thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘class’

Mythologizing Katrina in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

In environment, Film on August 3, 2012 at 10:18 am

Sarah T.

Sometimes loss feels like a stampede of aurochs storming at your back. That’s how it looks, too, in Benh Zeitlein’s lyrical Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Having survived a cataclysmic storm and a forced evacuation, the film’s six-year-old protagonist Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is coming home to her Gulf Coast town, the Bathtub. Hushpuppy’s an innocent, but she knows what she’s coming back to: a sick father and a ravaged town. So when she wheels around to face the auroch, she’s not scared. There’s nothing it could do to hurt her. “I’ve gotta take care of mine,” she instructs the animal. Until she’s through, the apocalypse–whether it comes in the form of extinct beasts or the melting ice caps she also envisions–is going to have to wait.

Facing down the beast

That apocalypse is closely linked to Hurricane Katrina and the inequalities its devastating aftermath exposed. The Bathtub takes the brunt of the storm, thanks to a levee that divides the rural town from a city where a remote factory looms. Hushpuppy and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) ride out the battering rain and wind in their patched-together home, then spend the next few days in a boat, pulling neighbors from their rooftops. Official rescuers are nowhere to be seen. When the authorities finally do show up, it’s to force the citizens of the Bathtub into a sterile evacuation center that appears galaxies apart from their lush, shambling hometown.

The music and imagery in Beasts of the Southern Wild push Katrina into the realm of myth. A sweeping score plays over scenes of the town’s last festival before the storm, radiant with sparklers. When Wink and his friends decide to bomb the levee to save the Bathtub, they plant the explosives in an alligator’s corpse. An island brothel is transformed into an offering of temporary mothers. They slow dance with Hushpuppy and other young girls while “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” plays on loop.

But though the film often looks fantastical, it avoids idealizing the Bathtub. Wink is a volatile caretaker, alternately neglectful, angry, and protective. Many of the other adults in town seem to be alcoholics, with the exception of a soothing medicine woman. These problems are implicitly linked with the characters’ poverty, visible in their tumble-down homes. However, the adults are also resourceful, spirited, and determined to survive by staying together. Beasts encourages the audience to empathize with Hushpuppy and her neighbors, but it doesn’t romanticize them or the hardships they’ve endured–a problem common to well-intentioned representations of Katrina’s survivors.

The politics of representation lie at the heart of Beasts, particularly for Hushpuppy. Because she’s aware of the instability and impermanence of her world, she frames her life in terms of its historical and anthropological importance. “I’m recording my story for the scientists of the future,” she announces, drawing a picture of herself and her father on the side of a cardboard box. Later, she says, “Millions of years from now when kids go to school, they’ll know that once there was a girl called Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.” Hushpuppy knows that a day will come when the Bathtub, which lies below sea level, won’t be around any longer. She’s seen firsthand how easily her community can be ignored or displaced. And she’s experienced loss that’s less preventable, though no less tragic. So she balances her desire to be remembered with an awareness of a large and unknowable world beyond the Bathtub. “When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces,” she says. “I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”

Everybody’s a little piece of a big universe, of course. But some people live as if they’re much bigger, all while trying to make the rest of the world small enough to control or dismiss. Hushpuppy’s destiny is largely influenced by such types: the brute officials who barrel into her home, the distant doctors and snappish workers at the evacuation center, the government that approved a levee that appears designed to protect the privileged at the expense of the poor.

That’s why mythologizing Hushpuppy’s story is a political move. Aurochs, ice caps, and magical islands give her narrative the shape of a hero’s journey. She gets the legendary scope and largeness she hungers for–though not, despite the soaring soundtrack and her own resolute optimism, the happy ending she deserves.

Catwoman’s Class

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

Sarah T.

* spoilers ahead *

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

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

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

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

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An Ideological Mess or: How I Learned to Not Stop Worrying and Still Love Rock Climbing

In class, gender, race, Rock Climbing on May 11, 2012 at 6:54 am

Guest Contributor Narinda Heng

Iíve been climbing fences, balconies, and trees for years, but it wasnít until January of 2011, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that I went rock climbing for the first time at Malibu Creek State Park. It’s funny that instead of participating in a Day of Service, I went rock climbing. I guess that could be seen as one of the very first moments when I had to grapple with feeling a contradiction between pursuing rock climbing and the many other ideals and identities that I hold dear. And now here I am–here we are– discussing race, gender, and class in rock climbing.

And it feels good. Really good. Even though it’s uncomfortable and difficult. Because I don’t feel like I need to ignore or hide the fact that I think about and experience these contradictions, and what’s more, I’m seeing that there are so many people out there who are supportive of talking about it. And my partner, who has been climbing and dealing with this for much longer than I have, gets to heal a bit from her earlier discouragement with discussions like this in the online climbing community.

I submitted the link to Melissa Sexton’s article Ashima and Obe: Should We See Race/Class/Gender on the Rock?”  to Climbing Narc because recent discussions made me feel like there were people in the climbing community who were ready and willing to talk about it. I was also ready to see people be defensive and assert that there’s no race/gender/class on the rock, and I actually agree with that–those delicious moments of just climbing are part of why I love it. So I understand why Guidoprincess said this:

I think the reason many people, including myself, find this offensive is that we turn to climbing exactly to avoid worthless BS like this. While many other public forums are full of this ìracial landscape navigationî nonsense, climbing is a pure activity where everyone can just chill the f*ck out.

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“Are you ready to go back to Titanic?”

In Film, gender, Melodrama, Oscars, Uncategorized on April 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Sarah S.

Confession: When Titanic first came out I saw it 8 times in the theater. I had a poster on my wall. I not only listened the soundtrack but I bought the album of Gaelic Storm, the band playing at the film’s third class after-party. I was 18 years old and I loooooved it. And I never fully rejected it as the years passed. When friends made fun of my affection, I noted that I had the weight of the Academy behind me. (Titanic was nominated for 14 Oscars, tying All About Eve, and won 11, tying Ben Hur and getting tied itself by LOTR: The Return of the King.) I also found Titanic-hating passé; one didn’t have to love it to acknowledged its solid acting, gorgeous sets and costumes, and stunning effects.

Age certainly tempered my enthusiasm, so I met with trepidation the news that not only was director James Cameron re-releasing the movie (15 years after its debut and right before the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking) but also that it was going to be coming right at you in 3-D. I tend to be as blasé about 3-D as Rose Dewitt Bukater is about the ship Titanic, so I fully expected to roll my eyes at this pointless spectacle. Well, I went, I saw, and I’m here to report back not only how Titanic holds up under 3-D technology, but also how my perspective on the underlying symbolism of the story has significantly shifted.

First off, the good: 3-D and Titanic actually work together. Cameron’s obsessive attention to set design and historical detail fit well with the layered look of 3-D cinema. 3-D often lessens lushness but in Titanic it works to emphasize the impressive look of the thing. Speaking of that obsessive attention to detail, the film’s one changed scene, courtesy of Neil deGrasse Tyson, diverges from its predecessor in its emphasis of the milky-way if nothing else. And the things you liked about the movie beyond its beauty, namely the acting and the romance between Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) hold up.

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Do What You Love: Bill Cunningham New York

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 6:48 am

My graduate school advisor had a lot of very good advice, true to her title. Most of it boiled down to a quote from philosopher and civil rights activist Howard Thurman that she’d hung on her office door:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

That quote–and my advisor–kept running through my mind as I watched Bill Cunningham New York, a 2010 documentary on the 80-year-old New York Times on-the-street fashion photographer.

Style, and the people who have it, make Cunningham come alive. During a Paris awards ceremony at which he is slated to receive a prize, Cunningham wanders around snapping pictures. “I just think it’s so funny that you’re working at your own party,” a guest remarks. “My darling,” Cunningham says, “it’s not work, it’s pleasure.”

What fascinates the gentle, stubborn journalist is fashion alchemy: how the right combination of shoes and hats and scarves and coats can produce a look that’s at once unique and expressive of a larger cultural moment. As his fondness for Anna Piaggi of Italian Vogue makes clear, Cunningham is particularly delighted by people who aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd. It’s telling that he calls Piaggi a “poet of clothes” and that he frequently describes the fashions he sees on the streets in terms of classical paintings and symphonies. In clothing, Cunningham sees beauty, art, democracy, history, travel, community, and self-expression. His gift is to show everyone else how to see those things too.

Watching the film, I kept taking mental notes on how Cunningham has located, and preserved, real joy in his work. Two of the key elements, I think, are his egalitarianism and humility. Not only does he protect those qualities in himself, he infuses them into his corners of realms famed for their elitism–New York society, the Times, and fashion.

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Interview: YA Author Lauren McLaughlin on “Scored”

In gender, race on February 21, 2012 at 11:46 am

Sarah Todd

The hyper-competitive college admissions game can turn any high school student into an insecure, anxiety-ridden puddle. But what if kids spent their whole lives knowing exactly how they measured up, aware that every move could make or break their futures? That’s the scenario Lauren McLaughlin explores in her deeply compelling young adult novel Scored.

In Scored‘s not-so-distant future, a computerized surveillance system ranks students according to their academic performance and selected social behaviors. High scores guarantee them college scholarships and stable jobs. The lower their scores are, the narrower their options.

Imani LeMonde, a bright teenager from a working-class, mixed-race family, is exactly the kind of student who’s supposed to benefit from scoring. The system was created in the aftermath of a Second Depression that wiped out the middle class and made upward mobility virtually impossible. Merit-based scoring offers students access to higher education regardless of their income—though the rich can still buy their way into college if necessary.

At the novel’s outset, Imani’s dream of going to college and becoming a marine biologist seems secure. But when her score plummets unexpectedly, she must choose between her future and her friendships. Soon, she begins to question the system she’s grown up with, asking whether scoring has only exchanged one form of inequality for another.

Smart, socially-relevant young adult books are currently riding a wave of well-deserved enthusiasm on the success of The Hunger Games trilogy. Scored stands out from the crowd, interweaving a fast-paced plot with complex characters and thoughtful discussions of race, class, politics, and history.

Author Lauren McLaughlin graciously agreed to talk to Girls Like Giants about her novel, which was published by Random House in October 2011. Read on for her thoughts on standardized testing, status obsession, and the secret ingredient for great young adult fiction.

In Scored, Imani begins to question the standardized rankings and surveillance culture she’s grown up with. Do you think there’s a natural connection between dystopian stories and young adult fiction? How can young protagonists explore and challenge their societies in unique ways?  

I do think it’s very interesting that dystopian fiction is having a big moment right now with teens. Personally, I can’t help but speculate as to whether it may have something to do with the fact that we are living in very trying, even dystopian, times. Many aspects of our society are crumbling. Our economy has hit a brick wall and many believe our democracy itself is at risk of collapsing under the weight of extreme corruption. Perhaps the authors of dystopian fiction are hoping to channel the revolutionary inside every teenager in hopes of turning things around. I know I am. I sincerely hope today’s teenagers do a better job of managing society than we’ve done. We messed some things up.

How did current events inform your depiction of the world Imani lives in? Did any personal experiences with standardized testing and surveillance influence the novel?

I graduated from high school at a time when the standardized-test-taking experience was comparatively benign. Of course I got nervous taking the SAT’s, but back then (in the ancient eighties) college admission wasn’t nearly as competitive as it is now. I was very much influenced by the stories I heard of young people with good grades and real talents being kept out of college because of weak SAT’s and ACT’s. That seemed outrageous to me. I think we’ve become so obsessed with status and ranking that we’ve allowed it to warp the entire educational experience.

Are there similarities between Somerton, the blue-collar Massachusetts town in which the novel takes place, and Wenham, the Massachusetts town where you grew up?

Somerton is more similar to Essex Massachusetts, which was home to the marina where my Dad kept his boat. Geographically, I basically just used my exact memories of Essex to create Somerton then added bits and bobs here and there. But the socio-economic status of Somerton is entirely my creation. As far as I know, Essex is still doing quite well, whereas Somerton, as with the rest of the nation in the world of Scored, has fallen on extremely hard times.

What would you say Imani has in common with some of your own favorite female protagonists, and what sets her apart?

Like all good protagonists, Imani has a big dream, or quest. In her case it’s to go to college, study marine biology, then return home to save the dying fisheries and shoreline. What gets in her way isn’t so much the evil actions of Score Corp, but her own conflicted conscience. I’m always drawn to protagonists whose make-or-break moments hinge on an internal realignment of their own morality. I think of Katniss choosing to sacrifice her own life to protect her sister. The whole Hunger Games trilogy hinges on this essentially moral plot line, which I think elevates it above many other dystopian stories. The risk with dystopian fiction is that you make the world itself so dark that the protagonist can only ever be seen as a sainted victim. It’s much more interesting when the protagonist’s own morals are engaged. Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan Franzen, Edith Wharton, and the Problem of Personality

In gender on February 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

Sarah Todd

The basic gist of Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker article on Edith Wharton is, “Whar-dawg, I do not dig you as a human being because you had too much cash flow and too few socially liberal political beliefs, but I do dig the hot fudge sundae that is your novels’ complex protagonists. Radical?” (Franzen talks like a surfer-dude undergrad from the 1960s with hip-hop influences. No, he doesn’t really. I wish.)

When Franzen discusses Wharton’s books, he’s insightful and curious. I particularly like his exploration of why he wants Wharton’s characters–and literary characters in general–to get what they want, even if they want things about which he has ethical and moral qualms: more money, social status, a loveless but secure marriage. The vehemence of their desires is contagious. Eventually, they become the sympathetic reader’s own. This also explains, he says, why he wants Thackeray’s selfish, superficial Becky Sharp to climb right up that social ladder. But Franzen’s own likability and popularity, or lack thereof, is the subtext of half his personal essays as well as the blatant text (top-text?) of about a zillion pieces of Franzen-related criticism, so I think he’s more invested in the subject of ascending and descending social ladders than he’s willing to admit. Read the rest of this entry »

Television, Class, and the American Consciousness: Downton Abbey

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Sarah S.

I put off watching Downton Abbey because I knew I would get hooked as soon as I began. But I did put season one on my “instant” queue and knew the day would soon come. It has. Downton features a rather basic “upstairs, downstairs” premise and, aside from great acting and some unique characterizations, the plots of the first season break no new territory. Things get more interesting in the second season because they get more (soap) operatic with the advent of the Great War and its erosion of the stable worldview of the decades before.

Downton is a typical soap opera and a sweeping costume drama, and it’s decent in both modes. But the actors and the characters really keep the thing afloat. Amongst the standouts: Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, the butler, whose commitment to the reputation of Downton Abbey is silly and dignified in equal measure; Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, the eldest daughter, who hides her tempestuous spirit in a cloak of cold disdain; Sophie McShera, the morally conflicted, much abused kitchen maid; and the ever-formidable Dame Maggie Smith essentially reviving her scene-stealing character from Gosford Park. As I recall hearing from one of the creators when the show first came out, these characters don’t know they’re living in history, just as we don’t. And the actors and writers do a marvelous job walking that tightrope. Read the rest of this entry »

The Wonderful Women of Friday Night Lights

In gender on December 30, 2011 at 10:05 am

Phoebe B.

Of late, I am watching a lot of Friday Night Lights (it is all on Netflix streaming!) and I just finished seasons 1, 2, and 3 and now am swiftly moving into season 4 (I have big plans to watch the whole series over Christmas Break, so we shall see how that goes). Many things strike me about this show as a first time viewer, including its candid, important, and often uncomfortable discussions of race and racism, including but not limited to interracial dating, in a network landscape currently dominated by problematic post-racial fantasies. But the topic of this post is another phenomenal facet of FNL, which is the wonderful, nuanced, complicated, and dynamic female characters. I am blown away by the women of FNL, whom I did not expect to encounter in a show dedicated to the male-driven world of Texas football. For example, Tami Taylor, Corrina Williams, Tyra, Mrs. Saracen, Waverly, Julie, Devon, and even Lila, to just name a few. Recently, Sarah T. posted a wonderfully detailed account of Tami Taylor’s awesomeness on GLG, but I want to highlight and celebrate my other favorite FNL lady characters, who are by no means perfect but strong and complicated women, the likes of which are rarely seen on network television. So here I want to highlight why Tyra, Waverly, Mrs. Saracen, and Corrina Williams (my favorite) are a particularly refreshing escape from a network landscape too oft-populated by post-racial fantasies and one-dimensional women.

Tyra:

Tyra (on the right) with her mom and sister on her sis' wedding day

Landry and Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) have a heart to heart

Tyra suffers consistently from her class position as much of the town reads her as ‘white trash’ and she is plagued by other people’s conceptions of her as such. However, we see her strength when she stands up for her mother against her abusive boyfriend, and she even stands up to her mother for her mother’s own sake. In season one, Tyra convinces her mother to attempt life on her own after an affair with the town’s resident football lover and car dealership owner, Buddy Garrity, leaves her jobless and angry. It is in these rare moments early on that we see Tyra’s strength and her potential—something Tami Taylor (Guidance counselor extraordinaire, Principal, and wife of football coach Eric Taylor) also realizes. Throughout the show, we see Tyra struggle as she falls in love with Landry, the most wonderful and smart and awkward kid in school (who, not to give too much away, also saves her life). Landry functions, for me, as a means of viewing Tyra outside the town’s perspective and judgment. Landry sees that she is is strong, smart, and capable in a way that she does not see or value. However, at times she is selfish and frustrating, but that is part of what makes her great (which Landry points out to her). What makes Tyra wonderful is that she makes bad and good decisions, and she must be forced to take herself seriously (instead of skating by on her good looks), which in and of itself is a struggle.

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Hopelessly Real: Anticipating Katniss’s Transition to the Big Screen

In gender, girl culture, race on November 14, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Melissa Sexton

A couple of weeks ago, following my Halloween debut as Katniss Everdeen, I posted about the awesomeness of The Hunger Games‘s main heroine.  Today, the Hunger Games hype has kicked up again as Lionsgate released the official full-length trailer for the March 2012 film. From the chatter I’ve seen on the Internet and heard amongst friends, a lot of speculation has centered on exactly how the film will depict Katniss – a matter that has been of particular concern given the novels’ self-conscious reflection on the repeated manipulation of beauty and sex appeal as part of the televised spectacle of the Games. Concern has also been high because Katniss is an unusual heroine, self-consciously rejecting beauty and romance, constantly conscious of her class situation, admired for what she does rather than how she looks. I think many girls, like me, are rooting for a female heroine that isn’t supposed to be ugly but also isn’t way prettier than her role necessitates (there’s been quite a range of these, from Zooey Deschanel in New Girl to Hermione Granger in The Past 4 Harry Potter Movies). While I might have indulged in some extra eyeliner for my Halloween costume, I like many others fear a sexed-up Katniss – an ass-kicking heroine in the Tomb Raider tradition. All I really want is a girl whose toughness, independence, and anger isn’t made more palatable for polite (male) consumption by disguising it with pursed lips and big boobs: Don’t be afraid of Katniss! She might brutally slay you, but she looks so good doing it; she might look angry, but that’s just disguised passionate lust. Can’t a girl be fearsome and not a sex machine? There was also plentiful reaction to the Katniss casting  calls for a Caucasian actress (a narrow set of parameters given Katniss’s ambiguous racial identification, marked by dark hair and olive-toned skin). Read the rest of this entry »

Mrs. and Manners: Social Policing in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

In Real Housewives on November 5, 2011 at 6:36 am

Sarah Todd

On The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, there are no heroes. Kyle, Kim, Camille, Taylor, Lisa, and Adrienne each have their individual strong points: Kim is hilarious on the phone, Lisa endearingly forces her punk-rock son to help her with hair extensions, Adrienne hosts excellent spa day parties (so many frozen yogurt toppings)! But they have all been rude, conceited, greedy, or flat-out mean too many times to count. Yet despite—or rather, because of—the cast’s constant breaches of etiquette, RHOBH is a show about manners. Read the rest of this entry »

Ashima and Obe: Should We See Race/Class/Gender on the Rock?

In gender, race on October 14, 2011 at 12:31 am

Melissa Sexton

If you had asked me what film would have been most likely to get my mind seriously cranking on issues of race, class, and gender, I would not have thought it was going to be the 2011 Reel Rock Film Tour.  A yearly redux of climbing films, heavily sponsored by gear vendors and climbing organizations, the Reel Rock Tour has a kind of anti-establishment, counter-cultural appeal, but not necessarily the kind to bend gender expectations or advocate for class consciousness.  I’ve only dipped my toes into the pool of climbing culture, so I can hardly speak with great knowledge; but climbing seems like a no-nonsense, do-or-die realm that would like to pretend it doesn’t care about race, class, or gender. Those who know me are not surprised to see that I’ve toyed with climbing – it appeals to all my gender insecurities and issues with toughness.  Climbing rewards strength, endurance, and the ability to fight through pain. Climbing is one of those weird, ambiguously gendered spaces…because, to a certain extent, there is no gender in climbing. If you can send a climb, you’re awesome, and your gender doesn’t matter. Elite women climbers exist and can outclimb many a man.  But…if you hang out near the bouldering wall in your local rock gym, you’ll probably see what a boys’ club the climbing world can still be.  And often it’s a white boys’ club. To pretend that there is no race or gender in climbing is naive. And indeed, while I really enjoyed a lot of the films in the 2011 Tour, most of them would reinforce gender stereotypes about the climbing world: nary a woman to be seen, except a few that hang around the camps of the kooky guys – guys that oscillate between, on the one hand, sentimental visions of home while they’re on death’s doorstep atop some mountain in Pakistan – and, on the other hand, a perpetual adolescent desire to defy death through flat-out stupidly risky behavior. There are uber-competitive guys racing for climbing speed records, ripping their skin to shreds and throwing safety out the window, posing for bare-chested photos before El Capitan and veiling their competitiveness between platitudes about peace and wilderness escape. Like I said – I loved and enjoyed these films, the way I love and enjoy Moby-Dick and Walden and William Faulkner. Because the wilderness enthusiast and wanna-be climber in me can outweigh the gender critic, and I can revel in physical performance, wild landscape, intellectual quandaries…I love these places because I can embrace the fantasy they provide, a realm where you’re judged solely based on your mettle.  Yet I can also see the holes in these visions, the way even the “pure” realm of the rock is a constructed space that favors certain people, relies on certain resources for access, rewards certain kinds of attitudes about ability and embodiment.

But then, halfway through the line-up, there was the film “Origins: Obe and Ashima,” which might be one of the most interesting commentaries I”ve seen on athleticism, race, and gender ever…because it hardly makes these things an issue, while featuring them front and center. It tells the intertwined story of two elite climbers – Ashima Shiraishi, a 10-year old Japanese climber from New York who can finesse her way up bouldering problems that would make the bare-chested boy-climbers at the bouldering wall blanche…and her coach Obe Carrion,  once a teenage kid from the bad part of Allentown, PA who got out and made a name for himself through climbing. I can’t figure out exactly what his ethnic background is, but in an interview with FrontRangeBouldering.com he identifies as a minority, though only to mention that it’s “cool” with him to be a minority in the climbing world. I point out this race issue to highlight just how much the climbing world downplays issues of race and gender. What is remarkable for both of these climbers is not their race – in what I assume (correct me if I’m wrong – my evidence is entirely anecdotal) is a predominantly white sport in the United States. Instead, Obe is revered for helping to make bouldering a legitimate sport, and this short film further applauds him (and rightly so) for taking all his competitive spirit and climbing passion and using it to help kids learn to climb at an elite level. What is remarkable in Ashima’s case is not solely gender, nor race – it is, instead, that she is (at the time of the filming) a nine-year old girl. Her youth is her most remarkable attribute.

Ashima and her coach Obe at Hueco Tanks, a bouldering proving ground in Texas

Problem solving. Ashima took a V12 that trip. I can do V1's on a good day.

(Both photos thanks to Climbing magazine).

Both Obe and Ashima are incredible athletes – and even if you don’t climb, you can’t help but be blown away by the amazing things they can do with their bodies.  And as a culture critic, I can’t help but be blown away by their sudden appearance, sandwiched in between testosterone fueled speed races up the Nose of El Capitan, brutal winter brushes with avalanches up Gasherbrum II, and crazy stunt slacklining, basejumping, and high-lining that pushes safety to the side and “the rush” to the forefront:

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that the world of Ashimi and Obe escapes the competitiveness or odd relationships between one’s self and one’s body that appear in the rest of the climbing films.  It’s still a tangled ideological web, as it always is. But I’m just saying it’s startling to see a break in the constant stream of young, toned, white male bodies.

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“Revenge”: Mwahaha.

In gender on September 22, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Sarah Todd

[Spoilers ahead]

ABC’s soapy new drama Revenge begins with a quote from Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” That is good advice, Confucius! One for your enemy, one for your other enemy, right? Time-saving.

Oh. Maybe that’s not what he meant.

Revenge takes melodrama very seriously. It is surprising that there’s no straight-up cackling, but maybe next episode. The gist: as an innocent young girl and future sociopath, Amanda vacationed at the Hamptons with her father. There, they had an adorable golden retriever puppy named Sammy. (The dog isn’t a super-important plot point, but Sammy was really cute.) They seemed like a very happy family, and all was well… until the rich family next door, the Graysons—along with some co-conspirators—framed Amanda’s dad for involvement in a terrorist plot.

Some years laters, Amanda (Emily Vancamp) returns to that same house in the Hamptons under the alias Emily Thorne. She knows now that her father was innocent, but he can’t be set free. He died in prison when she was 18. Thanks to her father’s early investment in a tech start-up that’s now worth a bundle, she’s got all the money she needs to fund her mission in life: revenge against the Graysons and everyone else who brought her family down. Just for starters, in the course of the pilot, she exposes an affair, gives a guy a fake heart-attack, gets a secretary who gave false testimony about her dad exiled from the Hamptons, and starts seducing the Grayson son, Daniel. So, she’s pretty busy.

Emily, hard at work on the mortal vindication front

Revenge stories tend to show how all-consuming it is to plot the downfall of other people. This makes total sense to me, because revenge looks like a lot of work. If it’s your main purpose in life, you don’t really have time to hold down a day job or go on a Match date or take a relaxing trip to the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Love and Work in “One Day”

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2011 at 11:38 am

Sarah Todd

(This post is an outgrowth of a conversation begun with the wonderful Jeni and Bethany—shout-out to you two!)

Do you love your work? Does love sometimes feel like work? Does work interfere with loving your life? The Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess film One Day prompts such questions, particularly if you attend a showing at a work-focused personal moment.

One Day is a love story, but because that story covers twenty years in the lives of Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Sturgess), the movie is also necessarily about their careers. The two meet on the day of their college graduation, and meet again most July 15ths thereafter. They’re best friends, with a current of mutual attraction that occasionally surges forth only to be clobbered back by fear or circumstance or plot demands. Emma is a sarcastic, self-deprecating writer whose mad bangs and owlish specs can’t hide her radiance. (Why oh why does dowdy in the movies equal Anne Hathaway with poofy hair? She’d be a knockout with Marge Simpson hair, no?) Dexter, by contrast, is a charismatic, wealthy, dashing ladies’ man. Things come easily to him, which is more of a problem than it first appears, because then what do you do when things start getting hard?

If you have seen any romantic movie ever, you can guess whether or not they eventually get together. Correct: they do not! They each marry elephants. No, that’s Water for Elephants. Maybe. I don’t actually know what Water for Elephants is about because I haven’t read it or seen the movie, because ever since I read this article about elephants I get really sad and worried whenever I think about them. Anyway, yes, love is in the stars here, but stars are really far away. The careers of Emma and Dexter, much like their romantic lives, follow a winding trajectory. Read the rest of this entry »

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