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Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Internet Writers Who Make Us Leap for Joy

In Uncategorized on February 29, 2012 at 11:42 am

In honor of Leap Day, Girls Like Giants is taking a cue from xoJane’s internet positivity initiative and celebrating a few of the internet writers and bloggers we admire. Which writers make your browser windows shine a bit brighter? Let us know in the comments. - Sarah T.

Chelsea H: One of my favorite internet writers right now is Deb from Smitten Kitchen.  As has surely become clear from my (infrequent) posts here on GLG, and is crystalline if you’ve ever read my other blog at shornrapunzel.wordpress.com, I’m kind of interested in food.  Deb is an incredible cook and a great photographer (and she has an adorable child whose photo she links to in every one of her posts).  But that’s not the only reason I like her.  I like her because she is a great storyteller.  She talks about the mechanics and the pleasures of food, yes, using measurements and specifics but also words like nutty and rich and complex – those words that alternate between sounding snobby and perfectly apropos – but she also tells us where her inspirations came from.  She shares her trials and her successes, and she shares collapses and almost-failures.  She talks about being a mom, being a cookbook author, being a woman, all under the multi-colored, multi-faceted umbrella of food writing.

This is the kind of food writer I would like to be.  In addition to admiring her recipe developer skills (I’m really good at following a recipe, but I haven’t dipped into the mysterious, wonderful-and-frightening world of making them up myself), I love her ability to share just enough about herself.  Through her words I feel I know her, though I suspect the person I know is her internet persona.  But that’s okay, because that persona she has created is so genuine and so human–complete with kindness, with snark, with gluttony, with desperation–that she feels round and whole and someone I want in my kitchen cooking with me.  And that, for me, is a big deal.

Sarah T: I look forward to each Thursday because of Dear Sugar, a Rumpus advice column written by author Cheryl Strayed. It’s unlike any advice column I’ve ever read. Strayed practices what the Rumpus calls “radical empathy,” responding to letter-writers with limitless compassion, humor, and honesty. She’s shocked by nothing, judges no one, and writes with a combination of polish and emotional rawness that’s physically shake-inducing. Strayed is also a deeply personal writer, often drawing from her own experience in order to illuminate the situation the letter-writer describes. Dramatic as it may sound, I think I’m a better person for reading her work. Here are a few of my favorite Sugar columns. Warning: you may want to have a box of tissues handy.

“We Are All Savages Inside”: On jealousy

“The Dark Cocoon”: On love, marriage, and change

“The Obliterated Place”: On loss and grief

“The Future Has An Ancient Heart”: Sugar’s graduation speech

“Write Like a Motherf—–“: On the power and pain of writing

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Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Father Knows Best” (Season 2, Episode 22)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps, Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 11:26 pm

This week our prettiest little liars got one step (read: episode) closer to finding out the true identity of A; got the moms involved; had awkward father-daughter dances and even stranger sibling moments; Aria wore a very red coat; and Maya is still missing. Read on for more on the PLL’s adventures.

This week featured a lot of awkward daughter-dad moments between all the girls (save for perhaps Emily and her dad). What are your thoughts on these dad developments?

Sarah: Spencer wins the prize for worst dad. Peter Hastings is Captain Von Suspicious. I think I believe him about hiring the PI to investigate Melissa, though. I also heavily dislike Byron (Aria’s dad), who did seem to be putting a lot of gross pressure on Aria to be his “little girl” (matching his tie to her dress). I was glad she told him off, because part of the subtext to his whole thing about Ezra is about controlling her sexuality, which is definitely not okay. Emily’s dad was sweet and helpful in the search for Maya, though. I’m nervous about his going back on duty–I hope he’ll be okay!

Phoebe: Spencer totally wins the prize for worst dad and I love the reference to Captain Von Trapp (particularly given Christopher Plummer’s recent win!). I too believe him about hiring a PI as that actually makes sense. Also, I am worried that Spencer’s mother might be involved in all this. And I second your thoughts on Aria–he is being a bit of a jerk. But also, Emily’s dad was so sweet and awesome and I really hope he’ll be okay to come back to Rosewood but I am glad that Emily’s mom will be back on the show. I have really enjoyed watching their relationship develop. Lastly, it is awesome that is episode is named for (I think) the 1960s domestic sitcom Father Knows Best, in which father always does know best. But, for PLL clearly this is not the case! Yay for TV references! Read the rest of this entry »

Do What You Love: Bill Cunningham New York

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 6:48 am

My graduate school advisor had a lot of very good advice, true to her title. Most of it boiled down to a quote from philosopher and civil rights activist Howard Thurman that she’d hung on her office door:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

That quote–and my advisor–kept running through my mind as I watched Bill Cunningham New York, a 2010 documentary on the 80-year-old New York Times on-the-street fashion photographer.

Style, and the people who have it, make Cunningham come alive. During a Paris awards ceremony at which he is slated to receive a prize, Cunningham wanders around snapping pictures. “I just think it’s so funny that you’re working at your own party,” a guest remarks. “My darling,” Cunningham says, “it’s not work, it’s pleasure.”

What fascinates the gentle, stubborn journalist is fashion alchemy: how the right combination of shoes and hats and scarves and coats can produce a look that’s at once unique and expressive of a larger cultural moment. As his fondness for Anna Piaggi of Italian Vogue makes clear, Cunningham is particularly delighted by people who aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd. It’s telling that he calls Piaggi a “poet of clothes” and that he frequently describes the fashions he sees on the streets in terms of classical paintings and symphonies. In clothing, Cunningham sees beauty, art, democracy, history, travel, community, and self-expression. His gift is to show everyone else how to see those things too.

Watching the film, I kept taking mental notes on how Cunningham has located, and preserved, real joy in his work. Two of the key elements, I think, are his egalitarianism and humility. Not only does he protect those qualities in himself, he infuses them into his corners of realms famed for their elitism–New York society, the Times, and fashion.

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Healthy Blindness: The Voice and Body Image

In body politics, reality TV, Television, The Voice, Women's health on February 27, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Chelsea H.

This is only the second time I’ve watched “The Voice,” and it intrigues me. I’ve never seen anything outside of the initial blind auditions. I don’t know what comes after that, I don’t know how the mentoring goes, I don’t know how eliminations work. But I have to admit, I love the idea of the blind audition part of the show: four music quasi-moguls choose contestants to nurture and mentor based only on their vocal performances. This eliminates a lot of what I hate about American Idol. There are no silly costumes, there is no jumping up and down and showboating and begging for second chances. There is only, until the moment one of the coaches decides to pursue a vocal training relationship with this person, a voice.

That means this is based on talent, not on appearance. There are times when it is clear a coach was expecting something totally different when s/he turns around. But the beautiful thing about this show is it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether the voice belongs to a tiny skinny petite girl or a muscular athletic guy or a full-figured diva. Once that person is chosen, it’s done. It’s based on the voice.

Obviously this means clear, appearance-free assessment for men as well as women. And I think that’s great, and it’s important. This is Girls Like Giants, but male body image is becoming a bigger issue than we think it is, as this disturbing article about rising male adolescent anorexia proves.  I’ve been considering body image a lot lately, and trying to step outside what I usually think. In a world – or at least a country – that is really anti-fat, with instant and vitriolic troll-hate on anything plus-size, a world where Rush Limbaugh can critique Michele Obama for eating ribs and yet telling America to try to be healthier even though she’s not the size of a Sports Illustrated cover model, we need to be forgiving of bodies that are bigger than model-skinny.  And yet we also live in a world where the weight demands on professional models are so extreme that models have actually died on the runway. And there is a lot of thin-hate out there too: sniping and poking and accusing visible ribs or vertebrae or knobbly boney knees of not being as beautiful as full-figured breasts and hips and thighs. And I find myself – an average size 8 who fits neither into the plus-size nor the “sample size” category – often committing the latter of these two forms of hate. Where are the “normal-sized” women, I find myself asking, forgetting that people with naturally skinny frames are also “normal-sized.” And that’s something I need to work on. And so does the rest of the world.

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GLG Reflects on the Oscars

In gender, Oscars, race on February 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm

This year’s Oscars were, as many on Twitter noted, fairly boring and quite frustrating: the show felt like Hollywood was congratulating itself over and over again. Billy Crystal made a series of uncomfortable racist jokes; then the Oscars poked ungracious fun at the beautiful and talented Melissa McCarthy. Every movie montage we were forced to sit through was filled with a plethora of white actors reflecting on how important the movies were for them, and The Artist swept the awards. Then there was the Cirque du Soleil bit, which was just plain confusing. Read on for GLG’s thoughts on the Oscars, or check out our Twitter feed from the night @GirlsLikeGiants

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Angelica Huston Rises Above Smash

In Angelica Huston, gender, musicals, Smash on February 27, 2012 at 9:06 am

Phoebe B.

Grand moments in NBC’s new show Smash have been few and far between. After seeing many previews for it, I felt assured that the show would be full of big dance numbers, great songs (including some Marilyn favorites), and flashy costumes. The premiere had its moments like anytime Angelica Huston was onscreen, but not including Katherine McPhee’s (Karen) version of “Beautiful,” which was anti-climactic and quite frankly seemed an odd choice. But since then, there has been very little grand about Smash. Indeed, NY Mag’s TV recapper takes the show to task in the most hilarious way possible, while this reviewer wishes for something more like A Chorus Line—which was definitely what I was expecting and hoping for. However, there is one thing that is seriously grand and awesome about Smash, and that is Angelica Huston on network television. In fact, I think they really should have put her on top of the pyramid in the publicity shot (and not Katherine McPhee).

Aside from Angelica Huston, there is another relatedly redeeming thing about Smash: the show, as NY Mag’s recapper Rachel Shukert remarked, truly takes women’s ambition seriously. We see this in Ivy and Karen’s desire to be on Broadway; in Julia’s (Debra Messing) career taking precedence over her husband’s; and in Eileen’s (Huston) desire to go out on her own in the theater production world. In fact, in Julia’s marriage, she is the career-oriented one in the relationship and seemingly the major breadwinner. What makes these women lovable and remarkable is that they have ambition and work hard, rather than just the usual things like body, sex appeal, etc. Although, we also see how other men and women see them: an early shot of Ivy stays on and revels in her tush as do the series of people at the casting table. But, as Shukert says in her NY Mag recap,

“One of the things I genuinely like about this show is that so far, it has generally treated the career ambitions of its female characters seriously, as opposed to something of which they have to be disabused in order to be “lovable.” Smash, for all its flaws, shows us women who are lovable because of their talent, not in spite of it, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to see Karen be such a pushover about this.”

But the show’s push towards valuing smart and amazing women appears oddly conflicted. For example, when Karen travels back to Iowa for her best friend’s baby shower, another friend casually remarks, “Feminism is dead.” It appears that in Iowa everyone over 21 is married and/or with child, per Karen’s friend’s remarks. Because of this, Karen’s friend argues, Karen should let her boyfriend, Dev, take up the slack while she does this Marilyn, the Musical workshop. Granted this logic is fairly terrible, but it is seemingly the logic of the show in this particularly moment. And Dev’s proposal, which comes earlier in the episode, mind you, is something he suggests after he interrupts Karen’s drink with the director via an obnoxious performance of his manhood. At that moment too, he seemingly marks her as his territory through a uncomfortable performance of PDA. No wonder Karen is not too thrilled about accepting his offer. At once, the show celebrates Karen’s drive but undermines it by strange and anti-feminist moments like these. Smash does something similar with Ivy in showcasing her drive, but also figuring her as desperate for attention and thus falling prey to the dangers of the casting couch (she sleeps with the director).

And, this conflicted sense of women in Smash is mirrored in the ways in which Marilyn is imagined and produced for the musical. She is the powerhouse that inspires the show, but the musical they write within the show figures Marilyn somewhat meekly, and always in terms of the men she married. Smash’s Marilyn is far less complicated than–and has got nothing on–Michelle Williams’ version of the icon in My Week With Marilyn. That said, I do like Ivy, and am pleased she got the part.

Marilyn (Ivy) vs. Marilyn (Karen)

It is amidst this landscape of conflicted and waffling representations of women that Angelica Huston emerges as the magnificent Eileen. And she is divine. We encounter Eileen mid-divorce with her seriously slimy and cheating ex-husband, Jerry, with whom she is trying to negotiate a reasonable settlement. Rather than settle on an unfair compromise, she puts all their holdings in escrow, including but not limited to their co-production of My Fair Lady. But as My Fair Lady goes into escrow, so too does Marilyn, the character, emerge somewhat oddly as Eileen’s new American Eliza Doolittle. Just as both Marilyn and Eliza Doolittle make themselves over, so too it seems is that Eileen’s plan. But unlike, these characters, Eileen intends to do it on her own instead of relying on a man.

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Oscar Bowl Sunday

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2012 at 9:57 am

Sarah S.

Is anyone else feeling a bit underwhelmed by this year’s Oscars nominees? At first, I thought that a lackluster movie year accounted for the malaise. 2011 presented lots of good movies, but not many great ones. But in listening to the ether it seems 2011 did not lack for great movies; they just weren’t nominated.

Take the best actress categories. The noms for Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) just feel rote, as if they were a given. And they resulted in snubs for Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) who were, by all accounts, incredible. I can’t help wondering if Kristin Wiig (Bridesmaids) also deserved a place on that list.

Image

In supporting actress, Jessica Chastain rides the wave of love for The Help but should probably be up for The Tree of Life. I’d also like to see Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids) who quite handily rivaled Melissa McCarthy in awesomeness. And having just seen The Descendents, Shailene Woodley was seriously robbed of a seat at the table.

I have less trouble with the actor categories and am looking forward to Christopher Plummer winning for the lovely, pitch perfect Beginners. Should Ryan Gosling be on there, however, if not for Best Actor in Drive than at least for Supporting Actor in Crazy, Stupid, Love?

Best Picture, however, epitomizes particularly well this problem of good films instead of great one. The Artist is overrated. I’m troubled by the love for The Help. Midnight in Paris is both overrated and troublingly beloved. And Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close symbolizes an Academy more interested in one-note schmaltz and surface-level political correctness than truly great cinema.

Looking over my complaints, however, the problem reveals a plethora of great and good roles for women and films about women. This list includes women with varied lives (although I wish the diversity went deeper than The Help and France). How often do we have such a problem? It’s a problem that’s nice to have for a change.

And even if the Academy has lost the ability to even recognize the true best in their own industry, at least we can look forward to the gowns.

The Anti-Stereotype Squad of “Happy Endings”

In gender on February 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

Sarah Todd

When the ABC sitcom Happy Endings first premiered last year, many critics compared it to Friends. Both comedies feature six friends–three guys and three girls–in their mid-to-late twenties who live in a major urban city (Chicago and New York). Both pilot episodes feature a runaway bride whose actions shake up the group dynamic and set the show in motion.

But beyond these superficial similarities, Happy Endings is funnier, smarter, and far more complex. Its often absurd plots center around competitions to determine who’d be the final survivor in a zombie apocalypse and solemn interventions to break a friend of his debilitating addiction to V-necks.

Happy Endings also differs from Friends in its diversity. It’s a show that recognizes the reality that people of various racial backgrounds and sexual orientations might well find themselves living in a major city and hanging out together.

Happy Endings acknowledges difference without falling into the trap of making a minority racial background or sexual orientation a character’s sole defining trait. Brad (Damon Wayons Jr.) is black and Max (Adam Pally) is gay. These identities are a part of their characters, and the show’s dialogue and plots frequently explore what it’s like for Brad and Max to be black and gay, respectively, within their group of friends and in the broader world. But the show also makes them well-developed characters who are many things in addition to these identities. Brad is a delightfully enthusiastic investment banker with a penchant for men’s fashion, romantic comedies, and making out with his wife Jane (Eliza Coupe). Max is a sarcastic and cynical layabout who spent all of last week’s episode transforming into a bear, in a kind of extreme advertisement for the dangers of seasonal affective disorder. (He hibernates in a pile of blankets and gets his head stuck in a honey jar. It Could Happen to You, winter-friends.)

Max evolves into a literal bear-Zach Galifianakis hybrid.

Happy Endings seems interested in creating characters who go beyond defying stereotypes and enter the realm of the anti-stereotype. For example, Penny (Casey Wilson) calls Max “a straight dude who likes dudes” because his messy, gruff, video game- and sandwich-loving personality goes against her idea of what gay men are (or should be) like. He’s so far from the stereotype that his personality actually seems oppositional to it. A first-season episode highlights this point. When Penny tells Max he’s “the worst gay husband ever” because he’d rather watch football than go shopping and brunching, Max finds her a gay best friend who’s more in line with her conceit. Derek is a fun-loving, official Sassy Gay Friend, right down to calling Penny “a stupid clumsy bitch.” (He gets introduced to Penny in this scene at the 30-second mark.) Read the rest of this entry »

Dance Moms: Labor, Power, and Girlhood

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Chelsea B.

Dance Moms premiered on Lifetime in the summer of 2011 and is currently in the midst of its second season. The premise of the show is based around Abby Lee Miller (center, in the gray velour above) who owns and runs a dance studio in Pittsburgh. Part of that studio is the Abby Lee Dance Company, which is a competition team comprised of the dancers Abby deems talented enough to earn an invitation to join. The show follows that team of dancers and their moms as they deal with Abby on what appears to be a daily basis about topics ranging from the age-appropriateness of the girls’ costumes to the girls’ often-tearful reactions to Abby’s harsh teaching techniques.

I don’t yet have a cohesive argument to make about the show as a whole, so instead I am going to list some of the qualities that I find compelling. Hopefully this will start a conversation that will enable a more sophisticated, collaborative analysis than I am currently able to create independently.

The Moms

Holly (Nia’s mom) is the only mom who has a paying job (some Googling suggests that she’s a principal at a private school). She is also the only mom of color on the show and the only one with a post-college education (she has a doctorate of education). There is frequent tension between Holly and Abby, as well as Holly and the other moms, in which Holly’s education and busy work schedule are used as barbs and reasons for her daughter Nia’s inability to “feel loved and supported” or dance as well as the other girls. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up: Jeremy Lin & “Linsanity”

In race, sports, Weekly Round-Up on February 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm

This week GLG’s Weekly Round-up shall be devoted to the topic of “Linsanity” and all talk of Jeremy Lin around the web.

From Colorlines:
http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/02/japanese_american_basketball_leagues.html

From Racialicious (and SNL):
http://www.racialicious.com/2012/02/20/weekend-at-jeremys-the-lin-media-bandwagon-veers-off-track/

and http://www.racialicious.com/2012/02/10/the-god-squad-tim-tebow-jeremy-lin-and-religiosity-of-sports/

From Grantland:
http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7601157/the-headline-tweet-unfair-significance-jeremy-lin

And in other pop culture news:

Melissa Chadburn has a great essay on the Rumpus about race, sexuality, identity, Obama, Prop 8, and the power of words:
http://therumpus.net/2012/02/the-dress-doesnt-make-the-priest/

The hilarious Julieanne Smolinski discusses the ins and outs of commenting and disagreeing on the internet, and also why she’d like to have seven minutes in heaven with Paul Krugman: http://www.xojane.com/issues/quick-note-internet-niceness

Glee, Gay Bullying, Silence, Suicide, and Speaking Out

In Glee, violence on February 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Phoebe B.

The winter finale of Glee put teen bullying in the spotlight, focusing on the suicide attempt of former bully-turned-sweetheart David Karofsky. Karofsky, a former McKinley High football player, once wreaked havoc on Kurt’s daily life—Karofsky violently and oppressively bullied Kurt, ultimately causing him to briefly change schools (to the private school Dalton). However, it is revealed in the course of the series that Karofsky is in fact gay, a realization for him which prompted and perpetuated his bullying of Kurt. Last week, Karofsky announced his crush on Kurt, which was overheard (and seen) by his football buddy, which begins his forced outing, subsequent bullying, and suicide attempt. Amidst discussion of Tennessee’s proposed prohibition of the word “gay,” Glee argues quite loudly about the dangers of that kind of constructed and oppressive silence—as Rolling Stone did a few weeks ago in “One Town’s War on Gay Teens.”

Teens who are queer, questioning, gay, lesbian, transgender, or not cisgendered face the distinct danger of both real and emotional violence. This point is driven home by Karofsky after his suicide attempt as he talks to Kurt in the hospital. Karofsky says that his mother thinks he has a disease or that there is something wrong with him that could be curable—an experience he shares with Santana, whose grandmother kicks her out of the house after she comes out. With hateful language directed at him on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and on his locker, Karofsky lives in an environment where violence is inescapable and no place is safe. Glee does not shy away from the very real violence that pushed Karosfky to attempt suicide. Indeed, Kurt tells the prayer group that people on Facebook are still demanding he try again, as he explains the differences between Quinn’s experience as a pregnant teen and his and Karofsky’s experiences as gay teens in small-town Ohio. Kurt counters Quinn’s notion that suicide is purely selfish as he explains the fear and sense of clear and ever-present danger faced by out gay teens and even adults. He explains how suicide might feel like the only safe place amidst the violence and abuse, the only place away from the self-loathing, and a consequence of the isolation felt by Karofsky.

Karofsky's dad finds him after his suicide attempt

The episode references the suicide pandemic recently detailed by Rolling Stone. The article suggests that the consequences of a prescribed silence on anything deemed not-heteronormative isolated students and ultimately led, in Minnesota, to the rash of teen suicides. Indeed, in this Glee episode Principal Figgins suggests that the faculty must be careful to avoid multiple suicides in the aftermath of Karofsky’s attempt. And then, in that scene, teachers from Mr. Schuester to Sue Sylvester wonder what they could have done to prevent Karofsky’s suicide attempt. They wonder if it was in fact their responsibility to talk to him or to have intervened earlier. Mr. Schuester reminds the group that they had worried for Kurt’s safety, which was why they came down so hard on Karofsky, but Sue interjects that she knew something was up and she should have said something. Emma ends the conversation and the scene with the question: if it wasn’t our responsibility, then whose was it? Emma suggests here, I think, the ways in which teachers ought to protect their students and the ways in which the ability of teachers to speak to their students freely can create a safer and less lonely space.

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Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Breaking the Code” (Season 2, Episode 21)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on February 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

This week on PLL, danger is in the air; Spencer gets drunk; Melissa is back in the picture; Aria and Ezra hit a bump in the road; and Mona becomes A’s newest target. Read on for more on our favorite pretty little liars.

Thoughts on why Melissa feels so scary? And what does that video mean?

Sarah: Why oh why did Spencer go with her to a second location? Is it a barn? Oh lord, it’s probably a barn with creepy dolls and horseshoes in it. Anyway, I think Melissa feels creepy because she has all the Hastings intensity and terrorizing ability with little to no mediating personality traits, and also because she had like twelve good reasons to hate Ali murderously. I don’t know why she’s so anxious to find Ali in that video clip, but it can’t bode well. Also, the fact that Melissa worked at the law firm where the blocked Vivian Darkbloom calls were coming from definitely puts her at the top of my list of A-candidates. And also also, is Garrett going to be the father of the baby, not Ian?

Phoebe: Oh man I was definitely also wondering whether Garrett was indeed the father (and not creepy Ian). Either way, Melissa’s choices in male-companion types = terrible. Then again, I agree Sarah that she is all the Hastings intensity without anything to make that softer and ya know less scary. And I am so concerned for Spencer’s safety with the episode ending as she walks out of the house without her phone! Why leave your phone Spencer?! So worrisome. Then again, could Melissa actually harm her own sister? And what did she want to tell Spencer at Ian’s funeral?

Chelsea: Melissa is scary because she’s always scary. She’s just like Spencer, but with way more bitterness and a tad more ruthlessness. Also, her Ann Taylor wardrobe when she doesn’t seem to do anything Ann Taylor-y in life creates an unsettling dissonance for me. Seriously.

Melissa: I think Melissa is scary (not talking about myself here) because she has been willing to see Spencer hurt before. Remember? Oh sure, murderer husband pooky poo; I’ll keep loving you and not believe my sister that you’ve been threatening her. And Melissa has always struck me as ruthless: willing to throw her family under the bus to get at the men that she loved at the time. She seems to have no loyalty and to be a big ball of bullying possessiveness, with a great capacity for emotional blackmail. I’ve always thought she was at least part of Ali’s death, though I’m not sure I think she’s A…She doesn’t seem quite devious enough…But SPENCER?!??! Why for the first time ever are you believing someone so readily? Normally you reserve that poor judgment for the police. Why are you trusting your sister? Just because your father’s past behavior is currently tearing your family apart? Noooooooooooooooooo.

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Swagger Going Swell: M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, and the Blurriness of Cultural Appropriation

In race on February 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Melissa Sexton

Between the infamous middle finger that flew at the Super Bowl and the culture-colliding, controversy-stirring video for “Bad Girls” that dropped in early February, M.I.A. has been back on the cultural radar in a big way. And if The New Yorker’s assertion that M.I.A. should not have apologized for her television flip-off isn’t proof enough that her “swagger’s going swell,” then just consider the  infinitely danceable “Bad Girls” video as further evidence:

If you’re looking for swagger, you’ve come to the right place. While the chorus repeats a familiar bad bitch theme (“Live fast, die young – bad girls do it well”), there is something powerful about the video that goes beyond the usual rapper assertion of being “the best bitch doing it” – something about the dancing crowds and the spinning cars that makes me feel caught up in a moment of celebration. And yet, the general Internet response has not been to put this video on repeat and dance. Instead, bloggers and journalists have launched into a discussion of whether M.I.A.’s video is an example of cultural appropriation, even Orientalism or Arab-bashing. The question, as Faisal Al Yafai articulates so clearly in his Al Bawaba article, is what thoughtful people should “make of a big budget music video that depicts Gulf Arabs as anarchic, gun-toting, stunt-driving street-dancers?” He continues to frame a number of possible interpretations: perhaps the video is “a condescending take on a misunderstood culture through an Oriental lens,” but alternatively, the video might be “an interesting cross-cultural attempt to address social norms” and an example of “encouraging cross-cultural pollination.” In her defense of the video, Dina Dabbous admits that it is “laden with crass stereotypes” ranging from “Arabian horses” to “Arab men watching women misbehaving.” But she reclaims the video’s value for two reasons: first, the video’s accurate depictions of hagwalah racing culture; and second, its “original and fresh” translation of the usual “hyper worlds of gangsta culture” to “Arabia.” In other words, at least M.I.A. is doing something new with the old tropes of excess and debauchery, and at least she gets that new world right.

East-meets-West-hip-hop-gangstas? Or stereotypes of gun-toting Arabs?

But that very translation of hip-hop culture from American to Arabic streets (the video was shot in Ouarzazate, Morocco) opens up all kinds of questions  about the differences between appropriation and translation; about the fluidity of cultural tropes in an age of globalized music and exchange; and about the authenticity of ethnic and cultural identity in pop music. Why is it that translating gangsta culture to a Middle Eastern setting is a praiseworthy re-imagination of hip-hop stereotypes, but reversing that direction of exchange and using Middle Eastern cultural tropes like hagwalah to sell hip-hop is an insult to Arab culture? M.I.A.’s video points to one of the exhilarating and troubling qualities of pop music: the way it borrows from everything it can get its hands on, with varying degrees of self-awareness and caution. In the process, appropriation can and often does happen; cultural images get mobilized in ways that are reductive and offensive. Yet such appropriation can also be radical, creative, or community-building; it can challenge existing stereotypes by pointing to the richness of sub-cultures like hagwalah.

I believe that M.I.A.’s video can show us that automatically classifying cultural borrowing as reductive “appropriation”  limits our understanding of pop culture. Looking beyond strict separations of pop cultural identity into purified, “authentic” racial categories can help us see the double-edged potential of cultural borrowing: on the one hand, the use of cultures other than one’s own can constitute a form of  imperialism, where any culture can become grist for the capitalist money mill, a simple indicator of otherness or novelty. On the other hand, such borrowings can open up a liberating potential, expanding our notions of what beauty, success, and celebration can look like.

Read the rest of this entry »

Interview: YA Author Lauren McLaughlin on “Scored”

In gender, race on February 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

Sarah Todd

The hyper-competitive college admissions game can turn any high school student into an insecure, anxiety-ridden puddle. But what if kids spent their whole lives knowing exactly how they measured up, aware that every move could make or break their futures? That’s the scenario Lauren McLaughlin explores in her deeply compelling young adult novel Scored.

In Scored‘s not-so-distant future, a computerized surveillance system ranks students according to their academic performance and selected social behaviors. High scores guarantee them college scholarships and stable jobs. The lower their scores are, the narrower their options.

Imani LeMonde, a bright teenager from a working-class, mixed-race family, is exactly the kind of student who’s supposed to benefit from scoring. The system was created in the aftermath of a Second Depression that wiped out the middle class and made upward mobility virtually impossible. Merit-based scoring offers students access to higher education regardless of their income—though the rich can still buy their way into college if necessary.

At the novel’s outset, Imani’s dream of going to college and becoming a marine biologist seems secure. But when her score plummets unexpectedly, she must choose between her future and her friendships. Soon, she begins to question the system she’s grown up with, asking whether scoring has only exchanged one form of inequality for another.

Smart, socially-relevant young adult books are currently riding a wave of well-deserved enthusiasm on the success of The Hunger Games trilogy. Scored stands out from the crowd, interweaving a fast-paced plot with complex characters and thoughtful discussions of race, class, politics, and history.

Author Lauren McLaughlin graciously agreed to talk to Girls Like Giants about her novel, which was published by Random House in October 2011. Read on for her thoughts on standardized testing, status obsession, and the secret ingredient for great young adult fiction.

In Scored, Imani begins to question the standardized rankings and surveillance culture she’s grown up with. Do you think there’s a natural connection between dystopian stories and young adult fiction? How can young protagonists explore and challenge their societies in unique ways?  

I do think it’s very interesting that dystopian fiction is having a big moment right now with teens. Personally, I can’t help but speculate as to whether it may have something to do with the fact that we are living in very trying, even dystopian, times. Many aspects of our society are crumbling. Our economy has hit a brick wall and many believe our democracy itself is at risk of collapsing under the weight of extreme corruption. Perhaps the authors of dystopian fiction are hoping to channel the revolutionary inside every teenager in hopes of turning things around. I know I am. I sincerely hope today’s teenagers do a better job of managing society than we’ve done. We messed some things up.

How did current events inform your depiction of the world Imani lives in? Did any personal experiences with standardized testing and surveillance influence the novel?

I graduated from high school at a time when the standardized-test-taking experience was comparatively benign. Of course I got nervous taking the SAT’s, but back then (in the ancient eighties) college admission wasn’t nearly as competitive as it is now. I was very much influenced by the stories I heard of young people with good grades and real talents being kept out of college because of weak SAT’s and ACT’s. That seemed outrageous to me. I think we’ve become so obsessed with status and ranking that we’ve allowed it to warp the entire educational experience.

Are there similarities between Somerton, the blue-collar Massachusetts town in which the novel takes place, and Wenham, the Massachusetts town where you grew up?

Somerton is more similar to Essex Massachusetts, which was home to the marina where my Dad kept his boat. Geographically, I basically just used my exact memories of Essex to create Somerton then added bits and bobs here and there. But the socio-economic status of Somerton is entirely my creation. As far as I know, Essex is still doing quite well, whereas Somerton, as with the rest of the nation in the world of Scored, has fallen on extremely hard times.

What would you say Imani has in common with some of your own favorite female protagonists, and what sets her apart?

Like all good protagonists, Imani has a big dream, or quest. In her case it’s to go to college, study marine biology, then return home to save the dying fisheries and shoreline. What gets in her way isn’t so much the evil actions of Score Corp, but her own conflicted conscience. I’m always drawn to protagonists whose make-or-break moments hinge on an internal realignment of their own morality. I think of Katniss choosing to sacrifice her own life to protect her sister. The whole Hunger Games trilogy hinges on this essentially moral plot line, which I think elevates it above many other dystopian stories. The risk with dystopian fiction is that you make the world itself so dark that the protagonist can only ever be seen as a sainted victim. It’s much more interesting when the protagonist’s own morals are engaged. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm

This week’s GLG round-up, in honor of Whitney Houston:

From Ebony: http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/we-knew-whitney-was-in-troubleand-we-laughed

http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/whitney-houston-1963-2012

And at the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/18/whitney-houston-funeral-live-blog_n_1286376.html

A tribute to Whitney from Crunk Feminist Collective: http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/whitney-an-attempt-at-tribute/

And also and on another (sort of) note, some thoughts on the Grammy’s from Racialicious: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/02/13/open-thread-the-2012-grammy-awards/

And lastly, in other (and really upsetting but important) news, from Slate:
http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/02/virginia_ultrasound_law_women_who_want_an_abortion_will_be_forcibly_penetrated_for_no_medical_reason.single.html

The Invention of Lana Del Rey

In gender on February 16, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Sarah Todd

Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” looks and sounds like an arrival. On the surface, it’s about a girl swooning over romantic fantasies while her boyfriend ignores her for his Xbox. That’s a pretty potent idea to begin with: a girl who’s absorbed the message that life is “only worth living if somebody is loving you” tethered to an indifferent lover, trying to convince herself, “This is my idea of fun.”

It’s not so fun, sitting in the blue light, waiting for someone to notice your sundress and the scent of your perfume. Sometimes girls stay anyway. They deserve a song.

But “Video Games” also taps into a deeper truth. Girls dreaming about love are often dreaming not so much about the love object as about the women they might be, if they were loved the way they wanted–about what it would be like to be as desired as they are desiring. The song’s fantasy of wide-sweeping love is propelled by haunting church bells and delicately plucked strings; a plaintive, simple piano strain grounds it back in the blue-light reality. And in the music video, Del Rey herself is all fantasy, looking impossibly gorgeous with smoky eyes and pouty lips and Brigitte Bardot bedroom hair. It’s easy to see why the video went viral, unleashing a tidal wave of internet chatter in late 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

The Allure of Ryan Gosling: Drive

In gender, Uncategorized on February 16, 2012 at 11:29 am

Sarah S.

Where did Ryan Gosling come from? I mean, I know he was a Mouseketeer and that he turned a couple heads in The United States of Leland and The Notebook. Even still, he seemed to come out of nowhere with Half Nelson, having undergone a foggy transformation from burgeoning boy-wonder to serious thespian. He has since been cultivating a persona built upon a precious (pretentious?) commitment to avant-garde idealism, a dryly humorous willingness to mock Hollywood, and an outrageous-yet-dapper personal style. Also, abs. His counterparts are James Franco and the late Heath Ledger. Yet while Franco’s antics seem more and more annoying (and Ledger’s death more and more tragic) Gosling’s star continues to rise and rise and rise. So, again, where did Ryan Gosling come from? Wherefore lies his particular allure?

Gosling has been slowly perfecting a unique filmic masculinity that hearkens back to Clint Eastwood and John Wayne while feeling entirely fresh and new at the same time. His characters are usually reticent, incapable of or unwilling to be expressive, to share their inner souls. He specializes in blank, enigmatic looks that make you want to swoon-scream: “What are you thinking?” Even his extraordinarily verbose husband in Blue Valentine seemed to speak only because he desperately wanted to know what his wife was feeling and yet equally desperately could not hear what she said. He seems untouchable, un-get-at-able. He’s the opposite of the tortured, emo, vampire boys, the Louises and Edwards and Bills and Stefans, with their obsession with endlessly reporting their tortured, eternal angst. Yet like them he also seems out of time, specializing in films that look set in an earlier time but aren’t (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive). Gosling’s filmic masculinity hits its apex in Drive, with a character so mysterious he does not even have a name; he’s only know as Driver. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Hack, Hack” (Season 2, Episode 19)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars on February 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm

This week the PLLs threw a swim meet party; learned out to hack computers (and defeated evil police man Garrett); learned some fighting secrets; and chatted with newly revealed siblings. Read on for thoughts and musings on this week’s episode.

Read the rest of this entry »

Puppy Love: Remembering Celebrity Crushes

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Well friends, it’s that time of the year again: the one-and-only Anna Howard Shaw Day, when we break out the champagne and Marvin Gaye tunes to honor one of the top women’s suffrage leaders ever to be born on Feburary 14.

And of course, it’s not too late to dig into some waffles in honor of Galentine’s Day, the February 13 holiday in which we appreciate our dearest friends over delicious breakfast foods.  (Guy friends can totally celebrate Galentine’s Day too.)

But what of our first loves? When do we set aside the time to celebrate everything they’ve given us and tell them how we really feel? I refer, of course, to the celebrities and film and television characters who first made us go all moon-eyed. Just because we’re busy sharing our love with suffragists and chums (and maybe with our special gentleman- and lady-friends too) doesn’t mean it’s all right to neglect the stars who taught our pulses how to race. Read the rest of this entry »

My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Affair with Misogyny, Hip-Hop, and Post-Feminism

In race, Uncategorized, violence on February 14, 2012 at 1:49 am

Melissa Sexton

In the winter of 2011, I found myself in a familiar funk. It was my birthday and I was creeping ever closer to thirty; it was winter in Oregon, and the ceaseless rain had begun in earnest; and I had just gone through yet another break-up. But as I battled through the post-break-up blues with endless evenings of YouTube surfing, I stumbled upon Kanye West’s strange, strange film Runaway. I wasn’t into hip-hop yet; I didn’t know anything about Kanye, except that I’d seen his “Gold Digger” video a few times and that Rolling Stone was declaring “Runaway” the single of the year. But I was instantly hooked by the scenes of him zooming in a sports car beneath a pink sky, snarling, “The plan was to drink until the pain over…But what’s worse? The pain or the hangover?” I was hypnotized by the sarcasm, by the strange mix of excess and self-awareness. So I dragged my sorry self onto the bus and rode to a mainstream CD store, somewhere I could snag a cheap copy of My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy for myself.

And thus began my love affair with the cultural icon that is Kanye West – that quintessentially American asshole who declared “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and who was able to make “Let’s have a toast to the douchebags” into an anthem and an apology all mixed into one. I could not stop listening to this album. I was a poor graduate student with a strange penchant for old technology, so I was riding the bus around town with my blue Discman, listening to “Monster” on repeat, feeling the first inklings of reawakening fierceness. And while I certainly identified with the crazed, quicksilver rapping of Nicki on “Monster,” I also found myself getting some swagger and attitude by identifying with Kanye. I related to the strange world he sketched for us on Fantasy: a world of overindulgence, good intentions, bad tempers, failed relationships, loneliness, and compensatory swagger. I was having a strange, gender-bending encounter with an album that openly used women, that admitted at one moment, “I know I did damage” but that countered such self-awareness with Pusha-T’s bluff-call: “I did it – alright, alright, I admit it – Now pick your next move: you can leave or live with it.” Opening up a line of questioning that continued as I grew to love more and more hip-hop that was, at some level, misogynistic, I asked myself why I was feeling so powerful by identifying with an emotionally distant, explicitly male persona? Read the rest of this entry »

Chuck Bass, Chris Brown, and Un-Forgiving Violent Men

In gender, race, teen soaps, violence on February 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Phoebe B.

The controversy surrounding Chris Brown’s upcoming appearance at the Grammy’s has had me thinking about my favorite Gossip Girl character, Chuck Bass. Chuck, his smoldering eyes, and his bad boy-gone-good situation consistently woo me (at least once a week on Monday nights that is). But the thing about Chuck, which I have a hard time reconciling with his position as my favorite GG character, is his past behavior: in the pilot he attempts to force himself on Serena; later in season one he does the same to 14-year old Jenny (Dan’s little sister); later in the series he trades the beautiful and amazing Blair for a hotel; and ultimately when he finds out Blair is engaged he punches through a window.

Chuck Bass

The narrative drive of the show, at least in part, is about Chuck’s redemption—he becomes a seriously swoon-worthy character by this season (and GG’s 100th episode!). For viewers, that violent history, which is often blamed on his absent and fairly mean father and lack of a mother, is erased throughout the narrative of the show. Indeed, my love for Chuck is possible because the show makes me forget Chuck’s darker deeds—which are most often acts of violence against women. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2012 at 9:13 am

Just a few links from around the web. Have a great weekend!

Racialicious’ Sundance pick, 2 Days in New York: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/02/09/sundance-pick-2-days-in-new-york/

Part response to Molly Fischer’s discussion of ladyblogs and another part learning not to care, From Emily Magazine: http://www.emilymagazine.com/?p=837

Jeremy Lin vs. Tim Tebow and the new (and a little scary) white evangelical sports icons, from Racialicious: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/02/10/the-god-squad-tim-tebow-jeremy-lin-and-religiosity-of-sports/

Some reasonably upset thoughts on Drew Barrymore wearing a Native headdress and a Budweiser apron, from Native Appropriations: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2012/01/drew-barrymore-sports-headdress-and.html . And for more on the problems with appropriating Native headdresses: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/but-why-cant-i-wear-hipster-headdress.html

A while ago I posed part one of this blog post on Hazel the Hedgehog, race, and children’s books. So here is part two on Spork, from Caramels on Maple Street: http://caramelsonmaplestreet.com/2012/02/01/falling-dormant-waking-up/

Jonathan Franzen, Edith Wharton, and the Problem of Personality

In gender on February 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

Sarah Todd

The basic gist of Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker article on Edith Wharton is, “Whar-dawg, I do not dig you as a human being because you had too much cash flow and too few socially liberal political beliefs, but I do dig the hot fudge sundae that is your novels’ complex protagonists. Radical?” (Franzen talks like a surfer-dude undergrad from the 1960s with hip-hop influences. No, he doesn’t really. I wish.)

When Franzen discusses Wharton’s books, he’s insightful and curious. I particularly like his exploration of why he wants Wharton’s characters–and literary characters in general–to get what they want, even if they want things about which he has ethical and moral qualms: more money, social status, a loveless but secure marriage. The vehemence of their desires is contagious. Eventually, they become the sympathetic reader’s own. This also explains, he says, why he wants Thackeray’s selfish, superficial Becky Sharp to climb right up that social ladder. But Franzen’s own likability and popularity, or lack thereof, is the subtext of half his personal essays as well as the blatant text (top-text?) of about a zillion pieces of Franzen-related criticism, so I think he’s more invested in the subject of ascending and descending social ladders than he’s willing to admit. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “The Naked Truth” (Season 2, Episode 18)

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm

This week the little liars get locked up in the school; call an unknown number in order to unravel the truth about Vivian Darkbloom; make alliances with Mona; learn about half siblings; and take down evil high school rivals/step sisters (aka Kate). Read on for musings and opinions on this week’s PLL. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up

In gender, reproductive health, Weekly Round-Up on February 4, 2012 at 8:55 pm

As usual, just some good reads from around the internet. Enjoy!

“The New Girl” launches a defense of the manic pixie dream girl, as recapped by Vulture:

http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2012/02/new-girl-recap-season-1-episode-11.html

Molly Fischer critiques the ladyblogs of today at n+1…

http://nplusonemag.com/so-many-feelings

… and several ladies affiliated with said blogs respond:

Emily Gould: http://emilygould.tumblr.com/post/16832249416/ladies-women-and-girls

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano: http://www.the-beheld.com/2012/02/on-ladyblogging-and-slumber-parties-of.html

Anne Helen Petersen: http://www.annehelenpetersen.com/?p=2902

Some info and linkes on Komen’s de-funding of Plan Parenthood:

http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/02/bad_politics_thwart_susan_g_komen_foundations_noble_mission.html

And the most recent update from Jezebel on Komen reversing their decision:

http://jezebel.com/5882018/breaking-komen-reverses-decision-on-planned-parenthood-is-still-likely-full-of-shit

Barbie Girls: Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Mattel

In gender, girl culture, race on February 3, 2012 at 7:26 am

Sarah Todd

Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit  “212” captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)

But one comment Banks made about Minaj in an interview with GQ UK stuck out to me:

It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”

The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “A Kiss Before Lying” (Season 2, Episode 17)

In Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps, The Bachelor, Uncategorized on February 2, 2012 at 10:45 am

This week we encounter our prettiest of liars as they say I love you for the first time; discover bruises on their fake boyfriends; happen upon false identities and fake hairstyles; and protect those most dear to them. Read on for thoughts and opinions on the PLLs! Read the rest of this entry »

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