thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

How to Be Awesome Like Alison Hendrix

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television, Uncategorized on August 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

20140316202231!Alison-s
Welcome to the final day of Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’ve been featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today our final contributor, Rachel B., gets at the heart inside the neuroses of Alison Hendrix.

Guest Contributor Rachel B.

In Orphan Black’s first episode, Alison Hendrix is nothing more than a Social Security card in a safe deposit box. At first glance, this seems an apt metaphor for the woman herself: contained within the cold, sterile routine of her highly regulated suburban life. Unable to think or live outside the box. Indeed, when Felix asks Sarah early in Season 1 why she decides not to inform Alison about the more frightening characteristics of the as-yet unidentified Helena, Sarah explains that if Alison knew the truth, she would “crap her lululemons.”

And sure, Alison is brittle and jittery. Sure, she walks and talks with the uptight carriage and demeanor of a woman on her last nerve, wound up, edgy, often self-medicating. Sure, she seems fit to do little more than teach figure skating classes, distribute snacks at soccer practice, and host the monthly potluck.

But here’s the thing: she is a survivor. She doesn’t fall down, helpless, when confronted with the enormity of not only her identity as a clone but also her peril. When her fellow clones begin to be picked off one by one, she doesn’t hide. She doesn’t run away. She acts. She buys a gun and has Beth teach her how to use it. She does what she can to help, financing Clone Club’s investigation into how they came to be and why someone seems bent on erasing them. When Sarah says she needs Alison’s help, all the schedules and activities of suburbia go out the window: Alison sends off her doof of a husband with a cutting barb and sits sentinel at her arts and crafts table with a gun and the pink clone cell phone. “Stupid suburban Alison” can actually handle a great deal of truth.

How to be awesome like her?

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Cosima Niehaus

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 28, 2014 at 7:32 am

cosima

Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today our second guest contributor, Larissa Ennis, describes the multi-faceted stability of Cosima Niehaus, the brainiest clone and the one all of our writers wish they’d gotten to before Larissa called dibs.

Guest Contributor Larissa M. Ennis

We are introduced to Cosima in season 1, episode 2 “Instinct.” Cosima is introduced moments after the German clone Katja Obinger is murdered in front of Sarah-playing-Beth Childs. The disembodied voice over Beth’s cellphone demanding that Sarah/Beth find the German’s briefcase snaps Sarah back to reality as she reels from Katja’s murder, the revelation of another look-alike, and her near miss with a sniper’s bullet.

While to Sarah the woman on the phone is simply a mysterious voice assuming she is Beth, to the audience the voice promises that Beth and Katja aren’t the only “twins” (which Sarah is calling her multiple doppelgangers at the moment); there are more clones to come. Late in the episode, Sarah tracks down Allison, who reveals Cosima and the truth about who—or what—they are.

I must confess I find Cosima the most relatable of the clones. In season 1, Cosima Niehaus is a PhD student studying developmental evolutionary biology at the University of Minnesota; in season 2, she pits her brains against the corporate brawn of the Dyad Corporation and goes to work for them, a double-agent out in the open, as Aldous Leekie knows that having a happy clone researcher will get him a lot more results than no clone researcher at all.

While Alison and Sarah can pass for one another, or the departed Beth (and do) quite easily, Cosima has a style all her own, an eclectic fashion sense that helps set her apart. She doesn’t skimp on the eyeliner, a liquid black shaped into a vintage cat eye. She wears awesome black-rimmed glasses, slightly hipster but definitely intellectual; her clothes are a hodge-podge of thrift store finds, and her hair… The hair.

Cosima’s hair is almost impossibly cool, thick and black and shaped into awesome dreadlocks, which she wears back perpetually. But while she often slips into California slang, using “dude” liberally, her hair never seems to approach embarrassing white-girl-with-dreads territory.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Helena

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 27, 2014 at 6:00 am

735609

Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today, we have guest contributor Bethany Jacobs writing on the deliciously diabolical, chillingly childlike Helena.

Guest Contributor Bethany Jacobs

*spoilers throughout!*

Aspiring to be like Helena is not for the faint of heart. And I’m not referring to having the stomach for getting shanked by rebar, cutting off tails, and sniper-busting a half dozen faces that LOOK JUST LIKE YOURS. All this ferocity is as much a symptom of Helena’s systemic brainwashing as any inherent badassery, and let’s be honest—nobody wants to be the Helena who has suffered horrific psychological and physical abuse by the religious zealots in Orphan Black known as Proletheans. Or at least no one should want to be that Helena, though to each her own. But there is a profound appeal to this rogue clone, and I submit that a great deal of it comes down to her being one of the fiercest, slyest, and most unapologetic people in contemporary television—and that’s saying something given her sisters are grifters, cops, murderous housewives and sexy-ass scientists of the genius persuasion (among other persuasions that I particularly enjoy).

But I can’t be the only one who thinks that Helena is somehow bigger than the other clones, right? Even as she rocks the same feline muscularity of her sisters, she’s got a hugeness to her that stresses once again Tatiana Maslany’s incredible skill at bringing multiple distinct characters to life. Helena is a body, a presence, all her own. Is it her ravenous appetite? Is it the jacket and combat boots and hair? Is it her shrieking, discordant electronica theme, declaring everything that is discordant and horrific about Helena herself? But her larger-than-life presence coupled with an insanely violent streak shouldn’t fool anyone into missing the complexity of that same theme, which builds a haunting melody out of chimes, percussion, piano and eletronica magic. This is no simple soundtrack. Sarah Manning’s quasi-affectionate nickname for the Ukrainian assassin is “Meathead” (“Do not call me this,” Helena always retorts). It’s charming, but inaccurate. Though she is eccentric, and single-minded—a walking blunt-force trauma—Helena is also intelligent enough to lead the Toronto police on a fruitless cat-and-mouse chase. She’s a brilliant tracker and strategist. That she is even remotely functional given what she has endured throughout her life, that she has a moral compass apart from Prolethean teachings, speaks to a strength of character that beautifully complements her physical power and vigilante skills.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Sarah Manning

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 26, 2014 at 6:00 am

f75760555a04dc79331fdcd33697f6ed

Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Next up, Sarah S. on Sarah Manning, the complicated central protagonist of Orphan Black.

Sarah S.

Even though each of the clone characters on Orphan Black is played by Tatiana Maslany, Sarah Manning is the chief protagonist. Even when you realize you’re watching an “Alison” episode or a “Helena” episode, these plots always run alongside the main narrative centered around Sarah.

As viewers, Sarah is our entrée into the Orphan Black universe. Unlike her “sisters” Cosima, Alison, Beth, and even Helena, Sarah does not know what she is and so we discover the details alongside her. She is our touchstone for the entire narrative of clones, monitors, the corporate Dyad group, and the zealous Proletheans.

Sarah also develops substantially throughout the series. She begins a cynical grifter, only too willing to steal a dead woman’s life and enlist her long-suffering brother, Felix, into her schemes. Her reasons for these actions are ostensibly venerable: she wants to reconnect with her daughter, Kira, and escape her violent, druggy boyfriend. Yet the likelihood that she will succeed in these goals remains dubious. If Sarah really wanted to parent Kira, she would be parenting her, not leaving Kira with the woman who raised Felix and Sarah, Mrs. S. Her shadowy origins have made Sarah rootless, shiftless, untrusting, and untrustworthy. No wonder Felix rolls his eyes and Mrs. S. vows not to relinquish Kira.

But everything changes once Sarah finds herself not only assuming the identity of a cop who could be her identical twin but also discovering that she’s one of several clones. Most notably, when the going gets hard, Sarah cowgirls up. So here is how to be awesome like Sarah Manning.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Beth Childs

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television, Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 at 6:00 am

Beth cast photo

Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” First up, Brian Psi on Beth Childs, the clone who exists almost entirely in inscrutable past tense.

Brian Psi

The clones of Orphan Black are haunted by the ghosts of those who have died before their time, sisters who our characters will never come to know, and whose fates they may come to share. In the first season, Katja is a warning to the others of their propensity towards sickness, and is killed by the assassin that will soon be targeting the others. In the second, it is Jennifer Fitzsimmons, whose harrowing video diaries prior to her death amplify our concern for Cosima, who is suffering from the same rare respiratory ailment.

I’d like to focus on Detective Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Childs, the show’s ur-ghost, whose death in the pre-credits sequence of the very first episode is the show’s primal scene, its great moment of uncanny, existential ‘WTF-did-I-just-see?’.

The pilot episode of Orphan Black is titled “Natural Selection” after Darwin’s mechanism by which the smartest, strongest, and swiftest pass on their legacy, while the slowest and slightest do not. ‘Survival of the fittest.’ Its very first scene stages the only encounter between Sarah Manning and Beth Childs. Both of them are upset—Sarah about her inability to see her daughter, Beth about pain that we do not learn about until much later. While Sarah huffily paces the train terminal walkway, Beth ritualistically removes her shoes, jacket, and purse, leaving them in a neat stack. Turning to see her double Sarah staring at her, Beth abruptly walks in front of the train that she has come to kill herself with. Sarah is horrified, but not so stunned that her survival instincts leave her. She grabs Beth’s purse and flees.

Beth strips herself of self by leaving shoes, coat, and purse. By picking up this purse, with its photo ID and credit cards and police badge, Sarah impersonates or perhaps becomes Beth. She is for several episodes called Beth by people—Beth’s partner Art, her fiancé and observer Paul, his handlers, the other members of Clone Club—who don’t realize that they are separate people. Sarah lives in Beth’s apartment, works Beth’s job, sleeps with Beth’s fiancé… lives Beth’s life until it becomes too burdensome for her, and she, too, is forced to give it up (in this case, by confessing to Clone Club, to Paul, and to Art).

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s the Patriarchy, Stupid!: Orphan Black and the Mainstreaming of Feminism

In body politics, feminism, gender, spoilers, Television, TV, Women's health on August 21, 2014 at 8:05 am

th

Sarah S.

The Canadian television series Orphan Black begs the question, what if the future really is now? Its central protagonist is Sarah Manning, a British ex-pat, orphan, and grifter whose life changes forever when she sees a woman commit suicide in the subway. The catch? The woman turns out to be Beth Childs, a New York City police detective who looks exactly like Sarah. Given their shared appearance, Sarah decides to assume Beth’s identity and discovers in the process that Beth is not a long lost sister or cousin but that Beth and Sarah are two of several clones. A group of them is only just discovering this truth about themselves, or to use the parlance of the scientists who created them, becoming “self-aware.” The plot thickens as Sarah learns that Beth is under review by her department for shooting a civilian and someone is systematically murdering the clones. In short, Sarah’s life gets very, very complicated very, very quickly.

In many ways, Orphan Black seems like a classic science fiction plot—science is run amok, humans pay the consequences. But wrapped inside this broad perspective is a representation of patriarchy’s effects on women’s lives. Despite their shared genetics, Orphan Black emphasizes the personality differences between the clones, from uptight soccer mom Alison, to brilliant scientist Cosima, to mad, traumatized Helena. (I should note here the mesmerizing performance of Tatiana Maslany, who plays all the clones; she makes you believe each one is a distinct person.) Despite the characters’s individuality, they find themselves equally subject to exterior forces that deem them less than human and therefore able to be owned, manipulated, and objectified.

Two social institutions vie for control of the clones: corporate science and religion. Specifically, the Dyad institute, who took over the clone research and monitors the women in secret, and the Proletheans, a zealot sect that believes the clones flout God’s creative power. For both of these organizations, the clones exist to be controlled and forced to adhere to each group’s worldview. But by emphasizing the humanity and individuality of these women, Orphan Black makes viewers emotionally reject this premise, siding with the clones over the forces that seek to control them. Thus Orphan Black sets up Dyad and the Proletheans as metaphorical stand-ins for the patriarchy, blindly pursuing its own power at the expense of women’s independence and self-actualization.

Read the rest of this entry »

Violently Inclined: On TV’s Obsession with White Male Violence

In race, Television, violence on August 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Phoebe B.

It turns out the more televised violence you watch, the more fear of crime you develop—even if that fear is not specific to your life, family, neighborhood. Recently, the Annenberg School (USC) released the results of a study on TV violence. The study, as reported by Deadline Hollywood, “confirm[s] the effects of TV on people’s fear, but do not support the idea that people think there is actually more crime in their neighborhood.”

The study’s release was perfectly timed with Emily Nussbaum’s wonderful essay on FX’s television adaptation of Fargo. “How good does a violent drama need to be to make the pain of watching worth it?” Nussbam asks. She concludes, ultimately, that Fargo is not quite good enough to endure the violence it showcases. In a TV landscape where depictions of violence are replicating like zombies on The Walking Dead, Nussbaum’s question and the Annenberg study results are particularly pressing.

The problem is not, though, just the prevalence of violence on TV. Rather, it is the kinds of violence and victimhood that are emphasized: programming revels in white male violence, exploring it in excruciating detail, while other forms of violence and their consequences are dismissed or ignored. I wonder, not about the cause and effect of violent white male TV depictions, but rather about the culture revealed in contemporary violent shows and in our fascination with fantasies of white masculinist violence propped up, too often, by both the protection and murder of white women.

It is not, then, simply that viewers experience increased levels of fear, but the ways in which that fear is framed, narrated, and told is of particular importance. The first time I remember the effect of violent media narratives was during the child abduction scare of the 1990s, initiated at least where I lived by the gruesome disappearance and murder of Polly Klaas.

Klaas’ abduction out of her Bay Area bedroom window and subsequent murder made national headlines and evoked terror in then-pre-teen me. Her abduction incited a media circus and a nationwide hunt; ultimately, her murder played a role in the passing of California’s controversial three-strikes law.

The media narrative surrounding Klaas’ abduction drew on age-old scripts of the white “Dead Girl,” whose murder usually both incites a narrative and serves as the justification for violence. The dead girl plot is not, however, inherently a bad thing, Sady Doyle suggests, because when the dead girls talk back, when they are allowed their own voice, they become complex and active characters rather than ghostly projections of male fantasy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cults of Mortality: Selfies and Vampire Diaries’ investment in Aging

In Memories, teen soaps, Television on August 1, 2014 at 7:14 am

Screenshot 2014-07-31 16.48.16

Phoebe B.

**Spoiler alert (only for season 4)

For a show populated almost entirely by young, firm-bodied, and beautiful characters, The Vampire Diaries (TVD) is obsessed with mortality. Nobody in Mystic Falls appears to live past the age of 50, either killed off or sentenced to a premature afterlife as a vampire or ghost. As a result, nobody ever truly leaves Mystic Falls, even in death. Vampires stick around, drawn to this magical epicenter, and ghosts continue to haunt characters, appearing every so often to provide advice and wax philosophical.

Despite the predominance of immortality in TVD, many of its characters remain (at least during season 4) committed to ditching eternal youth in favor of a fixed life span. While one might live forever as a vigorous (not to mention gorgeous) vampire, vampirism also means no kids and no growing up. Season four of the TV show is dedicated entirely to this obsession with aging, as the troop of supernatural characters go in search of a cure for immortality.

Rather than feel nostalgia for days of yore and youth, many TVD characters actively long for their lost mortality and the potential of aging. Their fixation with living out a “natural” life seems strangely at odds with a culture that regularly champions youth and beauty above all else. To them, living forever in a youthful body is a curse rather than a gift. Even so, the show glorifies its young and beautiful vampires: by the end of season four, almost everyone remains forever young.

Early in Season 4, after Elena transitions from a human to a vampire, the show’s three girlfriends—Elena, Bonnie (witch) and Caroline (vampire)—get together for a good old-fashioned girls’ night. There’s alcohol, blood bags, loud music, dancing, and lots of selfies. The girls even agree, in a seeming nod to the Bechdel test, that on this girl-centric night they will stay away from discussions about men. Instead, they focus on being happy in these moments together and escaping the violence that has heretofore overtaken their young lives.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Nerdy Girls of Super Fun Night

In Television, TV on March 7, 2014 at 7:22 am

Sarah T.

On television, nerdy girls are few and far between. In what is clearly a wish-fulfillment fantasy hatched in the depths of writers’ rooms populated by men who are former social outcasts, the dude-nerds of shows like Freaks and Geeks, The O.C. and Friday Night Lights tend to spend their time around the popular girls of their dreams—Sam and Cindy, Seth and Summer,  Landry and Tyra.

When nerdy girls do make an appearance on TV, they’re typically sassy, confident pixies, boasting about their in-depth knowledge of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels while clad in ironic t-shirts and edgy haircuts. That is an awesome way to be, but these characters hardly seem like they’ve logged time at the very bottom of the social totem pole. It’s doubtful that Anna from The O.C. has ever sat by herself in a cafeteria while jocks fired spitballs at her through a straw. (Not that I would know anything about that, ahem ahem.)

The Fox sitcom Super Fun Night, starring Rebel Wilson, attempts remap the nerd landscape by featuring a trio of women with genuinely awkward personalities. Kimmie (Wilson) is a naïve young lawyer whose idea of a romantic Valentine’s Day surprise is an elaborate restaging of Phantom of the Opera. Her roommates are prim and proper Helen Alice (Liza Lapira) and gruff, sporty Marika (Lauren Ash). The show follows the friends as they decide to abandon their trusty group motto—“Always together! Always inside!”—and venture into the world of bars, karaoke clubs and other venues that exist outside their apartment. Read the rest of this entry »

How to be Awesome Like Korra the Avatar

In How to be Awesome Like, Television on September 12, 2013 at 8:06 am

THE LEGEND OF KORRA

brian psi

The second season of Nickelodeon’s animated The Legend of Korra, the follow-up to the enormously successful Avatar: The Last Airbender, premieres tomorrow. For the unfamiliar, it takes place in a fantasy world inspired by Asian martial arts, spiritual practices and traditional and pop cultures. Some people are born with the hereditary ability to manipulate or ‘bend’ one of the four elements (earth, air, water, or fire) associated with their nation, shaping it to their will. The Avatar, who alone can bend all four, maintains the balance between the elements and the nations they represent. In celebration of Book II: Spirit, here’s how to be like Korra (ie, awesome).

Announce yourself

The Last Airbender was about learning to take responsibility: its Avatar, Aang, ran away from the great conflict of his own time, freezing himself in a block of ice for a hundred years to avoid it. Throughout the four ‘books’ of his show, he learned to put aside his self-doubt, accept his place, and finally end the war that he perhaps could have prevented all those years ago.

From the opening moments of The Legend of Korra we know that this is a different show with a very different protagonist. In the show’s first scene, when we briefly see her at four years old, she is already putting the world on notice. Bursting through a wall and channeling three of the four elements around and at some skeptical officials—standing in, perhaps, for those too attached to the previous Avatar, or nervous about turning the franchise over to a female protagonist—Korra’s first line says it all:

“I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!”

Read the rest of this entry »

I Don’t Like Skyler White. And That’s Okay.

In class, feminism, gender, misogyny, Television, TV villains, violence on September 2, 2013 at 1:00 am

Sarah S.

Alright, “don’t like” might be a bit strong but I definitely feel conflicted about her. Shortly before this whole conversation blew up about Breaking Bad‘s Skyler I tweeted the question: do people find Skyler White sympathetic? I wondered if others felt confused about her waffling, her semi-dubious claiming of the high ground, her own forays into unethical and even criminal activity. Were her reactions to these circumstances believable? Does the plot justify the battling loyalty, loathing, and fear she heaps upon Walt (her chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer husband)?

In case you missed it, a lot of people hate Skyler, and I mean HATE, given the number of Facebook pages and websites dedicated to loathing her. In a response, JOS of feministing.com blames sexism for society’s inability to accept a complex female character. The actress who plays Skyler, Anna Gunn, even wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled “I Have a Character Issue.” She describes getting death threats because of how people feel about the character she portrays. Similarly to JOS, Gunn argues that Skyler “has become a flash point for many people’s feelings about strong, nonsubmissive, ill-treated women.” This description makes it sound as if dislike for Skyler stems purely from misogyny but is Skyler really so uncompromised as Gunn and others make her sound?

***mild spoilers***

Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Bad: Against Family

In misogyny, Television, TV villains, violence on August 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Sarah T.

Walter White is a family man. When the 50-year-old chemistry teacher at the center of AMC’s Breaking Bad is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, his immediate concerns lie with his wife and kids. How will they manage when he’s gone? In order to cover college, the mortgage, cost of living, and medical care, he calculates, he’d need to leave behind $737,000. That kind of sum is not typically available to educators in the U.S. public school system. So Walt does what any self-respecting man of the house would do: he starts cooking and dealing crystal meth.

Of course, Walt’s journey from mensch to monster isn’t really for the benefit of Skyler, Walt Jr., and Holly. If Walt really cared about his family, he wouldn’t endanger them by immersing himself in a world where people get plugged for dealing  on the wrong street corner and ruthless twins slaughter innocents as easily as they slip into their sharkskin suits. He wouldn’t risk getting caught by the feds and spending the short time he has left behind bars instead of at home. And he wouldn’t ignore the toll that his new line of business takes on his wife and son, who are first disturbed, then alienated and finally–at least in Skyler’s case–ruined by his choices.

But while Walt isn’t a family man by any sane measure, he does fulfill the role in a way that’s true to his vision of what a husband and father should be. Providing his family with love and support and a sense of security was never Walt’s goal. His goal was to become someone powerful and strong and feared, a head of household who rules over his family and makes unilateral decisions on their behalf. Walt begins Breaking Bad as a man who feels emasculated by the humbling circumstances of his life. The show is, in part, the story of his journey toward embodying a patriarchal ideal of the family man, and of how poisonous that ideal turns out to be. Read the rest of this entry »

ABC’s “Scandal” and the Limits of Empathy

In Scandal, Television, violence on May 7, 2013 at 5:04 am

Sarah T.

Stories teach us empathy. When we get absorbed in the tale of a teenage vampire slayer or rival street gangs on the Upper West Side, we’re forced to step outside our comfort zones and consider the world from other people’s perspectives. I am absolutely down with that narrative project. I want to understand the different struggles we face, including the ones with our own demons. But lately I’ve found myself impatient with stories that ask audiences to channel their empathy toward violent men–to the exclusion of everyone else.

The character that’s tipped me over the edge is Huck on Scandal, the addictive-as-caramel-popcorn television drama by Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. The show follows Washington DC power players and the band of brilliant outcasts, headed by Olivia Pope, who fix their problems.

Huck is probably the most fully-realized character in Pope’s hodgepodge troupe: a former soldier turned CIA assassin turned homeless man turned professional fixer. With his soft, stumbling voice, teddy-bear looks, and gentle manner, he’s one of Scandal‘s most easily sympathetic cast members. We understand the loneliness that drives him to set up camp outside a strange family’s house each day and watch them go through the ordinary motions of their lives, pizza dinners and game nights and walking the golden retriever. We cringe for him when he reveals that his old CIA nickname was “Spin,” short for spinster, “because they said I’d never find someone.”

The show loves to contrast Huck’s lost-soul mooniness with his brutal talents. In one excruciating scene last season, Pope asks him to torture a former CIA colleague for information. Huck agrees to give up his “sobriety” (the show frequently uses the language of addiction to discuss torture) for the greater good. Soon he’s leaning over an assassin named Charlie—someone who’s a lot like him, only meaner. Huck tells Charlie that he’s going to relish the high of making him suffer. “We both know what a junkie I can be,” he says.

Huck is our only point of identification in this scene. We don’t know Charlie very well at this point in the series, and what we do know, we don’t like. We’re not meant to care about his pain. The real source of dramatic tension is how Huck will be impacted by the torture. Now that he’s fallen off the wagon for Pope, will he be able to stop himself from spiraling into a new cycle of violence?

Read the rest of this entry »

Drawing Beauty: Limits and Surfaces in Dove’s Social Experiment

In advertising, body politics, feminism, gender, girl culture, race, Television, Women's health on April 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

Chelsea H.

By now, you’ve probably seen that Dove “social experiment” that’s going around, but just in case you’re as behind as I am, here it is:

The premise here is simple and, if I’m honest, well-meaning: many women, as evidenced by the way they describe themselves, don’t recognize – or are reluctant to acknowledge – their own beauty.  Any flaws they have in appearance are magnified when they view themselves; every crease set by joy and laughter is a “crow’s foot.”  Every tiny, cinnamon-dust dot is a big ugly freckle.  Chins protrude invasively.  Cheeks that don’t have flesh-slicing angular edges are chubby.  These flaws are captured when they describe themselves, all unseen, to a trained forensic artist who draws their portraits to match their descriptions.  And really, this shouldn’t be terrifically surprising.  Women are hard on themselves.  We’ve been taught to be.  Lines, wrinkles, creases – these are harbingers of mortality.  Any freckle, any spot, even the hopefully named “beauty mark” is looked upon as a flaw.

But then the tables are turned: earlier on the day of the experiment, each woman met and chatted with another participant.  Each is asked to describe the other person, and again the sketch artist draws the face that is described.  Results are, as you might expect, startlingly different: faces described by their owners as fat are simply pleasantly oval in shape.  Chins that are claimed to protrude are “nice” and “thin.”  Noses are “short and cute.”  Each woman is then shown the two portraits: one “drawn” by her own eyes, one by the eyes of a stranger.

Most of the women stand in stunned silence.  Some tear up.  Some smile ruefully, and some seem – not ashamed – but a bit bashful at their own perception of themselves.  The one older participant, Florence, who is given a lot of face time, says “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty.  It impacts the choices in the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything.  It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”  The images of the women standing in an otherwise empty gallery gazing on the sketches send a powerful message, the tagline of the whole campaign: you are more beautiful than you think.

At first viewing, my impulse was that this video rocked.  I got a little teary.  I said some affirming things to myself.

But then I watched it again, and I started asking questions.  Yes, the message is good: women should celebrate their beauty, but what is really being said about beauty in this depiction?

As blogger Jazz has said perhaps more eloquently than I can, there is a disparity in the types of woman being represented here.  Most are white – and not just white, but blonde.  Most are young.  All are thin-to-average in weight and build.  The women of color who are shown are featured less – say less and receive less screen time – than their Caucasian counterparts.  The one Asian woman represented, as Jazz points out, says nothing at all.  Beauty is, then, a young, thin, white woman.

Bitch Magazine has also picked up this issue and paraphrases it perfectly: “The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today.”  And really, isn’t that what’s being shown here?  While Florence is a bit older than the other participants, she barely tips the scales at middle aged.  She talks about her wrinkles and crow’s feet, but she’s barely got any to worry about.  All the women featured have feminine hairstyles, all wear make-up, all are dressed in casually stylish but unremarkable ensembles.  Women should consider themselves beautiful, then, but the depiction of beauty we are told should be celebrated fits within a stiff, traditional mold.

Dove, I commend you for selling us a vision of much needed self-affirmation.  I commend you for acknowledging this tendency in women and encouraging a move away from it.  I commend you for resisting the urge to sell us your skin care in a promise to enhance the beauty we already having.  As Bitch notes, there is no product schilling in this ad, and that’s nice.  But this video does sell us something.  It sells us a standard: while telling us to celebrate ourselves – we are more beautiful than we think – it sells us what beauty means, and what we should do with it.

What beauty means here, beyond an image of a thin, fair-skinned, young woman, is a physical appearance.  There is no acknowledgment of personality.  There is no discussion of inner strength or kindness or courage or wisdom.  We see chins and cheeks and eyes and hair.  We see surface.  What is revealed about these women’s thoughts is appearance-based as well: each woman is made to think, and think deeply, but her thoughts are all – every one of them – about how she looks.  Everything is about the surface.

So beauty means what someone looks like on the outside.  And knowing our surfaces meet a standard makes us feel good which, as self-affirming messages go, is bad enough already: the right kind of beauty = happiness!  Let’s look again at Florence’s conclusions: “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty.  It impacts the choices in the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything.  It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

Do I really want to live in a world where my physical appearance and how I interpret it impacts what choices I make when I seek friends?  Friends, I can tell you with certainty that neither my looks nor your looks were what drove me to desire your friendship.  Are my own looks really going to impact how I treat my children?  My wrinkles and laugh-lines, as they develop, will somehow influence the way I love?  Beauty as Dove defines it – how I look on the outside – is not, and should not, be what is most critical to my own happiness as a person.

But that’s not all.  In the final scene of the ad, one of the women’s voices tells us “We spend a lot of time, as women, analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right, and we should spend more time appreciating the things we do like.” As she speaks, the scene changes from a reflective moment in the gallery of portraits to an outdoor setting.  Against a bright beam of sunlight, she is suddenly enfolded in the arms of – judging from what we can see of him – a young, conventionally attractive, well-dressed man.

So, it’s not just that women should celebrate their own beauty, it’s not just that the women in this video are what beauty looks like, but part of the message is also about heteronormativity.  That’s disappointing, even though it’s not strange.  But what really bothers me here is that even as we are told that women should stop worrying so much about how they perceive themselves and concentrate on more important things, we are told exactly what those more important things are.  The couple depicted here at the end of the video embrace each other, her hand grasps at the bottom of his jean jacket as they walk, and the video closes with this image of her tucked under his arm, almost disappearing against his body – providing a clear interpretation of what it is that we should “spend more time appreciating” and what it is that, at least in her case, “we do like.”

What we get here, then, is suggestive.  Beauty suddenly isn’t an idea in itself; we are shown what appreciating our own beauty does for us.  When we aren’t so worried about our fat cheeks and pokey chins and gross freckles, we can devote our time not to building our self-confidence or learning new things or celebrating our independence, but to hooking, hanging onto, and demurely all but fading into the protection and strength of a man.

Now that’s a message I want to send to my friends and my children…

Musing on the Aesthetics of Comedy, with an Assist from Louis

In books, Television on March 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Sarah S.

Several years ago, in a fiction writing and reading class, I signed my group up to read David Sedaris’ essay “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”  In this piece, Sedaris turns the frustration, even trauma of learning a foreign language into hilarity. Perhaps ironically, or at least incongruously, our discussion took place on a sunny day, just before the warmth turned to unpleasantness, sitting on a grassy quad under a cloudless sky. (Early summer in Utah is a spectacular thing.) When it came time for the group to discuss the piece, everyone roundly agreed that it was delightful…except for one person. Joel was classically handsome, traditionally masculine, a former high school football star who also worked as an assistant coach for the university team while working on his master’s degree—in English.

“I don’t get why everyone likes this so much,” he complained.

“Are you serious?” I asked, incredulous. “I think it’s brilliant.”

“Why?” he replied. “It’s just funny.”

“Exactly,” I said, finding myself at a loss for better words. “It’s so funny.”

Those words, “It’s just funny,” have haunted me ever since—in a quiet, low key kind of way—because I failed to really defend comedy. As I continued educating myself, I did find defenses of comedy, largely in psychological theories (Freud is fascinating on jokes) or cultural criticism. Both fields analyze what comedy does for us as individuals or as a society. As such, comedy is quite important from these perspectives.

I’ve also heard comedians unpacking comedy as craft. These include the recent double podcast conversation between Aisha Tyler and Kevin Smith or people on speaking about what they do on Inside the Actor’s Studio such as Tina Fey’s recent foray. Such discussions emphasize the thought and deliberateness that goes into creating comedy, elevating it to the same level of artistic creation as anything else.

But while I appreciate and agree with these kinds of analyses, they weren’t what I was ultimately looking for when I felt inclined to defend comedy.  In the end, I wanted to understand and convey something like an aesthetics of comedy. And in my admittedly limited knowledge, I have never heard anyone defending comedy purely as an artistic expression the way we talk about sonnets or jazz or Picasso paintings. Even still, my gut tells me that Sedaris is an important author, a talented author, worth considering as a serious artist. So the question lingered: What is the worth of something that’s “just funny”?

***

Read the rest of this entry »

“The Americans” & the Personal Politics of the Cold War

In F/X, Spies, Television, The Americans on March 18, 2013 at 8:03 am

Phoebe B.

Alert: Quite a few spoilers ahead

My mom still tells stories about desk drills during elementary school. She remembers how students were told to hide under their desks in order to protect them from nuclear war. These drills were part of living with the ever-present (yet invisible) threat of communism and in a nation seemingly always—and perhaps already—on the verge of the nuclear war.

I was born in the early 1980s, as Reagan considered programs like “Star Wars,” but my memories of the Cold War, communism, and nuclear terror are few and far between. Mostly, all I remember is the thaw, the end, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I even had a former classmate who had a piece of the wall, something she got when she visited the place where it once stood.

*****

F/X’s new period drama The Americans, which premiered a few weeks ago, begins in 1981 shortly before Reagan is shot. The series follows the lives of two married Soviet spies, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Kerri Russell), living in the suburbs of D.C. and working as travel agents by day and spies by night. The series opens as an attempt to kidnap a defected spy goes awry. After Philip and Elizabeth miss dropping the spy on a boat set for Russia, the duo must keep him in their car in their garage with two kids at home. To make matters worse an FBI agent moves in across the street.

imgres

From the outset of the series, the personal and political are inextricably and terrifyingly intertwined. Indeed, even though Philip prefers to keep the defected spy alive, once he learns that the spy raped Elizabeth when she was in training, Philip immediately kills him. It is the first moment in their marriage where Elizabeth seems to sense that he loves her. It is also a telling moment for their relationship: Philip will betray his country to protect her. However, this moment also foreshadows Philip’s desire to be Elizabeth’s knight in shining armor, to fight her battles, and it seems a quality Philip picked up in America–a vision of marriage designed by decades of film and television. However, their marriage, at least for her, has always been political: a cover and Elizabeth, as the more ruthless of the two, certainly does not need any knight-like protection. But for Philip, it is and has been more than just another job. As the drama unfolds, so too does the marriage between the two spies become increasingly complicated, confused, and real.

Few representations of spy craft—especially on television, save perhaps for the short-lived Rubicon—have embraced the small details, discomfort, and daily life of spies and the tolls of living a lie. Safe to say, Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage is not a typical one. Yet it feels amazingly real in its complications and confusions (perhaps without the murderous bent). For instance, Philip’s sense of betrayal at Elizabeth’s long-term affair with Gregory or his desire to protect her, even though she is beyond capable of protecting herself. Even their decision to take the day off and have sex in a hotel, rather than at home, seems like a long-term couple maintaining adventure in their romance and relationship.

But unlike a typical married couple, Philip and Elizabeth’s differences have potentially dire consequences for themselves, the Soviet Union, and the United States. From the outset of the show, the key difference between the two has been their relationship towards America: Philip “likes it too much” whereas Elizabeth holds on to her communist values. She witnesses him becoming American, whereas she is merely playing the part. This division is most apparent is Elizabeth’s dislike of the mall as emblem of 1980s capitalism, while Philip revels in taking his daughter shopping; in the pilot Philip even considers a pair of cowboy boots. This distinction proves dangerous as Elizabeth’s remark to a superior about Philip’s American proclivities gets him tortured by his own people, as their handler attempts to root out a Soviet mole. Elizabeth’s betrayal of Philip is tremendous, not just because of the physical consequences, but because it reveals that he mistook their partnership for a marriage, a strange brand of office romance. Last week’s betrayal was heartbreaking both for Philip but also because of Elizabeth’s changing feelings towards her husband, which are transitioning from job and cover to romance.

Read the rest of this entry »

How To Be Awesome Like Claire Underwood

In adaptation, DNC, feminism, gender, How to be Awesome Like, Netflix, parenthood, reproductive health, spoilers, Television, TV villains on February 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Sarah S.

In the first episode of Netflix’s House of Cards, one recognizes immediately that Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is Lady Macbeth to devious congressman Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) Macbeth/Richard III hybrid. But despite her overt support of villainy, Claire is easily one of the most fascinating women in a current series. Here’s how to be awesome like Claire Underwood.

-Marry not because you’ll be “happy” or “stable” or have a passel of children. Marry because your Intended promises you’ll never be bored.

-Know what you want and go after it.

-Look your age but with an unwavering running schedule, an amazing haircut, and a wardrobe of dresses to die for. (I love how this show plays off Wright’s star text by hearkening back to Princess Buttercup and her being the “most beautiful woman in the world.”)

claire2

-Have a hot, art photographer ex-lover in Manhattan on speed dial for whenever you’re feeling a little bit down and/or your husband is being an unsupportive ass.

-Have a true companionate marriage based on absolute honesty and respect and so

-Be pissed as hell when your husband begins to sacrifice your career for his and asks you to make compromises he’d never ask of himself.

claire1

-Be part of an interesting experiment in the evolution of “television.” House of Cards, Netflix’s foray into series making, has flaws but it’s super interesting on multiple levels nevertheless. If nothing else, am I irritated that Claire’s sense that her life is missing something is manifesting in her wondering if she should have had (and should pursue having) children? Absolutely. Because it’s boring and cliché and so obnoxiously obvious and typical—e.g. not like Claire at all. (Related, I also hate that in her discussion with her doctor we receive two pieces of medical misinformation: first, that despite what she’s heard her age is no impediment to a healthy pregnancy; second, that her uncomplicated abortions might have negatively affected her fertility.) However, perhaps we are supposed to think that this newfound desire is misplaced, given what we know of both Underwoods. Only time will tell if Claire will be crushed by the inevitable tumbling of this House of Cards.

Pretty Little Liars Recap: “Mona-Mania” (Season 3, Episode 15)

In Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps, Television on January 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm

This week on Pretty Little Liars, Spencer and Mona went head-to-head in the Ultimate Combination Quiz-Off and Bun-Off (Updo versus Half-Up). Lucas told Hanna that he’s been an A-team middle man ever since Mona caught him selling off test answers. Among his A-team duties: visiting Mona back when she was in Radley to pass on secret envelopes from Jason DiLaurentis. Meanwhile, Aria and Meredith teamed up to investigate the unsavory dealings of Lord Byron, and Emily and Paige dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder with a soothing trip to the woods in the middle of the night. Read on to parse the details of this week’s episode.

I think she means a bildingsroman.

What do you make of Lucas’s blackmail story and his new plan to get homeschooled as a way of avoiding Mona’s wrath? He seemed legit terrified.

Sarah T: I believe him–I never bought Lucas as the dastardly type–but I hope he doesn’t go through with homeschooling, because I don’t want any more of my favorite second-tier characters getting sidelined! (Miss u, Jenna-Thing.) Also, why did Hanna not seem to care about that Lucas was delivering messages from Jason to Mona in Radley?? That seems like a big deal to me.

Phoebe B: Agreed on ALL counts. I totally believe him but I also always thought he was a lovely character. I also didn’t buy the whole gambling debt and I’m going to hit Hanna with an oar then disappear situation. Also, I am super confused that Lucas A) did not say more about the letters he was delivering to Mona and B) annoyed that Hanna didn’t ask. Then again, it is a classic PLL mystery move just to keep us all entangled!

Why is Mona suddenly so interested in the academic decathalon? So much academic sporting! Is she just doing it to mess with Spencer, or does she have another motive up her sleeve?

Sarah T: I definitely think she did it partly to throw Spencer off her game, and partly because she really doesn’t want to play dumb anymore, and partly for image-reform purposes. I think the trick with Mona is that the hurt-puppy act isn’t really an act at all: She really does feel persecuted at school and ashamed of her past and in need of emotional support. She really did go crazy when she thought she lost Hanna, and she really does want Hanna’s friendship back now. But all that doesn’t mean she’s not also a scheming super-villain. Like Che Guevera with bling on, she’s complex.

Phoebe B: She is so very complex and I’m so glad she is back on the show … And I do agree that she was trying to throw Spencer off her game while also doing a little image makeover. Also, now we know why that poor guy with the bike had to have an accident last week…

Read the rest of this entry »

The Dating Obsession

In books, fashion, feminism, gender, reality TV, Television on January 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Chelsea H.

The summer before my junior year of college, I worked at a family-owned business that sold paint, spas, and above ground pools.  Strange combination, I know.  The owner of the store and I got along  well: he was a good boss, he and his wife paid well, and sometimes he shared a beer or two in the back with his employees after closing.  It was a great summer job.  But it, like my then-single situation, wasn’t to last.  My boss, for one, was determined to change the latter.  He told me once that I was “too great a person to be alone.”  He then advocated that, if I wasn’t finding men to date in my classes at school, I should look elsewhere.  I pointed out that the bar scene was not really my thing.  He asked “don’t you buy food?  There are men at the grocery store.  Don’t you do laundry?  There are men at laundrymats!”  I noted, always the pragmatist, that with laundry machines in my garage, I wasn’t about to sacrifice my quarters just to find a boyfriend.  I would rather save them for a soda machine.  Quarters, that is, not a boyfriend.

But his comments made me think.  Yes, I was single.  Yes, admittedly, I was lonely.  But why did being a great person mean I ought to be half of a couple?  Couldn’t I be just as great being just me?  And why is it “just” me?

Why not – me – ?

That fall, I met the man who became my husband.  And I have to admit, I can’t imagine being alone again.  I love our partnership.  I would feel lost without him.  But that’s because we’ve grown together and learned to rely on each other in a way that makes both of us more, not collapses us into co-dependent halves.  I accept, but do not love, when people ask me where my “other half” is.  I love living with, spending time with, and traveling with this man, but that doesn’t mean I have to be with him constantly, and his is not the only relationship I feel desirous of cultivating.  As society would see me, I’m ridiculously heteronormative.  And that makes me fit in perfectly.  Because society demands perfectly paired coupledom.  And though I recognize that this is not the only state of being in which individual human beings can be content, it is the most accepted, the most belabored, and the most advertised.  And I think this is a problematic, stagnant way of thought that stigmatizes and discriminates.  It’s a too-expected, too-relied upon binary we need to break.  I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite being in a happy relationship saying coupledom is a bad thing.  It’s not a bad thing.  It’s just not the only thing.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 Things I Learned from Pop Culture in 2012

In books, music videos, Television on December 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Sarah T.

1. Acclimate yourself to rejection as soon as possible.

That way, the fear of getting turned down never prevents you from doing anything. Accomplishing this is easy. Just start asking for what you want, and people will start telling you no. It works for everything: job applications, dating, carbon tax proposals, writing pitches, conferences, ordering very popular dishes at too-busy restaurants. The great trick of rejection is that it’s not so bad. The way your skin grows calluses to protect the parts of you that work the hardest, the word no helps you build vast reserves of Leslie Knope-ism–the bright eyed, bulldozer-ish determination to follow through on every good idea.

Sometimes you’ll decide you need to find a different way to reach the same goal. Sleazeball councilmember trying to sandbag your dog park? Fill his backyard with puppies. Behind in the polls? Don’t go negative; beat your opponent by contrasting his words with your own. Sometimes you still won’t get what you want, which by the alchemy of enduring rebuff just becomes more fuel for your fire. And sometimes your efforts will pay off, in which case the only thing to do is to take in the win the way Leslie Knope would. “I just said let’s get to work,” she tells her co-workers moments after a victory. “How else do people enjoy things?”

2. There will always be someone shinier than you.

Someone more famous and successful. More blonde. More likely to be invited to sing at President Obama’s inaugural ball. Say your brand of talent doesn’t have quite that same sparkly blockbuster razmatazz. The best thing in the world to do, should you find yourself in a position similar to Solange Knowles, is to not even try to be like Beyonce. Instead, she’s quietly and impossibly cool, edgy and offbeat in her bright orange zoot suits, crooning in a crowded shuttle bus her sister would probably never ride. From Solange’s gorgeous cloud of natural hair to the easy way she dives into the pool fully clothed, “Losing You” showed the world how comfortable she was in her own skin. Of course her music made a splash this year: When you act like yourself, the right people find you. And those who don’t miss out on one sweet dance party.

Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Year-End Picks: Sarah S’s Favorite Books, TV Shows, and Songs

In books, music videos, Television on December 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

Sarah S.

Books

A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin: The segmented plots of Westeros and beyond weave back together in book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series. The gang’s together again, so to speak, or at least all the members who’ve made it out alive. Writer faster, George! Write like the wind!

Bossy Pants, Tina Fey: Fey’s self-deprecation does not mask her confidence. Her funny, interesting memoir feels like a sneak peek into the life of the woman we all want to be when we grow up.

Blood, Bones, and Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton: Beautiful. Gritty. Raw. If you live in NYC, I hope you eat at Prune. Wherever you live, I hope you’ll read Gabrielle Hamilton’s exquisite memoir.

The End of Men, Hannah Rosen: I hesitate to call this book one of the year’s “best” but it’s undoubtedly one of the most fascinating.

TV Shows

True Blood: All good things must come to an end, but summers are going to be dry indeed once True Blood goes off the air. This last season had imperfections, including the painfully boring werewolf plot and the heinous Iraq storyline. On the other hand, we did learn a lot about the Authority (at last!), Eric became one of the most interesting and developed characters on the show, Sookie’s charm returned since Eric/Bill’s imprisonment and actress Anna Paquin’s pregnancy forced the character to interact again with her friends and not just mope around in cute dresses/naked. Last, the season took a flailing character—Tara—paired her with one of the series’ best supporters—Pam—and fireworks ensued. True to form, we are left with more questions than answers, especially since Bill has transformed into an evil vampire blood god or whatever. In terms of the unending love triangle, I would say that Eric’s chances are looking up. Oh, and if you are not yet convinced, I have two words: Russell. Edgington.

Boardwalk Empire: There are many ways to revitalize a struggling show, one riddled with complaints about style over substance. However, Boardwalk Empire took an unorthodox approach by ending season 2 with the killing of a major character. Season 3 opened a year and a half later and the audience had to play catch up as we watched Nucky, haunted by his actions, becoming more and more of a monster. Nucky’s development ricocheted out to the rest of the characters—from his wife, Margaret; his brother, Eli; and his “colleagues” Arnold Rothstein, Owen Slater, and Chalky White. Last, we were treated to one bad-ass baddie in Bobby Canavale’s Gyp Rosetti and the lovely development of Richard Harrow. Boardwalk’s always been an actor’s show and this season allowed its cast to shine, showing that—wonder of wonders—Steve Buscemi can anchor a series, Canavale deserves way more work, and that if you give actors meaty roles they will tear into them with gusto.

Sons of Anarchy: Last season I feared that my beloved Sons had jumped their motorcycles right over that eponymous shark. Instead, they brought on Jimmy Smits, complicated Tara and Jax and their relationship, killed off a major character (*sniffle* Opie), surrounded us with baddies yet never let them detract from the real conflict within the club, and revitalized Gemma. In a conversation to be continued, we officially need to come up with a term for shows that seem like they’re about the jump the shark but that—like SOA—do not.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

GLG Year-End Picks: Phoebe’s Top 5 TV Shows

In ABC Soaps, Dance Academy, Pretty Little Liars, Scandal, Television on December 19, 2012 at 11:31 am

I watch a lot of TV. Like a lot. Thus, I was excited to put together this list, which did prove quite hard as there is a lot of fun TV out there right now. Anyway, as I made this list, I realized that all my favorite shows feature amazing leading ladies (both on and off-screen). This top five (perhaps save for PLL) is in no order in particular.

1) Pretty Little Liars

Pretty-Little-Liars-Aria-Spencer-Emily-Hanna

PLL continues its reign in my top spot. I realize this is not a 2012 show BUT last season was so good. It included such gems as a Psycho-esque season finale, a Rear Window reference, and Jenna regaining her sight in the best femme fatale scene ever. Oh and then there is Mona … the best villainess ever.

2) The Mindy Project

mindy-project__oPt

I was sold by the preview and the pilot. There is something so hilarious and charming about the Mindy Project and its hilarious and pretty awesome (and very pretty) heroine. I love Mindy’s spacey and craziness, but also that she has this super successful and amazing career. Most recently, we saw sadly that her new boyfriend turned out to be a jerk, but the highlight of the episode was how great her friends were afterwards. Basically, The Mindy Project is delightful and snarky simultaneously.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tina Fey’s Nerd Rage Burns “Women Aren’t Funny” to the Ground

In Television on October 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Sarah T.

“NERD RAGE!” Tina Fey bellowed on Thursday’s episode of 30 Rock, and just like that, my heart grew a thousand sizes. I love Fey and 30 Rock. But as I’ve complained before, I sometimes have problems with her show on the gender-femiladyism front. I agree with Laura Bennett that Fey’s self-deprecation, both in and out of character, sometimes seems like a ploy to make her ambition, intelligence, sexuality, and razor-sharp wit less threatening.  I like Fey best when she’s all about threats and throwing serious fire. Which is why “Stride of Pride,” a hilarious response to the ridiculous, insulting, I-can’t-believe-we’re-even-talking-about-this question of whether women are funny, was the triumphant throw-down of my dreams.

Liz’s nerd rage kicks off in response to Tracy Jordan and Stephen Hawking’s faux Twitter exchange. “Women aren’t funny, never have been and never will be,” the world’s most famous theoretical physicist announces (hashtag: #plotpoint). Tracy retweets that he agrees.  Over the course of the episode, Liz faces an internal struggle familiar to anyone who’s faced an overtly sexist question: to engage or not to engage?

“Do something funny right now!” Tracy demands when Liz confronts him, and Liz automatically starts to oblige before she remembers that she doesn’t have to prove anything. She refuses to list funny women for the same reason. She tries to make the argument that perhaps men and women like different things (monkeys and “really daaaark superhero movies” aren’t everyone’s cup of tea). But Tracy doesn’t buy it, and the cheap laughs he successfully provokes while showing off a monkey in a tiny suit finally get Liz to take a stand.

“Engaging!” she announces, swinging forward like a terminator whose destroy button has finally been activated. She mounts an impromptu comedy show with Jenna to prove, once and for all, that women are funny—and succeeds! But sexism can sour any victory: Tracy thinks the show is funny because she plays a woman doctor, not because of her actual jokes.

“Stride of Pride” is packed with pointed retorts to the shoddy constructs of arguments against women in comedy.  “Some things just aren’t funny, like females and listing only two things,” Tracy says. And while I’m not on board with the idea that women and men necessarily like different things  (there are plenty of women who dig monkeys and The Dark Knight), I think it’s very true that our culture has a lot invested in persuading us that men have dibs on humor. Take, for example, the preposterous reporting about a recent study that showed that men’s jokes got far more laughs than women. Most articles assumed that men got more laughs because their jokes were objectively funnier–rather than considering the fact that we’re all socialized to chortle when men crack wise and to expect women to serve as decorative affirmation-machines rather than as independent beings with their own stock of puns and barbs and rubber chickens and silly walks.

But while I appreciated all of 30 Rock‘s witty comebacks, my favorite part of the episode was seeing Tina Fey firing on all engines. I get why she might not want to engage in the are-women-funny debate: It is insulting to even talk about.  It’s the same reason why Jami Attenberg recently told Michelle Dean that she dreams of a world where she didn’t have to field questions about herself as a Woman Writer. The song that plays over Liz’s comedy show reveals her frustration at being drawn into a debate that’s un-winnable because the other side is just being dumb: “Women are funny we can all agree / Carol Burnett. Lucille Ball / No we’re not gonna do it / it’s beneath us all!” But Fey is one of the most visible and high-powered comedians out there, which can make staying silent on a controversial matter seem like a response in itself. With “Stride of Pride,” Fey found a way to engage without lending a stupid, outdated, sexist argument any legitimacy. By the time her thirty minutes were up, she’d poked more holes in Christopher Hitchen‘s article (and the ensuing yes-man chorus) than there are in the Swiss cheese on Liz’s beloved sandwiches. And that, friends, deserves a stride of pride for the ages.

The Creative Economics of “Party Down”

In Television on October 17, 2012 at 10:56 am

Sarah T.

Officially speaking, the recession was already off the books by the time I saw it up close and personal.

I left my job at a magazine in New York and started graduate school in fall 2008. By the time I reentered the workforce in summer 2011, the employment landscape had morphed into a new, spooky, twisted-tree country. While I was cloistered away annotating bibliographies and torturing college freshmen with an argumentative essay tool called the enthymeme, the print and publishing industry was busy staging an epic death scene straight out of Hamlet. Plenty of businesses outside my field had shuttered their doors too.

I’d known all this in my reason-brain. But I had to be on the job market myself in order to really understand the economic realities that many people had been living with for years. I felt like bizarro Dorothy, leaving behind the Technicolor lollipops and toadstools of my pre-2008 Oz. In grim old Kansas, the unemployment rate was stuck above 8 percent, and witches only biked to work because they had to sell their cars.

That summer was one of outright panic. I stayed up late into the night revising cover letters and woke myself up at 3:30 am, convinced I’d ruined my life at the ripe old age of 28. I was worried I wouldn’t find a job. But more than that, I was furious at myself for burning daylight. I’d known since I was 12 that I wanted to be a writer—and not the academic journal kind. So what had I been doing in academia for the past three years? Why had I abandoned the thing I really wanted for no good reason, and would I be able to claw my way back? Desperately in need of some laughs, and a way to pass the witching hours that did not involve singing mournful arias with a mouthful of cold pizza, I loaded up Netflix and started watching Party Down.

***

Starz’s cult series about entertainers-cum-caterers premiered in March 2009. It never explicitly mentions the economy—actors tend to be broke and out of work even when the general coffers are overflowing. But more than any other TV series, Party Down nails the strange despair felt by many a young person in the aftermath of the Great Recession. High rejection rates, minimum-wage jobs, stiff competition, plus the full-time job of stifling the fear that you’ll never succeed: we’re all aspiring actors now. Read the rest of this entry »

Weight Weight, Don’t Tell Me: Body Image in “The Mindy Project”

In Television on September 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Sarah T.

The first comment about weight in Mindy  Kaling’s new show comes at the six-minute mark. “My body mass index isn’t great,” Mindy Lahiri tells her well-coiffed BFF Gwen, “but I’m not like Precious or anything.”

Kaling’s comedic timing is impeccable, but the joke rests on unsteady territory. Sure, Mindy’s being self-deprecating — but the punchline is really about how big Precious is. It assumes that, like Mindy, the show’s target audience of college-educated, middle-class women in their twenties and thirties will laugh at Precious to make themselves feel better by comparison. Of course, there are plenty of viewers who are closer to Gabourey Sidibe’s weight than to Kaling’s — but the show doesn’t seem worried about alienating them.

“No, guys, a culture that tells women they always have more weight to lose is a culture that wants women to disappear,” is not what they are saying. Maybe next episode.

The Mindy Project, as Sarah S. wrote in a recent GLG post, is a funny show with a heroine who,  in the tradition of Bridget Jones, is both together (doctor!) and a lovable mess (drunk bicycle-pool incidents). And like Bridget Jones, Mindy L. is clearly a bit obsessed with her weight. “Do you know how hard it is for a chubby 31-year-old woman to go on a legit date with a guy who majored in economics at Duke?” she demands as a patient tries to drag her away from a promising restaurant rendezvous.

HOW HARD IS IT?” this late-twenties, probably roughly-Kaling-sized viewer thought in a panic. And then I thought, “Wait. ‘Chubby?’ Is this show calling me fat?”

The answer, I think, is: sort of. The pilot mentions Lahiri’s non-stick-figure-size an average of once every 7 minutes. I don’t think Kaling, or the show, is intentionally trying to make fun of bigger people or rile up the insecurities of its audience. But while Kaling is a talented comedian, her approach to the subject of weight sometimes makes me wince. In her book Is Everyone Hanging Out with Out Me, she writes about being a happy and confident size 8. Yet she seems stuck in the body binary she’s protesting:

“Since I am not model-skinny, but also not super-fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall into that nebulous, “Normal American Woman Size” that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size 8 (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size because, I think, to them, I lack the self-discipline to be an aesthetic, or the sassy confidence to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like ‘Pick a lane.’

While the language isn’t super-clear, I think Kaling means that the stylists, not her, see larger women as “total fatty hedonists.” But there still seems to be stereotyping of plus-size women at work in this passage, as if bigger physical size necessarily corresponds with an outsized personality.

What’s most revealing, though, is that Kaling describes herself as “Normal American Woman Size.” This is key to Kaling’s image as the ultimate gal-pal, the kind of witty, sparkly friend who’s always up for sleepovers and juicy gossip. “She’s become the contemporary Everywoman,” Jada Yuan’s New York Magazine profile of Kaling reports, “both a Mary and a Rhoda.” The central conceit of Kaling’s public persona — as well as of The Mindy Project — is that Mindy is relatable. And unfortunately, in our culture, one of the things women can relate to most is being self-conscious about weight. Read the rest of this entry »

How to be Awesome Like Mindy Lahiri

In fashion, How to be Awesome Like, Television on August 31, 2012 at 9:28 am

Comedian and writer Mindy Kaling just launched her own television series, The Mindy Project, and you can watch the first episode free on Hulu. Based on this pilot, Kaling has created a charmingly dysfunctional character who feels like 4/7 Bridget Jones and 3/7 Liz Lemon with a sparkly topping of Sex and the City. Kaling herself is demonstrably awesome so, without further ado, here’s a handful of reasons why “Mindy Lahiri” is awesome and you should feel free to draw from this list in your project of ever-increasing awesomeness:

 

1-She’s a smart, educated, professional woman—an OB-GYN doing her residency—who, nevertheless, shows viewers that even smart, educated, professional women have flaws and foibles, including making dubious decisions in the “love and sex” category.

 

 

2-She’s obsessed with romantic comedies (including my favorite, When Harry Met Sally) and remains ever on the lookout for her “meet cute” with the perfect guy. I certainly don’t suggest that real ladies try to live as if life is a romantic comedy but it’s a funny quirk in a television character, one that both the show and Mindy recognize as ridiculous and charming in equal measure. (Great line from the pilot to her annoyingly overbearing colleague: “Never presume to speak for Meg Ryan again.”)

 

3-She lets her heart get in the way of what looks good “on paper.” When confronted with patients in need who have no insurance, Mindy tries to tell them she’s overbooked or cannot take on uninsured patients but her basic humanity and desire to provide medical care to women overthrows the dictates of the market and professional ambition.

 

4-Mindy is beautiful and confident but (praise the heavens!) she doesn’t look like everyone else on television. She’s not a petite size 0 and she’s Indian-American. She may strut like Carrie Bradshaw but she could break SJP over her knee.

 

 

5-She understands the happy-making powers of sparkly clothes and fabulous shoes.

 

6-She’s direct. This often leads to embarrassing gaffes or foot-in-mouth scenarios but it also makes her honest and real.

 

Let’s all drink a cocktail (or three) as we welcome Mindy Lahiri to a world of television that desperately needs her and Mindy Kaling to the zeitgeist of awesome female comedians.

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “The Kahn Game” (Season 3, Episode 9)

In Pretty Little Liars, Television on August 9, 2012 at 10:40 am

This week, our fab four split off for individual or pair-oriented adventures. Emily spent the entire episode watching videos from Maya’s vlog, and it was sad. Hanna made up/made out with Caleb, and he officially voiced his intentions to join Team A Take-Down. Spencer and Aria went to a post-collegiate-aged party and had a Noel/Jenna smack-down. A rented an apartment or something and it truthfully wasn’t as sinister as usual, which is maybe a nice break. Even murderer/stalker/blackmailer types need some downtime every once in a while. Read on for more ponderings on “The Kahn Game.”

Don’t mess with the (evil) best.

What was your take on the insanely high-stakes game of “Truth or Truth With a Stopwatch, Everybody Act Like This Is Intense Even Though There Are No Real Consequences”?

Sarah T: Here are my thoughts in numerical order. One, the Noel-Aria face-off was full of spite! Do you think he still resents Aria for kinda-dating him and then getting back together with Ezra? Two, the Jenna-Spencer face-off was full of simmering rage, but I was interested in that scene beforehand where Jenna’s telling Noel she won’t let Spencer bully her again. I’m curious about how true that reading of Spencer is, from Jenna’s perspective, and how much that comment was just damsel-in-distress misdirection. Three, what do you think Jenna and Noel talk about together? What kinds of activities do those two creepers get up to? Noel-Mona were about presenting the pretty polished surfaces, but Noel-Jenna seem to be about cobwebs and axes of evil and adopting pet snakes. They’re such a fun couple.

Phoebe B: Yes! Noel seems a tad bit pissed still about the Aria-Ezra situation. To Two: I was so intrigued by that exchange between Jenna and Noel and was trying really hard to remember whether Spencer had ever bullied Jenna. And then I thought perhaps Ali had told Jenna lies about Spencer or maybe there is a yet to be revealed moment of Spencer being mean to Jenna. Also, I imagine that Jenna and Noel talk about plotting evil A related things or just plotting evil in general. They are a great evil-power couple. Also, Truth with a stopwatch game. What is going on?! And what a contentious round between Spencer and Jenna? Oh my. And what is going on with Cece? I am so suspicious of her and I feel like she did not give Spencer’s application to the UPenn guy (I don’t even think he exists).

Is Caleb a brave white knight or a misguided one?

Sarah T: Misguided FTW! I mean, I totally get why he wants to help Hanna, and I get why he wants to go after A (especially given that he now knows A went after his mom). He should probably do those things, even though the more he gets involved in mystery-solving the more scared I get he’s going to get blown up. But what about the “You’re talking to a guy who just kidnapped his own girlfriend” line and the “I’m not asking for your permission” line? Both seem aimed at positioning him as the Take-Charge Guy, although he didn’t kidnap Hanna at all. He tricked her into meeting him outside a cafe and then she willingly got in the car with him. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with being take-charge guy, as long as he doesn’t think that means he is the ONLY person in charge or that he is in charge of anybody else. Hanna is in charge of herself. Ahh, feminism… Sometimes I just gaze off in the distance and think about how much I love it (not sarcasm).

Phoebe B: I think Caleb is perhaps a white knight but also maybe more like a equal partner white knight. I think it is great that he is on board! And not taking no for an answer. Mostly, because I think more people on the anti-A team, the better! And I feel like Caleb understands that he is not in charge of Hanna but that he wants to help and that he wants to be part of the team, rather than getting shut out. I think too, that for the PLLs, it might be an important lesson to ask for help or allow themselves to be helped.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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 »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 764 other followers