Monday, March 30, 2009

An Example of Sexism

My sister studies basketball. She watches every game possible; she goes over the film; she watches old games and new ones, NBA games and NCAA games, and she plays the game every chance she gets. There isn't a rule she doesn't know, or a call she can't make. She eats, breathes, and lives basketball. She isn't a natural player; she's intuitive, but not gifted. Her real strength comes from her obsessive nature, and also her inability to accept her own limitations. It makes this time of the year an absolute hell, because it is March Madness time, and because I live in UConn Country. Watching games with her is agonizing, because she is not only a basketball aficionado but because she's a talkative know-it-all who has to provide her own running commentary throughout the games. It makes actually enjoying my UConn Huskies games more than a little difficult. At the same time, it does mean that if you want to know some obscure or semi-obscure rule of the game, or just something that makes little sense, she's the one to ask. 

At dinner tonight, she came home with this:
These morons at school were wondering why UConn is playing in the West Region of the Bracket. Saying, like, 'What, they aren't anywhere near the West'. And of course, they wouldn't even let me start to explain it to them, because they were guys.
This is what sexism is. It is not recognizing that the girl next to you, the one who has been on basketball leagues since elementary school, might have some knowledge to impart on a subject. It is dividing centers of expertise down gender lines. Now, knowing that my sister is, in fact, a know it all asshole, it is more than likely that she started her opening sentence with something like, "You morons"; but still, she looked defeated in a way she very rarely does, because it is very hard to actually defeat a know-it-all asshole (I should know, since I share that familial trait). She knew the answer, and was denied imparting that wisdom to less crazed basketball fans. And the guys? Well, they missed out on an explanation for how NCAA brackets are formed.

There's another part of this, and that is my own sexist moment. When my sister started going on about the 'morons' in her school pondering the philosophy of the NCAA bracket, I did immediately cast the primary players as girls. There was no gendered language to alert me either way. Because of that, I immediately assumed ignorant about sports=female. With the basketball nut sitting across from me, the soccer nut sitting next to her, and the baseball nut on the other side of me. Three people, all carrying that XX gene, all carrying encyclopedic knowledge about their respective sports (and, for two out of the three, an encyclopedic knowledge on cars as well). I could dismiss this as being just a symptom of my own non-sport mindedness, but I don't think that is the case. It is because even with Title IX and the Women Huskies, even with all the returning college kids (girls and boys) meeting at the girls' high school basketball games in my town, even with my feminism, there's still this idea floating around the ether that boys know sports and girls don't. It is why those boys refused to listen to my sister; it is why I didn't entertain the thought that the so-called morons could be anything other than girls. And my sister, both of them actually, get lost in that shuffle.

If she were a different kid, I'd worry that the next time some boys were sitting around talking sports and being 'morons' about it, my sister wouldn't even try to step in to correct them. Luckily, that isn't who she is. She may be many things, but meek generally isn't one of them. And yet, I do worry about it; mostly, I worry that one day I'm going to get a call to bail her out of jail because she snapped when someone questioned her understanding of the game. Really, though, I worry that one day, she will stop being the know-it-all nudge she is. I worry that this kind of gender essentialism will slowly cut into her. I worry that she will not just feel defeated for the moment, but that it will be a low-grade cloud hanging over her, distracting her from her deep and passionate love for this game. Sure, it would make my life better if I didn't have to hear her screaming at the coaches, refs, and players who can't hear her anyway. For starters, I'd actually be able to hear the people who were paid to talk about the game. Still, I don't want that happening to her. I don't want her to feel like a part of her is being ignored because it doesn't fit with the boy-girl dynamic.

Yes, sexism hurts boys too. Those boys probably didn't want to get corrected by a girl sophomore. It would have possibly been considered embarrassing. To tell you the truth, I'm concerned about that as well. But I'm not related to them. I'm related to a quirky, crazy, intelligent, passionate, obsessive kid who loves sports more than almost anything else. And I don't want her to ever feel like that love is something that doesn't jive with the rest of her. Because it does; and I want to see her continue to glow in the wonderment of it all. Even when she's being a pain in the neck.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I absolutely adore this French short animated film:

It had been up for an Oscar; I saw it on Sunday Morning, it lost, and I kind of forgot about it until about 5 minutes ago. So funny, especially when they start inking the cook.

I'd also recommend watching this commercial from Pixar:

"Joss Whedon and the Real Girl"

Culled from the Feministing Weekly Feminist Reader is this article about Joss Whedon, and what it means to be human. I think it's interesting, partially from the selfish glee I got when I realized the article went to the same place I did in the "Dawn-Echo" comparison in the 'what does it mean to be human' question that continually permeates Whedon's work. But also because it is truly a piece that acknowledges what Dollhouse can be, and what it is lacking.

I also love the title, which is the title of this post. One of my favorite lines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, "All right, yes, date and shop and hang out and go to school and save the world from unspeakable demons. You know, I wanna do girlie stuff!" The juxtaposition with dating and shopping with saving the world, all falling under the category of 'girlie stuff' in such a mundane way, encapsulated not only what the show was for me but also what I think Whedon's best weapon in terms of a feminist message is. Girlie stuff, far from being a minute list of activities filled with pink and bows and skirts, encompasses what girls do. Girls can save the world; girls saving the world is cool. Girls saving the world aren't becoming "masculine"; they are eschewing gender norms, but that doesn't mean letting go of being a 'girl'. It means changing the definition of what is meant by being a girl. It means changing the perimeters of what we allow ourselves to think of as girlish behavior. Whedon does it again and again. We are told at various points in the series that Buffy is "just a girl", usually right before she does something to save the world. In the season finale of season five, right before heading off to battle a hell goddess, Buffy saves a teen from a vampire attack, ending with this exchange:
BOY: But... you're just a girl.
BUFFY: That's what I keep saying.
Buffy is just a girl, albeit a super powered one. But what Whedon does so deftly is to change the meaning of that phrase. Usually used as a diminution of girls and women, Whedon uses the phrase almost as a call to power.

If Buffy is just a girl and wears that proudly, then she isn't an example of the extraordinary female. She isn't someone who transcends her gender in order to perform heroic feats. Instead, she is a girl who performs heroic feats. Her girlness is a key part of who she is. Whedon's brilliance in creating Buffy Summers is partially the fact that he allows her to be a girlie girl, without having that part of her be any less than the rest of her. Aspects of girls that are traditionally considered frivolous, and yet ironically things we as a society expect girls to take part in, become an aspect of strength. The knowledge Buffy gains from her love of fashion, for example, helps just as much in picking vampires out of a crowd as Giles' more respectable book-learning does. Buffy's consumption of pop culture, her quips, her heels, her dating, all mesh with her knowledge of beheading techniques, her fighting, and her ability to continually save the world from certain doom; and what comes out is a girl no less real than one who isn't thinking about beheading techniques and ambush tactics, who, in turn, is just as much a 'real girl' as the girl who thinks of nothing but. Likewise, Kaylee is no less a girl because she is an excellent mechanic; her mechanical skills are no less because she loves sex and pink pouffy dresses. Willow is no less of a girl because she has seen "the softer side of Sears" and doesn't wear make-up, preferring instead to hack computers in her spare time; she is no less a computer whiz once she gets a boyfriend.

And in conjunction with that is how Whedon tackles different aspects of humanity, generally through women. His men, even though they are powerful, wonderful, three-dimensional characters in their own rights, are rarely utilized to answer the question "what does it mean to be human?" Even when the men exist in the same space as the women, like in Dollhouse, women are still the focus. Buffy, with her superpowers; Dawn, with her spontaneous 14 year oldness; River, with her government-imposed craziness; Echo, with her blank slate life. It certainly opens up the question of 'why always the women, Joss?!'; but I think that question is easily answered. One, Whedon has said that the powerful woman is his "identification figure", going farther to say:
Those characters are the person I am in my fiction. They're like my avatars. I really hadn't realized that and it's weird for me not to. All those years of writing Buffy, I'd say, 'Well, I relate to Xander.' And it was always Buffy. Buffy was always the person that I was in that story because I'm not in every way. Why my identification figure is female, I'm not exactly sure but she is.
 Yet, he also because seems to want to explore this:
What is wrong with women?

I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.

How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.
His writing generally starts with this premise. Who is sent out to fight the vampires? A young girl. Who is utilized by the government? A young girl. He starts from there, because that is where the thinking is. Because we as a culture do see women as something other than the norm, as something less, as objects to be used. But that is not where he stays. He creates worlds to illuminate his perception of where we are, and then he seeks to demonstrate why this thinking is harmful, and why it is wrong. In an odd way, Whedon seems to like to take what I consider the end product from works like The Yellow Wallpaper or The Awakening, and brings them back. Society breaks them, but they - with help from their friends - fix themselves. He also balances those women out with a variety of other women and men. And what comes out at the end of the day is the conclusion that all of this women are 'real girls', and the men are real too. That they are precious and unique, "actual and whole", and far from expendable.

I don't think Dollhouse is there yet; I don't know if it will ever get there, or if it will be allowed to get there. I see the formation of these ideas shining through, like beacons. It is there when Boyd moves from seeing Echo as something other than a person to someone he cares about, even if every time they meet he is a stranger to her - and in a strange way, her to him. But I do think that no matter what, Echo is being presented as a real girl, just a different kind of one. And that difference doesn't make her any more expendable than any of the others.

On another note, I'm going to try to not post on Whedon for at least 6 days, and post on other stuff in that time. Every day! Let's see if I can do it, shall we?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "Echoes"

Story time:
A long time ago, when Stephen Colbert was still only a correspondent for The Daily Show, I loved him. I'm pretty sure he was the guy who did my favorite bit the show offered, that being someone who went to the Deep South to root out anti-Northern sentiment and came back fully indoctrinated in the fight against Northern Aggression. He had a map that looked something like this (stolen from here; the rest of the site is pretty cool, by the way):
he discussed the different tactics and strategies, denied the North had won, referenced different "territories", and was hilarious. But then he got his own show in 2005, and I hated it. My friends love it. My parents love it. I can sometimes hear them laughing hysterically in the other room when The Colbert Report is on. But then I walk in, and stoney silence ensues. I am a Colbert killer. He just isn't funny when I'm there. Frankly, I'm not convinced he's ever that funny; I certainly haven't seen it. The reason for this tale of Colbert-woe on a post about Dollhouse? Well, I was starting to think my parents were Dollhouse killers, though that moniker doesn't flow quite as well as Colbert killer. I came to this conclusion because my parents only see alternate weeks of Dollhouse; I watch it with my best friend, and we switch off houses. Week 1, with "Ghost", my house. Week 2, with the awesome "The Target"? Best Friend's house. And so on and so forth. And inevitably, the episodes we watched at my house were weaker. So when this week's episode started with the cringe-worthy dialogue and acting of the fly scene, I was a bit concerned. When Echo/Alice's story started, I told them they weren't allowed to watch the show any more.

I realize that this isn't truly their fault; Palidone made this astute observation:
"When Whedon is on, he’s capable of producing amazing television, but when he’s off, it’s a bit like watching a talented dancer start off on the wrong foot."
That pretty much sums everything up. For every "Restless", there is a "Where the Wild Things Are". For every "Objects in Space", there is a "Shindig". For every "Once More with Feeling" there is, well, much of the other scenes in season 6 (and I like season 6). The trade off isn't equal; the good greatly outweighs the bad, or the not-up-to-par. Also, I'm willing to watch subpar episodes because they are generally still enjoyable and I think it is important to acknowledge that sometimes ideas just fall flat. But while I love the thought behind a lot of the Dollhouse episodes, the themes the show is exploring, the actual execution has just been, for the most part, okay-to-good. I like the show, but it wasn't truly magically brilliant. Last week's episode was the turning point, and - death by glass window aside - this week's episode was a continuation of that. My parents? Apparently not Dollhouse killers. Which is good to know, because I rather like my house and my television and not having to drive 45 minutes at the end of the night.

Let me make it clear; for the drugged Topher-DeWitt interactions alone, this episode is made of win. Seriously. Adelle bouncing on the trampoline was hilarious, and Topher keeping it semi-together without pants was incredible. Don't believe me? Watch this:

And this:

I think my favorite thing may be DeWitt climbing over the bar, and the fact that both she and Topher do it later in the episode as if there is no other way to get down and up to that portion of the facility.

I read in a few places that "Echoes" is Dollhouse's "Band Candy", and I find myself agreeing in a large way. Both episodes deal with an altered state among the population usually in charge. Both episodes use this altered state to bring the hilarity. But as much as I love "Band Candy" (teenage Giles rocks my socks, as does teenage Snyder), I think this episode became, by its very nature, more complex than "Band Candy" could ever boast. In sharp contrast to the antics of Adelle and Topher are what the individual Dolls go through. Last week's discovery that Hearn was raping Sierra delved to new depths when we see Sierra 'glitch' to that traumatic event. It was horrific, both in content and delivery. Special Agent Victor's memory of a wartime trauma was also devastating. And the two of them reacting to each other, both oblivious to and complicit in the reinforcement of those traumatic memories, was tragic. This is where the show, I think, is; the aftereffects of the events are still seared into the Dolls, still present and not dealt with. They cannot escape it, but at the same time, they don't know that past exists. And yet, Sierra is still a rape victim; and the show does not shy away from that. It would be easy to. Given the very nature of the show and the wiping process, it would have been incredibly simple to just let that moment fade, a one-shot meant to make a point about the nature of the Dollhouse. But Joss and Company didn't go that route, and I am appreciative of it. That decision also goes to the heart of what the show can be, what I hope it is and what I see it as being.

What the show can be is also being demonstrated through witnessing the recruitment process. I'm still of the mind that Eliza Dushku is not a good actor. The recruitment scene with DeWitt is painful for me to watch, and not solely because Caroline's very autonomy is being stripped from her. Part of it may be a result of the dialogue in those scenes; but part of it is Dushku's semi-mouth breathing acting style therein. Even with that, the whole "they signed up for this" argument pretty much falls by the wayside. Caroline's tenure as a Doll was coerced; as was Sam's. They both may have had opportunity to refuse, though Caroline was kept in a room for two days with no "frickin' idea where" she was and DeWitt had been tracking her for two or so years; those facts kind of fly in the face of free and autonomous consent. And even if Sam had the ability to refuse, to walk away, DeWitt knew which buttons to push in order to facilitate his acquiescence. The assumption of free will falls by the wayside. Yes, the soon to be Actives make choices; and no, the choice they make may not be the best one for the situation in which they find themselves. But that choice, and the actions that brought them to the Dollhouse's attention, still is not reason enough to turn them into objects to be used. What's more, DeWitt seems to recognize this; her reaction to Caroline/Echo is interesting. She specifically works to keep Echo off of the campus. In her own way, she seems to realize that a severance package and promise of monthly stipends does not limit the evil doings of the organization.

Speaking of evil-doings, Topher continues to demonstrate his amorality with his drug rant:
Could be phases, could be... a little thing I like to call body chemistry. We're all our own little cesspools of hormones, enzymes, chemical reactions. It's the same as any drug - herion, cocaine, caffeine, how your body reacts depends on a multitude of indefinable factors. You snort horse once, don't like it, you go back to your organic tea, have a nice life. I do it once, whoo. I'm doing two bags a day for 20 years. One toot for you, adios, amigo. That's what's so exciting about drugs!
The scene reminded me strongly of an exchange on Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
GILES: Grave robbing? That's new. Interesting.
BUFFY: I *know* you meant to say gross and disturbing.
Except Topher isn't Giles, and doesn't have someone like Buffy to pull him back to the moral side of the argument. This isn't a momentary lapse into sciency giddiness. This is who he is. Topher is scientific mind run amuck, like the Operative was government run amuck in Serenity. It is dangerous, and more than slightly scary even if Topher cannot perform the physical feats of The Operative. Perhaps it is even more scary because of that. Instead of coming after you himself, he can just program someone to do it for him. And lose no sleep over it. Which is why his reaction to N-7316 is so intriguing.

Assuming that Fran Kranz can act (as I do), Topher is the one who remains closest to himself and his own goals throughout the course of the episode. DeWitt is still primarily herself, but she becomes incredibly unfocused and like bouncing on the trampoline. Dominic experiences a guilty conscience over his attempt to burn Echo alive (after all, "who does that?") and asserts that there is more to him than what we see. Boyd loses Echo and plays the piano. And yet, although somewhat affected and pantsless, Topher maintains his focus on the issues at hand with only somewhat distracted by his drawer of inappropriate starches. A good friend of mine thinks that's because Topher's a closet druggie. But I wonder if it is because he is less of an adult. He has less of a developed moral code than the others. He seems to have little impulse control, and no ability to stop the ramblings that trickle out of his mouth. He needs his juice boxes. His wrong-doings cannot be explained away by his less than adultishness; in fact, that very thing could be a condemnation. I was interested in that aspect, even though it shot my own theory that Topher may have been a Doll to hell. In its own handbasket.

Another point of interest was Echo's reaction as Alice; for the first time, we see her truly go off-mission. Before, she was always on task, though adapting to the requirements of that task in a way that alarmed Dominic. This time, she up and leaves Tie Boy and makes her way to the college. She has access to traumatic memories before coming in contact with the drug. She is driven to an attempt to fix what had previously gone wrong, and as she tells Sam, "I just have to listen to myself". That is what she has been denied; that is what she is starting to retain.

Final Grade: A

Line I Will Be Quoting: "You're not overwhelming me with specificity".

Saturday Sesame Street

I absolutely loved this song when I was little. I still have no idea why:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "Man on the Street"

"Man on the Street" put a nail in the coffin of whether Dollhouse is going to be an exploitive show or a show that examines exploitation, coming down on the side of the latter. Whether or not that is the final nail is yet to be seen; considering that Joss Whedon is human, I doubt it. I'm sure there will be missteps and stumbles. Nonetheless, it was incredibly satisfying; it demonstrated what the show could be, and how it could be. It deftly opened the door to the disturbing precipices the Dollhouse as an organization occupies, as well as the cracks the show seeks to shed light into. First things first, though; the man on the street aspect of it, having the action and arc of the episode intercut with the news report and 'real' people on the street was a stroke of brilliance that would have been better suited for an earlier episode. Like, the first one. I know John hates exposition dialogue, and I do as well. But what gets me about Joss Whedon is his ability to have exposition dialogue suit a purpose; characters very rarely actually step outside of the drama to tell the audience what the Really Important Point Is. That isn't to say that he doesn't telegraph what that Really Important Point may be, but he usually works it into the actual action. Like the reporter telling his viewers, and thereby us because we are them, "what's interesting about this urban legend is the wide spectrum of reactions we encountered from every day Angelenos to the very idea of a Dollhouse". And by presenting a wide range of those views, both in interviews and through situations, we become more aware of our own reactions.

But first things first; I hate to say it, because I don't need any more reasons to love Whedon, but I can't help but feel as if he writes women better than any other writer for television. And that is because he doesn't write them as "women", but as "people". Case in point: Mellie. Prior to "Man on the Street", I disliked Mellie. Somewhat severely, actually. She was bland, and she acted bland, and she sat at home baking Italian pasta dishes and then mispronouncing them. She was, in a word, pathetic - and more than slightly. But within two seconds of being written by Whedon, she was whole; she had a personality, a sweetness and an edge and a spark. She was an actualized character. After all, she "do[es] have access to important government information that" she doesn't understand. If Ballard told her that sleeping together was a mistake, she would be "cool"; and if he didn't, she would still be cool, just not as cool. And for a second reason to love Whedon in regard to Mellie: he broke his own trope. Usually in a Whedon work, the main character will experience some sort of monumental happiness (usually revolving around sex or a sexual activity or the hint of a sexual activity), and then have that moment (as well as, generally, another person) ripped away, by soul lossage or horrible death or being sent to hell. It happened with Buffy and Angel; it happened with Jenny and Giles; it happened again with Buffy and Angel; it happened with Tara and Willow. It is a theme he goes back to again and again, because it is easy; because it is shorthand for his omnipresent theme of "life is shit". And I will be perfectly honest in that I was swearing at the television screen during the commercial break and when Hearn was beating up Mellie, and I was prepared to foreswear Dollhouse forever and Whedon until his next project (what? Whedon is my drug!). But he surprised me by having Mellie actually be a Doll. That, in turn, explained so much about Mellie as a person. Questions like why she was so fixated on Ballard and how she could afford to just hang out all day in her apartment were answered. She is fixated on Ballard because she is programed to be; she can hang out all day in her apartment because her rent is probably covered by the organization.

One more thing before I get into the meat and potatoes, philosophical/major themes of the episode. This scene:

Echo/Rebecca's appalled "Porn!" at the end to Boyd is all kinds of wonderful, including but not limited to the fact that this highly tense moment has the release of the comedic moment, and the fact that in a way, it really is porn in that it is simulated intimacy. What Joel Myner planned to do with Echo/Rebecca was to live in a fantasy world; it was to create that magical moment he never got to actually have with his 'real' Rebecca. And in order to fulfill that desire, he has to hire an actor, even though the girl in question never knows that she isn't the real Rebecca.

This leads directly to Hearn, and this scene:
DOMINIC: You're disgusting.
HEARN: Don't give me that! You put her under some fat, old emir, it makes it better because she thinks she's in love for all of a day? We're in the business of using people.
DEWITT: You understand less about this business than you think.
HEARN: And you don't get how it actually works down there. You put a bunch of stone foxes with no will power and no memory running around naked. Did you think this wouldn't ever happen?
While Hearn is disgusting, he is also right; the difference between what his raping of Sierra and what DeWitt, Dominic, and the Dollhouse organization do to Sierra and the Dolls on a daily basis is not large. DeWitt and Dominic attempt to maintain the moral high ground because they personally would never violate any of the Actives, but they send them out, night after night, to do things they would never do and be people they aren't. Just because the Dollhouse creates a situation of coerced consent doesn't make it so the Dolls are truly consenting. And at the end of the day, they are violated further by having all events stripped from them. As Ballard tells Myner, the circumstances surrounding that violation "doesn't make [them] anything other than a predator". That line follows up another thought present in Whedon's work, spanning back to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Lie to Me"; in it is the idea that your circumstances do not absolve you of your actions. Dying? There is still a choice to be made, and if you make the wrong choice, you are still the villain. Grieving? The same thing. Myner's exposition of why he hires the Dollhouse, why his fantasy is what it is makes him more of an understandable predator, but it does not change the very violation his actions bring.

Another sweeping theme occurred to me when Killer Echo told Ballard, "There are over 20 Dollhouses in cities around the world. They have ties to every major political power on the planet. The Dollhouse deals in fantasy. That is their business, but that is not their purpose". Echoes (pun very much not intended) of Firefly's Blue Sun Corporation waft around this very idea of a shadowy, larger than life corporation whose purpose is not its business. After all, the original schematic for Firefly was to have River's violation come at the hands not of the government but of Blue Sun; hence the men with hands of blue. It looks like Whedon is getting his second chance to tell that story.

Another overarching theme in Whedon's work is this idea of the individual fighting a Sisyphean battle against an unbeatable foe. Buffy against the forces of darkness; Angel against the evils of humanity; Mal against an authoritarian government. Each of these people pushing on because of the idea that "this is all gonna come apart. You might not be punished and I might not be alive, but this house will fall". For each of these characters, the idea that there is something grander worth fighting and dying for is what pushes them on. I find that thought to be oddly optimistic, because what is precluded is that there must be something worth dying for. Oftentimes in Whedon's work, that something is individual autonomy. So even though he might write this:
Forget morality. Imagine it's true. Imagine this technology being used. Now imagine it being used, on you. Everything you believe, gone. Everyone you love, strangers. Maybe enemies. Every part of you that makes you more than a walking cluster of neurons dissolved at someone else's whim. If that technology exists - it'll be used. It'll be abused. It'll be global. And we will be over. As a species. We will cease to matter. I don't know, maybe we should.
Dire and depressing. And yet, there is this spark that even if we should cease to matter, we don't - and that we need to keep fighting another day, even if that fight seems ultimately futile and useless. Because if we don't fight, we've lost everything.

A few other things of note: I thought it interesting that we see Boyd's moral code sharply contrasted with DeWitt's. Boyd does something because it is the right thing to do; stopping Hearn from hurting Sierra is built into his very fiber. But DeWitt cannot operate on a purely moral level, and so has to offer compensation. She has to create controlled circumstances, because otherwise her house of cards can easily come crumbling down. Her business only works if variables are quantifiable, and manageable. Someone who will go above and beyond his prescribed role because he feels he must, without any expectation of reward, is not a desirable variable. I also found it intriguing that Dominic's main concern seems to be DeWitt herself, her safety and her comfort. He is hired to protect the Dolls, and yet he seems to gravitate toward doing what he can to protect her.

Final Grade: A+

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Love Neil Gaiman

I promise I'll post something more substantial in the coming days; I mean, I still haven't reviewed the latest Dollhouse episode, even though it is an episode that totally blew my mind and made me rework (mentally) the grading of the other episodes to date. But I'm lazy, and instead of rewatching (again) and thinking, I curled up with Stephen Colbert and Neil Gaiman. And Jon Stewart and Bruce Springsteen, but I care more about Neil Gaiman (a lot more). So I'd suggest watching this interview, because Gaiman totally rocks my socks:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Neil Gaiman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Seeing this makes me kind of want to reread Neverwhere. Or maybe just watch the BBC production again...

P.S. My mother wants to know why I love such large men. She's a bit concerned that I love Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, and Jeff Goldblum.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Math Jokes Make Me Laugh

I don't actually like math, or doing it. But this xkcd comic made my day:

I think it is the excellent ending.

Gender and SXSW

While meandering around Feministing this morning, I saw the weekly "Feminist Friday Fuck You/Fuck Yeah" video (actually, I just read the transcript, because I'm the only one in my house who is awake, and to play the actual video would have been a bit rude). Since it was about SXSW, the insane and insanely long music festival I'm kind of sad I don't get to go to, it was even better:

One of the things that stands out to me is the fact that "the bands with even one female member is a whopping 388 out of 2000 bands". Like Samhita and Ann, I'm a bit appalled. I'm also a bit intrigued. I would think that there are a whole lot of social factors going into whether or not women would be playing in bands, including but not limited to how the culture at large influences who is interested in being a musician and who thinks they should be on the side of the stage offering their adoration, as well as a multitude of other factors that stem from both the sociological and the individual. After all, even in conceivably feminist-friendly spaces, the aura of the greater culture still looms. As Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads said regarding the early days of punk rock, ‘Women musicians tended to be treated like women drivers…if they aren’t much good, well what can you expect? And if they’re hot stuff, it is despite the fact they are women' ('RiotGrrl: Revolutions From Within', Signs, Vol 23, No. 3). 

That sort of stigma has to be somewhat debilitating as an artist, or even getting to the point where one wants to be an artist. If that mindset is still prevalent (and I see no indication that it is not), then it not only affects women who are musicians but the men judging them. If a woman is auditioning for a band or even looking to audition members for her own band, wouldn't it seem plausible for social assertions such as the kind Weymouth discussed to be - even unintentionally - damaging? Are women in bands an example of another case where women are, due to the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding them, judged differently than their male peers? It seems likely that Dr. Bonnie Bassler's conclusion about women in science, that "women scientists have to achieve two and a half times what their male counterparts have to achieve to have the same credibility" may be also applied to women in bands.

So, assuming that the amount of women even interested in making music is less than men (ignoring, for the moment, why that may be), then it would make sense for the amount of women and the amount of men in bands at festivals like SXSW wouldn't be equal. But the disparity between 388 bands that have even one female member versus the whole 2000 bands available seems a bit high. And questioning that seems like a good thing. Which is why questions like this on the Feministing post:
"Would you have rather they skimped on the acts they wanted to to play just so there would be more women there?"
rather confound me. Firstly, it sets up a false argument. The argument isn't that the promoters should have skimped on bands they wanted to play there in order to maintain a greater level of equality, but why is there such an inequality? What reasons could there be for people wanting to have more male bands play than bands that contain women? It could be as simple on an individual band level as "The bass line in band X is better than the whole of band Y". But in looking at the whole, a different set of issues emerge. Looking at the individual bands is focusing on the trees instead of the forest.

But almost more importantly, thoughts like the one above only reinforce societal inequities. There is a scene in American History X, where Edward Norton's father is talking about how in reading books written by people other than the white men who have always made up the tomes of great literature, there is some disservice being done to those other works. In essence, it boils down to the thought that to highlight a neglected work means to undervalue or ignore a work that has already been considered great. But that isn't really how it goes. If all we read is Shakespeare and Dickens and Twain, we miss the bigger picture. And we cut voices out of our bigger picture. Access to public space is an exercise of privilege - the privilege to be noted and noticed. Too often, the already privileged occupy that space, because they are, also too often, those who control the distribution. So instead of griping about demanding the sublimation of the organizers' own desires for gender equality - an equality that may already be hampered by things outside of their control - we should be looking at how who controls the modes of exposure helps or hampers those who become exposed, and how that affects things like parities between bodies, parities between gender divides and racial divides and even the content of songs.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

A friend of mine has a truly awesome library in her town, so in the couple of hours before Dollhouse last night, we went there to peruse the music section. And lo, we came away with some classically good finds; like, German Drinking Songs, and The Music of Russia, and Puccini's La Boheme (I don't know if there is any other La Boheme, but I like saying "Puccini"). Also, some Sam Phillips, Led Zeppelin, and The Shirelles. And also, Buffy Sainte-Marie. Buffy Sainte-Marie is a pretty awe-inspiring person, and her appearances on Sesame Street were great as well. Here's a short one, about breastfeeding:

I'm going to go listen to my borrowed CD!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Have A Secret

I'm kind of in love with the First Family. I love how the president is going off to town hall type meetings and meeting with people, even going to places and meeting people who didn't vote for him. I love Michelle Obama going around to D.C. public schools and talking about her own high school experience. I love President Obama utilizing his army of supporters in order to garner more support for his legislation. I love his somewhat understated wit. I love his constant speeches, even though I do worry about the whole "over saturated" aspect of the whole thing. And I absolutely adore that there is going to be an organic White House garden on the South Lawn with 55 different kinds of vegetables, and even some bee hives for honey. And unlike Jimmy Carter donning a sweater in order to convey to the American people that it might be in all of our best interests to get a little colder during the winter months instead of spending money on fuel, the Obamas actually make caring look cool. And that's what we need; yes, we need solutions to the complex problems of the day. But having people who are earnestly, actively out there, trying to make the world better and doing it themselves? People who are gardening and talking and generally engaged and intelligent? That is beyond awesome. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What I Want To Do:

See Savion Glover at the Joyce Theater. I got to thinking about Savion Glover today at work, while I was listening to MPR's Musicheads and they talked about a song called "Savion Glover" by hip hop artist P.O.S.:

P.O.S. "Savion Glover" by Yours Truly from HipHopDX on Vimeo.
Just the title of the song was enough to make me want to buy the album - but after hearing the song, I kind of want the album anyway. But also it made me think about Savion seriously for the first time in a while. Don't get me wrong, Savion Glover has been a love of my life since he was first on Sesame Street; plus, I still have his and Gregory Hines' Tap Dance in America on tape, and I still pull it out to watch every once in a while. I've seen Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, and I saw him perform a one-man show in college. Now, I'm ready to see Savion live again. It's so much fun, and he looks like he has so much fun doing it:

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Review of Dollhouse's "True Believer", Pt 2

This is part 2 of an extremely long post; part 1 is here.

I'm not going to beat around the bush; I had fully expected some sort of attack on religion, or at the very least on groupthink. But Minear was more clever than that, and it seems that Whedon is as well. Instead of simply doing a "cults equal badness and so does religion" thing, Minear explored how others would (and could) manipulate religion as they would manipulate anything else. As Minear said in an interview,
...I wanted the story turns to be rooted in the Dollhouse premise so I used the sci-fi angle to make a scientific miracle.
They could create a real woman who had really experienced a divine vision. And the fact that she was really blind proved that she wasn't lying. That's why she could recognize Sparrow through touch because the vision she experienced was no lie. Granted, Topher put it in her head, and we saw the 3-D model of Sparrow's head and understood how this was accomplished, but to Echo/Esther, all was true. So when Sparrow knocked the cameras loose and her vision was restored, this was also really a miracle... to her.

What was so amazing about the episode was that it wasn't a falsely religious man using religion to control the masses. It was the outside world, the - ostensibly - good guys who used religion to manipulate, to control. It was the ATF and the Dollhouse who created a situation where a cultish religious leader could come to depend on miracles, where such a man could be convinced that he had been featured in a vision and had been witness to a restoration of sight. These were true believers, even Jonas Sparrow. Unlike Scott Tobias of the A.V. Club, who said, "the fundamental problem for me is this: Sparrow knows he's not a prophet. He knows he's every bit the Mitchum-like charlatan. So when Esther talks of visions and recognizing his face from a dream, that should be proof enough that she's an imposter", it seems clear to me that Sparrow really does think he's doing the best for his community. He's not a Jim Jones type; this much is clear from the fact that his flock is both shocked at the fact there is a cache of guns underneath their feet and by the fact that he does believe Esther. He doesn't make his group take up arms. He isn't interested in pulling a Waco and holding a shoot out. He believes, truly and deeply, that there is another way and that God will deliver him and his people. That he is a true believer doesn't make him any less dangerous; he's still willing to condemn his people and himself to death. But it does offer a more nuanced layer to an episode that could have just been a retread of old ground. Whedon and Minear manage to make the cult seem like something other than an egotist's creation for his own validation.  

At the same time, even though it is not a condemnation of religion or even this religious expression, there is an exploration of this idea of purity; of being able to get back to the garden, or to recreate the garden. Such a sentiment has been around for eons, probably since the first tale of lost paradise entered the conscious lexicon. Even Joni Mitchell declares, "We've got to get ourselves back to the garden". Whedon has tackled, though only briefly, this subject before; in one of the coolest feminist moves, Whedon discarded the idea of our world beginning with a lost paradise on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and instead declared that it had been a hell - that the books were wrong. In Serenity, we saw the Operative working toward creating "a world without sin". But the only world without sin we are shown is a dead world. Here, the world without sin is the pinnacle of achievement in two places, the Children of the Temple's compound and Adelle DeWitt's Dollhouse. As DeWitt says at the end, "A place of safety, of untroubled certainty, of purity. This is the world we must maintain. It is imperative that nothing disturb the innocence of life here. Once any temptation is introduced, it will spread... like a cancer, and all will be infected." And yet, Victor's reaction to Sierra is, in its own way, pure and innocent. His attraction to her is a normal, natural part of life, and only when we consider human sexuality something that creates a less than pure being does Victor's "man reaction" cause concern.

What seems clear is that even scrubbed, even erased of any and everything that makes us what we are and what helps shape us, some bit of us remains. There cannot truly be a world without sin, and what's more, we probably should not even want it. The Actives in the Dollhouse come the closest to being without sin, and yet they aren't something I would aspire to be. The world is messy; but it is conflict that helps shape us, and there are things considered 'sinful' - mostly in connection to sexuality - that are a necessary component of life. To bind a sin to something necessary to the very proliferation of a species seems particularly sadistic.

Grade: A-/A

Note: There may be one more post coming; I still have thoughts, but it doesn't really fit with the religious flow of this installment.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Review of Dollhouse's "True Believer", Pt 1

Once again, my review has gotten way to long, and has been split.

This post could alternatively be titled "Why I love Tim Minear"; which, I do. A lot. Minear is responsible for some of my favorite episodes of Angel - a series that continues to occupy the bottom rung on my "Favorite Joss Whedon Creations" list. But "Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been" and "Epiphany" are two of my favorite Buffyverse episodes, and I've got Minear to thank for that. For anyone who has no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sorry and I'll stop gushing about Tim Minear in a second. Except to say that if you really want to see what the man can do, run - seriously, run - to the nearest Firefly DVD set and pop in "Out of Gas". I will say this: Minear's talent in structuring episodes, as demonstrated in episodes like "Out of Gas", is seemingly in full effect here. I know that Whedon and Eliza Dushku implored fans to wait until after the first six to see what Dollhouse could do, to wait out Fox's interference and witness where Whedon wanted to go, but episode 5 has leapt to the top my list. I think it is the strongest effort so far, and I've liked all of the episodes so far - though I've not been enamored with them all.

The episode makes clear that there are few, if any, less than selfish and small-minded motivations among many of the people we witness, though those motivations range from the seemingly benign to the truly despicable. Mellie brings Ballard his prescription because she has a thing for him. Senator Boxbaum seems to only be open to investigating the Children of the Temple cult because "this is an election year. I got the Family Value voters on the right, the Women's Issues constituency on the left - all coming after me if anything untoward is going on behind those compound walls". Meanwhile, Agent Lilly is interested in Jonas Sparrow less because he may be in violation of Alcohol, Tobacco, or Firearms laws than because Lilly has had run ins with Sparrow before, and "back then he wasn't calling it a church, and they were mostly underage girls. We put him away for what was supposed to be forever. Forever turned out to be just shy of two years". For Boxbaum and Lilly, this is a battle to fight not because they necessarily believe that people within the compound want saving or need it, but because to "save" those people would further their own agendas. They play at presenting their actions as stemming from the motive of "doing the right thing". Boxbaum tells DeWitt, "Happy? No. This is something quite apart from happiness. Call it a kind of bliss, an unquestioning serenity. True happiness requires some measure of self-awareness. We're talking about people here who have their - their very wills taken away". As Adelle replies, "Imagine such a thing". 

Before we see who he is talking to, we could assume he was describing the Dollhouse itself; before we learn that he is a valued and valuable client of the Dollhouse, we could almost assume a sincerity on his part to truly help those who are forced to exist without self-awareness. Before he utilizes someone else trapped within a forced state of bliss to help him with his election year problem, we could believe that he was, in his own way, a 'true believer'. Afterwards, we know exactly what he is; an opportunist. Hell, he may actually even believe the part about happiness being something that indicates self-awareness and reflection. But that doesn't change the fact that the only reason he gives for actually doing a thing about this situation is the fact that there's finally an issue where a whole bunch of people on the Right side of the ideological spectrum and a whole bunch of people on the Left side of the ideological spectrum could find common ground, and to not show some sign of action would be a death knell to his political career. Same song and dance for Agent Lilly; I have no doubt he truly believed that Jonas Sparrow was a bad person. But his reason for going after Sparrow had less to do with Sparrow's actual current crime and more to do with a vendetta. Boyd sums it up the best when he said:
"You knew he sent his people into town once a month. You were waiting. You ginned up tempers. Started rumors in the town. Created a diversion. And then you wrote that note. That's how you got your warrant. Nobody ever asked to be saved. Not by you."
That is the interesting conundrum. Nobody asked to be saved. None of the cult members we saw seemed particularly perturbed or worried or trapped, until the end. We saw no kool-aid moments. We saw no indication that this cult had any sort of sexual component, and it could have just been that Sparrow simply wanted to revisit the heyday of the Shakers (an odd choice, but whatevs). Agent Lilly, in his selfish and myopic view, believed that those on the compound both wanted to be saved and should be saved - from themselves. Because his agenda and his belief about what was best for them trumped their own. At the same time, no one in the Dollhouse can ask to be saved. That is other side of this coin, the question of when is it right to save those who didn't ask for it? When is it right to presume that those being saved did not speak because they didn't want to, but because they couldn't? Ballard is on a mission similar to Lilly's; he is pursuing his singular line of investigation with determination and more than a pinch of obsessiveness. But we see his mission as good, because he is saving the voiceless. We have visions of Waco, of Jonestown in our collective societal memory. Sparrow trapped his followers in a burning building, trapped them with two armed men and a cry that to fear the fire and to desire to leave meant betraying one's faith. Echo-Esther took the opposite route, freeing those trapped within the building by conking Sparrow on the head, persuading the majority to leave with her "God has a message for you, and that message is 'Move your ass!'" bit, and knocking the unwilling out in order to save him when he was unwilling to save himself.

The difference between Ballard and Lilly is mostly present in the motive; Ballard's pursuit seems to be less about him and more about the injustice inherently present in a Dollhouse-type institution. The difference between Sparrow and Echo-Esther isn't; both of them are following what they believe God compels them to do. They both make a majority's decision for them, but one's decision is to condemn people who otherwise would not be interested to death and one's decision is to keep those people alive for another day. But what is also present in the difference between Sparrow and Echo-Esther is their fundamental belief in God; Sparrow created a situation in order to facilitate a miracle. Unlike the biblical passage he took as inspiration, Sparrow was not only depending on God to save him and his flock but also responsible for the situation they needed salvation from. Meanwhile, Echo-Esther refused to depend upon God as her sole savior when she could move to save herself and others. Moving forward with faith in God was life; staying stagnant and waiting for God's intervention was death.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Night So Far:

JESS: Have I looked at them all? Shit. I'm not good with cubes.

My best friend, everybody.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Darryl Strawberry!

In the course of my lifetime, I've been to many, many major league baseball games. I've been to many stadiums before they were torn down. Because my parents are sports nuts and love baseball. This love hadn't truly transferred to me, though I did want a "Don't Whack My Wiener" Milwaukee Brewers tee shirt when we were out at the stadium a couple of years ago. For anyone who doesn't know, the Brewers' mascot(s) are various sausages, and one of them got knocked down at a game during the Sausage Race. By the way, the Sausage Race is well worth the admission to the baseball game.

That isn't to say that I don't like baseball. I like it, and I like it all the more now that I'm older and don't get quite so antsy. But when I was younger, there were only so many peanuts I could shell before coming a bit undone. At least, there were only so many peanuts I could shell unless I was in Shea Stadium. Because Shea had the Home Run Apple:

The apple is less red than pink now, so that photo is a bit dated.

The Home Run Apple would appear out of the top hat, appropriately enough, when someone hit a home run. That someone, from about the time I was two on, was Darryl Strawberry. Because of that, he was my favorite player. Ever. Yes, he's had a lot of problems, drugs and the like. But he's also a major part of my childhood. And so, happy birthday, Darryl.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "Gray Hour"

I'm going to start this review in a weird place; I'm going to start it with why I don't like Jane Eyre. Well, there are a lot of reasons why I don't like Jane Eyre, actually. Much of the book left a bitter taste in my mouth, and because of that I was surprised that I loved Wide Sargasso Sea as much as I do. I'm definitely an Austen girl. But back to the topic at hand. If you haven't read Jane Eyre, and are interested in doing so, skip this part. I'll let you know when to come back:

I hate Jane Eyre because of the ending. Yes, I hate how Jane ends up with Rochester again, because I'm forced to ask, "Why is she with him?" just like I do when I watch crappy romantic comedies like 27 Dresses or Knocked Up. And that sucks, but the real reason I hate it is because Charlotte Bronte tries to make both Jane and Rochester equal in the end. She gives Jane an inheritance so she isn't in a subordinate economic position to Rochester. And Rochester? Well, he loses a hand and his eyesight in a fire caused by his insane wife. In order to make the characters equals, Bronte gives Jane money, and cripples Rochester. For me, that isn't really a twist that supports gender equality. And here's where I'm starting to develop a bit of a problem with Dollhouse. In "The Target", it is only after Boyd is shot and out of the save-the-day picture that Echo-Jenny is able to step up and take care of business. And for that one episode, I was more than alright with that; it flew completely in the face of Jacki Lyden's assertion that Echo-Jenny needed a man to save her, because she didn't. All she needed was a gun, and she was able to save herself, and the man. However, this same sort of situation played out in "Gray Hour" as well. Walton gets skewered, and only after he gives Echo the means to escape does she rescue herself - and him.

Now, I'm down with this sort of thing happening once, but twice in two episodes is a little much for me. Especially when Whedon's never needed to do it before. Buffy didn't need any of her guys to be knocked down before she was able to kick ass - and before anyone says "vampire slayer", think "Helpless". She's able to rescue herself and her mother with just her wits about her, and Giles remains unharmed. Hell, he even gets a bit of the credit by dusting a surprise vampire. Zoe didn't require Mal to be hurt before she was able to take up arms and shoot some people dead. And by doing it that way, by having both men and women able to save each other and save themselves without the traditional rescuer being incapacitated, there was a much stronger message of gender equality. Women could rescue men, even when the men were at their full and manliest of strengths. Much better than the Jane Eyre way of male-female power relations.

***If anyone actually stopped reading, it's safe now. After ranking the episodes for John, I'm kind of forced to conclude I was a bit off. I had them ranked "The Target", "Gray Hour", "Stage Fright", and then "The Ghost". I think "Grey Hour" may have fallen a bit in my second watching, and my excitement over the plot overrode my ability to judge the episode on its other merits (or lack thereof). I also caught about the last 10 or 15 minutes (probably closer to 10, but felt more like 15) of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and although I love Summer Glau muchly, it was still pretty painful. Thus, the comparison between "Gray Hour" and what came before made "Gray Hour" seem brilliant by comparison.

The script was lacking; there are no other words for it. There were no cool twists of dialogue like there were in "Stage Fright". There were no truly rememberable lines, sans "You are a talking cucumber"; and I think that line was really made by the delivery instead of the actual writing. And there was very little Boyd-Echo connection. The midwife scene in the beginning didn't resemble reality. And as Lauredhel says,
There are fields of endeavour in which the vast majority of experts are women. those women possess knowledge gained through years of study and experience, and they bring something very worthwhile to the world. One of those fields of endeavour is midwifery.
It seems exponentially problematic that a male feminist would not recognize this and either consult with a midwife about proper procedure, or just research the thing. I mean, if we can get that there is no noise in space right for Firefly (ignoring the many other sciencey issues), then could we get a good birth scene? Apparently not.

This isn't to pick on Joss. Well, not entirely. And the bloom is not off the Dollhouse rose. I still really enjoyed the episode. It just wasn't as good as I first thought, and that realization was a bit disappointing. I'm going to mention two other aspects of this episode that bugged me, and then move on to what I did like. First, there is Whedon's notorious time issue. There have been write ups about the time issues in otherwise excellent episodes like "Passion"; I'm not saying he's as bad as the Sherman-Palladinos having multiple fridays in their weeks on Gilmore Girls, but it does sometimes throw me. Like last week, when Crazy Stalker Dude first constructs his crutch-gun. What stopped him from firing it at that show? Why did we see him construct the entire thing, and then not see him try to use it until the next concert? And this week, with the 45 seconds it would take the guards to breech the vault once the alarm had been sounded. I don't care how fast he moved, if Vitas isn't secretly Superman, there's no way he would be able to construct a barricade out of that much art in 45 seconds - and still have time to remind Echo of his breaking-broken people theory.

The second of these two issues is Ivy. I liked Ivy as a character, and I appreciate Joss (slowly) becoming more multicultural in his casting. However, I would have liked Ivy all the more if she hadn't been like Chuck's Anna with her funky-cool clothing. As much as I coveted her tights, I would have preferred Ivy being more Willow and less Buffy. Barring that, I would have liked a slightly longer skirt because hers was far from "serious". And yes, Topher wearing crazy "Xander" outfits and drinking out of juice boxes isn't very professional either, but my issue is less with the lack of professionalism than it is with the sexualization of the character. It all goes back to girls can be anything, even nerds/geeks, as long as they are beautiful and dress like they know it. I expect better from the guy who gave me Willow and Fred and Kaylee, even though all of whom were beautiful. They were all allowed to be beautiful, and be sexy and sexual, and yet still not always dress the part of the sex kitten.

What I did like, I liked a lot. I think an episode like "Gray Hour" was necessary to fully introduce Echo, who she is and what she has to offer even as a "blank slate". Echo's evolution from "Shall I go now?" to someone with a bit more range of emotion than her normal Dollhouse Active persona was interesting to watch, as was her interactions with the two different philosophies in the room. While Topher was probably right to be concerned about sensory overload being dangerous for a newly wiped Active, that florescent lights and forceps would be jarring, there also seems to be an undercurrent here; without conflict, without things that challenge us and people who make us think, we don't grow - or at least, we don't grow as quickly. Echo developed more of a personality in the course of 31 minutes than she does during her routine in the Dollhouse. Part of it is probably that she was interacting with other people who had a full range of emotions at their disposal in a way that the other Actives do not. But part of it had to be the lack of throw pillows and crunchy lettuce. Part of it had to be that Echo had to evolve, because to not evolve when confronted wouldn't be the way to survive. And yet, at the same time this trauma of being wiped and rewiped is on display as a fairly bad thing. If it is so traumatizing, it cannot be good to do over and over again to a person. In this way, Echo's declaration, "I'm not broken" is both a clarion call of strength, and yet also an implicit demonstration of what Echo and the other Actives lack, what they have stolen from them time after time. They aren't broken, and that is part of what disrupts their evolution. It is so much more tragic than "I'm Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and you are?" is, than "No more running; I aim to misbehave is", than "My turn" is. This is a show without the truly triumphant moment.

I also liked the mystery. Why would Alpha wipe Echo in the middle of an incredibly dangerous assignment? Why would Adelle DeWitt so readily believe Topher after he kept screwing up by doing things like calling the Active and her Handler?

The other thing, the actual mythos, seems to be solidifying. "Michelangelo believed his sculptures already existed, inside the marble. Waiting to be freed" could be describing the Actives themselves, existing in these blank slate states, just waiting to actually be allowed to develop. Instead of having the Actives be an actual example of tabula rasa, Whedon seems to be going more toward his Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Tabula Rasa" way; in other words, people aren't blank slates. You can wipe away their memories, the traumas and conflicts and joys that work to refine each person into who they are; but in many ways, the essence of the person remains. This is a little more extreme than BtVS' "Tabula Rasa" in the wiping of everything, but it seems clear that there are minute yet important differences between the Actives, even in their programed state. Lurker said, "Eliza Dushku and Dichen Lachman even sounded alike when they portrayed Taffy. Insanely awesome acting!" I don't disagree. But I still found myself thinking of their Taffys as two different people. Echo-Taffy was, and it could have just been a product of the atmosphere, more hyped up. She was more impassioned, wilder. Sierra-Taffy was cooler, just as confident, but seemed to have a different sort of edge. She was calmer, and exuded more control than Echo-Taffy, even though Echo-Taffy was the on with Taffy Standard Time. Still excellent acting, and the two did create very nearly the same character. But the people underneath still influenced - I think - the formation of that character; because you can never truly clean a slate, and there is still something present underneath.

Grade: B-/B

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Look Who's The Big East Champs

That's right, the UConn Women Huskies. They beat Louisville, secured their #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they are the remaining undefeated Division 1 team. In other words, a good night.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nonreligious Block Growing

I'm kind of excited about this news story, not because I dislike religion but because I'm for anything that makes not being religious less suspect:
Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.
"No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state," the study's authors said.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Women, Rip Van Winkle, & Domestic Violence

A good friend of mine had up a link on his Facebook feed, advising people to read the fourth panel:Which reads: "Well, I wrote a little song about women, called 'Women are Special (They will not stop until we are dead". I had a problem with it at this point, and in the course of calling him for other reasons, pretty much expressed my distaste with the sentiment expressed in that one box. Because, hey, women are half of the population and if you seriously think maligning 50% of the population is a good idea, then there's a bit of an issue. He responded that most of the women in his life had wronged him at some point in some way, and I told him that most of the people in his life had wronged him at some point in some way - that's what happens when you have an insane amount of friends; some of them are going to not be so great, and sometimes even the great people screw up. He also mentioned the "Boys Are Stupid" Flair permeating Facebook as a reason why his link wasn't so bad. And here's where the "equal opportunity" insult falls flat on its face. Because the "Boys Are Stupid" flair is bad:

But it doesn't take into account certain inequities in life. There is a Gavin de Becker quote that says, "At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them". Now, I'm not saying every woman is afraid of men, or that every man is afraid of being laughed at by women, or that some women aren't afraid of looking foolish in front of men or that some men will not experience the very real fear that a woman in their life is not only capable of killing or abusing them, but that it is also a probable outcome of their situation. What de Becker's quote does highlight, though, is the patently ridiculous and hurtful sentiment expressed in the above comic strip. Because domestic abuse is a very real, very large issue. Because:
Battering on women is the most under reported crime in America.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States; more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. "Violence Against Women, A Majority Staff Report," Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 102nd Congress, October 1992, p.3.

Three to four million women in the United States are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or male lovers. "Women and Violence," Hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, August 29 and December 11, 1990, Senate Hearing 101-939, pt. 1, p. 12.

One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States. Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991.

About 1 out of 4 women are likely to be abused by a partner in her lifetime. Sara Glazer, "Violence, Against Women" CO Researcher, Congressional Quarterly, Inc., Volume 3, Number 8, February, 1993, p. 171.

Approximately 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women. Statistics, National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, Ruth Peachey, M.D. 1988.
Domestic violence is not only physical and sexual violence but also psychological. Psychological violence means intense and repetitive degradation, creating isolation, and controlling the actions or behaviors of the spouse through intimidation or manipulation to the detriment of the individual. "Five Year State Master Plan for the Prevention of and Service for Domestic Violence." Utah State Department of Human Services, January 1994.

Those statistics and figures make the assertion that it is women who will not stop until the men are dead laughable. And yet, the image of women sucking out the souls of men, as the comic continues on:

is a cultural staple. The shrewish woman is a staple on sit-coms, and in movies and in how we frame relationships. And it has been, for years and years, and centuries upon centuries. In stories like Rip Van Winkle, our sympathies are directed toward Rip:
I have observed that he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor and an obedient henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstances might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad are under the discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation, and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering. A termagant wife may, therefore, in some respects, be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.
Certain it is that he was a great favorite among all the good wives of the village, who, as usual with the amiable sex, took his part in all family squabbles and never failed, whenever they talked those matters over in their evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van Winkle."
It isn't until we have been assured of the Dame's shrewish ways and Rip's goodliness that we are told in sympathetic terms what may account for Dame Van Winkle's irritability - though it isn't framed as such. According to Hawthorne, "The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable work", and his children looked ragged and like beggar children. And yet, still, we are told that he would do all the odd chores around the other wives' homes their "less obliging husbands would not do for them", possibly because those less obliging husbands were actually making the money necessary for their wives and children to not have to scrimp and save. And at the end of the tale, Rip awakens from his twenty year nap and finds his wife has died in his absence; this is seen as a major plus for Rip, as "he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle." Published in 1819, the perceived dynamic between men and women seems to have changed very little. Men endure wifely 'nagging', with little attention paid to whether or not that wife has a valid concern or not.

And what makes this even more insidious is that the same cultural norms play out when we are discussing the other, distorted aspects of male-female relationships. It comes down to the women. In domestic violence cases, one of the questions that invariably gets asked is "What did she do?", the implication being that if only the woman in question was a little less shrewish, a little less demonic, a little less harpish, she wouldn't have gotten hit. Again, this isn't the question that comes up for everyone; not everyone asks this question. Not everyone thinks this thought. But it is still a prevalent thought, in articles and message boards - especially in high profile cases. This same thing can be found when we discuss rape victims, when we tell women that to wear certain outfits and to go certain places and to act in certain ways is to open the door to sexual assault.

To assert that men are in general the victims of women and their soul-sucking ways is ludicrous. To assert that 'women', as a monolithic group, are threats to men and want them dead is also ludicrous. Because it just reinforces the notion of that mean woman married to the harried man. It attempts to give men, all men, regardless of whether or not they are married to nice, non-soul-sucking women, victim-status. It attempts to strip all women, whether or not they are nice, non-soul-sucking women, of their very humanity - literally, by turning them into demons. And it also reinforces the notion of men and women not as partners, not working in tandem, but as being in a constant struggle, as a war. I don't know about anyone else, but when I'm in a relationship, I prefer not to categorize that relationship as being a tug-of-war, a constant battle, a situation in which I am the perpetual victim. I would prefer to think of it - and portray it as - a give-and-take, a loving and dynamic duo. And for those who would categorize their relationships the other way, well, maybe they should just not be in a relationship.

When Spelling Errors Go Horribly Awry

"DEAR ABBY: I am being marred in the fall."

I must admit that I'm enough of an asshole to think, "You can schedule that?"

Saturday Sesame Street

This video isn't of the highest quality, but it is one of my favorite segments of Sesame Street ever:

I was always really amazed by the double dutch jump ropers, probably because I couldn't even master the one rope.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Depression Cooking With Clara

This woman is adorable:

She is 91 years old, and her grandson started taping her for the family and decided to turn those into webisodes. She's also got a blog, a facebook page, a website, and there's a DVD and a cookbook coming. I love her.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Highs and Lows of Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann has a lot of highs and a lot (like, a lot) of lows as well. These two are really just from last night's broadcast, because I was particularly struck by them as I drove into work this morning. First, Olbermann talks about the part contraceptives play in President Obama's budget:

The relevant part for me being:
And yes, all ye puritans among us, America will pay for contraceptives. Taxpayer dollars for evil condoms and horrible birth control pills. Contraceptives that states already have the option of providing for low-income fornicators. Fornication that would otherwise lead to untold, unwanted pregnancies, unwanted babies, unwanted abortions, unwanted drains on families, unwanted drains on, yes, the national economy. The congressional budget office estimates that $200 million saved in 5 years thanks to, yup, contraceptives and family planning.
I kind of feel like he should have been talking to Chris Matthews about how the government helping to prevent unwanted pregnancies (and diseases) is so completely different than a government working to "regulate the amount of kids people might be in the mood for".

And yet, on the top of this rather concise illustration for why contraceptives aren't completely out of place in a government concerned about budgetary issues and the quality of life for its citizens, Olbermann was just off the friggin' wall with this:
[Limbaugh] apologizes - or analogizes - the 'I want Obama to fail' to rooting for the Steelers in the Super Bowl, except - and you would think that a self-professed football expert would know - that the Steelers' coach and the Steelers' owner campaigned for Obama and they did so to such an extent that the second person the team owner, who was a Republican, thanked after they won the Super Bowl was Barack Obama. Does this suggest that this internecine battle is rattling Limbaugh to some degree?
This insane ramblings interrupt a segment of Chris Hayes:
This sort of eyerollingly ridiculous explanation of a pretty simplistic analogy is one of the things that makes Keith Olbermann seem unhinged. Instead of recognizing the analogy for what it is, rooting for the winner instead of the loser, Olbermann makes it about which football team supported which candidate.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Review of Dollhouse's "Stage Fright", Part 2

This is Part 2 of an extremely long post. Part one is here.

Perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of this episode was something mzbitca foreshadowed when she said, "What I think will become clear is that we are not going to truly know who's operating on their own free will and who is truly a doll which I believe will turn the show completely upside down at one point". The Lubov/Victor reveal completely blew my mind, because I'm pathetic and couldn't see the signs a-coming. Like, Adelle DeWitt telling Dominic, "All the appropriate measures have been taken"; that one should have sent off warning bells upon warning bells. And yet, I remain completely oblivious to the twists and turns. At the same time, this whole Lubov/Victor thing opens up a whole new host of questions. Questions like, Does Victor/Lubov genuinely want to help Ballard in his quest, or does he know the information he gave Ballard was meant to get him killed? Has Lubov always been Victor? If so, how was he programmed to talk about Dollhouse without becoming disoriented, like we saw Echo become in "Ghost"?

For the record, I think Victor/Lubov didn't know about the death in the basement; my assessment comes purely from the "Watch your back" line, though, so it may be what I want to read in that more than what is actually there. And I tend to think, though I could be wrong, that Lubov has always been Victor and has been sent specifically to mess with Ballard. The other, almost more upsetting, way to read this is that Ballard's own dogged pursuit of the Dollhouse mystery ended up with the Borodins sending Lubov to the Dollhouse to get wiped - giving a whole new meaning to him not getting the "nice" death. Which, in a way, is better in terms of the actual story, the idea that no one is above implication in a system that is as widespread and as insidious as the Dollhouse is. It makes Ballard less the white knight, since he would be principally responsible for Lubov's wiping; it would also go toward demonstrating how Ballard has to this point treated Lubov as someone to be used as well, though for an ostensibly greater good. And by using Lubov, he has condemned Lubov to be used. Actually, I kind of hope that it is the second one. It makes the primary message of the show all the more potent, that using people as objects is a no-no, no matter how you do it or why.

And yet, Whedon (or at least one of the Whedons and Maurissa Tancharoen) also seem to suggest that this is rooted in who we are, and that we must struggle to overcome it:
PAUL: The technology exists.
LUBOV: Somebody made a monkey tango, right? It doesn't mean it's being used on people.
PAUL: It does. It does mean that.
LUBOV: How do you know?
PAUL: We split the atom, we make a bomb. We come up with anything new, the first thing we do is destroy, manipulate, control. It's human nature.
LUBOV: Yeah, people are mostly crap.
Aside from making me really like Lubov (and so, kind of sad to see him be Dollified), it is yet another strong, in-episode criticism of the very idea of a Dollhouse. It is yet another, poetically downer, message that this is a really bad thing that is happening and that we should recognize it as being a destructive force that deserves to be confronted and shuttered. It also demonstrates the dark side of Special Agent Paul Ballard; this is not a happy philosophy to live by. Neither is Lubov's "people are mostly crap", but he just sounds less affected by it than Ballard does. And yet, even with this pessimistic view of the world and humanity, Ballard still seems to feel that we can become better; it is not nihilistic, because he pursues a goal of the destruction of a destructive force.

This episode also deepens the audience's understanding of the Dollhouse's operation, and who are the more moralistic forces of the Dollhouse:
DR. SAUNDERS: I have her flagged for romantic or altruistic engagements only. Does anybody read these?
TOPHER: Her last romantic engagement turned out to be extremely high risk; maybe her engagement with Rayna will turn romantic. Ooh.
DR. SAUNDERS: She's a bodyguard?
TOPHER: She's a singer. Persona and parameter. Two separate elements. Persona: She's a struggling singer who just got her first break, yay. Parameter: She must protect Rayna. Which she will do instinctively and unconsciously at all times.
DR. SAUNDERS: So, she doesn't even know she's a bodyguard. And this makes what better?
With this, we see Dr. Saunders as an okay force; not a good force, just a better force than Topher. As Do Lurkers Dream of Electric Peeps? says, "Boyd Is Better Than The Rest. Better Doesn't Mean Good", the same can be said for Dr. Claire Saunders. She may not approve of unconscious bodyguarding, but she still approves of creating unconscious romantic attachments. It seems like Dr. Saunders and Boyd have incomplete moral codes, Adelle DeWitt and Lawrence Dominic have skewed moral codes, and Topher is just amoral. No one is morally righteous here, and no one has the high ground.

The progression of Echo, the bleeding of the CEOP (Current Echo Occupying Persona) into Echo, and the bleeding of Echo into the CEOP continues apace. Although I hated the beginning, the imprint of the importance of friendship upon Echo bled into her Jordan persona; that could have been because she was meant to be Rayna's friend, but Echo/Jordan also reacted to the fact that Sierra/Audre was in danger. When she said, "I have to help her", Echo/Jordan was looking at Sierra on the computer screen. She repeats Sierra's "Friends help each other out", and stretches the parameters of her assignment to reacquire Sierra as well as knock some sense into Rayna. She is special, because she makes her whole more than the sum of the parts the Dollhouse deigns to give her. But as Dr. Saunders tells Boyd, "Special isn't always a good thing", and that "sometimes the best thing to hope for, is good enough". There will probably come a time when Dominic's suggestion of sending Echo to the Attic will be more plausible, and harder for DeWitt to override.

Speaking of "The Attic", Dominic mentioned it last week, but I didn't delve into it. At the same time, the amount of references to feminist and prefeminist literature are piling up. The Attic plays a key function in Emily Bronte's Jane Eyre, housing Rochester's first wife Bertha; she is the madwoman housed in the attic, and she is the primary player in Wide Sargasso Sea (which, in my estimation, is heads and tails above the work it was inspired by). The nameless protagonist of "The Yellow Wallpaper" was confined to an upstairs bedroom, possibly in an attic. And, of course, there is The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, the 700+ work by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. As a feminist, I would imagine Whedon would be well aware of this tendency to put uppity women away and in an attic - especially in literature. Along with the Attic, there is the name, Dollhouse. Since those who are wiped are called Actives and not Dolls, there is more than a possible allusion to the Henrik Ibsen play "A Doll's House"; in fact, the first conversation I had with my father about Dollhouse went something like this:
ME: Jess is coming over friday to watch Dollhouse.
DAD: Oh?
ME: Yeah, because we have the big screen.
DAD: Oh. Right. Well, we'll probably be out at a basketball game.
ME: I could tape it for you.
DAD: Tape?! Ibsen?!
ME: What? No! Whedon! His new show?
DAD: Oh. I was wondering why you'd need to watch Ibsen on the big screen.
They made it back in time to see the show, by the way. 

Perhaps even more compelling is the fact that Nora was without agency until she discovered that there was more to life than being her husband's "little bird". She had to go on a journey of self-discovery, a discovery that had not ended when the play did. So who will Echo most emulate as a character? The unfairly maligned and destroyed and eventually dead Bertha? The broken and insane protagonist of "The Yellow Wallpaper"? Or will her story be the more hopeful one of Nora, a journey in which she leaves behind a life of being many someone else's plaything and aims to discover who she is and what to make of her life? The tension of Dollhouse may be the tension between these two divergent feminist story trajectories, between the destruction of woman by her society or the woman who escapes those bonds and works to create her own person. Based on Whedon's previous work, I think it will probably be more of the latter than the former but with bits of the former mixed in liberally.