thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Death and Bureaucracy in Torchwood: Miracle Day

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Austin Wren Hansell*

It is said that the two things we can never escape are death and taxes.  But in the latest season of Torchwood death is no longer a factor. One day, no one dies.  No one dies the day after that, or the day after that, or the day after that.  People still get hurt, sick, grow old and weary, but no one dies. No one.  Not the child rapist on death row injected with a cocktail of poisons.  Not the security guard disemboweled and charred in an explosion.  Not the CIA agent impaled through the heart in a traffic accident.  Despite everything, people keep on living, hurting, loving, existing. It is, they say, a Miracle Day.

This Miracle, as you can imagine, causes quite a few problems.  The health care industry must be entirely revamped. People who hate themselves can no longer use death to assuage guilt.  Religion is in crisis, for with no death there can be no afterlife.  And, perhaps most urgent, resources are running out fast.

Torchwood is one of those rare shows not afraid to look directly into the eyes of modern society and tell it exactly where and how badly it is screwing up. Because it is a scifi show, it carries our foibles and fallacies to more logical extremes than a strictly realist show and the social criticism is all the harsher. So, in Torchwood, when death is no longer a factor, life quickly becomes categorized, complete with forms in triplicate and proper (though often illogical) procedures.  Predictably, all hell breaks loose.

The child rapist and killer Oswald Danes, no longer on death row, argues that his sentence was commuted and thus he is now a free man.  He has a natural talent for manipulation and quickly becomes a figurehead in the PR wars over the Miracle.  Danes shifts his image from infamous parolee to media darling by fighting for the rights of those who should be dead, or as they are soon to be known, Category Ones.  The Cat Ones have no voice of their own, as by definition they are unresponsive. The government plan for dealing with them is holocaustic, and while Torchwood fights from the shadows, Danes preaches on the national media circuit.

Oswald Danes

Danes also takes on the unwanted job of champion for the Category Twos, those who are stuck somewhere between life and death, the sick and injured who are being ignored by the system for lack of supplies, manpower, and money. They are ignored because hey, it isn’t like they are going to die while we are busy figuring out what to do, and they are miserable – dysentery, infections, pain all run rampant in the overflow wards. Danes has a lot of powerful help and money behind his vault to fame as he attempts to manipulate the situation for his own increasingly disturbing ends.

Bill Pullman is captivating in this role, with enough of his leading man charisma oozing through his repulsive character to draw you in – and make you hate yourself for continuing to be fascinated. Who knew Captain Lone Starr and President Whitman could be so creepy?

Jilly Kitzinger

At his side is his PR rep, Jilly Kitzinger (Lauren Ambrose), yearning desperately for her scrap of power.  Kitzinger works immensely hard for this man she loathes simply because the right people are noticing her efforts.  And the right people, inevitably, are not government workers but corporations. Pharmaceutical companies, family businesses (in the mafia sense of the word), and shadowy networked corporations working invisibly behind the government. Kitzinger’s sheer determination will ensure her employers reach the pinnacle because it means she too will get a taste of the prize.

(SPOILER) When Danes’ ugly nature can no longer be controlled in the most recent episode, she prepares to fight back with a means far worse than the law: by calling a press conference. In the post-Miracle world, much as in our own death-riddled society, a press conference can mean a fate much worse than an arrest. Justice has moved from a blind court to blind bureaucracy. But bureaucracy is blind to human needs, suffering, and all those exceptions to the rules that individuals require, and this is terrifying. Just look at the ovens they plan on using for the Cat Ones and Zeros!

Ambrose is so very good in this role – sweet, lovely, feminine in appearance, but with a hard and fast cutthroat need for power.  Kitzinger’s girlish glee in success wins you over, but only until you remember you are cheering for the woman representing a child predator and an increasingly villainous bureaucracy.

In Torchwood: Miracle Day, death is no longer an option, so bureaucracy – the next best thing to taxes – steps in to try to control the chaos of the Miracle.  Death, the great equalizer, got rid of the best and the worst, all in good time.  But now, the good can go on fighting forever, but so can the bad, the awful, and the very worst. So much contemporary scifi postulates that bureaucracy, public relations, and corporations are our most conceivable future, but this is especially horrifying when coupled with a world suddenly without death.  The impersonal nature of bureaucracy can’t have sympathy. Numbers, spreadsheets, and bottom lines are all that truly matter and it is the job of people like Miss Kitzinger to appease, however superficially, the individuals lost in the paperwork of the masses. Torchwood: Miracle Day is terrifying, captivating, and so utterly watchable. Go set the DVR!

*Hi!  I’m a new contributor and I am pumped to be in such excellent company. I think you’ll quickly become aware that I am a huge nerd and hope to be your companion in scifi and geekery.


Gender, Sexuality, and Coming-of-Age in ABC Family’s “Huge”

In gender, teen soaps on August 30, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Sarah Todd

ABC Family’s short-lived, much-loved teen drama Huge gets camp right. Watching the show, you can practically smell the rough-hewn pine cabins and feel the rising moisture from freshly washed cafeteria dishes on your skin. The difference between camp time and regular time comes flooding back: one camp afternoon was equal to eight or so off-season ones. You may remember waiting in line to call home and pick up care packages from your parents (socks and Kleenex and stuffed animals), how friendships forged in the fires of camp shone with devotion after just a few days, how camp crushes were always big and sweet and extra-heartbreaking. In a major coup for camp-accuracy, Huge even includes a clogged toilet in the boy’s cabin that everyone kind of surreptitiously pretends isn’t happening.

But the real secret to the show’s authentic feel is the way that it quietly and respectfully explores the complex emotions of its teenage characters. Huge is all about change. Most, though not all, campers are at the wellness camp at least in part to lose weight—but the show is really about kids going through less visible, deeper transformations.

Like most adolescents, Wil, Becca, Ian, Amber, Chloe, Alistair, Trent, Piz, and company are struggling to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Camp provides them with a place to try on new identities or affirm old ones. Often, they surprise themselves. Wil, the fighter and proud feminist who initially planned to wage war against all camp activities, discovers that she actually likes basketball. Trent, the good-hearted jock, longs to be in a band, and befriends bunkmates he might never have acknowledged in high school hallways. Chloe climbs the social ladder by leaving her frizzy-haired, giggly old self—and her former BFF Becca—behind.

Huge conveys these changes not with dramatic speeches or blowout fights, but through small, carefully observed moments. The camera lingers on a character’s face after her friends walk away, or follows an exchange of gazes without tacking on an explanation. Huge isn’t afraid to leave characters and scenes open to interpretation, and it extends that approach to its complex depictions of teenagers exploring gender roles and sexual orientations. Read the rest of this entry »

VMAs 2011, or More Questions than Answers

In MTV, Uncategorized on August 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Chelsea Bullock

The title says almost everything, but here’s the rest:

1. I didn’t actually watch the VMAs live. I followed the relevant Twitter and Facebook feeds and then watched all videos I was interested in today via* and YouTube.

2. Beyonce sang her face off. I think her performance, while completely uncontroversial, is still enabling continued discussions of the public nature of the pregnant body. Also, are you as excited as I am about the potential awesomeness of Bey and Hova’s progeny? I hope so.

3. I have professed my adoration of Gaga since the beginning, but had been experiencing a bit of a lull in my affection. Jo Calderone‘s appearance and performance rekindled our flame. The monologue is a bit long, but totally worth it for anyone considering herself a little monster. He’s making Judith Butler proud.

4. Thanks to the fine folks over at Crunk Feminist Collective for their discussion of Chris Brown’s performance and for alerting me–the non-live viewer–to the fact that Jay-Z refused to demonstrate support for him.

5. Britney was honored, and rightfully so, but bless her for making the whole ceremony a bit more delightful by not even attempting to hide her confusion over Jo Calderone.

I’m curious to know: who watched, what your thoughts are, exactly how wrong is it that Katy Perry won over Adele, how long we have to punish Chris Brown, if you were disappointed by the Hunger Games trailer too, if you love Snooki as much as me, how attracted you are to Jo, and if you also thought Hova and Yeezy’s performance of “Otis” was a 9 out of 10.

*MTV, thank you for leading the way and making the entire show available online for free.

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.

Interlude: BIG SEXY

In gender, girl culture on August 27, 2011 at 8:25 am

Chelsea H.

I must confess, I haven’t seen this show yet.  In fact, no one has, because it doesn’t premiere until Tuesday.  I’ve only seen promos.  But I want to think about the messages this promo conveys, because I am both in support of and resistant to its potential impact.

What I like: These women love their bodies!  They have learned to resist, or ignore, or laugh at, the judgments American society makes about larger bodies, especially for women.  They, I would bet, would laugh just as hard at the idea of low-calorie brownies as I did in my last post.  They consider themselves beautiful and sexy and worthy of fulfilling relationships, or just flings, and that is wonderful.  Good for them for loving themselves and having a strong support group to hang with.  Their lives look like a lot of fun, and I think their decision to take on the problematic, thin-obsessed fashion industry in New York is a brave, and needed, attempt.

What I don’t like: I want to say this cautiously, because my intention is not to offend.  I don’t think judgment based on body size is good, I don’t believe in cookie-cutter shapes, and “normative” is a word that shouldn’t even exist because pretty much no one is.  However, I can’t avoid, and nor should anyone watching, that this is a reality show, and therefore these women are on display.  Maybe they want to be – maybe part of their aim is to bring attention through showing themselves – but there is the same kind of potential for objectification that occurs with every reality show: they are on TV, being watched and judged by people who they can’t see, can’t know, can’t respond to, and probably can’t even imagine. What does that do to the message they are sending?  Does it glamorize their lifestyle, and does it do that in a healthy or unhealthy way?  Does it make them desirable and admirable, or does it make them products of voyeurism?  I can’t decide.  Judging only from the promo, there seems to be a equal promise of girl-power, body-image-busting positivity, but I wonder: is that too good to be true?

So the question is, and I put it to you gals: is this a promise of empowerment, or is it just a new direction of objectified sexuality?  Is Big Sexy positive or not?  Would you watch it?  Why?  Why not?

PLL Roundtable, Season 2 Episode 11: “I Must Confess”

In gender, girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on August 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

In this recap, Phoebe, Melissa, and Sarah develop a theory of barns, a theory of Hastings conspiracies, and a theory of dry-cleaning in Rosewood.

The Case of the Missing Therapist and the Downcast Mike

Phoebe: SO is the therapist dead?

that was so scary!

Also, why couldn’t she tell them who A was on the phone? Had she forgotten her office was bugged?

Sarah: I think she is dead, but another scary possibility that occured to me is what if she shows up in the next episode having been threatened/brainwashed by A and pretending like none of this ever happened?

Melissa: Sarah, that is scary. Because, yes, I think she’s either dead or kidnapped…and if kidnapped, she could be made to become part of A. Maybe that’s how A became multi-person; people were slowly blackmailed into joining a conglomerate force of evil.

Phoebe: I also thought maybe she could be buried alive? As isn’t that what happened to Alison? Or I thought maybe the girls would be rushing to save her in the season finale? OR the preview mentioned someone was likely dead so it could be her

Sarah: Huh that’s an interesting theory Melissa! Maybe that’s what the dolls in the box thing is about—like maybe the reason they’re going along with it is to try to save Anne.

Melissa: That doll thing is especially creepy, given that Jason just gave Aria that box with Alison’s old creepy doll

Phoebe: Oh yeah! And also, speaking of Aria her family prepared food AGAIN but did not eat

Melissa: I KNOW! I think I yelled something about it at the time. “See? Dinner again!?!?”

Phoebe: Why don’t they like to eat?!

Sarah: I’m glad Mikey is ready to get some help

Melissa: Yes, me too. I feel sad for him.

Phoebe: Me too!

Melissa: But I really want him to be on the case too, not just depressed. I don’t think his depression just happened to lead him to breaking into houses associated with A.

Phoebe: I don’t buy the depression/house breaking angle either. I feel like that family had a major breakthrough this week

Sarah: Yeah, but I don’t understand why Ella felt the need to hide the computer-wrist story from the dad

Phoebe: I think because she doesn’t want her son medicated/confused with Byron’s brother

Melissa: It also seems to be part of this larger concern about lying as a coping mechanism. We’re seeing that the girls all learned this lying behavior from their parents. Read the rest of this entry »

Under Any Sun at All: On Fancies of Finding Yourself

In gender, Uncategorized on August 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Last night, I popped in Under the Tuscan Sun, because I wanted a dose of sunflowers and yellow colors and Italian charm.  Also, while I may only be in my late-twenties and have never been divorced, I have lately found the idea of films about older women rediscovering their autonomous lives compelling.  I say the idea of such films because…well, frankly, I often feel more inspired by watching the trailer than I do the entire film; what we’re promised is self-discovery, but what we often get are recycled cliches mixed into travelogues.  Take the recent Eat, Pray, Love.  Remember the awesome trailers with Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days of Summer” and pictures of a somewhat wan Julia Roberts fighting to find herself, not just a reflection of herself in a relationship?

There are a lot of really great lines in that trailer, but they’re pretty much the greatest lines of the film – the insistence on needing to find a self outside of a series of relationships; the encouragement to open the mind and become more receptive to the world.  A similar formula clearly guides Under the Tuscan Sun.   Recently ended relationship + middle life –> exotic adventure –> DISCOVERY OF TRUER SELF FULL OF HAPPINESS!

I really love this movie, for a number of random reasons – the wry humor that disarms potentially cheesy moments; Sandra Oh; did I mention yellow colors?  But watching the film last night, I was also troubled.  One thing I could definitely talk about (but that I’m sure has been dissected to death) is that the women can’t help falling in love – they go out to “find themselves” – Julia Roberts’s character Liz even explicitly explains that she needs to escape the string of relationships she’s been in since 15 – but for women, “finding yourself” inevitably means getting rid of whatever blocked you from being in a happy relationship before and then falling in love.  Don’t get me wrong – I like love – I like like love, you know?  But I also think it’s troubling that the only way we can imagine women being happy – in Tuscany!  Or Bali!  Or all these amazing places! – is if they just modify the old pattern.  Keep having lovers, just take better lovers and in better places.  What I really want to talk about today is that second bit – place, or, more specifically, the relationship between women’s selves and place as figured in these middle-aged-self-quest stories.

So, big reveal, I am not primarily a scholar of gender or race, nor am I a scholar of film, new media, television, or pop culture.  I am actually a 19th century Americanist with a focus on environmental literature, and today I’m hoping to bring my ecocritical training to the table to talk about place and identity.  Because (here’s the not-so-hidden-thesis) I don’t buy the way that these films ultimately suggest that finding yourself requires you to go on a very specific kind of international adventure – to “romantic” Tuscany, to places where “you can marvel at something” – in order to escape the confines of your past self.  Under the Tuscan Sun thinks about relationships and gender in occasionally provocative ways, but it never questions the central notion that finding yourself means running in the form of sight-seeing.

Read the rest of this entry »

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:

PLL Roundtable, Season 2 Episode 10: “Touched by an ‘A’-ngel”

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on August 23, 2011 at 3:09 pm

This week, Phoebe was away on wedding escapades. The rest of us (Melissa and Sarah) sat down to discuss massages we never ever want, the future of Dr. Anne, and why nobody should ever tell Aria anything.

1.  Not a question – but – SPOUT HORROR ABOUT THE MASSAGE SCENE.  That was soooooo awful.

Melissa: I knew from the moment that the gift certificate came out that this massage scenario would somehow take a turn for the worst.  At first, I thought they were going to play up the sibling rivalry angle and have Hannah “steal” the massage, though really, I don’t know how that would have been dramatic.  Then again, we did get a country club equestrian sibling rivalry scene, so my instincts aren’t entirely off.

I think A massaging Emily is incredibly horrifying because it puts A and one of the little liars in the same room together.  I mean, I know – A was at the dance with them in Season 1 – and A was right there, helping Spencer when things went down in the bell tower with Ian.  A has been lurking right outside their very windows!  However, it’s especially horrifying to have A actually touching the girls.  Creep factor of 12.  At first, when I saw A come in, I was afraid that A was going to start rubbing HGH cream on Emily again.  Thank God that didn’t happen, at least.  But still – the implicit threat of violence (how easy it is to get my hands around your neck) was horrifying.  Hannah may have been run down, but it didn’t have the creepy violence-directed-against-women feel of this encounter.  Why the violent threat?  Because Emily was about to tell?  Or does A really have it out for Emily — so many particularly brutal threats and manipulations seem to be coming her way lately.  And her body has become A’s pawn – keeping her in Rosewood; getting her off the swim team by affecting her pain cream; now this…

Sarah: Agreed! So violating and terrible. Poor Emily.

2.  How did you feel about Spencer going to Ezra re: the Jason situation?  How did you feel about Ezrr’s response?  About Aria’s mom’s response?  (I’m really bad at remembering the parents’ names).

Melissa: I had mixed feelings about this.  Spencer can be a wee bit controlling.  On the other hand, Aria can be a way bit dense.  So I can see why she thought it was a necessary measure.  Though with all her crafty planning skills, I think she could have come up with a better plan than “car outside the school.”  Frankly, I was surprised that Aria listened to Ezra; she hasn’t seemed particularly taken with him lately, except for when she’s straddling him in his office.  Maybe she feels scared of Jason too and was just happy for a graceful out that didn’t require her to say, “I still am slightly afraid that you will throttle me in my sleep with a strange surveillance camera tripod or something.”

Poor Spencer.  Always wanting older men.  Or at least getting caught for it!  I hope Aria’s mom doesn’t spread any rumors.  With Spencer’s track record (Ian; Wren) I think people would be likely to believe that she had a fling with Fitz.  And I don’t want anything to ruin the Tobey magic.

Sarah: I get why Spencer was freaked about Aria spending time with Jason, but I think it was probably a mistake to go to Ezra—not so much as the boyfriend as going to anybody in order to try to make decisions about Aria’s life. That said, I totally think Spencer’s heart was in the right place (as Aria clearly does too in their super-sweet apology scene). Ezra, I think, handled the news pretty well by going straight to Aria and being concerned without being overly jealous. As for Ella, her reaction to the idea of Ezra and Spencer is understandable—but a part of me wonders if she’s not subconsciously projecting the truth onto a different girl in order to avoid the truth… Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Lose Yourself: Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies”

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2011 at 11:44 am

Sarah Todd

[Spoiler warning: some plot reveals ahead]

I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, mostly because I think people aren’t that good at being organized or keeping secrets. If UFOs were really cruising over to our atmosphere, I feel like at least one modern-day Deep Throat would start an anonymous blog or text friends some pictures or whatever. And then there’d be some other poor sap who’d forget to update a security code or give the alien a snack that disagreed with his/her/its digestive system, and before you knew it, Anderson Cooper would be hiding in a tree somewhere, getting the scoop.

But there is at least one conspiracy theory I definitely do believe in. I think the beauty myth is a giant scam designed to trick people into worrying so much about the way they look that they don’t have time to focus on the stuff that really counts. (Also, I sort of believe in time warps, but that’s another story.)

Scott Westerfeld’s sci-fi YA novel Uglies, the first of a trilogy, takes the beauty conspiracy theory to its logical extreme. In a society several hundred years in the future, everyone undergoes plastic surgery when they turn sixteen. Before you have surgery, no matter how you look, you’re automatically an “ugly.” Kids nickname each other for the features judged most egregiously flawed: “Fattie, Pig-Eyes, Boney, Zits, Freak.” The novel’s fifteen-year-old heroine, Tally, is called “Squint” for her narrow eyes. She’s fully internalized her culture’s standard of beauty, and describes herself in terms of her deviation from that standard: she has a “wide nose and thin lips, too-high forehead and tangled mass of frizzy hair.” She thinks she’s ugly, but she’s not too worried about it, because she knows that in a few months she’ll get the surgery and be as beautiful as everybody else.

Post-surgery “pretties” have the requisite “big eyes and full lips like a kid’s; smooth, clear skin; symmetrical features.” Slight variations in eye and hair color make pretties distinguishable from one another, but everyone basically looks the same after surgery, which is the whole point.  Schools teach young uglies that back in the so-called Rust Era, “Everyone judged everyone else based on their appearance. People who were taller got better jobs, and people even voted for some politicians just because they weren’t quite as ugly as everybody else [. . .] People killed one another over stuff like having different skin color.” The noble goal of achieving equality has resulted in a brave new world in the elite Pretty Committee decides what’s attractive, and everyone falls in line. Read the rest of this entry »

PLL Roundtable: Season 2 Episode 9, “Picture This”

In Pretty Little Liars on August 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

Just in time for this week’s new PLL (so excited!), we have last week’s recap. Read onto find out whether Jason is hot or creepy, why Fitz might be on the outs, why Em has poker problems, and what’s up with creepy camera situations.

Jason: Hot or Creepy? Or both? Or A?

Melissa: Soooooooooooo, PLLL (PLL lovers)…..who has a question for us to consider?

Sarah: I have one!

Melissa: 10 points to Gryffindor!

Sarah: It is this: it appears that Jason has definitely been taking those creepy pictures of Aria, right? There’s no way that was a set-up or that it was being done for some innocent reason. So, what are the implications of this discovery?

Phoebe: I think there is no way that was a set up, given that Jason cleaned his shit up afterward. Also, so creepy! The stalking lens and listening devices seemed, well, over the top.

Melissa: Yes, that’s true… but if it’s not a set-up, then how did A take the picture of Emily/Spencer? Because I don’t think Jason is A – it was too overtly being hinted at for that to be the case.

Sarah: I think A follows them everywhere. Like, if A was watching Em in her house, then A could def be prepared in the shed too.

Phoebe:  I concur that Jason is not A, especially because he does not remember that night, as Jenna and Garrett so nicely reminded us. I thought A might have been prepared in the shed, but also A cannot be Jenna at least alone, right? Because A presumably can see the picture that he/she just developed.

Melissa: Good sleuthing, Phoebe! Really, we always knew Jason was a creeper – isn’t that why he and Ian were buds? Because they window-stalked together?

Sarah: That’s true about him and Ian. I guess I thought Jason might just be into drugs (not stalking), especially because what Ian was into was spying on his sister, which seems like it would have a gross-out factor for Jason.

Melissa:  Maybe he just learned creepy tactics that he is now using on Aria? Or maybe he had a sexual thing with Ali – I always wondered about that, since the night Ali fled the house party at her place and came to Spence’s. And since sibling sexuality has already cropped up in this show with Tobey and Jenna.

Sarah: Oh yeah, she was so upset

Phoebe: She was soo upset … But it also seems like Jason and Ali had a super contentious relationship given that clip with the hockey stick.

Melissa: Oh yeah…could that be rage at him because he was being creepy to her? (I’ve been watching too much SVU). Read the rest of this entry »

The Message: Pam, The Office, and Dreams Deferred

In gender on August 12, 2011 at 7:36 am

Sarah Todd

“It’s impractical. I’m not going to try to get a house like that. Um, they don’t even make houses like that in Scranton. So I’m never gonna…” – Pam, “Boys and Girls”

Whatever happened to Pam? I ask this question with all the love and loss it’s possible to feel for a fictional person, because there is maybe no other television character I have ever cared about so much.

Pam, portrayed on The Office with warmth and humor by Jenna Fischer, got to me because she was a woman struggling to stop holding herself back. She had dreams, but for a long time she didn’t believe in herself enough to even admit them. Her tamped-down aspirations manifested themselves physically in the curly locks she kept half-clipped back, a hairstyle that communicated a mild sense of resignation. The one time she let her hair loose, her boss got gross; she reached for her barrette.

Her life didn’t match what she wanted, and her character arc in the early seasons was about learning to take responsibility for changing it. The first, most obvious thing that was wrong was her love life. She was engaged to the lug-headed Roy, her high-school sweetheart, when she was clearly in love with wry and playful Jim. The second thing that was wrong was that Pam wanted a creative career, and the only creative part about her job as a receptionist at a struggling paper company was inventing ways not to die of boredom. Read the rest of this entry »

Ramona’s Tears and the Emotional Labor of the RHONY

In Real Housewives on August 12, 2011 at 1:08 am

Chelsea Bullock

I’ve been watching The Real Housewives of New York City for the past few seasons and I love it. However, every season, without fail, the finale reunion episode(s) make me question why*.

Watch this clip and come back.

See what I mean?

These women, as evidenced by the screaming, fit-throwing, and blatant contempt for one another are not–by the strictest of definitions–nice. I’ve tried to find some redeeming value in that not-niceness but have yet to come up with any convincing points. It seems more likely that there’s something else at work that makes these women sympathetic.

As seen in the clip and in these photographs, they perfectly embody a glossy, privileged, I-never-learned-how-to-blow-dry-my-own-hair lifestyle. As with most of the Real Housewives shows, these women’s New York is unlikely to be recognized by 98.9% of New Yorkers.

Three of the seven are married (another is in a serious dating relationship), all seven have at least one child, and all seven are involved in multiple business ventures. Nailing down what those ventures are and exactly what their personal involvement entails is impossible, but the performance and spectacle is what matters here.

But I’m getting distracted.

How does the show work to generate affect(ion) for a bunch of wholly unlikeable women?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between the pleasure that can be found in excess–melodramatic, emotional, material, etc.–and appreciation for their interpersonal struggles and triumphs. While these “housewives” aren’t taking on the burden of performing traditional domestic roles, they are still constantly and painfully negotiating relationships with one another, their spouses or romantic interests, their children, and their employees. It is important that the show is making this emotional labor visible and valued.

It is also important to be clear: These relational negotiations aren’t necessarily anything like real life nor are they meant to be.

(a still from one of the reunion episodes: Ramona, Sonja, and Alex)

But the emotion these women seem to always be struggling with–how to communicate their feelings, how to maintain composure, how to tell when paranoia is valid, how to stay out of a fight, how to be a good friend, how to be angry without coming to blows or getting bleeped–is real.

Because these are actual living humans rather than fictional characters (though Lily Bart could give them all a real run for their money), it is fair for viewers to assume that these women have emotions. I am not making a claim that Ramona Singer’s tears at around 2:20 in this clip are any more real or authentic than Lily Bart’s final letter, i.e. that there is some kind of inherent truthiness to their emotions. What I am claiming is that Ramona Singer is a human and the affect of her actual being is impossible to deny. Just because Ramona’s tears cannot be assumed as an honest representation of sadness doesn’t mean they are without value. Instead, the tears can be seen as richer for their multivalent possibilities. Ramona could be crying because she’s frustrated with how she performed in her scenes that night, she’s feeling insecure about her outfit, her head hurts and she’s hungry, or for no reason at all other than she knew how very excerpt-able that moment would be for commercials and is excited by the possibility of maximizing her air time. Ramona’s “real” motivation is blessedly oblique. Her authenticity is unimportant. What matters is that there is a very real woman and she is crying.

I’m still not sure how to more deeply suss out this claim. For example: how is this different than saying that a filmic adaptation of a play is less affective and less authentic than the stage performance of the play? I’ve been thinking over it for days and this is still where I’m stuck. One of things that keeps returning to me is this consideration of a living, breathing, crying body. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels have been one of the great delights of my summer and yet I feel waaaaay less attached to the mostly likeable (novel-version) Sookie than I do to these women. I don’t think it is a matter of successful or unsuccessful character development (Sookie) as much as it is a conflation of character and actual sharing-the-same-atmosphere-as-me celebrity (Ramona). Theoretically, Ramona is accessible to me in the same ways she is accessible to her fellow cast-members, the underlings at her jewelry parties, her stylist, or the camera person for the day. Theoretically, she is always Ramona.

*I’m throwing out a lot of wobbly, nebulous ideas here–mostly to force myself to articulate some of the impulses and flutters living in my brain right now–and am 100% open to being totally, totally, completely wrong. Ask me questions. Tell me what you think.

Nature/Nurture & Teen Dating: Switched at Birth, Race, and (dis)Ability

In girl culture, race, teen soaps on August 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Ever since Huge last summer, I have been a serious fan of ABC Family—a fandom that definitely took me by surprise. After Huge, then it was Pretty Little Liars, which I love. I watched the first season in one day. Then I couldn’t help being curious about Switched at Birth when it premiered earlier this summer. And truth be told, I am most certainly going to watch The Lying Game, when it premiers next week and am considering Revenge, whenever that premiers. Really, I think teen shows are where it is at these days in TV (I give Gossip Girl credit, despite not knowing whether that credit is due), and so I figure it is about time I talked about one of my ABC Family shows: Switched at Birth.

Switched at Birth Poster

So I think Switched at Birth is pretty well intentioned as television shows go—it tries really hard to be family oriented, embrace and represent diversity, and promote awareness about disability, and specifically deafness. If you have never seen it, Switched at Birth is about exactly what the title suggests: two baby girls, Bay and Daphne, are switched at birth in the hospital. Bay, the Puerta Rican baby, winds up with a rich white suburban family, while Daphne, the white baby, winds up with the alcoholic Puerto Rican single mother. Then, sixteen years later a DNA test, prompted by Bay, who has always felt out of place in the suburbs, reveals the switch. So Daphne, now deaf after getting meningitis as a baby, and her mom Regina, now sober, move into the wealthy family’s house so the girls and their requisite parents can get to know each other. Then, teenage drama ensues.

Vanessa Marano aka Bay

Katie Leclerc aka Daphne

The representation and discussion of deafness is central to the plot, and generally seems much more interesting than anything else I have seen where deafness on television is concerned. Particularly, the show insists that being deaf is not a disability, but just a difference. To this end, a significant portion of the show focuses on the deaf community and is in sign language with subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Instead of having deaf characters as side characters and integrated into the hearing community, for example Marlee Matlin’s character on West Wing, Switched at Birth suggests that there is a whole world with its own culture outside the hearing community. For example, we learn about an all American Sign Language version of Frankenstein. The show is careful to consider that the deaf community may not want to be integrated into the hearing community. Further, the show currently features a hearing/deaf romantic relationship as a means to think through the potential difficulties of such a relationship: Bay and Emmett respectively.

However, as much as I want to like this show, I find myself at times uncomfortable with the racial politics of Switched at Birth. At once, I think they are trying almost too hard to defy stereotypes; however, it just doesn’t seem to work in their favor. For example, the two moms represent two differing poles: Kathryn (Lea Thompson of Caroline in the City fame) is the uptight white suburban housewife, while Regina is Puerto Rican, a recovering alcoholic, artsy and passionate, and a single mom. Both are stereotypes. And what we learn from the show is that these qualities are genetic. That is, that despite being raised in an uptight white suburban home, Bay’s passionate and artistic nature cannot be tamed. She is fiery, and she gets that from Regina and her Puerto Rican side. While Daphne, at least initially, is more level-headed and logical and sporty (just like her biological father, a former pro-baseball player). Some of this stuff seems to be getting smoothed out as the show progresses, but the stereotypes are still very much there.

Blair Redford aka Ty

Charles Michael Davis aka Liam Lupo

Further, near the beginning of the series the two girls, Bay and Daphne, date two guys neither of whom are coded as white, Ty and Liam respectively. Ty Mendoza is (from his last name) likely Latino, he is poor, and he lives in Regina and Daphne’s old neighborhood, which in the show is clearly the wrong side of the tracks (however, Ty is played by the actor Blair Redford who appears to be white). Following Richard Dyer (I have an academic crush on him) in White, whiteness is an expandable and collapsible category and is cinematically, or in this case televisually, constructed. That, is whiteness is constructed through lighting, costuming, make-up, etc. And whiteness signals power, or at least proximity to power. So Ty, because he is figured as of a lower-class, is coded as less white than Daphne, and even Bay. And while Bay dates Ty, Daphne goes after Liam, who is African American and perhaps Italian (his last name is Lupo). Also, Liam happens to be Bay’s ex-boyfriend. So Complicated! However, very quickly both girls ditch these initial love interests and move on to two blond boys: Emmett and Wilke. And to keep in line with Dyer, dating two blond white boys (the whitest of the white) adds to both Daphne and Bay’s whiteness.

Sean Berdy aka Emmett, Bay's new beau

Austin Butler aka Wilke, who is now interested in Daphne

A few final thoughts: Given the show’s seeming sensitivity to discussions of disability, the racial politics seem odd and worth talking about. Not that bad or weird racial politics are unusual on television, but in a show that is seemingly so well intentioned and working hard against certain stereotypes, it does this at the expense of reinforcing other stereotypes. So I still think teen shows are doing some of the more interesting work on television at the moment, and thus I am going to keep watching Switched at Birth, if only to figure out what is going on. But also teen television, is also one of the few places we see shows about women and shows that would certainly pass the Bechdel Test. Now, talk amongst yourselves.

A Mostly Gleeful Project: Oxygen’s Glee Project & Cheering for Hannah

In girl culture on August 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

Most of the time when I watch Glee I rather wish the dialogue would stop, and instead they would just sing awesome songs all the time. This is also mostly how I feel about Oxygen’s newest reality TV drama, The Glee Project. I feel odd about this particular feeling given that I am generally a total sucker for narrative, but Glee’s dialogue is often not as compelling as its songs. However, on The Glee Project there is something oddly absorbing and intriguing about seeing Ryan Murphy on every episode just being Ryan Murphy (also, responsible for the dark and creepy Nip/Tuck).

The premise of the show is a bunch of awkward, nerdy, but charming kids compete for a story arc on Glee. Everyone is super talented, and the drama includes people competing to hit a higher note, somebody’s feelings getting hurt, and somebody telling on another cast member to Ryan Murphy (for example, when Damien told Ryan that Alex was picking on Mathias). Oh yeah, they also all live together. Drama, drama, drama. Also, each episode ends as the final three go to see if their names are on the call-back list for next week’s episode. For extra melodrama, their journey is accompanied by awesomely dramatic music. Oh melodrama, you are so reliably grand.

Hannah from The Glee Project

So of the contestants left on The Glee Project, Hannah is by far my favorite. She is a perky, goofy, cute red head from North Carolina. A few weeks ago she got her confidence, and realized she was sexy and great. She would be awesome on Glee. Plus she can rap; in the “Ice Ice Baby/Under Pressure” mash-up she gave Vanilla Ice a run for his money. I would totally watch her on Glee. And so it seems would Ryan Murphy; last week he told Hannah and her partner Alex that they were what Glee was about. That is, neither of them should be a star, per Murphy’s logic, because of their looks. Put another way, what Murphy informs them of is that they are not Hollywood or TV good looking, but rather they are both self described “fat kids.”

At once, Glee is about making stars of those that might not otherwise be—it is a show about misfits (even though many of them are HOT and at least were once popular, ie Finn, Quinn, etc.). And so too is The Glee Project. This is among the many lessons we learn about Glee from the show’s creator Ryan Murphy. Other lessons include that the show is very much about teamwork (no divas allowed), and you don’t want to be the guy or gal that we have to do extra takes for. The show is filled with little gems about the what Glee is about. The small lessons for the contestants let them know what they’re getting into while promoting the show. And Glee, per Ryan Murphy, is a highly ethical, teamwork oriented, friends forever set.

But to briefly return to this notion of misfits and Glee as the happy television home for said misfits. One of my issues with Glee is that many of the misfits wind up functioning to showcase the main couple, Finn and Rachel, and support their on and off again romantic coupling (click here for more on this). Further, by looking for misfits, it seems The Glee Project and Glee are redefining and reiterating what it means to be a misfit, not to mention what it looks like (although we learn that even football stars can be misfits). On the plus side, maybe Glee/The Glee Project are working to make the nerdy misfit cool. But perhaps that’s why I like Hannah on The Glee Project: she seems like a 19 year old (which she is), she is super talented and when she performs my eye goes to her, and she equates her sexuality to a Koala bear. Awesome. However, she doesn’t play up her potential misfit-ness. And in this way she reminds me of Glee superstars Lauren Zizes (Ashley Fink) and Mercedes (Amber Riley), who on the show are perhaps two of strongest personalities, and two of the most comfortable in their own skin (Kurt might also be in this category). Or at least as comfortable as teenagers potentially can be …

Ashley Fink who plays Lauren Zizes on Glee

Amber Riley aka Mercedes on Glee

By way of a conclusion, I am not really sure how I feel about The Glee Project. Truth be told, I often fast forward through the dialogue. However, it is an interesting show to think about and I am rooting for Hannah big time. In part, I think why I like her, Zizes, and Mercedes as potential Glee and current Glee characters respectively is their characters insist on beauty in so many different forms; for example, Puck is attracted to Zizes because she is stronger than him and does not put up with his shit. In fact, Puck + Zizes is my favorite Glee couple by far. In the best of all possible worlds, Glee is about making stars out of people who do not, for Murphy, fit the Hollywood mold, even if his leads most certainly do (ie Finn and Rachel). And perhaps his acknowledgement of this is rather savvy, albeit depressing. However, I am waiting for the day where a Hannah, Lauren Zizes, or Amber Riley are the leaders of a Gleeful pack.

PLL Roundtable: Season 2 Episode 8, “Save the Date”

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on August 4, 2011 at 6:33 am

This week, we quake in fear of the morgue (though the cookies there are always fresh), decline to take steroid cream in our coffee, and root for the end of Azria.

A is so scary! Also, does A live in the Rosewood morgue? Maybe.


Phoebe:  lying in the morgue?!?!?

Sarah:  A sitting up under the sheet in the morgue soooo slowly

Phoebe:  so scary!

Sarah:  It was the scariest A tag ever I thought

Phoebe: I was a little sad that I was home alone at that moment

Sarah:  I can definitely understand that.

Buried Alive! Not the best way to go.

Sarah: And A’s morgue appearance in combination with the information that Ali was buried alive made this episode especially scary/morbid.

Phoebe: And that page 5 is missing?!

Sarah:   Yes!

Phoebe: Oooh the buried alive is so scary! And more disturbing than I feel like we had previously imagined.

Sarah:  Yeah. Really the violence of the crime has been played down pretty significantly, which makes sense for a teen show, until now.

Phoebe: I totally agree … I felt like this was a seriously upping of the violence in an unexpected way. Read the rest of this entry »

Google Gaga for Glory

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Two years ago, I became madly obsessed with Gaga’s “Telephone” video, as everyone should be.  While many of my friends said that what they really wished for was a video of her and Beyonce getting down like crazy in a club, I was thoroughly won over by the strange mash-up of pop culture references, strange prison-break narrative, poison recipes, and Wonder Woman inspired costumes.  I couldn’t stop watching it.  And I decided that Lady Gaga was making some of the most interesting music videos around right now.  They told stories, but semi-incomprehensible ones that had you scrambling for meaning like a T.S. Eliot poem.  What did they mean?  They seemed to say something about bodies and ability and gender and dancing and fun and art and costumes and…what?  Let’s watch it again!  I started to live in a universe of Lady Gaga videos:  “Paparazzi”, “Bad Romance”, “Alejandro”, “Video Phone” (with Beyonce) – whether I loved or hated her videos, they were never, ever dull.  And if you had asked me if I expected to be bored by a Gaga video, I would have laughed incredulously.

I mean, just look at all these wacky looks – from two videos!

Sexy space halo sunglasses blesses you!

Fruit baskets never looked so sexy on mail order brides with crazy claw dance!

Chicago meets Harley-Davidson for awesome studded bras and prison bar dances!

Angry wonder women will kill you to get better boyfriends!

The sheer lack of dullness is why I am entranced by Lady Gaga.  I think her self-reflective, over-the-top, am-I-serious-or-not antics are amazing and hilarious.  I find every interview with her more fascinating than the last – even when she’s comes across as pretentious, or sanctimonious, or weirdly proselytizing.  Plenty has been written on her taking pop culture’s star obsession to the max, deconstructing art, all that – so I don’t know that I have anything new to say besides “Yes.”  Pop culture is about flash and bling and entertainment, and Lady Gaga gave us that in one big package of weird.  And we love her for it.  I love her for it.

But her videos seemed to get less and less exciting to me during the past year.  And now…I think that the video for “Edge of Glory” is…dull.  It’s pretty much 5 minutes of Lady Gaga in a semi-weird costume lounging about an urban setting full of mist with occasional appearance of the SaxMan (yes, Clarence Clemons, you are cool, but not that visually exciting).

I mean, where is the semi-Biblical biker gang?  Where is the Nazi S&M fest?  Where are the dead women hanging from the ceiling while you dance in a blinged-out wheelchair?  Where are the men with blue eyeshadow doing poison flourishes in the background?  Okay, the Egyptian makeup and leather outfit is a little weird, but it is not as weird as you are, Gaga.  You’ve set yourself up, with fruit baskets and Kermits and lobster hats and big odd googly eyes.  You have to do something weirder to keep my attention.

Fascinatingly, what’s not boring is the recent Google chrome commercial featuring “Edge of Glory.”  I first heard the song on that commercial, and found myself strangely moved.  I normally hate things that deliberately pull on my heartstrings, but the Google Chrome commercials are just killing me.  They’re so moving!  Why?  There’s some way they fulfill our fantasy desires for what art and technology could give us: community; self-empowerment; a moment of feeling really on the edge of glory:

It seems to me that what this video incorporates, and what so many of Gaga’s videos do incorporate, is the sense of the artist being part of a larger community.  Here, it’s literal.  The commercial very movingly depicts the way Gaga has interacted with her fans, inspiring them to be creative in their own ways.  The vision of her running across the bridge has a scrappy, epic feel to it (which I especially like given her recent interview in Rolling Stone, where she talks about her love of Rocky).  We get the sense of an underdog fighting the odds, whose weirdness inspires the weirdness of the world around her and creates this new, weird, wonderful community.  All her videos have been about a weird, weird person dancing in a weird world with other weird people – and this commercial takes all that weird appeal and literalizes it.  Gaga is dancing her weird dance in the world, and others are drawn in through the process.  That possible moment – that moment of feeling  as though one is participating in something large and grand and awesome –  is the real epic appeal behind songs like “Edge of Glory.”  In her recent post on Nicki Minaj, Sarah quoted Sunny Biswas, who claimed, “making people feel like superheroes for three to five minutes at a time is one of the greatest things that pop music does.”   This song definitely does this – and what the Google commercial oddly captures (and the music video doesn’t) is that expansive, elated feeling – the superhero moment of connection and possibility and exciting, exciting strangeness.