Repost: Last Minute Gift Guide for the Social Justice Set

Why am I reposting a year old gift guide? Because:

a) I am lazy and updating this blog is too much effort

b) I am still bitter about having taken over a colleagues’ course this term and having to administer multiple choice tests

c) did I mention B yet

This is the one where I lay down the guilt trip in the hopes of getting you to give twice, three times if you use your gifts as a way to open discussion about women’s rights globally, this holiday season. Categories include: Arts & Crafts (cards, clothes, jewelry), Magazine subscriptions, young adult books, mystery bundles, and direct gifts to women and children  in need

Arts and Crafts

buy hand made cards by Columbian feminist collective Taller de Vida ($6 each or set of 5 for $25) – cards, and bookmarks not pictured, are made by a feminist collective in Columbia that is empowering women through art and self-sufficiency, run by and for Columbian women. They make the cards exclusively out of flowers and plants, by hand, images vary. These cards not only make great art work, killing two birds with one stone, they support the work of indigenous feminists.

Jewelry from the Mitra Bali Artist Collective ($20 and up) – These beautiful gifts support subsistence level artists, primarily women, who use sustainable local resources to meld artistic vision and skill with the desire to be self-sufficient and they are as gorgeous as any conflict diamond you might be tempted to buy otherwise.

African Mudcloth bags and totes from One World Projects ($14-$40) – these wallets and bags are helping Mali women and men become self-sustainable, they encourage a discussion of cross-gender cooperation as traditionally men make the cloth and women do the intricate designs and they look good when you have drag books from class to class or office to home 🙂

Love Shrines from Crafty Chica ($12.99)- these gifts are unique because they meld the basic design of the kit with your own mementos. You can make one for the person you are gifting in advance or sit down with them and make it during the time when the holiday gets too be to hectic and you need arts and crafts to bring you back down from tensionville, they also make great healing arts work and can help teens work on their issues creatively opening the door for a joint project that could help you talk to your teen without prying, and they support a Latina artist all at the same time.

Jewelry from NightLight, a program that supports women, young men, and children who have been trafficked into sex work around the world.

Shirts/Blouses from Shona Crafts ($15.99-22.99) – These shirts are made by differently-abled women in the DRC to help turn the tide of ableism against women and ensure sustainable development that includes them.

Window flower Journals from General Welfare Pratisthan and Free A Child ($14) – These journals not only give your gift recipient the chance to explore both their inner and outerworld but help provide needed sustainable sources of income for young women and girls escaping sex-trafficking.

Handmade Jewelry from Swaziland Women’s Artist Collective ($12 and up) – You can get a unique piece of Jewelry and support over 750 women artists working to sustain themselves and participate in discussions about women’s issues and women’s rights.

Jewelry and Bags from Conserve India ($13.50 and up) – These beautiful items are not only made by women but are made out of discarded plastic bags that are ruining the environment. (learn more about the effort to impact India’s environment through women made textiles here.)

Peace Baskets from Darfur ($38) – These baskets are made primarily by female refugees in Darfur looking to escape the poverty of displacement and refugee camps and the make great heavy duty alternatives to shopping bags at the grocery store (ie helping you help the environment) or stand alone art pieces in your home.

Silk Bags from Vietnam ($38) – handcrafted silk bags from Vietnam are made by women, helping to revive artistry from pre-Vietnam war era, and ensuring rural women and girls have alternative economic choices to trafficking and hard labor.

Tortilla Holders from Mujeres por La Dignidad ($10) – handcrafted, simple decoration, keeps your food warm and supports women.

Jewelry from Native Harvest ($9.95 and up) – these items, and other more expensive items in the Native Harvest store, help support Native American Education, Fair Trade and Environmental activism by indigenous peoples, and the feminist work of Winona LaDuke.

Magazines For the Reader and/or Budding Activist in The Family


Gift Subscription to: Left Turn Magazine ($25) – Left Turn Magazine is one of the oldest ongoing independent magazines of its generation, and covers decidedly activist, radical, feminist, critical race, and class issues. It is made by activists around the world engaged in critical praxis for social justice. You can pick up a few choice editions for $5 each, bundle them with pretty wrapping and a little card promising a full year of enlightenment. Might I suggest bundling Issue 32: Igniting the Kindred (LGBTQ), Issue 24: Say it Loud (black left), and Issue 18: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (the feminism issue is sold out). Even if you just give a card with a not about getting the subscription, you can always type up a nice note on a card stock with the words “better than money” at the top and put in the money pocket of one of those cards pre-designed for you to insert money. Either way, this gift subscription will not only provide hours of enlightenment and news for the person you are gifting, but it will also ensure the continued survival of one of the last truly independent media magazines of its caliber.

Gift Subscription to: Make/Shift ($20) – Make/Shift is an anti-racism, transnational, pro-queer rights feminist magazine produced by a women’s collective (which includes woc, trans women, differently-abled women, etc.) and featuring many of the women of color and LBTQ feminist bloggers who are traditionally overlooked by mainstream-“alternative” publishers and feminist magazines. Again, you can do a bundle with a card for $5.95 per back issue; might I suggest issues 3, 5, and 6 (but any issues would delight). Or you can use the card stock/money card idea to make a subscription sans issues look fancy. Either way, this gift subscription will not only encourage critical thinking about women and feminism from a perspective that centers all women, you can trust that you are giving to a magazine whose main head quarters are not in a gentrification hotspot that has shoved out most or all of its elder residents and residents of color like other feminist magazines, and know that you are helping keep decolonized feminist thought in print.

For the Young/er Adult Reader (& a few adult reads as well)

How about a bundle of books that don’t reduce women to self-abusing whiny girlfriends or mask their considerable intellectual talents by centering the stories of the boy/s they hang out with? Each of the sets listed below feature strong girls and young women who never give up who they are to make friends or date. Forthcoming reviews of all of these bundles will be on the blog.

The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld ($34.99 for 4 books) – The Uglies is about two girls trying to find there way in a world that privileges beauty and conformity. On their 16 birthday, everyone in the world receives plastic surgery to become “pretty” and part of the surgery also includes the loss of their will to question or engage in advocacy of any kind.On the eve of their 16 birthdays, two girls find themselves face to face with the authorities behind the procedure and they must decide what kind of world they really want to live in. As the series unfolds the conflict between the two girls, and that they have with themselves about who they want to be and how, unfolds amidst a back drop of intentional and unintentional revolution. Westerfeld’s world is white and his characters are described in detail so there is no imagining your way out of it, the third book includes people of color outright and the fourth offers a multicultural world, including Asian American main characters, but is largely unconnected to the central plot of the other three books. There are no centered queer characters either.

The Morganville Vampire Series by Rachel Caine (1st 2 books 9.99/ series is 6.99/bk) – Young Claire Danvers arrives in a dead-end town with a low ranked college hoping to do her two years there as she promised her parents and move on to MIT, unfortunately, she falls afoul of the meanest girl in town and finds herself living with a ghost, a goth, and a slacker trying to avoid her and the vampires who protect her. Unlike other vampire stories, Rachel Caine creates a world where vampires are unapologetic, ruthless, and yet markedly vulnerable and human beings are neither infatuated with them nor ignorant of the prices they have to pay to stay alive and free in a town run by them. Claire Danvers is strong, intelligent, and willful and she often weighs all sides with insight beyond her years while always coming across as a typical teenage girl, falling in love, making friends, and wanting to live her life free of nagging parents. Morganville is a decidedly white world that suffers from mildly offensive stereotyping when the occasional character of color arrives; However, Caine leaves much of the description of the characters to the reader to fill in which means you can imagine them anyway you’d like (except for Michael and Eve who are described in detail), and she does try to bring in pivotal African American characters closer to the end of the story whose centrality to the plot cannot be overlooked. (There are no queer characters, but Caine did choose an out gay actor to depict Sam Glass, a key secondary character, on her website, which cracks me up).

An Octavia Butler Bundle ($9.50/ book) You will have to make this one yourselves as they are not bundled together or part of an ongoing series, but these books by Octavia Butler all feature contemporary themes in Sci Fi fantasy with African-American main characters and multicultural, and some times queer, casts of characters. For the vampire lover, Fledgling, a world populated by vampires and genetically modified 1/2 human and 1/2 vampires who are being hunted by pure breds who don’t like them or the humans. It’s a complex world that weaves issues of race, gender, and environment together with a battle royale near the end. Post-Apocalyptic fans will enjoy The Parable Sower and The Parable of the Talents, like other great works in this genre, Butler creates a wide tapestry of critique about consumerism, environmental degredation, and the rise of gated communities into a scifi meets fantasy thriller. Unlike many of these stories however, Butler also offers a tale of hope and rebirth rather than just the simply myopia of self-centered community fail that has become the norm in this genre. All three of these books center black women and girls, make diversity a key imperative to our survival, and the latter has a strong critique about the way the world views black female leadership. They also include queer characters.

A Nalo Hopkins Bundle – again, you will have to make the bundle yourself which makes it more expensive. Start with Brown Girl in the Ring ($11.89), an Afro-Caribbean Canadian novel set in a future where the rich have abandoned the inner city except to harvest body parts from the poor and one young Afro-Canadian girl learns to fight back through old ways and new spirituality, Midnight Robber ($7.99), a story of an Afro-Caribbean girl who has to find a way to transform herself into the Robber Queen in order to save herself from magical world of New Half World, The New Moon’s Arms ($9.60) , the story of a young girl who develops psychic powers as she approaches puberty.

Multi-Culti Magical Realism Bundle: Esperanza’s Box of Saints by Maria Escandon ($14), tells the story of a grieving mother’s search for her presumabl,y dead daughter after a saint comes to tell her she is still alive, When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai ($5.95) a novel that combines Chinese mythology, real historical female figures, and API women’s stories through time and space in a trickster tale, The Bone Whistle by Eva Swan ($7.95), the story of a Native American girl who is knowingly caught between two world, rez and western world, and unknowingly caught between two others, human and supernatural, as she comes to terms with one she learns how to navigate the other, and Cimmerian City by Rae Lindley, Pharmacuetical companies search for ever increasing prophet has split the world into two “races” the vampire-like people changed forever by bad meds and the human beings where medical companies are the aristocracy, a secret agent in the vampire-like race is about to change it all, ideal story for today’s current issues. Night Biters by AJ Harper (), the author wanted to provide a multicultural series of alt fiction for YA b/c she missed it herself, this is the first novel in her proposed series featuring a multicultural cast of vampires and vampire slayers living in LAHere are some other places to look to make your bundle: La Bloga “Sci Fi, Latinos, Chicanos and Aztecs in Outer Space” and SciFi Latino Blog (note, many of her posts are similar to mine in the sense that they find minor or secondary Latin@ characters in the U.S.)

Mystery Bundles

For older readers who can’t get enough of female centered mysteries these bundle or some combination of them should work the trick:

Nicola Griffith’s The Blue Place ($6.95) and Stay ($8), these two books tell the story of lesbian feminist detective Aud Torvignen and her investigation into both homophobic and domestic violence related criminal cases, they are packed full of pain and haunting, intense mystery, and astute feminist critique on violence against women. They are among my favorite lesbian detective novels, though they have no characters of color.

The Virginia Kelly Series by Nikki Baker (between $2-$6.95/book), black lesbian detective Virginia Kelly tries to manage a hit or miss love life with female centered mystery cases in a series that has been called a breath of fresh air in a decidedly segregated genre.

Chicana Mystery Bundle – Mary Beal’s Angel Dance ($1.50) detective Kat Guerrera is former military turned PI who is trying to solve a case while also wooing a feminist writer in a mystery that once again centers violence against women, sexuality, and feminism and The Conquest by Yxta Murray ($12.30) a literary mystery in which a female book restorer who endeavors to prove that the memoir of a lesbian Aztec woman who plots ways to stop Cortez from destroying the “new world.”

Direct gifts

Instead of donating money in someone’s name or simply donating money in your own name this year, why not give gifts to women that will help them empower themselves and move beyond the cycle of charity and poverty that has become all too normal on the left?

Tool kit ($25) – this basic carpenter kit by Women for Women International, includes the tools and training a woman needs to become a basic skilled carpenter in her own country. Not only does this gift help a woman become self-sufficient, it challenges gender norms in most countries, and invites the recipient of your gift (if you give the donation in some else’s name as a dual gift) to think about what decolonized feminism really means.

donation to Danish School for Girls in Afghanistan ($25 and up) – RAWA run Danish school for girls is the only girls school in rural Farah Province. It has been educating and empowering rural young girls since 2002. A gift to the school helps curb teenage pregnancy, female poverty, and exploitation of girls all of which go down when girls educated at similar rates to boys, it also supports internal efforts to educate girls divorced from U.S. war interests, and finally, when given in the name of someone else as a dual gift, it empowers your gift receiver to not only think about decolonized feminism but also to invest in learning about Muslim feminism.

Sterile Childbirth Kits from Partner in Health ($15 for 3 women) – These kits provide basic sterile equipment (exam gloves, razors, umbilical cord clamp, sterile gauze, washcloth, and soap or antibacterial wipes) for rural clinics in Haiti, Rwanda, Malawai, or Lesotho. These kits will help up to three rural women hoping to give birth to healthy babies and turn the tide of avoidable infant mortality while encouraging your gift recipient (if you donate in someone else’s name) the opportunity to discuss what real decolonized reproductive rights look like.

Scholarship to Women with Disabilities and Development Leadership Program ($10-$100)- You can donate directly to Mobility International and earmark the donation to support their women’s programs, which include the Leadership Program to train and share information about supporting differently-abled women around the world and has previously funded women’s sustainability projects like building functional wheelchairs in developing countries or advocacy for accesible roads, sidewalks, and housing. Not only does this donation help women become self-sufficient, it helps women train each other for self-sufficiency and ensures your gift recipient remembers that women includes both temporarily able bodied and differently abled women and that ensuring their success globally means more than exporting discarded aids from the “first world.”

Return to Kyrgyzstan


AFP/Unattributed

In June, I wrote a post about violence erupting in Kyrgyztan and its impact on women. For those who do not know, an unidentified number of Kyrgyz systematically targeted Uzbek neighbors for several days, including nearly burning down one of largest cities in the state and moving slowly out to the rural areas. Homes and shops were burned and women and children fled through the streets, being trampled, caught in the crossfire, and potentially targeted for sexual and emotional abuse. They were herded toward the border even though the Kyrgyz had intentionally blocked the ditch they would have to cross to flee to safety; in other words, the women and children were intentionally forced together in a holding area while Kyrgyz killed off the men. The first female acting-President, Roza Otunbayeva, begged for direct military action from international governments that came too late. Her ascendancy to power and proposed reforms, including the use of Kyrgyzstan by U.S. troops stationed there, is said to have sparked the ethnic cleansing attempt targeting her fellow Uzbekis and potentially fueling the inaction of the U.S. Base. Like the current scapegoating of Latin@ and Muslim immigrants in the U.S., the Uzbekis were targeted because of Political turmoil, unemployment, growing migration, criminal activity, and growing religious intolerance and at the center was the belief that an ethnic minority female president was not only unqualified to lead but also playing favorites by nature of shared identity.

A month later, women were at the center of rebuilding both the burned out communities and the sense of trust across ethno-religious lines. The city itself maintained a curfew and tensions continued in general, flaring up in small acts of violence on both sides. Like so many communities who experienced unchecked ethnic cleansing then end of major violence has left the population weary, scarred, and angry. Women in particular are surviving the scars of being raped, beaten, disappeared, taken hostage, forced to flee their homes, wounded, and killed. Many are trying to rebuild families that were separated only to find that most of their missing relatives are dead. And yet, according to Dr. Nurgul Djanaeva, the founder and president of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, no one had created bureaus specifically for dealing with women’s trauma, the potential for ongoing targeting of women in the aftermath, or the documenting of gender based violence against women during the conflict. One other major hindrance has been the stigma of rape and sexual assault that is making women wary of being counted or exposed while seeking treatment.

uzbek women voting amidst the ruble of their burned out home/unattributed

Women’s NGOs are at the forefront of bringing women together to heal. They are taking a lesson from other ethnic cleansing incidents in Europe, Africa, and Latin America to address specific gender based violence and support the centrality of women’s voices and experiences in rebuilding the nation. The hope is that rather than sparking ethno-religious misogyny in the future, women’s leadership will become a regularized part of Kyrgyzstan life.

While the conflict has led to opportunities for women, the trajectory of that conflict and its specific use of gender based violence largely unchecked by international peace keeping forces is becoming all too familiar. The strategic location of the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan and the ties to Russia were leveraged against the proposed autonomy of the people and the safety and security of women, children, and ethnic minorities. The rhetoric turning neighbor against neighbor is no longer the stuff of “never again” (WWII) but instead the common day occurrences that allow “good Americans” to burn other people’s holy books regardless of its impact on them or the U.S. troops they claim to support and have radio broadcasts using racial “puns” about rape and sexual assault of Latinas while others form vigilante groups and beat immigrants, often to death. What is the dividing line between those whose fears and misplaced envy is harnessed by radio stations and politicians into a lethal genocidal force and those who claim their references to “re-loading” are metaphorical? And why is it that despite what we know about how women are targeted both during these conflicts and in the makeshift camps built to keep them safe in the aftermath, why do we still fail to take this knowledge into account to ensure women’s bodily integrity? And why, after all the genocide we have seen in this world, are the military and economic interests of major Super Powers more important than safety and security of women’s lives? Haven’t we learned that societies where women have access to education, family planning, and representation and poor people have access to jobs, food, and shelter free of discrimination, are more stable than places where both populations, and their intersections, are exploitable? But then asking these questions might make us have to look at foreign policy through the lens of humanity rather than profit and ask when and where we are culpable and how these “exceptions” are in fact just more extreme versions of behaviors that permeate our own society.

Telmary Diaz

I know music posts on this blog don’t generate a lot of traffic, but you know I am less interested in how many people stop by then the quality of what people take away when they do. So I put this beautiful love song on when I got home from a mini-conference on race, gender, and the law at the uni today (don’t ask) and felt celebratory joy about being alive, a woman, and a person of color seeping back into my bones. It’s isn’t a political song, it is is a love song (though of course, love is often political in this world).

Telmary Diaz is a Cubana Canadian based hip hop poet who comments on politics, social justice, women, and life in her music. One of my favorite lines from her songs is “everywhere the capitalists destroy, disguised as socialists” if that isn’t the legacy of Reagan and the war on socialism in Latin America, I don’t what is. (And yes, it is so much deeper than that but again I’m tired of a million qualifiers just to say something these days. Literalism will be death of intelligent, thoughtful discourse and that is the legacy of No Child Left a Mind)

So what amazing female artist are you listening to today?

PS. Telmary Diaz will be playing at the Tornto Women’s bookstore for FREE tonight. If you are there, you should check her out and buy a book, as well as her CD, while you are there.

“Learning to Labor”

In honor of working class women who are often missing from our history books, I thought I would give you a photo essay today. (please note the title for this post comes from Paul Willis’ still amazing book about the connections between education, social status, habitus and the creation of the working class.)

NJ Shipyard Workers, 1943

“War workers.” bobster855, http://www.flickr.com/photos/32912172@N00/3454831343/

Hawaiian Pineapple workers, 1930/unattributed

Chicana Pecan Shellers in Texas 1938/ unattributed

Union Women’s Alliance to Gain Equality CA API Chapter on Strike/unattributed


sex workers marching for decriminalization in San Francisco/change.org

Memphis Furniture Strike, nd

maytag workers getting ready to occupy the building for 1938 strike/unattributed

United Farm Workers Members/unattributed

Plaque @ Rosie the Riveter Park, CA/ Bayradical.blogspot.com


Fluff: Drag U or Why Gay Prof Was Right

 

RuPaul at a party for the launch of her Starrb...

Image via Wikipedia

 

Last year, Gay Prof wrote a post about RuPaul’s drag race being one of the only shows on Logo that both entertained and had a thoroughly multicultural cast. (Mind you, later he critiqued it for “subtly discriminate against contestants with an accent“) I admitted then and now to having never watched the show. My biggest concern with televised versions of drag is that they almost always center white male performers who are doing exaggerated and sometimes insulting versions of blackness (or browness or Asian Face, or all of the above) and that this has become so normalized in drag that there are actual full on racist performers who appear in black face with boozy-welfare-queen-watermelon-eating back stories that mainstream audiences excuse away as “performance”.  (And by mainstream, I mean straight, bi, and fay audiences including some of the stars of Queer for the Straight Guy whose picture with one particular racist drag performer I have posted on the blog before.) While televised drag does not require, nor defined by, racism and classism, I have always been concerned about how the lack of critical attention and critique of oppression in certain forms of drag opens the door for certain people to center those oppressions as normative and acceptable from TV to Gay Pride events. So I staid away from RuPaul, who I have always loved, for fear that his own actual black face would further legitimate the under currents of race and gender or racialized gender that I find problematic. Instead, Gay Prof painted a picture of the show in which men of color from a wide variety of backgrounds, spoke openly about class, race, identity, sexuality, and the self all in the context of recognizable fun. The show was groundbreaking not only for opening a space for men of color performers to speak about performance in mainstream-ish media, something that has not been done since Paris is Burning, but also in expanding Logos’ ever lightening line up after the big, unexplained, cancellation of Noah’s Arc.

Last night, I flipped on Logo to watch a completely different show. The schedule was wrong in my area as it often is here. But hey, at least we get it.

To my surprise they were showing RuPaul’s Drag U, a new incarnation of RuPaul’s show in which drag queens teach primarily hard working, working class, cis women to strut their stuff like a queen. This is not a show in which men who play women teach women how to fit into a gender box. If it was, you know I’d have something to say about it. Instead, it combines basic self help principles with drag style to give women who have given up on themselves a chance to shine. From what I saw, the basic premise is not to convert from butch to femme but rather from emotionally lost to fierce!

It is also the best send up of Tyra Banks’ insipid America’s Next Top Model I have ever seen. RuPaul does Tyra so well, he could stand in for her if she ever gave up the reigns one day. And it is this self-reflexive, ironic stance that helps contextualize the tv makeover genre as something that really can’t solve all your emotional issues or childhood traumas just by putting you in some makeup and a dress. But what it can do is give some rudimentary tools to start working on your ish while looking fab doing it. Thus when one woman talks about her problems with people making fun of her in the past, RuPaul whips out a Lil’ Kim lyric that is as unhelpful and pseudo-supportive as any Tyra Banks’ show. In so doing, he is reminding both the audience and the contestants that this is reality tv and unlike Jillian Anderson who thinks she can come into a family’s life for a few days and empower them to stop grieving the death of their babies or stand up to domestic abuse by running on the treadmill, RuPaul is an entertainer and this is nothing more than entertainment.

That said, it was equally nice to see women who work hard all day in jobs reserved for men or surrounded by them, get a chance to girl-out. Rather than posit femininity as a solution to every woman’s problem, ie to argue that women just need to shop, wear make up, and have dinner ready by 5 to be happy, the show highlights gender performance. It shows the women on the show that there are no set ways of acting. They allow them to discover at their own pace, or at least the pace of shooting a season, that the choices they have made to protect themselves at work or in the world do not have to define them. They are playing roles and they can play other, more flirty or vivacious roles, with the switch of a costume. Hey … who told RuPaul he could steal our femme secrets darnit!

Also, unlike Tyra and other body image based reality shows, DragU invites people from all walks of life, body size, and identity group to participate. They do not tell big women the goal is to become super model thin on an unhealthy and unsustainable exercise and diet regimen or to tell Anorexic girls they are “plus size”, instead the show helps women embrace their bodies and the powerful gender performances they can engage in from within them. Similar to cognitive behavior therapy, yeah I said it, the drag professors address the thoughts and actions of the women in ways that both provide correct information and skills they can use to embrace multiple versions of themselves at any given time. The mantra of you are beautiful just as you are is actually fairly honest in this context as opposed to the lipservice it is paid elsewhere.

Finally, the drag professors are also a very diverse set. They are large and thin, young and old, white and poc, urban and rural , new and seasoned, etc. And many of them talk about the issues their students raise as issues they have had to face themselves. The ability to identify across gender and through performativity seems like a light and accessible way to highlight the humanity of both women and drag performers who are often targeted and abused in our society for some similar and some disparate reasons. The moments when the drag instructors offer insights about their students opens the door for the otherwise standard makeover fair to be transformed into social commentary that thoroughly centers gender oppression from multiple targeted gender perspectives.

Ultimately, DragU is a comedic send up of a genre I find largely detrimental to both the female viewers and female participants. While it is nothing deeper or more meaningful than light entertainment, it does it with the kind of diversity and attention to people’s needs that rings decidedly hollow in shows that claim to take these things seriously. So yeah, Gay Prof was right, but isn’t he always.

“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!

A Literary Meme! Oh Pick Me, Pick Me

I have not done a meme in a very long time. When I saw this one on Feminist Texican‘s twitter feed, I could not help myself. It is the end of summer/start of fall term after all and I’ve spent an entire summer with my nose in a book. Yes, I know this does not seem that different from any other time of year, do you have a point? … ahem … As I was saying, so what better time to do a 55 question ditty about literature? (By the way, I read a lot of fluff in the summer and looking over my answers, it shows & you thought I was nerdy all the time)

the meme

Current book cover art by Taeeun Yoo, showing ...

Image via Wikipedia

1. Favorite childhood book?

2. What are you reading right now?

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

  • On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers (this is course related)

4. Bad book habit?

  • folding over pages instead of using book mark
  • starting several books at same time

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

  • this list is too long, mostly they are women’s health books for my course this term

6. Do you have an e-reader?

  • yes; if you count the apps on the ipad, I have several

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

  • I should read one at a time to become fully absorbed, but I do read several at once

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

  • no

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)

  • It may end up being Club Dead pages 58-61 are particularly demeaning to women (both cis and trans women, both of whom are referenced) and the race & sexuality stuff in these books also makes me question the taste level

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?

  • The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield – I read them for a series I am doing on female protagonists in Young Adult fiction & I couldn’t put them down; they even invaded my dreams at night, for real, I read the books well in to the night and then dreamt about the main characters all the way through it. When I got up in the morning, I would read them on the way to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
  • The Morganville Vampires Series by Rachel Caine – read these for the same reason and also found them extremely compelling until the 7th one; if you are reading insipid Twilight or been tempted to buy them for girls you know, STOP NOW!!! and go buy these books they have a strong female protagonist who is a math whiz, well rounded female and male characters, and never get sidetracked by love stories until near the very end of the first big story arc

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

  • regularly, how else do you learn?

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

  • scifi, horror, victorian,post-colonial, women’s, magical realism, feminist theory, cutlural studies, psychology, critical race theory, disability studies, queer theory, young adult, etc.

13. Can you read on the bus?

  • yes unless the ride is bumpy or the bus is packed

14. Favorite place to read?

  • bay window overlooking tops of trees in our backyard

15. What is your policy on book lending?

  • I used to lend books, now I just gift them or forward the library hold information

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

  • regularly

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

  • academic books yes, regular books no

18.  Not even with text books?

  • see above

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

  • the original one it was written in; sometimes things are so poorly translated as to be completely inaccessible

20. What makes you love a book?

  • literature: well written, imaginative, compelling, preferably no or limited oppressions or hegemonic assumptions, unique or expansion of existing drama, characters that resonate
  • research or theory: well researched, documented, verifiable examples or experiences that are not meant to reify but to expand concepts, clear methods and articulation of theories and ideas, lends to/expands/or radically challenges existing work in ways that move us forward, self-reflexive and anti-hegemonic

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

  • if I love it (see above) or I am fairly certain someone else will
  • I’ve recommended books I don’t particularly like to people I think will like them or as examples of why we need a publishing revolution

22. Favorite genre?

  • see question 12

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

  • I need to read more early N. American history and re-read civil rights history both seem  really important right now

24. Favorite biography?

  • I don’t read a lot of biographies but I did find Rosanna Barr’s My Life as a Woman really informative and interesting. There is a lot going on in her life and her childhood that I think people could learn from and speaks to why she was the first modern woman to give us a working class family show that did not insult other people or hold back from some of the things people outside of the working class would judge as declasse. Say what you will about her general taste level and behavior, in that tv show she gave us strong women, working class lives, and a myriad of female characters and young men learning what it means to be decent human beings when execs wanted to shut her down.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

  • outside of my early volunteer work, no.

26. Favorite cookbook?

  • I’m a big fan of the Moosewoods – I met someone who worked there for years recently, that was a treat
  • Cranks – it was a collection of recipes from my favorite crunchy-granola place in Piccadilly, housed in a cider press, with the nicest staff ever – though it seems to have she-shed up a bit since then; I ate there every chance I got; it’s hearty, vegan and veg, and just plain good; seriously the original cookbook (I just learned there are several now, but back then there was just this one and the owner signed mine when I bought it in the restaurant) can help you transition to healthy food or keep your diet lively and filling tho it does seem they are more on the veg side these days

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

  • The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne – I started this a while ago and was cruising right along until it got to the whole sex/love part, Protestant fears about their bodies and desires don’t make sense to me as a Catholic so that part was a bit much, but the rest is quite amazing. I am also a little creeped out by the new website I linked to which seems a little too much about Shane and not so much about the G-d he has so eloquently written about yearning for …
  • everything else I’d put here, I didn’t read this year

28. Favorite reading snack?

  • I try not to eat and read at the same time because I read a lot; so coffee maybe some home made trail mix (pistachios, dried cherries, peanuts, kashi protein cereal, and cranberries)

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

  • Steig Larson’s books – everybody was raving about them, including alternative bookstore and feminist folks. I found the language stilted because of the translation and because I was expecting greatness it was so disappointing I never got past the 3rd page whereas I would have likely read it otherwise.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

  • It depends. These days, many mainstream sources of book reviews are actually paid reviewers with perks from the publishing company or they may even work for a company that also owns the publishing company. Have you ever noticed how all of a sudden book X is the thing to read and every site for miles is talking about it? That is part of the advertising not serious review work. I tend to disagree with most of those people. But I have bought books based on the reviews of certain book blogs or Feminist Review or reviews referenced in book catalogues so …

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

  • I do it all the time as a blogger and an academic. It is hardest when I know the author, they are well respected in their field (which I have only done once), or they come by the blog and tell me how hurt they are by my assessment. The latter is the worst. I don’t mean to harsh on anyone, but I do have a certain set of criteria when I write a review which includes issues of race, gender, and sexuality, marginalization and gaze, as well as literary and research quality. I can love your book or movie for its overarching narrative and ability to create new worlds or delve into important theories and still ding it for a colonial gaze. Some people hear that and make their peace with it, ie vow to think more intersectionally or admit they do not care, others are deeply hurt by it and engage in the normal, though annoying, struggle of trying to reconcile their view of themselves, what they’ve done/produced, and what I’ve said about diversity. The best is when they tell you things about the process you did not know. I’m always learning from the writers, artists, directors, and fans who engage in real conversation.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?

  • which language are we defining as foreign?

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?

  • Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko – it is a huge book with immense depth and I was writing my second book at the time so it was hard to juggle both; but it was so worth it. I don’t know anyone who has not read this book, but if you have not, you need to.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?

  • none

35. Favorite Poet?

  • Nikki Giovanni – it’s hard to pick just one, but I’ve met her, been delighted by every conversation or event where she is featured, and I buy her books regularly; more than that, when I take the books out to glance at, someone always stops and says how much they love her too and I almost always end up reading the poems out loud with someone in the middle of a coffee shop, bookstore, or park, that is magic.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

  • Not many, I tend to buy my books because when I was a kid we could not afford alot so I would go to the library twice a week and fill up my backpack. I promised myself when I got older, I’d own my own books. That said, I think I have 10 or 15 out right now.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

  • seldom. you know, you can always renew them.

38. Favorite fictional character?

  • really rosy

39. Favorite fictional villain?

  • Bram Stroker’s Dracula of course

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?

  • whatever I am reading at the time (see question 12)

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.

  • without reading a book would be 48 hours, without reading anything, 1-3 hours

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse – I read it with a group of rich white youth who were just so enthralled by India so …
  • Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser – such whiny drivel masquerading as social commentary

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?

  • the phone, the dogs

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

  • I’m a purist so …

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

  • “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” – umm, because it does not actually follow the book it claims in the title, including changing some of the characters completely ugh; seriously, if you are going to put the author’s name in the title of your film at least do them the courtesy of actually reproducing their work

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

  • on personal reading: $850
  • when I was a student: $1,000 (I went to an undergrad where you read at least 8-12 books per class/ in grad school it was 11-13 per class)

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

  • I usually skim things in the bookstore before deciding to buy

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

  • death of a beloved character or similar traumatic events – I once stopped reading a book (The Last Blue Plate Special by Abigail Padgett) because the dog died and I put down Tipping the Velvet for months because of what Kitty did to Nan

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

  • if you count one in every purse, the car, the basket in the front of my bike … sure
  • yes. Most of my books are in shelves in my home library or in the office and I know exactly where they are, it just when I run out of space that it is harder to keep organized

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

  • I keep at least one copy of every book I love, but I give copies to others all the time if I love them

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?

  • like a book that is stalking me or just won’t stop calling already? no.

52. Name a book that made you angry.

  • It’s a Jungle Out There by Amanda Marcotte – I think the marketing, illustrations (especially the history that includes the racist images being approved after the first draft images were massively critiqued for racism while everyone involved pretended they didn’t know the images were racist a year later amidst a second round of racial critiques post-publication), the press which has its own recent history of exclusionary practices and denials, the author’s potential plagiarism or a woman of color and the flippant way she dismissed intellectuals and feminists of color when called on it, all come together for me as one of the biggest examples of mainstream feminism fail in the publishing industry and an example of how younger women continue to make the same myopic “mistakes” and excuses in the name of feminism that I really hoped my generation or the generations before me could have put to bed already. When feminists not only fail to address ALL women, but then respond to that failure with derision, evasion, or my favorite “I thought it was funny”, they do the entire movement an endless amount of disservice and damage and ensure that women will never truly gain equality. (Yes, boys and girls, I’m a historian, I have a very long memory and it is full of facts and figures, names and dates) On a personal note: it makes me extra sad to have to write this because Amanda was one of the first people to draw attention to my original blog and compliment my blogging and I really love Pandagon.
  • Sarah Palin wrote a book this year didn’t she?

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

  • Happy Birthday or Whatever by Annie Choi – It wasn’t that I did not expect to like it as much as it was that I did not expect to like it as much as I did nor find my own reflection in many of its stories. I even read some of it to my mother.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?

  • There are two fan favorite vampire book authors on this list both for writing racist, homophobic, and/or transmisgyinistic material in their books that had nothing to do with the plot, the characters, or anything else in the book. When you can literally edit out the material without making a single other change to the book and read it without confusion or a blip in continuity, that means that ish is just there because the author is oppressive. If you don’t know who I mean, go back over your vampire book collections with an intersectional eye and see if you can find it. I’ll wait.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

  • have I not mentioned the word vampire enough for you people yet? thhhppppttttt