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How to be Awesome Like Cimorene

In books, feminism, gender, girl culture, How to be Awesome Like, YA on June 11, 2015 at 7:17 pm

 

 

Chelsea H.

One of my favorite things about being an adult is rediscovering beloved books and characters from childhood. Now in my 30s, as I’ve read back through some of my favorite YA books I’ve noticed a penchant for a particular sort of female character: girls and women who were not content to work within the confines society (or men) laid out for them, or girls and women who made a difference to the outcome of the story, not just as the arm candy of some dude, but who saved the day themselves, or were necessary components in the shaping or reshaping of the world they inhabited.

This leads me to Dealing with Dragons, the first of Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The kid inside me almost bursts with excitement to introduce you to Cimorene.

Cimorene is a princess, and though she grows up surrounded by all the typical fairytale commodities – a prosperous kingdom, attentive parents, golden-haired sisters, etiquette lessons, a handsome prospective suitor – we know by the end of page one that she hates the whole deal. As her adventures progress and she interacts with talking animals, dubious magic, wizards, a feisty but pragmatic witch, and of course, the titular dragons, a number of qualities stand out about Cimorene that make her unabashedly awesome.

Note: many of these qualities are developed considerably as the book progresses, but a number of them are apparent even within the first chapter or two. I’ve tried to restrict my examples to just these first few chapters to avoid too many spoilers, so you can go out and read this immediately and not have any of the delightful surprises ruined. So, that settled, here’s how to be awesome like Cimorene:

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Downside of Being Good: Paris, Rory and “Gilmore Girls”

In feminism, gender, girl culture, teen soaps, TV, YA on September 25, 2014 at 11:24 am

Sarah Todd

Paris Geller scares people. It’s a beautiful thing. As a teen prep-school Napoleon taking the quirky citizens of Gilmore Girls by storm, she intimidates parents, students and teachers alike. At a debate meet, she engages in psychological warfare to freak out the competition. Her silent scowl is enough to persuade her opponent to change his call in a coin toss before the silver lands. She throws a literary bad boy off his game by dismissing the Beats as self-indulgent jerks. She makes her guidance counselor cry. When a suitor goes Casper on her after he heads off to Princeton, do you suppose that Paris weeps? Does she create a complex flowchart to determine whether some stray remark or unflattering hairstyle has driven him away? She most certainly does not. She simply jots his name down in her revenge notebook.

As a girl too focused on achieving world domination to stop and worry about what other people think of her, Paris is an honors graduate of the Amy Poehler “I don’t care if you like it” school of thought. It is this quality that makes her the perfect foil for her classmate Rory Gilmore, who appears–at least outwardly–to be the ultimate good girl.

While Rory is undeniably charming, I’ve long been annoyed by the way Gilmore Girls insists on having other characters go out of their way to tell her so. Teenage boys fall for her on sight, from a high school Don Juan (Tristan) to the aforementioned literary bad boy (Jess) to a sweet-and-steady jock (Dean). Rory almost always has at least two boyfriends, one current and one would-be, and it’s a safe bet that they’ll resort to fisticuffs over her at one dance-a-thon or another.

Not only does Rory invariably set hearts fluttering, she also wins steady praise for her intelligence. A teacher commends her for honing a school newspaper article about a repaved parking into “a bittersweet piece on how everybody and everything eventually becomes obsolete.” And the reading! Characters are constantly tripping over themselves to remark upon her book intake. (“Aren’t we hooked on Phonics,” a suitor observes upon entering her room for the first time—a hilarious line, since the only books visible in that particular shot are on two small, perfectly standard shelves above her desk.)

Rory’s mother Lorelai is particularly invested in the Rory-is-magic narrative, as Anne K. Burke Erickson notes in her essay on the show. Having gotten pregnant with Rory at age 16, Lorelai desperately needs to believe that Rory is a younger version of herself who can have the future she never did. As a result she’s constantly praising Rory for virtues large and small. “Rory’s never late,” she notes. “She’s almost annoyingly on-time.”

It’s a lot to handle. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Teen TV Needs to Find New Ways to Talk About Sex

In girl culture, sexuality, TV, violence on May 14, 2014 at 7:04 am

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 9.57.48 AM

Sarah T.

The virginity-loss plotline is standard fare for teen television, right up there with eating disorders, unfaithful parents and high-school dance drama. Female protagonists in particular get a lot of screen time as they start to navigate sexual waters. Angela Chase makes a self-aware decision to put off having sex with Jordan Catalano, while Joey Potter has a sweet first time with Pacey Witter on a ski trip. Blair Waldorf makes an impulsive and steamy decision to get down with Chuck Bass in the back of a limo; Emily Fields sleeps with her first girlfriend, Maya St. Germain, just before they’re torn apart.

But teen TV tends to spend a lot less time focusing on all the decision-making that comes after first-time sex has been had. In fact, teen series tend to ignore sex-driven storylines altogether once female characters have slept with someone for the first time, unless sexual assault or pregnancy is involved. This silence at once reinforces a patriarchal obsession with virginity—if a lady has already done the deed, who even cares what her sexual experience are like?—and implies that the only time anybody makes sexual choices that matter is the first time around.

Of course, in real life, we have to make a whole fresh set of sexual decisions with each new relationship. Whether we’re hooking up, dating or seriously involved, we constantly face choices about when to have sex and when not to have it, what kind of sex we prefer and under what circumstances. By ignoring this reality, teen shows can wind up suggesting that sex is something that just happens automatically and without discussion once people are no longer virgins. That’s a dangerous message. It risks reinforcing the beliefs of young men who think they’re entitled to sex—which in turn perpetuates misogyny and rape culture. Our cultural productions all too frequently squander the chance to follow women as they develop their sense of sexual agency. It’s a silence that feeds directly into a system that devalues women and their right to make choices about what they do with their bodies.

A recent episode of the ABC Family series Switched at Birth offers a welcome corrective to this silence. Bay, a senior in high school, has been dating college freshman Tank for a while. One night they wind up back in his dorm room. They start to kiss and fall back on the bed; Tank reaches to slide down the zipper on Bay’s hoodie. And then Bay calls a time-out. Read the rest of this entry »

Hateship, Friendship, and the Power Dynamics of “Doll & Em”

In girl culture, TV on April 22, 2014 at 8:56 am

Sarah T.

Because I am very lucky, I’ve known a lot of smart, funny, talented, gorgeous women in my life so far. There’s no question that these friends have made my life richer and helped shape me into a better human being. There’s also no denying that—particularly in my younger years—I’ve sometimes compared myself to them and wound up feeling decidedly second-rate.

Of course, it’s not productive to feel gloomy because your friend has just nabbed a plum book deal or won a grant to spend ten months rafting down the Amazon or happens to have the luminous skin of a woodland elf. But feeling occasionally competitive with the people who are close to you—or at least having a little bit of a reflexive inferiority complex mixed in with all the love and genuine admiration—is only human. What’s important, I’ve found as I get older, is learning how to deal with those emotions. I can recognize the things that make my friends awesome and feel proud to know them while actively choosing not to listen to the little self-doubt piano tinkling away inside my head. Or I can let insecurities rankle and seethe until they finally threaten to torpedo the friendship for good.

The new HBO series Doll & Em, created by real-life pals Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer, is about two old friends who take the latter, messier road. The power dynamic between Doll and Em seesaws back and forth as the women use one another as measuring sticks of success and find themselves constantly wanting. They know each other well enough to wound. But they also care about each other enough to decide that their broken friendship is worth fighting for.

Doll (Wells) and Em (Mortimer) grew up together in London. At 40, they love each other just as fiercely as they did in their childhood bathtub-splashing days—as is evident from the weepy phone call Doll makes to Em shortly after breaking up with her no-good boyfriend. Em, a successful movie star, ducks away from a red-carpet interview alongside Bradley Cooper to lend her old friend some support. She even comes up with what seems like a generous offer, hiring Doll as her new personal assistant and flying her out to Los Angeles. Read the rest of this entry »

True-er Detectives: “The Bletchley Circle,” Lady Sleuths, and Friendship

In feminism, gender, girl culture, TV on March 11, 2014 at 9:06 am

Phoebe B.

THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE S1

I sit on the floor with my legs crossed, just a foot from the television, enraptured. I watch The Bletchley Circle alone, almost as if sharing the show with anyone else will change the way I feel when I’m watching it, interrupt my complete and utter devotion to the mystery.

Susan utters, “When this is over, we’ll have to be ordinary.” What she means is, We will have to pretend that we’re not brilliant. We will have to pretend we’re ordinary because we are women and smile politely at others’ accomplishments. It’s only been two minutes, but I am already devoted. I fear ordinary too. I fear boredom and expectations of marriage, children, home-owning. A life that is not your own.

I can feel my mouth forming a smile as Ted walks into the room to ask what I’m up to. I don’t want to answer and I don’t want to pause the show, because I’m worried that I might lose this feeling. But I do, and I do. Luckily, I don’t.

***

The Bletchley Circle tells the story of four former World War II code-breakers who happen to be women. The mystery at the center of the show is amazing; the characters who solve it, even more so. The series is about power in the face of powerlessness, determination and solidarity and what four brilliant women can do together. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars and the Power of Four

In girl culture, misogyny, Pretty Little Liars on February 27, 2014 at 6:52 pm

ImageSarah T.

The four of us sit in the grass by the farmer’s market. Together we form a baseball diamond, a compass rose.

Chelsea wears a printed sundress. Her short hair is perfectly mussed; her mouth is a red cupid’s bow. When I first met her I thought she was so glamorous that it was a little intimidating. As it turns out she’s fiercely loyal and easy to trust, the kind of friend who’ll usher you into the kitchen when you’re feeling sad to cook you a bowl of pasta. She’s equal parts sass and Southern sympathy as Melissa acts out scenes from last night’s party.

Melissa’s proud and fiery and mostly legs, equally comfortable pitching a tent in the middle of a rainstorm and spinning across a dance floor with a perfect cat’s-eye. I love listening to her tell stories because she always acts out all the parts. Now she waves her arms over her head, forms her hands into claws and growls.

Phoebe mock-recoils with a laugh. She’s warm and poised with bright blue eyes, quick with comebacks and questions and bear hugs, and sure about the things she loves in a way that makes her habits contagious. Spend enough time with her and you won’t be able to understand how you ever lived without over-salting your salads and speed-walking for at least an hour a day.

As for me, I’m fresh off a breakup. My bangs are awkwardly short because I was too depressed to tell the stylist when to stop cutting. It’s an appropriate look, as I am pretty sure I’m having at least three identity crises simultaneously. But together with these three women, for what seems like the first time in weeks, I don’t feel like crying. Read the rest of this entry »

A Real Shoe-Dunnit: Pretty Little Liars Recap 4.2

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, Recaps on June 25, 2013 at 3:42 pm

The BEST

Phoebe B: Mona, of course. I loved her eavesdropping at the police station and if she is playing the PLLs, she is doing a mighty scary and good job.

Also, I love Spencer so much and how she was so badass in this episode what with her realizing the bird was singing a dial tone. Amazing. I’m really not sure how she figured it out, but yeah pretty impressive. In other Spencer news, do you think that she didn’t get into Penn because of A? And was Ezra’s advice reasonable, because I kind of think Spencer had a point?

I loved that Aria was taking self-defense classes, but her kiss goes in my worst column this week. Why Aria?! I just wanted to see her be tough and defend herself.

The Ali flashback was, as always, awesome. It was helpful to see Ali’s super-manipulative relationship with her mother but now we know that Ali was also keeping her mom’s secrets (bloody mary for lunch), lying to her mother about the beach house, talking to a parrot, and holding her breath for super long. I wonder, does this mean Mrs. D becomes a suspect in Ali’s murder? Or, is she really hiding Ali?

Sarah T: The Ali flashback was my favorite part too. Sasha Pieterse is one talented queen bee. And seeing Ali’s messed-up, icy, manipulative relationship with her mom helps explain the dark clock that made our girl tick.

I think Spence had a point about being real in her college applications, but I also think that people (teens in particular) can be too eager to play up the super-dramatic, heart-wrenching narratives of their lives in college application essays, as if to be a worthy person you have to be damaged. You know what I mean? Like YES Spencer has been through so much. But there’s the issue of exploiting yourself, too. I think it’s tricky. I wouldn’t judge her at all if she wrote about A, but I think Ezra’s advice has some truth in it too.

The WORST

Phoebe B: What is happening with Ashley Marin? I’m NOT pumped about her as the next evil murderer. I love Ashley and her giant glasses of wine so much. But also, I guess she is probably not Wilden’s murderer since PLL is pointing us so hard in that direction. Other worsts for me in this episode were the bird (I really don’t like birds), A feeding bird to the bird (gross! and evil.), and also Toby. I am NOT loving Toby right now. He just keeps lying and being weird and dramatic. Also, why must Aria only be interested in inappropriate older men and teachers?

Emily hitting her head and losing her scholarship. The worst. Her telling Paige what is afoot = heartbreaking (Paige is totally the best).

Sarah T: Ahh I am actually super pumped about Ashley’s murderess prowess. I like how she drinks wine in the dark now and stares at dirty pumps, that’s how I like to unwind after work too. BUT I don’t think she’s the murderer, I think Shayna’s the murder, because what’s the point of Shayna.

Drawing Beauty: Limits and Surfaces in Dove’s Social Experiment

In advertising, body politics, feminism, gender, girl culture, race, Television, Women's health on April 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

Chelsea H.

By now, you’ve probably seen that Dove “social experiment” that’s going around, but just in case you’re as behind as I am, here it is:

The premise here is simple and, if I’m honest, well-meaning: many women, as evidenced by the way they describe themselves, don’t recognize – or are reluctant to acknowledge – their own beauty.  Any flaws they have in appearance are magnified when they view themselves; every crease set by joy and laughter is a “crow’s foot.”  Every tiny, cinnamon-dust dot is a big ugly freckle.  Chins protrude invasively.  Cheeks that don’t have flesh-slicing angular edges are chubby.  These flaws are captured when they describe themselves, all unseen, to a trained forensic artist who draws their portraits to match their descriptions.  And really, this shouldn’t be terrifically surprising.  Women are hard on themselves.  We’ve been taught to be.  Lines, wrinkles, creases – these are harbingers of mortality.  Any freckle, any spot, even the hopefully named “beauty mark” is looked upon as a flaw.

But then the tables are turned: earlier on the day of the experiment, each woman met and chatted with another participant.  Each is asked to describe the other person, and again the sketch artist draws the face that is described.  Results are, as you might expect, startlingly different: faces described by their owners as fat are simply pleasantly oval in shape.  Chins that are claimed to protrude are “nice” and “thin.”  Noses are “short and cute.”  Each woman is then shown the two portraits: one “drawn” by her own eyes, one by the eyes of a stranger.

Most of the women stand in stunned silence.  Some tear up.  Some smile ruefully, and some seem – not ashamed – but a bit bashful at their own perception of themselves.  The one older participant, Florence, who is given a lot of face time, says “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty.  It impacts the choices in the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything.  It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”  The images of the women standing in an otherwise empty gallery gazing on the sketches send a powerful message, the tagline of the whole campaign: you are more beautiful than you think.

At first viewing, my impulse was that this video rocked.  I got a little teary.  I said some affirming things to myself.

But then I watched it again, and I started asking questions.  Yes, the message is good: women should celebrate their beauty, but what is really being said about beauty in this depiction?

As blogger Jazz has said perhaps more eloquently than I can, there is a disparity in the types of woman being represented here.  Most are white – and not just white, but blonde.  Most are young.  All are thin-to-average in weight and build.  The women of color who are shown are featured less – say less and receive less screen time – than their Caucasian counterparts.  The one Asian woman represented, as Jazz points out, says nothing at all.  Beauty is, then, a young, thin, white woman.

Bitch Magazine has also picked up this issue and paraphrases it perfectly: “The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today.”  And really, isn’t that what’s being shown here?  While Florence is a bit older than the other participants, she barely tips the scales at middle aged.  She talks about her wrinkles and crow’s feet, but she’s barely got any to worry about.  All the women featured have feminine hairstyles, all wear make-up, all are dressed in casually stylish but unremarkable ensembles.  Women should consider themselves beautiful, then, but the depiction of beauty we are told should be celebrated fits within a stiff, traditional mold.

Dove, I commend you for selling us a vision of much needed self-affirmation.  I commend you for acknowledging this tendency in women and encouraging a move away from it.  I commend you for resisting the urge to sell us your skin care in a promise to enhance the beauty we already having.  As Bitch notes, there is no product schilling in this ad, and that’s nice.  But this video does sell us something.  It sells us a standard: while telling us to celebrate ourselves – we are more beautiful than we think – it sells us what beauty means, and what we should do with it.

What beauty means here, beyond an image of a thin, fair-skinned, young woman, is a physical appearance.  There is no acknowledgment of personality.  There is no discussion of inner strength or kindness or courage or wisdom.  We see chins and cheeks and eyes and hair.  We see surface.  What is revealed about these women’s thoughts is appearance-based as well: each woman is made to think, and think deeply, but her thoughts are all – every one of them – about how she looks.  Everything is about the surface.

So beauty means what someone looks like on the outside.  And knowing our surfaces meet a standard makes us feel good which, as self-affirming messages go, is bad enough already: the right kind of beauty = happiness!  Let’s look again at Florence’s conclusions: “I should be more grateful of my natural beauty.  It impacts the choices in the friends that we make, the jobs we apply for, how we treat our children, it impacts everything.  It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”

Do I really want to live in a world where my physical appearance and how I interpret it impacts what choices I make when I seek friends?  Friends, I can tell you with certainty that neither my looks nor your looks were what drove me to desire your friendship.  Are my own looks really going to impact how I treat my children?  My wrinkles and laugh-lines, as they develop, will somehow influence the way I love?  Beauty as Dove defines it – how I look on the outside – is not, and should not, be what is most critical to my own happiness as a person.

But that’s not all.  In the final scene of the ad, one of the women’s voices tells us “We spend a lot of time, as women, analyzing and trying to fix the things that aren’t quite right, and we should spend more time appreciating the things we do like.” As she speaks, the scene changes from a reflective moment in the gallery of portraits to an outdoor setting.  Against a bright beam of sunlight, she is suddenly enfolded in the arms of – judging from what we can see of him – a young, conventionally attractive, well-dressed man.

So, it’s not just that women should celebrate their own beauty, it’s not just that the women in this video are what beauty looks like, but part of the message is also about heteronormativity.  That’s disappointing, even though it’s not strange.  But what really bothers me here is that even as we are told that women should stop worrying so much about how they perceive themselves and concentrate on more important things, we are told exactly what those more important things are.  The couple depicted here at the end of the video embrace each other, her hand grasps at the bottom of his jean jacket as they walk, and the video closes with this image of her tucked under his arm, almost disappearing against his body – providing a clear interpretation of what it is that we should “spend more time appreciating” and what it is that, at least in her case, “we do like.”

What we get here, then, is suggestive.  Beauty suddenly isn’t an idea in itself; we are shown what appreciating our own beauty does for us.  When we aren’t so worried about our fat cheeks and pokey chins and gross freckles, we can devote our time not to building our self-confidence or learning new things or celebrating our independence, but to hooking, hanging onto, and demurely all but fading into the protection and strength of a man.

Now that’s a message I want to send to my friends and my children…

Pretty Little Liars Recap: “Out of the Frying Pan Into the Inferno” (Season 3, Episode 17)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars on February 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm

This week on Pretty Little Liars, Spencer was brittle as recently betrAyed glass. She’s not telling her friends that Toby is a member of the A-team, and in the meantime she is out for blood. Detective Wilden showed up to announce that he once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die (or “self defense,” he claims).  Ezra found out about his secret son, and left Aria standing out in the cold. Emily discovered a clue that led her back to CeCe Drake, who revealed that Ali thought she was pregnant right before she died–and then stumbled upon a photograph that suggests the beach hottie who knocked her up was none other than Wilden himself. Also, Hanna had a fun night out, and her mom wondered–not unsympathetically–whether “pink drink” was code for something gay.

pretty-little-liars-season-3-cast-pics

Spencer is heartbroken, but she seems–rightly so–out for revenge. What do you make of her hiring a P.I. and not telling the PLLs anything? What is she up to?

Sarah T: First of all, that long sequence of Spencer sobbing in the car while applying her makeup killed me. The way she kept pulling it together long enough to daub on mascara or ruffle her hair, then breaking down again–I was having flashbacks to every breakup ever. Not just mine, all the betrayals and heartbreak in the world. The whole episode, actually, Troian completely nailed that scary, empty, PTSD, Dark Phoenix version of Spence that’s emerging since she found out that Toby was A. I think she’s not telling the PLLs about it because she’s still in shock herself, and also (maybe) because Toby’s betrayal has made her trust no one at all, at least for now.

Phoebe B: Me too! Aaah it was so sad! And agreed on all counts. Also, I must admit that I thought (perhaps wished) that she was off to meet Toby (rather than the P.I.). I do like this dark and vengeful version of Spencer … I feel like she might be unstoppable now (she has always been badass) in the hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn way. But I am still sad about the Toby situation as I really had held out hope that Spencer wouldn’t love her virginity to someone so evil.

Detective Wilden is back (and still creepy). Was he Ali’s secret lover/beach hottie? Is he evil or just icky?

Sarah T: Totally he was Ali’s secret lover and beach hottie! One, he’s always been way too personally invested in the murder case. Two, he’s  shady and manipulative and without morals, which three, makes him Ali’s type to a T. On a different note, not to nitpick with Show of My Heart and Soul, but why would the police station have a picture of Wilden with his buddies on a fishing trip in the lobby? That… is not something police stations do, I don’t think. It would be another matter if it was in his office. But whatever, I’m thrilled that a new suspect is now in play, because with Garrett dead and Jenna and Melissa MIA we needed some new blood, and also I will not be satisfied until each and every citizen of Rosewood is a potential murderer.

Oh, which reminds me–looks like next week Emily becomes a potential murderer upon entering a deep hypnotic state! Wonderful.

Phoebe B: I too think he was Ali’s lover/beach hottie! And it does make sense now why he has always been WAY too invested in the murder case and extra weird with the girls. Do you think he knew Ali’s secrets about the PLLs? I too think Wilden will be an intriguing suspect but also I am hoping for some Emily’s mom double agent in the police stuff. Also, I want Melissa to come back! I also want to know exactly what she was up to talking on the phone on that porch the night Ali died.

Read the rest of this entry »

Re-visiting “The Hunger Games:” Beauty, Mourning, and Resistance

In girl culture, Hunger Games, violence on September 24, 2012 at 9:30 am

Phoebe B.

Much has already been written on GLG about The Hunger Games movie. (For example: here, here, here, here, and here. Also, here.) But re-watching The Hunger Games, I began thinking about how the film connects mourning, beauty, and resistance. I was particularly struck by the care both Katniss and the camera take in the scene of Rue’s death and subsequent funeral, which comes amidst the violence, fear, and speed with which the games happen. The close-ups of both Rue and Katniss’ faces showcase the tragedy of Rue’s death. And the mourning, which follows, creates space within the film to see the horrifying and devastating consequences of the games.

Up until the moment Rue is killed by the Careers, everything in the games is fast and fraught with anxiety, from the fireballs and crashing trees that lead Katniss directly into the path of the Careers to the moment she releases the tracker jackers onto her pursuers. But when Rue suffers a devastating death, everything slows down. The series of close-ups that alternate between Rue and Katniss let us in and move us from merely being objective viewers, like those in the Capitol, to caring participants. The silence that surrounds them further emphasizes the discomfort and sadness, as it suggests the very real consequences of these violently constructed games.

The care Katniss takes in arranging Rue’s funeral and the odd space given to her to mourn by the gamekeepers (potentially also entranced by her and Rue’s narrative) feels out of place amidst the violence of the games. The sequence is beautiful: the camera lingers on the small delicate white flowers that cover Rue’s body, cuts to different angles of Rue lying in the forest, and then stays for a while with them. In this moment, the speed and terror of the games is trumped by Katniss’s grief over Rue and her enacting a ritual of mourning. It is an act that defies the logic and narrative of the games in that it relays a human connection and relationship forged amidst terror. Their alliance, unlike the Careers or even Katniss’ romance with Peeta, is a real rather than strategic and so unexpected.

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.

A Giant Anniversary

In feminism, Food Network, girl culture, Hunger Games, Teaching, teen soaps, violence on June 19, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Phoebe B. & Sarah T.

It seems like only yesterday that Girls Like Giants was a tiny blog-like twinkle in our eyes. But the calendar doesn’t lie: GLG is officially one year old.

So much has happened in the last 12 months, it’s as if we all exist in a perpetual state of hyper-reality. Titanic sailed back into our lives on the winds of romantic nostalgia and 3-D mania; Katniss slew our hearts with her hardcore, hard-up courage; Rihanna found love in a hopeless place; the whole internet world stopped to argue about Girls. And this blog became a place for sometimes-complicated, sometimes-funny, always-thoughtful conversations about media and popular culture.

That last development is thanks to GLG’s awesomely talented contributors and to our equally awesome readers. You are the smize in our eyes, the Knope in our hope, the Unique wonder that makes us feel glee. Basically, you’re the best. Without you, we’re just a blog in a big old black hole of nothing.

To celebrate our blog-o-versary, we’ve put together a short list of some of our favorite posts from the past year. We limited ourselves to picking just one post from each author. What were some of your favorite posts from the past year? And what kinds of subjects and topics would you like to see GLG take on in the future? Let us know in the comments — we’re all ears.

Sarah T. tackles literary sexism in “Jonathan Franzen, Edith Wharton, and the Problem of Personality.”

Phoebe B. reflects on a gymnastics-filled childhood, tough coaches, and her favorite show in “Post-Dance Academy Reflections on Teaching, from a Former Gymnast.”

Melissa S. considers how to reconcile her love of Kanye with hip hop’s frequent women-bashing in “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Affair with Misogyny, Hip Hop, and Post-Feminism.”

Chelsea B. explores how removing Katniss’s voice impacts The Hunger Games movie in “On Silencing Katniss and Lady-Feelings.”

Sarah S. revels in Vampire Diaries, Caroline, and second chances in “The Unique, Potentially Surprising Ethics of The Vampire Diaries.”

Chelsea H. examines the Food Network’s treatment of ethnicity, race, and cultural cuisines in “Food Network Star, Branding, and Ethnic Entrapment.”

Brian P. contemplates cross-playing gender in video games in “Gender/Play: The Problems, Promise, and Pleasures of Video Game Crossplaying” Part 1 and Part 2.

We also want to thank our other amazing contributors Narinda Heng, Taylor D., Jennifer Lynn Jones, Austin H., Jeni R, Sarah H., and Gina L. for allowing us to post their thoughts on everything from rock climbing to The Hunger Games, Torchwood, Rachel Dratch, Scored, and beyond.

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “It Happened that Night” (Season 3, Episode 1)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on June 7, 2012 at 10:20 am

The Prettiest of the Little Liars are back and A is scarier than ever. Last season ended with a Psycho-esque turn. With Mona tucked away safely in a mental institution, the PLLs thought their A-related troubles were over. Sadly for them, but lucky for us, they were wrong. This season looks scarier than ever replete with empty graves, a new and more terrifying A, and much much more. Read on for GLG’s thoughts on this season’s opener.

“Mona played with dolls, I play with body parts”. -A

What do you think about the PLL’s individual states of being? Emily is understandably having a rough time…

Sarah T.: I’m glad they all had prototypical summer activities: Spencer was scholarly, Aria was artsy, Emily was a do-gooder and Hanna had fun with cooking classes and new vocabulary a la Cher from Clueless. (Maybe my favorite moment of the episode was her solemn attempt to comfort Aria by correctly yet oddly using the word “jubilation.”)

Spence and Hanna seem to be the most stable at the moment. It completely makes sense that Emily’s in heavy-drinking and mourning mode: she’s now lost two people she was close with (and with whom she had romantic relationships ranging from semi- to fully-realized). Shay Mitchell did good job of showing how Emily’s sullenness is a cover for the real pain she’s dealing with.

Aria seems more fragile than usual in the aftermath of the A-bathroom scare, which probably has as much to do with the fact that her parents are splitting up as it does how terrifying that hoodie person was. (What happened when the stall door swung open slowly? We never find out. Did she have a panic attack and black out the way Emily did, or was there no one there at that point?) I’ll be interested to see if A is finally going to start coming after her the way A has with the other three girls.

Phoebe: I totally agree about Emily and feel like her response is pretty reasonable. Although, I felt so sad for her when she felt guilty as if A basically abducting her and taking her to an empty grave (ie framing her) was her fault! Also, I thought it was weird that this episode the PLLs were apart so much. Like they were together initially at Spencer’s house and then the Lake house but then spent most of the episode in separate places, which made me anxious!

Also, Aria! So, while the episode totally set us up to believe that she has having a panic attack (what with her earlier bad dream at Ezra’s) I am not sure that she did have a panic attack. I wondered if perhaps A was in the bathroom and being extra scary. Since A seems to always know everything, maybe A knows and is cruelly playing on Aria’s panic attacks?

Lastly, I love that Spencer spent her summer sitting in the former A room at the former creepy motel and trying to reconstruct it from memory. (Although I am worried that her computer will be gone by next episode since she foolishly left it in the room when the PLLs went out to discover all the photos in Spence’s car.) But I love that she realized that there is more to A than Mona and that she decided to be proactive and detective like about it. Go Spencer!

Read the rest of this entry »

50 Shades of WHAT IS GOING ON

In girl culture on June 4, 2012 at 7:21 am

Sarah T.

The summer before I started college, the graduating seniors at my soon-to-be school pulled off the prank of a lifetime. Each incoming freshman received, on official-looking letterhead, a note informing us that the book selected for our required summer reading would be Truly Madly Viking. Eventually the college got wind of the switcharoo and sent out the real summer reading notices, but it was too late for some of the over-achieving types (a category that does not include yours truly unfortunately), who had already dutifully plowed through the timeless tale of the love between a modern woman and a tenth-century Norse warrior.

I’m holding out hope that 50 Shades of Grey is also an elaborate practical joke. But on the off chance that it’s neither a prank nor a collective international nightmare, here’s the basic rundown. 50 Shades of Grey is terribly-written Twilight fan fiction that somehow manages to be a million times worse than the (ludicrous) original. It is a masterpiece, and by masterpiece I mean that it masterfully manages to make this charming young man hide inside his hoodie with discomfort. (He actually does a really funny and great job reading selected quotes, and if you’re curious about all the fuss but don’t want to subject yourself to the actual book, the video and the hilarious recaps from Oh Hai Desk are solid alternatives.)

The hoodie-hiding in which readers may feel compelled to engage probably won’t have much to do with embarrassment over the supposedly racy subject matter. The book pulls off the trick of selling itself as risqué (thereby sending digital copies flying off the e-reader shelves) while actually being remarkably tame and boring. We are talking about a book that includes pages and pages of a legal contract complete with clauses and appendices. Multiple times. THE SAME CONTRACT. We saw it already, E.L. James! Why don’t you and BarBri get a room. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome Back Pretty Little Liars!

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, Recaps, teen soaps, Television on May 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Next week, the Pretty Little Liars are back! And a few of us at GLG are pretty excited for their mystery-filled summer return. But before they’re on our screens again, we thought a little pre-season catch-up might be in order. Read on for our thoughts on last season, our favorite and least favorite beaus, and some predictions for the PLL’s summer homecoming.

In your opinion, what are some of the most important things that happened last season?

Phoebe: Jenna can see! Remember when she hit that fly in the mirror and it was AMAZING. Also, Mona is A or part of A and also pretty crazy, it turns out. Poor Hannah … But, oh man was Mona’s final monologue in the season finale amazing (and Norman Bates-esque). And, Mona was visited by somebody (maybe Vivian Darkbloom?) while in the mental hospital. Also, definitely worth noting, A is definitely a group of people, not a single person. The therapist is back but I’m a little bit worried that she has returned to do A’s bidding, rather than help the PLLs. Importantly, the season ended with the PLLs finding out that Maya is most likely dead and most likely killed by A, whomever that may be.

Melissa: Phoebe really hit the highlights. Can you say VIVIAN DARKBLOOM? Also, love-problems: Aria’s dad tried to send Mr. Fitz to Georgia; Toby thinks Spencer was dating Wren (or does he?!?!?!) and seems to be back in service of Jenna; the probably-dead Maya seemed to have some secret goings-on that she kept from Emily, and I’m not talking about under-water light-mobiles; and Caleb is going behind Hanna’s back to elude her overly-protective, blender-wielding, thumb-drive-demolishing ways. Also, the moms thought about mobilizing again to protect their daughters, though that hasn’t yet come to fruition.

Sarah: Since you two have covered the most important plot points, I’ll focus on the most important style points. Aria wore neon platform clogs and ladder pants and some kind of dead Muppet vampire vest. Wren perfected the rumpled, spritely English gentleman vibe. Paige dressed in a tuxedo at the final dance and she looked hot. Mona was a vision at all times and I started wearing a side ponytail so I could be more like her, although now it appears I should also invest in an oversized black hoodie and a straitjacket.

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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.

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Rebound: Being Unique on “Glee”

In gender, girl culture, Glee on April 25, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Phoebe B.

Lena Dunham’s hotly anticipated Girls is still the topic of the week, with bad and good reviews in every major and minor news outlet. In all the hubbub, I worry that we might have missed what was (for me at least) the most exciting moment of television in some time. Last week, Glee addressed being gender non-conforming through high school student and Vocal Adrenaline member Wade/Unique. Wade feels more at home when expressing his gender as feminine and the amazing Unique is definitely not the kind of girl who gets included in Girls.

Unique is played by Alex Newell, from last year’s Glee Project. Alex regularly performed in drag during the show. For example, he once wowed Ryan Murphy by singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls as Effie White, which may or may not have brought me to tears (I love that song!). He is truly talented and I loved him on the Glee Project (and on Glee for that matter). Sadly, he didn’t win the Glee Project, but I am grateful that Ryan Murphy saw his talent and cast him anyway—and I would LOVE to see more of him.

So here’s what happened on Glee last week: Wade asked Kurt and Mercedes whether he should perform as Unique in a Vocal Adrenaline show. The duo dissuades him from doing so, then persuades him (per Sue’s evil-ish influence), and then attempts to dissuade him again. The final dissuading, however, is unsuccessful, and Wade goes on to perform as Unique and wow the crowd. She sings, following the Disco themed episode, “Put on My Boogie Shoes.”

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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.

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GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: On Silencing Katniss and Lady-Feelings

In gender, girl culture, Hunger Games on March 30, 2012 at 8:09 am

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Chelsea B.

The absence of Katniss’s voice in The Hunger Games movie didn’t become clear to me until after it ended. Once I realized that her silence was bothering me, even more troublesome questions began to arise. Why eliminate Katniss as narrator?

The answer to that question is probably found in Twilight. In the Twilight franchise, Bella is the primary narrator of her story, sharing the minutiae of her emotional life with abandon. Many of Bella’s musings read like they come from my (early, okay?) teenage diaries. They feature a singular, laser-like focus on herself and her place in the world, with little concern for anything or anyone not directly involved in helping her through the process of self-actualization.

Sarah Blackwood over at The Hairpin and GLG’s own Melissa Sexton have eloquently analyzed the problems with dismissing Bella and the Twilight franchise on terms of its emotionality and subsequent feminization. Such defense of The Hunger Games won’t be necessary since (as also noted by Melissa) the filmmakers circumvented such criticism by eliminating the primary female voice entirely.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rebound: Katniss & Body Snarking

In body politics, gender, girl culture, Hunger Games on March 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Phoebe B.

GLG contributor Brian Psiropoulos recently alerted me to the trend of body snarking Jennifer Lawrence. This Slate article takes on the New York Times and others’ truly destructive and sexist criticism of Lawrence’s body. But I find myself still unsettled even by the Slate response, which argues against the criticism of Lawrence’s body as not skinny enough to play Katniss by asserting that Lawrence is in fact skinny. This assertion, while true, is not the point. Rather, as the Slate article does note, this body snarking is exclusive to Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss and is not a kind of scrutiny the male actors undergo. Oddly enough, the film version of both Peeta and Gail’s characters did not align with the ways in which I imagined them. But this disjuncture is not reason enough to suggest that their bodies ought be different or would make them more believable. Given that the snarky criticisms about these male characters’ figures are conspicuously absent, it seems that the discussion of Lawrence’s body has everything to do with her being a woman.

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The Unique, Potentially Surprising Ethics of The Vampire Diaries

In gender, girl culture, teen soaps, Television on March 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Sarah S.

*spoilers*

The Vampire Diaries employs many twists and turns of plots in its depiction of the supernatural roller-coaster that is the life of Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev). And it needs these twists to keep the story going through now, its third season. If Elena and her vampire boyfriend Stefan (Paul Wesley) vanquished all the bad guys, found a non-Elena true love for Stefan’s brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder), and lived happily ever after, the show would be over. Many series deal with this dilemma with a shrug, paying no heed to continuity or character development in pursuit of ever more soap-operatic happenings to keep viewers engaged (paging Lost). The Vampire Diaries does something different though: it adheres to an unwavering ethical conviction in second chances that grounds its continuous switching of allegiances—romantic, familial, political, or all-of-the-above.

The motif of redemption characterizes the entire love triangle between Stefan, Damon, and Elena. When the series begins, she’s looking for a new life after the death of her parents, Stefan’s looking to fix the mistakes of his past by loving Elena, and Damon comes to strive for the same endeavor—albeit with seductively wiggling eyebrows and the added moral quandary of not hurting his relationship with his brother. This dynamic continues in seasons 2 and 3 when Stefan “turns off his humanity” and becomes a monstrous, murderous “ripper” who Elena and Damon, nevertheless, believe can be saved. Elena functions, in many ways, as the moral compass for both brothers and for the show as a whole. However, she’s no pure and wilting damsel, making mistakes of judgement herself that often require apologies or other attempts to fix what’s broken. In the end, no matter how despicable either Stefan or Damon is, was, or will be, all three of the central characters believe the offender can be redeemed.

She's like a love compass.

We see a similar emphasis on second chances in the rest of the boys who round out the cast: Elena’s emo younger brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen); the high school quarterback Matt (Zach Roerig); the tortured vampire hunter/history teacher Alaric (Matthew Davis); and the town bully turned self-reflective werewolf Tyler (Michael Trevino). Tyler epitomizes the group’s belief in second chances perhaps best of all, transforming from a swaggering ass to a tortured werewolf to Caroline’s boyfriend to a hybrid werewolf-vampire unable to exert self-will against the orders of his “sire,” Klaus (Joseph Morgan).  Through each of these transformations—emotional and supernatural—Tyler grows as a character and, therefore, rises in the audience’s connection to him. Read the rest of this entry »

Engaging Television: An Interview with Writer Jacob Clifton

In gender, girl culture, Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars on March 7, 2012 at 9:59 am

Sarah Todd

“Why bother watching the show when the recaps are so amazing?” my friend Ali emailed me in 2008. We were talking about the Television Without Pity recaps of Gossip Girl, a show then in its headband-wearing, Met-steps-lunching glory days. The in-depth recaps, written by Jacob Clifton with a killer combination of fiery passion, arch humor, and wide-ranging cultural references, were an essential part of the Gossip Girl experience.

Jacob’s recaps didn’t just help us see things about the show that we might not have spotted otherwise. They also influenced the way we thought about friendships and power dynamics and teenagers and surveillance—and, of course, how we thought about television.

I’ve looked forward to Jacob’s weekly Gossip Girl recaps ever since, along with his writing on True Blood and Pretty Little Liars. He’s one of the few writers I’ve followed quite so faithfully. The author of novels The Urges and Mondegreen, he currently recaps American IdolThe Good Wife, and more for Television Without Pity.

Jacob graciously agreed to talk with Girls Like Giants about recapping, teen dramas, feminism, the power of stories, and why Elena from The Vampire Diaries is way under-rated. Come join the conversation in the comments.

How did you start writing for Television Without Pity?

The internet, in 2001, was a very different place! TWoP (MightyBigTV, back then) was a small enough concern that I was able to lobby for some small, one-off assignments that, over a few years, turned into regular assignments. It was a very empowering, very encouraging chance to be given, and I’m still very grateful to the editors at that time for giving me a shot.

You have a very distinctive and dynamic recapping style. A recap of Pretty Little Liars might have made-up dialogue that highlights Aria’s crazy pants (and the fact that she is crazypants), followed by a Jungian analysis of how the four main characters’ personalities complement each other, followed by a mini-treatise on bullying. How do you approach writing your recaps? What do you want them to be, and how has that developed over the course of your career?

I think that, for me, it’s about capturing the sort of tangents and thoughts and jokes that you might go through on the couch, just watching anything. For shows like PLL, that obviously brings up a lot of stuff and thoughts that I feel like are worth representing on the page: This is what it was like for me watching this show, what was it like for you?

I mean, obviously I have my preoccupations — critical, philosophical, political, feminist — and I don’t really hesitate to bring those to bear on whatever’s actually happening on the show, but I trust myself to know the line as far as what’s worth saying and what’s just blabber or personal axe-grinding. (I also cross it regularly, of course.) But that’s what it means to me: A sort of taking shorthand minutes on where the show takes me as a particular person.

However, I do think there’s a certain amount of workshopping that goes on when you’re forced to pay such close attention to a show over such a long period of time. I don’t know if my writing has improved, but I definitely understand television and storytelling a lot more than I did ten years ago — and part of my mission is to bring that into it as well. The opportunity to turn our brains off, or to reject a show or episode for false reasons, is always there. So by bringing out the storytelling qualities, or the writing tricks, or the production values, the hope is that readers can find new ways to enjoy their television shows in a more interactive way. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 23)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, Recaps, teen soaps, Television on March 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm

This week’s prettiest little liars triumphed over house fires; pieced newspaper clues together; met a random pilot named Duncan; and perhaps found an ally in Jenna. Read on for more on this week’s PLL escapades.

Let's talk about these outfits.

Who do you think this Duncan character is? Can we trust him, and what did you think about his scenes with Aria?

Sarah T: Who? Ohhh Mark Wahlberg’s younger brother you mean? I trust him so far, since we haven’t been given any reason to believe he’d want to hurt Ali or anyone else. Going off of last week’s discussion of Aria becoming Vivian, I thought that scene with Aria in the plane was so illuminating–when Duncan tells her, “You want to understand your friend? What she was looking for? Take control.” Because now the show is really pulling together the ways the four PLLs are dealing with the loss of Ali, her complicated legacy, and the aftermath of her death.

Spencer is dealing by trying to solve the mystery and lay all the answers out in the open once and for all, so that the house she lives in isn’t always so dark and shadowy and filled with strangers. Hanna’s dealing by helping and/or befriending pretty much everyone Ali ever hurt — Lucas, Mona, now Jenna. She’s the new Ali, but she’s reinventing what the new Ali can be by harnessing her own inherent solar power and making amends for the past (particularly since she tacitly supported Ali’s bullying by not doing anything to stop her). Emily’s dealing by continuing to love Ali and remember her in her better moments, so that all the best parts of her live on. And now Aria–who was the most self-obsessed for a long time, and seemed to be dealing mostly by transferring all the pain and confusion and hurt into her secret relationship with Ezra–is finally dealing by becoming Ali/Vivian in order to understand her. She’s learning how to recognize the parts of herself that lived in Ali, and the parts of Ali that are still alive in her. And that is a rocky, bumpy, scary business, hence the plane and the turbulence, but it may be the key to making a breakthrough. You guys! I can’t even say how much I love this show.

Phoebe: Oh my, I think you said it all and best! But, I am a little less trusting of this Duncan fellow and the time up in the plane with him (with all those tight shots of the two of them) totally made me anxious and feel like he might be up to no good. However, I am excited by this new piece of the puzzle in which Ali returned to Rosewood hours before any of the girls knew. What did she get up to that afternoon? And what had she found out? I can’t wait to know! Also, I am intrigued by Spencer’s mom’s confession that she is the one who suspected Melissa … why didn’t Mr. Hastings reveal that to Spencer? So many lies in the Hastings house, but it was nice to see Mrs. Hastings and Jason chatting at the end of the episode.

Chelsea B: The scenes with him were good, though I agree with Phoebe that the airplane scene made me super anxious. I think this is probably just a personal problem, but I keep assuming that every new dudebro they write into the show is going to supplant Ezra (Holden, Jason, etc.). We’ll see if that actually happens with this one, or if I’m doomed to forever imagining romantic conspiracy theories involving Aria.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rebound: GLG responds to Flavorwire’s Fave Female Characters

In girl culture, race, Rebound on March 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Rebound is a new short-form GLG column that seeks to respond to, critique, and ask questions about current media events and affairs. –Phoebe & Sarah T.

Today Flavorwire published their list of the top ten most powerful female characters in literature in honor of Women’s History Month. The list includes wonderful literary (and filmic) women from Jane Eyre to Hermione Granger and many more. GLG discusses our take below, but we also want to know what you think. Do you like the list? Who would be on your own list of most awesome female characters?

Chelsea H: I’m not familiar with everyone on the list, but those I know I generally approve of. I adore the inclusion of the Wife of Bath – she takes control over Chaucer’s project in a way few of his other characters do, and in fact, I’ve just entered revision stages on a dissertation chapter that deals with her and her self-creation and performativity a la Judith Butler. She certainly belongs here among these greats.

It surprises me that Katniss gets knocked for “boy-related waffling and wailing” more than Jane Eyre does – the internal monologue Jane provides is much more brooding and agonizing over Mr. Rochester than Katniss’s confusion. As I read her, at least in the first book, Katniss can’t understand why Peeta would be acting the way he does – she can’t even fathom that he could have genuine feelings about her given their circumstances. That seems more practical than whiny to me.

I might want to add Sethe from Beloved. Talk about strong and conflicted! Her story is all family and self survival. Maybe Lady Macbeth too – though most of the women on this list are heroines and Lady M. is a “bad guy,” her power is incredible as she manipulates her husband through desire, ambition, treachery and murder. Her downfall at the end of the play, I think, only enhances her power and independence: though she descends into madness, she makes her own choices through the whole story. Read the rest of this entry »

1776, 1964, or 2012? Race Relations in ANTM’s British Invasion Cycle

In body politics, girl culture, race on March 1, 2012 at 12:03 am

Melissa Sexton

At this point in my life, there are only two television series of which I have seen every single episode: LOST and America’s Next Top Model. As I sat down tonight to watch the first episode of ANTM’s Cycle 18, I had a sense of obligation and despair similar to the feeling that haunted me through the last two seasons of LOST. A long-cultivated loyalty to the show paired with a fanatical desire to keep seeing every single episode drove me forward, even though I was feeling acutely aware that the show had long since jumped the shark – heck, the show had probably been eaten by the shark at this point. But I just had to know how it ended…And so, I sat down to watch what I was sure would be a troubling cultural stew, the “British Invasion” cycle of America’s Next Top Model – a cycle that pitted 7 American models versus 7 British models as one new way to freshen the old modeling-show formula.

Culture Clash! Cowboy hats and cut-offs versus the Union Jack!

I’d say that Top Model has had a dramatic story arc. The show began airing in 2003, and the first few seasons were delightfully trashy. There were catfights galore. There was cheap cinematography. There were reductive representations of race, class, and religion. But while the melodrama and the catfights remained, the show that was on the air when I started watching in 2006 was a sleeker, smarter, and sexier version of the original model battle-to-the-contract. The photo-shoots became increasingly sophisticated, spectacular, and unreal; the models jetted around the world to exotic shooting locales and lived in swankier and swankier dream-houses that looked like they were furnished by grown-up Barbie on a credit card bender. The runway challenges became increasingly conceptual as the girls strutted in floating bubbles, across airborne walkways, and over runways ringed by fire. The girls participated in music video shoots, video fashion editorials, and television talk show spots. And meanwhile, the entire narrative of the show became increasingly streamlined, to the point where the cadre of longtime viewers that I watched the show with could predict episode by episode how each cycle would play out: the makeover episode; the major runway teach; the overseas destination reveal; the modeling go-sees.

The show’s underlying narrative of self-empowerment and self-love also became increasingly solidified. As I’ve written about before, Top Model became a place where girls were sold a weird mix of capitalist buy-in and self-empowerment. Such weirdness carried over to race and gender relations: the show embraced diversity as a deliberate challenge to fashion industry norms, but the importance of branding remained paramount. If you were black, you better read as black; if you were gay, you better read as gay. Think about, say, April from Cycle 2 – the half-Japanese model who wanted to represent mixed-race women but was repeatedly told that her branding was unclear. Was she going to look Asian or white? Or think about the plus-sized girls who are routinely told they’re not “plus enough.” The catch, of course, is that the modeling industry also embraces protean, ambiguous models: models of mixed ethnicity or with androgynous figures. So…apparently modeling requires girls to thread the same weird path between conformity and individuality that seems to shape all senses of individual identity in capitalist culture: be yourself, but make sure that self fits in a demographic and knows where it belongs. Be yourself, but know how to use it.

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Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Father Knows Best” (Season 2, Episode 22)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps, Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 11:26 pm

This week our prettiest little liars got one step (read: episode) closer to finding out the true identity of A; got the moms involved; had awkward father-daughter dances and even stranger sibling moments; Aria wore a very red coat; and Maya is still missing. Read on for more on the PLL’s adventures.

This week featured a lot of awkward daughter-dad moments between all the girls (save for perhaps Emily and her dad). What are your thoughts on these dad developments?

Sarah: Spencer wins the prize for worst dad. Peter Hastings is Captain Von Suspicious. I think I believe him about hiring the PI to investigate Melissa, though. I also heavily dislike Byron (Aria’s dad), who did seem to be putting a lot of gross pressure on Aria to be his “little girl” (matching his tie to her dress). I was glad she told him off, because part of the subtext to his whole thing about Ezra is about controlling her sexuality, which is definitely not okay. Emily’s dad was sweet and helpful in the search for Maya, though. I’m nervous about his going back on duty–I hope he’ll be okay!

Phoebe: Spencer totally wins the prize for worst dad and I love the reference to Captain Von Trapp (particularly given Christopher Plummer’s recent win!). I too believe him about hiring a PI as that actually makes sense. Also, I am worried that Spencer’s mother might be involved in all this. And I second your thoughts on Aria–he is being a bit of a jerk. But also, Emily’s dad was so sweet and awesome and I really hope he’ll be okay to come back to Rosewood but I am glad that Emily’s mom will be back on the show. I have really enjoyed watching their relationship develop. Lastly, it is awesome that is episode is named for (I think) the 1960s domestic sitcom Father Knows Best, in which father always does know best. But, for PLL clearly this is not the case! Yay for TV references! Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Breaking the Code” (Season 2, Episode 21)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on February 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

This week on PLL, danger is in the air; Spencer gets drunk; Melissa is back in the picture; Aria and Ezra hit a bump in the road; and Mona becomes A’s newest target. Read on for more on our favorite pretty little liars.

Thoughts on why Melissa feels so scary? And what does that video mean?

Sarah: Why oh why did Spencer go with her to a second location? Is it a barn? Oh lord, it’s probably a barn with creepy dolls and horseshoes in it. Anyway, I think Melissa feels creepy because she has all the Hastings intensity and terrorizing ability with little to no mediating personality traits, and also because she had like twelve good reasons to hate Ali murderously. I don’t know why she’s so anxious to find Ali in that video clip, but it can’t bode well. Also, the fact that Melissa worked at the law firm where the blocked Vivian Darkbloom calls were coming from definitely puts her at the top of my list of A-candidates. And also also, is Garrett going to be the father of the baby, not Ian?

Phoebe: Oh man I was definitely also wondering whether Garrett was indeed the father (and not creepy Ian). Either way, Melissa’s choices in male-companion types = terrible. Then again, I agree Sarah that she is all the Hastings intensity without anything to make that softer and ya know less scary. And I am so concerned for Spencer’s safety with the episode ending as she walks out of the house without her phone! Why leave your phone Spencer?! So worrisome. Then again, could Melissa actually harm her own sister? And what did she want to tell Spencer at Ian’s funeral?

Chelsea: Melissa is scary because she’s always scary. She’s just like Spencer, but with way more bitterness and a tad more ruthlessness. Also, her Ann Taylor wardrobe when she doesn’t seem to do anything Ann Taylor-y in life creates an unsettling dissonance for me. Seriously.

Melissa: I think Melissa is scary (not talking about myself here) because she has been willing to see Spencer hurt before. Remember? Oh sure, murderer husband pooky poo; I’ll keep loving you and not believe my sister that you’ve been threatening her. And Melissa has always struck me as ruthless: willing to throw her family under the bus to get at the men that she loved at the time. She seems to have no loyalty and to be a big ball of bullying possessiveness, with a great capacity for emotional blackmail. I’ve always thought she was at least part of Ali’s death, though I’m not sure I think she’s A…She doesn’t seem quite devious enough…But SPENCER?!??! Why for the first time ever are you believing someone so readily? Normally you reserve that poor judgment for the police. Why are you trusting your sister? Just because your father’s past behavior is currently tearing your family apart? Noooooooooooooooooo.

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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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Barbie Girls: Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Mattel

In gender, girl culture, race on February 3, 2012 at 7:26 am

Sarah Todd

Since Azealia Banks’ 2011 breakout hit  “212” captured my heart, mind, soul, and dancing feet, I’ve been reading up on the 20-year-old rapper and soon-to-be superstar. Almost every interviewer asks Banks about Nicki Minaj, which gets old fast for her, you, me, and the bourgeoisie. (With the possible addition of our lady Rye-Rye, they are the only two black female rappers currently generating major mainstream buzz. They also went to the same “Fame” high school in NYC. Ergo, endless comparisons.)

But one comment Banks made about Minaj in an interview with GQ UK stuck out to me:

It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!”

The characters, the pink, the Barbie: was it really such a coincidence? I’m not so sure. As Banks notes, Lil’ Kim rapped about being “Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari” back in the early double-0s. There’s a French rapper who goes by the name Black Barbie. Atlanta rapper Diamond calls herself “black Barbie” too. All signs point to the fact that Barbie’s big in the hip-hop world. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “The Blond Leading the Blind” (Season 2, Episode 17)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm

This week the PLLs wear some great clothes (especially Aria!); make new alliances; lose a boyfriend; gain some lost and creepy footage; and discover new and scary truths about A. Read on for more PLL news and opinions! Read the rest of this entry »