thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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

In 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.
 

Student Loan Slow Jams: That’s Entertainment

In Television on April 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Sarah T.

Contemporary American politics often bows to the pressures of entertainment.  Many of the candidates in this year’s GOP primaries seemed more like the cast of a reality TV show (Toothy Delusional Penthouse? I guess that’s just The Apprentice) than people seriously contending for a spot in the big white dome. Politicians pander to 24-hour news cycle with empty sound bites that appear ripped from the latest “In a world…” disaster movie trailers. Meanwhile, a media starved for content often focuses on inane details that have little to do with practical matters of government (CookieGate: the new arugula?) .

But as President Obama’s Tuesday appearance on Jimmy Fallon shows, the marriage of politics and entertainment can be a two-way street. While entertainment value often dumbs down political conversations, the student loan slow jam harnessed the fun of watching the Barack-ness monster get his groove on in order to get out a serious message.

Accompanied by the dulcet vocals of Fallon and the Roots, Obama broke down the issue at hand. Interest on Stafford student loans will double from 3.4 to 6.8 percent interest in July unless Congress acts to stop it. Insert movie trailer guy voice here, but for real: In a world where $1 trillion worth of U.S. student loan debt could become the next subprime mortgage crisis, where tuition costs climb ever higher as the feasibility of getting a decent job without a college degree continues to shrink, we must take action to make higher education affordable for everyone. As the POTUS himself says, “Now is not the time to make school more expensive for our young people.”

The student loan slow jam was a smooth, smart move.  Its conceit is plenty goofy, but the subject matter is serious. The song strikes just the right balance between the two tones by leaving the wisecracks to Fallon and the Roots. Obama plays the straight man, explaining why the vote on Stafford loans matters. His message is delivered a little more rhythmically than usual thanks to a cool beat, but it comes through loud and clear. The sketch is also great PR for Obama: he comes across as both accessible and presidential, the kind of man who can afford to be a little silly because he’s got gravitas to spare.

What’s more, the skit worked. By Wednesday morning, the video had already gone viral; blogs, Facebook and Twitter feeds were littered with links to the slow jam. In response to a surge of public interest, and corresponding public pressure, House Speaker John Boehner scheduled a Friday vote on the extension.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the vote will pass, or that it will pass without big trade-offs. Republicans want to use health care funds to pay for the lost revenue, which will likely be cause for another contentious debate. (Even if, as the song pleads, “The right and left should join on this like Kim and Kanye.”) But the student loan slow jam was a reminder that pop culture can spark effective political conversations without stooping to the lowest common denominator — particularly when star power is wielded by politicians who know how, and when, to use it.

The Politics of “30 Rock” and “Parks and Rec”: Macho Men and Powerful Women

In Television on April 20, 2012 at 8:18 am

Sarah T.

“Bitches get stuff done,” Tina Fey proclaimed in a 2008 SNL Update, defending Hillary Clinton against sexist naysayers. A jubilant Amy Poehler grinned and threw signs at her side. The women’s allegiance to one another, and to Clinton, was palpable. Together they formed a triangle of  smart, powerful ladies, ready to catch whatever insults got hurled their way and eat them for lunch.

Four years later, Clinton is a Tumblr-inspiring Secretary of State and Poehler and Fey head renowned comedies on NBC’s Thursday lineup. Like Clinton, their characters Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon make their livings getting stuff done. Both are professional single women in their thirties who keep their workplaces afloat—Leslie through five-alarm enthusiastic productivity at all hours of the day; Liz by harriedly shepherding her coworkers over and around the obstacles they create for themselves.

But it’s their bosses Jack Donaghy and Ron Swanson who are truly brothers from another mother. Jack and Ron like their governments small, their Scotches fine, and their red meat cooked so rare it’s practically bleeding. Their trim haircuts hold effortless swoops. They’re manly, confident, all-American, irresistible to ladies, and politically rightward of their female counterparts.

While Fey and Poehler are the heart of the shows as flawed, lovable protagonists, Jack and Ron are meme-generating myths. Onscreen, they’re universally admired by their coworkers and treated as heartthrobs, their aura of manliness serving as catnip for straight women and gay men (bears!). As “real” men, they’re meant to be a dying breed; therefore Jack always has a video vixen or Fox money bunny on his arm, while Ron makes his friends’ ex-wives swoon. (Offscreen, they tend to elicit the same response—a recent article by LA Times critic  Mary McNamara confessed her undying love for Ron Swanson.) And on comedies that are quick to identify characters’ weak spots—whether lovingly (Parks and Rec) or cynically (30 Rock)—Jack and Ron are rarely the butt of a joke. The character-driven jokes about their personalities and preferences tend to come from their own mouths, not from other characters; their fortress of masculine invulnerability protects them from cutting zingers. Read the rest of this entry »

Rebound: Texts from Hillary

In news, Rebound on April 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became a meme! Have you seen Texts from Hillary? It is hilarious. Apparently Clinton (aka “Hillz”) thought so too. She even invited the Texts from Hillary guys to the White House and wrote her own Text from Hillz.

But much like a beautiful shooting star, this meme was only crossing through our stratosphere for a brief time. TTYL indeed, oh pioneers! In the aftermath of the phenomenon that was our Lady of Clinton’s imaginary digital conversations, we at GLG sift through the sands of the hourglass and ponder our own mortality–and also, the Secretary of State’s viral Internet fame.

A-mazing.

First thoughts on Texts from Hillary:

Phoebe: So, I think these are hilarious and also kind of bad ass. And, I love that Clinton appears to love them too and has a sense of humor about herself. I feel like the picture of her laughing with the two guys from Texts from Hillary is awesome and shows a very different side of her than I feel like we have been privy to before. I also love that she composed her own one. I have never quite known what to think of her, although I have always respected her, but I feel like this Tumblr and her response to it have made me a fan. Plus, she does appear to be a pretty darn good Secretary of State too. But seriously, I think this side of Hillary is one (as Sarah goes on to say below) that counters and plays with the media-constructed image of her during the 2008 primaries, which was extra serious. And, I think it is great that in the photo of her on a military jet, everyone else seems to be heading for an exit or trying to get off the plane but Hillary is still working away.

Sarah T: I’m a longtime mega-fan of Hillary. She’s like Mama Rose! She never gives up! You either have it or you’ve had it! The ambition and the glory and the disappointment and the striving! I could go on forever, and I would like to see a biopic based on Hillary’s life and future presidency ASAP. So I was thrilled to see a Tumblr that celebrated her wry dominance at life. In all of the Texts from Hillary posts she’s in a position of power and wisdom — turning down Stewart because she’s already booked Colbert, rejecting friend requests, keeping Biden and Obama in line with their Bieber-fandom, advising Romney to drink up. I mean, she’s even got the Pretty Little Liars on a string.

What’s also great about the meme is that rather than punish her for being a powerful and ambitious woman — as the media did throughout the 2008 primaries — it celebrates her by making her look cool. Founders Stacy Lambe and Adam Smith chose an image of her that showcases her authority (she’s on a military jet, surrounded by paperwork and people in business suits) and her unflappable attitude (her shades, her mouth set in a no-nonsense line, the one-handed texting suggesting that her facility and hipness with technology). But she also looks like a mom (my mom!) with her brooch and blazer and hair-flip. The meme suggests that she’s a leader, a person who has Got It Together, but also a real human being with warmth and humor and sassy attitude. So it’s no surprise that it’s sparked fresh conversations about 2016. If her (hypothetical) campaign team can replicate this version of Hillary in their PR, they’re in business.

Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up

In activism, race, Weekly Round-Up on April 6, 2012 at 11:28 am

This week, some important reads from around the web on Trayvon Martin and then a profile on Camila Vallejo, leader of Chile’s student protest movement, and a response to said profile.

From Ms. Magazine:
http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/04/03/from-emmett-till-to-trayvon-martin-how-black-women-turn-grief-into-action/

And, this is terrifying:
http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2012/04/heavily_armed_neo-nazis_patrol.php

“I am not Trayvon Martin” youtube video:
http://IamnotTrayvonMartinyoutubevideo

The New York Times profiles Camila Vallejo, the leader of Chile’s student protest movement:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/magazine/camila-vallejo-the-worlds-most-glamorous-revolutionary.html

And Bitch observes the sexism embedded in said profile:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/wtf-files-new-york-times-camila-vallejo-the-world%E2%80%99s-most-glamorous-revolutionary-sexism-feminism-media

True Confessions; Dangerous Minds

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2012 at 10:11 am

Sarah T.

Ex-boyfriends and ugly feelings, family skeletons and panic attacks, choking self-doubt mingled with soaring grandiosity: this is the bread and wine of confessional blogging.

At xoJane, Cat Marnell describes her pettiness toward her co-workers at the website and details her struggle to kick her addiction to Adderall in real time. In a personal blog that eventually became an e-book, Dodie Bellamy draws on art and theory to explore the emotional aftermath of a romantic affair with a Buddhist teacher. And on Tumblr, writer and PhD student Kara Jesella archives the detritus of her relationship and breakup, including a miscarriage and a stay in a psychiatric ward—and analyzes the feminist underpinnings of the entire endeavor.

For me, this is a gift. All I have ever wanted is for interesting people to tell me their stories – the messy, honest ones that normally come along only after a few drinks. That’s why I love memoirs and Sylvia Plath and Audre Lorde and PostSecret and Joni Mitchell. The confessional voice, done with attention to craft, is one of the best antidotes I know to isolation. Not coincidentally, as far as I can tell the majority of the bloggers currently practicing it are women. Also not coincidentally, the confessional voice—both historically and in the present—has haters without end.

I believe that women writers are drawn to the confessional voice because they are not supposed to speak their pain. The same goes for people who are nonwhite or GLBTQ or disabled or otherwise on societal margins.

Confession is only necessary where there is repression, where it serves the interests of those in power to persuade those who aren’t to maintain their silence. And so confessional blogging, like confessional poetry and confessional novels before it, is a political act. Lorde expounds on the necessity of personal disclosure, writing, “Your silences will not protect you [. . .] What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.” Lorde’s criticism applies to the personal just as much as the political, because the two are inseparable in her life and in everyone’s.

Enter the ex-boyfriends.

Bellamy’s blog and book The Buddhist is rife with the embarrassment of personal disclosure. It is embarrassing for her to admit how often she thinks of her former lover, a Buddhist teacher. She tries to stop writing about him over and over again: “So, I’m saying goodbye to the buddhist vein here,” she says, with half her book still to go. “I already said that, but I mean it this time.” (She doesn’t.) It’s embarrassing for her to continue mourning the relationship long past its expiration date, and even more embarrassing to blog about it. Whereas the mantle of what she calls Real Writing might lend her heartbreak cultural credibility and make writing about it more acceptable, blogging won’t protect her from judgment. In fact, it exposes her further. Yet she grows committed to documenting the relationship and breakup when she considers who and what culturally-imposed silence on personal drama serves. Bellamy writes, Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-up: Women’s Health & Activism

In activism, reproductive health, Women's health on March 16, 2012 at 7:44 am

The assault on women’s health continues. Thus, here are some links on what’s going on this week — but also some links at the bottom for ways to get involved and stand up for women’s rights. And if you have links to share, please post away in the comments!

Some awesome female democrats in 6 different states put men’s health on the legislative table in Virginia:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/03/15/148695307/in-protest-democrats-zero-in-on-mens-reproductive-health?ps=cprs

From the Huffington Post, Cecile Richards responds to Mitt Romney’s statement that he would get rid of Planned Parenthood if elected President:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/cecile-richards-mitt-romney-planned-parenthood_n_1345479.html

Maureen Dowd on Hillary Clinton’s work to stop the attack on women’s rights:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/opinion/dowd-dont-tread-on-us.html?_r=1&src=tp&smid=fb-share

Women saying no to the GOP’s attempt to legislate control of their bodies, regardless of political affiliation:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/us/politics/centrist-women-tell-of-disenchantment-with-gop.html

An anti-abortion bill in Kansas includes a provision that would permit doctors to lie to pregnant women about the results of blood tests, amnios, and ultrasounds:
https://www.aclu.org/blog/reproductive-freedom/kansas-pregnant-women-little-lie-your-doctor-wont-hurt-you

Texas’s new law disqualifying Planned Parenthood from Medicaid coverage has now resulted in a loss of the state’s entire women’s health program:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/texas-loses-entire-womens_n_1349431.html

To take action with Planned Parenthood, click here. Or, want to support Planned Parenthood? Here is the link.

Take action with “Take Back the Night.” To learn more, click here.

GLG Weekly Round-up

In gender, race, reproductive health, Uncategorized, Weekly Round-Up, Women's health on March 9, 2012 at 6:56 am

This week, we have a variety of good reads from around the web including, but not limited to, reactions to the stop Kony campaign, Tim Wise on race & white resentment, and an article on masculinity and The Hunger Games (go Peeta!). Have a great weekend!

Tim Wise on his new book and white resentment: http://www.truth-out.org/dear-white-america-letter-new-minority/1330718926

Arturo Garcia on the problems with Invisible Children’s Stop Kony campaign, at Racialicious: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/03/08/stopkony-activism-or-exploitation/#more-20984

Jessica Winter at Time Magazine and “Are women people?:” http://ideas.time.com/2012/03/07/subject-for-debate-are-women-people/

Two fun articles from Bitch Magazine … One on Cynthia Nixon and the politics of labels:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/visibility-cynthia-nixon-and-the-politics-of-labels-bisexuality-feminism

And one on The Hunger Games and masculinity:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-rebel-warrior-and-the-boy-with-the-bread-gale-peeta-and-masculinity-in-the-hunger-games

Lastly, a super-cool interview with Jennifer Egan about the days before she made it as a writer:
http://www.thedaysofyore.com/jennifer-egan/

Singing Out: In Praise of Women (And Against Rush Limbaugh)

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Sarah T.

Let’s talk about sex.

More specifically, let’s talk about women who have sex, and why some people want to punish them so much.

Rush Limbaugh thinks a woman who wants affordable birth control—and, by extension, any sexually active woman—is a slut. The problems in his statement are almost too numerous to name. Lauren O’Neal at the Hairpin and Emily Bazelon at Slate, among others, do a good job of unpacking them.

But it’s not just moralizing extremists like Limbaugh who are trying to wrest power away from women by shaming them for what they choose to do with their own bodies. There are more insidious ways that our culture gets people to internalize the idea that women should be judged for their sexuality and sexual activity. From there, it’s an easy move to persuade people that sexually active women don’t deserve to be safe from the threat of violence, or to be treated with respect and decency, or to decide for themselves whether they are physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and circumstantially able to bring a child into the world.

I’m talking about the message that gets sent when someone laughs and calls, say, Courtney from The Bachelor a whore, when what he means is that Courtney is manipulative, or mean, or fake. Or when a smart, educated woman calls her ex’s new girlfriend a slut, when what she means is that she’s hurt and angry, her pride is wounded, and she doesn’t like this new girl at all. Or when campus security announcements about sexual assaults emphasize what women ought to do to protect themselves (stay at home all day long while wearing a Snuggie with all the blinds drawn and a couch shoved up against the door, one imagines) instead of talking about what everyone, men most certainly included, can do to eliminate sexual assault and make the campus safer. Or when people make fun of girls who show cleavage or wear short skirts or get tattoos on the smalls of their backs. Or when the person sitting across from me at a bar last year said casually of a mutual acquaintance, “Even you would think she’s a slut.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

GLG Weekly Round-up

In race, Weekly Round-Up on January 27, 2012 at 2:12 pm

A gathering of great links from around the interwebs this week. Enjoy & have a great weekend!

Ten black style icons before Michelle Obama: http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/01/26/412022/michelle-obama-style/

Interesting article on the difficulties faced by black women in Hollywood and the privilege that can blind others to the problem: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/24/what-charlize-theron-doesn-t-get-about-black-hollywood.html

White female rage & Jan Brewer: http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/white-womens-rage-5-thoughts-on-why-jan-brewer-should-keep-her-fingers-to-herself/#comments

Mapping autism onto Mattie Ross in True Grit: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/double-rainbow-mattie-ross-autism-feminist-film-review

How fashion, feminism, and academics fit together: http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/fraught-intimacies/

Let’s all cry. Absolutely beautiful: http://therumpus.net/2012/01/transformation-and-transcendence-the-power-of-female-friendship/

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