X-Men First Class: Finally


So I played hookie today to see the latest reboot of the X Men at the opening screening. I must admit that I was a little worried after the train wreck that was the last film in the franchise and the move to push it off it’s traditional memorial day weekend slot; but, I love James Mcavoy. Despite his decision to participate in Wanted, I trust that he has the keen sense of science fiction and fantasy folklore necessary for the complexities of Professor Xavier. I was also curious to see the interim years between the concentration camp and the battle weary Magneto of old.

Eschewing special effects driven drivel that has defined the genre of late, First Class returns us to the basics of storytelling and relationship. We are introduced to a bevy of mutant characters without the feel of the high school lunchroom that usually happens in films that have to introduce a lot quickly. (Except in the scene where they choose new code names, which was a bit of a show and tell.) And all though the film gives us the prerequisite young people behaving stupidly scenes, it leaves most of the heavy lifting to its seasoned lead actors: Kevin Bacon, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. In fact, the two most compelling things about this film are the relationship between McAvoy and Fassbender and Fassbender’s compelling portrayal of a concentration camp turned long term abuse survivor working through the horror of his traumas with his abuser-father figure. Magneto’s violence is always tempered by Fassbender’s inflection of pain and pathos and McAvoy’s striking ability to display profound depths of compassion without a single word. The connection between these two actors and these two characters is better than the vapid connections the studio thinks will bring in audience, i.e. pre-professor X drunken college days, his awkward “ack put that blueness away” relationship with Raven/Mystique, and especially his ridiculous connection with Rose Byrne’s character which was so throwaway I don’t even remember her name.

The only relationship in the film as compelling, exempting for a moment the conflictual relationship between Magneto and Shaw that the film does not spend enough time on for obvious reasons, was the short encounter between Magneto and Mystique. Again and again, Magneto offers her unconditional positive regard and the holding space to have faith in who she is on the inside and the outside. His kindness with her starts from the moment he sees her. And it is their relationship that gets at one of the central questions of the film: do you embrace who you are or hide in shame? Interestingly, young Professor Xavier seems to share in some of the shame that these young mutants carry. When asked by Mystique if he could love her in her real form, he seems as though he has eaten something slightly off, though he tries to be positive. When he sees her naked later, the top-level reading of him as prudish gives way to a deeper level reading that might explain why she ultimately chooses Magneto.

The way the film frames questions of identity lends itself to dual layer readings constantly pitting the X Men against Mutants who simply want to live their lives and recognize from the battlegrounds of history that there may only be one way to do that. In the intial Singer films, which I loved, they steered clear of any implication that Xavier might be engaging in compensation but this film dares to look at the interpersonal pain of each character and ask very hard questions in what is ultimately an extremely positive way. When Magneto asks Xavier about arrogance it is powerful enough to make you reflect on the meaning of hero complex and why so much self-acceptance on the side of the X Men is peppered with shame and attempts to hide, change, or fit in.

What divides Xavier and Magneto will always be the willingness to do harm and the driving force of fear versus hope in their lives. Again, rather than take these differences lightly, the First Class follows in the footsteps of Singer by exploring what these two world views ultimately mean in a world that is operating outside of the existential crisis the mutants are having with themselves and each other. Xavier’s consistent message of mindfulness in the face of trauma, exclusion, and violence, shows us the better part of both men. While Magneto’s willingness to ask hard questions about genocide and arrogance hit home for both his warped mirror image in Kevin Bacon’s character and his possible best Self reflected back at him through Xavier.

The film is not without slippages however. Despite a bevy of female characters,acting in main, supporting, and background roles, none of them manages to make it through this movie without walking around in their underwear at least once. Several of them play sex workers in seedy clubs that are often scenes that combine fantasies of male sexual power and actual state power (ie the power to destroy or save the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.) and physical violence trotting out the trite connedtion between arousal and violence that Singer helped put to bed in the first two films. In one of the more benignly demeaning scenes, Magneto and Xavier sip wine on a bed while Angel spreads her wings and the three of them exchange sexual innuendo. Meant to make male audiences laugh and certainly the least of the many scenes in which powerful women take off their clothes to prove they are capable or get their jobs done in this movie, the underlining absence of female subjecthood throughout the bulk of this movie is disconcerting.

On some levels, Raven’s character counters the stereotype. She explores her insecurities with great depth despite Xavier’s dismissing them as “concern about her body” and she tries her best to reflect back a sense of pride in oneself to Beast even as he tears them both done. Though much of her angst falls into the same tired, offensive, trap of a girl pining for a man who will never really see her and acting out sexually when she doesn’t get what she wants, when she walks into the light naked in this movie, she does it not as titillation but as a fully realized Self whose body is all her own.

It is a much more powerful message than the psuedo-feminism of Frost who sits in her underwear rolling her eyes about men while she projects an image of herself into the mind of a Russian diplomat to get him to do what she wants. If Frost can project her image into the head of a diplomat, why does her image need to get naked to get the job done? And if Frost is powerful enough to block Xavier and sense when he has grown stronger, then why is she so often using sex as her prefered weapon? And if itmis because of Shaw’s warped connections to sex and violence, why not make that more explicit, since itmismhinted at more than once.

Lastly, ask yourself this question at the intersections of race and class, why are all the women blonde and blue-eyed in this film except for Angel, the only mutant woman of color? While Rose Byrne has brown hair, she isn’t a mutant, AND she is a CIA agent who puts up with endless sexist remarks about her competence because she is a “girl”. In other words, she plays the Diana Prince to the amazonian Wonder Women around her. In the same way “pretty” is explicitly linked to white and blonde, Rose’s hair color is meant to mark out the stereotype of “smart woman” even as she too is relegated to running around in her underwear under the in your face gaze of several men. I suppose some will justify this trite tropes by pointing out Byrne gets the man in the end, unlike the blondes. But she doesn’t actually get him, he wipes her memory without her consent and she seems happy about it because she remembers vaguely he kissed her first … More successfully empowering than hollywood pseudo-feminism is Byrne’s character’s intelligence, integrity, and success despite the sexism in her workplace. She is instrumental in stopping Magneto’s planned massacre as well as in getting the mutants on board to stop a nuclear war. It’s just too bad these feats culminate in her empty headed kiss memory.

The people of color in this film are central enough in the background. Two of the first mutants they pick to join the still forming X Men are played by black actors and meant to be Latinos. (I am going to just leave you to ponder that casting on your own for now … You should note, there is a Latino actor with an important role on Shaw’s team but he has no lines, and sits in the background until it is time for him to use his power) In the show and tell turned frat party the young members have post-recruitment, both characters get to show their stuff just as much as any of the others. And when push comes to shove Darwin is the only one who acts, dragging Havoc reluctantly into it, to stop Shaw and his crew after they massacre an entire base. For his efforts, Darwin is the first and only mutant to die. Angel on the other hand, is the first and only mutant on Xavier’s team to join Shaw. So both black actors are eliminated from team X Men before they even start training. All of the people of color in the film are also absent from most of the promotional material and when they are pictured, it is usually only Angel (played by Lenny Kravatiz’s daughter) and she is in the back. ( see image at beginning of this post for an example.)

I have to say that despite these glaring slippages and the pointless partying scenes in the beginning of the movie, I found X Men First Class a compelling film with several important reflective questions about identity, power, and humanity. In embracing the complexities of the main male characters it gave us a chance to look at both the Self and the Shadow of each man and wonder what we would do in their place. It’s messages of self-esteem and self-respect, healing, and forgiveness are all things we could spend more time cultivating in this world. It also gives us several distinct reflections of masculinity that run counter to man=big gun and damsel in pseudo-feminist distress storyline that dominates summer blockbusters; and as I have implied some of that masculinity has queer window dressing all over it. And it manages all of this in a slick summer package full of special effects and nods to movies’ past.

Go see it and tell me what you think.

(PS. the director has said that the sequel will need a new opponent for Magneto because Xavier is in a wheelchair, so look for me to revisit ablism next year when that film comes out.)

all images are the property of 20th Century Fox (2011) “X Men: First Class”

Oscar? What Oscar? Where?

In a year in which the nominees for the biggest awards are sans people of color and the hosts are 12, and at least in Franco’s case lack any class whatsoever, I find comfort in this:

There is so much love in their eyes it makes me believe the Oscars are about more than patting each other on the back in expensive outfits the cost of which could help some people pay their health insurance bills, eat real meals, and survive another day.

Oh well, at least Robert Downey Jr. did not take this opportunity to talk about having sex with all the female nominees (including the underage one from True Grit) during their award announcement like the last award show. BUT WAIT instead we had an aging Douglas flirting with the women hosting and up for Best Supporting Actress. It was nice to see him up and talking, and even better that the Academy Awards allowed an elder man with a speech impediment give an award; something other “shiny, pretty people” shows should do more often. However, sexism is sexism is sexism. Somebody please tell men chosen to present awards that neither the SAG nor the Academy Awards (or the Emmys for that matter) discriminate on the basis of cisgender alone and these awards are neither named “pretty girl award” or often given to people without real talent who have worked just as hard as the men who are not objectified win they win their’s.

Oh well, maybe they will leave Mr. Blackface Downey Jr. out of the memorial montage, like they did to poor Corey Haim. That’s two prestigious award shows in which his passing was not mentioned. Once is an oversight. Twice? Especially after Feldman’s public berating of the SAG organizers? That’s just a shame. He may have been troubled but a lot of people made a lot of money off of him in his hey day and more importantly, he turned critically acclaimed performances in films like Lucas. He deserved better in death even if they could not give it to him in life.

(and to think Hattie McDaniel actually risked her job to try and make this role less offensive than written;

can you imagine what the script says)

So yeah, I could analyze the mtv-ization of the awards in ways that were not funny nor entertaining, or slag off the wardrobe choices, or even celebrate the wonder of first time winners. But instead I am just going to say perhaps they need to hire a real comedian, learn to leave the sexism behind, and actually honor all of the stars that the Hollywood machine once praised and then spit out when they didn’t taste as sweet. You can do that can’t you? Afterall, I had to sit through a montage of Gone With the Wind from the people who used to give out a DW Griffith award, I think you can at least get some things right.

(yes I did file this under bitter much; I know my shadow)

Cheryl Dunye New Film on Lesbian Elders

Allgo is co-sponsoring a showing of Cheryl Dunye’s new film OWLS: Older Wiser Lesbians on September 11, 2010. Director Cheryl Dunye will also be on hand to discuss her motivation in making the film and her career as an out black lesbian director in the independent film scene.

At first glance, OWLS is a murder mystery in which two lesbian elders accidentally kill a much younger genderqueer lesbian and then try to cover it up. The real story however is about intergenerational conflict and competing visions of lesbian culture.

In keeping with her longstanding thread of connecting history and cinema, Dunye examines the lesbian utopian movements of the past that rejected the image of lesbians as doomed, failed women, and tragic spinsters and instead dared to dream “somewhere there is a place for us.” She asks us to think about what it meant to have lesbian only spaces and collectives in a time when same sex attracted women were incarcerated in prisons or mental health facilities or otherwise physically, sexually, economically or emotionally punished for daring to love and how those spaces shaped the optimism of lesbian movements in the 80s only to become a battleground between the women who sustained those movements and brought them into the modern era and younger women who grew up in a world in which nationally syndicated papers refer to “lesbian chic”, out lesbians host talk shows and news shows, and questions about who counts as a woman requires a radical rethink of the biological determinism that once defined not only lesbian utopia but feminism itself. The film questions why the lessons learned and the activism done by these women is undervalued by both straight people and younger lesbians. It questions why places and spaces are shrinking or seemingly shrinking for lesbians of a certain age even while younger women thrive on the privileges gained. And while it no doubt maintains the comic timing and humorous endings that typify Dunye’s work, it should and aught to open conversations about intergenerational community and activism that embraces both critical changes in perspective by younger lesbians and the knowledge and strength of those who came before amongst lesbians and within the larger social justice community.

Please note, I have not yet seen this film in its entirety and cannot vouch for how it handles gender or younger lesbian characters. If you have seen the film, please weigh in in the comment section.

If you would like to see the screening:

When: Saturday, September 11, 2010, at 11:30 am
General Admission $10, Students & Seniors $5
Where: Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival at the Alamo Drafthouse South (1120 S. Lamar Blvd Austin TX)

New Documentary on “Hidden” Dis/Ability

htp What Sort of People

There is a new documentary out by and about people with traumatic brain injuries called Brain Injury Dialogues. From what I have seen, it seems like a good teaching tool for expanding the discourse surrounding ability. The documentary tells the story of several people with TBIs as well as the types of support available and coping skill development they need, while also highlighting how certain aspects of their lives/thinking are impaired in ways that other people excuse, minimize, or otherwise fail to recognize. It also points out how the divides between hidden and visible may be keeping people with TBIs from receiving needed services and developing needed skills and support networks to thrive. It also discusses the import of disability rights activism for shifting the way differently-abled people see and advocate for themselves and how people with TBIs fight into this activism community.

For me, the documentary represents an important entry point for talking about what it means to move from able-bodied to differently-abled and to understanding the nuances of hidden disabilites which are assumed to be easier to cope with because of an ability to access able-bodied privilege but in fact are hard in a different way because the lack of recognition or the willingness to ascribe personality or social problems rather than physical and mental issues to people with hidden disabilities impedes them in similarly disabling ways. It also sheds light on a growing population in the differently-abled community that remains largely underserved by both mental health services and disability services, especially on college campuses in the U.S.

The Documentary is on sale now for $25 and can be bought here.

Related Images

God Willing … A Spike Lee Joint

This week marks both the 5th year anniversary of Katrina and Spike Lee’s return to New Orleans and the people whose stories he helped bring to light in the aftermath of the Republican made disaster.

shadowandact.com

I have watched the 4 hour documentary twice now and am still processing the radical difference in tone Lee’s documentary takes from all the much more celebratory documentaries/news specials produced by mainstream media. (I am also still processing some of the personal stories and the flashbacks Lee’s documentary induced, so we are going to focus on other things in this post.) While some have dismissed Lee’s work as polemic, the results of recent studies on New Orleans cannot be ignored. According to one such research project, white people have returned to New Orleans in greater numbers than black people, mixed race and white neighborhoods have been largely rebuilt or sustained less damage so they were easier to bring back, and white transplants to the area are enjoying a middle class lifestyle that has actually made costs of housing, food, and other essentials inflate beyond the means of original residents. Black residents or former residents in the study have less housing options, less economic security, higher rates of suicide, drug addiction, violence, homelessness, and incarceration. Many cannot and have not returned due to widescale gentrification and intentional rezoning and rebuilding policies that have neglected rebuild in the 9th ward, closed down public housing, and failed to re-open schools in traditionally black, poor, areas of NOLA. There’s is not a story of recovery, it is one of intentional abandonment and current displacement. Add to that the BP spill, which Lee’s film shows is hitting working class and subsistence level creole and immigrant fishermen the hardest and the story of recovery begins to look a lot like a gigantic lie.

In fact, as I watching Spike Lee’s film, I found myself thinking about the tsunami. I was teaching an activism course at the time as well as participating in several Ford funded faculty reading groups. I remember that the campus lit up with concern for tsunami victims and that my class organized a donation drive as part of their final project. All of our book groups were redirected toward discussions of how to help and organizations to support. And all of this was done in the spirit of altruism and deep concern for fellow human beings, not some paternalistic charity model. But when the giving was done, the posters, updates, and discussions came to an end. When the world stopped looking, the government swooped in and used a little known or used statuette to reclaim beach front property and build high end resorts, restaurants, and other tourist oriented businesses to capitalize on the new found interest in the region. Like former first Lady Bush’s comment that the hurricane would help Nola finally get rid of its problems and her son’s belief that this was an ideal opportunity for big businness, the post-tsunami government felt the same way, displacing thousands of working class and subsistence survivors permanently in the name of “progress” “recovery” and “rebuild”. And also like Nola, the story is not solely about victims and re-victimization, many people received some aid or even enough to start to rebuild their lives, but the story only Lee seems willing to tell is about how many did not.

hbo.com

As someone who has kept a close eye on Katrina and its aftermath, someone who like many black Americans took to heart how easily the national and state government could turn on black people with guns, militarization, and life-ending indifference, nothing in Spike Lee’s film is new. There have been multiple rallies over the loss of low income and public housing in New Orleans reported here on the blog. The mental health crisis hit home for me as someone with family members who served both displaced Nola residents and then people still in the city during and after the initial crisis and I wrote about the clinics that were trying to make up the slack for the closing of the only mental health crisis center in poor black neighborhoods as well as what that closure meant over 1.5 years ago here on the blog. And while Lee’s film only touches briefly on women’s issues in favor of focusing on the violence being experienced by young black men in the city, I also wrote about the particular impact Nola had had on women and children and the work that New Orleans’ based feminists were doing to create women’s centers, health clinics (which granted could not find a trans positive physician but were not guilty of “killing trans women” as some claimed on the internet), domestic and sexual violence support groups and safe spaces, and feminist libraries here on the blog. So having spent so much time writing about what is going on in New Orleans, Spike Lee’s film seems fairly mild to me given what he could have included. He did not indict the Red Cross, who as I wrote here, sat on housing funds for displaced people until the cycle for that funding almost ran out. Nor did he talk about the 100,000s of pounds of aid that was never distributed, looted, or shipped elsewhere by FEMA when doing his comparisons to Haiti in the film, whose people, as I wrote here and everyone else wrote about in the news, suffered and died waiting for dispersal of aid. He did not mention the number of women who have been raped, beaten, or abused by their partners, strangers, or the police during and after Katrina as part of a predictable trend in crisis and crisis aftermath around the world; but of course, in this case, I think that was because Spike seldom mentions women’s issues in his films. Nor did his discussion of medical needs in the community extend to the discussion of what happened to both the HIV population and trans people whose access to meds was limited during Katrina until queer and inclusive clinics stepped in and whose access now remains under-reported or addressed.

So why such animosity or ambivalence about Lee’s version of events vs the happy-go-lucky promos flooding my tv every night for 5 years later specials? Why is it that when interviewers bring up the issues that remain, intelligent reporters like Brian Williams respond by talking about all the good going on in New Orleans? Is it because we need a feel good story after so much devastation? Or is it because, once again, we as a culture want to minimize longstanding racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and transmisogyny and how it played out in the aftermath of Katrina, not just the event itself? And more to the point, we want to be able to blame the victims who are still suffering so that we don’t have to ask why they are suffering, who benefits from their suffering, and why prosperity seems to be mapped on racial as well as class lines?

Ultimately, I think it is both impulses. I think we do want to see a New Orleans that has returned to the magic and splendor of its hey day. We want to honor survivors of Katrina who say they want to talk about growth and recovery not pain and abandonment, they want their city to be remembered for the good times not the lows. But we are also invested in a narrative in which black people are always guilty and poor people have invited their own suffering and where the people and systems that abuse them go unnoticed or with a simple slap on the wrist. More so than ever, this nation has divided in ways that highlight racial hatred and victim blaming and shifted the language of oppression to crown the oppressors as the most oppressed. Spike Lee’s film refuses that narrative with a force that makes it hard to ignore and so we are left with the only dismal most people can imagine “polemic” because after all, it is Spike Lee. But I would encourage you to watch this film carefully. Pay attention to the cited studies and actions and then look them up yourself (using more than wikipedia and blog posts). I think you’ll find that Spike Lee’s “If God is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” is quite tame compared to what is really going on in New Orleans.

The film next airs on HBO this Friday and Sunday and will play throughout the month

—–

Some specific issues I will raise in a follow up post

  1. the smugness of Brownie, which seemed to mirror BP
  2. Lee’s discussion of BP which will forever stand for “Bitch Please” from here on out
  3. LSU’s implication in the closing of the major hospital serving poor and working class people of color and mental health patients in the name of profit
  4. why Brad Pitt seems to be the mainstream media’s take away moment from this film  … grrr …
  5. how this event sent the message that black lives don’t matter & what Lee’s film tells us about the people left to survive after such an intimate lesson

If God is Willing … Katrina Doc

If you missed the first half of Spike Lee’s follow up documentary to the Katrina-Bush disaster in the Gulf, you should not miss tonight’s conclusion. While the first part revisited families and their traumas and rebuild, the second half is meant to address the BP spill and its impact on already struggling communities. I promised to review the film today on twitter, but that was before I found out it had more than 1 part airing on more than 1 night. So for now, take a minute to look at the preview for the film:

As you can see the documentary covers many of the topics decolonized and racial justice feminists have been blogging about since Katrina happened. Organizing continues and the need is still there.

The second half airs tonight at 6pm PST and 9 pm EST

“From Text to Film”

blogging librarian flickr/ http://libraryofdigress.files.wordpress.com

One of the great perks about blogging is that you get to have conversations with a wide range of people about things you may not have thought about or about which you had not thought of in the ways you do as a result of those conversations. I’ve been joking around for a while now that I wanted to teach a class on novels adapted to film. While many people have done this before, and I get a lot of leeway in my department(s) with my cinema courses, novels to film is fairly clearly in the realm of the English Department, the one place at this uni I don’t teach. The other issue has always been that since my courses tend to meet both the gen ed and the specialization cores in several fields, there are certain expectations about the material my courses contain. In thinking about the novel to film genre, it means that I would likely have to expand to Made for Television movies to incorporate enough diversity into the curriculum and then the discussion becomes not only about shifts from one medium to the other but also the freedoms or lack there of granted television vs film. I did not want to get bogged down in discussions solely about the latter to the detriment of the overarching questions about identity. While I knew I could probably pull this course off if I modified the time-frame, ie set it in the historical period I teach, that would mean having to read novels that would ultimately get us bogged down in discussions about period and expectation around identity vs the movement from one form to the other. Ugh, does your head hurt yet? Mine certainly did. So I let it go.

Enter Scott Pilgrim and his bevy of fans + the book meme, in which I mocked the film “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” for not actually following the story and rewriting some key characters. Like an aha moment, I found these two blogging conversations combining to make me question the age old encoding/decoding debate in new ways. In other words, there is a metaconversation taking place about the meaning of movies that is radically changing the discourse of how see and understand film. This post is about those changes; if you want my movie review of Scott Pilgrim look here.

In talking about my experience of the film/reviewing it and  its racial and gender content, I have received multiple comments here and elsewhere that reference the graphic novels as counterpoint. In looking at commentary on the internet, I found the same thing. In other words, people reviewing the movie have largely talked about the movie itself: its content, the acting and directing, and the overall plot, and occasionally, its niche appeal. The people responding to their reviews have pretty much all gone back to the source material to contradict what people say is in the movie. Yet, what most have reacted to in the film: (1) the absence of female perspective, (2) the focus on a largely unlikeable character or characters, and (3) confusing or choppy plot, have all been fairly consistent. Are we to believe that because the original graphic novels make clear that Scott Pilgrim is meant to be unlikeable that the film does a good job of telling its uninformed audience this information when so many did not get it? Or are we meant to excuse the absence of female subjecthood in the film because the graphic novels apparently center them and their thoughts?

brian o’malley/oni press

As I said in my review, should Scott’s supposed growth, reduced to a few minutes in the film that I argue are undermined by the way he once again treats Knives at the end, negate racialized and/or racist depictions of API Americans in the movie? This is an issue that most reviewers and comment makers have yet to address precisely because one of the film’s more stereotypical scenes is taken directly from the pages of the graphic novel without any editing or changes; sadly, the reviewer from the Harold seems to explain it best when he says that as a white surbuban gaming male who fits the intended demographic he was easily able to overlook the bollywood scene until a comment on twitter about race in the film made him think through the movie with race in mind. Like it did for me, the meta-conversation surrounding this movie, ie between novel, film, and multiple internet and social network sites, is creating a radical rethink of meaning on all sides. And for everyone who has gone off the deep end over Dr. Laura’s comments, tell me, what is the difference between Dr. Laura  calling a black woman “oversensitive” because she does not like the racist jokes made by her white husband’s friends in her home and white fans of Scott Pilgrim saying “hater” to anyone who mentions the racial depictions of API Americans in this film?

Race issues aside, there seems to be a struggle going on between those who saw the film on its own and fans who saw the film and read the graphic novels or simply read the graphic novels but have not gone to the film. The latter have been quite vocal about the fact that people criticizing the film “don’t get it” despite the consistency of the reviews. This reaction varies considerably from earlier fans who willingly critiqued films for failing to represent the text upon which they were based. Films with huge fan bases in fact, have almost always had to address fan expectations in order to be successful at the box office. When fans say the film is not accurate enough, movies generally tank at the box office.

(note the Asian mom’s broken English)

Brian O’Malley/Oni Press

Scott Pilgrim is tanking at the box office. Yet fans are defending it and the studio is blaming it on Michael Cera. Apparently, several of Cera’s last few films did not do well, so he is an easy whipping boy. Yet I can think of no one better to play a 20 something year old slacker who quips about life, resents having to defend himself, and looks like the kind of guy you expect to see in the arcade and root for when attacked. I think he was a perfect choice and his comedic timing are spot on as always. Even if we factor in the people who have just had enough of his t-shirted, saggy chords, skinny boy schtick, there is still something more interesting going on here.

The cry from fans of “you don’t get it”, seems like a generational issue to me. In this context, the film becomes irrelevant. What is at stake is youth who identified with Scott Pilgrim as a graphic novel and see it as a depiction of their generational angst in the same way people thought of American Graffitti, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, or even The Big Chill or Diner.  Their embrace of the graphic novels at a gut level combines with the total rejection of the movie by accredited film reviews who are all over the age of 30 (to riff on that old adage “don’t trust anyone over 30″). These “older” reviewers have combined their general dislike of the movie with comments about largely negative comments about the slacker generation and in some cases outright ageism. This stance makes them easy pickings for youth who already feel screwed over, ignored, or condescended to by the generations before them. The more these youth respond with “you don’t get it”, the more older people bristle. Yet the mode of this conflict is not one in which either side is openly talking about age and stage but rather cinema vs text, with one group pointing emphatically at the failings of the movie and the other willingly filling in the blanks or omitting those failings with the original text in order to maintain their stance.

I find this fascinating.

First, I do think there is a generational issue in the reception of the film. I walked out of the moving clear that there were at least two cultural reasons why this film did not appeal to me and that they overlapped. I also know there were other people in my theater who felt the same way, because they kept looking over at me in confusion. And when I frowned at the racist parts, they were so attuned to my presence that they reacted as well. Nothing like being a zoo exhibit or a fossil at a movie screening …

Second, I’m wondering what it says about the nuances of marketing that they can graft a film so carefully onto an identity as to make those who identify with it ignore the disconnects present. In other words, when other movies have differed from the text people have complained. These films were marketed as stories or true adaptations not as cultural artifacts. This movie seems to be encoded and decoded by its core audience as the latter and therefore omissions and lapses are forgiven or ignored. Even the feminist viewers in this group have been largely silent about the absence of well-rounded female characters in the movie. Those fans who acknowledge it, only bring it up to once again point to the source material as a way of avoiding the critique of the film.

In some ways, it reminds me of the limited critique of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Despite including episodes in which Native Americans were evil genocidal ghosts on Thanksgiving, spreading syphilis and needing to be killed because “they were engaging in genocidal revenge”,  resurrecting “the primitive” in discussing Buffy’s origins, or including rape of beloved characters by other beloved characters, fans of Buffy refuse to address race and gender issues embedded in the show. Those who breach them are summarily dismissed as “not getting it”. And like Scott Pilgrim fans, when footage of these events or director’s script notes are actually shown to an audience as proof, as happened at two conferences I went to in the late 90s, fans simply make up elaborate excuses based on the overall storyline of the show. And of course there is always the a line or two that are included in these scenes to mask the overarching racism that they can glom onto.

So what is that spark needed to so thoroughly fuse audience with product? And why does it work so well at erasing or allowing for the justification of marginalization even for audiences who are quite savvy about how marginalization works? What makes something off limits? And why do these conflicts seem to take on generational significance whether it is between reviewers and fans or fans and older non-fan directors?

I’m going to be mulling this over for the rest of the term because, as I said, I find it fascinating but also because now I really am going to teach that course in a way that places it firmly in my disciplines and gets at some difficult questions about race, gender, sexuality, class and fandom. In Spring, the campus bookstore is going to be full up on graphic novels, required itunes passes for videos of tv shows, and classics on Race, Class, Gender and the Media. I can’t wait!

Scott Pilgrim Vs My Sanity (spoilers)

According to Hit Fix one of the reasons Scott Pilgrim did poorly in the box office this weekend was because people were having trouble determining the plot. I never read the graphic novels upon which the film was based, so I think it is pretty fair to say I only had the trailers to go on myself. It seemed fairly obvious to me that Scott Pilgrim was based on a particular genre of graphic novel addressing disaffected youth, counter-culture, and the pursuit of women and/or girls. I’m not sure how you could watch the trailer and not know that.

Just in case:

the plot of Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Scott Pilgrim is a 22 year old slacker bassist in an unsigned band who thinks he has met the love of his life, hipster Ramona Flowers. In order to date her drama free, he must fight her 7 evil exes all of whom have magical or video game like powers. The bulk of the film takes place at video game speed, with power ups, point values, and information bubbles. Visually it is a cross between the arcade games of 70s childhoods and modern day play station lives. The whole thing is also set to music capitalizing on the popularity of guitar hero and indie rock cred to reaffirm its geek + hipster sensibility.

The Good

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

The script is full of snappy one liners that in lesser hands would come off as pathetic caricature. Fortunately, from the smallest roles to the largest ones, almost every actor in Pilgrim has the necessary comedic timing and snark to pull it off. Both Alison Pill and Kieran Culkin serve up the best performances in the film, helping keep the pace of Pilgrim moving and entertaining when it could just have easily insulted and fallen flat. Johnny Simmons is brilliant as Young Neal managing to delight in every scene he is in despite having few lines. The only people who don’t seem to elevate this film to similar teen-period-piece classics are  Bree Larson, whose comedic timing on US of Tara is always a joy to watch but here seems like she’s been directed to overact to avoid dealing with real female emotions, and Satya Bhabha whose role suffers from offensive stereotype too much for him to do much with it. But we’ll get to that … wait for it …

The music is both entertaining and sometimes really good in this film. Despite failing at the acting end of her role, Bree Larson on stage is a real treat and the song is one of the best in the film. All of the actors take their dual roles as grunge heroes seriously. When they are on stage their parodies play like the real thing. The least effective of these moments is the Asian dragon sequence, but we will get to that … wait for it …

The romantic moments in this film are both visually and emotionally compelling. Scott takes Ramona’s hand in the snow the shot captures the individual snow flakes and the open heart shape of their arms to the soft background music that would make any girl’s heart go pitter-pat. When they walk together in the x in the snow, the shot not only calls up the plot of the film (evil exes) but also speaks to the crossroad both of them have or will meet in the film. These scenes have all the magic of any romance and yet are couched in enough hipster quipping to keep it from making its core audience wonder what they got suckered into. For instance, in the scene where they sit on the swings in Toronto winter, Flowers in nothing but wool tights, mini, light jacket, and fingerless gloves, they both remark how ridiculous it is that they are outside trying to be romantic in freezing cold temperatures; then, they go inside. Take that Hollywood!

b. o’malley/bigshinyrobot.com

Ramona also makes a nice alternative to the leading women that dominate mainstream romantic comedies. While her disaffected attitude toward both the world and Scott has critics stumped, this seemed no more or less disengaged to me than any other hipster film. Ramona could just as easily be Juno or Nora from Nick and Nora, both of which critics loved. More interesting to me was the fact that she has a healthy body. While she is far a cry from a “plus size” model, she has ample hips and undefined arms; in other words, she’s normal. When Ramona takes her clothes off, the camera does not shy away from angles that will make her hips larger or her chest flatter, and no CGI turns her into Laura Croft eye candy either. As much derision as I have for hipster culture, one thing I have always appreciated is that there is room for women of all shapes and sizes in their films, you know as long as they are young, mostly white, and able-bodied … but will get to that … wait for it …

Finally, unlike any number of mainstream and alternative films, this is one of the first studio movies aimed at summer audience with prominent queer characters. Scott lives with his gay best friend Wallace, played by Kieran Culkin. Wallace is hilarious as the non-stereotypical wise-cracking best friend who just wants to live his slacker life and get laid like everyone else. Unlike the chirping snarkfest gay bestfriends of stereotype land, Wallace is compassionate when needed, horny in believable and non-pathologized ways, always has Scott’s back even when that means calling him out sans a single “girlfriend”, and rather than snark he peddles in a fair amount of cynicism that offers the only real moral compass of the film. While his ever increasing sex partners are a consistent joke in the film, this too is depicted in a way that runs against the grain of the hypersexed gay man or the tragically grateful coming out story that dominate queer young adult films these days. And truthfully, I like that he gets laid without much fanfare, struggle, or questioning but instead is just another guy living his life.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Ramona is also not completely straight. Throughout the film, Scott displays typical heterosexism as he works out how exactly he ended up having to fight Ramona’s 7 exes. Every time he says, “7 ex-boyfriends”, Ramona corrects him with “7 exes”. It starts out as a subtle reminder about how heterosexism works and how people with gay bestfriend’s can still be guilty of it. This subtlety-turned-unnecessary-repetition is followed up with Scott finally cluing in with a scene that reaffirms the way the film naturalizes all sexualities; when Ramona says she was going through “a phase”, Scott replies “what a sexy phase?”. While in some ways that rejoinder reaffirms a heterosexist gaze at lesbian sexuality, ie for the entertainment of straight men, it also refuses to judge or pathologize Ramona’s chocies. And while it is not the most questioning -affirming comment in the world, I loved it when Romana’s ex responds to their love affair being called “a phase” by calling her a “has-bien”, we used to call it L.U.G. (lesbian until graduation) in my day. And I don’t think this film used the term to demean bisexuals, which I assume is how it is used in the real world. Instead, the comment markedly calls out women who deny or disavow parts of their sexuality with little regard for the women they ab/use in the process. To me saying a real relationship was “a phase” with all the implied judgment in your tone in front of your ex is a far cry from being confused about what you like or being bisexual and deciding to commit to a man. Ramona is guilty of the former.

Truthfully, as a person who teaches film, if the movie had not failed so horribly in other places I would be comparing it to Fast Times or Singles, for its ability to capture a particular cultural moment in youth culture that people can identify with now and look back on fondly later when, like those other moments, youth culture has moved on,

The Bad

This movie is choppy. It very seldom lets a scene play out all the way through and has even less transition scenes. While this fits with the overall goal of the film to be like a video game, it leads to some scene splicing that pulls you out of the film and makes you wonder about technique rather than story line; visionary work can use new techniques while telling a story.

The same thing happens with excessive use of pop ups. While most of them are in keeping with the film’s overall feel, sometimes they seem like an unecessary device reminiscent of the decline of Pop Up Video on VH1 than innovation. In at least one scene there are so many of pop ups you don’t have time to read them all. Alternatively, the film uses black marks to cover up cursing to hilarious effect.

Ultimately, the problems seems more about too much and timing than technique. While Director Edgar Wright had an amazing grasp on cinematography and story, his love of his concept gets in the way. Some times I think he does not trust himself with the meatier parts of the story (of which there are few) so he dumps in some graphics instead. This is particularly true when he is dealing with the love story that supposedly drives the film and is unfortunate because he clearly has the chops to make the story line sing.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Most of the characters in this film are two-dimensional. Some characters are introduced and then never seen again. Others are given significant enough attention or back story that we want to know about them but they are simply plot devices that appear and disappear in the night. This is particularly problematic with regards to Scott’s ex-girlfriend who is supposed to motivate all his douchebaggery. Of course, the film isn’t invested in female characters … But we’ll get to that … Wait for it.

For the vegan viewers, this film will also enrage. One of Ramona’s evil exes is a vegan who as a result of not eating animal products has magical powers and the condescension to match. For me, his ridiculous banter and ultimate dethroning were deeply satisfying as a critique against self-righteous vegans who act as though they are better than everyone else. Example: PETA’s beached whale campaign that incited an endless barrage of fatphobia and hatred toward large people as non-vegan or self-appointed voices of the vegan movement on the internet who transform multiple conversations about racism, classism, and other oppressions preventing veganism from reaching certain people or changing world systems that impact animals into myopic rants about how everyone who disagrees with them “eats meat” and “hates vegans”. This kind of pseudo-sainthood that targets others and refuses to address one’s own oppressive behaviors makes vegans an easy target and the film is spot on in its depiction of the sanctimonious set within a much larger social justice movement.

At the same time, there is no room in this film for vegans who actually are neither elitest nor judgmental. There is no real vegan in this film. The evil ex, it seems eats chicken occasionally. Even if he did not, there is no other vegan in the film who is sane, committed to social justice, and just trying to live their life in the best way possible. For those vegans this image is a huge slap in the face. It smarts even harder no doubt because in the graphic novel the character is actually a drummer with a bionic arm not a vegan at all … but wait for it …

The Ugly

The article I linked to at the top of this post, has a whole list of reasons Scott Pilgrim did not do well at the box office. None of these include that the film is offensive and thus fails to entertain at a deeper level. However, I would argue that it is the depiction of women and APIs that is at the heart of its failure.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Scott Pilgrim begins with a backstory about Scott being on the rebound with a high school girl. He is 22 and she is 17. To get around both legality and the potential morality issues involved in this hook up, the film spends a considerable amount of time pointing out that they do not kiss nor have sex. I know I am Catholic, and so is Knives Chau, the girlfriend, but seriously … Worse than these age differences is the way Scott treats her. Not only does he forget about her regularly, he misses dates, picking her up, and even jumps out of a window to avoid her. (The window scene is hilarious out of context but fails to read the level of the panty scene in the Breakfast Club precisely because the film never takes its female characters seriously and its characters of color even less so.) Worse, he also cheats on her without even thinking about it; the majority of the film depicts his heartless cheating as the great love story for us to invest in with little regard to Knives either. It is one thing if your hero is a douchebag, it’s another if your storyline elevates it to romance.

While Knives is doting on his every word, Scott is trying to get Ramona to pay attention to him. He orders a useless gadget to get her to deliver it after he finds out that is her job. He slides up to her at a party and tries to be witty using the same pick up line he used on Knives a few scenes before. He even goes to bed with her, though they end up not having sex because Ramona changes her mind at the last minute, while still dating Knives. In fact, he is so insensitive that he invites Ramona to the same concert Knives has promised to come see without breaking up with her. When they start to confront him, he simply runs away and does his best to keep them from talking. Only Wallace tells him he is cruel and needs to man up and even then, his answer is to try to avoid it and then simply tell her as she is going on about how wonderful they are, that it is over.

In a scene that should make every girl’s skin crawl, Scott rides home on the train looking pathetic because he had to break up with his girlfriend and that made him feel bad. Poor Scott. And then, his pathetic shell-shocked expression twists into a giddy grin as Ramona’s face pops into his head. His 5 seconds of guilt don’t even amount to remorse since they are really about how much it sucked for him to have to look at Knives teary eyes than about how how he treated her, demeaned her, and took her for granted. Did I mention he makes her pay for their dates?

In typical male fantasy fashion, we are supposed to excuse Scott’s treatment of Knives for three reasons: (1) Ramona is his true love, so of course he pursued her. Except, Scott was a self-absorbed user before Ramona came into the picture. (2) Knives is better than Scott, Wallace tells us so and so does Knives herself so that makes all his neglect and douchebaggery ok. And (3) After stalking him throughout the rest of the film, Knives herself gives him permission to go after Ramona even though he was perfectly willing to take her back as a consolation prize at the end of the movie. You know because Ramona said she was leaving and Knives still has an allowance to buy video games and pizza with on their dates. (Supposedly he learns a lesson in this movie, there is even dialogue saying “I think I am learning something” except the fact he is willing to reunite with Knives when he does not love her undermines the entire thing.)

What is most offensive about the Knives storyline to me is that it does not need to be there. Knives serves no purpose in this movie except as a vehicle for Scott and his friend’s racism and/or sexism… wait for it … and his overwhelming self-absorption. Including Knives seems like a huge mistake for a film that tries so desperately to convince us that Scott is a good guy. In case your smart enough to know better, the movie has Ramona says it over and over again. In this way, I agree with many of the mainstream reviewers who said one of the big failings of this movie is that the main character is not particularly likable or interesting.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

The premise of the movie is also basically sexist when you get right down to it. In order for Scott to be with Ramona he has to fight for her with a bunch of beefed out men, and one puckish girl, who barely care that Ramona is there. In fact, it turns out that none of them are fighting for Ramona but instead to get her back for the only guy in this movie who is more narcissistic and sexist than Scott himself. Haven’t we gotten past the woman as property or prize days yet?

Worse, it turns out Ramona’s motivation is that she is only using Scott to get her ex to pay attention to her. Seems like Scott and his rival have a lot in common whe it comes to how they treat women and Ramona’s quite the catch with her lust for self-absorbed people who barely care about her.

Despite supposedly being empowered, Ramona does nothing to defend herself or put a stop to the conflict, except when Scott refuses to “hit a girl”. He can use them and ignore them but hitting is where Scott draws the line; I wish the director felt the same.

Hitting girls is pretty common place in this film. Mr. Vegan punches Knives with such force that he “knocks out her highlights”. While the refrain about her highlights being gone is meant to make us laugh, there is nothing amusing about seeing the former Superman punch a 4 foot something teenage girl in the jaw. And there is even less amusing about the fact that neither Scott nor her new boyfriend do anything about it until he insinuates his sexual domination over the two white women in the room. The white women don’t care either by the way, one even seems turned on by it. Worst of all, this fight takes place between two women in the graphic novel, meaning the director decided it would be “funnier” to have a huge, muscle bound, male actor punch a thin teenage girl than follow the existing story line; it’s a “joke” he resorts to too often and it also speaks to the fact that while he does not mind changing the pre-existing story to heighten iniquity, he has no qualms with leaving it alone when the inequity is already there.

B. O’Malley

Which gets us back to the other major issue in this film: race. The way Scott treats Knives is bad enough on its own. But as he discusses her with his friends and family, he makes sure to mention that she is Asian. Many of their reactions point to the exotic erotic. Just in case we are too dumb to pick up on the unspoken orientalism, Scott spells it out for his sister when he points out that she is both Asian and has a Catholic School uniform …

Throughout the film her race is used to casually express racism. Besides the multiple conversations referenced above, when Scott wants to break up with her he asks if she is “even allowed to date outside her race” as if his eroticization of her is acceptable but her parents’ potential fears about that eroticization are discrimination. At the end of the film, she shows up dressed like a hipster version of a ninja. And when she gives Scott permission to go after Ramona, he says “Chow Knives” you know, cause her name is Knives Chau …

The other Asians in this film fair little better. Ramona’s first ex is Indian and is forced to do an obligatory Bollywood dance with ghost-vamps in the middle of their fight scene. It’s the kind of thing that made me question what exactly does go on behind the doors of 20-something hipsters’ homes when they’ve locked all the people of color out. When Ramona explains their relationship, she says “he was the only non-white jock in the town.” So she did not date him because she liked him; she dated him because he fit into her rebellion against hypermasculinized whiteness that left her no room for female autonomy. In this way, she has something in common with Scott in that she dated a person of color to give her friends and neighbors something to talk about but otherwise could care less about them as people or lovers. She also has something in common with Julie Roberts’ new movie, in as much as her supposed act of feminist enlightenment was bought on the back of brown men. Yippee!

Ramona also dated Asian twins. Their sole contribution to this film is a synthesizer that shoots out Chinese dragons. If that weren’t bad enough, let me just point out that the twins last name is not Chinese, it’s Japanese.

Conclusions

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

I walked into Scott Pilgrim with the last shred of hope I had left for the summer movie season. I was expecting a sort of graphic novel angst that both entertained and sent up the original in unique ways. While the graphics and the overall gifted cinematic eye were certainly present in much of this film, its tongue-in-cheek hipster angst fell flat in the face of so much unnecessary racism and sexism. The film’s race politics seem to be  a fairly faithful adaptation of the graphic novel which means both the racism and some of the sexism originated there and the directors and writers made the decision not to omit it in the re-telling for film. What concerns me most about Scott Pilgrim then is that it is not new in its peddling of either oppression; instead, it seems like a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes visually compelling version of the same old 20-something shlock. While hipsters pat themselves on the back for being completely disaffected with all the evil in our world, able to cut through the bullshit, and take on any number of liberal causes it seems like in their fantasies, and for many in their real lives, the oppressions that do not impact them directly do not matter to them any more than the fascists and neocons they define themselves against.

I understand why young men would be attracted to this film. Michael Cera as average Joe is always compelling and his fight scenes, done mostly himself, and endless supply of women makes him the perfect nerd hero whether playing Scott Pilgrim or the myriad of other versions of this character elsewhere. However, it is hard to know why white women, and a handful of women of color, buy into this culture that does not take them anymore seriously than the sexist society they rally against. While mainstream culture is both blatant and unapologetic about its exploitation and objectification of young women, hipsters do pay lip-service to their empowerment and does so in this film as well. But if all feminism means these days is you get to be as big a douche as the pompous boy ignoring you and you get to have everyone around you acknowledge that you are smarter and cooler even while they do nothing to change their interpersonal worlds to make room for you as anything other than the ignored girlfriend, hated interloper, or object of racialized sexual fantasy, than give me a new movement. And please spare me the transparent cinematic reinforcement that elevates average Joe at Jane’s expense.

Overall Scott Pilgrim gets a C for Crap.

Summer of Suck

I am annoyed. Shocker, I know.  But you see, the summer is essentially over for your dear professor and I realized that I did not see a single movie this summer I thought was interesting and very few I thought were even worth more than a mention on the blog. While I still hold out hope for Scott Pilgrim, mostly because I am desperate, I’d planned to write a post about how disappointing this summer has been. And then, I discovered “Nonskweeter” a blog whose movie reviews are even more snarky and disaffected than mine.

The omnipresent moral of Splice is that women shouldn’t do science. They’re all irrational, baby-crazy, bipolar shrews. No, really.

Splice doesn’t employ foreshadowing as much as a giant clown mallet with the words, “DUN DUN DUUUNNNNNNNN!” painted on it. I hate this movie. I want it to give me back that part of my soul that was lost when I watched … (read the rest here)

Even better, they address issues of race and gender, as you can see above and below:

Hi! I’m an upper middle class white woman who doesn’t like her husband. I’m going to let a bunch of cute people with accents change my life. Fix me, brown people! Your poverty & inability to escape your problems centers me.

What person with real ties to the real world can leave their friends and family, their bills, their job, and their responsibilities to meditate for hours and shriek at Brazillian men on a beach because, goshdarnit, they’re just so lovable and they don’t know how to handle it. (read the rest here)

I love these reviews. They make me almost want to go watch these horribly bad movies even though she confirmed everything about them that originally kept me away. Then again … no. But I will read Nonskweeter again and so should you.

Quickies: The Catch Up Addition

(updated) So a lot happened in the world of fluff while I was away and, if my stats are to be trusted, some of you are really desperate to hear what I think about certain media moments. Here is the long and the short of it in the following order:

  1. Dr. Who Season Finale
  2. Wonder Woman Revamp
  3. Lindsay Lohan’s Arrest
  4. Despicable Me Review
  5. The Real L Word a Retraction

Moffat/unattributed

  • Dr. Who Season Finale (Spoilers)- I admit that after much initial scepticisim, I decided I really liked the latest incarnation of the Doctor. As I said in my post “Dr. Who Super Quickie“, the writing, acting, and directing had finally seemed to gel, everyone was bringing their A game, and the storyline was finally distinctive and engaging. Unfortunately, Moffat could not just sail his own ship into Dr. Who history like the amazing writer, director, and fan he is capable of being. Instead, like a rejected child whose lost one too many fights with daddy, Moffat consistently veered the show back over Davies territory in order to rewrite, rehash, and re-envision what has come before instead of simply taking the show in the direction he would like to define it’s latest incarnation. As a consequence, many of the episodes and especially the first part of the finale played out more like “suck it dad” than creative expansion. I’ve never been one for Freudian dramas between men, but when the final episode pt 1 aired as a mirror of the first, full of pointless pontificating and the resurrection of doctors past dissolving into the underwhelming Matt Smith I’d had enough. When part II opened with all of the Dr. Who enemies past destroyed, I wanted to call about the BBC and demand an apology to loyal fans or at least get myself put on an important panel in Britain to give a scathing review up close. The ridiculousness of Moffat having to constantly remind fans that his Doctor is The Doctor and his Whoniverse was better than all the rest because ha, ha, he destroyed all the other ones, throughout the show ranged from the subtle changes that we could all get used to, to the drastic ones. He even stomped on Torchwood lore by making Rory somehow able to be human despite not having an ounce of human DNA left as a cyberman while Lisa, who was half human, could not pull it off. But the worst, was when his entire first season at the helm ended with “DO OVER.” Seriously? What kind of lazy writing does one have to engage in it that they offer up very little new material throughout an entire season and yet still can’t think themselves out of the one new piece of information they provided without just calling time, literally, and starting again? What is the point of a time traveling show if the solution to go forward and then backward in time to rectify one’s mistakes is not expressly prohibited? Where is the tension in the show, if at any time they don’t like the direction they can just yell “do over” and set the universe’s time clock back to the part they liked? And as for those of you wondering if Smith is coming back as the Doctor, he is. I’ve seen the early images from the second season filming and he is there in an even uglier tweed coat; but then this should have been obvious from both the ending of this season and the fact the man has a 5 year contract. The sharp distinction between Matt Smith as Doctor when the scripts really were new ideas devoid of Moffat’s posturing and Smith as puppet in Davies banishment is only slightly less striking than the caliber of the story lines, direction, and acting of the supporting cast in these same episodes. To see how great this show could be if Moffat would stop playing what one of my colleagues calls “penis, penis, whose got the penis” long enough to realize no one else is measuring makes me sad, at best, for how terribly mundane it will continue to be until Moffat let’s it go.  (I had a discussion about this on twitter with some filmmakers, fans, and DMs with a few former employees of Who, and everyone was in agreement that the show has potential but Moffat’s obsessions get in the way. We also agreed the finale was underwhelming for anyone who has been a long term fan of the show; people who are only 5 or so years in to their fandom may feel differently because they don’t recognize all of the elements that we do.) Here’s hoping that during the hiatus Moffat puts his issues to bed, realizes that he is the undisputed heir to an amazing fortune, and gives us the brilliance Dr. Who and Moffat’s own legacy deserve.

Terry Dodgen

  • Wonder Woman’s revamp. First, go read Gay Prof’s analysis because there really isn’t anything else to say about what is lost here. En breve: her proto-feminist legacy has been completely erased, no more matriarchy origins, no more island of powerful women aka Amazons, no more female defined moral code or ethics, and yes no more swimsuit. As I said, I could be analytical about it all, especially given the huge loss of feminism, proto-feminism, and even pseudo- or out-dated feminism that defined various incarnations of Wonder Woman, including her origin story, but Gay Prof has already done that so well. So Instead, I am going to tell you a story. A long time ago, in an isla far away, I used to run around in my front yard in my Wonder Woman underoos imagining I was a powerful Amazon who stopped bullets with my big, shiny, bracelets. Years later, I was a wee lass jumping over koi ponds and lassoing cacti with an actual golden lasso I found one day on a walk with my big sister, with the boy next door. He was Steve Austin and I was Diana and we were saving the world across the super hero-bionic divide. I credit these moments and all the ones in between them for my development as a femme. I was never insulted by the bathing suit, or the short skirt, I was empowered by it, because I understood that Wonder Woman was a powerhouse that even male superheroes and military generals respected and she did it in thigh high boots and those signature bangles I mentioned already. The only women who made me want to femme out more were probably the queens and female rulers on Star Trek who combined their minis w/ the most delicious fabrics and green, purple, and glittery eyeshadows. Like Diana, they could not be bested even by the likes of Captain Kirk. For me, the revamping of Wonder Woman into some watered down, feminist-history-absent, manga-esque (and I like manga), video game ready, no doubt wise-cracking ie makes fun of men to prove her superiority instead of just being superior b/c she is umm a superhero, teen girl with a bad hair cut and even worse fashion sense makes me want to go all Fembot on someone. So for all the feminists saying “at least she has pants”, your analysis of why she didn’t before was spot on with regards to gender inequity in the superhero universe, however, her pants come at the price of her actual feminism and feminist history. More than that it comes at the price young girls who are still bombarded with hypersexualized images of youth that never contained feminist messages while being robbed of the few cultural icons that did. Better to be a girl in the front yard in your swimsuit taking down bad guys than an equally young girl in the backyard wearing XW-inspired hoochie gear # 5 while practicing how to go down on them instead. Oh and one more thing, have you seen the drawings of Wonder Woman? Most, tho certainly not all, of the fan art shows her with powerful legs and biceps, looking strong enough to take on the world. Many of the women and men who emulate her at conventions, costume parties, and events do so with a sincere reverence, even when its campy, toward her strength, intelligence, and femme-fatale. And even music videos that do homage to her have all referenced her brains and her braun as well as her beauty. This stands in stark comparison to the re-imagining of other female heroes and side kicks found in graphic novels who have always been fully clothed; take good look at the fan art and you will see a pattern in which their drawings make Barbie look appropriately proportioned, I’m just sayin’ …

you thought I was going to miss the opportunity to do two Wonder Woman pics; silly

rjonesdesign/2010

  • Lilo’s arrest – am I the only one who thinks a critical piece of the puzzle is being ignored in the hate on Lindsay bus? While many child actors end up addicted and burned out, and Lohan made no friends with her pre-teen diva act, it seems to me that hating on her in the absence of similar critique for the industry that supplied her and every other kid on the block is not only wrong but incredibly short-sighted. Part of the reason the industry gets away with taking talented children and turning them into drug addled teens with one foot in the grave is that our culture engages in collective cognitive dissonance as a society; we know who gives them drugs, how and why, and yet we just keep on staring at the spectacle and blaming the victims. More than that somewhat predictable answer to the Lilo situation, I want to add a queer eye. At least publicly, Lindsay’s drug habit seemed to spiral at the exact moment she was considering her sexual identity. Her first reported major drug bouts came around the same time that the photos of her engaging in knife play with another actress surfaced. Both women denied the lesbian content of the images and the media was happy to spotlight the “freakery” and call it attention getting. Shortly after those images emerged however, Lilo was moving forward with Samantha Ronsen. And while she seemed to be occasionally better while with her, Lindsay’s addiction continued to flare up. Those moments when she seemed to cross the line from spoiled party-girl to addict seemed to always coincide with public humiliation surrounding her sexuality or with dwindling film options that everyone assumes are related to the drugs, and are to some extent. But no one considered how quickly the doors shut on her options while similar young women in Hollywood with far less talent and just as public drug use continued to find work; those girls were all straight. Young queer people self-medicate every day in this world especially in response to imagined and real rejection. They fall down the looking glass never to resurface. So I ask you, is it so much to think that maybe a young woman just discovering her sexuality, who still does not even use the word “lesbian” to describe herself, who has her sexuality discussed in public across the world as if her feelings mean nothing or worse are humorous or a publicity stunts, and who already works in an industry in which drugs come easy and fast to people in her position, is in fact partially medicating her way through a major identity change? And even if she wasn’t, knowing what we know about the coming out process in the U.S. do you think someone who is already using drugs wouldn’t consider turning to them for comfort when the whole world is taking opinion polls about her sexuality and mocking her sometimes heart wrenching break ups with comments like “even women don’t want you fire c—-h” and “ha ha, guess that lesbian thing really wasn’t the way to boost your career”? So I am not saying there isn’t a complex picture here in which Lindsay must take some responsibility, including for her own actions, but instead pointing out that there are both recognizable circumstances devoid of sexuality and very clearly documented issues with regards to them that everyone seems to want to ignore so that we can all point and laugh of the fallen child star. I for one think she deserves more than that.

disney/2010

  • Despicable Me – the first hour is a snoozefest facilitated by the major jokes having all been included in the trailer. The last 1/2 an hour however is endearing and entertaining. Despite being billed as a supervillian movie, it is really a modern Orphan Annie in which the main character falls in love with three Orphan girls while trying to steal the moon. In finding his inner-parent with them, he also resolves his issues with his own judgmental mother and makes peace with the ways she tore down his dreams of going to the moon that led to his criminality, and plot to steal the moon, in the first place. There are 5 main women and girls in this movie, all of  whom are white. Some of them are stereotypical, like the overweight Southern Belle-turned-B–ch who runs the orphanage and the overbearing, uncaring, mother. The girls, on the other hand, represented a range of female identities none of which are disparaged despite the fact that one or two of them are extremely different. One girl wears glasses but there are no other disabilities present in the film. There are also minor female roles in which the women are also stereotypes, including the overbearing and over-indulgent N. American tourist mother and the overweight black mom. Minor male characters with lines are more varied: there is an overweight, clueless, N. American father, and over-indulged obnoxious N. American tourist son, and the annoying-but-meant-to-be-slightly-creepy, scientist, who is not emasculated but instead used as the source of jokes about age and aging; there is also a black male tourist with no lines and two Egyptian guards who are so dumb they don’t know the pyramid has been stolen, there roles as really minor. The major action takes place between the male supervillians and the bank, also run by a man, and most of the comedy involves yellow aliens who speak a mixture of Spanish and gobbledy-gook, which of course is insulting.

showtime/2010

  • The Real L Word – I know I said it was like bad dyke drama that you cannot turn away from in my original post, but seriously now it’s just bad. Since that first episode, I have not been able to sit through an entire episode of the show and I stopped watching all together when Rose, one of two Latinas and the only one who is light but not white appearing, through a party at the home she shares with her girlfriend and then spent the entire night demeaning her and acting like a loud mouth. When her girlfriend Natalie tries to confront her sexist and belittling behavior, Rose simple tells her to move out if she doesn’t like it and seems completely unfazed when Naatalie says she might and started to cry. In fact, Rose went downstairs and continued her boorish behavior with her guests. It was the kind of moment that makes you question whether a reality show should be a “true” reflection of the diversity of the lesbian experience, which includes boorish, self-absorbed, women who really don’t care about anyone but themselves or if it should make an effort to show lesbians in as positive a light, without losing sight of reality, as possible because it is only one of two reality shows to be centered completely on us. And these questions are colored, pun intended, by the fact that the only person acting this way is the only visible woman of color on the show; though, admittedly, she is not the only one who plays with women’s emotions and puts her needs first. I fall somewhere in the middle on the issue, in that I believe that a diversity of experiences need to be shown but that when you are among the first to represent a community to a wide audience you need to engage in point and counterpoint, ie that there needs to be a balance of identities and that race needs to be a factor in making the decisions about who you cast. In this case, if you have a loud mouth sexist Latina lesbian than you need to have a loving non-sexist Latina lesbian alternative precisely because the former plays into the stereotype of sexist hotheaded brown folk. Technically the L Word has provided this alternative in soft-spoken Tracy, the problem is Tracy is a white Latina (white appearing in the language of the U.S., blanca, ie white, in the language of Latin America) and therefore is not a visible counterpoint to Rose at all. And while we are talking race, there continues to be the ongoing issue of an utter absence of people of color in the “Real” L Word’s version of LA. If we removed Rose and Tracy LA could pass for a really sunny Sweden; when you film somewhere as diverse as LA, you should be able to get some people of color in the background shots just because they are there. This lack of reality has been a bone of contention amongst culturally conscious lesbians since the fictional L Word but there is also the issue of unreality in general in reality shows and what it means for the stories we see rather than the ones that were told/filmed. For more insight into that from a couple on the show we participated in order to help people struggling with self-acceptance or figure out how to fit into a sexual identity that has become synonymous with a lifestyle they may not lead see here. The women of Velvet Park also discussed in detail the way the show seems to want to exploit every negative thing about every member of the cast and turn this show into a sort of “Real Housewives of Lesbian County” which seems inappropriate in general and especially in the context of groundbreaking television. And so, I have to remove my endorsement of the show as something painful and yet compelling to watch. I’m not watching and from what I can tell neither is anyone else who is media savvy.