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Separate Stories: Reviews of ‘Spinster’ & ‘Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed’

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Sarah S.

I recently read books that I came to for rather different reasons and yet, set side by side, they seem inordinately correspondent. Both present alternatives to traditional life narratives, a move that is almost always powerful and valuable



My draw to Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum, is fairly self-evident to anyone who knows me. I am happily coupled, but I am also deliberately childfree. While I see more and more people “like me” nowadays, I also find our culture’s imperative to procreation tedious at best, oppressive at worst, particularly as imposed upon women. Add to that the insane cultural demands put on mothers to be self-actualized, self-sacrificing, still sexy super-women and the whole endeavor makes me want to retire to a mountain lair for life. So it’s no surprise that I sparked at an entire volume devoted to multiple people’s stories of why they chose to forgo parenthood.

Among the essays in what I will hereafter refer to as SSS there are really no duds. I didn’t enjoy all of the essays equally but none of them lack interest or insight. The volume reveals, in a way that even I found surprising, the myriad paths that people take to chosen childlessness. The volume suffers mildly from being solely focused on writers—who make up a rather motley crew in terms of the general population—and from being largely—although not entirely—white. But it was also interesting and lovely to hear from gay people and straight people, women and a few men, people still within childbearing range and those for whom that ship has long since sailed about why they chose not to have children.

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The Dark Catharsis of Lifetime’s “Unreal”

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2015 at 11:07 am

Get it.

[spoilers everywhere!]

Sarah Todd

In Unreal’s season finale, everyone screws each other over. Friends betray friends. Someone gets left at the altar. Someone else plots to get his ex institutionalized. A woman and her cheating fiancé are bent on mutually assured destruction. One character gets double-dumped. The message to viewers is clear: Love is a joke. Trust no one.

That’s dark stuff. Yet I came away from the episode of Lifetime’s freshman drama, which takes place behind the scenes of a Bachelor-esque reality series, feeling somehow … cleansed.

Critics including Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson and Slate’s Willa Paskin have argued that Unreal features television’s first fully realized anti-heroines. This is true. But what’s even more remarkable is the show’s vision of a specifically feminine nihilism. Whereas anti-hero shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are replete with guns, drug kingpins, strippers and other signifiers of a violent crisis of white masculinity, Unreal imagines the feminine crisis as residing in the breakdown of human connection.

Even in the twenty-first century, many women are taught to believe that only the bonds of heterosexual marriage can save them from turning into lonely, embittered social rejects. Meanwhile, a lot of women have also internalized the hostilities of living in a patriarchal culture and walk around all day worrying that deep down inside, they’re really horrible people. Unreal shows how pop-culture products like The Bachelor prey on these insecurities while turning women into their worst versions of themselves. It asks viewers to look straight into a black-hearted abyss–all with no small amount of affection for its warped women, and tongue planted firmly in cheek. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Down ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’

In Netflix, race, TV, Uncategorized, violence on April 20, 2015 at 5:00 am


Sarah S.

For me, Kimmy Schmidt came out of the bunker as an incongruous maelstrom—a pickle juice cocktail, fuschia and lime confetti, hail on a sunny day. I was excited for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, show creator Tina Fey’s “television” follow-up to 30 Rock, and it almost immediately presented a combination of the expected and the surprising, the standard and the bizarre.

Ellie Kemper as Kimmy brings an oddball charm to a rather complicated role. Kimmy takes up life in New York City after being rescued from a bunker in which she was held captive for 15 years. She and the other “Indiana Mole Women” were kidnapped and held by a deranged preacher who told them the apocalypse had happened and they were the only people left on earth. So Fey set herself a challenging task: create a comedy about kidnapping, rape, trauma, and the will to survive. Fortunately, Kemper is all in, playing Kimmy as an uncomfortable-but-funny combination of plucky, outdated, dopey, and indomitable.

Kimmy surrounds herself with a motley crew—Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), an aging, trophy wife who hires Kimmy as a nanny, personal assistant, and general underling; Lillian (the incomparable Carol Kane as), a Jewish, New York hippy who owns Kimmy’s apartment building; and Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess), Kimmy’s roommate, an impoverished, down-on-his-luck actor (is there any other kind?). All of these characters are stereotypes but with enough twists or charm or combinations thereof to make it work. Titus works the black GBF for all it’s worth and Lillian is a genuine kick in the pants. Jacqueline is a Native American passing for white in order to sustain the materialism she always idolized, an interesting twist on “demanding, clueless, rich white woman”—a character Krakowski has made a career out of playing. These characters aren’t going to change narrative television but they are played and written with enough aplomb to carry them through, particularly as offsets to Kimmy’s quirk.

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On Lena Dunham and Modern Jewish American Identity

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2015 at 5:28 am

Sarah Todd

People have a right to feel offended by Lena Dunham’s recent New Yorker column, “Quiz: A Dog or My Jewish Boyfriend.” But to focus solely on the question of whether or not it’s offensive is to ignore knottier and more nuanced issues.

The Anti-Defamation League has condemned the article for relying on anti-Semitic stereotypes. (Dunham’s theoretically humorous quiz includes such descriptions as, “He doesn’t tip. And he never brings his wallet anywhere.”) New Yorker editor David Remnick rose to Dunham’s defense, arguing that as a Jewish woman she is operating within a longstanding tradition of insider humor and self-deprecation as typified by artists like Sarah Silverman, Lenny Bruce and Philip Roth. Bloggers and Twitterati are taking sides.

Although I found Dunham’s humor piece neither upsetting nor funny, I’m sympathetic to both sides of the debate. (I’m also a white, Jewish, middle-class woman, for what it’s worth.) It’s true that some of her jokes reference harmful stereotypes about Jewish people–and men in particular–as miserly, coddled and physically weak. And I understand why the ADL is troubled by the historical implications of equating a Jewish person with a dog.

Like Remnick, however, I think Dunham’s status as a member of the tribe informs the piece. Even if her jokes fail to land, it seems likely that she intended it as an affectionate send-up of her own culture. (Part of the problem may be, as Phoebe points out, that Dunham fails to extend this brand of insider humor to herself–the quiz mocks the “Jewish boyfriend” but avoids self-scrutiny.)

But far more interesting to me than the issue of whether the column is inappropriate is the critical conversation it has spurred about American Judaism and cultural specificity.   Read the rest of this entry »

How to be Awesome like Lane Kim (from “Gilmore Girls”)

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2015 at 11:13 am

Phoebe B.


Since Gilmore Girls’ revival on Netflix a few months ago, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Stars Hollow, the virtually all-white small New England town in which the show is set. There are many things about Gilmore Girls that I find refreshing and delightful, quick and witty dialogue and the focus on friendships between women being among my top two favorite things. Gilmore Girls undoubtedly passes the Bechdel Test, as women talk with one another about everything from love to work to friendships and well beyond. But it is also a show about whiteness and class conflict, despite the fact that it frequently seems to attempt to skirt these issues.

Lane Kim stands out as one of two recurring character of color (the other being Michele at the inn), replete with a stereotypical Asian Tiger mom. Her mother’s strict rules contrast with Lorelai Gilmore’s free-spirited parenting style, seemingly evoking a sensibility along raced lines.

But while Lane rebels against her restrictive Korean, Christian mother, she is also a fully-fledged, fully badass character in her own right. In a sea of whiteness—both on Gilmore Girls and on television more generally—Lane’s greatness ought to be appreciated.

So, here is how to be awesome like Lane Kim:

  • Be a major music buff, but, not just in one genre. You’ve got to love all kinds of music, from Coltrane to Broadway show tunes, Belle and Sebastian and Metallica. In order to do this, you need to hide all your CDs under secret floorboards in your bedroom. After immersing yourself in music for years, you’ll be able to identify any song or artist based on the faintest sound streaming through the phone line.
  • Once you know all there is to know about music, convince the local music instrument store owner to let you practice super softly on a borrowed drum kit. Then, once you’ve mastered the drums, place a hilarious ad in the newspaper wherein you list ALL of your major influences. Given the breadth of your music knowledge and that you’ll likely have to pay per word, prepare for this ad to be costly.

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Not That Kind of Review: Lena Dunham’s Uneven First Book

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2014 at 6:00 am


Sarah S.

I have always been puzzled by the furor over Lena Dunham. I like her. I find her work interesting and her persona engaging. But the intelligentsia act as if she’s the Second Coming while pundits and intellectuals on both sides of the political spectrum behave as if she’s the Devil incarnate.

Sexism plays a role here, as we know. No male artists come in for the same amount of vitriol from so many parties. Even James Franco is allowed to be just irritating and pretentious, no deeper meaning or criticism required (at least not from the barrage of both mainstream and dark-cornered publications).

The other condemnation of Dunham gets more sticky, and that’s the complaints about her privilege—white, straight, wealthy, coddled, and empowered. But again, other similarly or even more privileged people squeak through the gauntlet, such as Sophia Coppola, or are easily dismissed as vapid and therefore not worth critiquing, a la Paris Hilton.

It seems that Dunham’s buffet of sins create a cyclone: she’s too white, too rich, too naked, too normal looking, too honest, and too ambitious. The ambition seems to be the crux of the matter. You can have privileged white females from hell to breakfast but perish the thought they want be dynamic, in control creators.

To me, Dunham is just an artist—ambitious, talented, and young—which explains the unevenness of   her output. Case in point, her first collection of personal essays, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned.” 

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Where Has the Girl Gone?: Post-Recession Marriage in Gone Girl

In Uncategorized on October 10, 2014 at 7:42 am


Sarah S.

This post discusses plot points from both the book and the movie versions of Gone Girl. The filmmakers made a very close adaptation of the novel so the primary difference comes from the lack of nuance and character development that tends to be inevitable in book-to-film adaptations.

It also contains SPOILERS, so if you have managed to not learn THE TWIST, and you care to remain in the dark, do not read further. You have been forewarned.

I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in a binge between 4 pm Saturday and 8pm Sunday last weekend. I saw the film adaptation—directed by David Fincher and starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike—on a sunny autumn afternoon last Wednesday. I suddenly felt caught up in one those micro-tornadoes of chitter-chatter swirling through the zeitgeist.

But what makes this book and, more so, its film version such a teapot tempest right now? It enjoys a decent but not overwhelming 87% fresh score on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Two friends on Facebook logged complaints about female representation while declaring themselves Fincher-fans. But another declared it the “worst movie [he’s] seen since The Social Network,” leading me to wonder if reactions were breaking on the Fincher love-hate axis. (And here I expected to be debating the merits of everybody’s least-favorite Batman.) But it’s obviously more than that.

I think that at least some of the reactions to Gone Girl have to do with its allegorical nature. It’s a tale of the Great Recession and its effects on America’s iconographic “best and brightest”: the Midwestern bootstrap-boy and the complicated, mesmerizing girl. Moreover, it does not just focus on these characters but attempts to say something about what they mean individually and as a metaphorical representation of middle class, American marriage. The book even stages this conceit with section breaks subverting romantic comedy plot points—”Boy Loses Girl,” “Boy Meets Girl,” and “Boy Gets Girl Back (or Vice Versa).”

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Feminism and Victim Subjectivity in “Dead Girl Shows”: How The Killing Succeeds . . . and then Fails

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2014 at 8:08 am


Sarah S.

Note: This post includes spoilers for seasons 1-3 of The Killing. It also includes violent images after the jump of a type allowable on cable television and so may not be SFW or appropriate for all readers.


Recently, GLG’s Phoebe B. has been writing on white male violence, discussing television’s problematic obsession with white men committing and fixating on the murders of white women and how, further, these tropes can be read as constant infantilization. A while back, I wrote on how depictions of rape in critically-acclaimed Hollywood films function as body genres that foreclose empathy and activism. This post builds on these discussions with a reading of the representation of dead female bodies in the AMC/Netflix show The Killing, which begins in a compelling, even feminist vein before devolving into tired, exploitative modes in later seasons.


Who killed Rosie Larsen? This question drives season 1 (and, alas, season 2) of The Killing. The show also quite consciously evokes its predecessor Twin Peaks, the ur-“Dead Girl Show,” to use the terminology of Alice Bolin in her discussion of this genre. However, The Killing—like counterparts The Fall, Top of the Lake, and Pretty Little Liars—complicates this core narrative by putting a woman in the role of detective and mystery solver. Mireille Enos plays Detective Sarah Linden, a complicated woman, haunted by her past and obsessed with discovering who murdered 17-year-old Rosie. Because of its female-centric perspective, I argue that in season 1 The Killing takes a divergent path in the representation of the murdered female body.

Feminists including Martha Nussbaum have long articulated the problem in objectifying people, most commonly women. A common feature of said objectification involves chopping up the female body into parts or otherwise denying the subjectivity of a woman, for example, by obscuring her face or head.

I add that, often, Dead Girl Shows similarly objectify female bodies through dehumanization and bifurcation. The goal in these shows is less sexual titillation and commodification than to evoke a repulsion aligned with body genres, a la Linda Williams.

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Cheers, Elaine Stritch!

In Uncategorized on September 18, 2014 at 7:18 am


Sarah S.

I want to take this time to salute the inimitable Elaine Stritch, who died this past July at the age of 89. Stritch was a Broadway legend and, as is evident in the documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, one of the brassiest broads to stroll through Manhattan.

Shoot Me follows Stritch through several months near the end of her life, showing her rejection of pants and love for Bay’s English muffins. Stritch was a complicated delight. She drew little distinction between employees and friends, treating both with similar domineering affection. At one point, she parks her limo in the fire zone outside a Starbucks and, when the cops show up, fakes a limp. Filming during her stint on 30 Rock as Jack’s mom, she calls out “Alec ‘Joan Crawford’ Baldwin” when they’re waiting on Baldwin to shoot the scene.

The film honors Stritch and provides a glimpse into her long love affair with the theater and her audiences. As such, it’s a testament to a remarkable performer and an amazing woman who grew older (not old!) with peacock-like aplomb.


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Beyond Dumb Blondes and Smart Brunettes

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2014 at 7:55 am

all hail hannaSarah Todd

Hanna Marin is supposed to be the dumb blonde. As one of four friends featured on ABC Family’s teen mystery series Pretty Little Liars, she’s prone to malapropisms and gaps in logic. (“Jenna can’t hear us, she’s blind,” she tells her friends in one scene. In another: “Nothing works underwater. It’s a scientific fact.”) She’s more likely to be found flipping through fashion magazines, shoplifting sunglasses or rocking out to Savoir Adore in the kitchen than studying for a test, and her preferred method for taking care of problems is to throw some physical manifestation of them in a lake or a blender—whatever’s handy at the time.

But Pretty Little Liars is mostly interested in patriarchal archetypes insofar as they can be subverted. Hanna was always allowed to be brave, loyal and funny in addition to being a space cadet, and the past couple seasons have gone even farther in complicating her character. She started developing theories and hatching plans in an effort to save herself and her friends from their mystery-tormentor, A. Last year, she developed a reading habit; this year, she was the first of the foursome to see through the manipulations of their former leader, Ali. And last week’s season finale drove home the fact that there’s more to Hanna than meets the expertly-lined eye. Much to her own surprise, she nailed the SATs.

The bubbly girl who realizes her scholarly potential with the help of a standardized test is a familiar television trope. Buffy Summers—witty but academically average—receives unexpectedly high scores and decides to apply to Northwestern. On The O.C., Summer Roberts worries that her cute-nerd boyfriend Seth will ditch her for being intellectually subpar—until her stellar SAT scores inspire her to hit the books and win admission to Brown. Zach Morris, Saved By the Bell’s masculine take on the popular but low-achieving blond, lands a 1502 and winds up slated for Yale. (The questionable utility of standardized tests and the glorification of name-brand schools are topics for another day.)

Like Hanna, these characters don’t spend hours before the tests mastering tricky math word problems and memorizing the definition of “querulous.” They go into the SATs without a lot of confidence in their intelligence, having been frequently informed that their value lies more in their shiny hair and social prowess. Their results inspire them to aim higher and have more faith in their beautiful minds. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Alison Hendrix

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television, Uncategorized on August 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

Welcome to the final day of Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’ve been featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” Today our final contributor, Rachel B., gets at the heart inside the neuroses of Alison Hendrix.

Guest Contributor Rachel B.

In Orphan Black’s first episode, Alison Hendrix is nothing more than a Social Security card in a safe deposit box. At first glance, this seems an apt metaphor for the woman herself: contained within the cold, sterile routine of her highly regulated suburban life. Unable to think or live outside the box. Indeed, when Felix asks Sarah early in Season 1 why she decides not to inform Alison about the more frightening characteristics of the as-yet unidentified Helena, Sarah explains that if Alison knew the truth, she would “crap her lululemons.”

And sure, Alison is brittle and jittery. Sure, she walks and talks with the uptight carriage and demeanor of a woman on her last nerve, wound up, edgy, often self-medicating. Sure, she seems fit to do little more than teach figure skating classes, distribute snacks at soccer practice, and host the monthly potluck.

But here’s the thing: she is a survivor. She doesn’t fall down, helpless, when confronted with the enormity of not only her identity as a clone but also her peril. When her fellow clones begin to be picked off one by one, she doesn’t hide. She doesn’t run away. She acts. She buys a gun and has Beth teach her how to use it. She does what she can to help, financing Clone Club’s investigation into how they came to be and why someone seems bent on erasing them. When Sarah says she needs Alison’s help, all the schedules and activities of suburbia go out the window: Alison sends off her doof of a husband with a cutting barb and sits sentinel at her arts and crafts table with a gun and the pink clone cell phone. “Stupid suburban Alison” can actually handle a great deal of truth.

How to be awesome like her?

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How to Be Awesome Like Beth Childs

In feminism, How to be Awesome Like, Television, Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 at 6:00 am

Beth cast photo

Welcome to Orphan Black Week on Girls Like Giants! We launched this discussion last week with a post on the patriarchal metaphor that structures the show. This week we’re featuring a series of “How To Be Awesome Like…” posts on the women of “clone club.” First up, Brian Psi on Beth Childs, the clone who exists almost entirely in inscrutable past tense.

Brian Psi

The clones of Orphan Black are haunted by the ghosts of those who have died before their time, sisters who our characters will never come to know, and whose fates they may come to share. In the first season, Katja is a warning to the others of their propensity towards sickness, and is killed by the assassin that will soon be targeting the others. In the second, it is Jennifer Fitzsimmons, whose harrowing video diaries prior to her death amplify our concern for Cosima, who is suffering from the same rare respiratory ailment.

I’d like to focus on Detective Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Childs, the show’s ur-ghost, whose death in the pre-credits sequence of the very first episode is the show’s primal scene, its great moment of uncanny, existential ‘WTF-did-I-just-see?’.

The pilot episode of Orphan Black is titled “Natural Selection” after Darwin’s mechanism by which the smartest, strongest, and swiftest pass on their legacy, while the slowest and slightest do not. ‘Survival of the fittest.’ Its very first scene stages the only encounter between Sarah Manning and Beth Childs. Both of them are upset—Sarah about her inability to see her daughter, Beth about pain that we do not learn about until much later. While Sarah huffily paces the train terminal walkway, Beth ritualistically removes her shoes, jacket, and purse, leaving them in a neat stack. Turning to see her double Sarah staring at her, Beth abruptly walks in front of the train that she has come to kill herself with. Sarah is horrified, but not so stunned that her survival instincts leave her. She grabs Beth’s purse and flees.

Beth strips herself of self by leaving shoes, coat, and purse. By picking up this purse, with its photo ID and credit cards and police badge, Sarah impersonates or perhaps becomes Beth. She is for several episodes called Beth by people—Beth’s partner Art, her fiancé and observer Paul, his handlers, the other members of Clone Club—who don’t realize that they are separate people. Sarah lives in Beth’s apartment, works Beth’s job, sleeps with Beth’s fiancé… lives Beth’s life until it becomes too burdensome for her, and she, too, is forced to give it up (in this case, by confessing to Clone Club, to Paul, and to Art).

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Adapting Austen: Revisiting Mansfield Park (1999)

In adaptation, books, Film, Uncategorized on May 22, 2014 at 8:13 am


Sarah S.

For the last several years we’ve lived in the Ladies Republic of Austentonia. (I’ve given up trying to pitch Jane Austen’s merits to dudes; if you don’t like her or won’t try her, it’s your loss.) From books and movies reinterpreting Pride and Prejudice (Bridget Jones’ DiaryPride and Prejudice and Zombies) to explorations of fandom itself (The Jane Austen Book ClubAustenland) it seems that the original narrator of middle class morality has never been so popular.

Despite Austen’s sky high stock, only a couple of her offerings get the perennial treatment: EmmaSense and Sensibility, and, in particular, Pride and Prejudice. Film adaptations reflect this ranking, with no fewer than ten versions of P&P alone. The popularity of the Big Three makes sense because they best epitomize Austen’s plot of a plucky heroine surrounded by odd relatives who thrives despite constrained circumstancesThey’re the PowerPoint, Excel, and Word that offset Austen’s versions of Bing, Surface, and Windows Vista: Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park.

Persuasion? Too dreary.

Northanger? Too gothic.

And Mansfield? Too preachy.

Mansfield Park is particularly irritating, with a prudish prig for a heroine whose only hobby seems to be passing silent judgment on those around her and pining for her equally self-righteous cousin. By the time we get to the inevitable “happy ending” we can at least feel relief that Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram—those intolerable, intolerant jerk faces—aren’t going to spoil anyone else’s marital bliss (and that we don’t have to spend any more time with them). Mansfield Park clunks through moral quandaries and odd personalities without the combination of humor and empathy that make Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility so successful.

But say you’re a filmmaker who rejects creating yet another iteration of the Big Three. Shall you venture into the stolid world of Persuasion‘s Ann Elliot or the weirdness of Northanger Abbey? Read the rest of this entry »

Masks, Melissa, and Mischief: Pretty Little Liars Recap, 4.3

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm


Phoebe B: The super creepy mask guy who is obsessed with Emily as Medusa: Aria, “What do you want?” Mask guy to Emily, “Your face.” Love it. Hanna being bad ass and awesome and taking initiative, both getting the PLLs to go see the mask guy and then snooping when they are there. Go Hanna! (Aside: I would be so incredibly terrified at that mask place by all the creepy masks. I really don’t like masks.)

Aria and Ella. I love Ella and I so want her to go on an adventure with the hot baker guy: “I was giving my mother permission to go off and join the circus.”

Melissa is back! And her face is in a mask. Creepy. But also, I am pleased to see the return of one of my favorite PLL possibly-villains.

Sarah T: YES that mask scene was so classic PLL. I was really worried that it was going to start burning Emily’s face horribly or something but no. I also like that Ali hid a mask of her own face inside another mask, that’s a cool teen girl hobby.

I am thrilled for Ella that she is off to Vienna to make pastries in a castle with the Von Trapp Family Singers, but sad for us, her fans and loyal viewers! She can’t go, can she? Let her not go the way of Invisible Mikey Montgomery.


Phoebe B: Toby! AAAAAH. I cannot stand him right now and also I do not trust him. Not one ounce. But he is so weepy and annoying. And where is Mona? No Mona = the worst. But, I agree with the PLLs: not knowing where Mona is, is pretty much as scary as when she is around all the time. I also miss Jenna. Where are all the amazing femme fatales of PLL? I must admit too that I’m not completely sure what happened in this week’s episode of PLL.

It’s possible I was distracted by watching the Wendy Davis (#standwithwendy) fillibuster and other big news events like SCOTUS’ bad decision on the Voting Rights Act and good decision on striking down DOMA. Thus, it’s highly likely I missed key PLL plot points. But, ST do you know what was happening this week?

Sarah T: No I do not! But plot isn’t very important to me when I watch PLL; I just let the show float over me like an insanely dark summer breeze. The worst for me was seeing poor Ashley sadly contemplating the faucet in the bathroom. Whatever happened with her that night, it is something very miserable. I hate seeing my favorite PLL mom so torn up! Drinking wine evilly in the dark is one thing, but this lonesome hiding-in-the-bathroom routine is quite another.

A Survivor is (re-) Born, Or, Playing Tomb Raider after Anita Sarkeesian.

In feminism, Film, games, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on June 26, 2013 at 7:36 am

brian psi

In 1985, Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For inaugurated what has come to be known as The Bechdel Test, a three-point checklist for evaluating how a film represents women. Does it have at least two? Do they have a scene together? Do they talk about something other than men? The fact that so few films pass all of these—even 30 years later—means that many filmgoers keep this checklist in the front of our minds, as part of the internal HUDs that we screen all of our media through.

It is difficult now, at least for me, to play a game without my own internal interface simultaneously replaying bits of Anita Sarkeesian’s ongoing series of videos for Feminist Frequency, “Tropes vs. Women.” The first three (two of which are complete) are about the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. In part 1, she lays out the history of the trope, and some of its earlier incarnations; in the second part she demonstrates how it has been used more recently, including such horrifying variations as the ‘damsel in the refrigerator,’ the ‘disposable’ damsel, and the ‘euthanized’ damsel. The collection of cutscenes and gameplay clips she has amassed in support of these classifications is staggering and frankly, not seriously refutable. So it would not be at all surprising if, in the not too distant future, players and critics evaluate their games by some kind of Sarkeesian test, which might get at whether there are women present in the game, and importantly, whether they are protagonists or allies rather than prisoners or corpses used to drive the stories of stubble-sporting, dark-haired white dudes.

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

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 9:46 pm
Sarah S.
Let’s get this complaint out of the way directly: the use of female characters in J. J. Abrams’ second offering in the rebooted Star Trek franchise is sigh-worthy at best, probably more like eye-rolling and groan-worthy, and possibly even merits serious hair pulling. Zoe Saldana is still awesome as Uhura in Star Trek Into Darkness but her interesting updates, including linguistic genius and unwavering confidence, are undercut in this movie by her damsel-in-distress situations. Speaking of “damsels-in-distress,” Alice Eve’s Dr. Carol Marcus (presented on IMDB as simply “Carol”) represents yet another female character who’s good on paper and easy on the eyes but doesn’t offer much but a way to nix any *ahem* suggestions of sexual tension between Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Point, match, feminists.
That said, for all those who have been complaining that Abrams’ Star Trek isn’t “Star Trek” enough: you’re nuts! In this flick, perhaps even more than the first, Star Trek returns to its philosophical roots of exploring what it means to be human and how we strive to be the best iteration of that humanness. And yet, obviously, this is not your father’s Star Trek. It’s so filled with Easter eggs its villain is the biggest one of all (also: worst kept secret ever) while its loving nods to the preceding mythology temper any sense of snark or unending, frivolous “play.” Indeed, the film’s self-awareness of its changed universe is so meta, and yet so well-conceived in its own right, that it transcends post-modernism and becomes, what? Something that gets beyond that circling anxiety, frivolity, and/or simulacra of traditional post-modernism and into something that mingles our contemporary fears for the future (aka, obsessions with apocalypse), loves for nostalgia and technology, and twinging hopes that extraordinary individuals—particularly if they work in tandem—may be able to improve the world.

“History Don’t Repeat Itself; It Rhymes” – Jay-Z and the Gatsby Soundtrack

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 1:12 am

Or yes, it is possible to have a PhD in American Literature, to have “actually read” Gatsby, and to be completely supportive of Jay-Z’s masterful new soundtrack.

Melissa Sexton

Note: NPR has taken down the livestream of the Gatsby soundtrack, since the soundtrack was released for purchase today.

I have spent the past two days in an ecstatic swoon, listening to the new soundtrack for The Great Gatsby over and over again. Haven’t heard it yet? NPR is streaming it on First Listen, giving the English majors of the world something to do with their media-time until the film FINALLY comes out this Friday. My love for the soundtrack is not surprising; when the first trailer came out last year, I was elated by its pairing of hip-hop and Prohibition-era glamor. I got that thrill – the one we go to the movies to get – when the trailer opened with shots of fast, glamorous cars careening to Jay-Z and Kanye’s menacing, pounding “No Church in the Wild.”

But not everyone has shared my enthusiasm. And as professional writers and passionate individuals alike began responding to the soundtrack and to early viewings of the film, I picked up on a pattern: to dismiss Luhrmann’s glossy, glittery remake and Jay-Z’s equally sequined soundtrack as somehow “inauthentic” to the original Gatsby – or, more subtly, as missing the novel’s entire point, reproducing the very American Dream that Gatsby was intended to critique (as we all dutifully learned in our high school English classes).

Now. I don’t do this very often. But. As someone with a PhD in American literature, I feel like I have some professional clout behind my own reflections on whether a hip-hop, cinematic orgy of a film can be considered “authentic” or “faithful” to an American modernist novel. And as someone with a developing love of contemporary popular music in general, and 21st century hip-hop in particular, I think I can talk about Jay-Z’s involvement in the project without the kinds of knee-jerk reactions I was noticing all over the comments sections of The New York Times and NPR – comments that were basically the equivalent of “You kids with your hip hop music! Get off my American literature! Now Maud, turn that NPR jazz hour back on!” But for once, I’m going to flaunt the professional clout. Because if I see one more Facebook post snidely asking if “anyone who liked the soundtrack had actually even read the whole book,” I am going to go all George Wilson on their asses. So. I’m not saying that Baz Luhrmann’s and Jay-Z’s take on Gatsby is THE right one, but I think it is A right one. And I want to explain why a trained literary professional can totally get behind this fusion of hip-hop with The Jazz Age.

Read the rest of this entry »

Down the Rabbit Hole: Re-Reading Madeleine L’Engle

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2013 at 6:39 am

Sarah S.

The books we love tell a lot about us, particularly the ones read multiple times. And not because it shows you’re “old fashioned” or “feminist” but because if you can understand why a book gets to you so deeply that you’ll return to it again and again you’ll understand something about yourself. For example, it’s objectively true that Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House is a great book. But I read it for my connection with the titular professor, a character for whom I have empathy and criticism in equal measure. The fact that I read for the professor (and have little emotional interest in Tom Outland) reveals something about me—whether a truth of personality or a whisper of something I strive to understand.

I recently re-read one of my favorite childhood books, a novel that I read so many times its edges are grey and rumpled and the cover finally fell off. This time, however, I found it painfully wanting. Yet it also provided a telescope down the rabbit hole to my childhood self. I see why I liked it then and it has nothing to do with it being objectively good.

The book in question is Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle, easily the least of the four novels about the Murray children (the others being A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet). Many Waters focuses on the “normal” twins between the eldest daughter, Meg, and the youngest son, Charles Wallace. Sandy and Dennys Murray lack the genius as well as the awkwardness of their sibling but they nevertheless get their own adventure. In sum, they accidentally mess with one of their father’s space-time experiments and blast themselves to the time of Noah mere months before the flood that will destroy the known world.

The ancient world L’Engle creates is fascinating. All the people are small with the exception of the mysterious nephilim (fallen angels) and beatific seraphim (angels on earth), each of whom can transform from its beauteous, be-winged humanoid form to a unique animal host. Sandy and Dennys jointly fall in love with Noah’s youngest daughter, a beautiful, virtuous girl named Yalith who falls in love with both of them. Yalith, of course, is not part of the official story, nor is she meant to board the Ark that “El” has ordered Noah to build. What is this odd, religiousy threesome to do?

L’Engle’s solution has Yalith being taken into the “Presence” by one of the seraphim, just as her grandfather Enoch who walked with El and then was no more. Pretty it up with mysticism all one wants, Yalith essentially dies. The twins get home using a combination of seraphim and virtual unicorns and the rains come.

I could not resist sharing the cover of my copy. Check out these 1980s-styled hotties.

As an adult, I see this as L’Engle’s most conservative novel. In her other Murray books she counters the anti-scientific streak in American Christianity (which has only grown more virulent since she wrote the books) while also insisting on an essential battle between darkness and light, evil and good in the universe. I would call the other three required reading for all Christian children and nearly-required reading for non-Christian children, particularly A Wrinkle in Time. (A claim I cannot make with a fully clear conscious for other series on both sides of the spectrum, on the one hand, Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, on the other, Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy.) Many Waters, however, puts L’Engle into ambiguous territory that she can’t write her way out of easily, particularly in a children’s book. It insists that El is good and highlights the virtue of Noah’s immediate family so it cannot or won’t account for the cruelty of wiping out everyone, including Yalith. It’s her least scientific novel, in part because it wants to vitalize a myth. And for a woman with a host of fantastic female characters under her belt, L’Engle peoples this book with women who are caricatures of virtue or vice.

So why did I love it so much as a child? Despite my current dislike, what insight did it bring me that merits this much thought? As a child I was sentimental, spiritual, and imaginative—always longing for transcendent experience. Yet I was also a mini-intellectual, enjoying to think about things, and somewhat inherently personally conservative, enjoying classic plots about princesses and love and Big Truths. (I’m still this way with my  imagination; it’s why I’m such a lousy fiction writer.) Many Waters brought to life a story I was raised to believe was historically true, it seemed intensely romantic to my child self, and yet it didn’t flinch from the hardness of a Big Truth (Big Truths, like virtual unicorns, tending to exist in various ways at the same time). It’s little wonder that this somewhat ridiculous novel touched a nerve in me and that I read it and read it and read it again.

Sometimes one re-reads a book, from childhood or otherwise, and discovers something even more magnificent than one remembers. Time and experience bring a new way of understanding the work and you find that it has grown richer. (This happened to me in another recent re-read, To Kill a Mockingbird, which I did not really “get” as a child but fell in love with on re-reading.) I think my days of re-reading Many Waters are now officially over. But I’m still glad I went inside its world one more time. Not because I enjoyed spending more time with the (let’s face it) terribly boring Sandy and Dennys but because I got to spend a bit of time with the child that used to be me.

In the Sky, Lord, in the Sky: Historical Guilt and Bioshock Infinite

In class, dystopian literature, games, gender, race, spoilers, technology, time travel, Uncategorized, violence on April 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

brian psi

Irrational Games’ latest opus, Bioshock Infinite, was released last week, to universal acclaim. Creative director Ken Levine has been making the kind of upscale promotional rounds usually frequented by novelists or filmmakers—rare air for someone who has just made an ultraviolent first person shooter, the most reviled (and most lucrative) subgenre of the most debased popular art form. Like other games of its type, the new Bioshock features plenty of gunplay and gruesome melee finishers; unlike other games in any genre, Infinite’s storytelling, setting and themes explore the most troubling aspects of American history, providing a fairly scathing commentary on the interplay of American exceptionalism, racism, religion and labor exploitation. What really struck me is the way that the game evokes—in its narrative and mechanics—two very different responses to historical guilt, responses which make the game’s politics both fascinating and contemporary.

WARNING: massive spoilers below, including major plot twists and ending!

Read the rest of this entry »

Is Archer the Most Progressive Television Show On Women’s Sexuality?

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Sarah S.

Note: This post contains adult-themed videos probably in the PG-13 range. Potentially NSFW and watch at your own risk/desire.

On the surface, a show about a sexist, moronic super-spy with zero self-reflection and serious mommy issues might not seem like a candidate for any kind of progressive title. But bear with me. Sure, ISIS agent Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) consistently makes racist, sexist, ageist, and homophobic comments (as do many others among the cast of characters). He’ll also blow his cover faster than you can say “martini” if he thinks being a “spy” will appeal to whichever woman (or women) he’s hitting on. The show is rife with Archer’s horror at any mention of his mother, Mallory Archer and ISIS head (Jessica Walter), having sex. And all the characters consistently grimace at the sexual exploits of overweight Pam (Amber Nash) and the strangulation fetish of Cheryl/Carol (Judy Greer).

Yet I still maintain that Archer may be the most progressive show on television regarding women’s sexuality.



Because despite the distaste expressed by the characters over their colleagues’ sexual predilections, the women in question ignore this kind of slut shaming and do what they want. Cheryl finds men (or machines) who can strangle her…just…right… Pam sleeps with, well, basically everybody; furthermore, her lovers unequivocally desire her OR only sleep with her when drunk but then keep coming back for more. And Mallory, a former super-spy herself, is still a stone fox who sleeps with everyone from the head of the KGB to Bert Reynolds.

Further, the animation frequently shows its characters in various states of undress or carefully concealed nudity. Mallory and Cheryl are represented as conventionally beautiful—even Mallory with her wrinkles. Archer’s counterpart and former fiancé, Lana (Aisha Taylor), is the most aggressively attractive of the female cast, with her long legs and giant breasts, and yet the show mocks her cartoonishly superhero figure with jokes about her “man hands.”

One’s reaction to nude Pam probably depends on one’s reaction to overweight women in general. Yet while the show gets laughs out of the characters’ comments about Pam’s weight (as well as her drinking, lack of sophistication, and lesbian tendencies), the animators don’t play Pam’s nudity for laughs. It just is, and a fairly accurate presentation as well. The situation might be funny, as well as the characters’ reactions to it (including reactions to Pam’s sexual activity and size), but her figure itself is not part of the joke.

Last, returning to Lana. She is one of the show’s most likable characters, one of the few who can give back Archer a piece of his own and who can actually get under his forever-adolescent emotional skin. They are the fated couple at the heart of the series. It’s also very refreshing to see an African American woman in such a prominent and powerful role. However, out of the female characters, Lana has the most standard role and the most standard sex life—infrequent, paved with jerks and losers, perpetually overshadowed by her ex (equally objectified by the animators, I might add). Thus, Archer further overturns expectations for women’s sexuality by offsetting the stereotypical aspects of Lana’s love-life against the unabashed antics of her lady-peers. Pretty impressive representin’ from a spy series merged with an office comedy.

What say you? Do you agree or disagree? Any other contenders for this title?

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the Reclamation of Lydia Bennet

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2013 at 9:28 am

Sarah T.

lizzie and lydia bennet


It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice never gets old. My ninth-grade copy of the book is so dog-eared by now that it’s practically a basset hound, and I’ve rarely met a film version of the story that I didn’t like. So when I learned about a web series called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I knew I had to check it out.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has everything you’d hope for in a modern-day Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Lizzie is a smart, sarcastic 24-year-old grad student in mass communications who’s living at home, along with her sisters Jane, an underpaid fashion assistant, and Lydia, a college student and full-time party girl. With the help of her cradle-to-grave pal Charlotte Lu, Lizzie starts making video diaries as a class project—just as a certain rich, handsome med student named Bing Lee moves in next door.

The series finds plenty of parallels between Jane Austen’s gossip-obsessed English society and the digital age, and between the vicious economics of entailments and the rocky financial climate of the present. Jane’s defaulted on her student loans; the Bennets worry they’ll lose their home. As Lizzie points out, there’s a reason all three adult children are still living with their parents—and why the never-seen Mrs. Bennet (role-played by Lizzie as an overwrought southern belle who’s accidentally stumbled into suburban California) is so anachronistically obsessed with ensuring that her daughters marry well.

But the thing that’s most noteworthy about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries isn’t its new-media savvy and socioeconomic commentary. Nor is it the series’ excellent and diverse cast (Bing, Charlotte, and Bing’s sister Caroline are all Asian-American) or the crackling chemistry between Lizzie and Darcy, a snobby, stiff-as-a-board tech company executive with—who would’ve guessed?—a secret heart of gold. The most important thing about the series is its reclamation of a certain irrepressible redhead by the name of Lydia Bennet.

In Austen’s novel, and in most adaptations, Lydia is an entertaining but unredeemable character. She learns nothing from her mistakes, and she’s as superficial and oblivious as her mother—too caught up in charm, money, and good looks to be able to distinguish right from wrong or good people from bad. And then there’s the matter of Lydia’s “natural self-consequence”: “self-willed and careless,” she refuses to listen to her sisters and other women who try to get her to change her reckless behavior.

So when Lydia runs off with dastardly Wickham with no aim of getting him to put a ring on it, we’re meant to be worried about what it will do to Lizzie and Jane’s reputations—but not much concerned for the welfare of Lydia herself. Austen had little sympathy for characters lacking in common sense and self-awareness, and anyway Lydia’s too thick-headed to feel pangs of regret.

The concept of slut-shaming didn’t exist back in Austen’s day, since it was basically automatic. What else were you going to do with a young woman who refused to bow to societal conventions? But reading the book today, it’s clear that Lydia is an asteroid racing through the novel’s moral universe. A woman lacking in decency and virtue will cause destruction wherever she lands; the best you can hope for is to minimize the damage. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap Times Two: Season 3, Episodes 20 (“Hot Water”) and 21 (“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”)

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Things literally heAted up on Pretty Little Liars last week: Spencer got steamed in the shower (that looked awful!) but also got steamy with Wren; Fitz is back and baby drama is definitely afoot; Emily and Paige had a heart to heart; and Ashley was tormented by Wilden. Importantly too, Spencer has risen from her dark phoenix phase and is back (I think) with a smart-as-a-whip vengeance. Then this week, Toby mAybe is dead and Spencer is heartbroken; Aria is not ready to be a parent; and Emily was badass. But until then, here are our thoughts on this week’s PLL revelations.

Last week, Spencer was back! But now, after finding Toby’s dead body in the woods, Spencer is a mess–and institutionalized at Radley. Discuss.

Phoebe B: I was so excited last week to see Spencer back and on fire. But then, the scary steamy shower and her confession to the PLLs about Toby (why doesn’t Emily believe her??) and the downward spiral begins again. It was so sad to see her break down and then be picked up in the morning by the park rangers, and that last scene of her sitting in the bed staring off into space. I wonder if the nurse’s feet we saw were the lady in red/A-leader? Also, do you think just maybe that Spencer is faking it to get close to the truth? I really hope this is all part of her big plan (even though I would quite surprised I suppose if that was indeed the case).

Sarah T: I do think it’s possible that Spencer is faking–perhaps as a way to lure in Mona–but I think she’s probably grieving too much to be plotting simultaneously.

Detective Wilden is Rosewood’s number 1 creep and this week he had it out for Hanna and Ashley. What do you make of his encounters with the Marin ladies? And where did he go after Ashley ran him over?

Phoebe B: He is! But I do think he is perhaps dead in the woods OR potentially in the car. I thought he was horrible to Hanna and Ashley, but I thought it was good that there was proof he was threatening both the Marin ladies (ie the video feed in his car). I think two things are possible post-accident … one, that his body is in fact the one Spencer found in the woods (thinking it was Toby), or two, his body was in the car that Hanna and Aria pushed into the lake (I feel distinctly that pushing the car in was a very bad idea).

Sarah T: Hahahaha don’t you think pushing the police car into the lake was totally the large-scale version of Hanna and her mom’s general approach to problem-solving? Small incriminating evidence they throw in sinks and blenders, large ones they push into bodies of water. Also sometimes embezzled money goes in lasagna boxes. A place for everything and everything in its place. MARINS I LOVE YOU. But yes, I do think that Wilden is probably dead and either taking Toby’s posthumous place or in the trunk of the police car. My money’s on the former, because I don’t think Toby’s really a goner.

Also, I’m confused by the video in the police car. It totally exonerates Ashley, right? You can hear Wilden threatening Hanna and see him getting rough with her. You can’t see him pull the gun, but it’s pretty clear he is not acting in official above-board cop capacity. This makes me think she’s going to trial but that she’ll be cleared by the video down the line. Read the rest of this entry »

Life Reaches Out: A Better Vision of Love in Silver Linings Playbook

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Melissa Sexton

Real love tells you when you’re not being a standup guy.

Well, if you’re alive in the blogosphere or if you live near a television, at this point you probably know that Jennifer Lawrence took home the 2013 Best Actress Oscar for her recent role as the depressed widow Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook. And if you know me, you’re probably not surprised to hear that I love Jennifer Lawrence ferociously. I thought she was amazingly tough in Winter’s Bone and that she was perfectly steely in Hunger Games. I have loved her even more since reading her recent Vanity Fair interview where, despite the super-sexy photographs that accompany the article, she comes across as entirely human: a little goofy and awkward and just on the border of appropriate. And now, I love her beyond belief for biffing it on the stairs at the Oscars, and then beaming anyway. I love how her flustered acceptance speech feels so true to my experience: when the good things that you’ve always wanted happen to you, sometimes you just fall over in shock and forget how to be graceful. I love her hilarious post-win interview, where she destroys our cultural dream of actresses as poised princesses: they’re clumsy and flustered – they trip and curse. They aren’t decked out by fairy godmothers and gilded in dreams: they take a shower, take a shot, and take a fall, even when they’re on top of the world. In other words, her victorious Oscar persona has much in common with Tiffany, even though Lawrence is wearing Dior and Tiffany’s usually in sweaty spandex and sneakers: Lawrence in real life and Tiffany as a character both suggest that the most beautiful things come with some assembly required – come full of cracks and pockmarks, flaws, imperfections, pain, embarrassment, struggle. And that all that imperfection doesn’t have to be something we hide in order to find beauty, experience love, or build a better life.

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The Days Are Gods: Interview with Liz Stephens

In books, environment, gender, race, Uncategorized on February 25, 2013 at 5:00 am

Sarah S.

Liz Stephens needed to get out of Los Angeles so she packed up her husband and her dogs and moved to…Wellsville, UT. She moved ostensibly for grad school but found she learned as much from diving into local history, her Mormon neighbors, the animals she raised and gave away and the ones who died, as she learned in books and classes. In her lovely, meditative memoir, The Days Are Gods, Stephens tells about white teenagers dressed up as Indians, a French kid who spends his summer on a Dude Ranch, surprise goats, and discovering how going to a non-trivially alien place helped her discover (or become or transition or whatever) into her adult self.

Stephens received her PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University. Her work has been featured in Brevity, South Dakota Review, Western American Literature, and Fourth Genre. She received the Western Literature Association’s Frederick Manfred Award and was a finalist for the Annie Dillard Creative Nonfiction Award. She’s equally talented at making a cup of earl grey tea and a mean mint julep. She will stop to ogle or coo over any animal in the vicinity, especially dogs. She can parallel park like a boss.


You can buy The Days Are Gods from University of Nebraska Press or from Amazon. You can also find out more about Liz Stephens and her work on her website, After you finish reading this interview and buy her book, be sure to read her devastating essay “Ten Years I’ll Never Get Back.”


SS: Okay, let’s just start out with a big one: At one point you write about the sight of a grey barn on a mountainside: “I’ve seen that movie, the one with the barn in the mountains. I’ve read that book, the one with the treacherous winter. And now I am really there.” Now that you’ve lived in Utah and returned for visits, spent 4+ years in Ohio, and returned to Los Angeles (not to mention written and re-written this book), is there an essentiality to “the West” or is it—always and forever—artifice? Or narrative? Or dream?

LS: I think the West is like a celebrity who when interviewed says, “You know, there’s me, and then there’s capital letter Brad Pitt”—or whoever—the distinction of course being that from inside one experience you know a thing, and then culturally there is this mystical entity fed by a whole culture’s desires. Cultural values I wanted to attribute to the West exclusively were demonstrably true of Ohio as well: tractor derbies are good fun, and you should keep your business at the local feed shop or they will close and you will be screwed some day in the future when you need them. Neighbors are, like fences, worth investing time in. Being a college professor living in the country is not the same as being a grounds keeper at the campus and driving in to work, and none of you are going to be able to pretend it is. It’s a wise idea, that you suggest in your own question that the West may be a narrative. It is. If you tell your life in a big epic way, those are the features you feature in your surroundings, no matter who you are or your line of work. If you keep stories small and close to the home, you value that in your narrative of your own life. You describe your region in which that life plays out accordingly. Sometimes the West is simply the line of box stores you are most familiar with, with a really long snowy season.

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What Beyoncé Wore

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Sarah T.

People have a lot of thoughts about Beyoncé’s Superbowl outfit.

A Huffington Post headline screamed, “Beyoncé Goes XXX at the Superbowl Halftime Show.” Conservative corners of the blogosphere fretted that Beyoncé was too sexy for the Superbowl, as well as, presumably, her car (too sexy by far). Meanwhile, some feminists and cultural critics–including people whose opinions I respect very much–expressed disappointment with the way Beyoncé’s wardrobe catered to the objectifying male gaze.

I’m not surprised that conservatives dredged up beef with Beyoncé. If the goal is for all female musicians to act and dress like pretty pretty wholesome-family-values princesses, obviously lots of them are going to fall short. (Although Beyoncé really is remarkably apple-a-day wholesome: Besides being one of the most successful performers alive, she’s a devoted wife and mother, friend to the Obamas, and ready to fight childhood obesity with the power of the Dougie.)

Reactions on the other side of the ideological fence, however, took me aback. It’s not that I disagree that part of the point of Beyoncé’s outfit—a leather bodysuit with lace accents, fishnets, and knee-high boots—was to emphasize her sexual allure. But her costume didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary for a pop star. Nor did her dancing seem particularly risqué. Because she is Beyoncé, she obviously looked like a blazing blinding goddess of beauty, but beyond that her appearance seemed like nothing to write home about. She definitely didn’t look XXX to me.

Partly, I’m sure, this is because I’m immersed in a culture that objectifies women all the time. My sensitivities on this issue are probably dulled. But I also didn’t spend much time thinking about Beyoncé’s outfit because I was too busy cheering for her awesome lady guitar player, and for the reunion of Destiny’s Child, and for her all-women-of-color band–a first in Superbowl history. And now that I have devoted more time to contemplating Beyoncé’s Superbowl outfit, the main thing I’ve concluded is that it’s counterproductive to spend time worrying about what other women ought to wear. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap: “Misery Loves Company,” (Season 3, Episode 16)

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Watching this week’s episode of Pretty Little Liars was like chowing down on a pizza so loaded with rare and tasty toppings that you can hardly lift the cheesy slice off your plate. Part of you is like, SO MUCH IS HAPPENING WAA and all of you is like, AND IT’S ALL SO DELICIOUS. Which is to stay: “Misery Loves Company” gets an “A” for “Action-packed.” Meredith drugged Aria and then locked her in the basement! Hanna fought off fashion mannequins attempting faceless murder! Ali showed up to be cryptic with drugged-out Aria for a while, Paige and Caleb teamed up for a secret anti-A crusade, and in the episode’s saddest and scariest twist, Spencer laid a trap for Toby, caught him red-handed and black-hoodied, and ended up curled in a ball outside his door, begging for an explanation.

Heavy. Stuff.

And so, without further ado: this week’s Pretty Little Liars recap.

Spencer’s realization that Toby betrAyed her was so heartbreaking and terrifying. What will this news mean for our woman of steel?

Sarah T: First of all, I need to go back and watch this episode again, because clearly Spencer laid a trap for Toby, but I spent the whole episode thinking she was just pumped about their anniversary date and I don’t know when she saw the Radley ID card that tipped her off. But well-played, show! Nicely plotted. Anyway, I thought their confrontation was so great and devastating, from Toby’s hard-to-read “How long have you known?” to Spencer’s furious slap. In the moment she’s so shocked that her suspicions were right that she’s all adrenaline and terror, but the moment she collapses into her mother’s arms you can see that this is going to change her forever. And that last image of her shouting teary questions at Toby through the door while he (I think it was him, though we never see him) played the piano–ahh, I wanted to reach through the TV and hug her. PLL is always amazing at taking the crazy messed-up world the girls live in and making their emotions universally relatable, and I think anyone who’s ever felt completely betrayed by a boyfriend or girlfriend could relate to Spence in that moment.

Phoebe B: Oh my goodness, I knew that moment was coming but it was SO heartbreaking. Also, I had secretly held out hope that Toby was just a spy in the A-world, but alas that no longer seems feasible. But also, I think that Spencer found out when she was initially at his apartment or maybe it caught her eye when she went back to meet him. I think her planning the anniversary dinner was legit and not a trap … But I think that she saw the ID in the process and then promptly figured out that Toby would come for the A key. Also, I think that at the end it was just Mona in the apartment alone playing classical music and conducting (which made her seem like an extra evil genius for some reason), which would be more horrifying to me because then it is just her listening to Spencer break down, which is what she wants I think. Lastly, do you think what Toby and Mona were chatting about early in the episode was about trying to destroy Spencer?

Sarah T: I used to assume that Toby was only on the A team as a double agent, but my thinking’s changed. Now I think he’s on it for real, though that doesn’t mean his feelings for Spencer weren’t at least partly real too–just the way Mona really does love Hanna but also she wants to murder her and shove mannequins at her on job interviews. The way he seemed angry when he told Mona that Spencer was still lying to him–that, to me, read like an aggrieved boyfriend, not like an A-teamer.

Phoebe B: Agreed. But also I still totally don’t understand why Toby would turn against Spencer, which I think is why I had held out hope. But maybe there’s something about him and the PLLs we have yet to learn.

Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Weekly Round-Up

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm

At least 27 students and teachers were gunned down two weeks ago in Newtown, CT. It is time–perhaps past time–to talk about gun control. It is time to understand that this incident was not an isolated one. Much has already been written so here are just a few links in honor of those who died in Newtown, in the drone strikes in Pakistan, and as the result of gun violence.

Jezebel says “Fuck you” to guns:

“It’s delusional to think that guns can help stop massacres like the one that happened today. Of course, people do think that; yesterday, the Michigan State Senate passed a law allowing concealed weapons in schools and daycares. No no no no no. Let’s stop pretending the “if everyone had a gun, everyone could protect themselves!” argument is worth considering.”

Looking back on the Aurora Dark Knight Shooting, via Gawker:

“You cannot “politicize” a tragedy because the tragedy is already political. When you talk about the tragedy you’re already talking about politics.”

Vijay Prasad on the deaths of children that don’t make the news:

“When a singular mass killing occurs in mainly affluent suburbs, it shocks the nation — and rightly so. But it might be a shock to some to know that this year alone 117 children died from handgun violence in Chicago. These deaths do not get discussed, let alone memorialized in the national conversation of tragedy.”

And let us not forget Kassandra Michelle Perkins who tragically lost her life to gun violence just a couple weeks ago.

Sady Doyle writes about the pitfalls of conflating mental illness and violence.

Slate is trying to track every gun-related death per day in America.

A petition to the White House to start talking about gun control now.

GLG Year-End Picks: Brian’s Games of 2012

In games, gender, Uncategorized, violence on December 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

brian psi

2012 was the year that the sexual harassment endemic to many online gaming communities finally started to receive mainstream media attention. While there had long been sites dedicated to documenting it (see also Fat, Ugly, or Slutty and Not In the Kitchen Anymore) it was the backlash to Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter for her “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” doc that really set off the community’s vile and vocal undermind. Sarkeesian documented the responses she received including rape and death threats, the vandalizing of her Wikipedia page, and one guy even coded a game, the object of which was to beat up a virtual version of Sarkeesian until she was left bruised and bloody. This, people, is why the world is awful. Thankfully, Sarkeesian also received considerable support, her kickstarter hit its goal many times, over, and she recently appeared on TEDx to give the full rundown.

Relatedly, #1reasonwhy trended on Twitter after a designer asked his followers why there were ‘so few lady game designers.’ A number of industry women replied to share their stories, some of which are depressing, others hopeful, but every one eye -opening.

The Year in Games Writing

On GLG this year, Allison Bray wrote about bodies and corpses in DayZ, and I wrote about the promising/troubling phenomenon of crossplaying gender.

Elsewhere, Tom Bissell’s ostensible review of Spec Ops: The Line is actually, Benjamin-like, some theses on the philosophy of the first person shooter. Bissell asks why we enjoy video game violence, a theme newly re-relevant post-Newtown. I’ve read this piece at least ten times, and now I’m reading it again. You should, too.

Patricia Hernandez talks Gears of War and the internalization of rape culture in competitive multiplayer. And it is devastating, the saddest thing I’ve read all year.

Games Played

FTL: Faster Than Light

A kickstarter-funded independent, FTL looks and plays like a fancy German board game. You are the captain of a starship pursued by evil rebel scum. Your fragile ship will be torpedoed, boarded by killer robots, pelted by asteroids, is subjected to internal fires and will occasionally experience explosive decompression. Your few crew members must make repairs, pilot the ship, and basically keep it all together while you order them to trade for parts, explore strange nebulae, and upgrade your ship with meaner lasers and death-dealing drones. Random star maps and events means your intrepid crew will die in different, horrifying ways every time. Fun for fans of Star Trek, strategy games, and those with malevolent God complexes, FTL is less than ten bucks on Steam. Read the rest of this entry »

GLG Year-End Picks: Melissa’s Top Videos of 2012

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2012 at 6:19 am

Here are 10 videos that I enjoyed in 2012. 5 of them are by female artists: while two of them are from 2011, I included them in this list as “rediscoveries,” because they were part of this year for me. The other 5 videos are by male artists or mixed groups. Many of them have already been discussed on GLG, so I’ve included links where relevant.

*disclaimer – many of these hip-hop videos feature explicit lyrics. Don’t say you weren’t warned.*

Videos Featuring Female Artists That Rocked My World in 2012

M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”

I scoured the Internet for top video lists to see how mine stacked up, and there wasn’t a list I could find that did NOT include M.I.A.’s controversial and infinitely watchable “Bad Girls.” A perfect balance of epic and fun, this video underscores the song’s claims to swagger with depictions of hagwalah, the Middle East’s take on drifting. The car stunts are bad ass and M.I.A. is ferociously sexy. If you don’t wish you were part of the dusty, dancing crowd by the end, you need to take some kind of fun supplement.

Nicki Minaj and Cassie – “The Boys”

The bubblegum but bad-ass world that Nicki made famous in “SuperBass” reappears here as an escapist candyland for broken-hearted lady MCs. But don’t be fooled by the sparkly eyeshadow, cotton candy, and pink hair salons. If you use your “bust-up swag” to cross these ferocious women, you face possible retribution via flame-throwers, razors, and quick-swerving cars. The video is a perfect fit for this tongue-in-cheek empowerment anthem, which pushes women to succeed together while the boys waste their money on trying to win “love.”

Iggy Azalea, featuring T.I. – “Murda Bizness” [studio version]

While Iggy released an official video for this song, I still prefer the version that features her, T.I., and Chip playing around in the studio. There’s a light-heartedness to this video’s swagger as the three rappers hold stacks of money up to the camera, lean over each others’ shoulders to swap lines, and throw finger guns with glee. As Sarah T. has said before, “I kill pride/ I hurt feelings” is a fantastic line, and it encapsulates perfectly the video’s ability to sport attitude without taking itself too seriously. Read the rest of this entry »

Ladies First: Five Fairly Recent Books by Women, About Women

In books, Uncategorized on November 29, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Sarah T.

Although the subjects of the novels below range from coming of age to coming to America, all five have two things in common: They’re written by women, and they center on female characters. What books by women and/or about women have you been perusing?

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore

Moore’s coming-of-age novel is set in a post-9/11 Midwestern college town. I read it on a Metro North train and I was really into it. So into it, in fact, that I got off one station before my transfer in a haze of which-world-am-I-in confusion. Then, as the doors shut, I realized that I was still an hour away from my final destination. As the train pulled away, I had two additional revelations: I had left my phone on the seat, and this was the last train of the night. I was fully marooned.

“I guess I live here now,” I thought. I trudged down to the taxi stand to start a new life for myself. Now here I am, a happy resident of Brewster, NY. No, $90 later I got home. But the point of this story is: Moore is very absorbing, especially if you like puns. People in her books are always verbally jousting with each other, no matter how unhappy or confused they are. Even when two characters don’t like each other very much, they can usually cease hostilities long enough to bond over a good homophone. It’s Moore’s way of telling us how lonely her characters are. In her universe, puns are the way that people grasp for connection.

The novel’s narrator, Tassie, is a smart college student cut off even from the people she loves most. One of the novel’s key plot points hinges on an email from her beloved brother, who writes asking for advice on a major life decision. Not only doesn’t Tassie write back, she never even reads the email. She doesn’t understand why herself. But the isolation that courses through the book provides the explanation: The vulnerability of her brother’s email, and the prospect of taking responsibility for another person, was too much for Tassie to bear. People turn away from intimacy throughout the book. The decision seems almost sensible, given that nobody is who they say they are–not  Tassie’s Brazilian boyfriend, nor the white couple who hire her as a nanny for their adorable, bi-racial adoptive daughter Mary-Emma. Self-deception runs deep too. Their liberal college town, which prides itself on being the kind of enlightened place where you can protest wars and buy organic kohlrabi all in one go, reveals a racist underbelly.

Needless to say, this is a sad book. You kind of hear “Eleanor Rigby” playing on repeat as you read it. But Moore makes sure you don’t drown in melancholy: there are still bowls of fresh strawberries with balsamic vinaigrette, the joy of discovering Simone de Beauvoir, art etched into the foam of cappuccinos. The book recognizes the balancing power of ordinary consolations, even as it suggests–steely-eyed–that they’re not enough.  Read the rest of this entry »