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Masks, Melissa, and Mischief: Pretty Little Liars Recap, 4.3

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm

The BEST:

Phoebe B: The super creepy mask guy who is obsessed with Emily as Medusa: Aria, “What do you want?” Mask guy to Emily, “Your face.” Love it. Hanna being bad ass and awesome and taking initiative, both getting the PLLs to go see the mask guy and then snooping when they are there. Go Hanna! (Aside: I would be so incredibly terrified at that mask place by all the creepy masks. I really don’t like masks.)

Aria and Ella. I love Ella and I so want her to go on an adventure with the hot baker guy: “I was giving my mother permission to go off and join the circus.”

Melissa is back! And her face is in a mask. Creepy. But also, I am pleased to see the return of one of my favorite PLL possibly-villains.

Sarah T: YES that mask scene was so classic PLL. I was really worried that it was going to start burning Emily’s face horribly or something but no. I also like that Ali hid a mask of her own face inside another mask, that’s a cool teen girl hobby.

I am thrilled for Ella that she is off to Vienna to make pastries in a castle with the Von Trapp Family Singers, but sad for us, her fans and loyal viewers! She can’t go, can she? Let her not go the way of Invisible Mikey Montgomery.

The WORST:

Phoebe B: Toby! AAAAAH. I cannot stand him right now and also I do not trust him. Not one ounce. But he is so weepy and annoying. And where is Mona? No Mona = the worst. But, I agree with the PLLs: not knowing where Mona is, is pretty much as scary as when she is around all the time. I also miss Jenna. Where are all the amazing femme fatales of PLL? I must admit too that I’m not completely sure what happened in this week’s episode of PLL.

It’s possible I was distracted by watching the Wendy Davis (#standwithwendy) fillibuster and other big news events like SCOTUS’ bad decision on the Voting Rights Act and good decision on striking down DOMA. Thus, it’s highly likely I missed key PLL plot points. But, ST do you know what was happening this week?

Sarah T: No I do not! But plot isn’t very important to me when I watch PLL; I just let the show float over me like an insanely dark summer breeze. The worst for me was seeing poor Ashley sadly contemplating the faucet in the bathroom. Whatever happened with her that night, it is something very miserable. I hate seeing my favorite PLL mom so torn up! Drinking wine evilly in the dark is one thing, but this lonesome hiding-in-the-bathroom routine is quite another.

A Survivor is (re-) Born, Or, Playing Tomb Raider after Anita Sarkeesian.

In feminism, Film, games, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on June 26, 2013 at 7:36 am

brian psi

In 1985, Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For inaugurated what has come to be known as The Bechdel Test, a three-point checklist for evaluating how a film represents women. Does it have at least two? Do they have a scene together? Do they talk about something other than men? The fact that so few films pass all of these—even 30 years later—means that many filmgoers keep this checklist in the front of our minds, as part of the internal HUDs that we screen all of our media through.

It is difficult now, at least for me, to play a game without my own internal interface simultaneously replaying bits of Anita Sarkeesian’s ongoing series of videos for Feminist Frequency, “Tropes vs. Women.” The first three (two of which are complete) are about the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. In part 1, she lays out the history of the trope, and some of its earlier incarnations; in the second part she demonstrates how it has been used more recently, including such horrifying variations as the ‘damsel in the refrigerator,’ the ‘disposable’ damsel, and the ‘euthanized’ damsel. The collection of cutscenes and gameplay clips she has amassed in support of these classifications is staggering and frankly, not seriously refutable. So it would not be at all surprising if, in the not too distant future, players and critics evaluate their games by some kind of Sarkeesian test, which might get at whether there are women present in the game, and importantly, whether they are protagonists or allies rather than prisoners or corpses used to drive the stories of stubble-sporting, dark-haired white dudes.

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Post-Post-Modern, Post-Post-9-11: Star Trek Into Darkness

In feminism, Film, gender, spoilers, Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 9:46 pm
Sarah S.
Let’s get this complaint out of the way directly: the use of female characters in J. J. Abrams’ second offering in the rebooted Star Trek franchise is sigh-worthy at best, probably more like eye-rolling and groan-worthy, and possibly even merits serious hair pulling. Zoe Saldana is still awesome as Uhura in Star Trek Into Darkness but her interesting updates, including linguistic genius and unwavering confidence, are undercut in this movie by her damsel-in-distress situations. Speaking of “damsels-in-distress,” Alice Eve’s Dr. Carol Marcus (presented on IMDB as simply “Carol”) represents yet another female character who’s good on paper and easy on the eyes but doesn’t offer much but a way to nix any *ahem* suggestions of sexual tension between Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Point, match, feminists.
That said, for all those who have been complaining that Abrams’ Star Trek isn’t “Star Trek” enough: you’re nuts! In this flick, perhaps even more than the first, Star Trek returns to its philosophical roots of exploring what it means to be human and how we strive to be the best iteration of that humanness. And yet, obviously, this is not your father’s Star Trek. It’s so filled with Easter eggs its villain is the biggest one of all (also: worst kept secret ever) while its loving nods to the preceding mythology temper any sense of snark or unending, frivolous “play.” Indeed, the film’s self-awareness of its changed universe is so meta, and yet so well-conceived in its own right, that it transcends post-modernism and becomes, what? Something that gets beyond that circling anxiety, frivolity, and/or simulacra of traditional post-modernism and into something that mingles our contemporary fears for the future (aka, obsessions with apocalypse), loves for nostalgia and technology, and twinging hopes that extraordinary individuals—particularly if they work in tandem—may be able to improve the world.

“History Don’t Repeat Itself; It Rhymes” – Jay-Z and the Gatsby Soundtrack

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 1:12 am

Or yes, it is possible to have a PhD in American Literature, to have “actually read” Gatsby, and to be completely supportive of Jay-Z’s masterful new soundtrack.

Melissa Sexton

Note: NPR has taken down the livestream of the Gatsby soundtrack, since the soundtrack was released for purchase today.

I have spent the past two days in an ecstatic swoon, listening to the new soundtrack for The Great Gatsby over and over again. Haven’t heard it yet? NPR is streaming it on First Listen, giving the English majors of the world something to do with their media-time until the film FINALLY comes out this Friday. My love for the soundtrack is not surprising; when the first trailer came out last year, I was elated by its pairing of hip-hop and Prohibition-era glamor. I got that thrill – the one we go to the movies to get – when the trailer opened with shots of fast, glamorous cars careening to Jay-Z and Kanye’s menacing, pounding “No Church in the Wild.”

But not everyone has shared my enthusiasm. And as professional writers and passionate individuals alike began responding to the soundtrack and to early viewings of the film, I picked up on a pattern: to dismiss Luhrmann’s glossy, glittery remake and Jay-Z’s equally sequined soundtrack as somehow “inauthentic” to the original Gatsby – or, more subtly, as missing the novel’s entire point, reproducing the very American Dream that Gatsby was intended to critique (as we all dutifully learned in our high school English classes).

Now. I don’t do this very often. But. As someone with a PhD in American literature, I feel like I have some professional clout behind my own reflections on whether a hip-hop, cinematic orgy of a film can be considered “authentic” or “faithful” to an American modernist novel. And as someone with a developing love of contemporary popular music in general, and 21st century hip-hop in particular, I think I can talk about Jay-Z’s involvement in the project without the kinds of knee-jerk reactions I was noticing all over the comments sections of The New York Times and NPR – comments that were basically the equivalent of “You kids with your hip hop music! Get off my American literature! Now Maud, turn that NPR jazz hour back on!” But for once, I’m going to flaunt the professional clout. Because if I see one more Facebook post snidely asking if “anyone who liked the soundtrack had actually even read the whole book,” I am going to go all George Wilson on their asses. So. I’m not saying that Baz Luhrmann’s and Jay-Z’s take on Gatsby is THE right one, but I think it is A right one. And I want to explain why a trained literary professional can totally get behind this fusion of hip-hop with The Jazz Age.

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Down the Rabbit Hole: Re-Reading Madeleine L’Engle

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2013 at 6:39 am

Sarah S.

The books we love tell a lot about us, particularly the ones read multiple times. And not because it shows you’re “old fashioned” or “feminist” but because if you can understand why a book gets to you so deeply that you’ll return to it again and again you’ll understand something about yourself. For example, it’s objectively true that Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House is a great book. But I read it for my connection with the titular professor, a character for whom I have empathy and criticism in equal measure. The fact that I read for the professor (and have little emotional interest in Tom Outland) reveals something about me—whether a truth of personality or a whisper of something I strive to understand.

I recently re-read one of my favorite childhood books, a novel that I read so many times its edges are grey and rumpled and the cover finally fell off. This time, however, I found it painfully wanting. Yet it also provided a telescope down the rabbit hole to my childhood self. I see why I liked it then and it has nothing to do with it being objectively good.

The book in question is Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle, easily the least of the four novels about the Murray children (the others being A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet). Many Waters focuses on the “normal” twins between the eldest daughter, Meg, and the youngest son, Charles Wallace. Sandy and Dennys Murray lack the genius as well as the awkwardness of their sibling but they nevertheless get their own adventure. In sum, they accidentally mess with one of their father’s space-time experiments and blast themselves to the time of Noah mere months before the flood that will destroy the known world.

The ancient world L’Engle creates is fascinating. All the people are small with the exception of the mysterious nephilim (fallen angels) and beatific seraphim (angels on earth), each of whom can transform from its beauteous, be-winged humanoid form to a unique animal host. Sandy and Dennys jointly fall in love with Noah’s youngest daughter, a beautiful, virtuous girl named Yalith who falls in love with both of them. Yalith, of course, is not part of the official story, nor is she meant to board the Ark that “El” has ordered Noah to build. What is this odd, religiousy threesome to do?

L’Engle’s solution has Yalith being taken into the “Presence” by one of the seraphim, just as her grandfather Enoch who walked with El and then was no more. Pretty it up with mysticism all one wants, Yalith essentially dies. The twins get home using a combination of seraphim and virtual unicorns and the rains come.

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I could not resist sharing the cover of my copy. Check out these 1980s-styled hotties.

As an adult, I see this as L’Engle’s most conservative novel. In her other Murray books she counters the anti-scientific streak in American Christianity (which has only grown more virulent since she wrote the books) while also insisting on an essential battle between darkness and light, evil and good in the universe. I would call the other three required reading for all Christian children and nearly-required reading for non-Christian children, particularly A Wrinkle in Time. (A claim I cannot make with a fully clear conscious for other series on both sides of the spectrum, on the one hand, Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, on the other, Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy.) Many Waters, however, puts L’Engle into ambiguous territory that she can’t write her way out of easily, particularly in a children’s book. It insists that El is good and highlights the virtue of Noah’s immediate family so it cannot or won’t account for the cruelty of wiping out everyone, including Yalith. It’s her least scientific novel, in part because it wants to vitalize a myth. And for a woman with a host of fantastic female characters under her belt, L’Engle peoples this book with women who are caricatures of virtue or vice.

So why did I love it so much as a child? Despite my current dislike, what insight did it bring me that merits this much thought? As a child I was sentimental, spiritual, and imaginative—always longing for transcendent experience. Yet I was also a mini-intellectual, enjoying to think about things, and somewhat inherently personally conservative, enjoying classic plots about princesses and love and Big Truths. (I’m still this way with my  imagination; it’s why I’m such a lousy fiction writer.) Many Waters brought to life a story I was raised to believe was historically true, it seemed intensely romantic to my child self, and yet it didn’t flinch from the hardness of a Big Truth (Big Truths, like virtual unicorns, tending to exist in various ways at the same time). It’s little wonder that this somewhat ridiculous novel touched a nerve in me and that I read it and read it and read it again.

Sometimes one re-reads a book, from childhood or otherwise, and discovers something even more magnificent than one remembers. Time and experience bring a new way of understanding the work and you find that it has grown richer. (This happened to me in another recent re-read, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I did not really “get” as a child but fell in love with on re-reading.) I think my days of re-reading Many Waters are now officially over. But I’m still glad I went inside its world one more time. Not because I enjoyed spending more time with the (let’s face it) terribly boring Sandy and Dennys but because I got to spend a bit of time with the child that used to be me.

In the Sky, Lord, in the Sky: Historical Guilt and Bioshock Infinite

In class, dystopian literature, games, gender, race, spoilers, technology, time travel, Uncategorized, violence on April 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

brian psi

Irrational Games’ latest opus, Bioshock Infinite, was released last week, to universal acclaim. Creative director Ken Levine has been making the kind of upscale promotional rounds usually frequented by novelists or filmmakers—rare air for someone who has just made an ultraviolent first person shooter, the most reviled (and most lucrative) subgenre of the most debased popular art form. Like other games of its type, the new Bioshock features plenty of gunplay and gruesome melee finishers; unlike other games in any genre, Infinite’s storytelling, setting and themes explore the most troubling aspects of American history, providing a fairly scathing commentary on the interplay of American exceptionalism, racism, religion and labor exploitation. What really struck me is the way that the game evokes—in its narrative and mechanics—two very different responses to historical guilt, responses which make the game’s politics both fascinating and contemporary.

WARNING: massive spoilers below, including major plot twists and ending!

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Is Archer the Most Progressive Television Show On Women’s Sexuality?

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Sarah S.

Note: This post contains adult-themed videos probably in the PG-13 range. Potentially NSFW and watch at your own risk/desire.

On the surface, a show about a sexist, moronic super-spy with zero self-reflection and serious mommy issues might not seem like a candidate for any kind of progressive title. But bear with me. Sure, ISIS agent Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) consistently makes racist, sexist, ageist, and homophobic comments (as do many others among the cast of characters). He’ll also blow his cover faster than you can say “martini” if he thinks being a “spy” will appeal to whichever woman (or women) he’s hitting on. The show is rife with Archer’s horror at any mention of his mother, Mallory Archer and ISIS head (Jessica Walter), having sex. And all the characters consistently grimace at the sexual exploits of overweight Pam (Amber Nash) and the strangulation fetish of Cheryl/Carol (Judy Greer).

Yet I still maintain that Archer may be the most progressive show on television regarding women’s sexuality.

Why?

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Because despite the distaste expressed by the characters over their colleagues’ sexual predilections, the women in question ignore this kind of slut shaming and do what they want. Cheryl finds men (or machines) who can strangle her…just…right… Pam sleeps with, well, basically everybody; furthermore, her lovers unequivocally desire her OR only sleep with her when drunk but then keep coming back for more. And Mallory, a former super-spy herself, is still a stone fox who sleeps with everyone from the head of the KGB to Bert Reynolds.

Further, the animation frequently shows its characters in various states of undress or carefully concealed nudity. Mallory and Cheryl are represented as conventionally beautiful—even Mallory with her wrinkles. Archer’s counterpart and former fiancé, Lana (Aisha Taylor), is the most aggressively attractive of the female cast, with her long legs and giant breasts, and yet the show mocks her cartoonishly superhero figure with jokes about her “man hands.”

One’s reaction to nude Pam probably depends on one’s reaction to overweight women in general. Yet while the show gets laughs out of the characters’ comments about Pam’s weight (as well as her drinking, lack of sophistication, and lesbian tendencies), the animators don’t play Pam’s nudity for laughs. It just is, and a fairly accurate presentation as well. The situation might be funny, as well as the characters’ reactions to it (including reactions to Pam’s sexual activity and size), but her figure itself is not part of the joke.

Last, returning to Lana. She is one of the show’s most likable characters, one of the few who can give back Archer a piece of his own and who can actually get under his forever-adolescent emotional skin. They are the fated couple at the heart of the series. It’s also very refreshing to see an African American woman in such a prominent and powerful role. However, out of the female characters, Lana has the most standard role and the most standard sex life—infrequent, paved with jerks and losers, perpetually overshadowed by her ex (equally objectified by the animators, I might add). Thus, Archer further overturns expectations for women’s sexuality by offsetting the stereotypical aspects of Lana’s love-life against the unabashed antics of her lady-peers. Pretty impressive representin’ from a spy series merged with an office comedy.

What say you? Do you agree or disagree? Any other contenders for this title?

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the Reclamation of Lydia Bennet

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2013 at 9:28 am

Sarah T.

lizzie and lydia bennet

Whaaaat.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice never gets old. My ninth-grade copy of the book is so dog-eared by now that it’s practically a basset hound, and I’ve rarely met a film version of the story that I didn’t like. So when I learned about a web series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I knew I had to check it out.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has everything you’d hope for in a modern-day Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Lizzie is a smart, sarcastic 24-year-old grad student in mass communications who’s living at home, along with her sisters Jane, an underpaid fashion assistant, and Lydia, a college student and full-time party girl. With the help of her cradle-to-grave pal Charlotte Lu, Lizzie starts making video diaries as a class project—just as a certain rich, handsome med student named Bing Lee moves in next door.

The series finds plenty of parallels between Jane Austen’s gossip-obsessed English society and the digital age, and between the vicious economics of entailments and the rocky financial climate of the present. Jane’s defaulted on her student loans; the Bennets worry they’ll lose their home. As Lizzie points out, there’s a reason all three adult children are still living with their parents—and why the never-seen Mrs. Bennet (role-played by Lizzie as an overwrought southern belle who’s accidentally stumbled into suburban California) is so anachronistically obsessed with ensuring that her daughters marry well.

But the thing that’s most noteworthy about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries isn’t its new-media savvy and socioeconomic commentary. Nor is it the series’ excellent and diverse cast (Bing, Charlotte, and Bing’s sister Caroline are all Asian-American) or the crackling chemistry between Lizzie and Darcy, a snobby, stiff-as-a-board tech company executive with—who would’ve guessed?—a secret heart of gold. The most important thing about the series is its reclamation of a certain irrepressible redhead by the name of Lydia Bennet.

In Austen’s novel, and in most adaptations, Lydia is an entertaining but unredeemable character. She learns nothing from her mistakes, and she’s as superficial and oblivious as her mother—too caught up in charm, money, and good looks to be able to distinguish right from wrong or good people from bad. And then there’s the matter of Lydia’s “natural self-consequence”: “self-willed and careless,” she refuses to listen to her sisters and other women who try to get her to change her reckless behavior.

So when Lydia runs off with dastardly Wickham with no aim of getting him to put a ring on it, we’re meant to be worried about what it will do to Lizzie and Jane’s reputations—but not much concerned for the welfare of Lydia herself. Austen had little sympathy for characters lacking in common sense and self-awareness, and anyway Lydia’s too thick-headed to feel pangs of regret.

The concept of slut-shaming didn’t exist back in Austen’s day, since it was basically automatic. What else were you going to do with a young woman who refused to bow to societal conventions? But reading the book today, it’s clear that Lydia is an asteroid racing through the novel’s moral universe. A woman lacking in decency and virtue will cause destruction wherever she lands; the best you can hope for is to minimize the damage. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap Times Two: Season 3, Episodes 20 (“Hot Water”) and 21 (“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”)

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Things literally heAted up on Pretty Little Liars last week: Spencer got steamed in the shower (that looked awful!) but also got steamy with Wren; Fitz is back and baby drama is definitely afoot; Emily and Paige had a heart to heart; and Ashley was tormented by Wilden. Importantly too, Spencer has risen from her dark phoenix phase and is back (I think) with a smart-as-a-whip vengeance. Then this week, Toby mAybe is dead and Spencer is heartbroken; Aria is not ready to be a parent; and Emily was badass. But until then, here are our thoughts on this week’s PLL revelations.

Last week, Spencer was back! But now, after finding Toby’s dead body in the woods, Spencer is a mess–and institutionalized at Radley. Discuss.

Phoebe B: I was so excited last week to see Spencer back and on fire. But then, the scary steamy shower and her confession to the PLLs about Toby (why doesn’t Emily believe her??) and the downward spiral begins again. It was so sad to see her break down and then be picked up in the morning by the park rangers, and that last scene of her sitting in the bed staring off into space. I wonder if the nurse’s feet we saw were the lady in red/A-leader? Also, do you think just maybe that Spencer is faking it to get close to the truth? I really hope this is all part of her big plan (even though I would quite surprised I suppose if that was indeed the case).

Sarah T: I do think it’s possible that Spencer is faking–perhaps as a way to lure in Mona–but I think she’s probably grieving too much to be plotting simultaneously.

Detective Wilden is Rosewood’s number 1 creep and this week he had it out for Hanna and Ashley. What do you make of his encounters with the Marin ladies? And where did he go after Ashley ran him over?

Phoebe B: He is! But I do think he is perhaps dead in the woods OR potentially in the car. I thought he was horrible to Hanna and Ashley, but I thought it was good that there was proof he was threatening both the Marin ladies (ie the video feed in his car). I think two things are possible post-accident … one, that his body is in fact the one Spencer found in the woods (thinking it was Toby), or two, his body was in the car that Hanna and Aria pushed into the lake (I feel distinctly that pushing the car in was a very bad idea).

Sarah T: Hahahaha don’t you think pushing the police car into the lake was totally the large-scale version of Hanna and her mom’s general approach to problem-solving? Small incriminating evidence they throw in sinks and blenders, large ones they push into bodies of water. Also sometimes embezzled money goes in lasagna boxes. A place for everything and everything in its place. MARINS I LOVE YOU. But yes, I do think that Wilden is probably dead and either taking Toby’s posthumous place or in the trunk of the police car. My money’s on the former, because I don’t think Toby’s really a goner.

Also, I’m confused by the video in the police car. It totally exonerates Ashley, right? You can hear Wilden threatening Hanna and see him getting rough with her. You can’t see him pull the gun, but it’s pretty clear he is not acting in official above-board cop capacity. This makes me think she’s going to trial but that she’ll be cleared by the video down the line. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Reaches Out: A Better Vision of Love in Silver Linings Playbook

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Melissa Sexton

Real love tells you when you’re not being a standup guy.

Well, if you’re alive in the blogosphere or if you live near a television, at this point you probably know that Jennifer Lawrence took home the 2013 Best Actress Oscar for her recent role as the depressed widow Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook. And if you know me, you’re probably not surprised to hear that I love Jennifer Lawrence ferociously. I thought she was amazingly tough in Winter’s Bone and that she was perfectly steely in Hunger Games. I have loved her even more since reading her recent Vanity Fair interview where, despite the super-sexy photographs that accompany the article, she comes across as entirely human: a little goofy and awkward and just on the border of appropriate. And now, I love her beyond belief for biffing it on the stairs at the Oscars, and then beaming anyway. I love how her flustered acceptance speech feels so true to my experience: when the good things that you’ve always wanted happen to you, sometimes you just fall over in shock and forget how to be graceful. I love her hilarious post-win interview, where she destroys our cultural dream of actresses as poised princesses: they’re clumsy and flustered – they trip and curse. They aren’t decked out by fairy godmothers and gilded in dreams: they take a shower, take a shot, and take a fall, even when they’re on top of the world. In other words, her victorious Oscar persona has much in common with Tiffany, even though Lawrence is wearing Dior and Tiffany’s usually in sweaty spandex and sneakers: Lawrence in real life and Tiffany as a character both suggest that the most beautiful things come with some assembly required – come full of cracks and pockmarks, flaws, imperfections, pain, embarrassment, struggle. And that all that imperfection doesn’t have to be something we hide in order to find beauty, experience love, or build a better life.

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The Days Are Gods: Interview with Liz Stephens

In books, environment, gender, race, Uncategorized on February 25, 2013 at 5:00 am

Sarah S.

Liz Stephens needed to get out of Los Angeles so she packed up her husband and her dogs and moved to…Wellsville, UT. She moved ostensibly for grad school but found she learned as much from diving into local history, her Mormon neighbors, the animals she raised and gave away and the ones who died, as she learned in books and classes. In her lovely, meditative memoir, The Days Are Gods, Stephens tells about white teenagers dressed up as Indians, a French kid who spends his summer on a Dude Ranch, surprise goats, and discovering how going to a non-trivially alien place helped her discover (or become or transition or whatever) into her adult self.

Stephens received her PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University. Her work has been featured in Brevity, South Dakota Review, Western American Literature, and Fourth Genre. She received the Western Literature Association’s Frederick Manfred Award and was a finalist for the Annie Dillard Creative Nonfiction Award. She’s equally talented at making a cup of earl grey tea and a mean mint julep. She will stop to ogle or coo over any animal in the vicinity, especially dogs. She can parallel park like a boss.

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You can buy The Days Are Gods from University of Nebraska Press or from Amazon. You can also find out more about Liz Stephens and her work on her website, thedaysaregods.com. After you finish reading this interview and buy her book, be sure to read her devastating essay “Ten Years I’ll Never Get Back.”

***

SS: Okay, let’s just start out with a big one: At one point you write about the sight of a grey barn on a mountainside: “I’ve seen that movie, the one with the barn in the mountains. I’ve read that book, the one with the treacherous winter. And now I am really there.” Now that you’ve lived in Utah and returned for visits, spent 4+ years in Ohio, and returned to Los Angeles (not to mention written and re-written this book), is there an essentiality to “the West” or is it—always and forever—artifice? Or narrative? Or dream?

LS: I think the West is like a celebrity who when interviewed says, “You know, there’s me, and then there’s capital letter Brad Pitt”—or whoever—the distinction of course being that from inside one experience you know a thing, and then culturally there is this mystical entity fed by a whole culture’s desires. Cultural values I wanted to attribute to the West exclusively were demonstrably true of Ohio as well: tractor derbies are good fun, and you should keep your business at the local feed shop or they will close and you will be screwed some day in the future when you need them. Neighbors are, like fences, worth investing time in. Being a college professor living in the country is not the same as being a grounds keeper at the campus and driving in to work, and none of you are going to be able to pretend it is. It’s a wise idea, that you suggest in your own question that the West may be a narrative. It is. If you tell your life in a big epic way, those are the features you feature in your surroundings, no matter who you are or your line of work. If you keep stories small and close to the home, you value that in your narrative of your own life. You describe your region in which that life plays out accordingly. Sometimes the West is simply the line of box stores you are most familiar with, with a really long snowy season.

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What Beyoncé Wore

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Sarah T.

People have a lot of thoughts about Beyoncé’s Superbowl outfit.

A Huffington Post headline screamed, “Beyoncé Goes XXX at the Superbowl Halftime Show.” Conservative corners of the blogosphere fretted that Beyoncé was too sexy for the Superbowl, as well as, presumably, her car (too sexy by far). Meanwhile, some feminists and cultural critics–including people whose opinions I respect very much–expressed disappointment with the way Beyoncé’s wardrobe catered to the objectifying male gaze.

I’m not surprised that conservatives dredged up beef with Beyoncé. If the goal is for all female musicians to act and dress like pretty pretty wholesome-family-values princesses, obviously lots of them are going to fall short. (Although Beyoncé really is remarkably apple-a-day wholesome: Besides being one of the most successful performers alive, she’s a devoted wife and mother, friend to the Obamas, and ready to fight childhood obesity with the power of the Dougie.)

Reactions on the other side of the ideological fence, however, took me aback. It’s not that I disagree that part of the point of Beyoncé’s outfit—a leather bodysuit with lace accents, fishnets, and knee-high boots—was to emphasize her sexual allure. But her costume didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary for a pop star. Nor did her dancing seem particularly risqué. Because she is Beyoncé, she obviously looked like a blazing blinding goddess of beauty, but beyond that her appearance seemed like nothing to write home about. She definitely didn’t look XXX to me.

Partly, I’m sure, this is because I’m immersed in a culture that objectifies women all the time. My sensitivities on this issue are probably dulled. But I also didn’t spend much time thinking about Beyoncé’s outfit because I was too busy cheering for her awesome lady guitar player, and for the reunion of Destiny’s Child, and for her all-women-of-color band–a first in Superbowl history. And now that I have devoted more time to contemplating Beyoncé’s Superbowl outfit, the main thing I’ve concluded is that it’s counterproductive to spend time worrying about what other women ought to wear. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap: “Misery Loves Company,” (Season 3, Episode 16)

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Watching this week’s episode of Pretty Little Liars was like chowing down on a pizza so loaded with rare and tasty toppings that you can hardly lift the cheesy slice off your plate. Part of you is like, SO MUCH IS HAPPENING WAA and all of you is like, AND IT’S ALL SO DELICIOUS. Which is to stay: “Misery Loves Company” gets an “A” for “Action-packed.” Meredith drugged Aria and then locked her in the basement! Hanna fought off fashion mannequins attempting faceless murder! Ali showed up to be cryptic with drugged-out Aria for a while, Paige and Caleb teamed up for a secret anti-A crusade, and in the episode’s saddest and scariest twist, Spencer laid a trap for Toby, caught him red-handed and black-hoodied, and ended up curled in a ball outside his door, begging for an explanation.

Heavy. Stuff.

And so, without further ado: this week’s Pretty Little Liars recap.

Spencer’s realization that Toby betrAyed her was so heartbreaking and terrifying. What will this news mean for our woman of steel?

Sarah T: First of all, I need to go back and watch this episode again, because clearly Spencer laid a trap for Toby, but I spent the whole episode thinking she was just pumped about their anniversary date and I don’t know when she saw the Radley ID card that tipped her off. But well-played, show! Nicely plotted. Anyway, I thought their confrontation was so great and devastating, from Toby’s hard-to-read “How long have you known?” to Spencer’s furious slap. In the moment she’s so shocked that her suspicions were right that she’s all adrenaline and terror, but the moment she collapses into her mother’s arms you can see that this is going to change her forever. And that last image of her shouting teary questions at Toby through the door while he (I think it was him, though we never see him) played the piano–ahh, I wanted to reach through the TV and hug her. PLL is always amazing at taking the crazy messed-up world the girls live in and making their emotions universally relatable, and I think anyone who’s ever felt completely betrayed by a boyfriend or girlfriend could relate to Spence in that moment.

Phoebe B: Oh my goodness, I knew that moment was coming but it was SO heartbreaking. Also, I had secretly held out hope that Toby was just a spy in the A-world, but alas that no longer seems feasible. But also, I think that Spencer found out when she was initially at his apartment or maybe it caught her eye when she went back to meet him. I think her planning the anniversary dinner was legit and not a trap … But I think that she saw the ID in the process and then promptly figured out that Toby would come for the A key. Also, I think that at the end it was just Mona in the apartment alone playing classical music and conducting (which made her seem like an extra evil genius for some reason), which would be more horrifying to me because then it is just her listening to Spencer break down, which is what she wants I think. Lastly, do you think what Toby and Mona were chatting about early in the episode was about trying to destroy Spencer?

Sarah T: I used to assume that Toby was only on the A team as a double agent, but my thinking’s changed. Now I think he’s on it for real, though that doesn’t mean his feelings for Spencer weren’t at least partly real too–just the way Mona really does love Hanna but also she wants to murder her and shove mannequins at her on job interviews. The way he seemed angry when he told Mona that Spencer was still lying to him–that, to me, read like an aggrieved boyfriend, not like an A-teamer.

Phoebe B: Agreed. But also I still totally don’t understand why Toby would turn against Spencer, which I think is why I had held out hope. But maybe there’s something about him and the PLLs we have yet to learn.

Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-Up

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm

At least 27 students and teachers were gunned down two weeks ago in Newtown, CT. It is time–perhaps past time–to talk about gun control. It is time to understand that this incident was not an isolated one. Much has already been written so here are just a few links in honor of those who died in Newtown, in the drone strikes in Pakistan, and as the result of gun violence.

Jezebel says “Fuck you” to guns:

“It’s delusional to think that guns can help stop massacres like the one that happened today. Of course, people do think that; yesterday, the Michigan State Senate passed a law allowing concealed weapons in schools and daycares. No no no no no. Let’s stop pretending the “if everyone had a gun, everyone could protect themselves!” argument is worth considering.”

Looking back on the Aurora Dark Knight Shooting, via Gawker:

“You cannot “politicize” a tragedy because the tragedy is already political. When you talk about the tragedy you’re already talking about politics.”

Vijay Prasad on the deaths of children that don’t make the news:

“When a singular mass killing occurs in mainly affluent suburbs, it shocks the nation — and rightly so. But it might be a shock to some to know that this year alone 117 children died from handgun violence in Chicago. These deaths do not get discussed, let alone memorialized in the national conversation of tragedy.”

And let us not forget Kassandra Michelle Perkins who tragically lost her life to gun violence just a couple weeks ago.

Sady Doyle writes about the pitfalls of conflating mental illness and violence.

Slate is trying to track every gun-related death per day in America.

A petition to the White House to start talking about gun control now.

GLG Year-End Picks: Brian’s Games of 2012

In games, gender, Uncategorized, violence on December 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

brian psi

2012 was the year that the sexual harassment endemic to many online gaming communities finally started to receive mainstream media attention. While there had long been sites dedicated to documenting it (see also Fat, Ugly, or Slutty and Not In the Kitchen Anymore) it was the backlash to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter for her “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” doc that really set off the community’s vile and vocal undermind. Sarkeesian documented the responses she received including rape and death threats, the vandalizing of her Wikipedia page, and one guy even coded a game, the object of which was to beat up a virtual version of Sarkeesian until she was left bruised and bloody. This, people, is why the world is awful. Thankfully, Sarkeesian also received considerable support, her kickstarter hit its goal many times, over, and she recently appeared on TEDx to give the full rundown.

Relatedly, #1reasonwhy trended on Twitter after a designer asked his followers why there were ‘so few lady game designers.’ A number of industry women replied to share their stories, some of which are depressing, others hopeful, but every one eye -opening.

The Year in Games Writing

On GLG this year, Allison Bray wrote about bodies and corpses in DayZ, and I wrote about the promising/troubling phenomenon of crossplaying gender.

Elsewhere, Tom Bissell’s ostensible review of Spec Ops: The Line is actually, Benjamin-like, some theses on the philosophy of the first person shooter. Bissell asks why we enjoy video game violence, a theme newly re-relevant post-Newtown. I’ve read this piece at least ten times, and now I’m reading it again. You should, too.

Patricia Hernandez talks Gears of War and the internalization of rape culture in competitive multiplayer. And it is devastating, the saddest thing I’ve read all year.

Games Played

FTL: Faster Than Light

A kickstarter-funded independent, FTL looks and plays like a fancy German board game. You are the captain of a starship pursued by evil rebel scum. Your fragile ship will be torpedoed, boarded by killer robots, pelted by asteroids, is subjected to internal fires and will occasionally experience explosive decompression. Your few crew members must make repairs, pilot the ship, and basically keep it all together while you order them to trade for parts, explore strange nebulae, and upgrade your ship with meaner lasers and death-dealing drones. Random star maps and events means your intrepid crew will die in different, horrifying ways every time. Fun for fans of Star Trek, strategy games, and those with malevolent God complexes, FTL is less than ten bucks on Steam. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Year-End Picks: Melissa’s Top Videos of 2012

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2012 at 6:19 am

Here are 10 videos that I enjoyed in 2012. 5 of them are by female artists: while two of them are from 2011, I included them in this list as “rediscoveries,” because they were part of this year for me. The other 5 videos are by male artists or mixed groups. Many of them have already been discussed on GLG, so I’ve included links where relevant.

*disclaimer – many of these hip-hop videos feature explicit lyrics. Don’t say you weren’t warned.*

Videos Featuring Female Artists That Rocked My World in 2012

M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”

I scoured the Internet for top video lists to see how mine stacked up, and there wasn’t a list I could find that did NOT include M.I.A.’s controversial and infinitely watchable “Bad Girls.” A perfect balance of epic and fun, this video underscores the song’s claims to swagger with depictions of hagwalah, the Middle East’s take on drifting. The car stunts are bad ass and M.I.A. is ferociously sexy. If you don’t wish you were part of the dusty, dancing crowd by the end, you need to take some kind of fun supplement.

Nicki Minaj and Cassie – “The Boys”

The bubblegum but bad-ass world that Nicki made famous in “SuperBass” reappears here as an escapist candyland for broken-hearted lady MCs. But don’t be fooled by the sparkly eyeshadow, cotton candy, and pink hair salons. If you use your “bust-up swag” to cross these ferocious women, you face possible retribution via flame-throwers, razors, and quick-swerving cars. The video is a perfect fit for this tongue-in-cheek empowerment anthem, which pushes women to succeed together while the boys waste their money on trying to win “love.”

Iggy Azalea, featuring T.I. – “Murda Bizness” [studio version]

While Iggy released an official video for this song, I still prefer the version that features her, T.I., and Chip playing around in the studio. There’s a light-heartedness to this video’s swagger as the three rappers hold stacks of money up to the camera, lean over each others’ shoulders to swap lines, and throw finger guns with glee. As Sarah T. has said before, “I kill pride/ I hurt feelings” is a fantastic line, and it encapsulates perfectly the video’s ability to sport attitude without taking itself too seriously. Read the rest of this entry »

Ladies First: Five Fairly Recent Books by Women, About Women

In books, Uncategorized on November 29, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Sarah T.

Although the subjects of the novels below range from coming of age to coming to America, all five have two things in common: They’re written by women, and they center on female characters. What books by women and/or about women have you been perusing?

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore

Moore’s coming-of-age novel is set in a post-9/11 Midwestern college town. I read it on a Metro North train and I was really into it. So into it, in fact, that I got off one station before my transfer in a haze of which-world-am-I-in confusion. Then, as the doors shut, I realized that I was still an hour away from my final destination. As the train pulled away, I had two additional revelations: I had left my phone on the seat, and this was the last train of the night. I was fully marooned.

“I guess I live here now,” I thought. I trudged down to the taxi stand to start a new life for myself. Now here I am, a happy resident of Brewster, NY. No, $90 later I got home. But the point of this story is: Moore is very absorbing, especially if you like puns. People in her books are always verbally jousting with each other, no matter how unhappy or confused they are. Even when two characters don’t like each other very much, they can usually cease hostilities long enough to bond over a good homophone. It’s Moore’s way of telling us how lonely her characters are. In her universe, puns are the way that people grasp for connection.

The novel’s narrator, Tassie, is a smart college student cut off even from the people she loves most. One of the novel’s key plot points hinges on an email from her beloved brother, who writes asking for advice on a major life decision. Not only doesn’t Tassie write back, she never even reads the email. She doesn’t understand why herself. But the isolation that courses through the book provides the explanation: The vulnerability of her brother’s email, and the prospect of taking responsibility for another person, was too much for Tassie to bear. People turn away from intimacy throughout the book. The decision seems almost sensible, given that nobody is who they say they are–not  Tassie’s Brazilian boyfriend, nor the white couple who hire her as a nanny for their adorable, bi-racial adoptive daughter Mary-Emma. Self-deception runs deep too. Their liberal college town, which prides itself on being the kind of enlightened place where you can protest wars and buy organic kohlrabi all in one go, reveals a racist underbelly.

Needless to say, this is a sad book. You kind of hear “Eleanor Rigby” playing on repeat as you read it. But Moore makes sure you don’t drown in melancholy: there are still bowls of fresh strawberries with balsamic vinaigrette, the joy of discovering Simone de Beauvoir, art etched into the foam of cappuccinos. The book recognizes the balancing power of ordinary consolations, even as it suggests–steely-eyed–that they’re not enough.  Read the rest of this entry »

The End of Men: And the Rise of Intense Conversation

In books, class, feminism, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 6:18 am

Sarah S.

Men are over. O-V-E-R. Or so says Hanna Rosin—journalist, author, founder of Slate’s woman-centric blog “Double X,” and mother to a son she worries about and a daughter that thrives. In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Rosin claims that patriarchy is deader than J.R. Women have won, men are in decline, and the only reason we (women, men, Americans, global citizens, etc.) don’t recognize this fact is because the reality is far from the egalitarian utopia our second-wave foremothers promised.

Rosin’s premise incited quite the conversation among feminists, including Stephanie Coontz, who takes umbrage at the notion that women’s successes equal men’s decline, and Emily Blazelon and Liz Schwartz, who defend Rosin’s premise and methodology. Regardless of where one falls on this issue (or one’s gender), it’s an important conversation to have for several reasons.

One, it makes feminists quite uncomfortable; if women have actually “won,” and the world is still a cultural cesspool riddled with inequality, then are women just replacing their male overlords? Is a matriarchy doomed to be just as distasteful as a patriarchy?

Second, if newly dominant women dislike the world we see, what do we do about it? How can we take this newfound power out for a spin and see what it can do for universal equality and global improvement? If nothing else, how can we avoid turning the men that we love—husbands, sons, partners, brothers, gay boyfriends—into a new underclass?

Third, are Rosin and her ilk dead wrong? Does Rosin selectively order information in such a way as to make her case while not accounting for real and ongoing gender inequality? Further, does she account enough for race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in her assessment?

These and other questions are so important that I was excited to have a conversation with members of Girls Like Giants about the book. Alas, most of our crew were too busy dominating the world to read and respond to the book in a timely manner. So the weighty task of leading this discussion fell to me—your humble narrator and hopeful guide.

I would have liked to have had that conversation in order to get into the nuances of Rosin’s argument. Are her uses of individual stories distractingly manipulative or competent ways to humanize the discussion? How about examples from her own biography—honest or smug? And why oh why did she allow a desire to provoke controversy overcrow arguments against such an inflammatory, ultimately lousy title? But beyond these rhetorical choices, Rosin’s main point matters to any thinking person as she articulates a profound, unshakeable shift in the makeup of our world.

However, I don’t want to just review the book or to give a rundown of my thoughts on it. If nothing else, I’m too conflicted by the argument, and frustrated by Rosin’s way of making it, to venture an objective opinion. I thought that, instead, I would briefly summarize each chapter of the book and then open it up for discussion. I’ve also included a series of links at the bottom that highlight some of the conversation that’s gone on surrounding Rosin’s work. After reading the following, what say you? Have we really reached “the end of men”?

Read the rest of this entry »

Brave New World: Skyfall

In body politics, Film, gender, spoilers, Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

Bob Mondello at NPR opens his review of Skyfall with an important point about these newest editions to the James Bond franchise. Any Jason Bourne can engage in stunningly athletic chases and fist fights. But only Bond will use a backhoe to open the roof of a train car, jump in, and…check his cufflinks before continuing the pursuit. Mondello’s key argument is that the people behind Daniel Craig’s star turn as the quintessential super spy get it, that magic that makes Bond Bond and not Bourne.

But having said that, this is not your father’s or your grandmother’s James Bond. From the “beginning,” with Casino Royale, this Bond seemed grittier, younger, able to kill a man with his bare hands and then visibly squelch his emotions. It helped that the folks behind the reboot hired quality actors and turned the focus off of gadgets and onto characters while maintaining Bond’s swagger and style. But a focus on characters forces another change, pushing our hero and those who surround him into something like actual humans in this modern world. These creators embrace a female “M,” using the talented Judy Dench as a believable figure not a politically correct giggle. Skyfall builds on this trend, proving this character-driven Bond is not a fluke. And while Skyfall does interesting things with its women, particularly M, it is in the redefinition of modern masculinity that the reboot makes it greatest contribution.

***Spoilers after the jump***

Read the rest of this entry »

Corrupting Motherhood: The Women of Westeros

In Uncategorized on October 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Sarah S.

The acclaimed Song of Ice and Fire novels feature an diverse array of female characters. One could easily write a “How to Be Awesome Like” GLG post on the Women of Westeros. Much like Phoebe’s post on the women of Friday Night Lights, one would be hard-pressed to narrow down the number of impressive ladies under discussion. Yet despite the large number of female characters in the cycle (better known as the Game of Thrones books/television series) and their uniqueness—both from each other and from stereotypes of fantasy/medieval women—I noticed one thing that separates these women into two camps: motherhood. Not all of the characters in the medieval-esque world are mothers or destined for marriage and motherhood. But all those who are mothers reveal it to be a corrupting influence that alters the character for the worse.

Requisite disclaimer: This post is about the entire series of novels (and not the HBO series) up to the most recent, A Dance with Dragons, and contains serious spoilers! Proceed at your own risk.

Let’s divide this discussion into camps: Mothers, Non-Mothers, and the Ambigous Ones.

Mothers

Queen Cersei Lannister: The most obvious example of corrupting motherhood, Cersei commits a series of horrendous acts—including murdering her husband—in her ambitions for her son, the loathsome Prince Joffrey, and then her second son, young Prince/King Tommen. Indeed, Cersei’s status as a mother is corrupt from the beginning as all three of her children come from her incestuous relationship with her brother, Jaime. In a feminist reading, we might applaud Cersei’s commitment to the one she considers her other half, and her deft avoidance of her “legitimate” husband, King Robert. Nevertheless, Cersei’s arrogance mingles with her ambition and stupidity to make her the most malevolent mother the series offers up.

Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Round-Up

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2012 at 11:10 am

Lady Gaga, Beauty, Ugliness, and the Call for a Real Body Revolution:

The Crunk Feminist Collective considers how race, age, ability, gender and sex fit into Lady Gaga’s Body Revolution: “When ‘ugliness’ carries the threat of violence and disenfranchisement, what does it mean to embrace  ‘ugly?’ For a person whose body is dehumanized and positioned as the very definition of undesirable, is it possible to ‘redefine heinous?’”

The Kissing Sailor, or The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture:

We’ve all seen the iconic V-J Day picture of the sailor and the nurse a thousand times. But I’d never really seen it until I read this piece by Crates and Ribbons.

Men Who Rock!:

Emily Nokes and Bree McKenna skewer the sexism that runs rampant through music journalism in this very special feature from The Stranger. “With male-fronted bands, male solo acts, and even all-male bands becoming more and more commonplace, 2012 has definitely been the year of fierce men in music. They’re starting to rock all the genres, too: provocative punks, steamy rock ‘n’ rollers, dashing cowboy sweethearts, hiphop hunks—men are even making it in the complicated world of electronic music!”

Fun with Stereotypes:

Stereotypes aren’t all bad. Sady Doyle declares her love for Britta Perry, Janis Ian, and other cartoonishly lovable pop culture icons.

The Killer Crush: The Horror of Teen Girls, from Columbiners to Beliebers:

GLG pal Rachel Monroe on the subversive potential of celebrity crushes: “As every woman who pledged her teenage devotion to someone embarrassing (I’m sorry, Gavin) could tell you, a crush is more about the crusher than the crushee. Perhaps what’s so disturbing about the Columbiners is not who they’re crushing on, but how it’s actually not so difficult to imagine what it might be like to be one.”

Weekly Round-Up

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2012 at 8:20 am

Here’s a little weekend reading for our favorite peeps. Did you read something noteworthy this week? Inquiring Giant-Liking Girls want to know — tell us about it in the comments.

Splitsider gathered a roundtable of 14 African-American comedians to discuss “‘Post-Racial’ Comedy in the Age of Obama”

Emily Nussbaum sees some revolutionary possibilities in Switched at Birth‘s representations of disability.

GLG and friends were not too pleased with Ian Parker’s focus on J.K. Rowling’s “heavy foundation” and fake eyelashes in his New Yorker profile of the author of Harry Potter. Nor did we enjoy his apparent desire to diminish the challenges she faced as a single working mother. But what did you think?

Kate Bolick asks why Vogue‘s Edith Wharton spread featured male writers like Junot Diaz and Jeffrey Eugenides, while all the female parts were played by actresses and models.

And in other writing and gender-related news, Linda Holmes at NPR uses Jeffrey Eugenides’ Salon interview as an example of “How Not to Answer Hard Questions” about gender bias.

Wish your dissertation could get the same kind of sympathetic-yet-honest attention as  Project Runway‘s designers do? Academic Tim Gunn is here to help. (Via Sarah S.)

Also via Sarah S: Alyssa Rosenberg has beef with the Hollywood practice of choosing skinnier, less talented starlets to play legendary musicians.

The Emmys Play It Safe

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Well friends, another Modern Family Emmys awards ceremony has come and gone. In a TV-scape saturated with quality shows, this year’s Emmys dealt with its wealth of riches by sticking to the familiar. Modern Family was awarded for its consistently adequate portraits of wealthy suburbia with a near-sweep in the comedy category (it’s good but not THAT good!). Meanwhile, Homeland broke up Mad Men‘s four-year winning streak for best drama with prizes in three major categories (for best lead actor, best lead actress, and best series). Safe to say, the show’s awards were starting to get stale before the night was even over.

While Emmy voters really weren’t in the mood to spread the love around, this year’s broadcast did feature some noteworthy moments. Lena Dunham ate cake while wearing her birthday suit in a bathroom stall; Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert tackled Jon Stewart as he headed onstage to claim his bazillionth trophy; best actress winner Claire Danes gave a shout-out to her co-star Mandy Patinkin with a heartfelt “holla.” Read on as Phoebe B. and Sarah T. recap the highs and lows of TV’s night out, and tell us your own in the comments!

Favorite acceptance speech

Sarah T: I’m going to go with Aaron Paul because of the deeply felt man-hugs between him and fellow nominee Giancarlo Esposito and co-star Bryan Cranston. The men of Breaking Bad have so much love for each other. Also because I just finished watching Season 4 on Netflix and MAN how do you even choose between Paul’s Brando-style mega-emotionality and Esposito’s ruthless, gentlemanly gangster? I guess I wish Esposito would have won, since Paul’s already got a trophy. But you won’t catch me complaining about a chance to gaze into Jesse’s blue, blue eyes…

Phoebe B.: My favorite was definitely Kevin Costner’s random and odd acceptance (and his super bad tan) for Hatfield & McCoys. He seemed, I don’t know, drunk or just really really really relaxed and perhaps a little confused.  I think my second favorite was perhaps Claire Danes’ frantic acceptance including her Mandy Patinkin “holla,” mostly because I love Mandy Pantinkin (I mean he’s the six fingered man!).

Read the rest of this entry »

Hollywood Rape and the Foreclosure of Empathic Activism; or Musings on the Limits of “Body Genres”

In Film, Uncategorized on August 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

Sarah S.

Before we begin, I want to thank Phoebe and Sarah for their insightful comments on a first draft of this piece. Also, these are preliminary thoughts on a complicated, difficult subject. I welcome other comments and thoughts that expand the conversation.

***

Much has been said about the general bad-assness of Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo of the Millennium Trilogy. Larsson claimed that the novel reflected his feminist politics by drawing attention to institutional violence against women. In 2011, Rooney Mara received a “Best Actress” Oscar nomination for her performance as Lisbeth in the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Eight years earlier, critics praised the 2003 film Monster for its sympathetic portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, a working class woman, sex-worker, and lesbian. The story takes an overtly feminist perspective, showing how systemic patriarchal violence and disenfranchisement can drive a woman to murder and then to madness. However, it stops just short of claiming that serial murderer Wuornos was justified in her killing spree. Charlize Theron won a “Best Actress” Oscar for her portrayal.

The 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry also drew from real events, this time the life and death of Brandon Teena, a trans person. Following close upon the hate-based murder of Matthew Shepherd, the film was hailed for bringing attention to the rights, inequalities, and lives of GLBTQ people. Stars Hillary Swank and Chlöe Sevigny even appeared together on the cover of The Advocate magazine. The relatively unknown Swank seemingly came out of nowhere to win a “Best Actress” Oscar for her depiction of Brandon.

Each of these seemingly feminist films includes a graphic scene of violent rape. Viewers are not meant to find these scenes sexy, titillating, or pornographic. Rather, the films quite consciously depict rape as grotesque, unjust, and unequivocally unwelcome. Brandon is gang-raped by a group of “friends” when they discover he is anatomically female. Aileen is abducted and horribly abused by a trick who she ultimately kills in self-defense—her first murder. Lisbeth is first compelled to perform oral sex on her social worker in order to access her trust fund. Later, the same man convinces her to come over to his house where he ties her up and anally rapes her.

Bracketing the horror of these scenes for a moment, each movie led to an Oscar nomination or win for the lead actress. This pattern suggests that performing rape may be right up there with accents, period pieces, Holocaust pictures, and bodily transformations for tugging on the Academy’s voting heartstrings.1

Upon pondering these films, I began to see them as constituting an actual genre with recurring conventions and themes. But what to call it? Oscar-baiting rape films? Anti-violent Hollywood feminism? And what are its purposes—intended and unintended? I suspect that makers of these films, similarly to Larsson, believe they are drawing attention to violence against women and/or queer people and that, by showing rape as unequivocally horrible, they may elicit empathy and/or action on the part of the audience. However, given that components of these films—most notably their scenes of rape—fit what critics call “body genres,” I’m not sure they are successful anti-violence treatises.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah S.

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

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

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

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

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Wizarding Squibbs Have More Magic than “Magic Mike”

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

Sarah S.

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

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

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

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

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Weekly Roundup

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

The world keeps turning, the links keep coming.

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

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

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

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

Rock and Roll: Lena Dunham’s Girls

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

Sarah T.

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

I knew Hannah couldn’t see me.

I sort of knew she couldn’t see me.

I felt seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Blood Is the New Black” (Season 3, Episode 2)

In Recaps, teen soaps, Uncategorized on June 13, 2012 at 11:01 am

The PLLs are gearing up for a scary, confusing, and crazy season. This week, we discovered a dark secret in Aria’s past; Meredith returned (ugh);  Ella took a test; Mona stabbed her finger with tweezers; and the PLLs proved that Jenna can see. Read on for some GLG musings on this week’s episode!

What’s up with Jody from Center Stage (aka Meredith) getting all up in Aria’s grill? Does her end game involve Jamiroquai

Phoebe: Firstly, is is so weird to see Jody from Center Stage being mean! I just want her to do a rock ballet to a Jamiroquai song. Secondly, Meredith is SO mean! Although some of her meanness makes sense now that we know she was unfairly accused of destroying Byron’s office … It also seems like maybe she suspected Aria of the vandalism already. Also, why are all the women that work at Hollis College really mean and horrible? Like Meredith and Ezra’s ex-girlfriend Jackie (was that her name?).

Melissa: I was also wondering why Meredith and Jackie were so…similar. Snarly diva attitude? Check. Hair that’s just like the PLL’s hair from season one (voluptuous, shiny, long, and curling-iron perfect)? Check. Vendettas straight out of eighth grade? Check. Inappropriate levels of rage towards a high school girl (having nothing to do with her TERRIBLE dress made out of a canvas sack but having everything to do with her terrible, pretentious, cheating father and her terrible choice to date a semi-adult-man who is her teacher)? Check. Also, just for the record, while I’m not planning on having an affair with a much-older and meaner married man any time soon, should I do so, I would kinda expect his children to be vengeful. I’m just saying…

Spencer drank all the coffee out of this bag, then I draped it around my knees and used belts to hold it up!!!

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