thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

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:

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.

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.  


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