Thursday, July 31, 2008

"I lost the narrative thread"

I love Martin Scorsese. I don't like his movies as much as many people, though The Aviator kicked ass and The Last Waltz is something I can watch over and over again. Plus, I'm really looking forward to seeing No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. But no, Martin Scorsese's films are not why I love him. It is his commercials that earn him my devotion. From American Express:

To anti-cell phone PSAs for the movies:

I think it is the eyebrows. Or maybe the quick, sharp delivery. Whatever. He makes me laugh, and I want him to be on my tv screen all the time.

Oh, Joe

I like Joe Lieberman. I do. And I've been defending him for a few years now, ever since he began his war-hawking ways and has become more and more conservative. Because I like him; but I'm starting to lose any idea of why I like him, and that's a bit of a problem for me. Especially when he defends political ads like this:

by saying, "To some extent the appearances of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears -people complain about it- they should just relax and enjoy it. The idea is to draw people into the ad. The point of the ad is really quite strong: Who's ready to lead America?"

Well, I'm sorry, Joe, but I'm not going to relax and enjoy it. Mostly because I think having Paris Hilton and Britney Spears -two fading stars who are now mostly referenced because of how far off the tracks they got, what with their drunk driving and panty-less flashing incidents, to name a few- detracts from the message of the ad; and is really just jerky. When I hear/see "Paris Hilton", I think "sex tape", "crappy show", and "Oh my god, is she really still a topic of conversation?" When I see/hear "Britney Spears", I think "institutionalized", "quickie marriage", and "Oh my god, is she still really a topic of conversation?" - though to be fair to Spears, she actually did something for years instead of just showing up on red carpets and acting like she deserved to be there. There is no question these two shouldn't be leading the nation!  

But that isn't what this election is about, is it? It really is about that second thing, that "Who's ready to lead America" thing. And no one, hopefully, will think that Barack Obama is even remotely comparable to Hilton and Spears. And their images being flashed up on the screen draw attention away from (a) Obama, and (b) why McCain should be president. They're trying to draw an allusion between two things that are lightyears apart. And it is insulting. Not to Spears or Hilton, but to voters in general and Obama in particular. Isn't this exactly the type of campaign McCain was going to stay away from? Didn't he vow to make it about the issues?

The ad actually contained some of that, once you got past the fact that it compared a self-made Harvard-freakin'-Law graduate to a woman who is heir to a tremendous fortune (and oh yeah, has a GED) and a woman who made it big by promising her to keep her virginity until marriage while dancing provocatively and singing songs about sex (because really, what else is "I'm a Slave 4 U" about?). Promising to not look into Off-shore Drilling (an issue in the ad I find extremely interesting considering McCain's recent reversal on the subject)? Raising taxes? These are items people could have an actual discussion about, though I contend that those who disagree about the off-shore drilling are ostensibly wrong. But Britney Spears and Paris Hilton? Really? That is what counts as raising the level of debate in this country and staying on the issues? Oh, Joe, you disappoint me by lending support to this utter dreck. And McCain, you disappoint me by approving of it.

Sunscreen for Produce!

Huh. I almost don't know what to make of that. Except to wonder how often the farmers reapply, of course.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Katie Couric on Racism and Sexism

"I find myself in the last bastion of male dominance, and realizing what Hillary Clinton might have realized not long ago: sexism in the American society is more common than racism, and certainly more acceptable or forgivable."

So says Katie Couric. I like Katie; I blame some of this on years of watching NBC's coverage of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is still enjoyable now that she's gone -especially since Matt Lauer is still there- but isn't the same. And my father loves Katie Couric, so I've seen a lot of her and I generally find her to be an amiable and capable newscaster/anchor/whatever. And I find myself implicitly agreeing with the quote above; but I'm more than willing to bet that is because both Katie and I are women, and white. If I were a man and not white, I would probably feel differently about the first part of that quote; if I were a woman and not white, I could also feel differently about the quote. Racism is still common; it is still prevalent. And I can't in good conscience say it exists to a lesser degree than sexism.

I do, however, fully agree with the second half of the quote, that sexism is far more acceptable and forgivable than racism. Words like "bitch" and "slut" and "cunt" reverberate through every day conversation -among women and men. There are shirts, Facebook flair, bumper stickers, and so on actively advertising women as being lesser than men; that minimize and trivialize and normalize things like sexual assult. "Stop Rape: Say Yes". I won't say I don't laugh at them; I do. And it may be something other people will demand my feminist business card be rescinded for. But even as I see the humor in items like that, I'm also struck by the thought that there are people who genuinely believe it. Racist words aren't thrown around so cavalierly -and almost never when someone of another race is actually around, barring the John Kerry instance. Not that it doesn't happen (as a Facebook friend of mine described in a note); not that racist conclusions aren't drawn and commented upon when someone of a minority group is within earshot. But -and this is only one white girl's take on it- it seems more on the down-low, and less like "you should totally agree with this even though you're part of the group I'm totally disparaging".

Meanwhile, women are in full earshot when men tell sexist jokes, call other women "bitch", and generally opine that women like Penny of Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible got what she deserved because she slept with a tool instead of recognizing the "great" guy right next to her. And we're expected to laugh and agree. Which, thanks guys. That's real sweet, and not at all about hating on women or expecting us to be omniscent. I'm sure worse things are said behind my back, just like racist tripe is spread around and laughed at when "those people" aren't in earshot. But they feel pretty safe being misogynistic and sexist and assholic right there in front of me too. And that needs to change, stat.

Sexism is normalized; women are expected to laugh along while they are belittled and injured, especially because many don't see it as "sexist". Articles in The Washington Post talk about how much stupider women are than men (though to be fair, they quickly printed a rebuttal by Katha Pollitt). I can't even begin to describe how many times I've heard "that's just the way it is", like society doesn't have some part to play in why women are drawn more to the social sciences instead of to the hard sciences, like women haven't always been pushed to whatever medium society sees as being of lesser importance. For much of Western Civilization, women couldn't study literature or history, because it was too complicated for their little minds to handle. Virginia Woolf opined that she couldn't write poetry -a man's medium- and was stuck writing novels because she didn't have the education in classic languages. Now, women aren't equally represented in biology and chemistry and advanced physics and math, and the reasoning -while clinical and cleaned up and wrong- is essentially the same. And that sucks; it sucks even more that it is so accepted as truth that a majority of men -and a lot of women- don't recognize it as being a complete sham.

So Glad I Don't Live In Russia

"If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children," the judge ruled.

This is just... jaw droppingly stupid logic. I had a professor who was a fanatic about Russia, and especially liked to point out how Russian women weren't interested in marrying Russian men because the men were just so sexist. And also? How if you didn't unplug your television when it wasn't being used in Communist Russia, it had a tendency to blow up on you. I kind of wish I had his e-mail address so I could send him the latest in misogynistic happenings -but he's probably already aware.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I kind of love this video, but how hard would it have been to look up American Gothic and note that the painting does not depict a farmer and his wife but a farmer and his daughter? Not very, because I just did. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago (great museum, by the way):
[Grant Wood] asked his dentist and his sister Nan to pose as a farmer and his unmarried daughter.

Senseless Tragedies and Media Reaction

In the wake of the weekend church shooting, I had been thinking about writing a satirical/ironic post about how country music and the conservative culture drove Jim D. Adkisson to attacking the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. After all, there was his note detailing his hatred of the liberal movement in America, and the fact that "literature" like Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder (Michael Savage), Let Freedom Ring (Sean Hannity), and The O'Reilly Factor (Bill O'Reilly) was found in his home. There is no evidence Adkisson actually listened to country music, but given his age, his region, and his political views it seems likely; after all, that is all it took to rally against Marilyn Manson after the Columbine school shootings, so it shouldn't take much to do the same in this situation.

But I couldn't; because I don't believe it, and because the shooting is too much of a tragedy to use for political umbrage. However, I am incredibly curious about the fact that the media -which was so quick to blame video games, music, and style choices when the perpetrators of these crimes are teenagers, or religion when the perpetrators of these crimes are anything less than Christian and/or white- has been all but silent on how the conservative "culture" may have a part in exacerbating these prejudices and these feelings. Culture is what they turn to in other times, to explain other phenomena. But not here. In this situation, the focus isn't so much on conservative thought, on Ann Coulter, hate-mongering, and the like, but on this one lone guy. Which, in all truth, is where it should be. And our issues with conservative talking points and images shouldn't be "It is the root of murder" but that it is bigoted, hateful, and does nothing to elevate conversation. At the same time though, I can't help but feel as if images like this:
should be condemned for promoting -though not causing- intolerance and violence. That we should be looking more deeply at literature and networks and people who advocate things like giving San Francisco to the terrorists and have consistently and diligently spewed offensive and hateful but ultimately accepted and apparently acceptable statements about women, gays, feminists, atheists, liberals, and their allies. There are nuts on both sides of the isle; and liberals can be petty, small-minded, and mean. But I do agree with a post at Shakespeare's Sister about how, in certain ways, both sides aren't "just as bad". I agree with the assertion that images like the above and "humorous" statements in line with that sort of thinking aren't just jokes.

I understand why it is easier to categorize teenagers as being part of a different "culture". For one thing, it is harder for them to fight against it. Start talking about conservatives being hate-mongers and possibly partially responsible for this type of tragedy and there will be a blood bath. For another, many people really do see teenagers as being profoundly different and separate from the "norm". It is easier to blame things like video games and music and television shows and movies because in many cases there is less of an overlap between "their" interests and "mainstream" (AKA "adult" and often "white") interests. It is easy to bemoan the fate of society should it ever fall into these hands, and it is easy to demonize the different media as being part of the problem, when those hands (and that media) don't resemble yours -especially on a cursory glance. 

And so it is easier to take Adkisson as one crazed man and easier to take school shooters as part of an epidemic, because in each case the take on the situation best reflects preconceived notions and prejudices. But I think that the reality is closer to an amalgam of the two. People who are already prone to violence will do violence with or without Marilyn Mansons or Ann Coulters seemingly promoting it; but a media that espouses violence and hatred can and does influence and reinforce values. That is why the battle for things like women's rights, minority rights, and gay rights often revolve around changing images. And that is why it is important for liberals and conservatives to both refrain from dehumanizing the other; to recognize that there are living, breathing, complex people on both sides and that although we may disagree -and disagree profoundly- on what is best for our country and its citizens, we are both still fighting for the betterment of that nation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Feelings About Twilight

Okay, so I've never actually read the book series Twilight. I'm going to get around to it, don't you worry. But I refuse to spend money on the book series when the descriptions of it are already making me gag, and my library hasn't really invested in too many copies as of yet. Or, ever. We still only have one of each Harry Potter book. What I do glean from news organizations and websites I visit doesn't sound too promising; in fact, they sound the very opposite of it and for that reason it scares me to think that, as popular Facebook flair (truly the most sophisticated way of tracking opinions) states:
Mostly because the guy kind of falls under the status of Grade A: Creepy. 

After doing some research, I discussed the Edward phenomenon with a friend of mine:

ME: He creeps into her room at night and watches her sleep.
FRIEND: Angel used to do that.
ME: Yeah, when he was EVIL!!!!

So, to recap: if your main character is exhibiting one of the chilling aspects of an evil vampire on that other piece of fiction detailing the love of a good vampire for a teenage girl newcomer, that isn't a good sign (and yes, I realize I'm breaking my Whedon Rule again, but it is a decent frame of reference here). Angel(us)' actions were supposed to be seen as creepy; and they were. Buffy was (rightly) freaked out by them. Because it is just weird and more than a bit stalkerish.

I'm not the first person to say this, and I doubt I'll be the last. I'm sure I'll have even more complaints once I've read the books, instead of simply focusing on the feelings of foreboding I have at the moment that the squealing about how Edward is the perfect man and this is a wonderful relationship coming from all quarters is damaging, that it reinforces patriarchy's norms, that no guy will measure up to Edward, and more importantly, that no guy should.

Newsweek, a magazine I generally find asks the tough questions or at the very least seems a little suspicious of things that seem to be too eager to validate cultural norms, let me down with their interview of Stephanie Meyers, the author:

Edward is so perfect -you've ruined regular men for a lot of teens. Do you feel bad?

Oh, a little bit, I guess. I just wanted to write for myself, a fantasy. And that's what Edward is. But it could be a good thing too. There's nothing wrong with having high expectations, right?

Nope, nothing wrong with high expectations. I like men who can cook; who don't mind having me pay for dinner half of the time; and who take me, my opinions, my wants, and my autonomy seriously and who likes me for "me". But those aren't the "high expectations" fueled by Edward mania. Apparently, he fell in love at first sniff (weird), which only reinforces that idea that guys should fall for girls the second that they see (or smell) them, and not be bothered with the little things like personality or intelligence or values or interests; as romantic as "love at first sight" is, it doesn't make much for a relationship. He is her protector, which kind of ignores girls' ability and right to, you know, fend for themselves. He keeps tabs on her all of the time by manipulating the school system and is thus in every single class with her; he uses his psychic sister to monitor her; and he forges her signature on college applications so that she'll go where he goes. 

That? Isn't healthy. And it isn't something we should be teaching our teenagers to fantasize about and hold as the gold standard of boyfriend care. Because those? Are serious danger signs in a relationship. And that dichotomy of what is romanticized and what is dangerous is very much a negative, because what girls are internalizing as "sweet" and "loving" and "romantic" goes against the actual ingredients for a healthy relationship. Space is a good; autonomy is a good. Edward Cullen's style of boyfriending? Not so good. Boys shouldn't aspire to it, and girls shouldn't want it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"You Just Don't Like Change"

The title, taken from a friend's comment, is clear and correct. I don't like change. I'm adverse to it; I generally shy away from it. New functions, new situations, new technology, etc. I don't like it, I don't want it, and I don't need it. My mother likes to tell a story about how when I was learning to walk, Elvis came on the radio, my knees buckled, and I went down. It served to highlight to things: my on-going love affair from an early age with Elvis, and also that I didn't try to walk again for a couple of months. It is used often as an example of the fact that I generally don't do something until I'm confident I can do it successfully. It is also pulled out to explain why, when Elvis comes unexpectedly out of a jukebox or radio, I generally still end up tumbling to the ground. And all this is true and a personality quirk/defect -its characteristic defined differently depending on who is asked.

But this Facebook thing isn't about my aversion to change, not entirely. For one, I didn't wait for the change to come to me. I sought it out. I went to because I was curious. But my experience there has left me scampering back to my old ways. My friend went on to say, "I find the new facebook nicely organized"; I don't find that to be wholly correct. I think it holds the potential to be nicely organized. But at this stage, it is still a hot mess. The nice, clean lines of the old Facebook are smudged. The wall on the new version is not just a place to leave messages for friends but also incorporates the person's minifeed. I find it distracting, and not exactly organized. In fact, I would characterize it as "disorderly". The different screens are a nice idea, but they're still not all there. For instance, I like the "buttons" that are available below a person's profile picture and the various options like "view photos of", "poke", "send message to". Those icons allow for easier and faster navigation, especially since everyone has different applications and different placement of those applications. If I want to see someone's flair board, it is much easier to click on the white star in the red circle than to scroll down their page and scan for it. Same thing goes with the "boxes" subsection. It is a good idea, but is missing a time-saving feature that is available on the "old" Facebook. 

"I'm sure once the new Facebook goes live for everyone, people will start to get used to it and then it'll be comfortable", my friend continues. Which is probably true. People are amazing at adapting to new environments and stimuli. But that doesn't mean that the product is better, or that we as consumers should have to become more comfortable with the new product. I'd remind everyone that plenty of Microsoft users downgraded their computers from Vista, but the Apple commercials already have that covered. I would basically suggest the same thing for Facebook. Some people are going to like the more streamlined, older, version. Some people will take to the newer version. And I will probably get the hang of the new Facebook sooner rather than later. That doesn't mean that I should forego favored functionality, or that we should all buy into the mindset that newer is always better, or that a prototype that sends its users scampering for an earlier model cannot and should not be improved upon. So with that said, I have problems with the new Facebook; and until my wall functions as it always has again, I'm going to continue to compare it to the brown acid.

Edited to gripe about more issues: I don't want my friends all schmooshed together. I want my 123 friends neatly organized into their different networks. I want my photos divided into ones put up by me, and ones put up by others. These are functions on the old Facebook that help with navigation and help organize the system to better service the user. And these are things that the new Facebook should have theoretically already had or could easily get.

Review: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

The enjoyable thing about reading memoirs, essays regarding familial life, and autobiographies of people we would term more or less "ordinary" is that often your own family looks better in comparison. These contain instances we snigger at, instances that would never in a million years be present in our own abode. When that isn't the case, there generally is the feeling that this family is your family's type of crazy; that you could easily see these antics and these characters in your own family tree, and so a sort of warmth and affection comes through toward these people -in some instances long since dead- because they prove that no, your family isn't, in fact, completely off their collective rocker and that there is a club and in this club behavior that is often present in your particular home is in fact the "norm". It is all those other families who do not have relatives throwing shoes down the hallways in order to ward off burglaries that have something wrong with them. My Life and Hard Times manages that side of it.

Sometimes a book manages to deftly balance between the two; David Sedaris' Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is one of those. This is a book I've put off reading for quite a while for various reasons, not the least among them being that I tend to not like modern memoirs. This is because there is a dark underbelly to memoirs that do not fall into the "enjoyable" realm. In some cases, reading about these various lives leave me feeling vaguely dirty -like just by reading about someone's violation or slow starvation in Ireland I have somehow both experienced the same incident and yet also contributed to its existence in the first place. Angela's Ashes was one of those books. I made it as far as the baby's death the first time I read it; the second time I managed to bully my way through about half the book. I had begun reading it because both of my parents insisted that it was hilarious; when I found it to be the very opposite, they told me it was because I wasn't reading it with an Irish brogue. Well, okay, but even with an Irish brogue, babies are still dead, fathers are still drunkards, and these kids still had miserable lives. People told me David Sedaris was funny, but I'd already been burned once by that line, thank you, and wasn't about to try again.

The other reason I had for not reading this particular book is not against David Sedaris in particular or the genre in general but a real antipathy for the book's title. It grew out of having to write a paper about the blue jean as an aspect of American visual culture. There is a surprising lack of academic study done on the topic, and so Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim would always pop up among the first three or so results. And nearly every single time, I would approach the book as if it were something other than a compilation of essays about this particular man and his family, as if it truly were about denim and potentially dressing your family in it. For that reason -and the fact that I seriously considered (and, I believe, actually did) bulking up my works cited page with children's books about fashion- I was less than pleased with its consistent appearance.

And so I harbored a real resentment for this particular book; but in between my reading about Hillary Clinton and various reasons why the teaching of religion was necessary and the nefarious way Jesus and Christianity had been co-opted by the right wing facets of America, I decided to try David Sedaris based on having seen him on The Daily Show. My library, being a part of my tiny, "blink and you miss it" town, didn't have his newest book. In fact, we had two books by him; but the one copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day was out, leaving Corduroy and Denim as the only offering available.

And I loved it. As usual, my interest waned in the adolescent years; and though there were the incidents that made me feel superior about my own family's position -descriptions of his brother Paul and his sister Tiffany were the best for this- other moments felt comfortingly familiar. And he can write. That won't be much of a surprise to many others, but I generally go out of my way to ignore recent authors, even ones my friends and family recommend and read. I am more at home among Steinbeck's work, Austen's work, Salinger's short stories, etc. Much like my music choices, I like my books to have been aged and critiqued by at least 50 years of readers before I take a dive into their pages. David Sedaris has, in one book, managed to make me think about potentially rethinking that philosophy.

I found myself marking passages mentally, to revisit. The book was able to both be new and fascinating and wholly engrossing and still feeling familiar and worn and comforting. Passages describing the Netherlands' celebration of Santa were amazing, amusing, and able to highlight others' idiosyncrasies without appearing smug. In the end, I have to say that the praises heaped upon him by the back of the book jacket are right: Sedaris is in possession of a certain pleasurable satirical wit; his talent probably could rival the size of China. I'll be sure to read him again, and soon. I just have to get through When Did Jesus Become Republican first.

Hating On: The New Facebook

For those of you lucky enough to have not yet gone to and who use Facebook, don't. Like the brown acid at Woodstock, "it's your own trip, but please be adviced there's a warning on that one, okay?"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Another Superhero Movie Done Right

Though that, in a way, was because the emphasis was less on the "superhero" than it was on the villain and antihero of the piece. I'm not going to say much in a review of Dark Knight, because everything to be said about the acting, direction, how it is lightyears ahead of the last film, has already been said. Rest assured, the script is better than the last time around, the action is better than the last time around, and Heath Ledger as the Joker really is as good -if not better- than all of the reviews have been saying. He steals the film, just like he stole all of that money. He's like Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, with the caveat being that Dark Knight is actually enjoyable and a good film when Ledger isn't on screen. That makes his performance even more incredible, because the initial thought upon seeing him every time he appears isn't "Oh thank God!" like it is with Nicholson. And let me just tell you this: I Believe in Harvey Dent. Aaron Eckhart was phenomenal as well, though overshadowed by Ledger both in performance and in surrounding hysteria. That's okay, because the Joker is a larger than life character and Two-Face... ...isn't. I'm still a little fuzzy on Christian Bale's appeal though, both as an actor and Batman. I'm over my intense loathing of him and think he did a much better job this time around; but again, that could very possibly be attributed to the fact that the Joker's story and Harvey Dent's story were also in play.

But what really interests me is the philosophical message of the film; I know I promised not to bring up Joss Whedon again for a while, but the whole interplay between the Joker and Batman reminded me powerfully of this line in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 3 episode "Enemies":
FAITH: What are you gonna do, B, kill me? You become me. You're not ready for that yet.
I find those two thoughts to be present throughout Batman's struggle with the Joker, and consistent with Joker's nihilistic views on society and civilization and human nature. The Joker "knows" he is going to win, because the Batman has to kill him; by killing him, Batman becomes the Joker; by becoming the Joker, Batman transcends. He has pulled back the veneer of civilization and rules and decency and become what he is meant to be. Or, alternatively, the Joker wins because Batman doesn't kill him, thus can't stop him, and Gotham burns. Either way, things look pretty damn good for the Joker, whose core belief is that humanity is at its heart as twisted and black and chaotic as he himself is; and while he can imagine one person -a man in a batsuit- being incorruptible (though it is important to note that he still takes pleasure in the idea that it can be done), he cannot imagine that there are more than one in the world; or, at the very least, within Gotham's city limits. And he believes he proves this by destroying Gotham's golden child, Harvey Dent.

The Joker embodies what Batman could turn into, what Batman is all but poised to become. The Joker is a man for whom rules do not apply; Batman is a man for whom rules do not apply. The Joker is a man playing at being a maleficent god among men; if Batman kills him, he takes up that mantle. Batman can no longer protect Gotham, because he has then turned into something Gotham needs protection from.

Batman, the character and the comic book (or, graphic novel) exists on the edge of a knife. His brand of vigilantism is not so much a form of justice as it is an extension of the police force. And that is what allows Batman to be someone to root for, to actually be a superhero instead of a thing to be feared. Batman's position in the city as its protector is tenuous at best, both in terms of his own assertion of that position and the city's tolerance for that position. His overall objective is to clean up the streets by working within the established system as much as possible. He goes where the police can't; he does what the police can't do. But although he stops crime, he still depends upon the judicial system present in the city to judge and punish the criminals. He is just a human -though a billionaire- dealing with the problems and tribulations of humans. If he crosses the line, if he begins to actually become judge, jury, and executioner of even one person, then he loses the ability to truly be Gotham's protector. Bruce Wayne doesn't want to be a god among men; presumably because he knows that although the justice system is flawed, it is still a better form of rule than one guy -with all of the emotions and flaws that implies- flying around in a batsuit.

There are several moments in the film I find especially interesting: Harvey Dent brings up Caesar, and states that he believes that form of rule is at times necessary for security. This -and the line "You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain"- sets up Dent's descent to Two-Face. Because Batman isn't a Caesar; he is perfectly happy to leave ruling to those in the light. Kill the Joker, though, and Batman becomes exactly that. And so, he cannot. Harvey Dent, however, does become a Caesar-like figure, someone who is more than comfortable being the man who holds the power of life and death over those he deems responsible for criminal acts.

The second moment in the film of importance is the ferry scene. As soon as it becomes apparent that even the worst dredges of the city still have a bit of the civilization the Joker despises as being false, as soon as the people refuse to play his game, the Joker loses. He only wins if we let him win; and there were casualties, but there would be greater casualties -even if they would be casualties of things like moral agency and personhood and the republic- if the Joker won in any real way. And so, Batman refuses to play the Joker's game, refuses to be corrupted and twisted. And the Batman wins; which is really the point of the whole thing. Nihilism is philosophical death; belief that we can achieve something better and beyond ourselves, whether through a god or works of man, is life-affirming. The movie, for all of its bells and whistles, succeeds in that it takes three separate men and shows their journeys -shows the successes and failures and pros and cons of each one of their ventures. And demonstrates how Batman's philosophy is the only one that truly works out of those three, even though it brings with it its own downsides and issues. So, kudos to that.

There is, however, a problem with lack of female presence in the film. Rachel was pretty much turned into a Woman in the Refrigerator character. And that was pretty much a bad. But gender in Batman (and comics on the whole) will have to wait for another time, because I'm still riding a high off of what this movie actually did accomplish.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Writing and Whedon

I know I tend to get on kicks where I discuss the hell out of one particular subject to the detriment of reader retention and interest, so I promise that this will be my last blog entry on Joss Whedon for a while -at least a week. I would extend that further, but I'm kind of a little bit obsessed.

Anyway, due to the recent release of Dr. Horribe's Sing Along Blog, there has been a whole host of literature flooding the web devoted to analyzing and criticizing and critiquing its content. I have, due to said obsession and a little bit of boredom, read a lot of it. Several have struck my fancy. More than a couple did not. But there was one where I disagreed -profoundly- with the opening statement, that being this:
"I give my audience what they need, not what they want"? How did fandom let him off the hook for that and the one-way, almost dictatorial street of creator-fan interaction that implies?
One, I think think that quote has been forever misinterpreted. That isn't to say that Whedon gives audiences what they want, in terms of fluffy bunnies or whatever. I'm sure there are many fans (myself among them) who have wanted things along the way he has firmly denied them: Angel & Buffy 4ever, an alive Tara, a dead Dawn, etc. But he does give the audience what they want and what they need in terms of brilliant and multifaceted characters, witty and meaningful and wonderful dialogue, and a clear and interesting philosophical take on the world. But I'll get back to this in a minute because I think there is a real issue here that needs to be addressed.

Writing is a dictatorship. I am a writer, albeit not professionally. And I would be lying if I said thoughts of my audience didn't come creeping in, didn't make me rewrite sentences and rethink posting on certain subject. I had a post all written up about Katie Couric and racism versus sexism -but then there was that John Kerry thing and I've decided to wait a bit before putting that up. Because, well, parts of it need to be rewritten and also it seems kind of like intentionally throwing gasoline on an inferno right now. But don't get me wrong; when I write -fiction, nonfiction, whatever- it is my thoughts and my feelings and what I want to express that get the most play. I decide what stories I want to highlight, what issues are of greatest importance to me, and how polite/offensive I want to be. I frame the original argument, and those who read it generally have the opportunity to work within that frame -whether by agreeing with me or not.

Writing isn't a dialogue; it isn't a lateral movement. The writer and the reader are not equals on this particular scale. The fan has the right and the responsibility to critique, to point out weaknesses and latent 'isms and so forth, but the writer is the creator. The writer doesn't -or shouldn't- take requests or modify his (or her) own vision based purely on fan response. Writers aren't short-order cooks. And so whatever two-way street that does exist owes its existence to the writer allowing an up-down dialogue about ideas and structures and criticism. There are plenty of lateral discussions among fans, and those will always exist and have forever existed and have a meaning and purpose. But really being able to talk to the author, to demand explanation and change, well that's all on the author to allow or deny. Joss Whedon happens to be very fan friendly. He visits fan communities, he types under his own name, he is genuinely respectful, and he seems to really appreciate his voracious and kind of crazy fanbase. He's made some comments about fans and fan interpretation that have come under fire, but often times he takes the time to explain his vision and show an appreciation for fans, especially those on-line. Other writers don't do that. You want to see a true dictatorship, a writer who at times seems to despise his own intense, obsessive fanbase? Look to Aaron Sorkin. And he takes a lot of flak for it that is, frankly, undeserved. Because fans are allowed and expected to have an opinion, but they shouldn't expect to necessarily have their opinion matter or be valid. They have the ability to control a product only so far, and that is -like with so many other things in a capitalist culture- based mainly on what and how they choose to consume the product. If the show doesn't get the ratings, especially after good, solid ratings for years, then that is how the fans have spoken.

And Whedon generally has a pretty good feel for the pulse of his fanbase. He talks about writing a scene in the episode "Innocence" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer specifically so the audience would fall in love with a certain character. He knows what the audience needs in order to feel as deeply for his creations as he does. And he knows enough to disregard what they want in order to fulfill what he needs to do and what he wants to express. People die; lives are ruined; characters become twisted and dark and saved again. But we shouldn't -as fans- for one second believe that we have the right to a democracy. Fans -and even nonfans- seem to come to the mistaken assumption that the product is theirs. That once it leaves the author's head, it no longer belongs to its creator. And in a way, they are half right. Works authors intended to be taken in one way can and will be interpreted at times to mean the exact opposite. That is the nature of the micronarrative at work. But they aren't right in the idea that they get an actual piece of the creative pie, because they don't. At most, fans have to hope for an author who has his (or her) finger on the pulse of the thing, who understands the fans and the characters and is able to move the story forward organically while simultaneously not driving watchers or readers away in hordes. The smart author does that; the smart author understands that staying true to the work is the best way to stay true to the fans; to love the characters and to write from the characters is the best way to please fans, because fans can tell when an author's heart is no longer in his (or her) creation and fans can tell when authors are pandering to the fanbase. And it tends to make them cranky. Because most fans would probably prefer a lovingly and intricately crafted dictatorship than a haphazard mish mash of contradicting dogmas existing purely to satiate fan want.

Which brings me to the second part of this rant, that being Whedon's line of giving the audience what they need. Now, I think he is giving fans what they need from the tale instead of giving them what the wanted from it. Penny's death in Dr. Horrible, Jenny's death in BtVS, Buffy and Angel's break up, Buffy's death (twice), the arrival of Dawn, Restless, Hush, Once More with Feeling, Wash, all of these things are examples of items fans may not have particularly wanted (or even thought about) but needed -either to make the story fully work or because it was a pushing of the boundaries or what-have-you. Whedon made an allusion to Romeo and Juliet in his explanation of this philosophy once, that it works so well because we want Romeo and Juliet to get away and live as old marrieds, but Shakespeare gives us what we need -the emotional catharsis of their untimely and tragic demise- and because of that the play is a classic in a way it wouldn't have been if we'd only gotten what we'd wanted. And there's a definite truth to that. If entertainment can be more than simply about entertaining people, if really good works of art can come from entertainment, we need works that push us beyond the boundaries of what we want and into what we need. We need works that challenge our ideas, challenge our beliefs, and wake us the hell up. We need works that don't end happily; we needs works that end happily too, but I don't think Joss is our man for that.

There is a second interpretation of the line, one not based upon but supported by the line slightly rephrased by Whedon himself. The line becomes "I'd rather have a show that a hundred people need to see than a thousand people want to see". Joss wants devoted fans; he desires people needing to see what he creates; he desperately needs fans to be just as attached to and just as moved by and just as crushed by his characters and what happens to them as he is. He would rather make a show that was constantly on the verge of cancellation but meant something than made a show that was a big hit but that most people casually viewed while discussing their day. It is the difference between making a Two and a Half Men and... ...well, a Firefly. Or a Sports Night. There are times when the two shows are the same thing; The West Wing had a devoted, obsessive fanbase. Buffy the Vampire Slayer did well in the ratings for the network(s) it was on. But I think in the grand scheme of things, Joss wants fans who are like him when he is a fan: frantic, obsessed, broken-hearted when there are reruns or deaths or tragic happenstances, and overjoyed when something goes right for once. I could be wrong about that, but I think that the two-pronged interpretation of Joss' most hated statement among the fanbase is necessary to even begin getting to the heart of the matter.

I'm not wrong about the writing though.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Poor John Kerry

I've visited my usual array of websites today, and many of them had a clip of John Kerry using a racist slur; I know of it primarily as such, and I'm sure others do as well. It was the word "tar baby". And I felt sick and uncomfortable and didn't watch the clip because I felt like I didn't need to see it to get its full effect. Guess what? I did. So here's the clip:

Because John Kerry wasn't using it as a racist epitaph. He was using it in its original context, and was referring to a situation rather than a person. Which is something I probably should have anticipated anyway, given that it was John Kerry and not someone whose political ideals were more in line with George Wallace. I mainly know "tar baby" through its rather unwholesome associations, but I remember the stories about Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox and Uncle Remus; I've actually seen Song of the South. John Kerry used the term correctly, though its usage has become mainstreamed as something not so benign for quite a while now. So I don't really get the big fuss. To me, this is kind of like using the word "bitch" at a dog show: "That is a lovely bitch". I get up in arms about the term normally, because its mainstream use is nowhere near nice and it is derogatory. But there are some situations where it is a perfectly acceptable word, and dog shows are one of those places. And so is a description of a political mire as a "tar baby". I don't know; maybe that's just my white showing.

Meet The New Boss...

I've been reading some disparaging remarks about Barack Obama, John McCain, the two-party system, and the electoral college -though mostly about Obama, because I visit mainly liberal blogs and many liberal bloggers are feeling "betrayed" by him at the moment. Some of those liberal bloggers, like Liss from Shakespeare's Sister, are planning to assert their political strength by voting third party. Which is their right and their prerogative; and yes, sometimes third-parties become one of the dominant two. Like, we don't hear that much about the Whig party or the Federalists any more outside of history books, and the Republican party has been a major player on the political spectrum for over a century and a half now. But these people aren't really voting for a third party candidate because they believe that particular party will become one of the dominant two but because they want to punish the Democratic party and make the party recognize how important they as leftists are and how important their particular issues (and their particular take on issues) are to winning; and in so doing getting things like Women's Issues and Gay Rights to the forefront as national issues of concern. We in Connecticut tried the same "punishment" tactic on Joe Lieberman last time around by voting for Ned Lamont during the democratic primary after Ole Joe made it known that if he lost he'd run as a third party candidate. It is a nice thought, but entirely impractical, especially in terms of a national election; because in order to win elections in this day and age, candidates need votes from people not just at the furthest end of their particular political table but also the people who aren't entirely Blue or Red but varying shades of purple.

This basically means appealing to the guy who is vaguely uncomfortable with sharing a locker room with a gay man but really thinks that the war is no good and that the Trickle Down Theory of Economics was a stupid idea; and so that means highlighting an economic plan that appeals to that particular voter rather than highlighting the "Gay Marriage For Everyone" idea. And it isn't exactly idealistic, but it is politics and the political process. It is more about meeting people in the center and resolving differences through mediation and compromise than it about distinct and full victories. That is why a Republican from Connecticut is normally about as liberal as a Democrat from Texas. The last two candidates immediately springing to mind who didn't live in the center and who didn't forego their own political ideals in order to appeal to the masses were Adlai Stevenson on the left and Barry (AuH2O) Goldwater on the right. These two had one thing in common and it is that they lost and lost big. Also, both had a keen sense of humor.

And this is the reason most radical, lasting change occurs through forces outside of the elected political spectrum. It is why groups like NARAL and NAACP and -God help me- the NRA are important, because they don't have to compromise their values and they are able to stress why it is deeply important politicians fight hard for women and minorities and second amendment rights. Ralph Nader did real good when he was a safety advocate, because he wasn't beholden to voters and was able to distinctly highlight his issue of choice without fear of political backlash; he didn't have to worry about not going whole hog because his next bill may get bogged down in committee as retribution. His job was to be a conscience and he was a good one because he wouldn't back down. This is also, ironically, why he makes a good third party candidate -a man who can highlight issues that should be discussed on the national scale but that the two parties won't bring up out of fear of rocking the boat and losing votes.

I don't envy politicians on the national circuit. They have to both appear genuine and appeal to the vastest population they can. What ends up happening is a lot of flip-flopping, a lot of leaning toward the center. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have rested their laurels on the idea that they represent a new, integrity-driven candidate. Both have garnered fans due to the idea that neither one is going to play the traditional political games. That was part of Obama's appeal over Clinton during the primary season; Clinton was Old DNC, the Establishment with a capital "E". She was too crooked to really fight for what matters, to shine the light in the dark places. And lo and behold, Obama is now pretty much the same.

Obama has made some statements about abortion rights that are, in a word, demeaning to women. He has made some overtures about keeping faith-based initiatives, and he voted for FISA, all as a way of connecting to more voters. John McCain? Well 'The Maverick' has backtracked on his no-offshore-drilling policy, and is trying to portray himself as a "friend to women" even though he voted against having birth control covered by health insurance (Viagra is, by the way) and has told a "lovely" joke about gorilla rape many times over the years. There are other examples on both sides of flip flopping, but I'm too cynical/lazy to dig them up because this, my friends, is politics. It is the worst system in the world with which to pick a leader, until we compare it to all the others.

And so, the mantra remains the same: "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss".

I Think I May Have Found A New Love...

I love this video, and I think I may have someone new to add to the intellectual crush list. Which is always a good.

I'm A Horrible Person

Am I a terrible person because I laughed at this? I kind of feel like I am. But temporary tattoos placed on unconscious people strike my funny bone hard.

That being said, I hope she wins her suit, simply because I'm totally aghast that any doctor would think it would be cool or fun to place a temporary tattoo under someone's panty line. That is all sorts of wrong, and it isn't something that I think would happen to a man in a similar situation. Maybe I'm wrong about that part of it, but the rose tattoo and the placement of the tattoo all seem designed to sexualize the patient and not cheer her up. On her shoulder, on her arm, those are safer places for a stealth temporary tattoo placement. It would definitely fall under the category of an odd thing to do, but still. And yeah, most people probably know that your doctor sees areas of your body normally categorized as "private", but I myself hope the doctor does so as clinically as possible and isn't stopping to investigate the area for marking of any sort. To highlight a patient's complete vulnerability in such a fashion seems cruel in a way; a sort of "You're unconscious the entire time, and I can do whatever I want to you without your consent or knowledge". A true God complex moment, in other words. To wake up with a tattoo in such a place would be unnerving. This patient does deserve something for that.

And reading the comments about it being "harmless" and that she's only in the suit for a payday make me feel like a worse person for laughing at this woman's situation. I don't know the gender of the people leaving such comments, but I'm simultaneously thrilled that they have never experienced the vertigo that comes when a person feels entirely vulnerable and powerless, and saddened that they do not have the capability to empathize or sympathize with someone who has experienced that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Surveillance is High

Attention: I am seriously considering disconnecting myself entirely from the internet, my cell phone, credit cards, places that take my picture as I enter under the guise of a "fun" family momento, and also E-Z pass. Sure, these things make my life easier (with the exception of the "fun" family photo), but seriously. It has got to stop. As someone who is just this side of paranoid, the constant surveillance is starting to push me over to Tin Hat County.

What caused this recent rash of paranoid behavior? Well, as probably none of you know, I spent the weekend in Rhode Island, specifically Providence and Newport. I used my computer while I was there, because obviously I have a serious addiction that will probably need a support group of some kind to get over (though I didn't have time to actually write an entry while there or after I returned). One of the places I visited was Facebook, because -once again- addicted.

So today, I sign into Facebook and along the side is an ad for a shop in Newport. "Huh," I thought to myself, "how odd! I was just there!" I go to the next page, and there's an ad for cellulite removal ("dramatization: results not typical"), the next page, an ad for Obama gear (I don't want an Obama shirt, leave me alone!), and on the next page, an ad for the Providence WaterFire; this was something I went to and it was awesome. They put bonfire type things in the river and light them on fire -after a rather long wait. Then everyone mills around, because it extends quite a ways up the river and down the river; it was ungodly hot though, so I recommend it as more of a "fall" venture. There was also a street fair. Overall, a "10" on the awesome sliding scale. So my thought on this was "Oh, I did that! It was cool!" And then a couple more pages with things like "Single and 22?" (why, yes, actually; how kind of you to notice) and "Shop for engagement rings!" (haven't we just established that I'm single and 22?), there was suddenly an ad for Newport again; the Newport Jazz Festival, August blah-blah through blah-blah. And now, I've got a creepy sense of foreboding, like someone who is being tracked by the government feels.

I'm pretty sure we're already on government watch lists; my father is a guy who is a registered Republican but has voted for Nader the last two elections, and frequently writes the government letters disparaging their goals and practices. He once wrote Joe Lieberman a letter that ended with the line, "If you continue to support this foolhardy war, I must come to the conclusion you have taken a permanent leave of your senses", and when my aunt was visiting the Capitol on business and had a chance to send the flag that flies over one of the government buildings to my sisters for their birthday and had to get our address, the first thing that popped up when her congressional guide searched for our address was an angry letter my father had written to the FDA about GMOs and Frankencorn. Which was a little embarrassing for my aunt (the story gets better: when the flag arrived for my sisters with no return address or note of explanation, and my parents jumped over to full fledged paranoid state because my aunt had forgotten to tell them what the flag was and why it showed up at our house; obviously, we know now). 

He is also a frequent caller to the White House; the first time was after he'd had back surgery and was left to his own devices for something like 6 hours. I came home from school to find him in a loop where he kept getting connected to the White House gift shop. That would discourage other easily bored people, but my father wanted to get through so he could tell Bill Clinton (or an aid to an aid to Bill Clinton) that he approved of whatever it was that Bill had done that week; he finally did. These days, I imagine the phone calls aren't quite as congratulatory.

What all of this means is that I'm starting to feel as if I live in an Orwellian situation, like I'm only outside of government (or advertising's) scrutiny when I stand in one corner of my room. Although, my computer is in here, so not so much. I want to be literally free to move about the country, without being tracked or photographed or monitored; I don't care if a majority of these images or information will never be seen by human eyes. I don't care that Facebook advertising is more than likely dictated by some kind of formulaic code and that no one really knows where I've been all weekend unless I tell them. Because the information is there, and it can be found. Like phone records. I want to have a little bit more liberty, and a little less security. I was at a museum built at the site of the 1969 Woodstock concert, and there was a booth where people could leave messages for one another. "Bill, I'm on the left side of the stage". Yeah, so Bill probably never found his friend at the left side of the stage; but I kind of like the go with the flowness of it all. I like safety precautions; but I'm thinking that we're taking it a bit far, that we're turning into a people who have grown complacent about consistently being monitored, that we're growing into a people who really are starting to believe that it doesn't matter if people are watching if you're not doing anything wrong instead of recognizing the importance of privacy for privacy's sake.

And so, if I weren't as addicted as I am and if I didn't have problems with substandard sanitation, I would definitely go off, build myself a shack, and disconnect from this as much as I could. Live without having my purchases, reading habits, movement, and moods tracked. But I am addicted, I am jacked in, and I don't foresee leaving any time soon. But the time may very well come when I try to lead a revolution against photos the next time I'm pressed into a fake background and told to smile. Especially when I'm told they're for "security purposes".

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible's End

So, some of the shock of Act III of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog has worn off. Some, not all. And since my last post wasn't much in the way of a review, here we go:
Act III is more operatic than the last two acts. It is mostly singing, and here is where the familiar faces start showing up. Marti Noxon and David Fury (known as the Parking Ticket Woman and Mustard Man in the BtVS musical; and, oh yeah, for being two of the show's producers) are the newscasters. Doug Petrie and Drew Goddard show up as part of the EoLE (both having been writers and story editors for BtVS & Angel). And it is more scathing, more angsty, and more philosophical. The first two acts were fluff and cotton candy, sweet and sugary and feel-good fun. But that isn't Joss; no, Joss is the death and destruction man, and anyone who expected differently this time (me) was horribly mistaken.

So, when we left off last time, Dr. Horrible had to kill someone or be killed. He decided on Captain Hammer, for obvious reasons, such as the guy was a tremendous tool and was sleeping with the Evil Dr.'s crush just to hurt him. And this episode is heartbreaking in that both Penny and Dr. Horrible don't get what they want. There are two perfectly heartbreaking scenes here; the first is Penny sitting by herself at the laundromat alone with two frozen yogurts. The second is Dr. Horrible's face at the end, when he is looking at the camera as Billy. Because Penny isn't happy in her relationship with Captain Hammer, and then dies. Which is kind of a downer, for both us and Dr. Horrible.

And here's where the Philosophy of Joss comes through loud and clear. Joss has demonstrated time and time again through his works that doing evil in order to perpetrate good -like Billy was with his decree that "the world is a mess and I just need to... ...rule it"- just doesn't work. Joss doesn't do bad guys. Bad guys are generally bad. Which is why it was surprising to me that he would do a musical where the villain of the piece was in fact that protagonist of it. That goes against most of his rules and regulations, but seemed cool. And it makes the final act that much more heartbreaking, because Joss does it. He makes us empathetic and sympathetic to Dr. Horrible. We love him; we embrace him; we want him to succeed. But he can't, not really. Because he's still doing it wrong. He's still following the wrong moral code. And even though Joss allows us to empathize with him and love him, that alone doesn't make Dr. Horrible right. He's just as wrong as if the story had been told from Captain Hammer's viewpoint.

From Willow's arc in the 6th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Angel's arc in the 2nd season of Angel to the Operative's actions in Serenity, Joss states quite clearly that there is a good way and a bad way to exact change. And the good guys can still lose; the good guys will still lose. Not always and not permanently, but people will die, battles will be lost, and the world will generally kick the crap out of them on their journey to doing good. But they have something that Dr. Horrible doesn't have once Penny is dead. They have a reason to continue on; they live for the individuals in their lives as well as the world at large. And Dr. Horrible doesn't. His tale is a nihilistic one, and if this is the only production of Joss Whedon's works anyone has seen, they may come away from it thinking Joss' overall message is a nihilistic one. But time and time again, he tells us what is worth fighting for, and how we should proceed. 

Angel fails in his efforts to rid Los Angeles of evil in the second season of his eponymous show because he embraces a nihilistic principle that nothing matters; and he mistakenly believes since nothing matters, he can do what he wants to in order "for redemption, for a reward, finally just to beat the other guy". And he after he loses, he is left with an epiphany. It is one that his ex-girlfriend in Sunnydale seemed to already know implicitly, and one she demonstrated time and time again. But for Angel -and those in the viewing audience- Joss lays it out on the table; as an atheist, "in the grand scheme or the big picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan, no big win". So, what is the point then? The point is, "If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do, now, today... ...Because, if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world".

Dr. Horrible -and Captain Hammer- were out for the reward, out to just beat the other guy. And sweet Penny, the only person in the thing that held Joss' own philosophy close to her heart, got caught in the middle and died because of it. And in that act, we see the destructive force of Captain Hammer's arrogance and Dr. Horrible's hatred and anger. And that is a tragedy, and a moving one.

God Damn It, Joss!

The title pretty much says it all. God damn it, Joss. I was surprised by the ending of Dr. Horrible. And then realized I shouldn't be surprised because it's f-ing Joss Whedon. Anyway, I'm still kind of in shock over the third act. Kind of nihilistic, more than definitely pessimistic, and the music is still superb. Penny singing about how she got the guy but feeling like something was missing, and Captain Hammer's song about how everyone is a hero (though less than he is) were the highlights; which is good since Dr. Horrible pretty much owned the last two episodes. And Dr. Horrible and Neil Patrick Harris are still heart achingly wonderful. Oh, Joss. I wish you didn't love to rip my heart out of my chest as often as you do!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Jakob Dylan Is My Summer Love

I listen to music seasonally. Blues, especially Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, means summer nights. Punk is generally equated with the winter months, when everything is hard and cold. Except for The Clash. They are pegged as a summer band, a summer-day-in-the-car-with-the-windows-down kind of band. Buddy Holly and other music from the 1950s and 60s are summer music too. The Wallflowers are typically a fall-into-winter band; as is, for that matter, Aimee Mann. Which is why it is somewhat surprising to me that Jakob Dylan's new album, "seeing things", is a summer-afternoon, sitting-on-the-back-deck-with-sunglasses-on-and-a-cold-glass-of-something-or-other kind of music:

So Jakob Dylan is being added to my tentative summer list of ever-changing summer music songs. My (hopefully expanding) Summer Day soundtrack is:

1. "Darwin" -Third Eye Blind
2. "Help Me" -Joni Mitchell
3. "Could You Be Loved" -Bob Marley & The Wailers
4. "Portions for Foxes" -Rilo Kiley
5. "Don't Look Back in Anger" -Oasis
6. "I've Been Loving You Too Long" -Otis Redding
7. "Something Good This Way Comes" -Jakob Dylan
8. "Come Pick Me Up"- Ryan Adams
9. "Helpless" -k.d. lang
10. "Circle" -Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians
11. "California"- Joni Mitchell
12. "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais" -The Clash
13. "Le Vieux Piano" -Edith Piaf
14. "Change is Hard" -She & Him
15. "True Love Ways" -Buddy Holly

That's what I've got it whittled down to at the moment. Suggestions, comments, snide remarks, all welcomed and encouraged (less on the snide remarks side though).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"'The Hammer' Is My Penis"

The second act of Dr. Horrible is almost, I have to say, better than the first. More quotable lines, more angst in musical form, more hilarity, and more insightful ponderings from our blogtastic almost-not-quite-there super villain. My favorite part is probably when Dr. Horrible comes back to his lair after a failed heist, ruminating on the idea that he may not want to be so specific in his blog as "apparently, the LAPD and Captain Hammer are among our viewers". For anyone who caught the Emily Gould scandal (or, for that matter, any blogging scandal in the media or among friends), it seemed particularly apropos.

Captain Hammer is terribly, wonderfully cheesy -and kind of an ass. And Nathan Fillion plays him beautifully, from brushing off a homeless person's touch to deciding to take Penny because Dr. Horrible/Billy wants her. The Captain represents the very worst in superheroes, guys who save the world mostly because it gives them fame and adulation.

And poor Billy is still sympathetic, still lovable, and still in love with his laundry girl. Turning more toward evil. I pretty much think his exchange with Penny works well for both himself and Captain Hammer:

PENNY: Sometimes people are layered like that. There's something totally different underneath than what's on the surface.

BILLY/DR. HORRIBLE: And sometimes there's a third, even deeper level and that one is the same as the top surface one... ...Like with pie.

And then there's Penny herself. I didn't really see the attraction in Act 1. I'm blaming this partially on my being incredibly hetero but also partially because I expect a hell of a lot out of my Whedon women. And Penny really didn't touch much of that, until now. Sweet, self-deprecating, and following her own philosophy -one that competes with both Dr. Horrible's and Captain Hammer's (that is, if Captain Hammer had a philosophy)- Penny comes off much more realized in this episode than the first. And she's fun and funny, and the viewer wants more for her than Captain Hammer; or even, sad as it is to say, Dr. Horrible. But if she's got to end up with one of them, I -at least- am rooting for Dr. Horrible.

And on that note, "Oh goodness, look at my wrist. I gotta go" -watch Act 2 of Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog... ...again. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Megan Wright has so many stories about violence against women today that all of them have been combined into one blog post. They are all horrific, but one in particular had a comment on a linked-blog I found particularly true. It is the case of Megan Wright, a girl who was allegedly raped by three men in a dorm room and later committed suicide in the aftermath. The detective in charge of the investigation did not look very far into the accusation, and decided that because the boys held up a sign to the surveillance cameras stating "I WANT TO HAVE SEX" and signed by Megan that she had given consent. Now, maybe Megan wrote the sign, and maybe she didn't. Maybe she signed it, and maybe she didn't. However, I can't help but feel that if even one of the three boys felt in the middle of all the sex that there was the possibility there may be a rape accusation in the morning, then maybe it wasn't so consensual. That the sign could have been written under some form of coercion. Another possibility is that the boys were engaging in an act of "slut shaming" -ie, making this girl feel badly for giving it up at all (though that still reeks of coercion to me); either way, this isn't exactly behavior that screams innocence to me.

And that brings me to this insightful comment:
"It is such a myth that women wake up and decided [sic] rape is a better alternative to shame. Considering how much more her name has been sloughed through the mud, and how awful her treatment was, that seems evidence that this young woman made a very hard decision to come forward with rape charges."
That is an apt observation. Yes, there are cases to the contrary. Yes, there will always be women who falsely accuse men of rape. Yes there was that Duke rape case. Yes, that will be brought up by rape apologists, rapists, mainstream America, and Men's Rights Activists when rapes are reported for the foreseeable future. But even if women's rights groups have a depressed figure in their 2% of false rape accusations (and I think they probably do), the FBI's 1996 study puts the figure only at 8%. I'm more for using that figure than ones given by women's rights groups or MRAs because the FBI has less of an agenda than either side. And yet, almost every single woman who comes forward saying she has been raped gets hit with the insinuation that she is falsely accusing the man involved. It has replaced the panty defense in the rape apology arsenal.

I happen to agree with the quote; no sane woman would report a rape to reduce the shame of having sex -mostly because as soon as most women do they are accused of making it up. In most cases, consensual sex is not a publicly known event. There are cases in which it is; pictures, video tapes, a roommate happens to be present. But often, the only people who know if sex went down that night are the people who engaged in sex. If a rape is reported and investigated and brought to trial, the circumstances of the rape become known to more than just the two people involved. Parents, friends, jurors, and the people in the courtroom now all know -and on top of that, the normal defense is that the sex was consensual, that the girl wanted it, and that she is a liar and a scarlet woman for bringing false charges before the court.

Secondly, there is less shame around sexual involvement now. There is still shame, don't get me wrong, and often it is gender-based. Jessica Valenti's book She's a Slut, He's a Stud says so in the very title. But there is a degree of sexual freedom now available to women that has never before in modern history been present. And because of that, there is less of a "she's dirty, she's worthless, she's the cow who gave away the milk for free". Women's worth is still tied, in part, to her sexuality; but it is getting better.

Which leads me to this point: those who slut shame, those we insinuate the women are accusing men of rape because they are embarrassed or feel dirty after they have had sex are part of the problem because they further inculcate that idea into the minds of society; the idea that women shouldn't have sex, that women shouldn't like sex, and that women should be ashamed to have it and thus when they do immediately have to cry rape. The media, these MRAs, and so on are part of the problem because they reinforce gender and societal stereotypes. 

And those stereotypes hurt women like Megan Wright, and they hurt other women who have been raped and who are strong enough to bring that charge forward. I hate those women who do falsely accuse men of rape, because they make it that much harder for women who have been victimized to be taken seriously. But we have to all do our part to take these accusations seriously, to really examine them without jumping to conclusions about how she slept with the whole swim team or how he obviously did it because he's a thug/has an earring/privileged rich white boy/etc. Because this is too important an accusation to be playing around with. Lives, the ones of the people accused and the lives of the accuser, depend that we investigate these claims thoroughly, seriously, and without prejudice. Megan Wright deserved that; the Duke Lacrosse players deserved that; and countless other victims deserve it too.

Cat Nostalgia

It is amazing what makes me miss my cat. Like this cartoon:

And this one too:

There was a time when I would watch those videos ruefully. I would think, "Yup, that's what owning a cat is like". Now I watch them and think, "God, I would kill for my cat to disrupt my sleep and make it impossible to watch television". Things that used to be annoying now seem so... ...comforting. At the very least, incredibly funny. Cats are funny creatures, Simon's cat especially so.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Religion in America

I just finished Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -and Doesn't; before that, I watched a terrifying documentary called Jesus Camp. The friend I watched it with seemed to think I would find it humorous. This is yet another in a long list of examples of how differently we see the world, the last one being when I made her watch Crazy in Alabama and told her it was a comedy about a woman who cuts off her abusive husband's head with an electric turkey slicer and takes off for Hollywood -and she came away from the movie telling people that it was drama about the death of a black boy and how that influenced the Civil Rights movement in one community. We were both right, but she was still pretty upset with me.

Technically, if you really want to know what every American needs to know and doesn't, it may behoove you to skip to the glossary of religious terms in the back of the book. It takes up about a good hundred pages, and is comprehensive along with being fairly clinical. The first half of the book, though, is a history of why we no longer have the religious knowledge we used to as a nation. I found it to be an interesting problem until around page 80, and then I was tired of learning how Protestantism was weeded out of public centers of learning. Because that is pretty much what it describes, as nothing other than Protestantism has ever been taught in public schools. It is an interesting history, but it still describes how we lost one type of religious literacy instead of explaining why more than a cursory knowledge of Islam and/or Buddhism and/or Judaism and/or Hinduism is required in today's society. For the most part, Prothero ignores the argument as to why this is important after telling us that it is.

And the information about what we do not know is shocking, as is the reason we don't know it any more. His argument -as the first half of the book does contain one- is for teaching religion in schools; not indoctrinating students, but instructing them in the lessons of many religious texts. One of the interesting facts Prothero exposes is that the secularists have had less to do with a decrease in faith-based knowledge than evangelicals have; that evangelicals focus on a personal relationship with Jesus instead of a knowledge of him and the text he is present in have harmed our religious literacy -especially the religious literacy of the actual evangelicals. Prothero goes on to say that when having faith in the Bible, rather than knowing what the Bible said, became the premiere expression of religiosity in America, we lost hold of that thread. He expounds by saying "our collapsing religion into 'values' and 'values' into sexual morality, which in turn functions via an odd sort of circular reasoning as proxy for religiosity. At least in popular parlance, what makes religious folks religious today is not so much that they believe in Jesus' divinity or Buddhism's Four Noble Truths but that they hold certain moral positions on bedroom issues such as premarital sex, homosexuality, and abortion".

I genuinely agree with him that an in-depth knowledge of religion is necessary in life, both for understanding literature and its myriad of references to sacred texts but also in history and current political events. How could we ever hope to understand the problems of the Middle East if we do not fully comprehend the differences between a Sunni and a Shi'ite, and what the historical tensions between the two groups are? How can we navigate issues between China and Tibet if we don't recognize not only China's views of Tibet from a geographical standpoint but also Tibet's views of why it is a separate nation? I even almost agree that the Bible should have a separate course than just being inserted with a generalized course in religious study. But I also disagree with statements like "Public school Bible courses should not focus on Biblical criticism. They should not try to prove that Moses did not write the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or that the Gospel of Matthew contradicts the Gospel of John". Sure it should. If the Bible is being taught as literature, as an influential text, as the basis for many religious divides and issues throughout time, we absolutely must address some of the more overt issues with the text -especially when the text disagrees with itself. It could be as easy as referencing a book like The Four Witnesses. But not commenting on the book, just presenting it as-is, isn't really teaching anything -including comprehension or critical study. I'm not advocating pointing out where the Bible or any other holy book fails, but I do think that it is equally unhelpful to teach any sort of literature or history without critique as it is to criticize and debunk too much. There is a fine line there, and we need to learn to walk it.

All of this leads me to Jesus Camp. The Evangelicals of the documentary fulfill in every way Prothero's critique of modern, religiously amnesiac Christians. These are Christians concerned with "feeling" Jesus, with imparting lessons about piety and modesty and pro-life sentiments all without actually seeming to examine the very book their worlds revolve around. There are gasp-worthy scenes, like when a little girl walks up to some African-Americans and seemingly doubts their answer of "heaven" when she questions them as to where they think they'll go when they die. "I bet they're Muslims" she says to her equally young companion as the two walk away. There are diatribes against Harry Potter. There is the passing around of a tiny plastic fetus, there is speaking in tongues as the Holy Spirit takes hold of them. The little girl who thought the African-Americans were Muslims talks at one point where God likes to hang his hat; apparently He doesn't like "dead" churches, where there are sermons and things of that nature. He likes the excitement and euphoria of this type of church. Which only goes to show that God actually doesn't want people reading His book. He just wants them to believe in His book.

That kind of thinking is all sorts of dangerous, and it is the thinking that permeates every facet of learning. It is an anti-intellectual bent that is running rampant in American society today. And it is something that we need to begin reversing. Faith in one's heart without knowledge of one's religion is no faith to have. Interacting with the world while having no knowledge of the historical and religious implications of those interactions is idiotic. For those reasons, education in those areas is beyond necessary. Even those with no religion should think so, because as long as religion is a dominant force in much of the world it is our duty to try and comprehend not only what it is but why it is so.

"I'm Just a Few Weeks Away From Real, Audible Connection."

I watched the first act as soon as it premiered at 12:01. Yes, I do realize that this is the third entry on the same thing in less than 12 hours. This would be a symptom of the pandemonium I referenced earlier. Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog is funny, witty, cute, and I already love the songs. Or, at least the ones I've heard so far. Nathan Fillion's voice is a surprise -a good one- though his lip syncing needs a little work.

And Dr. Horrible? Billy? Is adorable. Sweet, shy, in love, and utterly into doing vaguely evil things. Willing to steal a whole bunch of gold bars, but scoffs at the idea of fighting in a park populated by kids. It soon becomes apparent how far off his ideas of evil are from the Evil League of Evil, as Bad Horse advocates murder as a way to really push one's application to the top of the pile and Dr. Horrible uses his iPhone to remotely control a vehicle without hurting anyone at all. And he sells his love for the girl he semi-stalks at the laundromat, a girl who is concerned with the plight of the homeless.

The writing is like a gust of fresh and fun air. There are other writers I have begun to admire, whose work makes me happy. Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies leaves me with a smile. Aaron Sorkin is a love of my viewing life. Amy Sherman-Palladino is someone else whose creations I enjoy watching. But Joss Whedon, his writing style, his enthusiasm, his weird philosophies that come through his works, is the only writer of any media that consistently gives me an actual high -and a long lasting one at that. It has been 30 minutes since I last watched that 13 minute Act 1, and I'm still grinning. "My application is strong this year. A letter of condemnation from the deputy mayor. That's gotta have some weight so... Fingers' crossed."

Songs about laundry day and longing and building a freeze ray to stop time and find the words to describe his feelings? How could anyone not be charmed by that? Especially with Neil Patrick Harris' gleeful and soulful performance of someone who just isn't really villainy enough, who is just too sensitive and too smart. I'm willing to bet that Bad Horse is villainous and bad to boot, but Dr. Horrible and Moist -his evil moisture buddy, who is a good enough friend and roommate to grab the Dr.'s mail- just seem like ordinary schmoes who don't quite fit in and who want to be... ...better. Who want to be someone worth something, and worth noting.

I also want to point out that this may be the first thing ever Joss Whedon has written where the male character is the focal point of the thing. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course, wasn't going to do that. Buffy was supposed to be the lead, and she was. But Firefly, a show mostly about Mal's journey, soon turned into the story of River Tam with Mal growing along side her -Mal finding his purpose by helping her fulfill her own. Which is beyond awesome in that he continually creates dynamic and metamorphic characters, men and women. Characters who change each other and who change the world and are changed by it. That is something I'll rant about another day, why that particular trait in regard to women characters is so astounding. But right now, I have to say that Dr. Horrible is my new fictional boyfriend. And I don't think the focus is going to shift off of him. I could be wrong; there's another half an hour to go. But I'm going to put my money on Joss creating a male character that could hold his full interest -for at least 40 or so minutes.