Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pixar's Up: Uproariously Funny/Infuriatingly Gendered

What can I say about Pixar's most recent offering, Up? Well, after the pure and innovative wonder of WALL•E, Up seemed almost destined to come in second. And yet, I don't think it is in Pixar's power to make a bad movie. Up, the story of Carl Fredrickson, is so moving, so powerful, so slapstick funny, so entirely different than what has preceded it, that it both fits in the pantheon of Pixar films in terms of greatness and reaches those heights independently. Just like all of the great Pixar films that came before.

I can say that Russell is the most believable kid I've ever seen in a movie. From his reason for wanting the last necessary Wilderness Explorer badge, to his complaints about how his knee hurt and how he had to go to the bathroom, Russell was a prepubescent kid. The excitability, the lack of precociousness, the poking Carl in the face when he thought Carl might be dead - all were spot on.

I can say that the twenty minute montage of Carl and Ellie's life together was perhaps the best and most moving piece of animation I have ever seen. It in and of itself could have been a Pixar short, though a rather somber one.

I can say that Carl's reactions throughout the film, from bonking that guy on the head to his obsession with his mailbox to talking to his house as if Ellie were still in it to kissing Ellie's picture, were achingly, heartbreakingly realistic.

I can say that Dug the Dog was an awesome addition to the movie.

I can say that I would watch this movie perhaps more than any other Disney or Pixar film - if it weren't for Dory's "I wish I could speak whale" moment in Finding Nemo.

And yet. And yet there is the "girl problem". I've posted about this before, after WALL•E came out. But Up continues to highlight the problems I've had with Pixar films - and in ways, it goes farther toward making it worse, to making it less female-friendly.

Like, Ellie gets a couple of lines in the beginning of the film when she's a kid, and then is silenced by the (again, thoroughly beautiful and moving) 20 minute montage, a montage that ends with her death. Young Ellie, for all of her 5 minutes on screen, is the only actual speaking role a main female character, partially because there is only one other main female character. And that's a bird. Named Kevin. I've probably posted before about my dislike of boys' names for girls in movies and television shows. Which I was fine with for quite a while. My antipathy for that particular practice didn't develop until I heard Bryan Fuller talk about how giving girls boys' names made them easier for him to write, that it was hard for him to write a 'girl' character. Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment.

The lightbulb moment is this: "characters" are easy to write. "Girl characters" are not. A film about someone bringing his house to Paradise Falls and having a young stowaway who only wants his Wilderness badge is a film the Pixar people can write. A film where a girl does the same thing is not.

In many of the other blog posts about gender issues in Pixar films floating around the feminist ether, some commenter inevitably makes the point that Pixar isn't the only film studio almost exclusively living in Boysville. And that's true, but that (a) doesn't really absolve Pixar, and (b) only demonstrates exactly how prevalent this problem really is - which just reinforces the point that this is a bad and deserves to be addressed. However, the reason I'm picking on Pixar is because the films they make are so imaginative, so talented, so brilliant, so emotionally resonant, that it is all the more disappointing when they either can't or won't write a film with a main character who is a woman - and who isn't a princess. Pixar movies about boys can be chef-rats and toys and superheroes and fish and cars and old men. Pixar movies about girls - the one Pixar movie in the works about a girl - is about a princess. The juxtaposition the complex imaginings of the Pixar oeuvre with the seeming inability to imagine where women and girls fit as individual characters within that oeuvre is profoundly depressing. It is depressing because I believe if ever there was a studio that has the ability to create a universal story with a female protagonist, Pixar is that studio. It is depressing because these are children's films that continually privilege boys, making them the centers of each individual universe, and thus reinforce the idea of Male as default and Female as the other. It reinforces the idea of Woman being the Second Sex.

The Mad Typist has a run down of Pixar films and grades them accordingly in terms of how the women are portrayed, and FilthyGrandeur has another run down of the Pixar dilemma. And again, the problem isn't the films individually. It is incredibly easy to defend the decision to make a film about Flick, or Buzz and Woody, or Bob Parr, or Marlin and Nemo, or Carl and Russell, or Lightening McQueen, or Remy, or Sulley and Mike, or WALL•E. Each individual movie is great. Each individual movie can be rationalized. It is when all of the movies are taken as a group that the issue emerges. Out of the 10 movies that have been released, not one of them features a female protagonist. If we add the 3 movies in some form of production, the average goes to 1 out of 13 movies features a female protagonist. Meanwhile, one is about a newt named "Newt", which just goes further to reinforce that "male as default" thing.

Pixar, because of the power the studio commands, because of the audience their films attract (like, young ones), because of the fact that women make up more than 1/13 of the world population, need to engage in some serious corrective measures. Because as much as I love Pixar, it cuts to consistently see my gender underrepresented or outright erased from the films I pay to see. It hurts to have my gender consistently portrayed as "love interest" or "sidekick" - or both in one character. And to be perfectly frank, it's kind of pissing me off that after the wondrous ingenuity of rats who want to cook and toys who are alive (in a noncreepy way) and old men dealing with grief and life's disappointments, girls once again get the princess crap. As if "Princess" is an underrepresented genre of film for girls. As if "Princess" isn't a problematic description for little girls, if for no other reason than most little girls won't ever be one - because "princess" is something one is and not something one can work at becoming. As Monique Fields said regarding Disney's The Princess and the Frog,
Some little girls are telling anyone who will listen that they want to be princesses when they grow up. If nothing else, I expect a more ambitious and attainable goal from children who haven’t yet learned to read or write.
I have faith in Pixar. I have the expectation that I'll be going to see Pixar films in the theater much more frequently than I will see any other type of movie. I anticipate that, like Linda Holmes, I will adore The Bear and the Bow. But as much as I want Pixar to recognize that there are girls in the world and we're worth their attention, I'd also really love it if they recognized that shorthand for "girl" isn't "princess". You'd think they would have gotten that memo, after making Ellie and EVE and Violet and Dory. But apparently, they haven't yet.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Buffy Eradicates Edward Cullen

I just happened to discover this today, but it seems a happy kismet what with it being Joss' birthday and all. So, in all its glory, a hilarious and wonderful mash up of Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Edward from Twilight.

I think my favorite part, aside from stalking not being a huge turn on for girls, is Buffy's groan-sigh thing after Edward says, "I feel very... ...protective of you". Awesome reaction right there. Oh, and the part where Willow tells Buffy, "I'm really worried. These things can become pretty twisted". That was pretty incredible too.

Happy Birthday, Joss!

In case anyone is out of the loop, that guy, over there in the right hand corner, is one of my favorite people ever. And today is his 45th birthday. YAY! So, in honor of his birthday, and because Joss Whedon and his impact on my life is actually surprisingly easy to write about, I'm going to recount a bit of that.

In the speech he gave after he received the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism, Whedon said this:
Right now, things are not terrible for a nonbeliever. Uh, okay. We got a shout out during the inauguration. That was amazing. That has to be a political first. I mean, one of the biggest things in politics is establishing your religious street cred. But the fact is, just - just by Obama saying - including nonbelievers in his speech, um, I felt something I've never felt before in my life. And I've had people come up to me and say, "Oh, you wrote this thing and helped me to come out" and it's meant a huge amount to me that people say these things to me. But I never - I never, until that moment. And I was like, "Oh, that's what it feels like. I matter. I'm a person. They counted me."
I got a bit of that jolt on Inauguration Day as well. But I'm one of the fans who has gotten that feeling from Joss Whedon's work. I didn't need it to come out because I'm not gay (though, because of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer shirt collection, more than a couple of people assumed I was in high school). And I wouldn't be able to explain that to Whedon directly if I were ever to see him anywhere, because (as my mother oh so helpfully points out) I'm a flight animal. 

My jolt came as a result of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was in 6th grade, had moved to a new - and strange - town the previous year, and still felt out of sorts. Out of place. The town I moved to was extremely tiny and extremely religious, so I felt extraordinarily out of place. And then this show came on, about this girl who also moved to an extremely tiny town she didn't fit into. A show came on that had lines like, "Note to self: religion, freaky". A show came on that had a girl who rocked and kicked ass and took names. And it had a guy at the helm who was a humanist, was an absurdist, was a pop culturist, was an atheist. Was a feminist. And who proudly proclaimed all of those things. Who made characters I admired and that I loved and that I looked up to. I didn't really know much of that at first. All I knew was that there was a show created that I felt at home with, that I had to watch. A show that gave me a warm feeling inside, like it had something to say.

It's kind of sad, really, how much this one man and his creations really have impacted my life. But he - and they - have. Joss Whedon was one of the first atheists I ever knew about, aside from those in my own family. I don't really know how I can express how big a deal that was, to have someone who wrote something I fell so strongly for be an atheist - let alone be an atheist who was also a feminist. It's kind of sad how much watching episodes like The Body meant to me, where someone died and there was no comforting answer given or theorized about what happened after death and where they might have gone. 

There are a couple of things I don't agree with Joss Whedon about. One of them is the use of the term "sky bully" in reference to other people's gods. One, I don't think that such a pronouncement is very helpful in creating good atheist-believer relations; and two, I don't think there is any proof that if a god exists, s/he is in fact a bully. I'm more than aware that people have bullied on behalf of their god, but I'm also aware that a belief in a god has also inspired incredible works of good. Frankly, with or without a god, people would find reasons to bully; and with or without a god, people will find inspiration to do good. God's the convenient excuse in those cases, but not the root of the cause. And to maintain, even obliquely, that a god or a religion is the root cause of the problem is just as bad as maintaing that a god or a religion is the root cause of the solution.

I think its important to note that Joss Whedon isn't the reason I'm an atheist, or the reason I'm a humanist, or the reason I'm a feminist. He is the reason I'm so picky about my television programs, but that's neither here nor there. What Joss Whedon did - and has done and continues to do - is to inform my atheism, my humanism, and my feminism. And also? How I write and speak. But more than that, he gave me a feeling of belonging.

I don't know if I read Whedon's work the way Whedon means for it to be read, with a hint of optimism abounding in the darkness. In the absurdism, in the existentialism, I see a tremendous amount of hope and expectation in this life we live and these people we live it with.  But in quotes like:
Faith in God is means believing, absolutely, with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary.
If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there 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.
I find inspiration. I feel connected. And that's really what matters.

So, happy birthday to the guy who has played an unwittingly large role in my life for now more than half of my life. In the words of the guy himself,
Stay crunchy, even in milk.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Problem with "Penelope"

I love kids' movies. Not so much the '80s kids movies, like The Goonies or even kids movies that prominently feature kids (funny how those two types tend to overlap), but movies made for the enjoyment of kids. Seriously, most of the movies I see in theaters are kids' films - and sometimes the big summer blockbuster drawing inspiration from a comic book. And movies that have Shia LaBeouf in them, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, I see a lot of movies made for the enjoyment of children, because at heart I'm five and expect everything will turn out perfectly in the end. Which is why I rented Penelope. Because it fit all of the requirements (kids' film with no actual kids), and because Penelope as a movie had several things that made it seem worth watching. It had Christina Ricci. It had Catherine O'Hara. It had Reese Witherspoon. It had James McAvoy. It was a fantasy. So I watched it.

And I liked it. I genuinely liked it. It was cute, Christina Ricci was cute, James McAvoy was cute, and overall it was a decent film and a good way to spend about an hour and a half. But.

But I can't sign on to endorse a movie where one potential reading of the story in question presented during the film is "It's always the mother's fault". That isn't the whole of it, but it does sum up a rather huge problem with Penelope. It suffered from what I term "exceptional female syndrome". Now, Penelope wasn't the only girl in her world. She isn't even the only cool girl in her world. But she is the only cool girl we spend any real amount of time with. Her mother, played by the hilarious Catherine O'Hara, is - to put it politely - a bit of a shrew. She is about a pretty horrid example of mothering, and the film calls her out on it. I wouldn't be opposed to that if, you know, it wasn't a huge thing to have it be all the mother's fault - oh, and if most of the horrible stuff Penelope's mother Jessica was guilty of wasn't also demonstrated by her father Franklin.

For instance, the affliction Penelope was cursed with, having piggy features, could only be broken if "one of her own" could accept her for who she was, could love her even with her pig nose and ears. Penelope breaks her own curse by asserting that she was happy the way she is (which, coincidentally, means that she is no longer the way she is... ...which in and of itself is kind of a catch-22). Kind of like how in Disney's Beauty and the Beast it wasn't enough for the Beast to love Belle and have Belle love the Beast in return - in fairy tales this sort of thing always requires a declaration. Jessica actually blames herself for the curse being in place for so long, and we as the audience accept that as being partially correct. After all, Jessica is Penelope's mother. She should have loved her daughter wholly and completely even with her curse. But a big part of this picture, the big invisible part of this blame game, is Franklin. Franklin had just as much power as Jessica or Penelope to break the curse, to truly love and vocally accept his daughter for who she was; he didn't. And we as an audience aren't asked to expect that he would. We look down on Jessica for her match-making ways and her inability to see how incredibly cute Penelope was with a piggy nose, but the same standard isn't applied to Franklin. And that? Is a bit of a problem.

Another problem is the fact that Jessica is made mute by the end of the film by the same witch that originally cursed Penelope. And we're supposed to see this as a good thing. We're supposed to see Jessica as getting her comeuppance, and everyone around her being given a gift - especially the "long-suffering" Franklin. Just not cool, man. Part of this is that we spend only large swaths of time with Jessica when Penelope has run away - when she is under a great deal of stress. But part of it is the same problem with the Potato-Head commercial:

In both instances, the wife is supposed to be seen as a nag, a nudge, the kind of woman who should be seen and not heard. The kind of woman it would be best to silence. And since silencing has long been a technique employed when dealing with women (along with others) who are coded as being "less", Jessica's curse leaves me with an entirely unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Then there's Penelope's piggy features:

I could see suitors a plenty doing a double take. But I can't see them crashing through glass windows on second stories, or run screaming from her presence. Because Christina Ricci is still, by any Western standard, still aesthetically attractive. Her piggy nose is proportional to the rest of her face. And pigs? Not exactly the scariest or most unattractive of animals. So all of the fuss just kind of seems strange and unnecessary.

Like I said, there are good parts to Penelope. The underlying theme that curses only have the power we give them is a fairly standard one, but the heroine rescues herself and then goes and finds the guy she loves. She gets to drink beer, get drunk, and have fun with no negative consequences - and marriage is not the key to salvation. The key is simply loving yourself, for yourself. And accepting yourself, for yourself. And that message could have rung out all the sweeter if the specter of Jessica and her "comeuppance" didn't hang over the film.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How Was Your Day?

Me? I went tumbling down the flight of stairs between floors 5 and 4 in my parking garage first thing this morning.

An unusual method of transportation to be sure, though surprisingly effective - and exciting!

Even so, for the next 3 flights, I decided upon the more conventionally boring elevator, cuz walking was just not happening. And you know what? It seems to be just as speedy, if less adrenaline inducing. The plus side, though, is there seems to be less of a chance for serious injury. Or even minor injury, like the bruising and scrapes and cuts I obtained.

No wonder people wait the extra few minutes and just arrive late...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Obama Could Have Been Great

Too bad he's already failed.

I do worry that this sort of idea, that Obama has failed in fixing a floundering economy was at least 10 to 12 years in the making after only four months, will take hold.

And it probably will. For one thing, it is easier to have this one man to blame than to try to sort out the sordid details of what really brought this to our door. There have been countless Planet Money podcasts and at least two whole This American Life broadcasts dedicated to figuring out what went wrong when, and who is to blame for it all. I haven't listened to Josh and Chuck's (the guys from the Stuff You Should Know podcast) Super Stuffed Guide to the Economy, but I'm guessing that aside from being awesome they offer the same type of complex and villainless piece. They really haven't discovered the golden nugget of truth that would place the blame directly at anyone's feet, which is good. But without a concrete, mustache-having, black-cape-wearing, malicious villain, it's easier to point to the guy at the top - the guy who wasn't at the top through those past ten or so years (not that I think he would have done anything differently, just that he didn't have the opportunity to even do the same thing)  - and say, "It's him!"

It might work. But right now, with the Right floundering and attacking pretty much everyone without cause or even a fully formed strategy, I'm holding out hope that it backfires terribly. Especially with Cheney skulking around claiming that Bush left the GM mess to the next guy.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Zombies Calling - Or Why Sporks Are Important Tools

Let's count the awesomeness of Zombie Calling, shall we? First, Whedony references galore. Galore I tell you! From Zombies communicating by saying "Grr"-"Arg" to the lead (female) character name being 'Joss', the comic is full of win. But going beyond that, it is full of feminist win too. That's right, a book about zombies has three main characters, two of them girls, and passes the Bechdel Test. I realize the book's about two years old now, but it's new to me; and that's all that matters, right? What I deem important? Ahem. Sorry. Zombie Calling and the fumes from the wood stain have made me a little giddily light-headed.

First things first. The book is done in black and white (as can be seen by the image above), and is a nice little jaunt of fun. I finished it in about 30 or so minutes, but several of those minutes were spent laughing, transcribing a couple of scenes, and trying to figure out how to transcribe a couple of scenes without ruining the spine of the book so John doesn't kill me. And yet, even though it is a quick read, it is also one that I could see returning to again and again, much like an illustrated My Life and Hard Times (which is probably my favorite book of all time).
JOSS: First, we need weapons.
SONNET: What? You can't fight them.. We don't even know what they are!
JOSS: They're zombies, and we have to fight. We're the survivors. The survivors fight the zombies. That's a rule. Now, lessee -- Usually something sporty is best to fight with -- A baseball bat, golf club, hockey stick... or if you're really clever -- --A cricket bat!
ROBYN: I got a spork.
There a couple of things of note in this scene. First, Joss, she of Whedony name, is the authority on zombie matters. Which is cool, partially because Joss is cool and partially because Joss is a girl who (a) knows about zombies and (b) is looked to by her other two dormmates as the person who knows about zombies. Second, this scene brings up Joss' Anglophile-nature, and also the introductory scene of Casey Jones:
CASEY: New game, round head. [takes out cricket bat] Cricket.
RAPHAEL: Cricket? Nobody understands cricket. You gotta know what a crumpet is to understand cricket.
As a bit of an aside, I have always known what a crumpet is, and still have no idea what happens in cricket. Now, back to the scene. There is something hilarious about a spork, unless you are unfortunate enough to have to eat with one. It is one of the least threatening of the utensils (though I would venture that a spoon would be even less threatening), and practically uselss besides. To have a spork as a weapon when battling zombies is a poor situation to be in. And yet, not only does it seem to be one of the only options, not only does it seem to be Robyn throws out for serious consideration, but it also turns out to be quite the zombie-fighting weapon indeed. This is kind of like the moment in Jaws, when Quint throws his machete into the boat. Both the machete and spork are highlighted and come into greater significance later.

One of the other things that makes Zombies Calling wonderful is the exceptional dialogue. These three people sound like people, with their quirks and weird asides and craziness. At the same time, what makes them worth reading is that they have better lines than a majority of us would have ever, let alone in the midst of a zombie attack:
SONNET: Guns? Why would we have guns?
JOSS: It's a rule of zombie movies. No matter where the characters go, firearms are readily available. So there's gotta be some guns here somewhere. Maybe in the bathroom. Stuff's always magically appearing and disappearing in there.
SONNET: This is CANADA. We don't have any guns! I've never even seen a gun! I mean, I think the army has a couple --
JOSS: Canada has guns, lots of 'em. That's what I heard in that Bowling for Columbine movie.
ROBYN: You should never believe anything Michael Moore says.
JOSS: Why not? I know the guy's biased, but --
ROBYN: Michael Moore is an evil dirty hippie liar, and a traitor to the patriot cause.
JOSS: You've been surfing that Republican website again, haven't you?
ROBYN: They gave me a bumper sticker in exchange for my immortal soul.
Don't feel too badly, Robyn. I've done crazy things for bumper stickers too. Although I now do have a car, so maybe I've got one up on you. And also, they're generally for organizations/philosophies I actually support, which you don't seem to, if Joss and Sonnet are any sort of credible source. So, two up on you.

Zombies Calling does something else spectacularly. It engages social issues without seeming pat or overly cloying. It isn't incredibly deep about these issues, but it highlights them, asks for the reader to recognize them, and then moves on - because, hey, this is a comic book about a zombie attack and these characters' lives are in danger. Case in point:
ROBYN: Hey, Joss?
JOSS: Yeah?
ROBYN: You know how in horror movies, as long as you don't have sex you'll survive the knife-wielding maniac? Does... um... Never having sex mean... Um, I'll survive the zombies?
SONNET: You've never had sex?
ROBYN: Hey, c'mon, it's not that big a deal! I've almost had sex at least four times!
JOSS: But Robyn, it's you! You're a walking cliche, the guy who carries around a book filled with signatures from the women you've allegedly slept with!
SONNET: Just last week you were claiming you'd boffed the entire theatre department!
ROBYN: FIne, so I lied! You don't understand how much pressure there is for a guy to score!
SONNET: Oh GOD, Robyn!
ROBYN: Look, I was just asking about the zombies, okay?? Just forget I said anything.
SONNET: Yeah, that's not going to happen, Robyn.
JOSS: I've never had sex either.
ROBYN: Really?
JOSS: Yup! I mean, I've never even had a boyfriend, so... Yeah. Virgin hi-five?
ROBYN: Hah. Damn straight.
SONNET: Whatever, you freaks. I had sex last week.
JOSS: She doesn't get a hi-five.
There are a couple of things I love from that exchange. First and foremost, that the comic book acknowledges not everyone has sex; people that could be considered attractive, people that are college-age, people that are out of freshman year, boys and girls, are able to not have sex and for that not having sex to not be a tremendous deal. And yet, on the flip side of the coin, having sex isn't bad either. In one scene, Faith Erin Hicks manages to tackle both of these states of being without granting validity to one side over the other. Both sides are a-okay to be. Which is tres cool. Another point of coolness of this exchange is the understanding of masculinity as a performance. Robyn articulates that, somewhat crudely, when he exclaims that Joss and Sonnet "don't understand how much pressure there is on a guy to score". That right there is recognizing how certain aspects of masculinity are policed and enforced. If a guy doesn't 'score', doesn't have a pad with the signatures of the girls he's slept with, then somehow or another he is a failed being. He isn't fully masculine. And although both girls are surprised at Robyn's announcement, it doesn't detract from how they see him (though they think he's a perv and an idiot, so maybe that isn't quite so full of win as it could be with a different guy) - and he gains a bit of solidarity from Joss at the same time. He develops an interpersonal bond because he is open about his experience. The third thing I love about that interplay is how casually Sonnet states, "I had sex last week". Yes, I've already expressed how well I think Hicks played the acceptance of the virgin and not aspect of the scene. But I also loved how comfortable Sonnet is in just laying it out there, without qualifying her statement at all.

And as much as I love the scene above, what with its interplay of seriousness and light-heartedness, this is the moment of heart that gets me:
JOSS: You know what scares me? My student loan. I've figured it out: when I graduate, I'll have the same amount of debt my parents had when they bought their first house. I'll have a mortgage but nowhere to live. I could be paying it off until I'm forty. It's kind of a crummy way to start out your adult life, owing your soul to a bank or the government.
Student loans are something I don't have to worry about, but that plenty of my friends do. It sucks that education has become so expensive. It sucks that we place such a monetary burden on people who need a college education to do something as simple as get a well-paying job. I know there are jobs that pay well without needing a college education, but for the vast majority of people in the Western world, a college diploma now is what a high school diploma was 40 years ago. And it sucks that in order to get that diploma, people have to embroil themselves in as much debt as they do.

That isn't to say Zombies Calling is perfect. There is the whole bit where the zombie creator does a bit of monologuing to our three heros, laying out why he's done what he's done and bringing the metaphor full circle. The brilliance of zombie movies, the brilliance of fantasy, is that what happens within them can be a metaphor for a whole hell of a lot. Even in movies like Shaun of the Dead, where the zombie metaphor is for the utter inanity of a meaningless and unfulfilling life, it is still up to the reader to recognize that. Simon Pegg didn't turn the camera toward him and give us the lowdown on what meant what. And yet, that is what Hicks does here, with these zombies coming into being for a professor of - I'm assuming here - literature's metaphor about the educational system and the people who are within that academic system, and with the professor telling us and Joss et al this. To that I say:
  1. A literature professor should (a) be able to come up with a better metaphor and (b) know that he should never explain his metaphors. To explain a metaphor means the metaphor truly serves no purpose. The metaphor's whole raison d'etre is to illustrate. If the creator of the illustration explains it himself, then there was no point of the illustration to begin with.
  2. Following point 1, I can't see what Joss could have written about Macbeth to deserve a B- if this is the best this particular professor could come up with.
  3. This professor is obviously part of the zombification and so should loathe himself more than the students he teachers, because this whole living metaphor is something he should be ashamed of.
  4. The whole "getting the bad guy monologuing bit is so cliched, it really needs to be retired unless done by Pixar.
Also, why doesn't Sonnet, as a goth girl, drink coffee? She's a black-dyed hair poetry writer. That person digs coffee. She should totally be zombified.

Even with that, Zombies Calling is pretty damn incredible. I think I'm in love. Oh, and because of Zombies Calling, whenever something goes drastically wrong, I'm probably going to say, "Crumbs!" And I love any work that impacts my own verbal stylings, so automatic 'A' there.

Crossposted at WitWar.

Saturday Sesame Street

Oh, Forgetful Jones:

I loved it when Kermit was on Sesame Street, because he was always so put off by the craziness that surrounded him.

And I love that hay bale at the end.

What Was The National Review Thinking?!

There is so much "no" in this one cover, it's kind of hard to even begin to formulate a coherent thought. Let's start with this one: The National Review, though  a beacon for actual, intellectual conservative thought for much of its tenure, has in recent years given itself seemingly entirely to a branch of Republicanism and conservative thought not worth the paper on which it is printed. This cover is an example of that particular trend, and it is a shortcut example of why the Republican Party and conservatism in general is becoming more and more the party of white, southern men and not all that appealing to almost anyone else. After all, this image conflates one distinct minority group with another distinct minority group. Talk about a "all you people look the same" racist moment in action.

The very use of Buddhism as the natural implementation of wisdom is also highly problematic, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it propagates the notion of Asians as inherently wise, as inherently spiritual, as inherently Buddhist. It makes wisdom for minorities dependent on an external function, whereas if it were a white man in the picture, the link to spirituality would not be necessary to highlight his wisdom; and if his wisdom was linked to a religion, it would most likely be his own instead of the religion we stereotype as exemplifying wisdom.

Buddhism used in relation to Sotomayor's wisdom is yet another clusterfuck of racism. The 'wise [Catholic] Latina' can't be represented as wise through an image that relates to any aspect of her person or heritage; no, it can only be understood by appropriating the popular image of Buddhism, and by extension Asians. Buddhists can be seen as wise, Asians can be seen as wise, but Latinas on their own cannot be automatically seen as wise. And in making Sotomayor in the image of a South Asian Buddhist monk in a decidedly un Puerto Rican or Bronx-like environment, the cover erases Sotomayor's own life, the life that led to the "wise Latina" remark in the first place.

Coolness of the Day

Band-Aid® boxes now have braille. From what I can gather, since there doesn't seem to have been any sort of promotion or press release, it just says "Band-Aid"; but I thought it was pretty frickin' cool. And it reinforces my own brand loyalty to Band-Aid.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sotomayor & Blind Justice

Try as I might, I can't understand what is so controversial about the Sotomayor quote that has gained the amount of traction it has; the one where she said in 2001, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life." 

I don't see it as a racist remark, I don't really see how it could be a racist remark, and perhaps more importantly I can see no basis for the position Richard Viguerie took on the May 26th airing of Talk of the Nation:
"My gosh, what happened to the idea that justice is supposed to be blind? Almost in every court in America, we have the statue of Justice there with the scales, and there's a blindfold over her eyes because justice is supposed to be blind. And there's a saying written over the Supreme Court, 'We are a nation of laws, not of men'. And the idea that you take into consideration the status of the defendant instead of what the law is, is a radical, frightening position."
Nothing in the quote, a quote when taken in the larger context of her speech as a whole is clearly about racial and gender discrimination in particular and not judicial philosophy in general, mentions the defendant. It is entirely about the "wise Latina woman" in question; in the context of the speech, Sotomayor was simply postulating that someone with firsthand experience in gender or racial discrimination would be more informed, and more intimately informed, than someone who had not had the misfortune of experiencing the world in such a way. A wise white man may intellectually understand racial discrimination and gender discrimination, but he is missing a the lived day to day moments of that life in this time and place.

Besides which, Justice, in the Plutonian Form, may be always equal and blind, may be objective and always rational and always right. But here on this earth, with all of our flaws and our lives and our biases and prejudices, justice can be blind in a wholly different way than the ideal. Blind in the way an all male, all white Court may - nay, will - have problems fully understanding the difficulties of the Other. In a world where white is raceless and male is genderless, in a world where white equals objective and male equals rational, the "wise Latina woman" may actually be better prepared to handle the prospective minefields of race and gender, because she has had to live intimately with both while navigating a dominant culture predicated on the normalcy of whiteness and maleness. I'm not saying white men cannot work to educate themselves; there are progressives who are truly versed in gender and race dynamics, who own their privilege. But - speaking as a white girl who is at times desperately trying to, and failing to, navigate the different dynamics of race in America and the world - the disparity women face, the disparity Latin@s face, African-Americans face, Asians face, is something that white men are privileged to ignore, even if they genuinely do not wish to. Parts of the world that would be ingrained in a Sotomayor, like not lashing out after being called an "Affirmative Action pick" when she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Princeton, was editor of the Yale Law Review, and has more judicial experience than any of the current Supreme Court justices had when they were nominated, are not ingrained in me as a white woman - and not ingrained in any white man.  

There is a reason this image:

was produced. It is because some white men were finally feeling like they were in the position minorities and women and minority women have been in for almost the entire history of our country. Except, the white men who are freaking out right now only feel like they are in the position minority women and women and minorities have occupied for so long, only feel like they are being reversely discriminated against. Before 1981, no woman had served on the Supreme Court. Before 1967, no African-American had. Before Sotomayor (assuming she's confirmed), no minority woman has. There are a hella lot of us who have been left out of the American dream. Hell, it was only in 1960 that we elected a Catholic president, and Catholics have been here since the damn place was colonized. So, this is really the first time a white man didn't have an almost automatic bid, the first time a white guy was probably not seriously considered. Because there is the acknowledgement that this isn't a white guy's job to have; there is the acknowledgement that different people have different experiences, and 'white' and 'male' doesn't mean 'objective' and 'rational' or 'better' and 'more qualified'. There is the acknowledgement that in a nation as diverse as ours, a white man isn't always going to be considered for the main spot, that the white guy (and let's be honest, the white girl) isn't going to be in the limelight, isn't always going to be recognized. It stings a little. As a conceited and selfish human being myself, I know how it feels to not constantly be acknowledged as the absolute Best Person in the World, to get a head nod but otherwise brushed off.

But seriously, if we are to move forward as a country, we have to recognize that this:
Much is being made of the fact that Sonia Sotomayor had to struggle to rise in the world. But stop and think.

If you were going to have open-heart surgery, would you want to be operated on by a surgeon who was chosen because he had to struggle to get where he is, or by the best surgeon you could find — even if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and had every advantage that money and social position could offer?
doesn't really get it. Because whatever you think of Sotomayor's judicial philosophy (and stop by this post to read more about that - and if you're extra nice, comment because it is my friend's birthday today), she is by all accounts an exceptional person - not woman, not Latina, not Hispanic, not New Yorker, though she is certainly an exceptional each one of those as well. She is an exceptional, bright, qualified person. She may not have been born into privilege, but her struggle hasn't made her into a second-rate justice. There is some question about whether she is the liberal answer to Antonin Scalia; but even if she is not (and no one on the Court is), she is enormously qualified to be a Justice. At this point in the process, unless you're Harriet Miers, you don't make it into consideration without being the best of the best. The only thing that separates those nominated and those not are those intangibles that make up any nominating process. Every so often, there comes a time when there is one obvious choice, but generally, everyone on the list is the best surgeon in the country. Everyone on the list 'deserves' to be there. And Sonia Sotomayor deserves to be there.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why I Watch Keith Olbermann

Because every so often, he has moments like this, where he isn't his pompous windbaggy self (and don't get me wrong, I love self-righteously angry Olbermann as well - it just isn't why I watch him), but is angry without being bombastic and coming up with a pretty good plan of attack:

"It is useless to urge restraint on men who believe self-editing of freedom of speech apply only to others, that they are flawless and blameless and righteous. It is useless to make Frank Schaeffer's argument even though they have made parallel ones about how 'liberal' television degrades children, about how 'liberal' television hypnotizes voters, about how liberal entertainment destroys American values. When they reply, "Not in this case, bad apple, tv can't make that happen", it is useless to say, "If tv can't make something happen, then why do people advertise on it with the same commercial again and again and again in hopes of making buzz words sink in. The Geico Gecko, Viva Viagra, Free Credit Report dot Com. Tiller the Baby Killer...

...So what to do? Your boycotts mean little. You are already here; you are not watching Fox News Channel. Advertiser boycotts are also of limited value. Most make barely a dent in a company. Besides which, in this economy, an advertiser who found its sales boosted by association with Malaria would start breeding mosquitos. If there is a solution, it is perhaps an indirect boycott. It is probably your experience, as it has been mine, that stores, bars, restaurants, waiting rooms, often show Fox News on their televisions. Don't write a letter, don't make a threat. Just get up and explain. If they will not change the channel, leave the place and say calmly why it is you are taking your business elsewhere..."

I have to say, it is a workable plan.