Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Slactivism, Fandoms, and More Fangirl Confessions

*whew* After exhausting myself between over-analyzing body image, trying not to lose all faith in humanity during a group project, and dealing with ennui and some petty emotional conflicts I created in my own mind (not to mention school. Oh, and it was my best friend's 21st birthday Tuesday!) I am trying to get myself back into the groove of blogging on here. But for some reason, when I look at all the drafts I have to write and all the things I want to talk about, my mind just goes blank. I can't think of what I want to say. What can I say? There is no easy resolution to... anything. Least of all will blogging about it help.

But here I am anyway. Blogging. Being an armchair theorist. Trying to make wide-sweeping generalities for unique individuals. (It was a not a good week for me education-wise, if you can't tell.)
I want to account for more things - gender, race, differences between fans, people who are fans of things that are not British actors or British TV shows... just so much more. Of course, if I did that, this blog would totally take over my life and all I'd ever do would be research and write about it. Which would be awesome, if I didn't have ten thousand other things I have to do. Plus I feel like the biggest slacktivist in the world, writing on here and promoting change. It's not that I'm not doing what I'm encouraging; I am. It's just feels like I'm not doing enough.

But then again, I feel that way about most things. I should be writing my novels more, I should be doing more at the university, I should do more social activities, I should, you know, cure cancer and create the next greatest piece of technology while I'm at it. And then I end up belittling the stuff I actually am doing.

Not to mention I have been arguing with myself about TV fandoms, one of the newest joys in my life. I love being a fan of TV shows, I really do. I don't own T-shirts or go to fan meetings really or create fan art. I just like talking about them and watching them; I'm pretty boring fan-wise. But in a few of my classes, we've talking about how interesting (or perverse, depending on the professor) it is that people organize themselves to promote all sorts of fandom causes (ex: the "I Believe in Sherlock" campaign and the support that brought about the film Serenity after the TV show Firefly was cancelled). Of course, this is then compared to social issues and the question comes about, "Well, why don't these people do something to take care of problems in the real world?"

You are, of course, assuming that they don't at all (and that TV isn't a legitimate part of the real world, but that takes us down a different line of argument). Social activism isn't easy; I had my hand in it in high school, trying to get people in my hometown to support a levy so that the fine arts programs in the school district wouldn't get cut. It is frustrating, it takes a lot of time, and IT IS HARD. So it's not impossible to do both (however, it does bother me when fandoms say being a fan should be a full-time job because of all the time and emotional trauma they go through. Sorry, dears, but I don't think that's quite right.)

And then, to top it all off, I've had my personal fangirling experiences explode in my face. Well, not really explode, more like implode. Some time ago, I mentioned that I wrote a letter to said favorite celebrity (you know who. If you don't know who - you must be new here (and welcome)). And then I came across this article from the New York Times in which it states that said favorites actor's "address of his London home became public knowledge when he applied to expand his apartment into the one beneath it..."

Remember that time when Tumblr made me feel like a jackass? Well, now I just feel like a jackass, period. Okay, in my defense, I didn't any of this (why would I?). But still, do I feel like a total twat for finding the address on a fan website and sending a letter anyway? YES. (Looking up the address on the website was hard enough for me. I felt incredibly invasive and creepy. And yet I could not argue myself out of it). I'm just hoping that, due to our terrible postal service, the letter never left the country and I can keep my jack-ass-ness (yes, Blogger, I know that's not a real word) to a slightly more reasonable level.

I still feel really bad about it. That's what I get for sending fanmail - an odd, creepy, self-blaming sinking feeling. It figures.

So there you are. It's been a rather weird week. I will try to get back to the regularly scheduled programming, but I can't promise that - I have finals in a week and all hell is about to break loose. So we shall see what we shall see.

You know, out of all the hedgehog-Martin Freeman things I've found, I actually rather like this one. Oh, dear God, it's winning me over (actually, compared to the other stuff I see on a daily basis on Tumblr, this lot is rather tame. For the most part). But no, really, the angry hedgehog man line makes me smile. It makes me think of Mumford and Sons. Think about it...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Be a Man, Part II

I last left you with the disheartening notion of never knowing when a man's abs are photoshopped or not, that men are told to be "manly" (whatever the hell that means), and hedgehogs need hugs. I like to continue with the line of thought (putting aside the hedgehogs, for now) and talk some more about male celebrities and pressures with body image.

1) I remember some controversy with Chris Evans in Captain America having to take small doses of steroids in order to bulk up enough for the role. I can't seem to find anything about it online, so maybe it was just one of those rumor things. But that's a story in itself. (I'm trying to recall if a similar rumor went around about Gerard Butler in 300 but I can't find anything on that either). Of course, people were upset by these allegations. Yet who knows if it was true or not? If filmmakers are capable of going back in and adding in abs, it seems unlikely that actors would have to take steroids to bulk up. But of course, there's the pressure of having people expecting actors to look exactly as they did in the film, and I'm sure actors are expected to bulk up a certain amount in order to take the role.

2) According to Wikipedia, Dennis Quaid struggled with anorexia in the 90s, which is total news to me. It is NOT just a female issue.

3) W.A.R.G. - These are not those wolf-like creatures from Lord of the Rings. No, this is a group who calls themselves Women Against Ryan Gosling. Yes, apparently some women have felt the need to organize themselves because they feel the Ryan Gosling fandom has been forced upon them too much. And for some reason, this gives them the need to say rather unkind things like this:

I think the most annoying Gosling quality is his voice. He always sounds as if he has a slight head cold or just woke up. In my opinion, this makes him sound as if he is slow witted and dull. Those memes are the best thing that ever happened to him, because they add an intelligence to his persona that he really doesn’t have otherwise.

And this:

He is pabulum — bland, vanilla, unthreatening, unmemorable. I think more than anything, it’s his contrived ‘Aw shucks’ demeanor. And I just don’t like looking at him.

And this too:

Specifically, I do not like his face. He looks manufactured. His eyes are too close together, his face is too smooth, his cheeks are too flat, his hair is too neatly coifed. Even his beard looks like it’s bored. He looks like a Hitler-youth love child of Haley Joel Osment and Chuck Norris. Also, his voice sounds contrived. It’s as though he’s trying his best to do an imitation of someone who is laid-back and fun.

You can read more of them in the article if you're curious, but they're all pretty much the same. I don't care what your opinion of Ryan Gosling is; criticizing his facial structure and voice is kind of a moot point. It's not exactly something he can change, so now you're just sort of insulting him as a person. Which is harsh, if you ask me. And pointless. Because, really, what does it matter if you don't like him? Why do you feel the need to hate on him?

4) After reading the last W.A.R.G. comment above read this and see if you think it's weird. Because I think it's weird. Despite the creator's proclamations that Benedict Cumberbatch is beautiful, they still acknowledge that (apparently) his eyes are the wrong distance apart and so on and so forth. Maybe it's the manic hipster fangirl in me (manic hipster fangirl - great name for a band, I call dibs), or maybe it's because I'm slowly learning to love statistics, but my reaction was a rather harsh, confused, "What do you mean? COMPARED TO WHAT?*" Seriously, is there a proper distance eyes are supposed to be? Is there a proper size for necks and chins and mouths and things? I never studied anatomy so what do I know, except that as that humans we're supposed to be attracted to symmetry. I didn't think actual serious mathematical proportions were that much of an issue.

* This phrase has been uttered by my research methods professor more times this semester than I have said "Freeman," "hedgehog," "Cumberbatch" or "fangirl" on this blog combined. I'm actually not recklessly using a hyperbole here; literally this phrase has come up at least twenty times (so probably not as much as the word "fangirl" on this blog, but you get the gist.

The weird thing to me is that the physical descriptions of both Gosling and Cumberbatch sound kind of the same when read one after the other; the tone is different obviously, as one is written in condemnation, the other in praise. But there's this weird, vague line that both commenters are teetering on. I feel pointing out such characteristics either way is hurtful - the first way rather directly, the second sort of backhandedly.

It would be really easy to just get angry at the people posting this, saying the W.A.R.G.s are just rude and the Cumberbatch fangirls are just saying things without thinking about the context. But getting angry with them doesn't solve anything. It's not that simple.

I see a lot of things about Cumberbatch's looks on Tumblr. They mention how their friends don't think he's attractive, how people have judged him for his looks, posts like this that mention quotes he's apparently said about his own appearance and how its affected his career, all paired with a charming little pop song* and their cries that he should stop saying such self-depreciating things and see himself as they all see him - absolutely beautiful.

*Goddammit, that song's by One Direction. Did you know that was One Direction? I Googled the lyrics after listening because I'd never heard it before and realized; seems this new "boy band" really is everywhere. Is it weird that THIS is the way I've first encountered their music? Yeah, yeah it is.

To make this even more complicated, many of the Tumblr users who make or reblog these sort of posts make self-depreciating comments themselves. They don't see themselves as beautiful either. And while they get upset with disparaging comments made about or by Cumberbatch, I can't be upset with any party. It's so easy to say someone else is beautiful but when I look in the mirror, it becomes so much harder. I can see beauty in everyone else, but with me, I look at my reflection and think, "I don't count."

Does telling everyone that they truly are beautifully really help? Well, it certainly doesn't hurt. It's better than criticizing other people's appearance to make someone else look better. I almost wonder if that's what's going on in the case of Ryan Gosling; people are tired of hearing about how attractive he is and so, because they're tired of a certain type of beauty being "mainstream," they criticize it and unknowingly do exactly what they despise. Of course, this is all just an idea balloon; maybe they just like being trolls (internet trolls. Not the kind that wind up running around in the dungeons of Hogwarts). But I honestly think it's something more than that.
Beauty is subjective in many ways; we all know that. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to find. I came across this post from one of the people I follow on Tumblr back in January. And even rereading it now still makes me smile and makes me feel good about myself. Last night I attended The Vagina Monologues and while in the theater, watching the readers come out and take their seats before the show, I realized something. In that one moment, I realized I'd never been around so many women who both seemed un-self-conscious and made me feel so un-self-conscious. After writing about body image all week long, it was a sudden release. I hadn't felt that good about myself in maybe... well, ever.

These sort of feelings are rare for me. Rare to read something like Tumblr post, rare to feel so utterly carefree in any environment. Maybe it's because it's so much easier to criticize than accept that more than one definition of beauty exists. Maybe because it's easier to get angry when someone says something you disagree with then think about why they are saying it. Maybe it's because we've argued aesthetics for centuries and we might as well just keep that up. Maybe because it's hard to see beauty in a world that often focuses on the ugly or mundane aspects.

Maybe because accepting beauty (especially one's own) is harder than it looks.

Crap, I just went on a massive tangent and I can no longer remember how I was going to neatly sum up everything with a little bow. Wait, I'm talking about culture - there is no nice little bow. Alas.

And because there is no neat, tidy way to end this blog post, I'd just like to take the moment to thank Google for existing. This blog has gotten a ridiculous amount of page views because of searches like the one illustrated above. And while I'm pretty sure most of these searches result in, "WTF is this?" I'm still amazed at the amount of web traffic this blog has gotten. I'm impressed. So thanks, readers. Even if you're just looking for funny pictures of Martin Freeman. I appreciate it, regardless :)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Be a Man

As promised, this is a post on the male side of body image issues. I really want to include this because it's A) important, B) pertinent, and C) I don't want to come off like I'm blaming men for this shit. Because it's not exactly their fault. As Susan Bordo says: "Men are not the enemy, but they often may have a higher stake in maintaining institutions within which they have historically occupied positions of dominance over women. That is why they have often felt like 'the enemy' to women struggling to change those institutions. (Such a dual recognition seems essential, in particular, to theorizing the situation of men who have been historically subordinated on the basis of their class, culture, or sexuality.)" (29, Unbearable Weight) I'd be a rather shoddy feminist if I was just standing around saying, "Men are to blame!" Because, well, things aren't always so peachy for them either.

Now that you have that impossible-to-get-out-of-your-head song running through your neural synapses, let's get down to business. ;) Gentlemen of the world, be ever vigilant. I have noticed an ensuing trend throughout culture, of men worrying about not being muscular enough, not being handsome enough, of not being manly enough.

Oh, shit. Shit shit SHIT. Not you too, men. Not you too.

Susan Bordo, brilliant writer that she is, has a follow-up to Unbearable Weight in discussing male body issues, aptly titled The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private. I'm only going to focus on a couple sections in one of this book, because it covers a lot of ground. So if you're interested, READ IT. It is BRILLIANT. (It's also fun to read in public because there's an image of a ruler down the spine of the book and it totally makes people uncomfortable. Do I have personal experience with this? YES.)
In "Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body,"  Bordo discusses how views of the male body are beginning to change. But as they change, a tension develops. There's this issues with men who are "'self-confident - if he knows he is attractive and is beautifully dressed - then he's not a man anymore. He's a fop. He's effeminate'" (195). At least that's ad expert David Altschiller's take on it. It's not that men in ads are showing a lack of self-confidence; it's just that they don't seem to care either way. "In everything from war paintings to jeans and cologne ads, men have been portrayed as utterly oblivious to their beauty (or lack of it), intent only on getting the job done - raising the flag, bailing hay, lassoing a steer, busting up concrete. The ability to move heavy things around, tame wild creatures - that's manly business. Fretting about you love handles, your dry skin, your sagging eyelids? That's for girls" (197).

And so it has been in our culture - women worry about beauty, but men aren't supposed to. But things have begun to change. Clothing lines like Calvin Klein and Gucci show more sexualized images of men. Male nudity (and I don't mean shirtless men; that's everywhere) has been (somewhat) more accepted in film. And then there's David Beckham:

Not exactly portraying your "I don't care about what I look like" man, is it? That's because men can accept their bodies now - instead of this weird Cartesian split where the body is used to express manliness but never embraced as a man, men can now show their bodies off in well-cut suits and designer underwear and show as much skin as women have for ages in ads. Women certainly enjoy this; they aren't used to "seeing naked men frankly portrayed as 'objects' of a sexual gaze" (177). And while this seems like a step towards equality... there's an unfortunate dark side. That dark side being that we're beginning to analyze men's bodies the way we do women's.

I happen to agree with Bordo on this issue. As she says:
 "... I feel decidedly ambivalent about consumer culture's inroads into the male body. I do find it wonderful - as I've made abundantly clear - that the male form, both clothed and unclothed, is being made so widely available for sexual fantasy and aesthetic admiration. I like the fact more and more heterosexual white guys are feeling permission to play with fashion, self-decoration, sensual presentation of the self... But I also know what it's like on the other side of the gaze" (215).
She continues that for women:
"there's always that constant judgment and evaluation - not only by actual, living men but by an ever-present, watchful cultural gaze which always has its eye on our thighs - no matter how much else we accomplish. We judge each other that way too, sometimes much more nastily than men... But if we are our 'own worst enemies,' it's usually because we see in each other not so much competition as a reflection of our fears and anxieties about ourselves" (217).
And, as she says, "men are suddenly finding that devil living in their flesh" (217).  Think of the number of men getting cosmetic surgery, becoming obsessed with working out at the gym, taking steroids to bulk up, reading "men's 'health' magazines" that give "diet and exercise the same cheerleaderish mode that Betty Friedan had once chastised the woman's magazines for.." (218). Bordo reports that in a class of undergraduates she taught, 90% of the males thought they weren't muscular enough (221) (I have a friend who thinks the same thing. Despite the fact that he can lift me off the ground and I can see his muscles, he wants to bulk up).  Men can become anorexic too, especially in the modeling industry.

Remember when I said I wanted equality? THIS IS NOT WHAT I MEANT. Viewing the male body as we view the female body isn't actually accomplishing anything (unless the end goal is to make everyone feel like shit). Even if suddenly we stopped criticizing women's bodies and just had a go with men's, that wouldn't solve anything either. That's just flipping the script; the inequality would still be there - it'd just be different.

What's more, this seems to be an issue that is hardly talked about. When trying to find the before and after pictures like what I showed of Jessica Alba, all I got were shots of male celebrities from the neck down. And I hardly feel like this counts:
Dammit, Clooney! Photoshop doesn't even know what to do with you. (And, really, I've seen way more photos published that look like the one on the left than the one on the right).

So since I can't find anything about men being photoshopped, I'm going to talk about a different issue: the fact that we think they're photoshopped. Cue this scene from Crazy, Stupid, Love:

Somehow, Ryan Gosling's character is the guy who knows he looks good and isn't self-conscious about it (except we know he must hit the gym like mad to look like that). But then we've got Emma Stone's character refusing to take off her dress because she can't compete with that. Men certainly don't look insecure in this clip.

What to hear something tragically hilarious? THOSE AREN'T RYAN GOSLING'S ABS. In this article, Ryan Gosling states: “No, it was just photoshopped” Ryan said, “It’s like James Cameron invented this program called Abatar and you just wear a motion-capture suit and suddenly, you have abs. It’s pretty neat." Neat indeed, but it totally makes me lose my faith in cinema.

What's really interesting is Ryan Gosling talking about his character in Crazy, Stupid, Love. In this interview, the reporter says:
But while Ryan may have played a suave, muscled lady-killer, he doesn't really identify with that character, and actually went to great lengths to get inside that one-track mind. "I'm more like Steve's character in the movie than I am like my guy," he bashfully recounts. "I read all these gentleman's magazines [and] tried to follow all the lists...all the things you're supposed to wear." As if the abs weren't enough, now he adds a side of humble to the equation. This guy's good. 
That moment when Ryan Gosling sounds like all the other guys trying to be chic? YEAH, THIS IS IT (and now I'm beginning to understand why he has such a fandom. Wow).

Not to say that all men worry about their body; it seems like there's still that urge to not care, to appear however, to just "be a man." Whatever the hell that means; because Lord knows the idea of masculinity is just as constructed as the idea of femininity.

Damn. I have way too much to say on this topic but this post is rather lengthy. So, part II to come. Until then, enjoy this picture about hugging hedgehogs. Because both they and I could use a hug right now.

Note: All citations (except for the one from Unbearable Weight) come from The Male Body by Susan Bordo. 1999. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

F----ing Perfect

In the post prior to this, I reflected a bit on Twilight. I'd like to return to that, in order to illuminate a trend that has been surging through culture for quite some time now. This is the description of Bella, the protagonist of Twilight, on page five or so of the book:
Maybe if I looked like a girl from Phoenix should, I could work this to my advantage. But physically, I'd never fit in anywhere. I should be tan, sporty, blond - a volleyball player, or a cheerleader, perhaps - all of the things that go with living in the valley of the sun.
Instead, I was ivory-skinned, without even the excuse of blue eyes or red hair, despite the constant sunshine. I had always been slender, but soft somehow, obviously not an athlete; I didn't have the necessary hand-eye coordination to play sports without humiliating myself - and harming both myself and anyone else who stood to close.
This is what first connected me to the book and what kept me attached to the series longer than I would have otherwise. When I was in high school, a not-attractive clumsy girl who couldn't tan appealed to me. Things, of course, have changed since then. Stephanie Meyer doesn't spend much time describing Bella throughout the books - for one, it's in first person narration, and secondly, she does this intentionally, in order for the reader to "more easily step into her shoes." According to Wikipedia, she states that Bella is:
very fair-skinned, with long, straight, dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her face is heart-shaped—a wide forehead with a widow's peak, large, wide-spaced eyes, prominent cheekbones, and then a thin nose and a narrow jaw with a pointed chin. Her lips are a little out of proportion, a bit too full for her jaw line. Her eyebrows are darker than her hair and more straight than they are arched. She's five foot four inches tall, slender but not at all muscular, and weighs about 115 pounds. She has stubby fingernails because she has a nervous habit of biting them.
I have a bit of a problem with Bella Swan. First, she's not supposed to be "beautiful," but all the boys in school find her gorgeous. Secondly, she thinks that because she's from Phoenix she should be blond and tan. Thanks for that stereotype re-enforcer. Thirdly, she's "soft" and yet has "prominent cheekbones" (again, with the cheekbones) and slender. And fourth, 115 pounds? And she's "soft?"

(And okay, what's with the random details about her eyebrows being darker than her hair? I'm sorry, I just had to mention it). 

Yes, I know that Bella is fictional and that it shouldn't matter what her weight is. Because weight shouldn't matter. But in Bella's case, a girl who's totally insecure with her body, she begins to perpetuate something I see more and more in society - a slim girl who's not happy with the way she looks, even though people think she's attractive. Really, this could have been a great opportunity for Meyer to talk about body image issues in culture and, with Edward showing he can love her just for who she is, reveal that it isn't about weight or appearance. That didn't happen, but hey, I'm not the author so that decision is none of my business.

Except that it kind of is. Because we're talking about culture here and Twilight is a massive phenomenon. And since Bella never really deals with her body image issues (SPOLIERS! She just becomes a vampire), the entire thing seems to be confirming such business as normal. Which is crap.

I should admit from the get-go, being as honest a blogger as I can, that this is a really personal and sensitive topic for me. I have struggled with body image issues my entire life. I still do. Like Bella, I don't think I'm beautiful (and I'm going to tell you right now, don't use my profile pic as an argument as otherwise because that was taken my friend who's a professional photographer and it's been magicked up). Unlike Bella, I have rarely been called beautiful. I don't have guys thinking I'm attractive or saying so or complimenting me (and when they do, it's often creepy and unwanted. But that's a different story). I think every girl I know has body image issues (and if you want an account other than mine, check out this post my friend wrote; it's brilliant). And no matter what we seem to do, we are still unsatisfied with how we look.

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite authors on feminism, Susan Bordo. Bordo is one of the first cultural theorists I ever read and I absolutely adore her work. She has this wonderful, wonderful book called Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, and if you have any interest at all, AT ALL, in feminist discourse and body image, READ THIS BOOK. Trust me.
Bordo describes the body as a medium of culture, that through things like manners and habits and routines, culture is "made body" (165). Our civilization has left a distinctive imprint upon us and guides and shapes us - for good and for bad - into specific ways of living in these fleshy forms. Unfortunately for women, things have not turned out so well. Though normalizing disciplines like diet, make-up, and dress, "we continue to memorize on our bodies the feel and conviction of lack, of insufficiency, of never being good enough. At the farthest extremes, the practices of femininity may lead us to utter demoralization, debilitation, and death" (166). In short, society has told us the way women are supposed to be and, through our daily practices, we try to make that ideal real.

Sometimes, that leads to terrible things. This article from the Huffington Post was mentioned to me the other day. And while I've been on Tumblr for a number of months now, I had no idea this phenomenon existed. I can't say I'm surprised (I know about ana - groups that support anorexia in forums, blogs, etc) but that doesn't make it any less sad. But Bordo has some well-put words on why eating disorders and groups that support them become so common:
... as young women today continue to be taught traditionally "feminine" virtues, to the degree that they professional arena is open to them they must also learn to embody the "masculine" language and values of that arena - self-control, determination, cool, emotional discipline, mastery, and so on... Our bodies, too, as we trudge to the gym every day and fiercely resist both our hungers and our desire to sooth ourselves, are becoming more and more practiced as the "male" virtues of control and self-mastery... The anorectic pursues these virtues with single-minded, unswerving dedication. "Energy, discipline, my own power will keep me going," says ex-anorectic Aimee Liu, recreating her anorexic days. "I need nothing and now one else... I will be master of my own body, if nothing else I vow." (171-172)
We find ourselves in what Bordo describes as a double bind -  in this need to portray both the "masculinity" of self-control and yet have the "femininity" that culture as ascribed to us, we have found ourselves caught in an impossible position. Trying to do both leads to discontent, self-esteem issues, and, sometimes, eating disorders.

Of course, people have tried to counter-act this feeling of "you have to look a certain way" and express that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and "beauty is only skin deep." Which is great when all said and done, but it doesn't help. Yes, of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder - but the beholder happens to have a lot of society agree with them. Yes, beauty is only skin deep - but the skin is what we treasure. The whole idea of what beauty is becomes an immensely complicated topic with these suggestions. So then it just seems easier to declare, "Everyone's beautiful!" Except this Tumblr post points out that this also falls short.

Except that everyone IS beautiful - in their own distinct way, they are. Because beauty is such an infinitely complicated topic that no magazine or advertisement will ever be able to simply articulate it. And even if we are talking about skin level, I don't think I've ever seen someone who was truly unattractive. Yes, I see some people as more attractive than others, due to my own subjective personal tastes. But I've never seen someone who was unattractive, and certainly not ugly. Ugliness is not something that resides at skin level.

Of course, then, there's the trouble of what I said earlier about my profile picture and the fact that I don't think of myself as beautiful. I can see everyone else in the world as beautiful - except for myself. What the hell is that? Really? It probably has something to do with people calling Jennifer Lawrence fat and saying that Angelina Joli is too skinny and saying Lady Gaga is a drag queen. Because if these people aren't beautiful, I certainly never will be. And this:

And to add insult to injury, these issues aren't always taken seriously. As Bordo says, "If we are never happy with ourselves, it is implied, it is due to our female nature, not to be taken seriously or made into a political question" (253). It's just who we are, we complain about our bodies and worry about our dress size and wonder if our clothes make our butts look big. That's just "what we do." That's "how it is." But the louder we speak, the more we press the issue that's not okay, the more society thinks we're just playing a role. But it's more than that - so much more. 

Unfortunately, as is life, there are no easy answers. But Susan Bordo gives some good advice. She states that:
feminist cultural criticism is not a blueprint for the conduct of personal life (or political action, for that matter) and does not empower (or require) individuals to 'rise above' their culture or to become martyrs to feminist ideals. It does not tell us what to do (although I continually get asked such questions when I speak at colleges) - whether to lose weight or not, wear make-up or not, lift weights or not. Its goal is edification and understanding, enhanced consciousness of power... It is up to the reader to decide how, when, and where (or whether) to put that understanding to further use, in the particular, complicated, and ever-changing context that is his or her's life and no one else's. (30)
The only advice she can give is what she knows and, in her views, she sees the body "as a site of struggle, where we must work to keep our daily practices in the service of resistance to gender domination, not in the service of docility and gender normalization...It also demands an awareness of the often contradictory relations between image and practice, between rhetoric and reality." (184).

I can give no better advice. But I can give you some examples of it. Like Miley Cyrus saying totally true things:
 And Jessica Alba before and after Photoshop:
(She looks way more natural and comfortable before; so much so).

And this:

Because you are beautiful. Trust me.

And you know what, dammit? So am I.

Yep, that's me tonight. In the thing. Just Photobooth and no retouching. If I'm gonna talk the talk, I'd better walk the walk. It's up to me to figure out how to apply this; why not start here? :)

Hey, I even found a hedgehog photo that applies to all this:

Can we just agree that Martin Freeman is lovely and hedgehogs are lovely but that they do not look alike? Please? Just for tonight, can you agree with me on this much? Because we have enough body images problems than comparing people to different animal species right now.

And on that note, I'm going to shamelessly entice you to tune in for my next post in which I will discuss body issues again, in regards to men. That's right, gentlemen - I wouldn't leave you out. No way, no how. And trust me - it'll be worth a look.

Note: all citations are from Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body by Susan Bordo. 1993. University of California Press.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Little Baudrillard... and Twilight

I truly, truly intended to write about feminism and gender and body image issues in media today. But of course, that's not what happened. No, because like every other thing I've ever written, this blog has become a living, breathing organism, feeding off my life and turning half of my lectures into fuel for whatever meandering point I'm attempting to make.

Today's lecture in my Comedy: Text and Theory class once again made a fateful connection to fangirling. It started with my professor saying something along the lines of liking "prefabricated posts and sharing them in a virtual community." I can't remember what this was in connection too but this, of course, sounds like Tumblr. Later he was talking about our search for meaning on the internet and how, after some event happens (his example was with Whitney Houston's death) we attack the internet, going from page to page trying to find out what happened. But he says, in light of the philosopher Jean Baudrillard, that this doesn't lead us to anything - just more and more images.

Jean Baudrillard is one of those people I've heard mentioned a thousand times in academia but only have briefly read. His theory (and I actually knew this, for some reason) is the basis for the film The Matrix, which is very loosely taken from his writings in Simulacra and Simulation. So, if you've seen that, at least you have  the "dumb Cliffnotes version" (as my prof called it) of his theory in mind (I think if I ever took a film class with my professor, I would learn a ton but end up hating him. There would be a smack-down over Midnight in Paris and that would be it).

Here's the simple gist of Baudrillard's theory: everything is based in relation to an image, in a world where images have replaced and exceeded reality (which he calls hyper-reality). The examples given in class goes as follows:
  1. In his writing, Baudrillard discussed that if one were to walk into a bank with an obviously fake gun and cry that they were holding a fake robbery, they would still be arrested by the police, because the act or intent is still taken as reality itself. Which is kind of weird, when you think about it.
  2. "The Avatar Effect" - People really had depression after seeing Avatar because they desperately wanted to belong to a world that didn't exist anywhere but on screen.
  3.  "Romance:" This almost made me cry in class. My prof was describing one of his younger brothers who planned on being married by 25 and being the traditional family man. From what my professor implied, this hasn't happened. He's in his 30s and has a girlfriend but he has such romantic ideals, it apparently makes things difficult. Example - he bought tickets to take his current girlfriend to Paris in the middle of the day. He surprised her and told her to drop everything and go. But she had a meeting in two hours that were absolutely crucial to her job and couldn't. The thing was, my professor argued, his brother - and all of us - have romantic ideals we've seen in the movies and want to live up to. But it doesn't work out so well in reality.
  4. The Holocaust: This one shocked me. In the next 5-10 years, all those who lived through the Holocaust will be gone, dying from old age, and all we will have to remember what it was actually like are texts and movies and Schindler's List.
  5. A lullaby: This one almost made me cry too. My professor was recalling how, when he was little, his mother used to sing the same lullaby every night to him and his brothers. And yet he can't remember a single word of it or even the tune. However, he can remember the entire McDonald's jingle that was on TV when he was little.
Remember that thing I said about how one of my professors told me that it was important I was a double major so I wouldn't become a become a cynical nihilist? Yeah, this would be why. It is things like these that make it really hard to study culture. The incongruities between what we see on TV and in movies and what happens in everyday life, along with our hopes and dreams being dashed by the cold hard fist of what is said to be reality. Dealing with what people are perceived to be like and seeing how they actually act while walking downtown. As a fiction writer (another hat I wear) I find it even harder to reconcile between what I think people act like and how they actually act. Yes, my characters are not real, but they definitely have glimmers (if not actions and story lines) of actual people. Sometimes, on my down days I wonder if writing is just me expressing the disjunction between what I want from my life and what I have.

Which weirdly enough brings me to Twilight. I was planning on discussing this fandom eventually but not here. But now it fits. So here it is.
I admit that I was once a pretty big fan of Twilight. They were the first real "teen" novels I ever read and the first modern romance books I probably read as well. At first, I honestly liked them. There was passion, there was supernatural activity, there was a main character I sympathized with (awkward, clumsy, and doesn't fit in; that's all it took for me to attach to a character my freshman year of high school). But as the books progressed, things started being less awesome for me. I didn't really like the love triangle aspect. I didn't like that Edward was so forceful and controlling, I didn't like that the Vulturi showed up but never really did anything. And I sure as hell did not like that a half-vampire, half-human baby tore its way out of Bella's uterus and got named Renesmee (What. the. actual. fuck. Renee is a wonderful name (it happens to be my middle name; so I'm biased). Esme is a beautiful name. Together it sounds like some sort of badly named medication). It took me a few months but after the last Twilight book came out, I realized I hated it. No, not hated. LOATHED.

All of the other complaints about the books aside, what really began to bother me was the writing. Not just the grammar or the writing style or the flaky plot, but the idea behind it itself. Stephanie Meyer is said to have written it based off of a dream she had. I'm not judging this; Lord knows I've done this plenty of times. It's just... well, as one of my acquaintances so roughly put it, she took a wet dream and made it a novel. You can read what Stephanie Meyer has to say about this dream herself here. What began to trouble me was that this wasn't just a young girl like me writing about what her ideal lover would be like while the main character is a representation of her (what Stephanie Meyer allegedly has done, according to some). No, this is a married woman with children. I often wonder what her husband thinks of all of this. Is it a problem with them? Does he ever wonder if she compares him to a sparkly vampire she once dreamed about? Is it a non-issue because she's a writer and that's that? Or deep down is there this sense that Meyer is totally unhappy with her life and always dreaming, Avatar-like, for an unattainable world or a romance that only exists in the movies?
I obviously can't say; I'm not Stephanie Meyer, and what's her business is her business. But what is interesting is what its led to. This is Fifty Shades Of Grey. I haven't read it; I've only heard about it. But what I've heard is that it began as Twilight fanfiction. It's like we're delving deeper and deeper down to in this weird web of... well, weirdness. And all I'm getting is a vibe of dissatisfied women who want to write sexy stories because life has not lived up to her expectations. And all the while, I'm sitting in my lecture hall uncomfortably (it used to be the old law building and the skinny, arched rowed-tables are still there) wondering, But why can't people get whisked off to Paris on a whim in real life? WHY DO MEETINGS HAVE TO MATTER? Are we really living in the Matrix? Is a spoon actually a spoon? OH MY GOD I CANNOT HANDLE THIS RIGHT NOW!

And that's where I'm at right now. So sorry about the delay on the body image post; I just have a lot of Baudrillard in my head and it's starting to make a lot of sense, but I don't really want to become a nihilist. Because I don't want "anything goes and nothing matters" to be the state of the world. I want to fall in love and I want to have a family and I want to believe in people. And if that makes me a romantic fool, then so be it.

Because if I can't make sense out of anything, if it's just going to lead me to more and more images, what's the point of trying to do anything? This makes the entire idea of this blog pointless. And as I found out I don't have to do a senior project for cultural studies, I'm now just doing it for fun and because I want to. I want my writing to be more than just my discontent with the world. I want to make a difference. I want to be the change I wish to see in the world; and I can't do that if nothing matters anymore.

And I really don't want sparkly vampires setting the standards for modern literature. However, it has led to wonderfully things like this:
And this is why I have the utmost faith in the human race; because someone was clever enough to come up with this. :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Melancholia and Fangirls

Because I have done nothing but throw a ton of theory out here for the past several posts, here's a quick recap of what I've been yammering on about. I, of course, am not saying it's all valid or that I agree with it all, but it's a framework I'm used to using and it's incredibly helpful.
  1. We're in a "post-modern" age, in a society culture that might hate our guts. Yay.
  2. I am a feminist. And probably a hipster. Hate on the hipster, not on the feminist.
  3. Melancholia is everywhere.
  4. All of this involves fangirls.
So, now comes the daunting task of trying to tie all this together. Right. I can do this.
I've mentioned before that many fangirls on Tumblr have shown expressions of low self-esteem and depression. On a website like Tumblr, it's easy to see how this can become a big deal. As fan bases are created around movies, TV shows, celebrities, books, etc., so too are fans of dangerous things - cutting, anorexia, suicide. One person I follow (well, maybe followed is a more appropriate term; you can read about the specifics here) reblogged certain images about wanting to commit suicide. There's a reason why I see a lot of posts about being there for your followers and sending out depression and suicide help hotline numbers at least once a day. Because just as much as the internet and online forums can help someone find support to work through depression, it can also convince them that suicide is the answer.

It is because of this that I want to begin to emphasize the role melancholia is playing among young women, specifically fangirls. I've mentioned before the sexism that still exists in our society, a 21st century world that was glorified to have put this all behind us. We live in a culture that judges us by our appearance and, no matter what, it is never right (I'm being reminded of a post I saw about Jennifer Lawrence and how, even though people generally freak out about how skinny actresses are in Hollywood, she received criticisms for being "too big." And even girls who are skinny - not because they force themselves to be, just because they are - get heavily criticized as well). Women are encouraged to work outside the house but when they do so and still want to have families, it suddenly becomes a problem. Housewives are criticized, working women are criticized, women who don't want to have children are criticized. Men who speak out for women are criticized. Men are criticized for not being muscular enough, handsome enough, manly enough. Oh yes, men, you deserve a post on this - and you most certainly will have one. You're placed into gender roles just as much as women (but at least jokes aren't made about you being sandwich makers. You've got a certain advantage). And throughout all of this, we feel alone, abandoned, doubting ourselves.

And often, it leaves us here:

This girl is one of my favorite bloggers on Tumblr (probably because she reminds me of me. And she loves Vincent Van Gogh, U2, and Sherlock). So whenever she posts something downhearted, I feel tremendously sad; especially because she reacts similarly to how I would. How many times have I felt so terribly small, not in a good way like looking up in the stars, but in a terrifying way, like no one cares? Far, far too many times.

Okay, I need something to cheer me up before we continue. Hipster cat!
Perfect, feeling better. Now where were we? Ah yes... feeling small. You know, in a world of 7 point some BILLION people, when standing in a crowd can make us feel more alone than connected to the human race, this is understandable. Compound these feelings with whatever else is happening in your life (family issues, romance issues, school problems - especially bullying, and the list goes on) and you can see how complicated and dark life can become. And when things get dark... well, people yearn for an escape. As the movie Brazil and Sucker Punch was described to me by a professor, it seems similar motives were at work - although it doesn't sound as if things really work out too well for the protagonists. At least for the modern fan, their escape lasts as long as they are watching their show or movie, or reading their book, or participating with other fans. And yet an odd thing happens - they feel less alone while being alone while talking with people from all over the world. Does the feeling last? Jury's out on that. But there's a reason stuff like this pops up all over the place on Tumblr:

More to come from this vein, I'm sure. Next time, join me as I wear my feminism on my sleeve and tackle body image issues and self-esteem. That's what this post was supposed to be about, but it didn't get there. So hang tight, and here's more hedgehog related nonsense for your troubles.

*sigh*... I can't even process this right now. Martin Freeman does not look like a hedgehog watermelon carving. However, he is like a watermelon in the instance that he is cool and sweet.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Until the End of the World

Dear readers, I fear in order to expand more on this post on happiness in our culture, I must drag you all down "the dark rabbit-hole of the absurd society we inhabit" (Thank you, Comedy: Text and Theory professor Kjel Johnson for this). Because, as we all know, there's a lot of sadness in our lives. We long for happy movies because so much of what we see everyday is so unhappy - the news on TV, our jobs, the mundane-ness of everyday life (another discussion, another time - I promise).

In this era that has been called "Post-Modern" (gotta love the terms), we find ourselves in a situation Julia Kristeva, a psychoanalyst, philosopher, sociologist, novelist, feminist, (and then some) describes as abjection - a politics of disgust and rejection (especially the feminine, maternal and things that come off as "other" and "unhealthy"/"unproductive," such as excess emotion). She's been described as an "Apocalyptic thinker" both because she discusses destruction but also on the flip side of defining apocalypse, she expresses revelation.

In her book Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, Kristeva discusses... well, depression and melancholia. Namely the difference between mourning and melancholia, as defined by our culture. Mourning has become a process that is rational, communal, and progressive - there is a start and an end, a narrative unto itself. It can be externalized and memorialized and seen - in the case of death, it is obvious what we are mourning. Thanks to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, we even have a nifty little system of tracking loss through the "five stages of grief" - denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Again, it's a rationalization of loss, described by my professor as "something of canon today" (I can tell I've been thinking about fandoms too much; the first thing I thought of when this came out of his mouth was the connection of the word canon to fangirl's pairing of characters in relationships. Am I getting in too deep? Hell yes). If you "play it right," you succeed in reaching acceptance, in moving back into the normative happy phase (or "compulsory happiness" as my prof put it). If not, you're considered abnormal if still grieving after a certain point. Of course, this is a totally different way of talking about mourning than we do in my other field of study, psychology. But look up grief in the DSM  and you'll see that if you have an extended period of mourning, it's considered abnormal and a disorder. In Freud's thoughts, when grieving, you must work through what you lost and what it is in that thing you lost; if one fails to do this, they will go down a dark path (and likely end up at melancholia). Sometimes, psychology is not as kind as I'd like to think.

(If you've drawn connections between the stages of grief and the stages of fangirling, good work (talk about a form of rationalizing something that is seen as strange). If you're still reading since I wrote posts on the stages of fangirl, I deeply appreciate it, and I owe you. Big time.)

In contrast to mourning, there's melancholia. This is dubbed as "regressive," asocial, self-destructive, and irrational. It's what psychologists would call a disorder. Unlike mourning, there's nothing named or nameable to mourn, nothing to work through, a point to arrive at. It is marked (clinically and dialectically) by cycles of mania, extreme expression, indulgence, and hysteria, cycling from high and low, light and dark. Culturally, it is coded as feminine, emotional, irrational, mysterious and dark. (If you are seeing more parallels with fangirls and the way the act, bonus points. Keep this in mind).

Kristeva suggests that, to "recuperate" melancholia, it should not be treated as wrong but explored, to discover the language and expressiveness that comes with it. This is not at all to glorify depression and all of the troubles is brings, but to accept that it is a part of our lives and to accept it. To Kristeva it will become "the secret mainspring of a new rhetoric." For art and artists, depression states profound realities, celebrates the irrational, and from darkness comes light. Mania and melancholia are described as co-morbid, together, like natural rhythms, not a disease, but a fault of life; not just life, but culture. Because in the early 20th century, everything changed.

If you've studied sociology, cultural studies, history, English... okay, ANYTHING IN THE LIBERAL ARTS DEPARTMENT, you've studied the effects of World War I and World War II on the modern world. It threw the world into crisis, that we "civilized" individuals could do such atrocities to each other. I could write an entire post on this alone (actually I took an entire CLASS on it) but I'll spare you. Just know it's damn important.

The two wars sent us spiraling into doubt, worrying about the validity of faith and human goodness and belief itself. As Kristeva describes,
Today's milestone is human madness... In the view of an ethic and an aesthetic concerned with suffering, the mocked private domain gains a solemn dignity that depreciates the public domain while allocating to history the imposing responsibility for having triggered the malady of death. As a result, public life becomes seriously severed from reality whereas private life, on the other hand, is emphasized to the point of filling the whole of the real and invalidating any other concern. The new world, necessarily political, is unreal. We are living the reality of a new suffering world. (235)
As my professor described, it's like Alice in Wonderland: "We're all mad here." Add in the image of the Cheshire cat, "dark as hell but smiling on the outside" (my prof again), and you've got a good idea of what Kristeva's getting at. The only thing to do is to embrace the "sunshine and melancholia" and create a new site of discussion (259).

Of course, there's an added caveat to this. I introduce you to Hanna Arendt to discuss loneliness. While Arendt and Kristeva have different views, especially on the use of politics in modernity, I think it works to pair their two theories here (but, considering I know very little about them, I'm probably wrong. A theorist guru I'm not). Arendt argues that there's a pervasive feeling of loneliness amongst society today, which has "has been the curse of modern masses since the beginning of the industrial revolution..." (475). Because of this domination of production and materialism, a feeling of insecurity and being at the mercy of society has surfaced, while creativity has been shattered and isolation strengthened, turning into loneliness. Individuals have lost trust in themselves and loneliness, the feeling of being deserted by all other people, becomes a common everyday experience. Most dangerous are feelings of “organized loneliness,” when individuals are surrounded by people and yet still feel utterly alone, "deserted by all others" (476). And to add to this, Arendt argues that one can be deserted by their own self and begin doubting themselves, expressed through the feelings that "nobody 'understands' them" (476). Not only is this incredibly troubling, but it "had become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century" (478). Madness indeed.

So there you are. The world went to war (twice) and the world went mad. We feel we have lost something (we don't know what), we feel alone (we don't know why), we doubt ourselves (because no one understands ourselves), and we feel like this everyday.

There are reasons Cultural Studies people are a bit odd (no, seriously, I was told by one of my professors my sophomore year it was a good thing I was a double major or I'd be totally cynical and jaded by the time I graduated).

Of course, this is all just theory. And while it may not be 100% true for everyone, there are ways it reveals itself to be accurate. Stick around, and I'll tell you how (do you ever get the feeling that this blog is a bad infomercial, where I keep promising to show something really cool then never do? I apologize for that, but it can't be helped. Otherwise every blog post would be massive.) For now, here's something to cheer you up: Martin Freeman being Martin Freeman. Because no hedgehog could be this dapper. 

Note: All citations are from -
Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia by Julia Kristeva (unsure of the version, my apologies).
"Ideology and Terror." The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. 1968. Harcourt.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

And Now a Brief Note from our Shadowy Corporate Sponsors

I don't really know why I titled this post this. I just did. My comedy professor used this line for one of the Powerpoint slides in class on Tuesday and it stuck with me as a way to bring up a random interlude. Well, here's the random interlude. Before I go back to dark, critical theory, I thought I'd share something that came my way across Tumblr today. But first, I need to take a moment to do some strange self-reflection on my position as a blogger.

Here's the idea that came to my head, sort of a Venn diagram kind of thing. There's celebrities, there's fangirls, there's fangirls that are celebrities, and then there's fangirls that meet celebrities. And then there's me - this weird, orbiting thing dancing around all these clusters, not really a part of any of them, not really acquaintances with any of them, just... wandering about, doing her own thing. Pretty much like this gif to the left (for future reference, that's how I feel when I dance. I don't know how I look when I dance, but that's how I feel. Just in case you see me at a club and you wonder why I'm smiling so awkwardly).

Right, blogging. Blogging as I do is sort of... odd. Here I am, critiquing fangirls as one myself. Trying to stick up for them when they get shit thrown at them - and yet I'm doing the shit throwing. And then there's me calling out for the respect of celebrities and their privacy, and yet I don't know a single celebrity personally. And I'm doing all this from a blog, not exactly the most privacy-saving device in the world (so clearly I have ambivalent, unclear feelings towards my own privacy).

Oh my God, I'm turning into a psycho-analyzing culture critic. Anyway, the point is, the line between me being anything more than a blowhard, glorified fanatic and a somewhat legit, critical thinker is a very wibbly wobbly (timey wimey) line. I say all of this because what's about to come is totally none of my business and yet I feel utterly driven to say it anyway (ah, internet. You excel at convincing me my powers of free speech are extendable into utterly new hemispheres of thought).

As you might know, The Avengers premiere occurred last night. Certain fangirls have this twisted little game they play called "Where's Benedict?" Because apparently Benedict Cumberbatch is impossible to find at red carpet events. And despite the rumors they had heard that he was to attend, he (according to fans) did not. And from what I saw here and here (which you can view at your leisure), there was a disturbance in the force. By which, I mean, the fangirls seemed pissed. So, fangirls, listen up; generally, I'm not too judgy. But today... well, today is not your lucky day.

1) I'm not Benedict Cumberbatch (obviously) but I have heard (from IMDb) that he's filming a crapton of movies right now. So chillax if he wasn't at a movie premiere for a film he's not actually in; he's a busy guy.

2) You lot claim to be his biggest fans and yet you come off and do rude stuff like this. Yeah, I think it's rude. I'm not playing "who can be the best fan here" because I failed that the moment I started this blog and it doesn't matter. But of course, by saying that, it really does matter, because we all know, deep down in my weird, convoluted little heart that I want to be recognized for all this just like you want to be recognized for your fandom. Like I said before, the line is wibbly wobbly (timey wimey) (I'd apologize for the continual Doctor Who reference. But I'm not sorry).

3) You are taking the need to photo-stalk someone to a new level. Please take a deep breath and reconsider. 

4) If you make any more rude ginger comments, even in jest, I will shave off your eyebrows and draw them back on with RoseArt markers (yeah, RoseArt; you don't even get the nice Crayola ones, which means they'll be all discolored and look the wrong shade of blue or red or whatever) (Oh my God, that was the worst threat ever). Maybe I'm a bit sensitive because my best friend is a ginger and I don't find the ginger prejudice funny (seriously, it's an is issue. Because South Park brought it up to my generation and now they think it's okay to make jokes about gingers but missed the whole flipping POINT of the episode... is there a pervasive feeling of bitterness here tonight, or is that just me?). Or maybe it's really just because I'm rude and not ginger. (Both. Yeah, both is good).

So that's that. I'm rude and not ginger. We can all go home happy. (Still not sorry about the Doctor Who quotes. Sue me. (Just kidding, don't sue me Russel T. Davies and Stephen Moffat; I love your work.))
Vigilance, my friends. Vigilance! Be brave; confuse not the human with the hedgehog.

I have got to get some sleep; I've reached a new level of weird in this post.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I'm Not a Part of Your System: or, A Hipster's Lament

I was sitting in the hospital the other day (for reasons there are irrelevant to this post), scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone (oh, shiny new iPhone - you amaze me. No, seriously, think about it - how far are we from having all those gadgets from Star Trek at our disposal? Not far, guys and gals. Not far at all). Anyway, I'm scrolling through Facebook and I see this status from my acquaintance who is upset that fencers don't use real swords (his comment is in the bottom, marked by the blue redacted mark. All other comments are from his Facebook friends):

Girl saves world with genius skills. Gets a "meh" reaction because not happy enough. Nice.
You know, sometimes I love Facebook. I'm just chilling out, and this perfect, perfect conversation comes my way to totally highlight a point.

So I haven't seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, either the Swedish or American version (I know, I know, shun me; it's on my to-do list; that and watch Doctor Who, Sherlock, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone and start watching Supernatural (because when I tried watching it after having my wisdom teeth removed, it made no sense.) When I set goals, I set fucking impossible ones. I will see the rest of Season 2 of Sherlock on PBS in May; THAT at least will happen). But the point I want to emphasize doesn't really rest on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. No, I'm not focusing on the film but these Facebook users' reactions.

My acquaintance brings up a very common idea in American (and Western, probably) culture - the idea of movies merely for entertainment. Which, of course, because I'm a culture studying hipster, I disagree with.
It's not that I don't enjoy movies; trust me, I do. It's just that there's a lot more to it than that. As Jason Mittell says, in reference to TV: "clearly we cannot dismiss television's meaning as simply escapism, as there is always some resonance with real issues even in the most escapist show" (pg 270, Television and American Culture.) Sure, we might see TV and movies as just a way to stop thinking about the real world for a while, a way to relax. But there's always more at work than just that.

And while the commenter given the red redacted box might think that movies should make one feel good about themselves, I find this kind of... well, selfish. As if film-making was less of an art form and just about continuing the "trad sublime" (thank you, Kodwo Eshun, for coining this term) that cares only about the aesthetics and wants no discourse surrounding the art. Whether or not we want to accept that there's more to a film that meets the eye, it's there. And unfortunately for us cultural scholars, it's not always something happy.

Let me introduce you to a man named Theodor Adorno. He's quite popular in the cultural studies realm and he's a really fascinating writer. Except that he makes me rather sad inside with his (and Max Horkheimer's) critique of culture. Here's how it goes: capitalism sucks (this is assumed; we can argue this later later over a pot of Earl Grey; there's plenty of room for argument. And I have a shit-ton of Earl Grey tea). It has created the "culture industry" to make us, the consumers, "an object of calculation; an appendage of the machinery." It "misuses its concern for the masses in order to duplicate, reinforce and strengthen their mentality, which it presumes is given and unchangeable" (232, Art, Culture and Society). Basically, it makes us a cog in the machine and dupes us with awesome things so we don't care about the problems around us. It may seem to care about our welfare, but it really couldn't care less. Because it hates us. And whenever we start to notice it hates us, "the more dehumanized its methods of operation and content, the more diligently and successfully the culture industry propagates supposedly great personalities and operates with heart-throbs" (233). Adorno is notorious for saying things people don't want to hear.

I want to disagree, I want to say Adorno is 100% wrong. But I know he has a point. And I see things like this:

Which brings me to another issue - the fact that modern life very often does suck. And so turning to television, to movies, to other forms of media to escape the fact that there is a lot of sadness in our lives is common (much, much more to say about this, but in the following post. This idea alone could be a dissertation). And yet, we know that it's not always right. The Tumblr user above calls Glee a shit show but it was the best part of their day. Sometimes escapism is easier than admitting that Adorno and Horkheimer have some points. Because that makes us feel too alone.
However, I happen to disagree that the entirety of the culture industry is this way. Maybe it's because I'm young and naive and I refuse to accept the truth in this. Maybe it's because I don't want to believe that everything I know and allegedly love in the culture I have grown up around is working against me. Maybe it's because I truly believe that movies and television and other medias don't all work the same. Shows like Mad Men and Doctor Who and movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (at least from the little I know of it) seem intent on making a critique of the world around us. While they are a part of the culture industry, it seems they are not turning us into "objects of calculation." At least, I hope not. They are entertaining, but there's more than just that.

It's for these reasons I'm so set on arguing with people who say that movies and shows and such are just "entertainment" or should just "make us happy." In some ways, it's like agreeing that shows do nothing but diminish us, make us ignore the problems around it - and admitting we want that. In another way, it's like stating that the real, complex work going on in the themes of movies and shows is not important because it's "just a movie" or "just a TV show." As if that makes it less serious and less real. But I'm with Jason Mittell on this: "we need to be careful when condemning a practice that we might not fully understand" (373). Word.

So it's not in a movie (at least, maybe, a "good" movie)'s primary interest in making us happy. But perhaps because it wants to reveals something more about our world. But we long for happy movies - because so, so many of us are desperately unhappy. Unfortunately, that's another story. Until the next post.

This has come to my attention, and I would like to assure the world that Martin Freeman is not Winnie the Pooh. Because Martin Freeman is not made of stuffing and does not live off of honey.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Loud Heart

I apologize for my slight disappearance from the blogosphere. Not that anyone noticed, but I sure felt the absence. Mainly because I was absent from most "normal" things in my life this weekend, as I had a rather unorthodox Easter due to a family emergency. But all is well, and though we're all feeling a bit worn for wear, things will be alright.

However, in light of personal events in my life, I'd like to share something I saw on Tumblr a few weeks ago. Something good, something I'm glad has been shared by users (fangirls and all other members of this internet forum alike). It stems from this article on Feministing. The follow-up Tumblr post can be seen here. Please, read them both, especially if you know a woman who has heart problems or has a history of heart problems in her family (or you happen to be one yourself).

I know this deviates from my typical prose a bit, but I feel this is immensely important. As the Tumblr user points out, many people know what the signs of a heart attack are in men because of TV. But you can't show a topless woman on TV. So you're not going to see a woman having a heart attack on TV (unless she's transgendered, then maybe so. But when was the last time you saw a transgendered individual on a TV show? Right?)

I don't really have anything more to say on the topic; I just wanted to bring it up and shed some more light on it. Heart attacks and heart disease are far too common in women today and you cannot predict when someone you know may be affected by them.

(And also as a random note, the title of this post comes from the name of a band, A Loud Heart. Look them up; they're fantastic and from Minneapolis.)