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Feminist Fabulists: Telling Stories, Changing Perspectives, and “Pretty Little Liars”

In ABC Soaps, feminism, Perspective, Pretty Little Liars on September 16, 2014 at 7:59 am

Phoebe B.

The villains and heroes of a story often change depending on who’s controlling the narrative. Consider the many recent re-thinkings of classic stories from the evil characters’ perspective.

Wicked, for example, re-tells the Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s (aka Elphaba’s) point of view. In so doing, an entirely different story is spun: a young girl discriminated against for her skin color fights an unjust system, only to be cast as “wicked” by the Wizard’s corrupt administration.

Similarly, Disney’s newest princess fairytale re-imagines Maleficent (masterfully played by Angelina Jolie) in the titular character as a woman scorned—her majestic wings violently stolen by the King, her former childhood sweetheart. As narrated by Aurora, Maleficent’s supposedly evil nature—and by extension her violence—is filtered through a rape-revenge fantasy narrative. The film casts her anger and desire for revenge as rooted in trauma rather than the product of pure evil—a move that doesn’t function to justify her violence but rather explains it.

Both re-tellings further complicate familiar narratives by foregrounding relationships between women that don’t fit within patriarchal structures. Sleeping Beauty’s re-telling of Maleficent’s story, outside the confines of her father’s violent ideology, reveals that the theoretically bad fairy was Aurora’s true protector, a complex person capable of love. In Wicked, a similar relationship of rivals is recast as a best friendship and alliance between the “good” witch Galinda (aka Glinda) and Elphaba.

This is the trick of perspective: when we flip it and re-imagine stories from the viewpoints of outsiders, we begin to see the dangers of limiting ourselves to just one narrative (check out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beautiful Ted Talk for more on this.).

Like Wicked and Maleficent, the ABC Family series Pretty Little Liars foregrounds perspective, casting doubt on the reliability of any singular narrative and particularly those that attempt to frame women within patriarchy. But it goes even further in championing the multiplicity of narratives that emerge in communities of women, suggesting the importance of reclaiming and re-writing our own diverse stories.

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Forever Young, Forever Violent: Imagination, Sadism, and Once’s Peter Pan

In ABC Soaps, TV villains, violence, white masculinity on September 11, 2014 at 11:40 am

(Or, “Violently Inclined, Part II”)

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Phoebe B.

In many children’s stories, young men function as the site of imaginative production. Books from Peter Pan to Harold and the Purple Crayon are populated almost exclusively by young boys who dream big and create their own worlds. Boys’ imaginations, these stories suggest, are capable of creating universes well beyond the scope of their immediate existence.

In Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harold draws his own world. Max ventures into the land where the wild things are; the little prince sketches his way through adventures to escape the adult world; and Christopher Robin traipses through the woods with a bevvy of furry imaginary friends. And in Peter Pan (the book and the movies), Neverland is a welcome escape for young white boys and even Wendy Darling—a place of youthfulness, fun, and a little benign mischief. 

On this last point, the latest season of ABC’s hit fairytale mash-up Once Upon a Time begs to differ. Instead of fun and clever mischief, Peter Pan’s creative landscape is a site of destruction and violence run amok. In Neverland, as Pan says, nobody ever says “no” and violence is a casual, everyday occurrence. This Neverland more resembles the heart of darkness or Lord of the Flies than Disney’s previous Neverland versions replete with laughter, song, and light. 

In Once’s fairytale world, Peter Pan is a permanent villain. His island is cloaked in darkness; his shadow—far from the playful version in the Disney film—is evil and entirely capable of murder. The character has kidnapped hundreds of kids over the years to keep him company in his eternal youth, preying on lost and lonely boys by convincing them that no one else cares for them, thereby breaking their bond to any worldly place or people. He even keeps Wendy Darling in a cage as if she is his permanent possession, using her captivity to turn her brothers into Pan’s personal henchmen for a century.

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Being Brunette: PLL and the Dangers of Policing Identity

In ABC Soaps, feminism, Pretty Little Liars on September 4, 2014 at 7:52 am

 

TROIAN BELLISARIO

Melissa Sexton

Pretty Little Liars’s Spencer Hastings and Hanna Marin occupy opposite poles within their fantastic friend foursome, as Sarah Todd wrote about earlier this week. These girls also occupy opposing sides of a binary that defines women in terms of either their looks or their minds. Hanna Marin is supposed to be the “dumb blonde” and Spencer Hastings is supposed to be the “smart brunette.” The two aren’t just different; their differences define each other. But lately, Sarah argues, PLL is breaking down the characters’ strictly defined identities. With Hanna acing the SATs and taking a leading role in the group’s ongoing investigation of Ali, A, and all related mysteries, the show pushes against the reductive way these stereotypes and Hanna’s own friends try to define and limit her.

But if the strict division between smarts and looks is breaking down in Hanna’s favor, what does that mean for Spencer? While Hanna has rocked her “dumb blonde” title unphased and full of confidence, Spencer has been constantly anxious of losing her “smart” designation. She’s over-caffeinated and overcommitted, trying to hold down spots on the lacrosse team and the Quiz Bowl, to secure herself early admission to U Penn–the university all the other Hastings attended–and to pad her résumé with awards and laurels.

This competitive drive, as Sarah points out, can make Spencer particularly invested in putting Hanna’s intelligence down. But to simply label Spencer as the mean one of the group seems, to me, to simplify the complicated story of friendship and mutual self-definition that PLL explores.  Sarah brilliantly points out the show’s deconstruction of “patriarchal archetypes,” and my hope in writing this is simply to build on her analysis by telling the flipside of Hanna’s story.

Spencer’s meanness is as much a product of reductive definitions as Hanna’s dumbness. It is the result of women being told that they have to choose one aspect of their identity and protect it at any cost, blurring their true complexity in favor of fitting in safely.

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GLG Year-End Picks: Phoebe’s Top 5 TV Shows

In ABC Soaps, Dance Academy, Pretty Little Liars, Scandal, Television on December 19, 2012 at 11:31 am

I watch a lot of TV. Like a lot. Thus, I was excited to put together this list, which did prove quite hard as there is a lot of fun TV out there right now. Anyway, as I made this list, I realized that all my favorite shows feature amazing leading ladies (both on and off-screen). This top five (perhaps save for PLL) is in no order in particular.

1) Pretty Little Liars

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PLL continues its reign in my top spot. I realize this is not a 2012 show BUT last season was so good. It included such gems as a Psycho-esque season finale, a Rear Window reference, and Jenna regaining her sight in the best femme fatale scene ever. Oh and then there is Mona … the best villainess ever.

2) The Mindy Project

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I was sold by the preview and the pilot. There is something so hilarious and charming about the Mindy Project and its hilarious and pretty awesome (and very pretty) heroine. I love Mindy’s spacey and craziness, but also that she has this super successful and amazing career. Most recently, we saw sadly that her new boyfriend turned out to be a jerk, but the highlight of the episode was how great her friends were afterwards. Basically, The Mindy Project is delightful and snarky simultaneously.

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Pretty Little Liars Halloween Recap, “This Is a Dark Ride”

In ABC Soaps, Pretty Little Liars on October 26, 2012 at 8:47 am

All aboard the ghost train: Pretty Little Liars is back, Halloween style, in one of the craziest episodes yet.  Flashbacks reveal that Ali was murdered at least three different times on the same night. Aria gets drugged and trapped in a crate alongside Garrett’s fresh corpse (!!), and she’s about to be pushed off board a moving train when a combination of her killer screwdriver aim and her fellow Liars’ good timing saves her life. Meanwhile, Hanna’s mom and Pastor Ted encounter what appears to be an actual ghost — one of the twins from last year’s Halloween special. And in the TWISTIEST TWIST since we saw Toby in A’s trademark hoodie, Ezra. Fitz. Has. A. Bandage. On. His. Hand. Read on for more of the spooky twists and turns of this year’s Halloween special.

The Liars’ Halloween costumes were, as usual, flawless. Hanna was Marilyn Monroe in her iconic white dress, Aria was Daisy from The Great Gatsby (“the book,” she clarifies, although really what difference it makes with respect to her costume is unclear), Spencer was Lauren Bacall circa To Have and Have Not, and Emily was Barbarella. Which was your favorite look? And any other notable costumes from the rest of the cast?

Sarah T: Hmm I can’t choose a favorite, they all looked great — and of course the choices were perfectly tailored to their personalities. (As Spencer tells Hanna, “How could you have been worried that we’d pick the same costume?”) But in terms of other noteworthy costumes: Jenna showed some dry wit with her pirate eye-patch costume and admirable commitment with her dreadlock-and-curls hairstyle. I couldn’t tell what Noel was supposed to be. (A prince?) It’s fun that Mona wore a costume under her costume. You KNOW our girl was probably wearing a costume under the paper mache mask too. She’s turtles all the way down.

Phoebe B: Aaah Mona, what a wonderful evil genius. Her costume was SO scary! But I think Aria’s Daisy was actually my favorite since it seemed an homage to the one book we can be certain the PLLs read and Ezra’s former career as a high school teacher. Remember when they read The Great Gatsby forever?! After that, I thought Emily was rocking her Barberella costume too! Also, I kind of missed Spencer’s ridiculous queen costume from last year’s Halloween flashback.

If Garrett’s version of events is true, the night Ali died he saw her arguing with Byron. Then he threatened her with a hockey stick, making the then-blind Jenna believe he had killed her when in fact he was hacking away at a poor old tree. Do you buy Garrett’s story? And if so, what might Ali and Byron have been fighting about?

Sarah T: I think I do believe Garrett. For one thing, he’s dead now, and I feel like on PLL people usually get axed right after they tell the truth about something. Also because we saw a flashback, and thus far none of the flashbacks have been disproven, which makes me think they’re a truthiness-indicator. I think Ali may have been blackmailing Byron about his dalliances with Meredith the College Student, which makes him a new member in the ever-growing lineup of people who had motive to want Ali dead. I am thrilled about this development, because Byron has always seemed like a creeper and this seals the deal.

Phoebe B: Good questions! And I agree. That was a crazy revelation and I am inclined to believe Garrett now that he is very dead. I have always suspected Byron of something as he just seems so creepy and suspicious all the time. I agree about Ali blackmailing Byron but I also thought perhaps Byron made the grave mistake of sleeping with Ali. I realize that’s extra creepy, but there seemed to be something more afoot than blackmail. But the story too about Garrett fake killing Ali was so weird! What were her and Jenna fighting about? Why were they going after each other? I thought Jenna and Ali reconciled when Jenna was in the hospital. I’m so confused.

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