thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘Romance’

“I Don’t Think We Owe Anyone A Second Chance”: Katie Heaney on Dating and the Single Life

In books, Interview on March 17, 2014 at 5:18 am

Sarah T.

To go by most books about dating, being single is kind of like walking around with a glob of macaroni in your hair: embarrassing, unsightly and a departure from the natural state of affairs. Katie Heaney’s Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date is a welcome antidote to these narratives. In her new memoir, Heaney chronicles spending the first 25 years of her life as a smart, funny, confident young woman who is at peace with her self-declared status as a “Bermuda Triangle” of romance.

“One of the great divides, I think, between people who date a lot and people who date never is that people who date never don’t understand putting up with ‘fine,’” Heaney writes. She’s had her share of crushes, make-outs and promising prospects that wind up fizzling, but in the end she’s holding out for way more than “fine”–and finding it in her relationships with her pals. Read on for Heaney’s thoughts on texting, wooing your friends, the most swoon-worthy Jane Austen character and why women shouldn’t feel obligated to go out with guys they don’t like that much.

I’ve been a fan of yours since you started writing for The Hairpin — “Reading Between the Texts” is not only hilarious but also super-cathartic as a reminder that dating is insane and so are people. Are those texts real? What about the conversations? Read the rest of this entry »

They Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Movies and Breakups

In Film on September 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

Sarah T.

Love means never having to say you’re sorry you turned the Ikea dresser into an art robot.

Love is weird. Yet in romantic comedies, the hurdles to happiness are simple. Bets, bad guys, misunderstandings, and cases of mistaken identity stand in the way of romantic bliss, rather than more mundane issues like hoarding, fear of commitment, addiction, depression, and people suddenly deciding to move to Germany.

This is meant to be comforting. Since romantic comedy obstacles are straightforward, you can usually count on the couple ending up together before the lights come on. Sometimes these happy endings feel deserved (When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Definitely, Maybe). Sometimes they’re so formulaic and clichéd they’re actually cynical. Like a grumpy gangster forced to play Barbies with his granddaughter, movies like New Year’s Eve are just smashing their dolls’ faces together to get things over with.

And every once in a while, romantic comedies refuse traditional happy endings altogether. Woody Allen’s perfect Annie Hall is a valentine to a neurotic, warm-hearted girlfriend he’s bound to lose. The Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn vehicle The Breakup stays true to its title. In My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julia Roberts plays a selfish, scheming, secretly vulnerable restaurant critic who ultimately doesn’t get the guy. Instead, she ends the movie cutting a rug on the dance floor with her other best friend, played by a scene-stealing Rupert Everett. Fittingly, he gets the last word. “What the hell,” he says. “Life goes on. Maybe there won’t be marriage, maybe there won’t be sex. But, by God, there’ll be dancing.”

Two new movies, Sleepwalk with Me and Celeste and Jesse Forever, cut their romantic stories from this same heartache cloth. The relationships at the center of these films are doomed from the start, which makes for some melancholy laughs. Both movies try to say something harder, and truer, about love than Hollywood’s usual celluloid song-and-dance routine allows.

[Spoilers after the jump!] Read the rest of this entry »

A Thursday Survey: What Gives, Girls?

In feminism, gender, girl culture, Girls, music videos on September 20, 2012 at 8:46 am

Chelsea H.

Yesterday as I drove into the parking lot at work, Pat Benatar’s growly, joyfully combative “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was playing on my Subaru’s radio. I sang along, rejoicing in her toughness, knowing this comes out of a tiny, petite woman whose lungs must take up 45% of her insides, until I got to this line: “Before I put another notch in my lipstick case / You better make sure you put me in my place / Hit me with your best shot…” I stopped singing. Here I was, barely conscious of my feeling that this was a female emancipation kind of song, and then this line. And I know, she’s being facetious – she really thinks his best shot is going to miss, or deflect off of her amazing woman armor – but it still bothered me. “Try your best to make me act like the demure, fragile, modest little woman your interpretation of society demands I be.” What kind of message is that?!

Crimes of Passion Album Cover, courtesy of Wikipedia

I turned off the radio. Somehow, for all the years I’d been listening to that song, I hadn’t thought about the fact that it was about a woman’s relationship with a man. As I’d applied it to my own life, singing along, I had been sing/yelling to job interviews, to tough days looming before me, to challenging classes, to physical labor, but never to a man. It bothered me that this powerful voice was consumed by her relationship: not only “Hit Me,” but “Love is a Battlefield,” “Heartbreaker,” and “We Belong.”

As the day progressed, I found myself continually coming back to this dilemma: I can instantly call up dozens of songs sung by men which are NOT about their romantic relationships: songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Green Day, Michael Jackson, Boston, Chicago, Blitzen Trapper, Steve Miller Band, Audioslave, Nirvana, the Monkees, Journey, Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, Guns ‘N Roses, Billy Joel, even Neil Diamond, amidst “Sweet Caroline,” “Desiree” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” has “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

But when I tried to do the same for women, I could only come up with a few (apologies for the ads that lead into some of these videos):

Amy Winehouse’s brilliant, stubborn throwback anthem “Rehab,”

Carole King’s “Smackwater Jack,”

maybe Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” which, though it’s not about a romantic relationship, is a story of a woman dependent upon a male figure (no offense meant, of course, I’m certainly not critiquing having a relationship with God, only pointing out how prevalent this theme is).

Four Non Blonde’s “What’s Up,” which was always one of my favorites in high school, seems to fit this short list (also, how awesome and 90s are their outfits?!) .

Of course there are also the smaller number of songs by women about women, like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and, though it’s not terrifically explicit (and though it admittedly deals with deeper, more complex issues), Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” but these still fall into the theme of women singing about their relationships.

And I’m not saying this trope doesn’t appear in songs by men. There are plenty of male singers whose songs tell the story of relationships with women. It’s just that there are so many that don’t.

So here are my two questions:

  1. Ladies, why do we do this? Don’t we have other, equally important things to sing about? Why are we so focused, as musical artists, on the men in, out, and around our lives? Is it that women are singing songs written by men, or is it that women’s songs about men sell better? Is it that these are “safe” subject matter and therefore more playable? Why aren’t we singing about the other parts of our lives – the parts that are not longing for, begging for, dependent on, or grieving over men?
  2. I’m sure I’m missing some – after all, I’ve only thought about this for a day or two – and I want to be wrong about this. What other songs are out there sung by women (and not just covers of songs originally sung by men) that are not about their relationships with men? Let’s make a list. Let’s make a big list, if we can, and prove me wrong.

Replay: “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen

In girl culture, music videos, Replay on May 9, 2012 at 4:13 pm

What do you think of when you think about Canada? Maple syrup? Scott Pilgrim? A moose? Universal health care? A Place To Which One Might Abscond Should the U.S. Magnify Its Aura of Impending Doom?

From here on out, perhaps the irresistible bubblegum chords of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” will come to mind too. The  singer-songwriter hails from British Columbia and rose to fame on Canadian Idol. The U.S. has embraced her pop export with open arms, partly because “Call Me Maybe” is an earworm of a single, impossible to shake, and partly because of her music video’s campy charm. The video both captures the breathless excitement of a newborn crush and winkingly acknowledges that swooning over a hot somebody you know nothing about is a little ridiculous — which doesn’t make it any less fun. Read on as Girls Like Giants tries to peg down Jepsen’s number.

Read the rest of this entry »

“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.

Read the rest of this entry »

An Interview with Dodie Bellamy

In activism, gender on April 17, 2012 at 9:35 am

Sarah T.

Dodie Bellamy is a force to be reckoned with: an experimental feminist writer and poet whose work pushes against boundaries of genre, form, and literary and social conventions. The author of the acclaimed The Letters of Mina Harker and numerous other works, Bellamy recently gained a passel of new admirers (including me) with the publication of her confessional memoir the buddhist.

the buddhist draws from Bellamy’s blog Belladodie to explore the emotional aftermath of her relationship with an unnamed, and perhaps unknowable, man. Writing about the memoir for Emily Books, Sady Doyle describes it as an effort “to reconcile the person you thought you knew with the damage you know you’ve suffered — to ‘integrate the trauma into acknowledged memory,’ as they say.” This effort, Doyle says, “can, under some circumstances, be a struggle to live.”

The vitality of the buddhist comes from the struggle that unfolds as Bellamy questions, fights, assures, and arm-wrestles herself and her memories. Not wanting the story that refuses to end to end for me as a reader — at least not just yet — I reached out to Bellamy to see if she would answer a few questions for Girls Like Giants. Happily, she obliged. Read on for Bellamy’s thoughts on blogging, boldness, and Charlotte Brontë.

One of the things I love about the buddhist is how you document your resistance to telling your story as you tell it. What was the value, for you, in pushing back against that resistance?

Beyond technical prowess, what makes writing compelling is the energy behind it, the tension, the charge.  I often write about material I feel resistance to, material that makes me uncomfortable, because that creates a charge for me, a sort of erotics of disclosure.

You’re one of the originators of the New Narrative movement [Ed: this is inaccurate! See below]. What relationship you see between the New Narrative and personal blogging—particularly in terms of writing about other people?

I’m not one of the originators of New Narrative, though I was a student of those originators when I was a young writer.  New Narrative was very much about using the personal in writing, and about forefronting the position of the writer, rather than he/she hiding like the Wizard of Oz behind a screen, pulling all the switches and levers.  New Narrative was also very interested in writing communities, how we’re not writing alone but among a community of peers, as well as historical communities of previous texts.  So, this emphasis on the personal and community make New Narrative highly compatible with personal blogging.  But there also was a focus on various experimental strategies in the work that’s more akin to poetry than what you see in most personal blogs.  It’s been a long hard road for me to feel okay about the sort of straightforwardness I perform in the buddhist.

Do you know if the buddhist himself has read your blog or book, or if he knew that you were writing about him? Does that matter to you?

Approximately four months before I finished the book, I told him in an email that I’d been blogging about him and was writing the book.  He said he hadn’t read the blog and that our worlds were so different, he was fine with my writing about him.  This was a brief exchange that surprised me, his permission, but it was very helpful for me, psychologically, in finishing the project.  To my knowledge, he hasn’t read the blog or the book, but I don’t really know.  When I was writing the blog, at first there was the fantasy of him reading it, that I was somehow communicating to him.  Now, no, it does not matter to me if he’s read any of this.  In an odd way, the project no longer feels about him, there have been so many layers of mediation in the writing of it. Read the rest of this entry »

A Great and Terrible Beauty: A GLG Reading Group

In A Great and Terrible Beauty, gender, girl culture, Libba Bray, YA on April 3, 2012 at 8:19 am

Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty (AGTB), set primarily in Victorian England, is the first in a series of three books that trace the coming of age of Gemma Doyle. Gemma is not like every other girl at her boarding school, Spence. In fact, she is the last in a line of powerful women in possession of supernatural power. In a society where women must behave according to very specific and constraining codes of behavior, Gemma comes to realize that these constraints are not meant to protect women, but rather to control them. As Gemma becomes aware of the patriarchy that defines her world, she also realizes that the world of magic is one controlled and managed by men. AGTB is a novel about young women finding power, but also learning to manage and control that power — for without control, we learn, come terrible and terrifying consequences.

After finishing AGTB and missing Pretty Little Liars, we thought another reading group might be fun. Read on for our favorite characters and some more general thoughts on AGTB. But beware: spoilers abound.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Hack, Hack” (Season 2, Episode 19)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars on February 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm

This week the PLLs threw a swim meet party; learned out to hack computers (and defeated evil police man Garrett); learned some fighting secrets; and chatted with newly revealed siblings. Read on for thoughts and musings on this week’s episode.

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Interlude: The Bachelor & Weeping Women

In Interlude, The Bachelor on January 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Phoebe B.

Last year, I watched The Bachelorette and it was my first foray into any Bachelor-related programming. Truth be told, I loved it and watched the Ashley season religiously. Sometimes I even yelled at the TV, as if I was watching football, when Ashley fell for that terrible Bentley dude or made other odd choices. Plus, Ben F. who proposed to Ashley only to be rejected in favor of J.P (which was seemingly the right choice for her) was totally my favorite: a winemaker from Sonoma, outdoorsy, funny, and adorable. In case you can’t tell, I had a bit of a TV crush on him (in good company with real people like Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and David Boreanaz; and characters like Smash Williams and Tim Riggins, and quite a few others). Thus, when I heard that he was the new Bachelor, I thought I would certainly watch his season. And then, I saw this ad.

And I thought maybe not. And then Sarah T. asked me this question: “is it possible that The Bachelor is super-sexist and misogynistic while The Bachelorette is relatively progressive?” And I thought, yes it does seem that way. Although I am not too quick to label The Bachelorette as progressive, in the wake of these ads, The Bachelorette looks more and more like a mini dash of not horribly regressive TV. The thing about The Bachelorette, for me at least, is that it fulfills a certain kind of fantasy in which a bunch of very attractive and reasonably interesting (not all the time) people vie for my, I mean The Bachelorette’s, attention. And at least in Ashley’s season, the drama surrounded the choices she made, rather than drama between the guys (perhaps save for the crazy masked Jeff, remember him?). The show did not rely on the men being mean to each other in order to create the primary drama, nor did the advertisements showcase a guy crying. This choice, it seems, is due to gendered expectations and notions of what The Bachelorette audience might find appealing. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m Going to See Breaking Dawn OR How A Smart, Independent, Educated Woman Learned to Love Twilight

In gender, girl culture on November 23, 2011 at 12:48 am

Melissa Sexton

The first time I went to visit my sister in her new home in Seattle, I needed something to occupy my time during the long days she spent working. I was a 2nd year PhD student in a literature department, so the last thing I wanted to do on my downtime days was read anything serious. Still, my sister made a full disclaimer when she handed me her roommate’s copy of Twilight. “It’s not great literature,” she said with a shrug. “But I bet you’ll be entertained.”

Such a disclaimer was more than warranted given my lit snob past. I had spent my teenage years aspiring to an elite aestheticism, sneering at my younger sisters for their fantasy novels and their mainstream movies. Like many a wanna-be intellectual before me, I wanted to like the right things. I wanted to read philosophy and great literature; I watched old movies, not blockbusters, with my boyfriend. I didn’t watch TV; I backpacked, hello. Before I ever even thought about drinking, I started going to “shows.”  I was relentlessly and, to be honest, baselessly opposed to anything that could be construed as popular. Luckily for me, I was already outgrowing what I still think should never be more than an an adolescent phase: the conviction that, just because we don’t like something, this makes the object of our disdain inherently and objectively bad; that there are good and bad things to like, and your aesthetic preferences say something meaningful about your character; that there were things not just that I hadn’t read but that I wouldn’t read, that I shouldn’t watch. Read the rest of this entry »

Two All-too-Similar Tales of White Womanhood in Once Upon a TimeGrimm

In gender, race on November 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

A few weeks ago, I watched the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time (ABC), one of the two new fall fairytale shows (the other Grimm (NBC), premiered on Friday of the same week). The basic plot goes like this: Snow White and Prince Charming and all of their fantastical kingdom replete with a myriad of magical characters—from Rumplestiltskin and the Seven Dwarves to Red Riding Hood and her gran—are cursed by the Evil Queen. The terrible curse sends the whole magical world to Storybrook, Maine on the very day that Snow White and the Prince’s child is born. But not to worry, the child is saved! Which is a good thing, as she (named Emma) seems to be the only cure for the terrible curse. In present day Storybrook (dubbed by the Evil Queen to be the worst place on earth, which seems a little unfair to Maine), the residents of the fairytale world forget who they are while remaining trapped in a world and town with no happy endings.

Once Upon a Time Cast (Snow White in White, Emma in Red, and Henry in the front)

Then on Friday of that same week, I came home from happy hour with high hopes (that I was fairly sure would be dashed) and turned on the new fairytale mystery Grimm, set in Portland, OR. This show maps Grimm’s fairtyales like “Red Riding Hood” (the topic of the pilot) and “Goldilocks” onto modern day Portland, with a crime drama twist. The main character, Nick, is the last of the “Grimms,” an ancient bloodline it seems bread to hunt down the evil creatures of the Grimm’s fairytales. So it turns out, that in this fantastical world, all the gruesome Grimm’s tales are true. Eek!

The Grimm Detective Duo

Okay so they are both modern day TV adaptations of fairytales, but what are they doing in the same post? Fair question. But here is why: They both participate in the cultural politics of elevating the white female body as both victim and martyr. Both shows, at least in their early episodes, rely on the presumed power of the white female body to enact sympathy, but also as the last hope of civilization. Put another way, she is the body that is most in need of protection, as she is the most productive body and thereby the hope of the future.

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The Secret Circle Roundtable, “Bound”, Season 1, Episode 2

In girl culture, teen soaps on September 28, 2011 at 8:10 am

This week, we adjust Dawn’s Evil-o-Meter; ponder romantic musical chairs and binding ceremonies; and discuss possible queer subtexts and racialized representations.

Dark Crystals and Medium-Evil Moms

Sarah: Should we circle up?
Phoebe: Yessss
Sarah: So! Do you think Faye’s mom is more evil, less evil, or same amount of evil based on this week’s episode?
Phoebe: I think medium evil. Like she is clearly evil as she killed her father in law, but also saved that girl to protect Faye. So medium. And you?
Sarah: Yes, I concur – I think she’s complicated-evil, for the same reasons you mentioned. I definitely think she really cares about her daughter, but it seems possible she does not care about anyone else.
Phoebe: Except maybe herself and getting her powers back, as she also seems to be using the Elijah look-alike (aka Diana’s dad)
Sarah: Yeah, it’s interesting that he’s getting cast as kind of the henchman—the grandfather refers to him as not the sharpest wand in the box.
Phoebe: Ha yes indeed. Also, what do you make of the crystal? And the lack of wands (slash Harry Potter reference)?
Sarah: Well I’m on board with the crystal and lack of wands I think – I don’t have too many witchery preferences so if they want to go all New Age-y geostone, I’m down. What about you?
Phoebe: I concur. I am enjoying all these different types of witchery afoot … Seems more Vampire Diaries witch style, which makes sense I suppose.

Teenage Dreams (of Big Giant Jerks)

Phoebe: Also, what do you think of the opening sequence— the post-sex scene where Nick says he wouldn’t brag about Melissa (the girl he just slept with)…who is the only apparent witch who is not white.
Sarah: I have so many feelings!
A) What is he talking about, Melissa is super-hot
Phoebe: Right?!
Sarah: B) On the other hand, his character is supposed to be an asshole it seems so, good way to make us hate him.
Sarah: I’m curious about all the self-esteem issues the show is raising surrounding Melissa and Nick—as evidenced by Faye’s later comment at the party that she’d have to check her self-esteem at the door to hook up with him.(Said cluelessly with no intent of hurting Melissa, since their hookups are on the DL)
Phoebe: Right so true … That whole storyline was interesting. Also, why is he so awful? That is unclear to me, except that he is insanely obnoxious. But also, I concur that his initial comment was a surefire way to make us HATE him. But I also think it is so weird that in a town with almost exclusively white people, that comment was directed at someone who is coded as not white …
Sarah: Yeah that will be important to keep an eye on as the episodes progress to see if that’s a recurring thing or more of a one-off line.

Chemistry, Magnetism, and Subtext

Sarah: Also, what do you make of Faye’s interest in bugging/befriending Cassie?
Phoebe: I don’t know … Faye is so hard to understand. I am so confused … perhaps she is actually good, but wants to be evil. Or rather, she is like this interesting teen angst gray area.
Sarah: I kind of think there may be a queer reading in there.
Phoebe: Pray tell.
Sarah: Well, it’s early yet, but their dynamic is reminding me of Faith/Buffy
Phoebe: Yes!
Sarah: And it that pairing there was a lot of subtext-queer-reading possibilities in terms of both their rivalry and attraction (platonic or not) to each other. In this case though, Faye’s the one who’s interested in some kind of connection with Cassie; Cassie totally hates her at the moment. But I think that could change.
Phoebe: I see what you’re saying and I am intrigued … But I also think it might stay one sided, as Cassie and Adam have that crazy magic tension.
Sarah: Oh yeah I meant attraction but not necessarily overt in Cassie’s case.
Phoebe: Also, again with the magic = sex with Adam and Cassie and their almost post-magic kiss!
Sarah: Speaking of Cassie and Adam’s chemistry, are you feeling really bad for Diana? Even though I like their flirtations, I am.
Phoebe: Yes, but also I feel like something is afoot. Like she knows … And we learned that fate is hard to control. I feel like I foresee her trying to control their relationship or something. But I do feel bad for her, but I also don’t trust her completely
Sarah: Ahh that’s interesting! What makes you think that Diana’s untrustworthy?
Phoebe: I don’t know … But I definitely feel that way. Like she is too good and too nice and wants this binding business too much.

Binding the Circle of Teen Witchery

The Ties That Bind and the Magic That Drugs

Phoebe: Speaking of which, what do you think the whole idea about binding? And making it their power together wherein they are inseparable … It feels a little anti-individualist, which is kind of cool and intriguing.
Phoebe: Also, unrelated (but another point), it was good to find out why Cassie’s mom could not save herself from the fire (ie that all that generation were stripped of their power).
Sarah: Yeah, I agree on both counts! I think the binding ceremony is intriguing also because it seems like while the kids think it’ll make them stronger as a unit and less strong as individuals, the grandfather’s reaction seems to indicate that that’s not the way it works. They may not get more in control of their powers, but less so.
Phoebe: Also, what were Faye and blonde curtain guy (what’s his name?) doing at the fair?
Sarah: Some kind of herb potion that’s a metaphor for pot I thought? Based on how they were reacting.
Phoebe: Indeed, I thought so too … But I felt like it didn’t change anything and then nothing dramatic happened … Unless, perhaps Faye’s power was increased and hence her pushing that girl to her death? But they seem to blame the bigger magic power to Cassie’s presence, so perhaps not.
Sarah: Ooh yeah I didn’t think it was supposed to have a huge effect necessarily, just that it was to show them being rebels. But I do like that theory that it may have also made Faye less in control of her powers, since that would hold up.
Phoebe: Also, I just realized the first person to die is the class president and she is also African American. This episode did not treat anybody who is not white well at all
Sarah: That is a good point about Sally. Where there are TV characters of ethnic/racial minorities, it seems like a lot of shows are either pushing them into tiny roles or doing other problematic things with the characters or both.
Phoebe: I concur!

Lose Control

Phoebe: I <3 the way magic is equated with drugs … It is described as seductive and almost addictive by the principal to Diana's dad.
Sarah: Ooh yeah. And also that seductiveness reminds me, it seems like maybe Dawn has a wild past too? Faye seemed to allude to something about that when she said Dawn would have to live vicariously through her revealing outfits. So that would go along with the idea of Dawn, Diana's dad, and co. as kind of magic/drug addicts and teens generally out of control.
Phoebe: Yeah it seems like they were out of control or rather controlled by the magic
Sarah: It'll be interesting to see what direction the show takes it in, because it could end up pushing a pretty conservative agenda (teens are out of control with their desires!) or the opposite (teens have natural desires and should be taught to use them responsibly!)
Phoebe: Hmm interesting … But I feel too that the parents clearly have those same desires
Sarah: Which would put the show in the second column.
Phoebe: Truth

“Hart of Dixie”: Professional Women, the South, and Friendly Alligators

In gender on September 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Sarah Todd

Hart of Dixie has a few good things going for it. Rachel Bilson’s eye makeup looks amazing, and her wardrobe makes a strong case for formal shorts. Jason Street is in it! There’s a fun scene where Bilson’s character, Zoe, walks down a country road at night holding boxed wine in one hand and pouring herself drinks in a Dixie cup with the other: she’s a one-woman bar. Unfortunately, the pilot episode of Hart suggests that it is going to be a one-note show.

formal shorts.

The show’s premise is more or less Everwood crossed with Sweet Home Alabama–although sadly, it’s not nearly as funny or heartfelt as Everwood. Zoe, a career-minded, Chanel-loving future heart surgeon, is forced by circumstance to uproot herself from the Big Apple and work as a GP in Bluebell, Alabama.

Going by Zoe’s reactions to her new town, Bluebell might as well be Mars. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the show’s vision of Bluebell and the South as a whole. There are a few region-specific references to Katrina and the BP oil spill, but for the most part the Bluebell of the pilot is full of folksy, down-home, stuck-in-the-past charm. Southern belles waltz around the town square wearing Antebellum-era hoop dresses, the mayor has a pet alligator named Burt Reynolds, one character’s car horn plays “Dixieland,” and apparently nobody ever wears black or orders a latte. Even their HBO references (The Sopranos, Sex and the City) are outdated. These groan-worthy details aren’t just generic and highly improbable. They perpetuate stereotypes about a backwards-facing South that’s also the manic pixie dream girl of the U.S. imagination, delightfully quirky and at once in need of saving (in this case, by the big-city doctor who’s there to make a difference) and acting as an antidote for cynicism, jadedness, and other contemporary urban ills.

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Interlude: Just Bitten

In Uncategorized on September 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Chelsea H.

I generally like Jessica Biel.  I remember her from 7th Heaven, and it has been fun watching her mature from overalls to pencil skirts and super-sexy-but-still-innocent feel.  But now she’s in a commercial that bothers me.

Okay, as usual, this ad bother me.  First of all, we’ve got gorgeous Jessica Biel looking ethereal and semi-waif-y, but also overtly sexy with that lace top that emphasizes her top half.  And when she opens her (perfectly slicked, perfectly colored) lips, what comes out is a plug in a smoky, sultry voice for a product called… Just Bitten.

And that’s where my problem lies: what kind of name is that?  Biel asks us “Have you ever been bitten?”  What does that mean?  Bitten by… the guy floating around in the background, alternately kissing and creepily sneaking behind her?  Yes, she has delightfully flushed lips, but they don’t really look like someone… bit her.  Further, there is no biting in this commercial!  There is kissing, but the product isn’t called “Just Kissed,” it’s called “Just Bitten.”

So, all I can figure is that Revlon is capitalizing on the tremendous popularity and sexualization of vampires in today’s culture.  We are supposed to hear the phrase “Just Bitten” and think of Twilight, or True Blood, or Vampire Diaries, or something…  And yet no one bites her!  Why, if Revlon is going to reference a biting, do they not show the guy nibbling her neck or something?  Why doesn’t she bite her own bottom lip in that pouty/sexy way some girls do?  By the end of the commercial as Biel lies on the ground, shouldn’t she somehow be displaying bite marks? Instead we get this soft lighting and pale pastel and pastoral scenery, into which neither the bright lipstain shade nor the creepy vampiric name of the product fit.

Not Such an Easy A: A few thoughts on the Scarlett Letter  update

In race on September 10, 2011 at 10:45 am

Phoebe Bronstein

I finally watched Easy A last night and it was fairly hilarious. That said, I have a few issues with the film, which I will elaborate on shortly.

Easy A is a modern day teen adaptation of The Scarlett Letter with Emma Stone (as Olive) and Penn Badgly (ie Dan from Gossip Girl), and a plethora of delightful and awesome supporting cast members. These include, but are not limited to, Lisa Kudrow as an adultering guidance counselor, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s father and mother respectively, and Amanda Bynes as Marianne, Olive’s bible thumping nemesis. Truth be told, I kind of have a soft spot for Amanda Bynes, which developed somewhere around the time I saw What a Girl Wants and Sydney White. Plus her performance is oddly reminiscent of Mandy Moore in Saved. But moving on.

Easy A is a fun romp through the traumas of the high school rumor mill. Here’s what happens: Olive (Stone) lies to her BFF and tells her that she has lost her virginity, a conversation that is overheard by Marianne (Bynes). Marianne then spreads the rumor all over the school. Next thing we know, nerdy boys want to pay Olive (usually in gift cards and coupons) to pretend that she kissed, went to second base, had sex with them—an endeavor that begins when she agrees to help Brandon (Dan Byrd), who is gay, pretend he is straight by having loud fake sex at a party. The film humorously details the consequences of this lie (ie Olive starts showing a little more skin and then sews an A to all her clothing), which (to fast-forward for a moment) ends with a guy getting the wrong idea and actually trying to pay her for real sex with a Home Depot gift card. Not to worry, she makes a tell-all web cast after a sexy performance with her longtime crush (Penn Badgley), and then they ride off into the sunset on a tractor.

All in all, the movie is quite funny and I found myself enjoying it a great deal. I mean, how can you go wrong with this puritanical plot? However, I was left with a few things that made me both uncomfortable and confused and feel less laudatory, mostly surrounding issues about race.

Firstly, Olive’s family who are white have adopted an adorable second child, Chip (Bryce Clyde Jenkins), who is African American. Perhaps this role was blind cast, but either way, Chip’s difference is constantly asserted in the film. It feels at times as if he is there as a means to show how progressive this particular white family is. Further, in the film his blackness is used to signal that he is adopted. Although his character has very few lines (although is in almost all the family scenes), his presence is always punctuated by dialogue, like “but I’m adopted,” or Stanley Tucci jokingly asking him, “where are you from?” At once, the film signals that Chip would notice that he looks different than the rest of his family and so it does not erase that difference, which seems like a good idea. However, it also uses that difference to signal both the family’s whiteness, but also that they are not the average white family from Ojai, California. But rather, Chip is used to indicate that they are just a little offbeat, in line with Madonna and perhaps Angelina Jolie.

Secondly, the storyline involving Brandon feels oddly frustrating for a variety of reasons. Granted the film takes on bullying, reminiscent of Glee (remember Kurt attempts a day or two as straight and wears a trucker hat to signal it), but the solution Easy A proposes feels strange. Either pretend you are straight to avoid bullying or run away with an older tall black man. Brandon attempts the first, but then decides on the latter, which is accompanied by a plethora of references to Huck Finn (also we see the couple watching an old Huck Finn film together). To me, this feels like a problem. This choice seems to mock stereotypes of the oversexed black buck or at least unsuccessfully try to (for more on this see Donald Bogle’s work). However, by pairing Brandon and his unnamed lover’s story with that of Huck Finn, the film evokes some problematic parallels between these two white and black couplings. By evoking the Twain novel, the film unexpectedly presents a parallel between Jim, who is a slave, and Brandon’s unnamed lover, one which suggests a reading of Jim and Brandon’s lover perhaps as predatory (particularly given the age difference).

Taken together, I think these two instances both function to produce whiteness in the film, at the expense of the black characters. Whereas Chip’s presence signals the whiteness of the family via the reiteration of his difference, so too does Brandon’s unnamed African American lover and his parallel with Huck Finn, suggest both Brandon’s whiteness and a relationship between a white boy and an escaped slave. In both these instances, difference is forcibly asserted, which in and of itself is perhaps not a bad thing, but it is when African American bodies are used seemingly for the sake of producing whiteness. Safe to say, this is nothing new in filmic representations of race, but the casual use of black bodies in Easy A to suggest various things about the white cast seems worthy of pointing out.

Within the scope of the film, the use of Huck Finn fits into the genre of updating and mocking a classic novel. But for the previously mentioned reasons I don’t think it works. I imagine there is much more to say here, but I would be delighted by any or all feedback, as these are just my initial thoughts. Easy A is fine when the plot sticks to the white characters (after all it is the Puritans they are mocking), but its treatment of bodies of color, specifically African American men, is worrisome perhaps at best.

PLL Summer Finale Recap, Season 2 , Episode 12, “Over My Dead Body”

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on September 2, 2011 at 8:14 am

This week we recap the Summer Season Finale (tear) and answer questions about the best wedding dresses, possible father/son situations, break-ups and make-ups, theories on A, and more. See you in October!

 

Whose wedding dress was your favorite and why?

Phoebe: I think Aria’s. But I just thought Aria looked so pretty throughout the whole episode with her amazing eye make-up. Thus, I think I was predisposed to thinking Aria looked great. I was the most intrigued by Aria this whole episode.

Sarah: I also really liked Aria’s mixture of feminine-punk in the pink rosette dress with a black belt and black lace-up back. I also thought Spencer was rocking the halter dress. And I agree with Phoebe on Aria’s eye makeup—there is no such thing as too much eyeliner (especially on that girl).

Melissa: I did think that Aria looked great.  What creeped me out about her outfit was how her punk-y, rhinestone-y skull necklace reminded me of the jeweled owl thumb drive that Caleb gave Jenna last season.  But that was an aside.  I also thought Spencer looked fabulous, and if I was Wren, I would have kissed her too, though my sister and I were yelling the whole time, “No!  Toby will come back and see you!  No!”  Still, it was a very chaste kiss, so that was fine.

What is your best guess about the relationship between Jason and Mr. Hastings?

Phoebe: I think Mr. Hastings is Jason’s father … That is sort of the only I can think of that makes sense. Particularly given what he said about watching him grow up, but also perhaps makes sense as to why Jason was not in the will (particularly if Ali’s grandma is on her dad’s side). But also, that doesn’t explain why Mr. Hastings is kind of mean to Jason all the time and wants him to stay away from the PLLs. I want to know what he told Jason, when he went to visit his house. On another somewhat related note, I am SO sad about Toby and Spencer. He loves her so much!

Sarah: I concur, I think it’s quite likely that Jason and Spencer are half-siblings. (On a side note, it’s interesting that Spencer always ends up being connected with the people she’s so suspicious of—she was certain Toby was the murderer and he became her boyfriend, sure that Ian killed Ali and he became her brother-in-law, and now she’s positive that it was Jason and it looks like they’re related. I wonder if this is a hint about her own involvement/her family’s involvement the mystery of Ali’s murder?)

Melissa: You girls both did fabulous sleuthing there.  I concur with your assessments, though my first thought was simply that Mr. Hastings had had an affair with Mrs. DiLaurentis and just wanted to hush that up.  But I could easily believe that Mr. Hastings is Jason’s dad.  What if he and Ian and Garrett ARE ALL MR. HASTINGS’S SONS and their club was a SECRET SONS CLUB.  Not likely, but since Melissa married Ian in secret, I guess we can’t rule out the possibility, can we?

What do you make of Emily’s vision of Alison?

Phoebe: So I am wondering if Ali is alive. Or rather if she has an evil twin or something?! And here’s why: In Emily’s vision of Alison, she is wearing the same boots that the person dragging Emily out of the shed was wearing. And granted the girls often dream of/have visions of Ali, but this one seemed different and more real, particularly given the boots, which I felt were a clue because it seemed as if the camera focused on them a decent amount.

Sarah: I was initially more inclined to think that the vision was just a dream, but I think Phoebe’s point about the boots is a sound one. In terms of what happens during the vision, I didn’t really understand why it was significant to ask Emily to choose between coming with Ali (if that = dying) or staying/living – while Emily has been under a lot of stress lately, it doesn’t seem like that would be a tough call for her to make. So, since I still believe Ali is dead, that also makes me think that maybe Ali has a twin, and that coming with Ali didn’t mean dying but maybe joining A? And relatedly, if Ali did have a secret twin, how many of their memories are of Ali, and how many are of the twin?

Melissa: Oh my gosh goodness, this secret twin thing just blew my brain sockets.  I can’t even process that.  I also cannot process if Ali is alive or dead.  I think Ali is dead.  Even though a body in a shallow grave could be unrecognizable after 1 year, I still think they probably did some sort of science-magic identification and know that it was Ali’s body.  Right?  The show hasn’t yet questioned any forensic evidence … Then again, it did take the show at least six weeks longer than us to acknowledge that A might be multiple people, so there’s no saying … But I think Ali is dead.  So yes, a secret twin would make good sense.  I also noticed the boot detail; I yelled loudly at my sister “THERE ARE THE BOOTS!” and I think she spilled her wine.  That’s a hazard with mystery shows, I guess.  But also, couldn’t someone in those boots have dragged Emily out and then Emily, still high off of the carbon monoxide, just imagined those boots on Ali?  The light was so fake-y that I didn’t believe Ali was alive; it was the same light that always surrounded Lily in Veronica Mars.  I am just saying; it is Dead Friend Mystery Teen Girl Show Light.  Maybe Melissa pulled her out and Emily just imagined she was A.  I am still waiting for Melissa to come back.

What do you think A has on the therapist that made her susceptible to blackmail?

Phoebe: I don’t know! But I was so worried she was dead … It also made me wonder if the original call was a set-up? That is the call from last episode where she said she knew who A was. But I feel like maybe the therapist isn’t a real therapist or maybe she did something with one of her patients? Or maybe A did something to her or caught something on that bug that had been in the office under the bobbly head of Freud. A is so creepy!! And also, so clearly multiple people, right? Because A is always and already everywhere.

Sarah: Ah that’s an interesting idea about the therapist not being a real therapist/having an affair with a patient, since those are both pieces of info big enough to destroy Anne’s career and potentially make her do such a sudden turnabout. The idea that A has the power not only to hurt the people the PLLs love and trust, but to make those people turn against the PLLs, is really scary. Because it means A’s power, again, is much more psychological than physical, and that it can reach practically anywhere—since I really do believe that Anne was invested in the girls’ well-being and wanted to help them.

Melissa: What if Anne had an affair with one part of A?  That would seem like an interesting twist, especially if A is young (as we suspect) since it would reverse the older male/younger female power plays that have dominated the show.  I would be intrigued if an older woman had a relationship with a younger man, since it would bring into question not just gender and power but a larger general question of age and power.  Still, Anne seemed to cave so easily; we’re not talking about manipulating the girls into small things now.  They’ve been framed for murder!  Maybe I’m just a good person, but I think I would ruin my career prior to framing four innocent high school girls for murder.

Why are Garrett and Jenna setting up the PLLs for Ali’s murder?

Phoebe: Clearly, because they are evil. Also, so weird that Garrett became a cop only to be able to frame the PLLs or so it seems from this episode and Jenna and Garrett’s creepy police interview room chat. It makes me think that it is either payback for Jenna going blind and Garrett is doing it for the love of Jenna. Or they really did kill Ali, hence the comment Jenna makes about Ali deserving to die the way that she did. Plus, they went so far as to confuse Jason, and clearly have been plotting along with this frame job since Ali’s death.

Sarah: As Phoebe knows from an earlier rant, this part of the episode really made me mad, because I feel like their conversation SEEMED like it was full of reveals/interesting things but in fact could have been about their favorite My Little Ponies because it was so difficult to pin anything down—except that we now know they wrote Jason’s note, took page 5, and were behind the shovel set-up. Ha, now that I type that I guess it’s a fair amount of facts, I just want to know more about what really happened that night I suppose. But I don’t think they’re ultimately going to be behind Ali’s death, so I concur that it’s likely their motivation for setting the PLLs up is probably revenge—or perhaps a cover-up for another thing that happened that night (related to Ali but not necessarily her murder) that they don’t want anyone to know about.

Melissa: I was angry about this scene too, but my faith has been restored.  Here’s why.  Anger – it made me have Lost flashbacks, where the carefully crafted plot suddenly unraveled and settled for a totally unsatisfying and easy reveal that made zero sense.  But then, I was reading, this website which is convinced that Garrett/Jenna were A.

As I was reading it, I realized that I don’t think Jenna/Garrett are A, and that their big reveal was another red herring.  That would replicate the crazy bait-and-switch of the last season finale – where we were sure Ian was A until the last second when another mysterious figure showed up to shove him from the balcony.  I think that Garrett/Jenna set the girls up for murder, but I don’t think they’re all of A.  I’m not even sure why, but my gut just tells me that when questions get half-answered the way that Sarah points out happens in this dialogue, then it’s leaving space for the plot to thicken.  And given the way ABC family has been playing up PLL (referencing it in like every new show promo ever), we know this show is going to continue.  I still go with my multilayered A plan.  I think there are multiple As.  Ian might even have been part of A.  But they are full of competing desires.

You know what might make sense? If the We See All club had turned into A.  That would explain A’s schizophrenic behavior.  Then Ian would have been part of A, but another part of A killed him for trying to kill Spencer.  Then Jenna/Garrett could have been framing the PLLs for murder, but Jason could have been pushing them to figure out who really killed Ali.  And others like Melissa could have been brought in as things happened.  I hope it’s something that complicated; Jenna and Garrett just aren’t scary enough for me anymore.

What do you think about all the PLL relationship developments in this episode? Maya/Em, Ezra/Aria/Jackie, Caleb’s return, and Toby/Spencer break-up/Wren’s kiss?

Phoebe: I thought there was so much afoot in terms of relationships. I am glad that Maya is back in town, although I feel confused about the ditching of Samara so rapidly (although I am kind of glad). And I thought the exchange where Maya wants to get to know the new Emily and take it slow was really sweet. In the Ezra/Aria world, I am SO scared of Jackie. She is clearly evil and mean, and also interesting that the plagiarizing is on the table. Ugh, but I would be happy for Jackie to be written off. And I am so so sad about the Spencer/Toby break-up and a little suspicious of Wren and his swooping in and kissing Spencer. Toby is so sweet and would totally love Spencer and all her secrets, if she gave him the chance. But in my favorite PLL relationship moment, Caleb came back and was awesome. I was so pumped when he told Hanna’s almost evil-stepsister that her dress gave her back fat. Glorious! Go Caleb! I’m so glad he is back and not as grumpy and that he has Hanna’s back.

Sarah: I was wondering if the reason Spencer decided that the only way to keep Toby safe was to break up with him was because A cut his brakes, and brakes = break-up? That seems like the kind of decision I might make, so I get it. But I also thought that was very sad, and that Wren was out of line with the kiss—I get that he may have feelings for Spencer, but she seemed clearly not in the mood. I also delighted in Caleb’s return and his loyalty to Hanna, and in Maya’s as well. Jackie seems insane, which is maybe a little sudden? Although I guess we’ve mostly just seen her watching Ezra and Aria suspiciously up till now without knowing what was going on in her head, and apparently what was going on in her head was a bunch of evil demons building a watchtower. Aria’s breakdown on the phone in the police station when she called Ezra to ask him to come was really sad and moving (and well-acted), as was Ezra’s urgency at the station. I’m curious to see what Ezra will do now that he knows Ella has picked up on the age-inappropriate relationship but gotten the girl wrong.

Melissa:  All I can say is if Ezra and Aria let Spencer go down for their torrid affair, I will happily sic Jackie on them.  COME ON.  Just own up already.  You’re under serious suspicion of MURDER, so what’s a little inappropriate affair?  It’s not illegal- you haven’t had sex.  JUST… Aria, if you want your family to stop lying, YOU stop lying!  Sorry.  Okay.  Got that out.  Jackie is evil, but I just get so frustrated with Aria sometimes.  I kind of wish Hanna would throw up on Jackie and that would just speed things along.  I also thought the Toby/Spencer breakup was sad, though, as I said to my sister, “That was like the easiest breakup ever.”  Spencer:  “Toby, I lied this morning about my dad” [which is not surprising, because he is insane, and like, came out of a house and hit your truck last night, not to mentioned burned things - also my brother in law died.  Yeah.  Rough year.  So I told one lie.]  Toby:  “Why would you DO that?  Remember our UNDYING LOVE?  Remember IMAGINING WHAT OUR CHILD WOULD LOOK LIKE IN YOUR BEDROOM?  MELODRAMA.”  Toby, you are my favorite ’til I die, but you think running from the law would have toughened you up a bit.  As for the other girls/guys – YAY Caleb for the back-fat slap down, and YAY Maya for being sweet and kind.  Samara was lame-sauce.  She and Toby should go sit somewhere and pout about being misunderstood while their super-hot exes have awesome lives.  Then Samara should go away but Toby should get back together with Spencer.  PS - My sister and I watched some of the old episodes too, and I seriously adored Maya’s line from her date with Emily last episode re: Paige – “She held your head underwater and you still dated her?  Girl, I got back just in time.”  Perfect!

Final Thoughts on the Summer Season of PLL? And predictions for the Halloween return of the PLLs? 

Phoebe: I am so sad the summer season is over. But I am pumped for the Halloween episode. And I think we are going to learn a lot about Ali (or at least that is what I am hoping for). I feel like we were left with so many cliffhangers in this episode. Oh and also, this episode’s format is one of my favorites! I love the flashback from the police station format, where we find out how they get arrested, while they sit covered in dirt in an interrogation room. Awesome. And the return of the creepy FBI/policeman dude who is out to get the PLLs, also seems bad news bears for the girls. And I hope for AMAZING PLL Halloween costumes with crazy glitter, more ripped fishnets, and lots of eyeliner.

Sarah: Overall I think this season did a particularly good job of fleshing out the relationships between the PLLs and their families and of stretching out the scope of the mystery of Ali’s death. I’m also pumped for the Halloween episode and hope that it foreshadows the directions of next season, because I would love it if next season were devoted to developing the Ali backstory more (all flashbacks all the time, I love them!). I also think it’s likely that more information about the relationship between the Hastings family and the DiLaurentis family will be forthcoming. And high on my wishlist: more of Hanna’s grandma!

Melissa:  I’m skeptical of the Halloween episode, but that could just be the weird advertising angle that I’ve noticed on ABC family commercials lately.  I just don’t know that they’re going to tell us anything particularly plot-forwarding in this episode.  It seems like an excuse for costumes and flashbacks.  Don’t get me wrong – I like flashbacks.  But I want some answers too!!!  I want Toby and Spencer to have to reconcile their differences; I want Hanna to fight Jackie with her flask; I want Spencer to do some schnauzer-like digging and uncover her dad’s dark secrets; I want Melissa to come back, in a serious way; and I want the PLLs to realize that Hanna’s grandma is their perfect confident, who could handily defeat A with a wooden spoon and some serious sass.

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 »

Update: Patti Stanger is “Toxic” on Drop Dead Diva 

In gender, Lifetime on August 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Last night I turned on the television (okay so actually it was the DVR, as I watched Leverage pre Drop Dead Diva) and lo and behold there was Patti Stanger on one of my favorite shows, Drop Dead Diva. Given that last week I wrote about Patti and her matchmaking for millionaires and that I have also recently written on Drop Dead Diva (DDD), I thought an update was in order after I watched my TV worlds collide.

Patti Stanger as Marcie on Drop Dead Diva

On DDD there have been a parade of famous female guests, from Rosie O’Donnell and Paula Abdul in Season 1, to Wanda Sykes in Season 2, and last week Kathy Griffin (which was hilarious). Thus, I suppose Patti’s appearance should not come as such a shock to the system, but for some reason (to be fleshed out shortly) it did. On DDD last night’s “Toxic” episode, Patti played Marcie LaRose, a rather snarky mean girl and Terri’s (Margaret Cho) high school and present day nemesis. Marcie is very much a Patti Stanger type character and we meet her as she asserts to a crowd of single ladies that women should not just give it away. Otherwise, you’ll never get married or so she says.

The major action comes in the midst of Marcie’s lunchtime talk (which Terri’s mother has insisted she and Jane (Brooke Elliot) attend), when Terri and Jane get in a bit of a verbal brawl. Marcie shouts at Terri, Jane defends Terri, Marcie sues Terri for “defamation, per se.” That is, Marcie sues her for slandering her chastity, a suit Marcie ultimately loses at the hands of Kim, Jane’s rival and another firm attorney.

For me the most interesting thing about this episode is that for a show like Drop Dead Diva that most certainly passes the Bechdel Test, and is also, on its best days, about smart, capable, and driven women, Patti Stanger seems an odd fit. So in a show where episodes rarely seem off, this one did and I think it was because of Patti Stanger’s ethic does not quite fit on DDD. For example, Patti is all about women losing weight to get the guy (as indicated by her recent break-up and subsequent weight loss), where DDD seems definitively anti-this line of thought. Instead DDD insists on many different kinds of beauty and that there is no one size fits all way of looking or model for dating. So as the script tried to make fun of Marcie (Patti Stanger) and did paint her as unsympathetic (for example, she ultimately loses her lawsuit against Terri), it also seemed to tread lightly around her.

Patti Stanger on DDD seemed to me like putting a square peg into a round hole: awkward, forceful, and mostly strange. If the show made too much fun of Marcie/Patti and their requisite but similar businesses, then DDD might risk offending the real Millionaire Matchmaker. But if DDD didn’t present some problem with her character on the show, then DDD would have also have felt even odd. So the show toed the middle line and it was weird.

However, the name of the episode is “Toxic,” which at once refers to a case involving toxic dirt and a school (the other storyline from last night), so could be read as having nothing to do with Patti Stanger. But here is where I think the show is quite smart: I choose to read the episode’s title as reflecting the show’s take on Patti (perhaps I’m projecting a little bit). By pairing a toxic dirt story-line and the danger it poses to a group of people, with a story-line about Patti Stanger as a mean girl signals to me a parallel between the two. Thus, the saving grace of last night’s episode and my take away from “Toxic,” is that the show subtly signals that Patti and her dating philosophies are indeed toxic and harmful, just like the bad toxic dirt.

Goodbye Patti Stanger & the Millionaire’s Club, I’m Not Sure I’ll Miss You

In gender on August 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Recently, I have been watching a little too much Millionaire Matchmaker. I was not sure there that there was such a thing, but now I firmly believe there might be. My reason for watching in the first place is that the show makes me feel better about myself. It is sort of like watching a bad car crash, where you know you shouldn’t look but you can’t turn away. Seriously, the people who come to Patti, the Matchmaker Maven with what seems to be a poorly calculatedly success rate are oft quite crazy (so she says she is in the 90% success rate, and I beg to differ). However, more recently I have realized it might be time to turn away, and here’s why: watching Patti Stanger is like watching a feminist back peddling bicycle crash over and over again. And that stops being fun at some point.

Patti is a modern day New Jersey yenta and matchmaker to millionaires, and she asserts herself often by throwing around little smatterings of Yiddish here and there. For example, in a recent episode she found a nice millionaire Jewish boy a young shiksa (ie a gentile woman), despite his expressed desires to date a Jewish girl. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a little Yiddish with my television, but her use of it oddly irks me. Perhaps it is because it feels like she is trying to channel the Fiddler on the Roof matchmaker, and seriously Patti’s got nothing on her. Or maybe it is just because she plays to and reinforces the Jewish princess stereotype a little too much for my comfort. But, moving on.

But not only does she mobilize Jewish stereotypes in her performance of Patti, she also is just plain sexist. On Millionaire Matchmaker, despite being a powerful and successful woman herself, she asserts that women must perform highly gendered and stereotypical roles in order to win a mate. We even see her philosophies written onto her own body; for example, recently separated from her fiancé, she is now back on the market after what looks like some serious dieting and a little itty bit of plastic surgery (I think something was lifted). She’ll be the first to tell you that if you want to date a millionaire or anyone I imagine, per Patti’s rules, you must be hot, in shape (ie skinny), educated, and all that jazz. As it turns out, she holds men up to similar standards but she is much more likely to critique a woman’s body or wardrobe (although most of the dates she finds are in fact women for millionaire men).

Patti before weight loss (on the left) and after (on the right)

But for Patti it isn’t all about the body, it is also about maintaining 1950s gender roles and norms. Thus, among her precepts are men must pay for and plan the date. If the woman tries to take control of the date or the planning, she is scolded and sometimes kicked out of Patti’s club (aside: people getting kicked out might be the best of part of the show). It is in Patti’s book, a capital offense for a woman to plan and therefore not let a man be a man. Hey gents, did you know that manliness is defined by your date planning abilities? If we ladies do it, then our relationship is most certainly over before it has even begun. Or at least, that seems to be what Patti is suggesting. When discussing men in the dating world, Patti recommends they become hunters and fishers, which I think winds up making the ladies prey. Problem. So ladies, no planning for you, instead dawn your favorite demure outfit and makeup and wait, and wait, and then wait some more.

These strange, old, and seemingly anti-feminist notions also function along heterosexual lines. That is, every relationship for Patti is seemingly framed as hetero one. And while Patti matches men with men, it seems that she has yet to match two women and often says crazy things about both gay men and lesbians. For more on this topic, check out these two links which detail Patti’s downright discrimination and ignorance: this one and this one.

Perhaps one of the strangest parts of the show is that she backs these crazy theories about women, men, sex, romance, etc. with fake science. For example, she often talks about the chemicals that overwhelm your brain during love or sex and throws out numbers and things like cerebral cortex. However, I feel quite certain, despite not being a chemistry or biology major (okay so I was an English major), that she is wrong and does not make any sense. Any doctors out there, that can confirm?

All that said and done, Patti does have a few pieces of good advice. For example, she doesn’t let her clients drink more than two drinks on any given date (or they can share a bottle of wine) and they are told not to mix and mingle their alcohols. Not bad advice, if I do say so myself. Another seemingly decent rule for dating, per Patti, is no sex without monogamy. Fair enough. It sounds like something my mother once said, plus it is also safe, so that’s good. However, sometimes she points in her mouth when she says this stuff, which makes the advice less great and more awkward. But that about covers the good advice, and seemingly might be advice one gets from their friends, parents, or therapist, rather than needing to pay Patti Stanger for it.

When I only watched one episode every now and then these egregious issues were not always so apparent. However, due to recent overexposure I think the fun and allure of Millionaire Matchmaker has gone. I am tired of watching while dating is reduced to a formula that says I should be submissive and happy about it. Goodbye Patti and your millionaires, I can’t say yet whether I will miss you or not. For now, I think I shall fill my reality TV quota with some Kardashian ladies and some Housewives. But, I shall leave you with this gem:

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