Friday, April 18, 2014

Beware of Artists, Part 2

Several weeks back, I went to an information session after signing up to be an usher for the Hennepin Theater Trust theaters in Minneapolis. I have yet to actually participate in any of their events or do any ushering because I have motivational issues and am not as enthused about the whole thing as I thought I'd be. While ushering would be really great experience, something about the whole organization puts me off and I'm still upset that the Guthrie wasn't looking for ushers. Anyway, during the info session about ushering, we were told about the different programs the Trust is involved in, including The Scene, which focuses on people between the ages of 20 and 30 to encourage them that theater is cool and hip and that they should come to shows. The Guthrie has a program in a similar vein known as 30 Below, which offers rush tickets anytime during the day of the performance to those in the age range of 18 through 30. However, the Trust's program, framed in terms of getting young adults interested in theater as apposed to offering more affordable theater options was interesting to me. Apparently not everyone's idea of a thrilling Friday night is to go to the theater.
But why not? I wondered. Theater has always filled me with excitement from a young age and I always found it engaging. I don't know what led me to it, but it has. However, there are reasons why theater is not always so popular. As a customer at Target whom I was speaking with said, it's hard for some to sit through a show without being able to pause it or get up and grab a drink or food. But there's more to this. In talking about feeling uncomfortable about being in fancy restaurants, I began to think about whether people feel uncomfortable in theaters. Aside from the steep ticket prices at some theaters and the formalities of shows (getting dressed up - though theater attire has relaxed greatly in most places, sitting quietly through the whole show and knowing certain etiquette, which are not usually deterrents but important to note none the less), I began thinking about the structure of theaters and how they are designed. Recalling John Berger's Ways of Seeing in which Berger discusses how art museums carry with them a certain representation and idea of art (which thanks to Robin I was able to remember that this was the text I read this in), I realized how important this is in theater. People who feel uncomfortable in places that emphasis another class's priorities or makes them feel excluded is problematic. So the question is: what can be done to make theater more accessible for everyone?

One way is to think about theater design. I find that thrusts are far more welcoming and engaging than proscenium style theaters, and theater in the round allows for the entire space to be seen, allowing for a revealing of how certain things are done onstage (such as scene changes, special effects, etc). However, that doesn't entirely get us out of the loop of what a traditional theater produces - we're probably still indoors, sitting in the dark, acting as spectators. That isn't to shun theater at all - pretty much every theater show I've ever seen has been like this and I enjoy it, because that's what I'm used to. But what if we thought about theater in yet another way?
Another approach is to go the route of Augusto Boal. He wrote a book entitled Theatre of the Oppressed and talked about ways in which theater needs to be revolutionized and changed so that the audience is no longer a spectator but subjects, "into actors, transformers of the dramatic action" (Boal 122). On one level, this is a bit intimidating to me because it would utterly change how we as audience members interact with theater. Also, as a person who once wanted no part of the action, it's just a little scary. But now, considering I at times have to consciously not think about what it would be like if I could get up on stage and declare that Iago is lying, manipulative jerk, I really love this approach. Boal focuses his work on communities in Sao Paolo, Brazil in order to show them how to use theater as a means to discuss problems in their community, portray their everyday lives, and incorporate and reclaim an art form that had been taken from them while giving them a chance to use their voices in a place where people would listen. "The theater is a weapon, and it is the people who should wield it," Boal declares (122).

One final approach, one that I think incorporates the previous two ideas together is site-specific theater. While traditional theater may "'distance spectators from spectacle and literally "keeps them in their place', in the dark, sitting in rows, discouraging eye-contact and interaction'" (Mike Pearson, quoted in Escolme), rethinking the spaces in which theater is performed can change this interaction. By "consciously rehearsing with a space as well as with text," more thought is put into the location of the staging, be it a parking lot, a warehouse, or a sunny park, and focus is put on how to incorporate that space into the show. By asking "'what does it mean if I say it here?'" there is a preference for the staging that is seen by the audience rather than what is just portrayed in the script (Escolme). What does seeing Coriolanus inside an old warehouse do to the show versus watching it performed in a lush, velvet-seated theater?

This does not go as far is Boal is urging, especially as Boal warns against the way empathy is used in most plays because it can cause audience members to empathize with those who would do them harm and cause them to be swayed into believing an ideological standpoint that they may not have if they had not been emotionally manipulated to believe it. I, however, still like empathy and think it can be useful, as long as one is aware of what exactly characters are asking empathy for. Focusing on something like site-specific theater would allow for Boal's techniques to be incorporated into more traditional theater and, while we should certainly push for more theater like Boal's, at least it would expand what traditional theater can do. In my dream world, a theater would involve opportunities for the more lush, dressed-up nights, casual shows, immersive shows, and lots of Boal's theater by the people (because, c'mon, we all want to be actors. So why not actually have the chance to do it and portray characters you love and now, either from other texts or the texts of your own lives?)

Awareness is key - being aware of how theater affects us and how important audiences are. Theaters like the Globe, which historically have and continue to interact with audiences (because shows are performed in broad daylight and groundlings are literally pressed up to the edge of the stage) have a reputation for interacting with the audience a lot because it is impossible to ignore them - and to ignore them would be to miss wonderful opportunities. However, in theaters like the Guthrie - not to say whether this has or hasn't occurred at the Guthrie, I'm just using it as an example of theater inside a building that was specifically designed to be a theater - it becomes possible for the theater lights to hide the audience a bit and for the crowd to disappear a bit, making the show less part of the present surroundings and more of a nonexistent fictional space. This can sometimes work out great - because, of course, you can't completely ignore the audience and maybe if you have a rough crowd, this is the only thing to be done - but it also misses opportunities to take advantage of what making the audience less of a spectator and more of an actor in the plot themselves could do.

Minneapolis and London have certain advantage in site-specific theater (or maybe that's just because the examples in the essay I read were from Minneapolis and London). Both cities - and other cities, but of course these are the ones I'm familiar with - have a history of putting theaters into various spaces, taking what's available for them and making the most of it. The Warehouse District of Minneapolis is called so because it is full of old warehouses, but this also happens to be a chunk of our theater district. Though, if you ever come to Minneapolis or St. Paul, we don't really have a theater district because our theaters are spread all over the place, in whatever venue our plethora of companies and groups could take. I like to say that every time I turn around, I find a new theater in the Twin Cities.
London felt much the same way. While there is the West End and it's the best known part of the theater area, there are loads of other theaters around town. Almeida Theater, where I saw American Psycho: The Musical performed, was in a completely different part of town (which I definitely could not locate well on a map; fail) but made for a perfect venue. Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, while it's surroundings are pretty luxurious, used to be - as its name implies - a banana warehouse (oh the fun facts I learned watching the National Theater broadcast of Coriolanus) and looks it quite a bit. This really added a unique twist to the staging as the wall incorporated in the show appeared to be the wall of the building itself. Anyway, the tendency to take over old buildings and put in theaters is lovely and I've realized that, if money were no obstacle, that's what I'd be doing: buying an old building, refurbishing it, and creating the theater of my dreams (which is vaguely similar to another dream of mine - buying an old house or storefront and turning it into a combination coffee shop/bookstore).

The possibilities with theater, location, and audience are endless. For instance, I watched a great program some time ago on PBS called My Shakespeare where Baz Lurhman, director of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, worked with a theater director in London to stage Romeo and Juliet with people from Harlesden, to show that Shakespeare can be performed by anyone, even people from a rough part of a city, and to help the people of Harlesden connect with the themes and story of Romeo and Juliet in their own lives. There's also this wonderful article about a production of King Lear by Syrians in a refugee camp. And I'm growing more and more interested in the work of Punchdrunk's immersive theater experiences, especially as they did Sleep No More, which I've heard is a retelling of the old Scottish Play.
It's interesting that the moment I start talking about different forms of theater, I go right back to Shakespeare. This is of course my bias - Shakespeare is my favorite playwright and I know more about his theatrical productions than others. But his plays also lend themselves to be manipulated and played with more. This, as Boal notes, can be very dangerous, but it can also be very positive and powerful. Reading this article written by the amazing and lovely Simon Russell Beale reaffirms what I already believed - Shakespeare's scripts are full of endless possibilities for new productions and different stagings, different interpretation and endless questioning. So, if we're going to rethink the world of theater, why not use Shakespeare as a jumping-off point? Combine that with rethinking other classic theater, new theater works and spontaneous works, and I think we've got a really interesting repertoire to play with. But of course, it's important to remember that theater isn't just performed on a stage. It's performed everywhere, in our daily lives. If working retail has taught me anything, it's that we perform a whole lot more than we think (and there's a possibility working retail has taught me I'm both a better and worse actor than I thought, depending on the acting that needs done). TL;DR: Theater is everywhere and it's for everyone. And it's time to find ways that it can be accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Embrace it, live it, be it.

And, to continue on this trend, next I'm going to discuss the emotional maelstrom that ensued on the interwebs when it was announced that Benedict Cumberbatch was going to play Hamlet. And this maelstrom doesn't involve fandom problems - this time, it's Shakespeare problems. So stay tuned for more theater ramblings ;)

Citations from:

Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal.  New York: Theater Communications Group, 1985.
"Shakespeare, Rehearsal and the Site-Specific" by Bridget Escolme. Shakespeare Bulletin: Winter 2012. Vol. 30, Iss 4.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beware of Artists, Part 1

My current inspiration seems to be coming from discussions had while eating food. This weekend, I had brunch with my friend Tyler and while discussing the idea of artists and social classes, he said something really interesting. It seemed that artists (and here you can take artists to mean anyone who is passionate and interested in some craft, be it music, chemistry, or cricket) tend to want to do it all and try new things while others find comfort in just doing or being one thing and staying in a certain sphere. There's nothing wrong with staying where one is comfortable, of course, but this focuses more along the lines of getting out of an area, like a neighborhood or social circle, one always sticks to and going elsewhere. And that idea reminded me of this Cold War propaganda poster I've seen before:

This is meant to be insulting, but I think this is really one of the most complementary things to be said. Artists as I know them don't stick to one group of people or one part of town - they're all over the place, doing diverse things. But ideas of art and classism are prominent issues and ones that continue to bother and unsettle me.

It starts with who I am as a person. I am privileged, I am middle class, I am what some people would consider a "bougie." I like nice things (though I often can't afford them). I drink wine, I like sushi, I do yoga and go for runs, I listen to indie music and sometimes talk about obscure things like everyone should know them. I shop at thrift stores and major chains. I care a lot about organic food and shopping local and trying fancy drinks. I am skeptical of capitalism and yet also benefited greatly by it. I am neither entirely a hipster nor a bougie yuppie and yet if you were to catch a glimpse of me in some of these actions, you might try to peg me into one of these categories. And it's true that I fit into them in some ways (especially as sometimes the line between what people consider hipsters and bougies in the US is very fine indeed). But categorizing human beings is actually really difficult. Only focusing on these aspects disregards the part of me that really likes finding a low-key bar to go to and get drinks, or the part of me that would like to stay home and order a cheap, greasy pizza then go out on the town. It overlooks that I didn't always live in a cosmopolitan place like Minneapolis or even the middle class suburb of Minneapolis, but once lived in Indiana. I lived in a mobile home on a lake in the countryside and in a 1970s brick house in a small(ish) town and when I go back there to visit family (which I haven't done for ages, sadly) I can't help but feel a sort of cultural divide. It isn't that I'm uncomfortable in the environment of Indiana, exactly, but more that Indiana (at least as I know it know) is somewhat uncomfortable with the environment I come from.

When we talk about classism, we sometimes talk about how bourgeois people flout their designer clothes and accessories and experiences, not understanding that other people do not have the ability to go out and buy these things or have these experiences. But there's another part to classism that affects me more and it involves a certain uncomfortably with what the wealthy have. I've experienced it myself and have written about it before on this blog. However, there's an aspect I haven't really touched on and it involves thinking about me as the wealthy individual.
Let's admit it: fancy restaurants can be intimidating. Places that brush up the crumbs for you and have excessive amounts of silverware on the table and have more French on the menu than what I learned in my entire high school career can be frightening because they are different. However, I like to think of myself as the sort of person who can stroll into such a restaurant and order with no problem (assuming I'm not buying. If I'm buying, I'm the sort of person who strolls in, realizes there's no prices on the menu, and leaves before I've ordered anything more than water). I didn't used to be, but I've experienced enough fine dining with people that I've gotten over my worries about doing something wrong. But the restaurants that bother me are far higher in lux than in what bothers others. Sushi places I frequent, a restaurant my friends worked at in high school - these places seem nice and good for special events, but I didn't find them intimidating. But I've seen people I know grow uncomfortable in them and I feel bit of sadness, wondering what could be done to help them enjoy it the way I do. Some of it may be a matter of taste, but in this case it's a matter of comfort.

There's a point where staying with what you're comfortable makes sense. If you've been treated badly in a certain place because you don't fit the expectations of it, you likely don't want to go back, and begin to assume that other places like it treat you the same. There's a certain strain of anti-"fancy," because it's seen as elitist because it's treated too many people that way. When restaurants won't allow people into them because they look a certain way, it's understandable why there's a bias against it.

I am privileged and have experienced this rarely. Because of this, I'd like to see more people challenge the idea of refusing to go to fancy restaurants because they think they don't fit in there. To me, refusing to go to a place like this is letting classism win, is letting this negative strain continue. I'm the sort that will frequent run-down bars and posh restaurants, kitchy diners and buzzed-about bistros, acclaimed cafes and grungy coffee shops (for those of you from Minneapolis, I'm talking about Hard Times on campus which I think embraces the grunge), often mixing these up in the same day. I generally don't have to worry about being uncomfortable somewhere. Realizing this has made me realize just how privileged I am, whether it be my race or because I've had the opportunity to have a wide variety of experiences, or - as it most often is - both. I only wish that all people could feel this way and be able to feel comfortable everywhere. And I wonder what it would take to get us to a place where this was possible.
What does worry me about the refusal to go to "fancy places" is that, in a somewhat related way, there are other things of "bougie" culture that are cast aside as uncomfortable or unwanted, such as using "big words," or being intellectual or what is perceived as sophisticated. This is troubling as a college grad whose learned that one of the worst things you can ever do is make someone feel uncomfortable about knowledge. There isn't anything wrong with using big words or appearing sophisticated or intellectual. What is wrong is the people who use these things to appear better than someone else and use them to take advantage of people, to make them feel unintelligent. I continually remind myself to be patient with people who don't know something that seems obvious to me because it likely isn't obvious at all and I like to remind people that it's perfectly okay not to know something. Because I once didn't know the things I know now and I likely don't know half the things the other individual knows.

The thing is that there really are aspects of so-called bougie culture that I like. I like my nice wine and my cosmopolitan restaurants and fine clothes. But do I also like them because they are often out my reach and things that I yearn for, either because I actually want them or because society tells me that I should want them? And so, are they often objects of desire and markers for success for me? Perhaps. But I think I also just like wine and food and clothes if they fit a certain aesthetic, completely devoid of cost. However, the bougie things I do have I can't help but enjoy. Yet I think I also enjoy them because I'm not stuck there. I don't stick to one sort of social categorization over another. Incorporated in my life the way it is with a hodge-podge of other things, the snobbery usually inherent in the bourgeois is less apparent. Does this mean there's actually a way of making the bourgeois less "bougie" or classist? Or is this merely me being immersed of privilege and not really aware of its full extent? Or is this what happens when people on the internet criticize everything and leave the blogger wondering what there is left to enjoy?

This is kind of a messy, word-vomit approach to talking about classism, but it gets me where I need to go for Friday's post on classism and theater. So, if you're up for more ramblings, stick around for Friday's post as I try to reconcile ideas about theater for the oppressed, "traditional theater," and my yearnings for a theater that a wide, diverse audience can enjoy (while also convincing the world Shakespeare is really, really awesome). So even though I feel like 70% of this post is just random though bubbles, that's all for now.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Uncontrollable Fangirling: Tilda Swinton

I had an interview for an internship on Wednesday of this week and worked quite a lot of hours at work, and since then, my cognitive functions have been a bit mushy. In respect for my brain's exhaustion and because I'm super excited about the fact that the film Only Lovers Left Alive is finally released in the United States (even though it's not yet showing in Minneapolis but I has to be eventually, I mean, we're a hipster-indie mecca, right?), I have decided to focus today's post on the awesomeness that is Tilda Swinton.

If you are not familiar with Tilda Swinton her film repertoire, allow me to do some brief filling-in.

1) She is Scottish. Given my predisposition to be enamored of all people and things Scottish, this gives her a certain edge of extra awesomeness.

2) According to IMDb, she has a November birthday - and not just any day in November, but the 5th of November, or Guy Fawkes Day, which is pretty great. I also have a November birthday and take a certain bias about this.

3) She made a music video with David Bowie for Bowie's most recent album. If you haven't seen it, you most definitely should.

I should also mention that I adore David Bowie and this video rocks my world.
4) She has made films with Wes Anderson, namely Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which are marvelous. Especially whatever magician of a make-up artist worked on Swinton for Grand Budapest Hotel.

5) My favorite role of hers, thus far, has been the angel Gabriel in Constantine. It doesn't matter that I'm not really a fan of Keanu Reeves, it doesn't matter that this film is a bit absurd. What matters is that Swinton single-handedly makes this film epic and bad-ass with her character. It's brilliant.

Aside from all this epicness, Swinton has played the White Witch in the Chronicles of Narnia films, starred beside George Clooney in Burn After Reading and Michael Clayton (one of the first films I saw her in and it is MARVELOUS), and was in We Need to Talk About Kevin (which I haven't seen but have read the novel and it is heartbreaking and disturbing and brilliant, and I really must see the film). She's also a fabulous interviewee - I remember reading an interview she did several years ago, probably shortly after I'd seen Michael Clayton, and being totally awestruck by her rhetoric and breadth of experiences and knowledge. Basically, she's intelligent, badass, and someone I'd really want to get drinks with.

And now she's a vampire with Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, and I'm so happy about it I'm angry. From the trailer, it looks like everything I always wanted from a vampire story and makes up so much ground for the Twilight days. Everything about this movie sounds brilliant (and you can read more about it here from Salon and about the film and the director here in this piece from The Guardian) and I'm thrilled that it dies together this vampire narrative along with the stories of Detroit and Tangiers, incorporates music, literature, and philosophy, and, you know, also stars Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, and John Hurt.

In short, I'm uncontrollably excited about this film and cannot wait to see Swinton in another brilliant work. Here's hoping it comes to Minneapolis soon...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Check Out My Selfie

I was having dinner after an afternoon at the mall with my friends Ashley and Bridget, our topic having turned to celebrity culture (as it is wont to do in my life). Somehow we'd gotten from wondering how exactly celebrities have private dating lives and social media problems (like pondering how many celebrities receive marriage proposals daily through social media outlets) to the more general idea of Facebook stalking. Was there a link, we wondered, in the way that we treat celebrities and how we rely on the internet to know things about them and find out things about them as people (since we don't know them personally) and the way that we view social media of people we do know?
This feels a bit like a chicken and egg question to me; it's impossible to really know which came first. Likely our cultural obsession with celebrity culture, paparazzi focus, and tabloid nature influenced how we view social networks that our friends use. With media that makes us feel like stars in our own lives, it's easy to see how using the same methods of keeping tabs on celebrities and finding out information about them could be applied to people we just met or know, seeing them as interesting, idolized figure we want to know more about. But humans also have a knack for gossip and inquiry. We've gossiped about people we know in our cities and villages for many a year. Performing the same act on social media is a new step in this process and further blurs the line between public and private information. I admit to Facebook stalking, mainly to find out more about people my friends are dating. There's a need to find information about someone you or others are or may be intimately connected with and, for whatever reason, it cannot be gained from the person them self. This makes sense in the case of celebrities - we are distanced from them in some way and don't personally know them. But in the case of our friends, coworkers, and significant others, we could find this information from them ourselves. But instead we scan the internet, through Instagram photos, Facebook profiles, and tweets. Part of this is is do to the material nature of the internet - it gives us something tangible to see. We can see a person expressing their interest in a certain kind of music or tweeting about a certain topic or sharing photos from a certain trip. There's nothing unusual or negative about this; this is the purpose of social media and what makes it brilliant and unique. What becomes dangerous is when we rely on internet portrayals and perceptions more than our own opinions and personal interactions. That's not to say we can't meet people and learn about them through the internet - we certainly can and I'm evidence of that - but when rely solely on other people's opinion or only by what someone makes evident on their Facebook profile, we aren't really forming our own relationship with an individual, not speaking to them, either in person, on Skype, or in chat messages, and we aren't seeing that person as something more than a profile page.
I find the idea of Facebook stalking strange. It makes sense in some ways, in seeing if this person is really someone you want to spend time with and go out on a date with. But it can easily go too far and become obsessive and, when it becomes the only way of getting to know the person instead of talking to them and using dating as a chance to get to know them, it's problematic. It runs the risk of making someone as a stranger by only using one outlet to get to know them. There's a line in the song "When We're Fire" by Lo Fang that says, "I'm a person, not a concept," and I think of this while writing about this problem.

To step back for a moment, I want to make sure I don't sound as if I am demonizing the use of social networks to learn more about people - that's what they're for - and you can certainly have relationships with people online. I've made awesome friends online and I know several people who have successful romantic relationships initiated online. But these sort of interactions differ from Facebook stalking and there is also a certain kind of complexity that can be reached when interactions are kept to scanning a profile or reading tweets but never actually interacting with the individual (whether virtually or in person) and this is most easily expressed in that complicated relationship with celebs that I so frequently turn back to. Learning about celebs online but directly interacting with them creates a strange state of being, of knowing a great deal about them and yet not much at all. We feel intimately connected with them without ever having had a conversation - whether in person or virtual - with them. It a strange place to be in, a place when reflected upon produces such thoughts such as, "Well shit, I know your middle name, your favorite music, and your entire IMDb profile, but I actually know nothing about you as a person." It's often wondered why people want responses to fanmail, tweets, or other such interactions from celebrities, and sometimes the answer is given that they want to be recognized and noticed as being number one fans. But I think it's more than this. I think it's more along the lines of providing evidence of communication, of being able to talk to a celebrity on their Twitter as one might a friend, of having support for that strange sense of knowing them and having it validated.
Writing this makes me wonder how you readers will respond to this, as I've the one talking at you and yet I know little about most of you. I make assumptions about you as you must make about me. While I put a great deal of my thoughts on this, I don't put all of my life out here and you are left to fill in the blanks. And yet, this isn't really a weird relationship - well, it's not for me. I don't find it weird that you read over my blog and may never speak with me. I don't expect it. Blogging - and really even Twitter - is somehow in a different sphere than Facebook where it's acknowledged that most people reading our content aren't people we personally know, whereas Facebook is built more around the premise of keeping in touch with people you know (at least that's what I've gathered from using it). And yet they aren't really all that different, especially with the ability to post from one site to another and the similarities in their content. Regardless, I don't find it at all strange that people I've never met and never spoken with read my blog, and yet if that much time was spent pouring over my Facebook profile, I'd feel a little uncomfortable. And yet there is way more content and deep, personal thoughts on this blog than on my Facebook. So what they heck is going on here anyway?

The short story is that humans are very weird, complex social creatures. The long story is that we do lots of good and bad things in our communication and, perhaps, it's to avoid the staggering existential question of whether we can really know another person at all. Or whether we can truly know ourselves. And whether our boundaries of public and private really hold up with the internet at all.

But hey! Let's dodge that existential crisis with a reminder that social media can actually be a really, really great, powerful thing, as long as we keep in mind how we're using it. Are we going to continue to Facebook stalk to some degree? Yes. Are we going to continue to feel personal bonds with people we hardly know? Totally. Are we going to continue to be nosy, inquisitive creatures and all humany-wumany? You betcha. We're humans and it's beautiful and strange and complicated. We just have to be aware of what we're posting and not be creepy about what other people are posting. But first, lemme take a selfie:

Yes, this song will get stuck in your head. And yes, you will hate me for it. But this is a great representation of how internet culture can be simultaneously awesome and awful. You're welcomes :)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Good To Be Bad

I was going to write a serious post today, then took another look at the many inches of snow Minneapolis received last night and this morning and then thought, "Nah." So you have an April snowfall to thank for this post.

Jaguar has been one of my favorite automobiles for quite a while, despite the fact I don't drive. They are beautiful and classy and I appreciate their aesthetic. However, I also love their advertising campaigns, which is rare for any product of any sort. They began their success with me by using Benedict Cumberbatch as a spokesperson.

And this year for the Superbowl, they marketed their US line with Ben Kingsley, Mark Strong, and Tom Hiddleston, creating the idea that badass British super-villains drive Jags.

This is a brilliant marketing decision in my opinion because: A) Jaguar is pronounced differently in British English than in American English and honestly sounds better - it's the difference between the American "JAG-whar" and the British "JAG-ooh-are" (I don't study phonetics; I did my best), B) Using actors I adore to sell things is always a good move, C) Jaguars already have a sort of edge and appeal to them that make them perfect for this sort of depiction, and D) The message is if you drive this car, you can be a super-villain. Maybe with some help from Mr. Hiddleston.
Jaguar, I may not be exactly your target demographic (ie: I happen to not have a driver's license) but aside from that, I'm probably pretty close to what you're going for: people who like cleverness, cunning, and appreciate some good scheming and looking like a classy mo-fo while doing it. People who appreciate detail, who like stories with intrigue and probably watch Game of Thrones or House of Cards or both, people who love if the theme at the Academy Awards bounced of this year's idea of heroes and went with villains. People who appreciate the highs and lows of life, who probably won't be using their vehicles for nefarious things (but you'd better watch out if they ever did), and who appreciate the recognizing and expounding upon the trope of British actors playing villains.

It's just uncanny that a lot of these people also happen to belong to fandoms. And do I detect a little bit of Loki in that "Art of Villainy" ad? (Realm... I understood that reference).

So well done, Jaguar, you've outdone yourself in your marketing. However, as a sort-of consumer of yours (I'm an excellent passenger; every villain needs a sidekick, right?) I have a suggestion for a new commercial:
Night. Shot panning over London. Cut to Helen Mirren standing mysterious secluded street.
Mirren: It's often said that Brits make the best villains. It takes a certain panache and vitality to pull of such elaborate schemes and, with wit as sharp as our cheekbones, it's no wonder we own the demographic. But we can't let the boys have all the fun.

Several Jaguar cars pull up. Emma Watson, Judi Dench, and Freema Agyeman join her. Ad continues with this quartet doing totally badass things and sparring off with Kingsley's villain trio.
Regardless of what you do with your ads, Jaguar, it's likely I'm going to enjoy them. Bravo.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Further Reflections on John Plumtre (and Jane Austen)

In last Friday's post, I failed to mention an area of importance in Jane Austen's novels. While her books may often end in happiness and lovers being brought together, it's important to remember the instances in which this very nearly doesn't occur, doesn't occur at all, or isn't what is anticipated. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy convinces Mr. Bingley not to pursue Lizzie Bennett's sister Jane. Also, we have Charlotte Lucas' marriage to Mr. Collin's and her perspective on love and marriage versus Lizzie's, and of course the infamous Mr. Wickham who appears the perfect lover but is anything but. We've also got the devious Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, and of course Emma Woodhouse's good-intentioned but misled attempts at matchmaking in Emma.
Austen does a marvelous job of showing the vividness and realness of romance along with the turmoils and troubles and realistic obstacles and ends that occur. I merely want to make sure that this important point doesn't get lost in my squabbles with dealing with romantic stories and plot lines. I don't think I've ever really discussed my love for Austen on here and it's a shame; she's one of my favorite writers and one that has deeply influenced me in terms of my writing and perspectives in the world. I used to stare at my mom's copy of Sense and Sensibility on our TV stand in one of our Indiana houses, one with a cover for the film version with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, and I used to dream about the day when I'd finally be old enough to read and understand it. I ended up reading Pride and Prejudice first but grew to love all of Austen's books and any film adaptation I could manage to see of her work. I cried my eyes out while watching Becoming Jane at a friend's sleepover in high school and realized, in another beautiful story of romance without the expected happy ending similar to Miss Austen Regrets, that I found an interesting link between Ms. Austen and myself as a writer. Some of her worries felt similar to my own and some of her perspectives and prejudices reflected mine. I adored that she wrote characters that were so interesting, so rounded, and captured their flaws with vividness and grace. Her ability to explain a society I knew little about and had never lived in through ways that were forthright and humorous marveled my mind and caused me to realize how much I felt my own society not being that different from hers. Austen is a witty, clever, and doesn't shy away from difficult topics. Perhaps in one of my favorite scenes in Miss Austen Regrets, Jane is concerned that no one will like her newest book Emma because the main character is a bit dislikeable. I like that this perspective is taken, showing the worries writers have and the variety of character perspectives Austen wrote from and that her leading ladies, while being marvelous characters, are not perfect but rather perfectly human. They make mistakes, as anyone would, and the way in which she captures this in her novels is splendid.
To tie this back to the lovely Mr. Plumtre, what Austen writes about is often portrayed in fictionalizations of her life - she is surrounded by her own stories that eventually find their way on paper. While Mr. Darcy might be spread through popular culture as the perfect man, in Austen's story, he may be great for Lizzie, but he is human and he has flaws. We mustn't forget the original prejudice Lizzie had against him, as there was some truth in the matter and he did very nearly ruin the relationship between Jane and Bingley. But Lizzie herself is flawed and it is through the acceptance of each others flaws and virtues that Darcy and Lizzie come together. What's so wonderful about films like Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets is that they show these sort of characters outside of Austen novels. Mr. Plumtre and Fanny are very much like Bingley and Fanny had Darcy's convincing (perhaps Jane Austen in the film) gone too far. Fanny is like Charlotte, marrying so that she can have a comfortable home and find some happiness. And Jane is very much like her Emma, full of assumptions about love that may not entirely be correct.

In short, I felt I wasn't doing Austen quite enough justice in my previous post, focusing too much on my romantic ramblings and influences from my own assumptions. So here's me giving it another go and getting the chance to squee over the wondrous and eternal Jane Austen.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reflections on John Plumtre

Apparently in continuing with last Friday's theme, I have found another 19th century figure for which to I can lay my blame upon. His name is John Plumtre.

Who is John Plumtre, you ask?

This is he.

"But, that's Tom Hiddleston," you say.

Yes, the actor is Tom Hiddleston. The character he is acting, however, is John Plumptre, a character in the film Miss Austen Regrets. Please note that it is Mr. Plumtre I am cross with and not the actual, living actor portraying him. (Yes, I am angry with a fictional character who I claim has negatively affected my life. Roll with it.)

I first saw the film Miss Austen Regrets when it aired on PBS during a celebration of Jane Austen, in which they featured films of her works. This was probably around 2008 or so and I was a rather serious, sardonic, angsty teenager who was already infatuated with the story Jane Eyre and may or may not cared a great deal about Twilight (spoilers: I cared). I recall being very excited about Miss Austen Regrets because, unlike the other films being shown on PBS, this was actually about Ms. Austen and, as a young writer who adored Austen's wit and characterization, along with being interested in her life - given she wrote such great romances but never married - I was looking very forward to this film.

I wasn't disappointed. But I was greatly unprepared for the heartache that was about to ensue.

What I remembered from this film years later was that it was very sad, it had tormented me, and John Plumtre had really great hair. What I really remembered, which only resurfaced upon my rewatching this last Monday, was that it perfectly encompassed all my fears of becoming a writer and becoming an adult involved in relationships. I was worried that being someone who refused to put their writing aside to stereotypically wife-y things would automatically result in never getting married. I was worried that people wouldn't understand a certain writing style and, like Mr. Plumtre, be upset at the way certain matters are dealt with (in this case, Plumtre is upset that vicars are always portrayed as silly fools in Austen's writing).

Mostly I was tormented by the relationship between Plumtre and Austen's niece Fanny. Fanny likes Plumtre but is uncertain if he's "the one," if he's her Mr. Darcy. Jane assures her that she will do her best to not hold him against a fictional comparison and to be honest in her assessment of him. Plumtre seems to be a rather sweet, chivalrous fellow, even if he doesn't entirely care for Austen's assessment of vicars. He's kind, well-mannered, intellectual, and deeply cares about Fanny.

However, Fanny is upset by his dislike of dancing. She begins to wonder if she really likes him as much as she thinks she does but, when the idea of Plumtre proposing enters her mind, she knows she will say yes. However, when Plumtre is actually on the verge of proposing, in her excitement and earnestness, he believes she is mocking him. Thus, Plumtre walks off in an embarrassed, humiliated huff, Fanny is hurt and heartbroken, and the viewer is left sobbing and yelling at the screen, wondering why it's so hard for Regency Era people to talk about their feelings - and why it hasn't seemed to have gotten any easier two hundred years later. The most upsetting part of all of this is that while this story is about Jane Austen, it isn't written by Jane Austen and there is no "Darcy and Lizzie finally talk about their feelings and realize that they've both been fools and the beautiful couple is beautiful together." Plumtre and Fanny never make amends and Plumtre marries someone else, which Fanny reveals to Jane in a heated fight about Jane's views on men, marriage, and heartbreak. Jane previously believed that Fanny would easily get over Plumtre and only realizes her mistake when she has a moment of sympathy for Plumtre's situation and understands what it's like to care about someone who seems more flippant and flirtatious in their affections than sincere. However, she still doesn't see Fanny's real affection for Plumtre until the argument, when it is far too late for her to persuade Fanny to reconnect with Plumtre. This is not Pride and Prejudice in which Darcy can explain himself to you via a letter after saving your sister from an uncertain fate and you have the opportunity to run into him at his house. You can't show up at your love's house with a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel because it's the 19th century, boomboxes and Peter Gabriel don't exist yet, and this isn't a John Hughes film. So basically, the perfect couple troupe is made impossible, Fanny marries a widower, and the viewer is left feeling a bit confused. While the film may be based on actual events and may be a more realistic portrayal of relationships, a viewer yearning for a more Austen-esque tale can't help but feel dissatisfied. Why couldn't Fanny have more willing to work through the differences she had with Plumtre? How in the world did the proposal get so bungled? And dammit, Plumtre, why couldn't you just get yourself together, get over your pride and embarrassment and really tell Fanny how you felt?
My real anger with Plumtre lies on a level I was certainly aware of when I first saw the film but only truly recognized on the rewatch. I am upset with Plumtre because I am Plumtre. I am often more serious than is truly necessary about issues. I am afraid of being misunderstood or mocked when I am trying to tell express something I am sincere about. I am bad at telling whether someone is just flirting with me or whether they are really interested in me. While I absolutely love dancing, I until rather recently was rather embarrassed to do so because I was convinced I suck at it (I may still suck but I fortunately no longer care if my moves or impressive or not). I am not always as good at expressing myself in speech as I am in writing and I worry that in a situation like Plumtre's that I would act exactly as he did and bury my heart deep down rather than revealing it, even if it makes me look like a fool.
However, I'm also a bit like Fanny - I'm afraid that I am too young or naive to know what love really is, that I don't understand my own feelings - or believe that I won't and will be easily swayed by other people's opinions. I am worried that what people's judgements about love and relationships and my significant other would influence me rather than letting myself follow my own mind and heart. It's interesting I'm writing this post after having just seen Othello on Wednesday evening, a play which hinges on the destruction of a relationship because of the distortion, prejudicing, and lies told by one person. With no communication as to what's really going on in the relationship, assumptions about each other are made and it ultimately ends in tragedy. The story told in Miss Austen Regrets is certainly not dark at all, but it certainly plays with the ideas of pride and prejudice and leaves the question of why is communication and love so easy in stories but so hard in our lives?

This film terrified me as a young, single girl convinced by the suppositions made by those around her that she was going to be an old maid because she chose writing over marriage and was a romantic, daydreamy, awkward soul. I should have been reassured by this film, that it explored these fears and realized them, rather than denying them, but instead I saw it as my worst nightmares come true. Love was not as simple as the stories sometimes made it to be and those you think you or others should marry don't always end up together - and if they do, it may not go the way you dreamed it. Watching this film again doesn't really placate those concerns - they're concerns, not fears now, as I've mostly managed them and understood where they've come from and how they're not as frightening as society would like us to believe - but somehow understanding what makes this film heartbreaking for me is some gain as I attempt to clean up the rubble my adolescence left in my brain.

Given that I just wrote last week about how unrealistic romances have ruined me, it may be confusing to you how I could also be ruined by possibly realistic relationships. It's okay; I'm confused too. The issue is that unrealistic romances made impressions on me to provoke dreams of the impossible. Realistic romances make me nervous that life is pain, your highness, and anyone who says differently is selling something (Princess Bride fans, you're welcome). Either way I end up worried about having impossible expectations, but also worried that if get involved in a relationship and it doesn't end well, a broken heart will be my undoing. Because I have a lot of time to ruminate on such things (it seems slightly better to ruminate on this than on how much my job is turning me into a terrible human being), I end up thinking about this phenomenon more than it might appear (though based on the increasing number of posts on this topic, perhaps it's becoming obnoxiously obvious).

All in all, it's incorrect to lay my blame upon Plumtre when it's really the issues dealt with in the film that troubles me, but it's easier to point out the individual rather than saying it's Regency era romantic social politics and how they've carried over into the 21st century that's ruined my life. Because that's rather wordy.

Yet at the end of the day, it's wrong to say my life has been ruined or hurt by any such storytelling. While I have been influenced and persuaded by certain themes and ideas in the film, it's only led me to a deeper, more complicated understanding of romance and people and an appreciation of how the movie juggles themes from Austen's novels in a portrayal of her life. Love is about more than first impressions, as Pride and Prejudice tells us, love doesn't always go as we think it should (and thus matchmaking and shipping can lead to Emma-esque fiascoes), and life is what happens when we're busy making other plans (John Lennon, not Jane Austen, but it works). While our "ridiculous obsession with love" may not always be healthy, it certainly is powerful and pervasive, perhaps because love is bizarre and strange and lovely and complicated. It's been written about so much because it's worth writing about, in all its complicated, beautiful and tragic expressions and variations. And so, while I may have once be cross with Plumtre for being a beautifully flawed character, I can continue to regard his story as one of an important, personal realization for myself when I first heard it and now. I would like to apologize, Mr. Plumtre, for my previous crossness, and extend a hand of camaraderie, for we have more in common than I once thought.

As a sidenote, I would also like to remark that it's especially bizarre to watch a film you saw when you were younger that has an actor in it you now highly regard, and find that you have been a fan of his work far longer than you thought. It's very mind-bendy and timey-wimey.