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GLG Year-End Picks: Chelsea B’s Top TV Shows, Songs, and Books of 2012

In books, music videos, reality TV, Television on December 20, 2012 at 6:51 am

Top 5 Songs for Singing Along

“Hold On” by Alabama Shakes

“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen (duh)

“Some Nights” by fun.

“Feel the Love” by Rudimental featuring John Newman

“Super Rich Kids” by Frank Ocean

Top 5 Reality Shows About Love

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo 

Real Housewives of Atlanta

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Jersey Shore

Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta Read the rest of this entry »

The Oikos University Shooting & The Erasure of Misogyny

In gender, news, Rebound, social justice, violence on April 13, 2012 at 9:04 am

Chelsea B.

I am a very casual consumer of news media. Mostly I find it to be boring and upsetting, and I get what I need from my Twitter and Facebook feeds without having to filter through substandard reporting or redundant articles. However, earlier this week an article that I would qualify as “news-y” stood out to me in my internet wanderings as I had yet to see the story mentioned on any of my social media. The article is titled, “What Made One Goh, the Oikos University Shooter, Snap?” and is authored by Dara Kerr of The Daily Beast.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rebound: Samantha Brick and Beauty

In body politics, gender, news, Rebound on April 9, 2012 at 10:08 am

Chelsea B.

I want to draw your attention–again, I’m sure–to Ms. Brick, who has been impossible to miss on the internet this week. The condensed version of the story goes like this: Samantha Brick wrote an article for Daily Mail titled “‘There Are Downsides to Looking This Pretty’: Why Women Hate Me for Being Beautiful.” As is unsurprising, based simply on the title, people reacted strongly to her claims.

My concern with the whole debacle begins when Brick says in a televised interview:

‘People mistake self-confidence for arrogance [...] But it’s a fact that women are not nice to one another.  They all stab each other in the backs in my experience.’

Disagreeing strongly, [Ruth Langsford of ITV] interrupted to suggest that rather than her beauty being the factor that creates instant enemies of other women when she enters a room, perhaps it is actually her arrogance and ‘air of superiority’.

I wholeheartedly agree with Langsford, one of the interviewers, that it is great that Ms. Brick is confident in her own attractiveness but problematic that she assumes and continuously asserts that women dislike her before even speaking to her based solely on her appearance. In other words, Brick is dismissive of anyone identifying as female, insulting their intelligence, compassion, and capacity for forming meaningful relationships based solely on a few personal experiences in which she believes she was mistreated by other women due to her attractiveness. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: On Silencing Katniss and Lady-Feelings

In gender, girl culture, Hunger Games on March 30, 2012 at 8:09 am

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Chelsea B.

The absence of Katniss’s voice in The Hunger Games movie didn’t become clear to me until after it ended. Once I realized that her silence was bothering me, even more troublesome questions began to arise. Why eliminate Katniss as narrator?

The answer to that question is probably found in Twilight. In the Twilight franchise, Bella is the primary narrator of her story, sharing the minutiae of her emotional life with abandon. Many of Bella’s musings read like they come from my (early, okay?) teenage diaries. They feature a singular, laser-like focus on herself and her place in the world, with little concern for anything or anyone not directly involved in helping her through the process of self-actualization.

Sarah Blackwood over at The Hairpin and GLG’s own Melissa Sexton have eloquently analyzed the problems with dismissing Bella and the Twilight franchise on terms of its emotionality and subsequent feminization. Such defense of The Hunger Games won’t be necessary since (as also noted by Melissa) the filmmakers circumvented such criticism by eliminating the primary female voice entirely.

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 »

How to Be Awesome Like Aria Montgomery

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Chelsea Bullock

As any viewer of Pretty Little Liars knows, Spencer, Aria, Hanna and Emily are a force to be reckoned with. To celebrate the return of our mystery-solving teens to regular television programming, several of the Girls Like Giants crew teamed up to crack the awesomeness codes of the core four.

It’s no secret that I, much more than most of my lady-friends here, adore Aria. She does dumb things, is super stubborn, is kind of sneaky, and is borderline boy-obsessed. However, there are also lots of great things about her. Want to channel awesome Aria?

Don’t be afraid to experiment with style. One of the things that I love most about Aria is her ever-changing, occasionally wacky-yet-dark sense of style. She isn’t afraid to be punk-rock chic on Monday and laced-up, prim and proper on Tuesday. Her style often reflects her mood rather than some lofty, solidified sense of self. She also embraces trends–even unfortunate ones (hello, dangly hair feather)–but is never apologetic about her choices because she simply doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s too busy having fun trying out different versions of who she might be through her clothes.

Love your family really, really hard. Most of Aria’s biggest mistakes happen with her family. She keeps a secret for her dad and she tells an almost two-season-long lie to her parents and her brother. However, she never hesitates to make her devotion and affection for her family known. Her parents, even when they probably shouldn’t, depend on her and treat her with respect. This means that even when Aria is making big-time mistakes, she returns that respect to them and trusts that their mutual love for one another will make everything okay in the end. Read the rest of this entry »

Girls Like Giants Presents: Our 2011 Preferences (Chelsea B.)

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 7:39 am

Chelsea’s 2011 Favorites 

Blogs:

Racialicious

The Hairpin

The Frenemy

Nowness

The Crunk Feminist Collective

Into the Gloss

Swagger: New York

Fashion for Writers

Mimi Smartypants

Music:

New-to-me band with a lady lead: The Alabama Shakes

Lady extraordinarie: Rye-Rye

Album most frequently on repeat: Watch the Throne

Today’s favorite Christmas album: Snow Angels

Favorite (non-Watch the Throne) single: Martin Solveig & Dragonettes, “Hello”

Most fun self-produced single: Dai Burger’s “Wild Thing”

Television:

Jersey Shore

Real Housewives of Atlanta

Revenge

Gossip Girl

30 Rock (I’m like a million years late, I know, but still.)

Awkward.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians Read the rest of this entry »

Awkward? Yes, indeed.

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2011 at 8:54 am

Chelsea Bullock

I came to Awkward. late, but knew I had to watch it because a) I love girl culture, b) my favorite 12-year-old recommended it highly, and c) it’s MTV. I’ve since nearly finished the first season (yay for twenty-minute episodes!) and am a fan. I would choose to watch legit awkwardness over the faux-look-I’m-so-cute-in-overalls-and-two-pounds-of-hair-product-awkward of Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl.

Meet the main character, Jenna.

I'm not going to spoil the first episode for you by detailing how she winds up in an upper body cast, so watch it.

She spends a good first third of the season in this get-up, which is the premise for her awkwardness. There are plenty of other things that are awkward too (boys! parents! super weird school counselors!), but as seems appropriate for any high school centered show, Jenna’s awkwardness is first and foremost written on her body.

The show is unfortunately cliché and heteronormative in terms of its romantic storylines and narrative emphasis, but it’s a bit early. Get it together, Awkward. You’ve still got a little time.

The setting of the show, a few of the characters, and the quality of the production, especially the lighting, remind me of Easy A, but blessedly unlike Easy A, Jenna actually has girlfriends. Tamara and Ming are her two besties and even though there’s a bit of conflict between them (welcome to negotiating life, ladies), they’re supportive of one another and their individual brands of crazy–though Ming’s relies on too many racial stereotypes for me to be entirely comfortable–are endearing. Which brings me back to contrasting this with New Girl–astoundingly, Jenna is actually awkward. Not all the time. But! She hides in weird places, she steals things then deals poorly with the fallout, she can’t figure out how to establish boundaries in romantic relationships and thus experiences all kinds of awkward distress, she’s sometimes an emotional basket case, she’s the main target of the school bully, Sadie, and sometimes, she makes faces like this one.

Obvs, she's still adorable, but it's still a little awkward.

My mom would tell me that my eyes were going to get stuck like that.

Moving on to the final point of my initial review: Sadie.

Sadie is the resident mean girl. She’s a cheerleader, has a gaggle of devoted followers/peons, comes from a wealthy family, is smart and gets good grades, and is obsessed with her weight. One of the main plotlines is investigating the source of Sadie’s nastiness and need to belittle other people, mostly girls. I am nearly always simultaneously annoyed with and sympathetic for Sadie. She has a lot in common with my imaginary BFF, Blair Waldorf. They both have absent or confused parents (side note: Jenna’s parents are a messy delight), are master manipulators, and are desperate for attention in ways that leads them to do and say not-nice things. They both are also really vulnerable despite tough exteriors, have destructive relationships with food, and have a lot of emotional baggage that has to be overcome.

There are guys on the show too, but as is also kind of the case on the show–they’re not really what matters here. They are getting more complex as the season goes on, but, again, like we like it around here, Awkward. is really all about the girls.

VMAs 2011, or More Questions than Answers

In MTV, Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Chelsea Bullock

The title says almost everything, but here’s the rest:

1. I didn’t actually watch the VMAs live. I followed the relevant Twitter and Facebook feeds and then watched all videos I was interested in today via mtv.com* and YouTube.

2. Beyonce sang her face off. I think her performance, while completely uncontroversial, is still enabling continued discussions of the public nature of the pregnant body. Also, are you as excited as I am about the potential awesomeness of Bey and Hova’s progeny? I hope so.

3. I have professed my adoration of Gaga since the beginning, but had been experiencing a bit of a lull in my affection. Jo Calderone‘s appearance and performance rekindled our flame. The monologue is a bit long, but totally worth it for anyone considering herself a little monster. He’s making Judith Butler proud.

4. Thanks to the fine folks over at Crunk Feminist Collective for their discussion of Chris Brown’s performance and for alerting me–the non-live viewer–to the fact that Jay-Z refused to demonstrate support for him.

5. Britney was honored, and rightfully so, but bless her for making the whole ceremony a bit more delightful by not even attempting to hide her confusion over Jo Calderone.

I’m curious to know: who watched, what your thoughts are, exactly how wrong is it that Katy Perry won over Adele, how long we have to punish Chris Brown, if you were disappointed by the Hunger Games trailer too, if you love Snooki as much as me, how attracted you are to Jo, and if you also thought Hova and Yeezy’s performance of “Otis” was a 9 out of 10.

*MTV, thank you for leading the way and making the entire show available online for free.

Ramona’s Tears and the Emotional Labor of the RHONY

In Real Housewives on August 12, 2011 at 1:08 am

Chelsea Bullock

I’ve been watching The Real Housewives of New York City for the past few seasons and I love it. However, every season, without fail, the finale reunion episode(s) make me question why*.

Watch this clip and come back.

See what I mean?

These women, as evidenced by the screaming, fit-throwing, and blatant contempt for one another are not–by the strictest of definitions–nice. I’ve tried to find some redeeming value in that not-niceness but have yet to come up with any convincing points. It seems more likely that there’s something else at work that makes these women sympathetic.

As seen in the clip and in these photographs, they perfectly embody a glossy, privileged, I-never-learned-how-to-blow-dry-my-own-hair lifestyle. As with most of the Real Housewives shows, these women’s New York is unlikely to be recognized by 98.9% of New Yorkers.

Three of the seven are married (another is in a serious dating relationship), all seven have at least one child, and all seven are involved in multiple business ventures. Nailing down what those ventures are and exactly what their personal involvement entails is impossible, but the performance and spectacle is what matters here.

But I’m getting distracted.

How does the show work to generate affect(ion) for a bunch of wholly unlikeable women?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between the pleasure that can be found in excess–melodramatic, emotional, material, etc.–and appreciation for their interpersonal struggles and triumphs. While these “housewives” aren’t taking on the burden of performing traditional domestic roles, they are still constantly and painfully negotiating relationships with one another, their spouses or romantic interests, their children, and their employees. It is important that the show is making this emotional labor visible and valued.

It is also important to be clear: These relational negotiations aren’t necessarily anything like real life nor are they meant to be.

(a still from one of the reunion episodes: Ramona, Sonja, and Alex)

But the emotion these women seem to always be struggling with–how to communicate their feelings, how to maintain composure, how to tell when paranoia is valid, how to stay out of a fight, how to be a good friend, how to be angry without coming to blows or getting bleeped–is real.

Because these are actual living humans rather than fictional characters (though Lily Bart could give them all a real run for their money), it is fair for viewers to assume that these women have emotions. I am not making a claim that Ramona Singer’s tears at around 2:20 in this clip are any more real or authentic than Lily Bart’s final letter, i.e. that there is some kind of inherent truthiness to their emotions. What I am claiming is that Ramona Singer is a human and the affect of her actual being is impossible to deny. Just because Ramona’s tears cannot be assumed as an honest representation of sadness doesn’t mean they are without value. Instead, the tears can be seen as richer for their multivalent possibilities. Ramona could be crying because she’s frustrated with how she performed in her scenes that night, she’s feeling insecure about her outfit, her head hurts and she’s hungry, or for no reason at all other than she knew how very excerpt-able that moment would be for commercials and is excited by the possibility of maximizing her air time. Ramona’s “real” motivation is blessedly oblique. Her authenticity is unimportant. What matters is that there is a very real woman and she is crying.

I’m still not sure how to more deeply suss out this claim. For example: how is this different than saying that a filmic adaptation of a play is less affective and less authentic than the stage performance of the play? I’ve been thinking over it for days and this is still where I’m stuck. One of things that keeps returning to me is this consideration of a living, breathing, crying body. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels have been one of the great delights of my summer and yet I feel waaaaay less attached to the mostly likeable (novel-version) Sookie than I do to these women. I don’t think it is a matter of successful or unsuccessful character development (Sookie) as much as it is a conflation of character and actual sharing-the-same-atmosphere-as-me celebrity (Ramona). Theoretically, Ramona is accessible to me in the same ways she is accessible to her fellow cast-members, the underlings at her jewelry parties, her stylist, or the camera person for the day. Theoretically, she is always Ramona.

*I’m throwing out a lot of wobbly, nebulous ideas here–mostly to force myself to articulate some of the impulses and flutters living in my brain right now–and am 100% open to being totally, totally, completely wrong. Ask me questions. Tell me what you think.

White Boy Tears, or The Tree of Life

In gender, race on July 9, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Chelsea Bullock

I recently saw The Tree of Life. The major selling points for me were threefold: 1) dinosaur, 2) Brad Pitt, and 3) free popcorn.

I loved the film. It is not at all the kind of movie that I can imagine watching every week (see: Center Stage) but it is the kind that sticks. Images, moments, and feelings from it have been bouncing around in my head ever since I saw it. The film has a sticky texture to it, recalling the writings of Kathleen Stewart and Laura Marks. It moves from affective moment to affective moment in a highly pleasurable non-linear way, immersing its viewers in an emotional, tangible, consuming world.

And yet, the delight I felt at the film’s end was short-lived. Once I was liberated from its immersive space, I was able to acknowledge questions the film initiated but never answered.

The main question I have is: would this exact (critically-acclaimed, art-house) film be possible if it was about anyone other than a bunch of white dudes? 

It isn’t an original critique, but bear with me as I sort through. Spoilers ahead.

The film tells the story of a heteronormative, white, middle-class Texas family in the 1950s. There are three sons, a quiet and playful mother (Jessica Chastain), and a strict, music-obsessed disciplinarian of a father (Brad Pitt). The movement of the story is located in the build-up to and fallout that happens around the death of the middle son (pictured above in his mother’s arms). The fallout continues in the oldest son’s (pictured above to the right) adult life where Sean Penn plays a successful yet emotionally broken man.

The Tree of Life doesn’t show any other characters outside of their suburban Texas 1950s life, thus the framing device of Jack’s (Sean Penn) adult life hugely privileges his experiences and feelings. There is a huge amount of time devoted to following the young brothers on their adventures and in their negotiations of domestic life. Jessica Chastain’s character is mostly reserved and wholly devoted to her sons and her husband. There are glimpses of her inner angst and frustrations, but the film avoids identifying with her or delving into her pain in the same ways that it does with its male characters. The film flattens her, which could be attributed to the domestic abuse and grief she suffers from, but that explanation isn’t satisfactory and lets the film off the hook too easily.

The point is: viewers are intertwined in the experiences of the overwhelmingly male cast and I think that director Terrence Malick makes this decision in order to avoid any (feminized) threat of melodrama in his movie about Important (white) Male Pain.

Just as this film had to be about men, it also had to be about white men. Set in the 1950s, I know, but the only bodies of color that appear on the screen are those in a fleeting moment at a funeral and in a more extended scene when Brad Pitt’s character takes his sons to buy barbecue (just kill me now) from a group of black men on a Sunday afternoon.

The main characters pull up to a large yard where a few men stand around a large smoker/grill thing and Brad Pitt tells them he wants a pound of brisket while the film takes a detour around the space where the sons wander freely, staring openly at the (mostly) children of color who stare back at them from their play, sitting, and work. There are no clear cues from the film, visually or aurally, about what is happening in this scene. Upon reflection, it appears mostly as a concession. The boy characters would have known that there were people who weren’t white in their world, but they only had to encounter those people when they wanted to buy some barbecue.

I understand that the struggle with making any film, especially historical ones, is portraying unjust and uncomfortable truths when the story isn’t actually centered on them. However, only acknowledging that struggle doesn’t account for these questions:

Why isn’t that injustice a major focus?

and

Why is it that there still can’t be a film featuring an African American (or any racial “minority”) perspective that could achieve the same cultural capital and genre-mobility as this one? Why is it that major films in 2011 are still relying on white people to convey a universalized depth and breadth of human experience? Granted, this film has a very specific location and setting, but it is crafted to constantly evoke the cosmic consequences of these characters’ experiences and feelings. These white guys are constructed to represent a universal pain of loss, grief, and growing up. And it was downright convincing to me until I could extract myself from the intricacies of the film which are hugely problematic specifically and in terms of the more general state of culture that they reveal.

At least the dinosaurs are still pretty cool.

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