Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

Just a little Super Grover for the morning:

My mother absolutely adored Super Grover (well, Grover in general), as well as Telly Monster and Herry Monster.

I like this clip a lot, because I love how the little girl really doesn't need Super Grover. Super Grover is just in the way, mucking things up. And the little girl, after moments of panic, thinks out a workable plan and then moves to implement it. She's just foiled by Super Grover and his Hero Complex!

I kind of wonder where Super Grover changes now, though, that there aren't many telephone booths outside of Woodstock, New York. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Because I Can't Say It Better:

"I'm from the government and I'm here to inspect your hamburger meat" scares the hell out of them, but "I'm from the government and I rape and murder women and children to protect you" slides down the throat as easily as the Flavor-Aid in Jonestown.
So says Capt. Fogg at The Reaction about the contents of the as of yet unreleased Abu Ghraib photographs purportedly depicting the rape and sexual assaults of Iraqi prisoners.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

(Don't) Pity the Car Companies

As previously mentioned, I'm a huge nerd for Planet Money. So much so that I listened to it on my way to work today in an effort to catch up with back episodes. And yet, it was the newest one that caught my attention. It wasn't until hours after the fact that the little nudging feeling at the back of my brain actually morphed into a real, relatable sentiment. My problem stemmed from an interview/discussion Laura Conaway did with Frank Langfitt:
Frank Langfitt: Now, what the government says it what they always say: "We don't want to run this company, we want auto execs to do it". At the same time, let's take a look at that Fiat deal. One of the things they said to Fiat is, "If you want another five percent of a stake in Chrysler, you gotta deliver a 40 mile per gallon engine in the United States".

Laura Conaway: So the Obama Administration is directly saying to Fiat that "You can have some more of Chrysler, but you gotta give us a car that does like this on the road".

Frank Langfitt: Exactly. So you can say publicly, as the president has, "We're not going to dictate policy". But you already have the White House saying, "If you want X, you have to deliver Y". And "Y" is a very fuel efficient engine, which is what the government's policy is towards oil. It's part of its energy policy, part of its automotive policy. So, it's very hard to divide this up when you have a government that has other political agendas that are related to the car industry.

Up through here, I'm totally with them. I don't really want the government in my auto industry, just like I don't particularly like my auto industry in my government. I see the conflict of interest. I see the issues that may arise. 
Laura Conaway: And let's talk for a second about those agendas, because government comes with one set of goals - more fuel efficient cars, as you've talked about, certainly maintaining the employment rate, or trying to get the unemployment rate down in places like Michigan and Ohio. Nobody wants to see - in those places - the American auto industry go away. A profit making company like Chrysler comes at things with a very different set of goals. First and foremost among Chrysler's goals has to be - by law - maximizing profit.

Frank Langfitt: Absolutely.

Laura Conaway: How do you reconcile that?

Frank Langfitt: Well, I think it's going to be fascinating. This is going to be kind of one of the big meta stories of-of what's happening in the auto industry because if you talk to people in Michigan, they will say a lot of people in the auto industry, they smile. And when Mr. Obama says anything, they just nod their heads. They say, "Sure, boss, we'll do whatever you want". But they say that it has been traditionally very difficult traditionally for those companies to make much money on small cars. The profit margins are very narrow, people percieve - rightly - that Toyota and Honda are better at making them.

Here's where Frank Langfitt - and the American auto industry as a whole - loses me. Now, here's a couple of important points. I'm not a car person. I'm not a professional economist, or even an amature economist. I don't know much about business, or business models. I was a lit major, so I pretty much shunned anything businessy related - aside from Business Ethics, but that was simply because one of my favorite professors taught the course and I love philosophy. But -

But even with all of that, I can look at what has happened to the American auto industry in the past decade - or more - and tell that maybe, just maybe, their business model of making huge, cumbersome fuel inefficient cars really doesn't work as well as they think it does. Sure, there will probably always be some schmuck buying Hummers. But there is a reason the American auto industry is in the crapper. It is pretty much the same reason the newspaper industry is in the crapper, and yet it also manages to share some similarities with what ails the financial industry. The American auto industry not only thought it didn't need to innovate, but it was arrogant enough and short-sighted enough to focus on what cars were selling best in the moment, instead of developing cars that would fare well in future trends. There is a reason Chrysler and GM need government bailouts. There is a reason why Honda and Toyota are seen as more reliable cars. It is because of a bullheadedness on the part of the American auto industry and a refusal to take into account the fact that people actually (a) like spending their money other places than the gas station, and (b) like reliable things.

So, I don't want to hear about how smaller cars have narrower profit margins. Because if Chrysler or GM had any profit margin to speak of, they wouldn't need a bailout, they wouldn't be either in or nearing bankruptcy, and they wouldn't be closing down dealerships and auto plants. The fact of the matter is, changing the way the American auto industry does business will be painful. It would have been difficult at any point in time, but it will be more painful now when there is almost no revenue coming in to keep the companies afloat. That doesn't mean we should pity them, or worry about how they could possibly survive with the demand for a 40 mile per gallon car. If the American auto industry wants to prove it should be saved, that it can be a viable industry, then it is going to have to make some fundamental corrections, corrections that should have and could have been made while the companies were solvent. And it can start with making smaller cars that are more fuel efficient, that are reliable, and that - ideally - have ceilings that don't fall down after a couple of years.

No more whining about how Toyota and Honda do it better. They haven't always done it better. And it is so uncouth to give up without a fight. It makes the American auto industry look like it was never supposed to be on top at all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

There Is No Buffy Without Whedon

Today, I received a text from John (who has written his own post on the matter), saying:
It's been 24 hours since I heard about the Whedonless Buffy remake, and you haven't blogged about it yet? I'm shocked and appalled!
Sorry John (by the way, this would be a good time to mention that I'm open to post suggestions)!

I heard about the movie yesterday, like John and probably the rest of the world. My feelings on the matter? Meh. Yes, I answered EW's on-line poll question "How do you feel about a big-screen 'Buffy' that doesn't involve Joss Whedon?" with "When and where is the riot occurring?" But honestly, I don't care that much. I think it is one of the stupidest ideas - ever - but I really don't expect much more than this from the executive powers of Hollywood. Because they don't get it. They don't get what makes Whedon special, or why his fans flock to what Whedon does. They don't get that we've already had an essentially Whedonless Buffy the Vampire Slayer film, and that it was hardly commercially viable - or critically well-received. They don't recognize that Whedon's creations work best when Whedon is doing what he does best, micromanaging his works. I've seen the almost Whedonless movie (several times), and the seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Whedon macromanaged rather than micromanaged (more than several times). The seasons Whedon macromanaged are better than the movie, but those seasons without Whedon's direct involvement aren't anywhere nearly good, as profound, or as moving as the ones with it. The most important thing about a Whedon creation is Whedon. He's the guy. It is his philosophy that drives the message; his characters make the shows and movies and web musicals worth investing time in; his penchant for dialogue separates his creations from others.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't Star Trek; the characters aren't merely archetypes, and the language used is in a category all its own. Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't trademark catchphrases like "Damn it, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a ___", or "I'm giving her all she's got". Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't a simple philosophy or story. It is feminist; it is existentialist; it is atheist; it is absurdist; it is high culture; it is low culture; it is about family; it is about the individual; it is about society; it is about us, and them, and what make us and them; it is about faith, and hope. It is about good and evil, and about how it exists in the world and in each of us. The show covered so much ground, and so creatively, a movie not made by Whedon stands barely a snowball's chance in the Congo of tackling any of this cogently, let alone well and in an entertaining fashion.

Graeme McMillan on iO9 wrote an article entitled, Why Joss and Buffy Don't Need Each Other, with one of the reasons being "Joss Whedon Has Had More Than Seven Years Of Buffy, Let Someone Else Have A Go". To which I answer a resounding "No". If Buffy isn't done by Joss Whedon, then it isn't Buffy. Buffy isn't a franchise that has had too many other hands in the pot. Buffy isn't some community product that should be passed around to different people for their chance to "have a go". Buffy, like its creator, is unique. The show is Whedon's vision, and he isn't done playing with it yet. I don't know if he ever will be. What I do know is that even the writers and producers I loved when they work with Whedon - Jane Espenson, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Rebecca Rand Kirshner - I don't trust alone with Buffy. And while I don't think Joss Whedon needs Buffy, Buffy does need Whedon. And I'm not just saying this because the comic books aren't quite as compelling when Whedon isn't the one writing them. I'm saying it because all of the things Whedon brings to Buffy is what makes it work.

However, Whedon isn't the only thing that does make Buffy work. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, without the cast, is barely a show. Buffy Summers is my favorite character of all time, but the show wouldn't have been as powerful, as moving, or as notable if it weren't for the rest of the cast. It isn't just Willow Rosenberg; it's Alyson Hannigan as Willow. It isn't just Xander Harris; it is Nicholas Brendon as Xander. It isn't just Buffy Summers; it is Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy. It is Anthony Stewart Head as Giles. These four characters are dependent not only on the exceptional writing, but also the people who brought them to life week after week. Without Willow or Xander or Giles, the movie? Not worth making - or watching.

The last thing is this: Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air on May 20, 2003. That is just over six years ago. Nostalgia isn't yet strong enough to make a movie necessary, or desirable. It isn't a long enough time to make getting new actors for the characters palatable. Most of other examples McMillan cites had more than a few years in between projects. Batman? The last semi-decent film to come out was Batman Forever in 1995. The original Battlestar Galactica was bad - and made in 1978. And the other example, Swamp Thing, was taken over by Alan Moore when it was on the verge of cancellation. Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't cancelled; its franchise is not - unlike Batman and Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who and Spiderman and X-Men and Star Trek - greater than its creator. Whedon is larger than Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a way many other creators are not. This, along with the fact that Whedon isn't dead, or in a Lucas state where it is better for all involved to keep him away from the source material.

All in all, I don't need a Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. And I definitely don't want one if it doesn't have the original cast and Whedon at the helm. If the powers that be (not to be mistaken for Whedon's Powers That Be) decide to give me one, I ain't buying.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

I've always liked the jazzy stylings of this song. Plus, it's about how material items aren't worth as much as human compassion - although, I've always wondered if that seventh son regretted bringing the caring when he got that crown and the mustache!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Women in the Future: A Star Trek Pondering

I saw Star Trek this weekend. I also was in a Norwegian Day Parade and finished watching Fringe, but that's neither nor there. It may be important to note here that I'm not a Trekkie (or a Trekker); I have seen all of the movies and a whole bunch of episodes from the old television show, but none of them have really stuck in my mind, aside from the phrase "Only Nixon could go to China". My parents are closet Trekkies, arguing about Romulan technology from time to time, but we're really part of the Star Wars fandom in my house. That being said, I thought this new reimagining of the series has merit. My closet Trekkie father liked it as well, though he did feel that it was too much of a 'real' movie and had lost much of the campy appeal the original movies/television show encompassed. To be honest, the loss of the camp and the ability of the actors to, well, act was what made the movie more than palatable for me.

I liked that the movie wasn't truly a prequel, but a reimagining that worked its way into cannon; now, J.J. Abrams can do whatever he damn well pleases, and not have to worry about how to fit these stories into the context of the stories told before. I'm kind of in love with Chekov, and Simon Pegg as Scotty was brilliant casting. Spock, for his part, was almost as compelling as ever, though Zachary Quinto doesn't exactly have the voice for the role.

And yet, as much as I liked the film, and as much as I had fun sitting there in the theater watching it, it still frustrated me. Part of this comes down to Kirk. Kirk isn't incredibly compelling; whether Shatner or this new kid, Chris Pine, he doesn't exactly inspire my utter devotion - or trust. Shatner's Kirk has always seemed like the Tom Jones of deep space adventures, and I've always been one to find Tom Jones skeezy. Pine's Kirk wasn't so down with the Tom Jones impression, but I also didn't find much to like about him. I liked others' devotion to him. I liked that Bones would (a) get up early to help Kirk with the Kobayashi Maru, and (b) infect him with a virus in order to smuggle him aboard the Enterprise. I loved the scenes where Kirk and Spock both came to the same conclusion regarding Captain Pike's aquiescence to Romulan demands, and both using their own points of reference to back up said conclusions. But Kirk? I'm still a Spock girl. Nimoy's Spock, by the way, confounded me with his unerring belief that this Kirk, changed by the very nature of a timestream altered, would automatically make a better captain that Spock himself. I'm not saying that the movie didn't (helpfully) prove Original!Spock right. I'm just saying that a dude who prides himself on his logic should maybe look at the "forced off of the Enterprise" thing a bit more carefully before signing off on what was essentially a coup.

The thing is, I could have dealt with that. This isn't a reimagining of Star Trek as a series; just a reimagining of how these specific people get to this specific place. Kirk is still going to be the main guy, the cast is mostly going to remain men and white, and we'll be zipping around this galaxy with the somewhat simplisitic idealist vision of a 1960s liberal white guy. But there is a problem with the series being a retelling of the 1960s simplistic idealist vision of the future from a liberal white guy. It begins to feel extremely dated. Its stories don't necessarily feel like they are all that progressive, all that liberal, all that - well - great for the future. It kind of feels like the world we should be attempting to move beyond; a world where the ship's still being captained by a white guy, men are a majority of the crew, and the only woman around is in a miniskirt and a love interest.

It isn't that Uhura was ever as captivating a character as Spock, or as quotable as Scotty or Bones. She has always mostly been Sigourney Weaver's character in Galaxy Quest in the "I have one job on this ship! It's stupid! But I'm going to do it!" kind of way. I don't mean to take anything away from Uhura; she was one of the first major African American characters on national television, and she did do a lot to make the 1960s show more progressive. She was important. And yet, I find myself thinking of the current Uhura as not being a complete character.

Part of it is how passive she is throughout much of the movie. Chekov gets to run through the ship to heroically grab Kirk and Sulu from smashing to bits on the ground below. Kirk gets into rough and tumble after rough and tumble. Scotty, by the very nature of his job, gets to run around and fiddle with things. But for Uhura, everything takes a more docile note. She doesn't announce her discovery of a distress call; Kirk does. She doesn't run around like a nut like Chekov; she slides into her seat in her miniskirt. Her one moment of assertiveness comes when she demands to be placed on the Enterprise. And then there's her relationship with Spock. John had a three word condemnation for the relationship (and I really wish everyone could hear how appalled he sounded when he actually said it): "He's her teacher!" I had a more jumbled reason. My reason starts with the fact that the roles for women in fiction tend toward those of lover or mother; in a great many instances, women's roles tend toward their relation to the men in power rather than being characters in their own right. Star Trek itself played into that with the women in the film with speaking roles being limited to Kirk's mother, Spock's mother, the green alien who slept with Kirk, and Uhura. Uhura's sexual relationship with Spock seemed to be more about Spock and illustrating something about him than it was about Uhura. Tied to that is the fact that other characters had reasons for ending up on Enterprise that had little to do with who they wanted - or who they had - in their beds. The other characters had journeys separate from their function as sexual beings; Uhura's storyline was enveloped by what she was doing sexually. That is a problem for me, because it seemed as though the writers felt like Uhura needed a story, needed some kind of motivation, and all they could come up with was sleeping with Spock. For an idealistic vision of the future, the places alloted for women seem rather grim.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why I Love NPR's Planet Money

Aside from all of the other cool things about NPR and Planet Money - including a handy dandy and interesting podcast about the current economic condition as well as theories relating to that economic condition - is the fact that Foucault is referenced.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

For John:

This is my favorite Teeny Little Super Guy segment. I love Eugene, his little friend:
TEENY LITTLE SUPER GUY: First, you have to go to school and learn stuff like, ugh, 'What's the capital of South Dakota?'
EUGENE: It's Pierre.
TEENY LITTLE SUPER GUY: I thought it was Bismarck.
EUGENE: Nope. That's North Dakota.

Also, John's right. The stop animation is pretty cool.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "Briar Rose"

There was one main query that emerged from watching "Briar Rose", and that is why isn't Alan Tudyk in everything? Seriously, the man is made of win. I'll admit that I'm not the world's biggest lover of sliced bread (I love bread in all of its forms, so sliced isn't all that different from unsliced if you're me), but if sliced bread is the pinnacle of great, then it just got owned by Tudyk.

But first, there's the whole Briar Rose thing to deal with. I'm of the belief that Whedon is as devoted to fairy tales as he is to genre-mashing and kick-ass heroines, which is to say very. Several of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's episodes, including one of its greatest, were directly built around the theme of the fairy tale; Buffy herself could be seen as a modern take on the fairy tale princess. That, however, is a theme for a whole other post. Here in this episode Echo is for all intents and purposes Briar Rose. Echo is the sleeping beauty; Echo is moving toward self-awareness; Echo has several 'princes' seeking to rescue her. At the same time, Susan-Echo is cast as the prince, someone willing to step in and clear away the bramble from a young, traumatized Susan. Echo is thus both passive and active; she fulfills both roles at different times, for others and for herself. That, I would posit, is part of the genius of Whedon. As it stands, Echo seems the epitome of the princess in need of rescue; but that isn't entirely the case. Since she is slowly evolving, slowly becoming more than just the blank slate, she is becoming an amalgam of the two roles. She may still need to be rescued, but she will also take pains to rescue herself.

Another aspect of the genius of Whedon is the casting of the traditional princes. Ballard, Boyd, and Alpha all seem to take on the prince role; all want to save Echo; all want to protect her; all have their own needs and wants and beliefs take center stage over Echo's own. One of the more compelling reasons for Echo to evolve the hell up and rescue herself is that she has such fractured princes wanting to do the rescuing. One of the more interesting scenes was Echo tumbling down the stairs whilst Boyd and Ballard battled it out without pause. In one stark moment, we are witness to the idea that as much as Boyd cares for Echo and as much as Ballard wants to rescue the innocent girl, both are more compelled by the other than to take actual care of the girl. And Alpha... Well, Alpha is more than a bit touched, and his version of rescuing Echo is like the other two, more determined to make her in his image and to play the role of the romantic prince than he is in figuring out what Echo wants and what would be best for her.

Another compelling part of the episode is the tension inherent in the evolution of Young!Susan. As Topher says:
The kid's a mess. Past trauma has her emotions, reactions, intellectual development all frakked up beyond recognition. But if she gets help, really works, deals with the soup of her life, she gets to be... the nice lady with the tragic past but... the healthy head.
Young!Susan has the ability to become Echo-Susan. She also has the ability to not, to become a darker figure, to become - in a hopefully less psychotic and homocidal way - an Alpha. She can work to minimize the effect her deeply troubling past has on her future, or she can have that past continue to write the story of her life. Her deep anger at herself, at the situation, at where she is and how she got there, could continue to damage her. And through Young!Susan's interactions with Echo-Susan, we get the idea that:
It's okay to get rescued by someone else if you're young or small or you just can't do it yourself.
This gets to what I think is the heart of Dollhouse's feminist dilema. There is work upon work of feminist women getting it done. Whedon himself is responsible for two female characters who were the ultimate rescuers against what seemed almost impossible odds. And as awe-inspiring as those scenes are, it is as important to make it clear that being in a position to be rescued isn't inherently unfeminist. Needing help isn't something we should scoff at, or deplore. And one of the interesting things about Dollhouse is that the show isn't from the perspective of the rescuer, unlike BtVS or Angel or Firefly, but from the people who, by virtue of what has been done to them, may need to be rescued. As long as being rescued doesn't put the rescuee in the debt of the rescuer, as long as there is no big "my big hero, let's get married and have babies" reveal, then it truly is okay to see people get rescued because it doesn't inherently create an inequitable power differential. And to demonstrate that, the idea that being rescued isn't necessarily the bad part of the equation, is a good. Because there are plenty more people in the world who need rescuing than those with the ability to rescue.

Now, part of that is definitely due to what Whedon has already contributed to the 'women can be the rescuer' side of the scale, but more of it goes back to the fact that I can't be a Buffy and I don't know a woman (or a person, really) who could be. I can't be a River, and I'm equally bereft of River-like people in my life. I could, however, potentially be a person in need of rescue, and I like that Whedon is acknowledging the small heroics of dealing with the aftermath. Because Young!Susan, if she manages to grow into Echo-Susan, she has done her own bit toward rescuing herself. Whoever got her out of her forced child-prostitution situation rescued her physically, but it is up to Young!Susan to do the same for herself mentally. She, like Echo, has the potential to be both princess and prince.

Speaking of princes, our cracked prince Ballard is directly compared to one by Loomis:
You just flashed your badge and swooped in like Prince Valiant?
There are several shows I would watch with the Dollhouse characters; Loomis and Ballard in a whacky sit-com about a crazy guy and his eternally patient friend would be one of them. Another one of them? Would be any sort of show focusing on Ballard and Stephen Keplar. Comedy gold.

There was so much goodness to Tudyk's Stephen Keplar/Alpha I don't even know where to start. There was the opening introduction:
BALLARD: Stephen Keplar - is that you?
ALPHA: Well, there's a lot of aspects to that question.
If you were unspoiled, that line opens up like a pinata after the fact. But there was also just Alan Tudyk being awesomeness personified:
"Carrots! Uh, medicinal carrots. Personal use for medicinal carrots that were here when I moved in, and I'm holding it for a friend."

"Recycled urine? I'm kidding. It's not fully recycled. I'm tinkering with that. I also have Pom."

"I'm not comfortable having people in my home that aren't delivering me Thai food.
Riding up, riding up! I'm getting a wedgie."

"Just because we can move forward, we must? That is the same expansionist thinking that lead to the Trail of Tears, man!"

"This is - I'm not comfortable. My arms are chilly."

"Oh, change is good. Go change. Yes we can! You know, this cotton - it's organic. I'm pretty sure. That's a plus."

"I'm going to die. I'm going to die in pajamas."

"I could, if this guy wasn't a paranoid freak. There's like a thrillion layers of passwords on here. This isn't company stuff. This is his own personal mindfield. I need a different computer."

I'm not entirely sure if the lines said by anyone else would have had the same affect, but in Tudyk's hands they were magical. Likewise, I'm not sure if the lines are all that funny separated from context; but I laugh whenever I think about them, so here they are. On pretty much the same line of thought, I would watch a show devoted to Alan Tudyk and anyone else with Jane Espenson writing it.

Another absolutely inspiring scene was Victor-as-Dominic. From the onset, I have been enamoured with Enver Gjokaj; he has consistently been the best actor amongst the Dolls, both in their Tabula Rasa state and as an Active. But he soared to new heights as Dominic. From the speech patterns to the facial movements, he was Dominic. Unfortunately, this only highlighted how great a disparity there is between him and Dushku, whose abilities are pretty much a necessary piece of the puzzle. Victor also got one of the best lines of the night (and again, much of this comes down to phenominal ability) with his "People were fighting on me" line.

Which brings us back to Alpha, and the Alpha reveal. Alan Tudyk did such a great job as Stephen Keplar, even though I was spoiled (through no fault of my own!) I thought I had received faulty information. But no. During his take down of the security systems, the agoraphobic facade began to crack. And by the time he sliced up Victor's face, Alpha was there, terrifying and real. Which brings me back to the original point of this whole fangirl squeefest, which is that Alan Tudyk should be in absolutely everything. And also, that Jane Espenson should have written more Dollhouse episodes.

Grade: A+

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

I've really got nothing to add to that, other than the fact that I love how Cookie Monster goes to pieces.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quote of the Day

CHUCK: Never bring a black light to a hotel room, that's all I have to

JOSH: Right.

Also, anyone who isn't listening to the Stuff You Should Know podcast from "How Stuff Works"? I would get on that. Because Josh and Chuck are awesome.

I would also recommend Stuff You Missed In History Class, and Stuff Mom Never Told You. You'll have to find them on your own since I'm covertly posting at work and my access to those sites is apparently prohibited (but Blogger, oddly, is not), but they are well worth the effort. Stuff from the B-Side, though, not so much.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Couple of UConn Articles

A goodbye to UConn assistant coach Jamelle Elliott:
When Jamelle Elliott stepped to the podium Tuesday for the first time as a head basketball coach, she said her heart began to race.
Not surprising, really. You don't work for a dozen years as an assistant without having aspirations about running your own program.
But the reality of being Cincinnati's new coach wasn't responsible for all her nerves.
When she looked out into the audience, she saw her mentor, father-figure, dear friend looking back her.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma flew to Cincinnati to be with her - commercially, apparently - and Jamelle knew telling him how much she appreciated him wouldn't be easy.

And Renee Montgomery gets President Obama's basketball:
After their game was over and Obama had made one last fadeaway jumper, Montgomery tracked down the basketball. Walking back to the White House, she asked if she could keep it.

“He paused for a good moment to think, so I got nervous,” Montgomery said. “Then he said, ‘I only have this one and it’s my campaign ball, but yes, you can have it.’ Then he asked somebody for a pen, so he could sign it. As he gave it to me, he said, ‘This should be a lesson for everybody to be a go-getter.’”

So cool.

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

I will give "Haunted" this: it was much better the second time than it was the first.

Topher was, once again, brilliant. And I like Fran Kranz's hands. A lot. Actually, a big issue I had with "Haunted" the first time I saw it was the big knot of tension I had worrying over whether or not Topher was going to be yet another man to rape Sierra. I shouldn't have worried, but with Hearn and Nolan, and Adelle's use of Victor last week, it seemed like a distinct opportunity to make this particular show all the more stomach churning. Luckily, Topher remained his child-like, amoral self, and only wanted to build a friend to share his birthday with. That friend-building was sweetly sad; and yet, totally awesome. I loved Sierra's imprint; I loved Topher. And while there are still philosophical and moral and ethical issues with using people to house other people, created and not, I couldn't help but get drawn in from the opening exchange:
SIERRA: Tell me you got Speed Force 3.

TOPHER: And downloaded the bonus maps.

SIERRA: Pizza?

TOPHER: On its way. Beer in the fridge.

Between that and:
SIERRA (tossing a football back and forth): Earth-identical gravity and atmosphere on other planets. Is that two?

TOPHER: I'll give you one.

SIERRA: That's fair. One ecosystem for a whole planet.


SIERRA: Human-alien cross-breeding without scientific intervention.


SIERRA: Flame-y explosions and sound in a vacuum.

TOPHER: Yes! Good job!

SIERRA: Oh, but there's so much more. Light speed travel, space storms, and sexy, sexy aliens.

TOPHER: Ah, I said classic sci-fi errors. Now you're just attacking good storytelling.
I was hooked. It was wonderful to see Topher not expounding on his genius for one episode, and it was great to see him relax, have fun, and be himself. Although I don't approve of the Dollhouse in the least little bit, I must say it is an interesting tool to utilize in terms of storytelling; a quick fix to learning about even the most guarded of characters. Because each of them can build someone they can be wholly themselves around without risk of rejection or derision, we get glimpses into these broken characters we otherwise would have never been afforded.

Another thing I liked about the Topher-Sierra scenes, aside from the fact that I find the both of them charismatic, wonderful, and talented, is that it showed a more mature side to Topher. Sierra seemed to be based on Topher and Topher's own wants and needs and impulses. And so to have an exchange like this:
SIERRA: ...can we play with the sleepies?


SIERRA: Come on, Topher. We could have them battle one another and bet on them like gladiators.

TOPHER: We can't play with the sleepies.

SIERRA: Or we could have them act out skits we write, film it, and see who gets more hits on YouTube.

TOPHER: That's not a bad idea, but no.
In the episode Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Replacement", Xander gets split into two separate parts, and Giles remarks, "He's clearly a bad influence on himself." The opposite seems true here. With Sierra around to spout the random, immature impulses, Topher seems to experience less of them.

That isn't to say there isn't a disturbing element to the above; Sierra is, categorically speaking, one of the 'sleepies', there but for the grace of Boyd to be contemplated for gladiatoral use. Sierra may be one of the 'sleepies' next year, on Topher's next birthday. Sierra is still being used, and yet still sees herself as separate from the Dolls below. In a very real way, Sierra is still being violated by Topher's venture, and that doesn't get wiped away merely because Topher is achingly lonely, a year older, and adorable. With all of that said, though, the twinkie scene at the end did make me tear up more than a little.

Unlike Topher and Sierra, Ballard and Mellie's scenes did nothing to counteract the creepy vibe on the second watching. Mellie is, actually, adorabubble; and innocent. It sucked, in a well-written way, to see this woman, through no fault of her own and no idea why it was happening, be completely and totally shut out of her boyfriend's life. On the other hand, it was terrible to watch Ballard have to keep up the appearances of a normal relationship, to have to hide his investigation into the Dollhouse when his girlfriend innocently asks because she is being not-so-innocently used by an underground organization. It sucks for Ballard to become ever more complicit in the violation of another human being. And it demonstrates something very not good that Ballard lets go, lets himself be weak, and lets himself be persuaded by Mellie to use her. That Ballard uses Mellie for Angry Sex makes him actively complicit in the Dollhouse's victimization of the Mellie, instead of just passively complicit. As Ballard said at the end of the episode, he has found another client.

Mellie's (or rather, the person who Mellie's body belongs to) criminal record seems to be more than a little bit of a catalyst for Ballard's feelings of betrayal. Before he saw that, he was angry and withdrawn; but he seemed to recognize Mellie was a victim, was a missing person, was someone worth finding again. Afterward, he seemed even more betrayed, like his vision of the Perfect Victim disappeared from right in front of his eyes and left him with someone he may not typically feel sympathy for, left him with someone he may not be driven to save, someone he would have worked to put away. Mellie's reveal left Ballard seemingly on a ledge, but Mellie's possible record seems to have made him unhinged. It leads him to using her, and shows the audience that Ballard is also more than a little bit grey. He isn't going to be the dashing prince; he isn't going to be the hero of the piece. He isn't a bad guy, but he certainly isn't the best of guys either.

The part of the episode that was most uncomfortable was Margaret-in-Echo living after her death, though not for the same reasons Boyd was disturbed. It started out pretty awesome, what with:
MARGARET: Addy! Adelle. What's wrong? You look terrible.

ADELLE: Margaret. I'm so sorry to be the one to tell you. You're dead.
It seems unfair that such an awesome beginning could lead to so much uncomfortable badness. Part of it was Eliza Dushku. Her Margaret was uncomfortable to watch; and as much as I would love to chalk that up to an older Margaret trying desperately to imitate the manners, world view, and speaking patterns of someone 25 years younger than herself in a highly stressful situation, and as much as that did seem to sum up the nature of the awkwardness at times, almost as often it just seemed to be Dushku unable to fully get around the character. The scenes where she was good, she was very good. The scenes where she wasn't, she was pretty bad. But Dushku was not the the only problem. The other issue was this:
MARGARET: To see my own funeral? Who wouldn't want that?
Me. I wouldn't want to see that. I wouldn't want to know what my family and friends thought of me. I would rather die with the happy illusion that I was everyone's favorite person. It only now occurs to me that the very notion of having to live again in another's body in order to see one's own funeral and discern how everyone really feels is really the fantasy of the atheist. Presumably, those who believe in a higher power could simply look down - or up - if they were really that curious.

The other barrier was that I could see how that original premise - seeing your own funeral - could be an interesting one to explore, and so the addition of the murder mystery seemed unnecessary. It made for an exciting conclusion and a true bad guy (who was more than a little distracting, what with his name being Nicholas and his resemblance to Whedon alum Nicholas Brendon), but Margaret having to deal with the disappointments and regrets of her family without that crutch could have been incredible. Plus, she would have had to figure out another way to give Jack more than just the horses without the ease of "He's never going to use that money, because he's going to rot in jail".

And, of course, every episode of Dollhouse should have some Enver Gjokaj. Because I love him. And because he's one of the best damn actors on the show. Shame on the show for not giving us Enver!

Grade: B/B+

Racism in East Texas

If you have any time in the next couple of days, I highly recommend reading elle's piece entitled Officer Jack Sparrow. If you don't have any time, I strongly suggest making some.

I don't know what else to add to it, other than the obvious; it is deplorable, it is despicable, and it should be one of the first pieces of writing pointed to when someone talks about our 'post-racial' society, or who claims that racism isn't that big a problem any more. I can't begin to imagine being treated like elle, her family members, and all of the others stopped by police in East Texas and probably elsewhere. I can't imagine fearing for one's health, one's life, and being treated like a criminal without cause. I can't imagine allowing an officer to search my car because the alternative could be devastating. And it turns my stomach that privilege of not fearing cops, of being confident in my ability to not sign a piece of paper forfeiting my property, is a privilege and not a given for all citizens.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Post In Which I Review Dollhouse's "A Spy In The House of Love"

Dollhouse's "Spy in the House of Love" managed to demonstrate much of the show's strength while not doing the same with its weaknesses. It epitomized that "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative" song; not only did it fully integrate each Doll's imprint into the overall story line, it also did something Joss Whedon had first proposed as something Dollhouse as a show could do, that the show itself could radically change in terms of genre from week to week, going from thriller to action to romantic comedy in terms of style while keeping the core of the show the same. It was an interesting idea, especially coming from the genre-bending Whedon, but it did not come to pass. "Spy", however, demonstrates what the show element may have looked like, albeit all at once.  In following the imprinted Dolls, we follow those different genres. For Sierra, it is pure Alias, down to the wig; For Victor, it is very much a romance a la Nicholas Sparks - with a twist; for Echo, it is a psychological thriller/mystery; and for November, she walks into Ballard's very own conspiracy theory, and then managed to shore that theory up.

The episode as a whole also revealed much about two of our favorite bad guys, Dominic and DeWitt. Dominic, we learn, obviously, is a spy - though I would venture that the spy in the house of love is a reference to November. But DeWitt, well, with DeWitt we learn that she is one of the "pathetic, self-deluding souls". We see what she needs, to be wanted, to be allowed to have doubts, to be allowed to be weak, to be allowed to show more emotion than the staunch Brit. It is sick, and probably an abuse of power (I'm not sure how the Dollhouse views employees utilizing the Dolls for their own personal edification, but I would bet it isn't in the handbook as a perk). Even with that on the moral side, we see more of her from the story telling side. We see her reaction to Dominic's betrayal, a reaction she denies Dominic the pleasure of seeing himself. We see a possible deeper - and more selfish - reason for her response to Victor's 'man reactions'. We know that she "used to head a division that grew replacement organs out of stem cells. I could tell people what I did for a living", and it seems as though she misses not only the open nature of her old profession but also - probably - the less ambiguous nature of it.

Dominic's reveal was, in a word, fantastic. It turned around all we knew about him - not that we knew much. What we did know was that he hated Echo, and was loyal to DeWitt. Even as the episode progressed, those were the constants. When discovering the chip, he intones, "If anything happened to DeWitt...", further throwing suspicion from himself that he was in fact the spy. The fact that he was, that he found it "embarrassing how naive" Adelle is, and his actual reason for spying all added more to the character. As did his casual acceptance of Topher and Ivy as casualties in his overall mission. It makes his reaction in "Echoes" to Victor being programmed as an NSA agent all the better. But what was incredible was his reaction to Echo at the end:
ECHO: What's in store for you - you don't have much to smile about.

DOMINIC: After you beat me to a pulp, they're going to erase me. But first, they're going to erase you.

ECO: I can take care of myself.

DOMINIC: I know. That's why I'm smiling. 'Cause one day, you'll be erasing them. And even after all this, they still won't see it coming.
At first, it looks like Dominic is merely getting pleasure out of the fact that the person who caught him will go first. But then, it shifts. Dominic may be an ass, but he doesn't seem to be holding anything against Echo here, in this particular instance. He's offering his own prediction, the prediction that allows him to go with satisfaction. The belief that he was right, and Adelle really is embarrassingly naive.

As well as being embarrassingly naive, Adelle also seems to be a bit of a hypocrite, what with Dominic telling her that the technology needs to be controlled and DeWitt shoots back, "By a clandestine organization with little government oversight?" She seems to forget that she runs her own clandestine organization with no government oversight, and that perhaps she shouldn't be throwing stones. There's more than a smidgen of a chance Dominic shouldn't be either, but he seems to be worried about the eventual economic gains the Rossum corporation could net by releasing the technology to the public. And in an odd twist, he wasn't there to bring down the Dollhouse or even subdue it under NSA control. He was there to contain it, and to keep the FBI from finding it. Making this particular government organization - and perhaps even higher up - one of the bad guys.

Another interesting character development is that of Topher. Often appearing to care about almost nothing outside of himself and his juice boxes, Topher proves that isn't exactly the case in an awesome exchange:
TOPHER: Boyd! In about two minutes, I'm gonna make a call to DeWitt. If you were to do something, maybe get some air, maybe run, I wouldn't know that you had done that.

BOYD: I have no idea what you're talking about.

TOPHER: You don't? I found this in the chair.

BOYD: And?

TOPHER: This chip lets someone access the primary imprint protocol, which means they could have altered my imprints. I make a cheerleader, they make a cheerleader that shoots people. Or an assassin that does cheers. Or any active, any time, with a parameter we don't know about!

BOYD: We have a spy.

TOPHER: Inside the Dollhouse.

BOYD: And you think it's me, you think I'm the spy?

TOPHER: Not in a bad way.

BOYD: They find out that you talked to me before you called DeWitt, they'll fry you.

TOPHER: Yeah, I didn't really think that through.

BOYD: Thank you.

TOPHER: Hey, I'm boned anyway.
Topher is by far becoming my favorite constant character on the show (my favorite varies week to week depending on what Enver Gjokaj is doing/being). He's completely amoral, but Fran Kranz brings something sweet to the character week after week. And his amorality apparently comes in handy, when it relates to warning a fellow traveler. If he were there for the whys instead of the hows, he might not have been inclined to give Boyd the ill-conceived out. There's another possibility, but I like Topher too much to even really bring it up; it is possible he really is a spy, just not the spy they caught. They caught an NSA spy wandering around the place, looking to reign in the technology. But the spy who used the chip, the one sending messages to Ballard, doesn't seem to be Dominic. Dominic's purpose was to protect the Dollhouse, albeit for a different set of masters than the ones DeWitt serves. But given that Topher is, well, Topher, and can't seem to keep more than one thought in his head at one time unless it relates to the science part of the fiction, I'm going to assume it was someone else. That being said, Topher is the person, behind whoever Victor is that week, who tends to get the best lines:
IVY: Should we help?

TOPHER: Yeah. I helped when I imprinted her with kung fu skills, but be my guest.
so I hope (if they get a second season) they keep him around.
He also seems to be on the brink of an actual moral discovery, what with his asking Echo, "Why would you want to?" when she offered to help, and his look of "oh shit" when she told him he made people different. 

The other insanely cool/twisted part of the show was Ballard. Ballard, now by knowing who and what Mellie is and having to play along, has become trapped into a complicit role in a Doll's exploitation. His face when kissing Mellie after the fact was amazing, all clenched. It was self-loathing wrapped in a pretty shell.

Dr. Saunders and her refusal to leave the Dollhouse was another interesting tidbit. It both furthers her assertion that the world is full of terror and chaos, and explains why she would continue to help the Dollhouse exist even if she believes "the system is flawed, perhaps irreparably".

That isn't to say there weren't some problems with the episode. Like, how does Victor's Roger get programmed to find DeWitt if even Topher doesn't know he's not supposed to have the hots for the octogenarian? How did Mellie get programmed with the underlying message to Ballard if the chip was found after she had her 'treatment'? How come Mellie didn't see Caroline and immediately freak the hell out? Plot holes, all. But overall? Second strong episode in a row. Go team!

Grade: A

Monday, May 4, 2009

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

One of the reasons why I haven't written about "Needs" before Dollhouse's season and probably series finale was breathing down my neck is because it makes my head hurt. I'll start off by saying that I think it was an incredibly strong effort, but that there was so much packed into such a short span of time that it is hard to make a cogent statement about the episode as a whole. So, I probably won't.

Lesson the First: The Actions Of A Small Group of People Is Not Enough To Change the World
Whedon seems to be veering wildly away from a theme that permeated much of his earlier work; unlike the small group of friends and colleagues who were able to defeat demonic threats, and - in another 'verse - weaken an authoritarian government, the 'awakened' Dolls still are controlled, still cannot escape the overarching reach of this dominant global force. Although Sierra declares, "We decide for ourselves now", nothing could be farther from the truth. The tragedy present is the hope these four have while exiting the Dollhouse, the hope that they are now free and autonomous beings who can do what they want and go where they want. Unlike Buffy, they haven't 'graduated'. They speak in Whedonesque terms about freedom and sacrificing to make a difference, but what makes the show so dark is how they aren't even allowed to fail; their success is part of reaffirming their place in the system. Their small victories only succeed in making them more compliant cogs in the machine, because they feel as though they have accomplished something. It is a much more negative view of the world, and all who happen to live in it. Several bloggers note that the whole structure of the Dollhouse can be read as a broad metaphor for the oppressive structures of our world, as well as examining our own false consciousness. What also seems to be addressed in show is how we can never fully escape these structural oppressions on an individual basis; we can attempt to battle them, we can recognize them, we can work to check our privilege, but we as individuals will never truly beat the system. It is an interesting reading, and one I'm more and more attracted to - though that does mean that Whedon and I will soon have a philosophical parting in this particular area. I may be naive, and I'm definitely an optimist; but while in my most cynical moments I may feel like this dystopian reading of society is in all probability right, I'm still going to hope beyond hope that we can each be Mal, or Buffy. That we can, individually, strike critical blows to these things that chain us.

Lesson the Second: Rape Does Not Diminish Personhood
This doesn't really feel like it should be a necessary lesson, but between Badger's FBI Guy in Man on the Street and Nolan here, it seems imperative to note that if nothing else, Dollhouse the show seems intent on demonstrating the Dolls' humanity; that humanity is important, because the Dollhouse as an organization can be a metaphor for sex work, and of course sexual slavery. I don't really want to delve too far into the ethical and feminist pros and cons of something like prostitution; I recognize there are women (and men) who choose of their own free will to be sex workers, who enjoy sex work, and who have not suffered whilst pursuing sex work. But there are many women and men who become sex workers because they are coerced, because they are forced to, or because of the economics of their particular situation. What is clear is that no matter the way in which one becomes involved in sex work, in many ways, one's worth in the eyes of many seemingly dissipates. Badger-FBI Guy represents one view about women who have been in sex work, either voluntarily or not, when he describes Caroline as "a mindless whore". The victim becomes the person to be looked down upon. Sierra's Dollhouse 'benefactor' goes another way, gaining satisfaction and power from the fact that they woman who turned him down can now turn down nobody. When Sierra tells him, "I'm more of a person than you", Nolan tries to strip her of her personhood simply by referring to the coerced sex acts he has forced upon her, boasting, "Honey, you're programmed to give me and - and anyone else whatever we want, whenever we want it. Which... you do, with pleasure. And sometimes you even beg". And yet, Sierra, and Victor, and Echo, and Mellie, do come across as being more of a person than the twisted Nolan. Although he now views her as less of a person, although Badger-FBI Guy sees Echo/Caroline as less of a person based on their "mindless whore"ing ways, that does not make it so. In a major way, Whedon both presents and discredits this idea.

Lesson the Third: There Is A Difference Between Needs & Wants
Topher tells Not-Caroline, "We help people become better people by giving them what they need". Except it is hard to see how Nolan becomes a better person by being able to - even if only in his own mind - humiliate Sierra. It's hard to see how Matt, the dancing and biker guy, becomes a better person. The Dollhouse deals mostly in want. Nolan wants Sierra; Matt wants the porntastic version of a school girl; Biz wants someone to take care of Rayna. Sometimes, the people may change for the better; Rayna is probably a good example, as are the people in the religious compound. But that seems to be more of a side effect of the main mission of making the whims of the rich and powerful come true. The idea that they are making better people, not by programming them but by giving them the programmed, is merely a rationalization. Which brings us to:

Lesson the Fourth: Rationalizations Are Weak
Topher's declaration that he is "just the science guy", after describing what the process is to make the Dolls comes off as incredibly craven and pathetic. Adelle telling Not-Caroline, "I eased your suffering" and making it clear all there are volunteers even though Not-Caroline has a pretty good idea at least one of them isn't comes off as simplistic, at best naive and at worst deceiving. Dr. Saunders, when she says, "She wasn't leading them to freedom. She was leading them to a world of terror and chaos that would have destroyed them" employs yet another. We have at least one example how the world of terror and chaos is not guaranteed to destroy the Dolls; it may or may not, just like the world may or may not destroy anyone. But only from adversity and conflict comes growth, as demonstrated in Gray Hour. The Dolls aren't really living in the world because they are denied that ability to develop, to grow. The fact that Dr. Saunders is employing her own technique of 'hide and the world will go away' to the well-being of the Dolls may indicate how badly scarred - internally - she really is.

Random Observations:

Sierra's "I trusted him. Why did I trust him?" was heartbreaking for many reasons, one being that most rape victims know their attacker.

Topher remains fairly adorably kiddish, even with his amoral ways.

There was way too little Boyd.

Enver Gjokaj, and Victor sort of by proxy, is incredible. His recitation of the Mets' line up, his "We're gonna die" reaction to "I like pancakes", his face when he discovered the Sex Pants of Doom, all wonderful. If only he were our main Doll! Or Sierra; I could handle Sierra.

Grade: A-/A

Wow, Am I Behind On My Dollhouse Posts

Seriously. First one week slipped by, then two, then five! How do five weeks slip by (with four episodes) and me not analyze anything Whedon-related? It's like a travesty! There was that one post about saving Dollhouse, but that was really just recognizing someone else's creativity. In order to rectify this whole issue, I'm going to take the next four days and review each episode I missed reviewing in its week, leading up to what is in all probability the series finale on friday. Wish me luck in my ambitious endeavor!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Girls, Playgrounds, and Girliness

When I was six, there was a hierarchy on the playground. It was not only a grade hierarchy, with the 5th graders at the top of the pyramid and the first graders at the bottom, but a gendered one as well. Boys would torment the girls who liked hop scotch, who liked jumping rope, who were girly and wore skirts. After it rained (and I live where it likes to rain), they would pick up the engorged worms and throw them at the girls who were considered too girly. The way to avoid that? Well, it was pretty simple. Show no fear, point out the girls who would screech and cry, and every once in a while 'attempt' to pick up a worm yourself. Truth is, the last thing I wanted was to get a worm in my hair, and so I did the cowardly thing. I colluded with the more powerful, the ones who were obviously better than those pink wearing, pig-tailed, girly girls - because no one was throwing anything at them, and no one sought to put them in the time out box for their trespasses. Because this was just what kids do. There were a couple of other girls in the group I hung out with in elementary school, but it was mostly a pack of boys. We'd beat on each other, play tag and a primitive version of war where two competing sides would fight minor skirmishes on the outskirts of what could be considered the playground and sometimes capture prisoners. It felt good to be in with the A-team, with the people who didn't get picked on simply because they were who they were. And so, there I stayed.

Part of this was because I was horribly bad at jump rope, but a lot of it was because I didn't want to get that worm - or whatever the worm equivalent was on a sunny day - on me. I hated girly things, and I wasn't overly fond of the girly people either. They were weak, as evidenced by their continued torment. And it was much easier to get cootie shots when I was touched by one than to actually admit that those girls and I had something in common; the second I stopped wanting to play war and picked up a jump rope, I would be just one of the masses who would be wormed. I don't remember boys having it all that bad, though they must have. There had to be a couple of boys who didn't want to throw worms, but felt like they had to. There had to be a couple of boys who would have preferred to play jump rope but couldn't, because not only was that something girls did, it was something those icky girls did, girls who you needed to be inoculated against to ensure you wouldn't develop some of those icky girly traits.

I imagine that this wasn't the case everywhere, that there were playgrounds where girly girls weren't tormented by the boys. The couple of playgrounds I've been in, though, both as a student and then as just a witness to the goings on, suggest otherwise. By the time I moved to a different town and a different playground, the game was no longer throwing worms but snapping bras. Nevertheless, the game pretty much remained the same. The girls who were girly had their bra straps snapped, and the girls who eschewed girly behavior were pretty much left alone. The fact remained, though, that girliness was something to avoid, to mock, and - as a girl - to fear. Which brings me to this point: girliness is in the eye of the beholder. I am, in certain respects, excessively girly. I like clothing, I like shoes, I like romantic-comedies, and as much as I like playing in the snow or waves, I'm also happiest curled up in a chair reading a book. But even with girliness being in the eye of the beholder, girliness is devalued more than girls are. Which is a problem, because I didn't start liking shoes until after I gave up my belief that a worm could come flying at my head at any second or that my bra was subject to snapping.

Marjorie Bell sums up this anti-girly bias best when she says,
I’ve noticed that lots of folks with only one daughter sound like, well, me, when I only had one daughter: “Golly, we have no idea how she got so girly! It’s crazy!” Alter-nately, parents of glitter-indifferent girls can sound self-righteous and self-congratulatory: “Oh, we consciously provided our daughter with toy cars and Legos to nurture her adventurous courageous spirit, thus providing the fertile soil in which a fearless gender warrior could grow! More lentil-quinoa loaf?”
The thing that strikes me about this quote - aside from the fact that my own mother told me that she would kill me if  I became a cheerleader and then told me she would kill me if I joined a sorority - is how it fits in with the greater narrative of society. My father, who has three girls and wanted four girls, has received condolences many times for a lack of son. Professions that are coded as feminine generally pay less. And while we simultaneously deride the princess for doing nothing while her prince comes to rescue her, we also - as Amy Wilson demonstrates - expect girls to be that way, to be the princess who has a love of pink and ponies. We expect it so much that I think we do what Bell states; we see behavior through the prism we've already constructed. So, for Bell, Josie initially comes off as intrinsically feminine even though she - like her sister - is "in the middle of the bell curve of girliness". It is kind of like how we see cars. I recently bought a car, and I swear I now see it everywhere after seeing it nowhere before. I doubt everyone in the world ran out and bought a car simply to fuck with me (my self-centeredness doesn't extend that far), and so it is just a matter of being attuned to this whole new model of vehicle. The same applies to gender, and how we picture the 'tells' of each gender.

I'm pretty sure that there is no answer to the great nature-nurture debate; I'm pretty sure that, like most things in life, there's a healthy mix of both nature and nurture in how each person develops. Likewise, I don't think there's a definitive answer to the individual-society debate. My constantly quoted friend seems to think that I'm more on the side of nurture, and more on the side of society, but that's not really true. I don't think that society creates every impulse, but I do think it influences us in ways we oftentimes fail to recognize; part of that is probably due to us as a society believing that we are individuals and autonomous, and having that be the ideal. That being said, it doesn't matter much to me if Amy Wilson came to her conclusions that a daughter would love princesses and ponies and princess parties, and how princessy girls are bad, all by herself or in conjunction with society telling us all that princessy girls are bad.

The fact remains that regardless of how Wilson herself came up with the idea that girls are "whine and mope, manipulate and triangulate", it could still be published as a viable idea on a mainstream news organization's website. Frankly, I do think that Wilson has been at the very least influenced by society's belief about girls and girly behavior, just like I am and the boys who threw worms at the girly girls on my playground were. But even if she came to these ideas independently, I still think it tells us something about society that this work could be published where it was published, without someone saying, "Boys don't mope or whine? Boys are never manipulative?", without someone recognizing that disliking girliness and devaluing girly girls is socially acceptable and maybe that's a bad thing for all of the girly girls out there.

An addendum:
Further reading: Why 'Tomboy'  Remains a Loaded Word. There are a couple of observations I really like in this article, primarily:
It's much better, contends Mullin, to be a tomboy than a sissy.

"We are more comfortable with girls exhibiting supposedly masculine traits than with boys exhibiting supposedly feminine traits. I suspect this is partly due to greater fear that a boy who transgresses gender norms will be homosexual, and to the idea that a girl is `trading up' when she is boyish, since masculinity tends to be more highly valued in our culture than femininity."
Feminism has done a great many things, and it has broken down the doorway for women into the field of what would have been traditionally men's work; but we as a society have a lot longer to go in order to recognize the value of what we see as traditional women's work and what we see as 'women's roles', and in allowing not only women to be valued while doing them but also allowing men access to those roles without being considered less of a man because of it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Saturday Sesame Street

The audio's a little off, but it combines two of my favorite people, Big Bird and Waylon Jennings:

And though this isn't technically part of the show Sesame Street, I still think it counts.