyrics about body dysmorphia, low self-esteem, and suicidality. (The midsong reference to "Funeral" that so many critics found annoying strikes me as a fair poke, on the part of the band, at their debut album's long shadow and vaunted reputation as the emotional expression of an entire generation's collective angst.)

However, it's "Put Your Money On Me" and "We Don't Deserve Love" I keep coming back to. Sure, "Money" has a mix of great and dodgy lyrics ("Above the chloroform sky"? Sure! "Clouds made of ambien"? Yeah, not so much). Then there's this breathtaking run:
I know I've been different
My skin keeps shedding
My mother was crying on the day of our wedding
Trumpets of angels call for my head
But I fight through the ether and I quit when I'm dead
Oh, man. The song builds and builds and by the end the harmonies are ethereal, and yet somehow it still sounds like 21st-century ABBA. It's a mesmerizing, beautiful song. It sticks in my head.

"We Don't Deserve Love" works similarly, though it's musically pretty different. Here's where the lyrics really take off:
Mary roll away the stone
The men that you love
Always leave you alone
Go on Mary
Roll away the stone
The men you love always leave you alone
You hear your mother screaming
You hear your daddy shouting
You try to figure it out
You never figured it out
Your mother screaming that
You don't deserve love
The very band that skewered evangelical Christianity on "Neon Bible" has taken the age-old story of a mourning Mary and lifted it up movingly in its own unique style. Lead singer Win Butler's voice has always been highly expressive, but here his prolonged falsetto feels unusually vulnerable. Critics we'll never see the likes of "Funeral" again from Arcade Fire, and I understand the disappointment that surrounds their release of a decidedly nonessential record.

But the spark hasn't died out completely. From 2004 to 2013, the band's albums met me at what now seem like crucial points in my life. It's okay that many of these new songs falter. After producing so much music that's filled with passionate but ambiguous feelings and surprising, creative stories and ideas, these guys deserve some grace. And hey, three new songs that stand up to repeat listening are definitely better than none.

"Watch Out" and the way humor works in horror

Humor and horror can make for a queasy mix. Too many straight-ahead horror movies treat human lives like trash, thanks in part to the "Saw" and "Hostel" franchises but going back to Z-grade slashers and gorefests from many decades past. Trying to blend humor with horror tropes can make a fairly insensitive, dehumanizing horror flick seem downright mean-spirited.

When dark humor works well in horror, however, the results can be thrilling, as in remarkable films like "The Cabin in the Woods" and "Get Out" and honorable mentions such as "Ginger Snaps" and "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil." In the best-case scenario, humor makes the horror more palatable while also developing and humanizing the characters and delivering a more memorable, and meaningful, narrative. When horror-comedy works, it really works; when it doesn't, well, sometimes we get "Leprechaun in the Hood."

"Watch Out," a short film available on Hulu via the NBCUniversal Short Film Festival ("a bicoastal program seeking the next generation of writers, directors, producers and actors, while celebrating innovative storytelling from diverse backgrounds"), isn't "Cabin in the Woods"-level awesome -- but hey, few movies are. However, it deftly presents itself as one thing -- straight horror -- before downshifting to some surprisingly light-on-its-feet comedy, then lingering in the Venn diagram overlap space for a bit longer than you expect.

"Watch Out" takes a simple premise -- definitely a "Why didn't I think of that?" kind of setup -- and makes considerable hay. The film succeeds primarily because it follows the No. 1 rule of horror-comedy: Violence itself is rarely funny, but people's responses to violence, and its direct aftermath, definitely can be. Situational and/or character-based dark comedy goes a much longer way, most of the time, than trying to make plain ol' gore hilarious.

"Dawn of the Deaf" is quite something

British filmmaker Rob Savage's 12-minute short "Dawn of the Deaf" is gutsy, efficient, and hard not to think and talk about. It swiftly winds together four separate narratives that converge when a mysterious pulse has a devastating effect on the hearing population of a city. I want to avoid giving away more than I need to, as the film's brief run time includes a remarkable number of surprises and twists. It's not for the faint of heart, more due to some difficult subject matter than because of gore, but if you're a horror or sci-fi fan, it may well be worth your time. Also worth checking out: Savage's other shorts "Absence" and "Sit in Silence," both similarly refreshing takes on familiar horror subgenres.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Reflecting on a step forward for local Jewish-Muslim relations

On May 12, 2017, Temple Beth Shalom invited Spokane’s Muslim community to an evening Shabbat service and dinner. At the time, SpokaneFAVS reported on this extremely well-attended and inspiring event, so I don’t intend to rehash the facts. A little more than a week later, on May 20, a significant contingent from the Jewish community attended SpokaneFAVS and the Spokane Interfaith Council’s “Meet the Neighbors” event at the Spokane Islamic Center.

At “Meet the Neighbors,” members of the Muslim community showed the same degree of hospitality the Jewish community had displayed the previous weekend. There was a presentation on some basic elements of Islam, a Q&A session, and a delicious and bountiful meal. For Spokane, two opportunities for Jews and Muslims to break bread together in less than 10 days is a big deal. As far as I know, such intentional interfaith bridge-building has never happened here between these two communities.

I am heartened by these events particularly because I have witnessed firsthand, at times, the opposite of such open-mindedness in Jews’ views of their Muslim neighbors. A couple days after the Shabbat service and dinner, a Jewish friend of a friend expressed skepticism that Jews and Muslims can find common ground. He even went so far as to say that Muslims don’t love their children as much as Jews do.

Although he claimed to have personal experience that supported his point of view, this person’s comments sounded sadly familiar to me. Especially when the topic is Israel/Palestine, it’s not uncommon to hear comparisons of Jews and Muslims that purport to stand up for one group by dehumanizing the other. It’s no more productive for Jews to engage in this behavior than it is for Muslims to do so. Nobody wins when we follow this path.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues its anti-immigrant rhetoric and policymaking, and some Inland Northwest organizations promote Islamophobia under the banner of “national security.” Despite these destructive forces, my hope is that something new, powerful, and promising blooms from May’s two interfaith events. And I think there’s reason for hope: After all, these were instances of unprecedented connection between communities that have so often, and so profoundly, misunderstood each other.

"Ouija: Origin of Evil," or: The Horror Trope That Really Freaks Me Out

I'm not sure why, but distorted faces freak me out. I learned this the hard way back in 2003, when a friend and I rented the American remake of "The Ring." Note to self: Don't watch a horror movie on DVD if it's about a cursed VHS tape. It doesn't take much for a "Ring"-addled mind to worry that a DVD has just as much power to kill its viewers as any videotape. I insisted we take the foul object back to the Blockbuster store (remember those?) whence it came. To be specific, here's what did me in: the film's jolting, unexpected, second-long reveal of the corpse of the teen girl killed in the film's opening minutes: cowering in a closet with, as my friend put it, a "boiled face." Just thinking about it still gets to me a little.

Distorted faces in horror movies still freak me out, damn it. "The Ring" was only the beginning. In 2005, a different friend basically dared me to see "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" in the theater. Like the "Ring" remake, "Emily Rose" has its flaws, but it's genuinely creepy at times. The moment that a recently possessed Emily glances at a classmate and thinks his face is melting? 😢 To my supreme chagrin, for quite a few nights after that fateful trip to the theater, I woke up at 3 a.m., supposedly the terrible hour that possessions happen (because Christ was crucified at 3 p.m. and this is the inversion of that, hence Satan's time, blah blah).

And then there's "Ouija: Origin of Evil." At this point, I think it's safe to say I'm a Mike Flanagan fan. I've now seen three of the writer/director's horror movies: "Hush," "Oculus," and "Ouija," and at some point I'll figure out how to watch "Absentia," an earlier work. Like the rest of his oeuvre, "Ouija" features smarter writing and better character development than the average horror film. It also includes a chilling scene in which an unsuspecting teenager is reaching for something inside a basement wall while a possessed little girl watches intently, standing just far enough away to be a little out of focus. And then her face gets all weird and her neck bends and her mouth starts opening and closing ghoulishly.

Stupidly, I watched this while my wife, Liz, was out and the baby slept in the nursery -- at night. The moment her possessed, distorted face started moving around, I stopped the movie, but it was too late -- I was freeeeeaked out. Later, in the kitchen, I looked over my shoulder nervously as I did some dishes. I glanced at the darkened window between the kitchen and laundry room. I hoped my wife would get home soon.

Why do distorted faces freak me out so much? Why are the one of the only reliable horror movie tropes to really get under my skin? I talked about this with Liz once. She suggested it might have something to do with the baseline unnaturalness of seeing a human face warped into strange, boiled, stretched, or otherwise out-of-whack variations. True, it's unnatural, but so are a lot of things you see in horror movies: compound fractures, whitened eyes, flesh-eating -- that sort of stuff.

What is it about melty faces that gets me? I'll have to keep thinking about it. For now, though, I wish the MPAA would consider making an addition to its rating reasons. Can't you just picture it? "Rated R for violence and disturbing images, including melty and/or stretchy faces."

"This Is She"

Just a quick plug for Grace Rex's 2014 short "This Is She," an enigmatic piece that uses some horror tropes but is more of a mystery/drama (dramstery?) than a fright flick. More obliquely and cleverly than many filmmakers have, Rex uses an unexplained, shape-shifting blob on the unnamed protagonist's apartment wall to represent depression.

We get small hints of this symbolism throughout the film's 10 minutes. For example, a person we assume to be the woman's mother calls to make sure she's doing okay, using a tone and language that implies she's recovering from some kind of difficult, or even traumatic, experience. At one point, the woman scrolls through pictures of, presumably, her previous apartment, which looked horribly colonized by some kind of black mold... which bears a resemblance to the little blob she's currently interacting with. When you move, from a chapter of life or an apartment, or both, a little bit of your depression inevitably follows?

After she breaks a mirror by accident, the woman picks up a piece of the shattered glass and contemplates it for a moment. But perhaps it's her interactions with the strange blob during the film that clues us in the most. Initially startled, then curious, the woman soon decides to do battle with the blob, covering it up and pretending that means it's gone. Ultimately, she comes to a relatively peaceable arrangement with her odd little housemate.

"This Is She" reminded me of "The Babadook" in its suggestion that even if we can't completely shed our most deep-seated demons, we can at least learn to live more harmoniously with them. Ideally, we can accept that a smaller, more manageable version of them is somehow part of us and will therefore be with us, in one form or another, forever.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Home Invasion 101

I recently watched two home-invasion horror/thrillers that focused on homeowners with significant sensory impairment: "Don't Breathe," about a blind military veteran who lives alone in a broken-down part of Detroit, and "Hush," about a deaf author (who also can't speak) who lives in the woods with only a cat and a few neighbors for company. "Hush" is the superior film, not least because it doesn't go for over-the-top shockeroos but instead focuses on the basics of a prolonged but suspenseful cat-and-mouse pursuit.

That said, "Don't Breathe" boasts sharp performances from "13 Reasons Why" star Dylan Minnette and Jane Levy, who went from the smart sitcom "Suburgatory" to the grisly horror of Fede Alvarez's "Evil Dead" remake without missing a beat. Alvarez also directed "Don't Breathe," and the newer film shares the remake's willingness to take the audience to uncomfortable places. As the vet, whose mind has been twisted by sorrow, Stephen Lang gives a chilling and very physical performance. It's tautly directed and well acted, and not too predictable, but its secrets end up being perhaps a bit more unsavory than they needed to be.

The twist of making the homeowner in a home-invasion thriller the villain and the invaders the protagonists is interesting. Nonetheless, as a Detroit-area native, I was sad to see yet another stereotypical depiction of urban rot. Detroit seems to have been chosen as a setting (I doubt the film was shot there), as it has been so many times before, to convey blight and emptiness. Within the horror genre, "It Follows" used (actual) Detroit locations in a more nuanced and less cliche way.

"Hush" may or may not be writer-director Mike Flanagan's best film so far. You could make an argument for "Ouija: Origin of Evil," which is much more lavishly produced than the bare-bones, pedal-to-the-metal "Hush," which looks like it was filmed on a budget of about a buck twenty-five, some fake blood, and a few donated prosthetic and makeup effects (albeit very good ones). As others have noted, Flanagan knows two things that are key to making good horror: 1) Developing actual characters, about whom we have actual feelings, matters; 2) It's a very good sign if partway into the movie we'd be enjoying it even if it weren't a horror movie, and if it's actually hard to tell what genre it belongs to. (Another good example of both points: Ti West's "The Innkeepers.")

"Hush" thumbs its nose at some horror and home-invasion conventions while adhering, in a lively and imaginative way, to others. Two moments in the film are standouts for me. In the first, John Gallagher Jr.'s truly upsetting psycho killer threatens the life of a cat, with delightfully unexpected results. In the second, the killer thinks he has Kate Siegel's deaf fiction writer, Maddie Young, right where he wants her: His hands are, at long last, around her throat. Though we pretty much know what the outcome of the scene will be, Flanagan uses a flash of images to suddenly add great poignancy and weight to what might otherwise have played out as a routine thriller finale.

Siegel took on a great challenge in playing a deaf woman who also can't speak, due to an adolescent case of bacterial meningitis. She co-wrote the screenplay with Flanagan, her partner in life as well as filmmaking. So this is very much the story both of them wanted to tell, told in the way they preferred. "Hush" has much in common with "Wait Until Dark," "The Strangers," "You're Next," and other noteworthy home-invasion films, but it avoids falling into some common traps of the subgenre. For one thing, it doesn't treat human lives as worthless, as many movies with much higher body counts do.

"Hush" also refuses to turn the main character's mistreatment at the hands of a monstrous villain into an excuse for all-out, stomach-turning gore -- the kind of thing we saw, or maybe turned away from, in "The Last House on the Left," "I Spit On Your Grave," and other such bloody revenge fantasies. Maddie needs to defend herself, and that does mean trying to harm her assailant, but she isn't a merciless sadist (unlike her attacker). She's just a traumatized woman trying to survive.

At first I questioned the calm note the film ends on, thinking that someone who had been through what Maddie had would be hypervigilant, unable to relax for even a moment, and would make a beeline for the approaching police cars. But, after some reflection, I'm not sure I know what the survivor of such an ordeal would think, feel, or do in its immediate aftermath. I do know that "Hush" provides well-matched opponents, a consistently tense mood, and a resolution that's considerably more satisfying than those of many thrillers that operate on a similar premise.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


The buzzed-about new horror anthology film "XX" recently made its way to Netflix, and I jumped at the chance to finally see it. Like pretty much all anthologies, it's uneven, but unlike "Holidays," it isn't wildly, maddeningly inconsistent. It's closer to "Southbound" (but not as memorable) and "V/H/S" (but not as scary). Creepiest: "The Box," which will surely join the new (non-horror) Marti Noxon film "To the Bone" as part of some film studies course on disordered eating and body image in cinema. Most compelling overall: "Her Only Living Son," which melds a feminist take on single motherhood with the "Something's terribly wrong with Billy" horror subgenre (see also: "Joshua," "The Omen," etc.).

Not every film in the set packs a wallop, but all show signs of having been made thoughtfully, which is more than one can claim about, say, Kevin Smith's awful contribution to the aforementioned "Holidays." As all the hype assured us it would, "XX" does showcase some talented/promising female writer/directors in the genre. I was especially pleased to see work by Karyn Kusama, who directed both the excellent "The Invitation" and the unfairly panned "Jennifer's Body." It also leaves out a few notables who might be a great fit for "XX2," including Leigh Janiak ("Honeymoon"), Sarah Adina Smith ("The Midnight Swim"), and Jennifer Kent ("The Babadook").

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Being Human" means making big mistakes, over and over

The British supernatural dramedy "Being Human" gets a lot of mileage from the irony that its protagonists -- a werewolf, vampire, and ghost, seemingly primed to be part of a corny Halloween dad joke -- struggle at least as much with the human condition after becoming something other than human as they did before. In the second season, George, the werewolf, makes some particularly hard-to-watch mistakes, including rebounding from a touching, heartbreaking relationship with Nina, whom he accidentally turns into a werewolf, to a pro forma affair with a single mom whose young daughter is, we sense, creepily aware that George isn't what he seems.

Compared with Mitchell's transformation from kinder, gentler "on the wagon" vampire to merciless seeker of vengeance, and Annie's understandable curiosity about whether the priest and scientist who offer a supposed cure for lycanthropy might be able to help her, too, George is the main character I most want to shake by the shoulders until he sees reason. But true love will mess with your head, and breakups are tougher to shake off when one of you turned the other into a wolf-human hybrid.

"Being Human" mines from the horror genre some bloodletting and some exquisite suspense (observe the scene in which priest and scientist experiment on Nina, still a likable character, and ultimately stop just short of killing her in the process). I think it works best not as a melancholy friends-in-a-flat sitcom, but rather as a meditation on personal conscience and how we slip in and out of living up to our own moral standards. And, like most other stories of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, it's a tale of not fitting into society at large, and trying to come to terms with that somehow.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The rest of "The Monster"

So, between work, baby/family time, and sleep, I finally finished watching "The Monster." Zoe Kazan and her young co-star, future Anne of Green Gables Ella Ballentine, really do act the holy heck out of this movie. And for me their acting really elevates what might otherwise be a very routine exercise in genre tropes. (Admittedly, the film includes one age-old cliche that caused me to do an internal facepalm and say, aloud, to no one in particular, "C'mon!") Reviewers have noted that the movie isn't as profound as writer-director Bryan Bertino seems to want it to be, and I think that's accurate. However, it's much less shallow than it could have been.

Fortifying the standard monster-movie beats is the wrenching relationship between Kazan's Kathy and her young daughter, Lizzy, played by Ballentine. Critics have rightly noted that the title could refer just as easily to Kathy, who is by turns abusive and neglectful toward Lizzy. However, as I noted in my last post, it's really a triple entendre: monster, mother, and addiction. What makes "The Monster" a tragedy, and truly one of the saddest horror movies I've seen, is Kathy's fervent, almost palpable regret about all the emotional and psychological crud her behavior has heaped on Lizzy.

I don't leave this film thinking Kathy doesn't love Lizzy, or Lizzy doesn't love Kathy. I do come away with great sadness -- that their relationship was so broken, and that it took such extreme circumstances to move them both toward healing.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What makes horror matter

I'm only about a half-hour in, but, thus far, Bryan Bertino's "The Monster" has many of the qualities I look for in horror: real character development, strong acting, an emotional connection to one or more characters (hence: emotional stakes for what comes later), and a gradual (but not slow) pace that effectively builds suspense. Zoe Kazan, who made a lasting impression in 2009's "The Exploding Girl," has made a graceful transition from indie ingénue to screenwriter (2012's "Ruby Sparks") and careful selector of projects. Her Kathy, an alcoholic single mom whose irresponsibility puts her daughter in the position of having to parent her, is broken enough to evoke pathos but not so broken as to alienate us completely.

A scene in that first half-hour in which Kathy fights to resist the magnetic pull of alcohol, after we see a message her daughter has scrawled on the kitchen whiteboard ("You can do it, Mom!"), and then succumbs, provides an emotional oomph that will likely make the bumps-in-the-night to come a lot more meaningful than they otherwise would have been. (The scene concludes with Kathy, having been sick, lying on the bathroom floor. Her daughter finds her and, instead of angrily walking away or bursting into tears, sweetly lies down beside her, spooning her.) Once I'm done with this one, I'll try to finish this review.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A return to Red Blue Green

It's been years -- more than five years, to be exact -- but I'm trying to coax myself back into blogging. I love writing for Spokane Faith and Values, but not every subject I want to write about fits into FAVS' (admittedly broad) thematic framework. I'm easing myself in by simply reposting a response I had to a FAVS article, but my goal is to create original content now and again to revive this long-neglected blog. I won't be able to provide the kind of frequent pop culture coverage I did back in Seattle, by virtue of having a baby, but maybe Red Blue Green can become part daddy blog, part indie horror appreciation website. A fella can dream, right?

 Anyway, here's the link to the FAVS article in question, "My class needs to be a safe space," by EWU professor Chadron Hazelbaker. And here's my response:
I attended Oberlin College, 1997-2001, and the concept of safe space was a big deal there, perhaps well before most of the culture had heard of it or knew what it was. Baldwin House, one of the on-campus program houses, was a safe space for women; men weren't allowed in certain parts of the building unaccompanied. The house did feminist programs and events, but it was also a place for sexual assault survivors to feel relatively safe -- probably safer than in some random dorm or off-campus house. Afrikan Heritage House, as I recall, included a lounge that white people weren't supposed to walk through -- unaccompanied, or maybe at all. And of course this was controversial in some circles. 
I think white people (and men, especially cisgender, heterosexual men) often have a hard time understanding the value of space in which one can discuss one's experiences of oppression without members of the oppressive group present. That doesn't mean all men or all white people are doing oppressive things 24/7. It just means that it can be important to have a safe space to process difficult experiences and work on building one's identity as a minority of whatever kind. 
I can see why this concept is easy to ridicule, but I also saw its usefulness and power at Oberlin, so I'm loath to endure the endless mockery -- such as the conservative radio host on ACN (106.5 FM locally) who seems to find it terrifically entertaining to make fun of college students who played with kittens and colored after the election. Sure, you could accuse these young adults of regression, but as a country that deals poorly with emotional expression, maybe it's more helpful to consider why someone might need a bit of TLC following the election of a man who bragged about sexual assault, dismissed it as "locker room talk," and won the presidency.