thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Mission Possible: Support Women in Television with “Sigma”

In Television on July 28, 2012 at 7:33 am

Hello Giants whom these Girls Like so very much,

If you like your television with roundhouse kicks and a dose of feminism to boot, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Sigma, a spy action series by Josh Rector and Jesús Alarcón Castellanos. The series follows the story of Agent Sigma, a young woman trained in the art of espionage by the mysterious (and ominous) Eden Group. With two female action leads and killer talent, it’s the kind of show we could definitely use more of.

But Sigma needs your help! The project is raising money through a Kickstarter fund in order to shoot a pilot. Check out a teaser and donate at

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1121873737/sigma-a-spy-action-series

And help spread the word! Tell your friends, tell your spies. Over and out.

Weekly Round-Up x 2

In Weekly Round-Up on July 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Last week, I ventured to the Berkshires where there was only dial-up internet and then to a conference in Boston where there was loads of internet but no time. Thus, this week here are some fun readings to make-up for last week’s lack! Have a great weekend.

Margaret Cho on feeling comfortable in her own body, in response to Gabi Gregg’s smokin’ bikini photos.

Kase Wickman interviews Lauren Greenfield about her new documentary, The Queen of Versailles over at The Hairpin.

David J. Leanord writes about Serena Williams’ Wimbledon victory and white supremacy at New Black Man in Exile: Serena Williams: “Ain’t I A Champion.”

And check out “The Othering of Barack Obama and the Growing of a Movement,” by  Scot Nakagawa at Race Files.

Anything to add? Let us know in the comments!

Pretty Little Liars, “Crazy” (Season 2, Episode 7)

In Pretty Little Liars, Uncategorized on July 26, 2012 at 7:12 pm

This week on PLL there were more scary dolls, mental institutions and crazy codes, ouija boards, and flashbacks aplenty. Read on for our thoughts on this week’s rather scary Pretty Little Liars.

What do you make of Cece? She seems scarily Ali-like.

Sarah T: OR IS ALI LIKE HER? Either way I think Ali is cooler. Cece’s got the long blonde curls and the willpower and the tendency to make crazed impulsive decisions that coerce others and freak out her friends, but she doesn’t have Ali’s… sociopathic charm? That certain je ne sais quoi that I look for in my totalitarian teen leaders. (Also how old is Cece supposed to be, because I feel like she’s got at least ten years on the PLLs.) Anywayyy, I do like the idea of an Ali doppelganger — someone who Ali even looked up to and emulated, based on that comment about how she was like “a broken doll.” (DOLLS. This show is obsessed with them. Much like Edith at the Hairpin.)

Phoebe B: Agreed on all counts. Cece appears to be just a tad too old for high school. So perhaps Ali is like her! And then there is the fact that she knows ALL the PLLs secrets. I don’t understand why Emily is hanging around her. I am hoping that it is to gather information, but I am a little worried that she actually likes Cece because Emily is reminded of Ali. But I am scared for the PLLs now that Cece is back in town.

Melissa: Phoebe, right!?!?!?! I totally got a flirty vibe from Cece, though I imagine like Ali she’s just toying with Emily. While I don’t trust Cece at all, I am intrigued by the notion that Ali might have modeled all her troubling behavior off of this woman’s ways. And that Ali made herself (and all her friends) vulnerable by confiding so much in Cece…whose involvement with Jason only deepens the mystery still forming around the good ol’ NAT club, doesn’t it? Was Cece somehow involved in the filming of girls? Was she drawing Ali into the dark surveillance world?

Let’s talk about Ella! What do you think of her date? And her awesome coffee shop owner flirtation?

Sarah T: Hahahahaa, this whole storyline made me really happy, from Ella asking Aria for date-outfit advice and then stopping herself with, “Wait, why am I asking you?  You wear forks as earrings.” to her rockin’ chemistry with scruffy coffeeshop guy. (Zeke? Zach? He seems like a Z-name guy.) Ella is smoking and awesome and I love that toothy smile she does when she’s flattered/embarrassed. It’s another interesting addition PLL’s long line of inter-generational romances, but this is one that I can get behind — unlike Aria-Ezra, Spencer-Ian/Spencer-Wren, Aria’s dad-Meredith. Cougars all around! Also, Pastor Ted! He is playing the field, that one, with his boring stories and weird ice cream-eating habits.

Phoebe B: Oh my god, I LOVE this storyline! Forks as earrings! And her and Aria’s conversation about scarves … it was all so charming. That was an amazing line and rang so so true. Also, hot and scruffy coffee shop guy whose like “What’s wrong with your age?” is so amazing. Ella is smoking and the best and I loved how much she was NOT into Pastor Ted (also, I found him super sketchy on that date with his creepy ice cream swirling) who seems like a goober.

Melissa: I was SO happy that Ella ditched Pastor-Boy for CoffeeShopOwner, because I was (mainly) worried that her dating Ted would ruin her budding friendship with Ashley, and okay, I love their friendship so much. Their white-wine girl-date was one of my favorite moments of female friendship that I’ve seen on television, and I don’t want a creepy pastor playing the field to come between them. Also, Ella, go for the real sexual tension and the (no euphemism at all!) tasty baked goods! Ditch Pastor Awkwardpants! Who sets up a date at a coffee shop and then shames you for getting coffee just because he wants ice cream in the sun? Lordy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Catwoman’s Class

In Film on July 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Sarah T.

* spoilers ahead *

Cat burglars are the Condé Nast editors of the criminal underworld. Sleek and sharp and clad in black, they’re surrounded by riches but too cool to be fazed by them. They don’t come much classier than Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle: from her blowout and pearl choker to the four-inch gold stilettos that double as daggers, this Catwoman positively oozes swank.

But at the end of the day, after she’s backflipped out her last mansion window, she returns to a modest walkup in an unfashionable neighborhood. She even has a roommate: a petite, scraggly blonde who appears to be some combination of friend and lover. Kyle grew up with nothing, in and out of juvenile detention, and today even jewel thievery can’t help her work her way up the ladder. After she’s finished distributing profits from her stolen goods to all the criminals with whom she’s in deep, Kyle barely has enough dough left over to form a cracker.

That’s the triple class tension at the heart of the best character in The Dark Knight Rises. Kyle must maintain the appearance of class in order to gain access to the homes and pockets of Gotham’s self-satisfied fat cats. But her economic reality is far from posh. Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that she’s pro-class warfare. Her speech to billionaire Bruce Wayne is so Occupy, she might as well be delivering it via the people’s mic:

“You think this can last? There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

Read the rest of this entry »

DayZ: Where Everybody Is a Body

In games on July 25, 2012 at 7:47 am

Guest Contributor Allison Bray

It is a silent and unremarkable landscape devoid of people. A subdued version of the apocalypse. Depending on which direction you walk, and for how long, you may find hills, streams, farmhouses, or industrial areas. An approaching figure could be a zombie or a human being, but the latter does not guarantee survival. Humans are just as likely to kill you in order to loot your corpse. You’re equipped with little more than a flashlight—useless in a fight. If you run, and many do, the environment poses its own threats. You could die from hypothermia, starvation, dehydration, shock, blood loss, or infection. If you die, and everyone does, you lose everything. Start over.

That is the bleak and uncompromising experience of DayZ, a new online video game that’s been met with widespread acclaim despite—or perhaps because of—its gritty and utterly unsexy minimalism. DayZ could be described as a simplified zombie survival game with an emphasis on realism, or a realistic survival game that happens to include zombies. In either case, the simple premise doesn’t sound that different from many other games on the market. DayZ has set itself apart, however, by throwing out the prevailing formula and its familiar balance of narrative, character, and gameplay. As the gaming industry moves ever closer to cinematic standards in producing that balance, the small team responsible for DayZ stripped away the elements of narrative and character altogether, leaving little more than a player, their on-screen counterpart, and the very real question of what they are willing to do to keep that lone figure alive.

The first people who played it must have been baffled not so much by what they found, but what they didn’t find:  DayZ drops you into a world without context or guidelines. Joining a server loads you onto the map, a fictional chunk of Eastern Europe roughly 225 square kilometers in size, but there is no introductory cut-scene establishing the details of your environment or anything else. Besides the lack of items, there is no map or compass automatically available for navigation. There are no tutorials for new players, no pop-up screens with tips or hints, and no witty sidekicks appear to ease the tension and help. Since this is a game downloaded online and not purchased at a store for sixty dollars, there isn’t a glossy booklet with explanations of the world and its items. The only information available is a small inventory screen, nearly empty at the start, and a small stats display that is a window into the heart of the game.

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A well-stocked inventory.

Like other games, some of the statistics relate to your success within this world, but success means something different in this world. No real plots or large objectives mean no progress meters, experience points or levels, and even though a counter keeps track of the number and type of kills (zombie or human), you don’t win by obtaining the highest tally of kills. You avoid losing by staying alive. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview: Author Leigh Stein Sends a “Dispatch From the Future”

In books on July 24, 2012 at 9:47 am

Sarah T.

The future is notoriously hard to predict, but it’s a safe bet that it holds big things for Leigh Stein. The 27-year-old poet and novelist has published two witty, wonderful books in the last year alone. Her first, The Fallback Plan, is a coming-of-age novel about a college graduate spending a confused summer at home in the suburbs.  In her new book of poems, Dispatch from the Future, Stein plays fast and loose with the rules of time and space, not to mention poetic conventions — all to dazzling effect.

Beneath Dispatch‘s irreverent wisecracks and pop culture references are big concerns:  love, loneliness, revenge, freedom, endless choice. Stein has a knack for asking real humdingers of questions. “What’s the future/of your emergency?” is a funny way for an operator to answer the phone, but it’s also a puzzle anyone who’s ever gotten themselves out of a bad situation has had to solve.

Girls Like Giants’ questions aren’t nearly as mull-worthy; luckily, Stein agreed to an email interview anyway. Read on for her thoughts on The Bachelorette as poetic muse, why writing a novel is like working in the mines, and how to win back your ex-boyfriend after he leaves you for a Lithuanian model.

The opening poem in Dispatch from the Future warns, “If you read this book sequentially, / bad things may happen to you, but only as bad / as the things that would have happened to you anyway.” But it also warns that not reading sequentially will feel like being on a sunken pirate ship. For me, this was kind of like watching the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz point both ways, which was an awesome and trippy way to enter into your book. How did you want your readers to go about reading your poems?

What a great question! The first section of Dispatch is very inspired by the Choose Your Own Adventure series, and instead of preparing people for what they typically would expect from a book of poetry, I wanted to prepare people for a dangerous adventure. Of course you can read the book sequentially (and I ordered the poems intentionally) but the pleasure of reading a poetry collection is getting to jump around, just as you would in a CYOA book, where finishing the book means risking death. Read the rest of this entry »

Olivia Newton John, Carly Rae Jepsen, and the Slapstickiness of Female Desire

In music videos on July 23, 2012 at 9:43 am

Guest Contributor Paul Bindel

He won’t be calling.

Some may click through blogs or Songza for the musical scoop of the hour; others trick to summer festivals to hear the best new band. This summer, my primary source of new music happens to be junior-high girls—vanloads of them, giggles and whispers, as I shuttle them on outdoor National Park tours. iPhone after iPhone comes trickling from four rows of backseats, mixed with exultant, usually off-key sopranos. We dance, we crank it, we sing, mixing the right soundtrack for sights of bears and bison and rock formations.

I haven’t decided if I’m in the trenches of new music (particularly when it comes to country tunes) or caught in the Adele-an or Taylor Swift-ean eddies from last year. But I’m not sure trendiness is more important than pleasure, and these girls enjoy their music. Sure, “I Gotta Feeling” may play five times before 2:00 p.m., but once the snare hits, the irony drifts out the van window: we’re all in 7th grade again, and it’s summer.

This week, I was fascinated to hear how my passengers relate to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ubiquitous single “Call Me Maybe.”  Few audiences are better than teenage girls for a song about female desire, vulnerable angst dripping even from the title. The song has mostly come up as our vans imitate the Harvard Baseball team’s van dance cover. (Yes, we posted our version on Youtube. Yes, “the boys’ van totally copied us.”)

I wasn’t exactly curious about the song until a girl mentioned it over dinner: “Did you see the ending of her music video? It is so crazy.” At the prospect of more than fist pumps, I asked for more details. “Well, this girl is in love with a guy, and he’s so cute. But when she gives him her number, he’s actually gay and wants to date her band member. Can you believe that?”

I could and couldn’t, but was struck that the plot so resembled Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” another viral video with a gay twist. The songs’ similarities made me wonder about female desire. With more than 30 years between the two videos, why do women whose songs directly express desire become exaggerated objects of desire in their videos? And why do the video’s desirable men end up desiring other men? Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “The Remains of the ‘A'”: Season 3, Episode 6

In Pretty Little Liars, Recaps on July 21, 2012 at 10:15 am

This week on Pretty Little Liars, everyone dropped everything to flock to the white-hot heat of a church dance celebrating a rummage sale; a trap for A shockingly failed to ensnare the hooded top banana; Ezra is probably going to join the embezzler’s club (currently headed by Ashley); Garrett got off the hook for murder, and Spencer subsequently broke down. Intensities abound! Read on for our thoughts.

Just a totally regular interaction between two people hanging out normally.

This storyline was heavy on Spencer-Alison drama. Thoughts?

Sarah T: I love it whenever the show concentrates on Ali’s individual relationships with our PLLs. The friendship between her and Spencer has always been shown as the most tense and conflict-ridden, largely because she didn’t hold the same kind of power over Spencer as she did over the others. In the present day, she resents Ali more than the others do (but that also suggests she’s maybe hanging on to some things the others have let go of). But in this episode, the dynamic got a bit more textured when we see Spencer feeling hurt and frustrated because Ali bails whenever they make plans. And then Ali tries to reframe the conversation in terms of maturity, which is a total power play — she’s leaving to get them all fake IDs, so that “instead of languishing at the kiddie table, we’ll be mixing it up on futons with frat boys.”

But I also thought it was interesting that this episode highlighted the friendship between Hanna and Spencer in the present as a contrast to the Ali-Spencer relationship in the past, since Hanna’s storyline is partly about becoming Ali 2.0: Now Far More Benevolent. When Spencer confesses to Hanna that she fantasizes about what her life would have been like if she’d never met Ali, Hanna understands — and when Spencer adds, “But then I have to remind myself, if I hadn’t met Ali, I wouldn’t have been friends with you,” it’s clear she feels the same way. Spencer’s always needed the other PLLs the most, I think; in a lot of ways she’s the loneliest (because her family is uniformly made up of possible murderers and accessories to murderers).

Phoebe B: Yes and yes! I loved that part between Hanna and Spencer and appreciated the focus on both of them this episode as they are my favorites. But also I thought it was interesting to see Spencer looking at the anklet and on an A-related adventure with Jason, whom I am not sure I completely trust (despite that they are siblings). Also, how creepy was Spencer’s dad when he was watching her and Toby chat on the bench? Ugh I do not like him. Read the rest of this entry »

DARK SECRETS, Genre, and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

In adaptation, dystopian literature, Film, spoilers, technology, Uncategorized on July 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Sarah S.

If you have not read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, I recommend that you go out, pick it up, and read it immediately. Better still, if you do not know the underlying premise or “twist” of the novel, I highly recommend you stop reading this post right now. Which is to say, this post contains spoilers and, while I acknowledge that anxiety over “spoiling” may be overrated in many circumstances, I really believe that Ishiguro designed his exquisite novel so that the twist be revealed with agonizing slowness and that you’ll enjoy the novel more if you don’t know. I didn’t know. I knew that the novel focused on three students who had grown up in a seemingly idyllic, British boarding school that had a DARK SECRET but I had no inkling what said DARK SECRET was. If you are similarly ignorant, please, stop reading this post and go read the book.

Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Never Let Me Go features Ishiguro’s achingly beautiful and slow style as likewise exhibited in The Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World (one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read). But what particularly fascinated me about Never Let Me Go was its mingling of genres. On one hand, it’s a coming-of-age story, a Bildungsroman, about growing up and accepting one’s place in the order of things—albeit with a bleak, postmodern twist. On the other hand, and much to my surprise, Never Let Me Go is science fiction of the dystopian/utopian variety (see footnote below).* Or, if you prefer the more literary term, “speculative fiction” that asks “what if?” in order to question our current cultural trajectory.

The narrator of Never Let Me Go, Kathy H, is a clone—born and bred for her vital organs and other relevant parts, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy and every student at their boarding school, Hailsham. The clones’ existence creates a disease-free golden age for all of the world’s “normal” people. In the book, however, the reader only discovers this fact in bits and pieces scattered throughout the novel; indeed, Ishiguro forces us to work for the information, to read into and around what scraps Kathy gives us as she relates her story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wes Anderson’s Nostalgia

In Film on July 18, 2012 at 6:08 am

Sarah T.

Nostalgia seems like one of the more self-indulgent emotions. That’s not to say I never feel it. Sometimes I miss north Michigan’s woods so much I could eat a pine tree-shaped air freshener. But in the face of the myriad other problems a person could possibly have, getting sentimental about the past feels kind of ridiculous. The drill sergeant from Forrest Gump who occupies my brain tells me that nostalgia is an ache you invent for yourself when there aren’t any other bruises looming. Then he tells me to give him twenty.

Based on Wes Anderson’s wistful body of work, I do not think he has met the drill sergeant. Anderson’s films are populated by dreamers disappointed by the present: Max Fischer and Herman Blume, all the Tenenbaums and associates, the three sons of The Darjeeling Limited. His characters are misfits among their peers and lonely in the midst of family. They imagine they were happier in the past, primarily because at least back then wasn’t now. Therefore his movies possess extremely precise visual articulations of nostalgia. All three adult siblings in The Royal Tenenbaums dress to evoke the promise of their youths. Richie wears the tennis outfit that calls back to his glory days on the courts, Chas picks the track suit that’s an emblem of his businessman’s vigor, and Margot stays faithful to an ensemble that reflects a twelve-year-old girl’s fantasy of literary sophistication: long fur coat, heavy eyeliner, blond hair in a simple bob held in place by a plastic barrette.

Nowhere is Anderson’s penchant for nostalgia more apparent than in his new film Moonrise Kingdom, which takes place on a New England island in 1965. Whether or not audiences were alive to witness the artifacts of mid-century Americana firsthand, they can recognize the movie’s graphic-patterned shift dresses, saddle shoes, and portable record player as shorthand for a dreamy, supposedly simpler innocence—and they can feel a sense of loss looking at a world long gone. Read the rest of this entry »

Catwoman has Boneitis: Comics, Bodies, and Form

In body politics, gender on July 17, 2012 at 8:49 am

brian psi

Last year, DC Comics relaunched its entire line of superheroes in an event they titled The New 52. Aimed at luring new readers, the initiative sought to wipe away decades of confusing and conflicting continuity and to present the most authentic, essential versions of their popular characters (including Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and others). Costumes were redesigned, creative teams shifted, and backstories simplified or altered. 52 was by most accounts a commercial and artistic success. But despite the lip service that DC editorial has paid to bringing in new creators and readers, especially more women, they somehow still allowed a lot of crap to happen.

I do not want to rehash Red Hood and the Outlaws, Wonder Woman, or Catwoman here; even though last month’s Catwoman #0 is obviously the principle motivator of this post. Others have already written on these, and I encourage anyone interested enough to have gotten thus far to click on the links embedded in the titles above for some excellent commentary on the issues with those specific works.

Catwoman #0, cover by Guillem March

Instead, I want to tackle a very specific argument that some creators and fans have raised in defense of the sexualization of women within the pages and on the covers of these comics. Let’s call it the ‘other mediums do it too!’ defense (AKA the ‘books/films/games/etc., are just as bad!’ defense). Put aside the fact that this defense, more of an excuse, is incredibly juvenile: if a novel jumped off a bridge, would you? It also conveniently elides the greatest formal difference between comics and other media: comic book characters are drawn, inked, and colored—wholly produced—by people. This seems rather obvious, I know. But it has enormous ramifications for the ways that the human form is represented, and how that representation is understood, consumed, and/or identified with by the comic’s audience. So, when I argue that representations of women in comics generally are worse than those in other media, it is not because I am a snob or self-hating comics fan (well, maybe sometimes), nor is it because there are some objective criteria by which we can measure this phenomenon. Nor do I believe that comics artists and writers and editorial boards are evil or are actively trying to ‘keep women down’ somehow–although at times (see examples above) one has to wonder. Rather, it is because in comics, unlike in prose or film, the creator or creative team exercises absolute control over the bodies it aims to represent. Read the rest of this entry »

Gay Days: Will Horton’s Coming Out Storyline on NBC’s Days of Our Lives

In Television on July 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Guest Contributor Drew Beard

When I was fourteen years old, I was sentenced to a month of doing dishes for getting caught watching the NBC daytime soap Days of Our Lives. My parents didn’t feel that soap operas were appropriate viewing material for a teenage boy such as myself. When I protested that it wasn’t particularly racy or violent, my mother replied that “only old women watch soap operas,” revealing that this was more about genre and gender norms than it was about content (I made that connection even then).

Of course, this didn’t stop me, as my parents both worked and I was home alone after school. I was just more careful about my Days watching—after all, I needed to find out who killed Curtis Reed, and I couldn’t bail in the middle of a murder mystery storyline. In fact, I’ve continued to watch off and on for the past two decades or so, and never tire of pointing out to my parents the futility of their anxiety over a daytime soap like Days and its potentially insidious influence on my development as a young man.

Like sands through the hourglass, anxieties surrounding gender and sexuality, especially queerness, have long been part of how we think about soap operas.

I take this anecdote as my starting point to show how soap operas have long been informed by anxieties surrounding gender and sexuality, especially queerness. Soaps have historically been gendered female and ridiculed as such, considered the province of bored housewives and melodrama-starved gay men. While this demographic stereotype betrays the diversity of the daytime drama audience, it does contain the proverbial kernel of truth. A considerable queer audience exists for daytime soaps, despite the fact that these programs, for the most part, revolve around heterosexual romance along with traditional notions of family and community. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-Up

In Weekly Round-Up on July 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Just some good reads from around the web this week. Have a great weekend!

Two takes on the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy, from Lindy West at Jezebel and Roxane Gay at Salon. And coming on the heels of this week’s conversation about rape culture, an article by Liz Gorman describes being sexually assaulted in broad daylight and “walking while female.”

Anna Lekas Miller writes about the fetishization of race at Feministe.

Amy Poehler, Best Person Ever, debuts a new video series in which she gives advice to teens.

A Turkish art student re-creates famous scenes from Hollywood movies as Ottoman miniatures.

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “That Girl is Poison” (Season 3, Episode 5)

In Pretty Little Liars, Recaps, teen soaps on July 13, 2012 at 8:20 am

This week the PLLs were back and super-suspicious of everyone, but with good reason. After all, Jenna did reveal that she could see; Garrett got out of jail for a night (creepy!); and Spencer had some amazing lines. Read on for our thoughts on this week’s PLL adventures.

Is it that girl who is poison?

Is Jenna evil? Or good? And why were there so many awkward hats at her birthday?

Phoebe B: I am SO confused about Jenna. Then again, this entire episode (including the hats) confused me a lot. I definitely did not believe her plea a couple weeks ago to the PLLs, when she asked them to keep her vision a secret. But I was willing to think that she too was being tormented by A, but now I feel confident that she is on the A team (remember when she drove to meet someone we couldn’t see last season?). Aaah!

Sarah T: Hahaha, there were so many weird hats. I don’t know, I feel like a Wonderland theme is a little childish for Jenna. (Although–Red Queen reference to the card Mona was holding and singing about the other week?) Anyways, Jenna seems to walk the line between good and evil — which is the most interesting way to be. Good job, Jenna! Our PLLs do too, if you stop looking at things from their perspective and start thinking about their tacit support of Ali’s reign of terror, their involvement in the fire that blinded Jenna, the lies they told and continue to tell their loved ones, etc. Morally flawed toasts all around. I don’t think I saw anything at the party that made me particularly suspicious that she was part of A, though — Phoebes, did you spot something in particular that made you flip on her? Read the rest of this entry »

Reality TV and the Privacy Problem

In Food, Food Network, reality TV, spoilers, Television on July 11, 2012 at 11:46 am

Chelsea H.

Several weeks ago, my favorite Food Network Star contestant went home (obviously, if you aren’t caught up this is going to be a spoiler…).

Emily Ellyn’s promo photo (courtesy of Food Network)

Emily Ellyn: she of the ham fascinator, of retro rad, of the best ’50s glam librarian glasses I’ve ever seen. The competition will not be the same without her. I’ve been trying to process this dismissal, and have come up with some surprising (to me) thoughts about Emily, Food Network, the show itself, and the phenomenon of reality television and how it deals with the personal, the private, and the public stage.

One of the big pushes on Food Network Star seems to be teaching the contestants how to tell stories (well, maybe “teaching” is misleading. It’s really about badgering them to tell stories). This is, the producers feel, the primary way an FN personality can connect with home viewers and keep them coming back. Contestant revelations – stories of weight loss, of self discovery, of childhood, of family – are richly rewarded even when the quality of food slips.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wizarding Squibbs Have More Magic than “Magic Mike”

In feminism, Film, gender, Uncategorized on July 10, 2012 at 9:02 am

Sarah S.

Magic Mike may be the first mainstream (and critically-acclaimed, no less) movie about male strippers (of the Chippendales variety) but this is a story you’ve seen before. However, last time you saw it the protagonist was female. You know the kind: small town, down-on-her-luck girl gets seduced by the glamor and easy money of [insert your disreputable activity here] only to crash into its seedy underbelly and either escape her problematic position to pursue her “real” dream (acting, singing, marriage+babies, etc.) or b. serve as a cautionary tale as she falls into her doom (i.e. see Burlesque [2011] and Showgirls [1995]).

*spoilers warning* (And no, I don’t mean that there’s lots of abs. You already knew that).

Magic Mike shares many features of this plot. First, we have  the “dream” component; Mike, played by Channing Tatum, tells everyone he meets that he’s an “entrepreneur” because he ultimately wants to be a furniture designer. Second, there is the older, world-weary, semi-reputable mentor, in this case played by Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the owner of the club where Mike works. Third, we have the oft-seen love triangle between a creep who fails to respect (an important point) the protagonist and the “tough love” person the protagonist is clearly meant to be with; Mike has a casual relationship with a bisexual psychology student (Olivia Munn) but discovers that she only wants him for his body and has no interest in him as a person. When Mike discovers she has a fiancé, he becomes open to the possibility of a relationship with no nonsense Brooke (Cody Horn). Last, we have both of this plot’s endings represented, first in Mike—who escapes the club world, regains his self-respect, and gets the girl—and “the Kid” (Alex Pettyfer)—who Mike brings into the world of stripping and who falls down the rabbit hole of promiscuity, drugs, and easy money.  See what I’m saying? You’ve seen this movie before.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Magic Mike—certainly more than the shirtlessness or even the plot itself—is the switching of this generic plot from a female protagonist to a male one. We’ve seen this done the other way around. Sigourney Weaver usurps the action hero’s place in the Alien franchise and Thelma and Louise and Boys on the Side riff on the buddy travel flick. But it’s less common to see a male protagonist inserted (ahem) into the female plot. Thus, even though Magic Mike is entirely generic in all but its dancing scenes it still feels significant in the history of cinema.

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Weekly Roundup

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2012 at 8:19 am

The world keeps turning, the links keep coming.

Roxane Gay notes Aaron Sorkin’s obsession with Ivy League schools, and wonders from whence it arises.

“The Mad Men era is a lot less sexy for today’s people of color and other minorities than it is for white men”: Cord Jefferson on Mad Men worship.

Rembert Browne on how Frank Ocean took ownership of his story.

Caitlin at Fit and Feminist considers the gender politics of grunting and women’s tennis.
Got no dough? You’re in good company with Emily Gallagher’s Summertime Playlist for the Financially Challenged.

Rock and Roll: Lena Dunham’s Girls

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Sarah T.

Five minutes into the fourth episode of Girls, I realized I’d fallen deep, deeply in love. The signs were pretty unmistakable: I was sitting up in bed, grinning a mile wide, and my hands had spontaneously shaped themselves into a heart that framed Hannah Horvath’s winking face on my computer screen.

I knew Hannah couldn’t see me.

I sort of knew she couldn’t see me.

I felt seen.

It was the title card, and what had happened immediately before it, that tipped me into head-over-heels territory.

As the show opens, Hannah gets a sext from her caveman-friend-with-benefits, Adam. That’s enough to make her gasp and laugh disbelievingly with her roommate Marnie. But this sext comes with a sucker punch: seconds later, Adam texts, “Sry, that wasn’t for you.”

You’d think a girl in that position would tell her paramour to take a hike, or at least—as Marnie strongly recommends—refuse to dignify the whole thing with a response. But Hannah’s in denial. “If there was another girl, he’d never be this obvious about it,” she tells Marnie.

She’s also insecure (obviously, she’s 24). But best of all—what makes Hannah Horvath, and Lena Dunham, so much fun to watch—she is absolutely shameless. As Marnie retreats back into her bedroom, a heavy guitar riff kicks in. Hannah strips off her shirt and poses for the camera: face turned in three-quarters profile, mouth open like a Muppet, one eye squeezed shut in an exaggerated wink.

“I can’t take a serious naked picture of myself,” she confesses later in the episode. Posing on the couch, she looks ridiculous. Also awesome. And whereas other shows might use the scene to embarrass or condemn Hannah, this show gives her a rock and roll soundtrack and that wonderful title card—GIRLS, all in caps, big bold font, black background, sans serif. That sequence told me that the show was with Hannah through every mistake she was going to make, and I knew then: so was I.

Almost every episode begins with a variation of the same formula. One of the four main characters does something weird, or awkward, or reckless, or rude. Hannah reads out lout from the diary entry that ruined Marnie’s relationship, then pauses to ask Marnie if she’d have liked it if it wasn’t about her, “just as like a piece of writing.” Hannah takes off for the airport with her clothes bundled into a garbage bag because she doesn’t own a piece of luggage. Jessa receives a text from an unknown number and writes back a flirtatious note inviting the mystery guest to a party in Bushwick.

The opening scene is never concerned with flattering the show’s characters; it just wants to be honest about who these people are. And when GIRLS flashes onscreen immediately following whatever messed-up, beautiful thing just happened, I feel a rush of excitement. This is what girls are like, the title card tells us—not all girls, certainly, or most girls. But these girls: check their radical narcissism, their arrogance and anxiety and guts. The show dares you to love them.

There are valid reasons to decline the dare, particularly with regard to the show’s overwhelming privilege. Girls has got some rad feminist politics, but it needs to be more intersectional. God, I hope it will be more intersectional: Imagine the places this show could go. For now, I recognize the problems with its first season as well as everything the show is doing right.

Last weekend, I picked up Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason at a book sale. Bridget is Girls‘ fairy godmother in a lot of ways: messy, funny, bawdy, bizarre. In the sequel, Bridget’s mother offers her daughter a rare piece of good advice. Lena Dunham and company seem to have taken it  to heart, and they’re pushing viewers to do the same.

Women, Bridget’s mother says, can get conned into believing they have to follow a million different rules to deserve to be loved. They end up thinking they have to be skinny and polished and successful but not too successful and coolly unavailable and freakishly young. It’s all basically rubbish, she says. Remember the Velveteen Rabbit. Truth is, all you have to do is be real.

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