Recently, Jennifer Lynn Jones and Phoebe B. got together over a Google Doc to discuss one of their favorite summer shows, Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva (DDD). Read on for thoughts on why DDD is the most awesome, the recent season, and much more!
What made you start watching the show? Why do you keep watching it?
Phoebe B: Honestly I can’t quite remember what made me start watching it, but I am SO glad that I did. It is perhaps one of my favorite Summer shows on TV. I keep watching it for a variety of reasons but I think one of the things I like most is Jane (and Brooke Elliot who plays her is so amazing). She is such a badass lawyer and such a great friend (I kind of wish we were friends). But perhaps most importantly, in a TV landscape that is often unkind to women as we’ve seen in Lena Dunham’s recent treatment, DDD celebrates women of all shapes and sizes.
Jennifer: I started watching it because it seemed like it might have some connection to my dissertation, which is on fat stars. I remember it started in the summer of 2009, right around the same time as Fox’s reality dating competition More to Love, so that moment seemed to present a potential zeitgeist for larger-sized characters sans makeovers on television. At first I’d be hard-pressed to say I was a fan of either, but DDD definitely won me over by the end of the first season. I think the hardest part for me to swallow was that the most winning characteristics of Jane’s personality seem to come from Deb, so that the traits of the “thin model” seemed to remain the most significant parts of the character. Over the next few seasons though, it felt like the specter of Deb sort of “thinned out” in the character, and what remained was Jane as this unique, large, lovely character, who yes, I would also very much like to be or know in real life!
How would you describe it to people who haven’t seen it?
Phoebe B: Deb, a super skinny model dies on her way to a Price is Right audition, goes to Heaven’s processing center, pushes the return button, and finds herself back on earth in the body of Jane, a plus size braniac lawyer. Deb, now Jane, has to learn to live in and love her body while also learning how to be a lawyer and grieve the loss of her fiance. There are love triangles, there are musical numbers, and fabulous guest judges. Jane, as she struggles with Deb and learns to navigate her new life, becomes a truly compassionate, complicated, and delightful character.
Jennifer: Yes, that exactly! I often call it an updated version of Ally McBeal, with Jane being a combination of Legally Blond’s Elle Woods and The Practice’s Ellenor Frutt.
Phoebe B: Oh my goodness, that’s PERFECT. Jane’s hair flip often reminds me of Elle.
Jennifer: Yep, that flip from this week is definitely an Elle trait, as well as the “toe tap booty bounce” from the first episode.
This week, we learned a lot about the patterns our PLLs fall into with their extended network of psychopaths, boyfriends, and family members. Hanna and Caleb continued their who’s-protecting-who spiral of deceit. Spencer had blinders on when it comes to her big sister’s nefarious ways. Aria was still trying to shield her mom from her father’s skeezy choices, and Emily was still grieving over Maya (and finding comfort in talking with Maya’s new-to-town cousin). But a few twists — and at least one major revelation — shook up the status quo. Read on for this week’s recap, and let us know your take in the comments.
Melissa is the Black Swan! And we found out that she had been faking her pregnancy for super-long. But do you believe her?? Was she really threatened by A?
Sarah T: The first part of this season seems to be devoted to giving all the prime suspects alibis. Last week Jenna explained why she’d been faking her blindness; this week Melissa explains why she’s been faking her pregnancy. Maybe next week Noel Kahn will explain why he’s been faking his… general opaqueness? Anyway, it’s true that Melissa was trying to tell Spencer something in that one episode last season, and that she called it off when she saw Spencer’s phone, so that part matches her story. And I guess I believe that A might have made her be the Black Swan, although why she would end up running away when she saw the rest of the PLLs still doesn’t make much sense. Actually, you know what I think? I think Melissa a) had something to do with Ali’s murder and b) is not part of the A-team. So I believe that she was getting threatening texts from A but I don’t believe she’s innocent — not with the incriminating video evidence, Ian’s line about how he was doing all this for Melissa, and her ample motivation for wanting Ali dead.
Phoebe B: Hmmm, Sarah I think you are on to something! I too am oh so suspicious of Melissa and can’t imagine that she is completely innocent. I mean she did fake a pregnancy for months and was sketchily hanging out with Garrett before his arrest. It would make sense if Melissa had something to do with Ali’s murder or at least knew something. (maybe Ali had something on her too?? Just like the PLLS.) But I agree I don’t think she is A or perhaps even on the A team. Also, I LOVED the PLLs snooping around Melissa’s apartment and making comments about she was more anal than Spencer and then I also giggled when they found the feather in the costume dress after the dramatic unzip. Such great stuff.
[Spoilers dot the article to follow like so many will-o'-the-wisps!]
Early on in Brave, rebellious Merida–she of 1,500 fiery curls–leaps on her Clydesdale and gallops out into the woods. The movie’s vision of its heroine at home in the Scottish countryside is breathtaking, despite the generic spread-your-wings-and-fly soundtrack that accompanies it.
Slinging arrows and mounting craggy rocks to duck under waterfalls, Merida is strong, fast, and physically fearless. Like another archery-loving 2012 movie heroine, Katniss Everdeen, she’s easy and knowledgeable in the wilderness. But while Katniss depends on the woods for her survival, Merida takes to the trees in order to escape stifling expectations about how a princess is supposed to behave.
In a pop culture landscape over-saturated with Disney princesses, Merida stands out from the pack to some extent. Not only is she utterly uninterested in getting married (or even falling in love at this particular moment in time), the movie doesn’t try to change her mind. Instead, Brave centers on her fight to choose her own destiny — romantic and otherwise — and on her troubled relationship with her mother, Queen Elinor. Elinor’s ideas about femininity, manners, and tradition are as oppressive as the wimple she uses to hide Merinda’s unruly mane.
With her slightly gap-toothed smile, round face, and freewheeling curls, Merida is also physically distinct from the usual Disney bunch. However, her appearance is perhaps most remarkable for the modesty of its deviation from the doe-eyed, bobble-headed norm. Her body may be more athletic than Cinderella’s, her features less delicate than Belle’s–but she’s still white, slender, and conventionally pretty. It’s great to see beauty standards expand, but the minuteness of the subversion feels a bit like a lost opportunity.
Sadly, the same could be said of Brave as a whole. I get excited just thinking about the possibilities of a movie that uses the word “brave” to sum up a girl. It’s a descriptor that’s been associated with masculinity for far too long. But oddly enough, after that first scene in the countryside, the movie doesn’t give Merida many opportunities to demonstrate how courageous she can be. She’s good at standing up for herself, as when she enters a tournament in order to win her own hand in marriage. And certainly she’s not timid or fearful. But because she’s never far from home or from her mother’s watch, the audience never gets to see her really test her mettle.
It’s true that Brave flips the script on the usual parent-child dynamic. Once a spell accidentally turns Elinor into a bear, Merida assumes responsibility for protecting her mother and reversing the magic before it’s too late. But it’s a bit disappointing that Pixar’s first female protagonist is so closely tied to her mom that she can’t just get into trouble solo for a little while. Finding Nemo centered on the relationship between a parent and child too, but it allowed Nemo to have adventures on his own. Merida, on the other hand, never appears to be more than an hour’s horseback ride or so away from the family castle.
Escaping your family, even temporarily, isn’t a prerequisite for independence. It can definitely help, though — particularly for women, who have historically been tethered to hearth and home by patriarchal ideas that keep domesticity, marriage, and motherhood sacrosanct. Family bonds can be wonderful, of course. But sometimes they weigh a good story down.
I recently had the desire to hate-watch my way through a parade of Manolo Blahniks, fancy bags, and bad acting—otherwise known as Sex and the City 2 (word to the wise: don’t watch SATC 2! It is terrible. It is almost too bad for hate watching.). The movie takes Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda out of Manhattan and into Abu Dhabi for a girls vacation, where they cause quite a lot of trouble with their American ways.
Amidst the recession and two wars in the Middle East the film proclaims a clear pro-America stance that figures the Middle East as repressive and oppressive. The ladies, on the other hand, are supposedly the picture of liberated white womanhood—defined per SATC 2 by super expensive fashion and sexual liberation. SATC 2 seems to imagine itself as on the progressive edge of feminism. But in fact, it trades in some of the worst stereotypes about both Middle Eastern cultures and Western, white feminists in the name of progressive politics.
Samantha, the leader of the trip to Abu Dhabi, is certain that her American way is the right way. She refuses to cover her shoulders or legs, behaves inappropriately, and flouts the rules. For example, Samantha and her architect date kiss on the beach after some overly sexual hookah smoking, despite prohibitions against public displays of affection and the clear discomfort they cause a nearby couple. Then she is arrested and quite miffed and surprised that she’s punished for her behavior. Not to fear though, back in America at the end of the film, she and her architect can have sex on a beach (not the drink) without legal interference. Oh freedom, how great you are!
This week things started to get a little bit out of control for the PLLs. It appears Mona is faking her crazy, Lucas is being creepy and also visiting the not-so-crazy Mona, Caleb is getting grumpy, and Mr. Fitz bonds with everybody. Read on for more thoughts on this week’s “Kingdom of the Blind”!
Do you believe that Jenna is scared? Or is she playing the PLLs?
Melissa: I really can’t tell for this one! The story she told about Emily just wandering around town drunk was a little out there…but then again, “out there” things seem to happen all the time in Ye Little Towne of Rosewood. The infamous fly-smashing shot really set her up as a villainous femme fatale, and her wide green eyes shouldn’t make us forget the scheming she and Garrett got up to last season. Then again…she did almost die in a fire and she did go blind in a fire, so Jenna has plenty of reasons to be scared. Could she have been a pawn in A’s game? And how hilarious was the bait and switch scene that led us to a doctor’s office and then to a gun store, all based on a note in a flute case? I kinda wanna call the girls paranoid, but Em had a good point: “You’re not paranoid if someone’s really out to get you.”
Sarah T: Jenna is nothing if not complex: I think she’s probably genuinely scared of someone and that she’s definitely not telling the Liars everything. But why should she trust them, really — from her perspective, these are the girls that blinded her and have done nothing but yell at her and act spooked ever since. She’s been sketchy too, of course, and she definitely set up Garrett for who knows what reason last season, but at this point it’s impossible to say what side she’s fighting on or what her motivations are.
I’m also interested in the implications of Jenna asking the Liars to keep her sight a secret. This is the first time she’s ever asked them for anything — not counting asking Aria to be her accompanist I suppose — and it has the potential to forge a bond between them. (Ben Franklin argued that if you want someone to like you, you should ask them for a favor, and I think he’s probably right.)
Phoebe B.: I agree with both of you! I am SO confused by Jenna … At once, she is totally the victim of Ali and the PLL’s cruelty but at the same time she has been set up as a femme fatale and also was super tricky last season. I just don’t know! But I am inclined, at least for the moment to believe her, though the story of her picking up Emily seems pretty weird although not impossible. But why would Emily be at Ali’s grave ready to get framed for digging up the grave? Was that just a coincidence? It seems so unlikely. Though I do agree that Jenna asking them to keep a secret seems like a gesture of trust, but what if she is just playing them? Trying to rope them into trusting her? It all seems so dangerous! Read the rest of this entry »
It seems like only yesterday that Girls Like Giants was a tiny blog-like twinkle in our eyes. But the calendar doesn’t lie: GLG is officially one year old.
So much has happened in the last 12 months, it’s as if we all exist in a perpetual state of hyper-reality. Titanic sailed back into our lives on the winds of romantic nostalgia and 3-D mania; Katniss slew our hearts with her hardcore, hard-up courage; Rihanna found love in a hopeless place; the whole internet world stopped to argue about Girls. And this blog became a place for sometimes-complicated, sometimes-funny, always-thoughtful conversations about media and popular culture.
That last development is thanks to GLG’s awesomely talented contributors and to our equally awesome readers. You are the smize in our eyes, the Knope in our hope, the Unique wonder that makes us feel glee. Basically, you’re the best. Without you, we’re just a blog in a big old black hole of nothing.
To celebrate our blog-o-versary, we’ve put together a short list of some of our favorite posts from the past year. We limited ourselves to picking just one post from each author. What were some of your favorite posts from the past year? And what kinds of subjects and topics would you like to see GLG take on in the future? Let us know in the comments — we’re all ears.
Sarah T. tackles literary sexism in “Jonathan Franzen, Edith Wharton, and the Problem of Personality.”
Phoebe B. reflects on a gymnastics-filled childhood, tough coaches, and her favorite show in “Post-Dance Academy Reflections on Teaching, from a Former Gymnast.”
Melissa S. considers how to reconcile her love of Kanye with hip hop’s frequent women-bashing in “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Affair with Misogyny, Hip Hop, and Post-Feminism.”
Chelsea B. explores how removing Katniss’s voice impacts The Hunger Games movie in “On Silencing Katniss and Lady-Feelings.”
Sarah S. revels in Vampire Diaries, Caroline, and second chances in “The Unique, Potentially Surprising Ethics of The Vampire Diaries.”
Chelsea H. examines the Food Network’s treatment of ethnicity, race, and cultural cuisines in “Food Network Star, Branding, and Ethnic Entrapment.”
We also want to thank our other amazing contributors Narinda Heng, Taylor D., Jennifer Lynn Jones, Austin H., Jeni R, Sarah H., and Gina L. for allowing us to post their thoughts on everything from rock climbing to The Hunger Games, Torchwood, Rachel Dratch, Scored, and beyond.
Here are some fun and interesting things the GLG folks read this week. What did you read this week? Let us know in the comments!
From the Racialicious Tumblr, debunking the Kumbaya myth.
Check out the awesome trailer for the upcoming Dear White People movie here and their Tumblr here.
What pop culture items do academics study most? Buffy? The Matrix? Find out the answer this week at Slate.
Lastly: Going on a date this weekend? And looking for a perfume? Smell like Labyrinth! Check out Labyrinth-inspired perfumes over at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.
So this is what it’s like to be inside Fiona Apple’s head: Beautiful. Weird. Always intense. There’s a giant octopus waving its tentacles in the river Seine and a smaller octopus which you are permitted to wear as a hat. In bed, you confess your innermost secrets to a gentleman who wears a mask of a bull. Sometimes you commune with the snails.
With your brain, every single night’s a light and a fight. You carry it around in a medicine bag. Once in a while you cup your mind in your hands, consider its treasure and weight.
You want to connect. Play with a hula girl and it means you’ll become her. Look in an aquarium and soon you’re inside. You see bright threads running between a figurine Eiffel Tower and the real one, sparkling like fire; between them and you; between you and a small paper globe. They’re crossing in every direction. You can’t see what’s pulling the strings.
In your music and interviews, you’re vulnerable and conflicted and unfailingly honest. Earnestness paired with eccentricity can make for an easy brush-off: fifteen years ago you were widely ridiculed for speaking your mind.
These days, people are slower to laugh. It’s not quite cool to like you, but mostly because you’re out beyond cool. You tend to convert the most committed of skeptics. When you say “I just want to feel everything,” the way your voice rings and falters, there’s no way to doubt you mean what you’re singing.
Where the pain comes in, you’re almost Ophelia: long hair, heavy dress, floating still in the water with your blue eyes closed. But you’re not so far gone — you can turn things around. You swim upside-down when you need to.
The PLLs are gearing up for a scary, confusing, and crazy season. This week, we discovered a dark secret in Aria’s past; Meredith returned (ugh); Ella took a test; Mona stabbed her finger with tweezers; and the PLLs proved that Jenna can see. Read on for some GLG musings on this week’s episode!
What’s up with Jody from Center Stage (aka Meredith) getting all up in Aria’s grill? Does her end game involve Jamiroquai?
Phoebe: Firstly, is is so weird to see Jody from Center Stage being mean! I just want her to do a rock ballet to a Jamiroquai song. Secondly, Meredith is SO mean! Although some of her meanness makes sense now that we know she was unfairly accused of destroying Byron’s office … It also seems like maybe she suspected Aria of the vandalism already. Also, why are all the women that work at Hollis College really mean and horrible? Like Meredith and Ezra’s ex-girlfriend Jackie (was that her name?).
Melissa: I was also wondering why Meredith and Jackie were so…similar. Snarly diva attitude? Check. Hair that’s just like the PLL’s hair from season one (voluptuous, shiny, long, and curling-iron perfect)? Check. Vendettas straight out of eighth grade? Check. Inappropriate levels of rage towards a high school girl (having nothing to do with her TERRIBLE dress made out of a canvas sack but having everything to do with her terrible, pretentious, cheating father and her terrible choice to date a semi-adult-man who is her teacher)? Check. Also, just for the record, while I’m not planning on having an affair with a much-older and meaner married man any time soon, should I do so, I would kinda expect his children to be vengeful. I’m just saying…
The smart-aleck heroine at the center of ABC Family’s new dance drama Bunheads isn’t a mess — though she sure thinks she is. She has, however, messed up several times over.
In the show’s pilot episode, Michelle (Sutton Foster) reveals that she let a promising dance career slip away, gradually sliding from the American Ballet Academy to the life of a jaded Las Vegas showgirl. She lives in a bare apartment with a broken air conditioner and a fridge containing precisely one six-pack of beer.
That’s Mess #1.
Mess #2 happens when Michelle is summarily dismissed from a Chicago audition that she’d hoped would be the start of a comeback. Fearing that she’s over the hill, she opts for a different kind of overhaul. Thanks to a perfect storm of desperation, martinis, and the kindness of a mild-mannered yet ardent suitor named Hubble, she marries a practical stranger. The next morning, she wakes up in the passenger seat of a car bound for the sleepy coastal town of Paradise, California. She ogles her wedding ring, stares open-mouthed at Hubble, and falls back asleep.
As a sucker for heroines who make big mistakes and live through them, I’m already pretty much set to love Michelle without reserves. As played with screwball-comedy jauntiness by Broadway darling Foster, she’s a complicated woman: brittle, warm, goofy, disappointed. She’s willed herself into tailspin for most of her life, using parties and drinks and easy laughs to muffle the nagging doubts that clip at her heels.
“You’ve squandered a lot of potential,” her new mother-in-law tells her. She’s a former professional dancer herself, so she knows what she’s talking about.
“I know,” Michelle says.
“Are you sorry?”
“Every day of my life.” Read the rest of this entry »
A cornucopia of idea-feasts from around the web this week.
From Aymar Jean Christian on Televisual, “She Got Problems” Will Make You Sing and Laugh on Alison McDonald’s hilarious web shorts.
From Kendra James on Racialicious, a great post on race, cosplay, and fandom: “Race + Fandom: When Defaulting to White isn’t an Option“
And also on Racialicious (via Ashley C.): “Why the Pretty White Girl YA Cover Trend Needs to End,” by Ellen Oh.
A cool post on “Seeing Income Inequality from Space” over at Per Square Mile.
Are you a chaos muppet or an order muppet? Dahlia Lithwick at Slate poses the most important personality-defining question of our time.
Nature is harsher and more complicated than we tend to imagine: J.B. MacKinnon’s “False Idyll” at Orion
Examining the new generation of action heroines with Inkoo Kang
Why (and whether) we laugh at jokes about taboo subjects: Michael Rottman at The Morning News
Watching the Newcastle “Brewer” Ad: An Inner Monologue
Fade in on a girl who’s just trying to enjoy the latest episode of So You Think You Can Dance on Hulu.
Oh hello, ad! What are you for? Newcastle Brown Ale, huh? Sure, you’re a pretty good beer. Kind of a nutty flavor. I drank you a lot in college. So we’re doing a little “nostalgic hearkening to our traditional brewing background” type of ad here, are we? I’m down. Shots of hands sifting through barley hops. Soothing wind instruments. Cool cool cool.
You cut off that brewer’s head with a shot of the pipe! Weird. Fine, though, that’s fine.
Mmm caramel malt, that does sound good. But hey, you’re cutting off that brewer’s head again! This is starting to seem like it’s on purpose.
“Why do we focus so much on our brewmaster’s hands?” Yes! You read my mind, Newcastle ad. Why indeed? There’s a clever punchline coming up, I can tell.
“Because she’s not an attractive woman.”
Oh, I see.
Because here is what we know about the brewer we’ve seen so far. The brewer wears conservative v-neck sweaters over button-down shirts and big, breezy coats. The brewer wears glasses. The brewer has a bit of a beer belly, which makes sense, because the brewer is a brewer. The brewer’s hands are big and strong, and not young.
All of these traits are meant to make the viewer believe that the brewer is a man, because only men are allowed to dress conservatively and carry extra weight around their stomachs and have strong hands and be older. A woman who does these things, naturally, is a masculine woman. Therefore she must be unattractive, because attractive = young, skinny, scantily clad, and conventionally feminine. Since she is not conventionally feminine, she is unattractive, and since she is unattractive, Newcastle will spare us the very sight of her, which would clearly make our poor innocent eyes start to bleed.
“Newcastle: No Bollocks.”
No Bollocks. That’s you, alright, Newcastle ad. You call ‘em like you see ‘em. You’re so brave. You’re brave enough to reinforce casual sexism in advertising under the guise of humor. You’re straight-shooting enough to shame every woman who doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model because she has committed the terrible, unforgivable offense of not being sexually appealing by your narrowly defined standards. You are honest enough to suggest that we should never have to look into the face of a woman you deem unattractive! Perhaps the brewer woman should go live in a cave in the desert, exiled from the rest of society, so that no one need gaze upon her ever again. SLOW. CLAP. FOR. YOUR. COURAGEOUS. PLAIN-SPEAKING. HOGWASH.
The Prettiest of the Little Liars are back and A is scarier than ever. Last season ended with a Psycho-esque turn. With Mona tucked away safely in a mental institution, the PLLs thought their A-related troubles were over. Sadly for them, but lucky for us, they were wrong. This season looks scarier than ever replete with empty graves, a new and more terrifying A, and much much more. Read on for GLG’s thoughts on this season’s opener.
What do you think about the PLL’s individual states of being? Emily is understandably having a rough time…
Sarah T.: I’m glad they all had prototypical summer activities: Spencer was scholarly, Aria was artsy, Emily was a do-gooder and Hanna had fun with cooking classes and new vocabulary a la Cher from Clueless. (Maybe my favorite moment of the episode was her solemn attempt to comfort Aria by correctly yet oddly using the word “jubilation.”)
Spence and Hanna seem to be the most stable at the moment. It completely makes sense that Emily’s in heavy-drinking and mourning mode: she’s now lost two people she was close with (and with whom she had romantic relationships ranging from semi- to fully-realized). Shay Mitchell did good job of showing how Emily’s sullenness is a cover for the real pain she’s dealing with.
Aria seems more fragile than usual in the aftermath of the A-bathroom scare, which probably has as much to do with the fact that her parents are splitting up as it does how terrifying that hoodie person was. (What happened when the stall door swung open slowly? We never find out. Did she have a panic attack and black out the way Emily did, or was there no one there at that point?) I’ll be interested to see if A is finally going to start coming after her the way A has with the other three girls.
Phoebe: I totally agree about Emily and feel like her response is pretty reasonable. Although, I felt so sad for her when she felt guilty as if A basically abducting her and taking her to an empty grave (ie framing her) was her fault! Also, I thought it was weird that this episode the PLLs were apart so much. Like they were together initially at Spencer’s house and then the Lake house but then spent most of the episode in separate places, which made me anxious!
Also, Aria! So, while the episode totally set us up to believe that she has having a panic attack (what with her earlier bad dream at Ezra’s) I am not sure that she did have a panic attack. I wondered if perhaps A was in the bathroom and being extra scary. Since A seems to always know everything, maybe A knows and is cruelly playing on Aria’s panic attacks?
Lastly, I love that Spencer spent her summer sitting in the former A room at the former creepy motel and trying to reconstruct it from memory. (Although I am worried that her computer will be gone by next episode since she foolishly left it in the room when the PLLs went out to discover all the photos in Spence’s car.) But I love that she realized that there is more to A than Mona and that she decided to be proactive and detective like about it. Go Spencer!
Guest Contributor Jennifer Lynn Jones
It’s a good time for the female comic memoir. Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Hannah Horvath… Well, the last one’s a little speculative, but it seems like it would fit, doesn’t it? Television has been an especially fertile ground for this genre, and these specific examples provide pretty interesting case studies.
They’re all certainly exceptional. All of them are writers and producers, creatives who don’t just appear in front of the camera but also work behind it. In two big boys clubs—television and comedy—they seem to have found sturdy and admirable footholds for climbing Hollywood’s ladder, leading others to success as well.
In a sense, their exceptionality has led to their familiarity. The better they do, the more we get to see of them. Handler is on E! practically every day and tours relentlessly. Fey’s been on TV consistently for the past twelve years, Kaling more than half that. We’ve been able to watch their successes play out on our screens, and we get to know a part of them through their routines and their characters. Their memoirs show us even more of their lives, giving us humorous insights into their ups and downs, both personal and professional, making them feel a little more familiar, a little more accessible to us. (By the end they all make me feel like we could TOTALLY be best friends.)
However, the comic memoir takes on a tinge of the tragic when the star at the center of it is no longer on the rise, maybe not even on the horizon. In a sense, these kinds of stories are headed in a different direction. They may still be funny, but the humor has more of an edge when the subject seems to be experiencing more downs than ups. There’s more at stake in what these memoirs tell you, so what they share feels more intimate.
This is a significant part of what differentiates Rachel Dratch’s new book Girl Walks into a Bar…: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle from the rest of the pack. Dratch’s memoir falls into three sections: her life before, during, and immediately after Saturday Night Live; her dating life once work dried up after SNL; and an unexpected romance and resulting motherhood in her mid-forties. Dratch covers a lot of territory here, some of it a downer (wah-wah), but all of it funny and most of it surprisingly optimistic. With the disappointments Dratch has experienced since leaving SNL, I could understand if she were more defensive and protective of herself, but in Girl Walks Into a Bar…, she reveals as much as possible, and becomes more relatable and surprisingly more captivating as a result.
It’s hard not to draw a comparison between Dratch’s book and Bossypants, the best-selling 2011 memoir by her friend and comedy colleague Tina Fey. Both books give details about family and education, early training in performance and comedy, and friendships and romances. And while both are very funny, they have very different tones. In comparison, Fey’s seems more distant. She has plenty of similarly funny and certainly embarrassing stories, but she still seems to be carefully eliminating the parts that might cut a little too close to home. For example, she shares the story of her disastrous honeymoon, but reveals little else about her relationship with her husband, Jeff Richmond. Dratch, on the other hand, really bares it all, almost literally with at least two stories about accidental nudity. She shares the good, bad, and ugly in her personal and professional lives. As such, in opening so much up, she makes herself more vulnerable than Fey, and comes off as warmer and more relatable for it.
The summer before I started college, the graduating seniors at my soon-to-be school pulled off the prank of a lifetime. Each incoming freshman received, on official-looking letterhead, a note informing us that the book selected for our required summer reading would be Truly Madly Viking. Eventually the college got wind of the switcharoo and sent out the real summer reading notices, but it was too late for some of the over-achieving types (a category that does not include yours truly unfortunately), who had already dutifully plowed through the timeless tale of the love between a modern woman and a tenth-century Norse warrior.
I’m holding out hope that 50 Shades of Grey is also an elaborate practical joke. But on the off chance that it’s neither a prank nor a collective international nightmare, here’s the basic rundown. 50 Shades of Grey is terribly-written Twilight fan fiction that somehow manages to be a million times worse than the (ludicrous) original. It is a masterpiece, and by masterpiece I mean that it masterfully manages to make this charming young man hide inside his hoodie with discomfort. (He actually does a really funny and great job reading selected quotes, and if you’re curious about all the fuss but don’t want to subject yourself to the actual book, the video and the hilarious recaps from Oh Hai Desk are solid alternatives.)
The hoodie-hiding in which readers may feel compelled to engage probably won’t have much to do with embarrassment over the supposedly racy subject matter. The book pulls off the trick of selling itself as risqué (thereby sending digital copies flying off the e-reader shelves) while actually being remarkably tame and boring. We are talking about a book that includes pages and pages of a legal contract complete with clauses and appendices. Multiple times. THE SAME CONTRACT. We saw it already, E.L. James! Why don’t you and BarBri get a room. Read the rest of this entry »
This week, people wrote things on the internet! Here is a small sample of some of those things.
- Crunktastic writes a moving essay about black women, nudity, the politics of touch, and capitalism.
- A great conversation about domesticity in poetry with writers Rachel Zucker, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Matthew Rohrer.
- Zach Baron appreciates Kristen Stewart’s awkward, mumbly authenticity.
- GLG pal Martina has a wonderful personal essay about standing up to street harassment.
- The Rumpus interview (in partially comic form) with graphic novelist and national treasure Alison Bechdel.
- Choire Sicha gives a brief history of trigger warnings (and an account of the current debate over whether the term has become too generalized).
What did you read this week?
From the first lingering close-ups of rebels in “No Church in the Wild,” it’s clear that Jay-Z and Kanye are on the revolutionaries’ side. Even when handkerchiefs cover the protestors’ noses and mouths, we see rage, suffering, and wariness pass through their eyes. They appear at once vulnerable— shirtless, dressed in street clothes—and heroic as they push against police lines and extend their arms out wide and slightly back, puffing their chests forward. That last pose is the universal sign for “Come at me.” The police do.
The police are the faceless apparatus of the state, their humanity buried beneath helmets and shields. They bear high-tech weapons. Their synchronized violence works like a machine. By contrast, the rebels’ tactics are chaotic—a police car on fire pushed through the barricades, a boot kicking against a hard plastic shield. The police have controlled power, which they use to control others. The rebels use their power to create disorder. Their anger burns. Everyone in the video is a man.
But what’s a revolution without specifics? That’s a real question, not a snarky rhetorical move. Without identifying details, it’s impossible to know whether “No Church” means to evoke Occupy Wall Street or Arab Spring or other recent uprisings. (The fact that the video was filmed in Prague lends it tones of the Velvet Revolution as well, although of course that revolution was nonviolent.)
Perhaps the scenes in the video are meant to stand for all revolutions. On principle, that’s fine — I don’t have a problem with metaphors. But I do have a problem with borrowing images that conjure up heroism and radical social movements without earning the right to them. For example: those Walt Whitman commercials make me tear up, because like many people in the target demographic I’m a sucker for that expansive, youthful, hopeful, scrappy, poetic version of America. So the ads have the effect they’re supposed to have on me. But at the same time, I know that Levi’s is making a cheap move with those commercials. They’re lifting beauty and poetry to sell me some jeans.
What this video does isn’t quite so crass, because I believe that while Jay-Z and Kanye obviously have commercial agendas they’re also concerned about art. I don’t think Levi’s cares about art one way or the other as long as I plunk down some dollars for pair of dark wash. But I do think the video is lifting revolution to sell me on Watch the Throne.
The irony of which is, I’m already sold. “No Church” is an amazing song. But it’s about the dark side of opulence, as the trailer for The Great Gatsby showed to great effect. If the video had gone more for class warfare and less for de-contextualized uprisings, it would have been a perfect match between song and story. Lyrically, Jay-Z and Kanye have both acknowledged the contrast between their current decadent lifestyles and the realities of poverty in America. How cool would it be to see a video that explored those tensions? As is, “No Church” gave me some goosebumps — but I don’t think the video deserved them.
For more on hip-hop in general and Kanye in particular, check out Melissa’s “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Affair with Misogyny, Hip Hop, and Post-Feminism.”