Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Peanut Gallery: American Gods
Man, it feels like a long time since I did one of these review-y sorts of things. And after finishing American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I knew I needed to bring this segment back desperately.

If you've never, ever read a work of fiction in your entire life, read American Gods. It's probably not the easiest fiction book to start with. But it is BLOODY BRILLIANT.

As you may know, Neil Gaiman is an author generally associated with fantasy sorts of novels. He's written Sandman, Stardust, Coraline, and loads more. I have read a pathetically small amount of his books (Coraline and Stardust, both of which I loved). So when my Shakespeare professor mentioned that this book was becoming a mini-series when consulting with me about my final paper and I realized that I hadn't actually read this book yet, I decided it was high time I changed that. Especially considering it's about gods living on earth, having been brought over in the mind of immigrants coming to North America, and prepping to war against the new gods of things like media and television. It's ridiculously great.

I... I ah... asdfhjsgkldfd. That's all I can say right now. I haven't had such extreme book fangirling since I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Speaking of which, I think both Chabon and Gaiman should get together and talk about Norse gods, because I think they'd have some really brilliant things to say. Trust me - read Chabon's Maps and Legends and then read American Gods and you'll see why. I'd tell you, but I'd be giving away a pivotal plot point in Gods and I don't want to ruin it for you. Because I should have seen it coming; I was anticipating something of this nature to occur. But I didn't think it would. AND THEN IT DID. And then I felt like this:
I am utterly aware this made zero sense. I apologize. Let's just say that one of my favorite mythological figures showed up in an unexpected way. And it made my life.

That's not the only thing that makes me fan over this book. The whole plot of all the gods in the history of mankind being real is something I find really intriguing - and something I was totally writing about in a rough start to a novel not long before I read this book (in mine, the gods of love are trying to move away from being matchmakers and help people out beyond just typical romancey stuff- though that happens too). Not know that that was involved in American Gods, I felt like an accidental plagiarist for incorporating a similar theme in my work. Oops. Maybe great minds just happen to think alike. Not that I could at all be compared to the brilliance of Mr. Gaiman.

Because Neil Gaiman is downright made of awesome (

Also, two of the strange tourist attractions of my childhood are prominent locations in this book -  the House on the Rock in Wisconsin and Rock City in Tennessee. I wrote a short story for class (that ended up being very, very long) about a fairytale-like story that described how certain features of Rock City became what they are (sort of mythological I suppose). This was in fourth grade and I lost that story, which I've regretted it ever since. I loved it as it was the first serious thing I'd ever written and it has haunted me ever since. Reading American Gods with its inclusion of Rock City was like having that story returned to me, albeit from a much better written and thought-provoking standpoint.

The short version of all this is that I have once again had one of those weird mind-melding moments while reading a book and thinking, "Damn, this author gets me. I've thought about these things. A lot. And it's said SO BEAUTIFULLY... I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS BOOK."
More or less, that's how it went.

So, if you're looking for a summer read, may I recommend this book? It's dark and compelling and strange and beautiful, so if you enjoy that kind of thing, then I can't recommend this highly enough. And did I mention there's gods?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Not a Queen; A Khaleesi

In the past week or so, Disney has come under fire (yet again) for their Disney Princess franchise. It's no surprise that their glittery, gendered princesses have some people peeved. But this time... well, this time they angered their own artists.

Merida from the 2012 film Brave was officially ushered into the Princess franchise this month and, in celebration of this "coronation" of sorts, a new design of her was released. The new one is on the left, the original is on the right.
Ahem... Guys, if you're going to redesign a princess to make her more glittery and "feminine," how about you don't choose the one who verbally expresses in her movie that this is the exact last thing she wants?

Not only were fans upset about this, but so were the creators of Merida. The outrage over this was strong enough to create a petition on, as this Huffington post article describes, and got the interwebs pretty thoroughly steamed. Disney later apologized, saying that Merida just wanted to "dress up" for her coronation ceremony and stated that they would be keeping the original image of Merida.

Right, because that part where Merida has to get dressed up in the film is really want she wants; she loathes having to wear a tight dress the Highland Games ceremony. This is more than just a feminist thing for me - this is a characterization thing. Fan fiction shows that there are numerous ways to interpret a character - some that work, some that don't. But when your own film studio blatantly does not understand what their characters represent in the film and try to make them into something else... it's really quite sad.

What's worse is that while Merida may be the most obvious change in appearance translating from the films to the princess franchise, she is not the only one. Here's a grouping of the current princesses, showing how they look in the films (more or less):
And this is how the princesses (minus Merida) appear in designs for the franchise:
First off, there's glitter. Why the glitter... it's utterly unnecessary. Also, Cinderella, Snow White, Mulan, Aurora, Belle, and Pocahontas (and even Ariel, a little bit?) all have different faces. Cinderella looks NOTHING like she did in her film - she looks almost more idealized to me, more Barbie-ish and plasticy.

Why they would do this in the first place really confuses me. Why take wonderful characters from the film and whittle them down to facades of what they once where? Rapunzel's spunk is gone, replaced with nothing more than glossy hair and a super-sparkly gown. Mulan is practically unrecognizable, with long hair that she had for about the first fifteen minutes of the film before she cuts it all off to go in disguise to war. Pocahontas looks like every stereotypical drawing of an American Indian/Native American I have ever seen (okay, she's kind of stereotyped to begin with, but this is worse). I'm not even that big of a fan of Cinderella but... that is not her. That is not the girl I saw in that film growing up. And Belle... (sobs). Where is the sassy book-loving "I am not taking any of your shit, Gaston?" Belle?

There can be only one rationale for this: Disney's Princess franchise is run by people who think that by creating idealized versions of princesses, glittery, flouncy, flimsy women, that they will entice people to buy their products. It's all about the money and, in a market where toys are so heavily split between "girl toys" and "boy toys" that I as an adult can't walk past the toy section without being self-conscious of my gender, you can see why Disney followed suit - or, perhaps, set this paradigm. But it completely goes against what most of these characters represented in their films. These designs merely reinforce that women should care more about their appearance than anything else and that they should all look a certain way. The diversity in beliefs and motivations that the princesses did represent is squashed here with each princess in a similar pose and displaying the same coy attitude. And I hate it.

Disney has never been perfect - it has a lot of drawbacks, which I've discussed before. But I still have and will always have a fondness for Disney - I grew up with the films and I found characters I could relate with. I was a bookworm and felt like I never fit in and found a very kindred spirit with Belle. And I still enjoy their stories and relate to them. Rapunzel's story got me through a rough patch two summer's ago and God, the feels I have about Merida. So it deeply concerns me how misled the Disney Princess franchise is.

That being said, I feel a new array of hope at the parents who leaped into action on and petitioned for the original Merida to be reinstated. While Disney may be throwing these stereotypical princesses at kids, parents look like they want their kids to have more than that, to see princesses who are prized for more than their beauty and fashionable dresses, but what makes them princesses - strength, wit, empathy, courage, endurance. Princesses are not fashonistas but rulers, leaders. Instead of seeing glitter surrounding these women, maybe I'd like to see something more along the lines of this:
Okay, so I realize that Daenerys and Game of Thrones is not exactly "family-friendly" (wow, two posts that mention "family-friendliness" in the same week; who'd have thunk) but you get the idea. Disney's female protagonists are pretty badass in their own right - and portraying them as anything else by their own organization is a terrible falsehood. Watch your own films, Disney, and realize what these women can and should represent.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing
Remember last night how I said that I was going to start putting in ads so I could make a little bit of money off of my blog and attempt to make some sort of career at out of this?

Yeah, forget I ever said that.

Little did I know that one didn't just magically put ads on your blog. No, one had to APPLY to Ad Sense and be approved. Which worried me a little, because I remember someone I follow on Tumblr having to remove a bunch of "suggestive" pictures off of her blog so she could continue to monetize it because AdSense was threatening to pull out if she didn't. She runs a 1950s sort of style blog and the only thing that could cause problems would be some pin-up photos or something. Her blog was pretty "safe for work" and I was astonished that she would have problems.

And so, I started scanning the AdSense Content Guidelines (which can be found here). They will not support blogs that have this sort of content:
  • Pornography, adult or mature content
  • Violent content
  • Content related to racial intolerance or advocacy against any individual, group or organisation
  • Excessive profanity
  • Hacking/cracking content
  • Illicit drugs and drug paraphernalia content
  • Sales of beer or hard alcohol
  • Sales of tobacco or tobacco-related products
  • Sales of prescription drugs
  • Sales of weapons or ammunition (e.g. firearms, firearm components, fighting knives, stun guns)
  • Sales of products that are replicas or imitations of designer or other goods
  • Sales or distribution of coursework or student essays
  • Content regarding programs which compensate users for clicking ads or offers, performing searches, surfing websites or reading emails
  • Any other content that is illegal, promotes illegal activity or infringes on the legal rights of others
I don't have these sorts of things so I figured I would be okay. The excessive profanity had me concerned, but I don't swear that much. Yes I swear - I am human. But I honestly didn't think it would be a problem.

And maybe that wasn't it. But I got an email this morning, less than twelve hours after submitting my application which simply stated:
Thank you for your interest in Google AdSense. Unfortunately, after
reviewing your application, we're unable to accept you into AdSense at
this time.

We did not approve your application for the reasons listed below.

- Adult content
I'm not going to lie; this angered me. Greatly. The email further explained:
Adult content: Currently, only Google ads that we classify as family-safe
are available through the AdSense program. We've found adult content on
your site. This includes text or images that contain sexual, lewd or
provocative content, and sites that require users to be at least 18, or
that may not be safe for work. Therefore, we're unable to display relevant
ads on your site.
To which I can only say:
It's not even the profanity that got me in trouble. It's "sexual, lewd, or provocative content."


Hmm... on second thought, maybe I shouldn't have referred to Google as "evil overlords." More than once. Or maybe there's just too many picture of attractive people on my blog.

But in all seriousness, this has me really concerned. If I can't currently put ads on my blog, how would I have to change it so I could? How would I have to change what I want to create to make money? Who exactly does AdSesne think they're targeting? I understand that they don't want to support pornography blogs or things that could be harmful. But just because I discuss sensitive issues (and not even that sensitive; I refrained from writing about female genital mutilation earlier on - count yourselves lucky), doesn't mean that you should bar me from monetizing because I'm not "family-safe."

By the way, what the hell does "family-safe" really mean? It's as vague as the day is long.
Google, I know you're reading this and storing data and keeping tabs on me and planning to run your "evil checker" on me and making sure I'm not wreaking havoc, at least within your idea of the term (ironically, I was going to tell you to Google search "evil checker" - anyway, search it or read this Huffington Post article and see what Google may have planned for keeping users within their policy guidelines. I'm not paranoid but... I don't like it). Ultimately, I no longer have to feel guilty about having ads on my blog because I CAN'T have ads on my blog. Well played, Google, well played. I guess I can't really be that upset about it. But if they do think my blog adult content... what does that mean if they ever start cracking down on who's doing what?

Word of the wise, Google: don't make an enemy out of me. I may not be important in the blogosphere because I don't get a million views a day, but neither am I utterly irrelevant. I may be little, but I am fierce. Don't decide that you don't want to support a blog like mine or content like mine.
There are far worse things out there. And far better things too. I'd like to think you won't support my blog because I swear and because I don't get enough views for you to think it worth the effort rather than refusing because you find my particular line of thought threatening or you feel uncomfortable supporting me because everyone might not agree with me. Fine. Don't allow ads on my blog. But don't tell me what I can and can't (within reason) do out here.

Especially this:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed?

One day in my graphic novels class, shortly before the semester ended, a friend of a friend of mine contributed to a class discussion, saying something along the lines of how it didn't matter to him about relating to the characters in a book we had read because he never related to fictional characters. My reaction felt a little bit like this:
And something a bit like this:
My first judgmental reaction to this comment was something along the lines of "What the hell is wrong with you how do you not care about fictional characters WHAT KIND OF BEING ARE YOU?!" Half a second later I got off my high-horse of derision and forced myself to calm the hell down and think about this.

I have a relationship with fiction which I didn't realize until more recent years of my life that everyone may not develop. I sympathize immensely with fictional characters because, for me, they never seemed any different from real people. I believed them easily (as my acting teacher expressed about becoming characters, it's about being a believable person in a imaginary place). I have always blurred the line between fiction and reality because I found stories so similar to my own world and characters that I tragically realized I knew better than some of the people close to me in my life. I'm a big fan of the liminal space between myth and history, between the perceived and the actual, "the knife-narrow borderland between those two kingdoms, the Empire of Lies and the Republic of Truth" (Chabon 210).

Basically, if something doesn't exist outside of my mind or the pages of a book or off of a movie
screen, it never made it any less "real." However, not everyone has developed these sort of disregard for such metaphysical things, which I can certainly understand. But even those who firmly separate between fact and fiction can still sympathize with fictional characters. This division lies in something different. What exactly? I'm not entirely sure.

The problem is, I could empathize with anything. I was the sort of kid that felt bad when I didn't give my group of stuffed animals equal attention. I couldn't bear to see toy animals in the store with sad little faces that hadn't yet been bought (especially if they were cats). A lonely pen laying on the ground could send me into a narrative spiral of wondering who lost it, where it came from, and whether anyone was missing it. The fact that all of these things are inhuman, unfeeling objects is completely irrelevant. Welcome to anthropomorphizing the hell out of everything 101.
Does a stronger tendency of anthropomorphication correlate to empathizing more with fictional people? I have absolutely zero data to prove it. But it seems to be a plausible link. I'm not saying that everyone who sympathizes with fictional characters had weird issues with stuffed animals and dropped pens. But I do wonder if there's some link there, something about ways of thinking in which talking animals took a certain believability in thought that caring about someone who is made out of ink and air does. It's a different way of seeing that not everyone has.

It does make finding lost objects a whole lot more complex.

On an administrative note: Remember back when I said that I wasn't going to put ads on this blog, despite the fiscal gain it might provide me? Well, I'm in a bit of post-graduate nervousness, quickly realizing that I might want to think about ways in which I can make money that I am committed to and enjoy. This blog is that exactly. And because I want to be able to do this a whole lot more, I'm going to do that thing I said I wouldn't do - bring in ads.

I know, I know. I'm a traitor. The Google Overlords have won. But hopefully it won't be irritating or annoying or utterly distracting. But we're going to give it a test run and if having ads here isn't all of these things and you don't feel like I'm selling out, then I might be a little less worried about my totally foggy future. (Why does Totally Foggy Future sound like a band name? And why am I being such a hipster about this?)

Anyway, be aware of ads coming your way. I can only imagine what they might advertise...

Citation from:
Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon. 2008, Harper Perennial.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

It's the Real

My utmost apologies for my week's absence here. I was in the process of graduating, a ritual involving copious amounts pomp and circumstance and a plethora of confusion. One dons a black, rather goofy looking gown, a motorboard cap, and a tassel in the tradition of 14th century scholars who had no idea that I would one day bemoan how hot and sweaty such attire is in the humidity of Minnesota. The graduation ceremony itself is rather standard - there are speakers, there is applause, there is a great deal of uncertainty about whether or not one needs to carry a purse with them (which all ended up being mostly a moot point because I arrived at graduation with my parents and didn't have to worry about dragging my apartment keys with me. Because graduation gowns do not have pockets. Alas). And eventually you cross the stage, are metaphorically sprinkled with pixie dust which magically makes you an adult, and presented with NOT a diploma (at least in my ceremony - the actual diploma is mailed in July after my university is certain that I actually passed my last semester of classes and deserve such a hallowed item). Regardless, the place-holding certificate I was given and the shiny little holder it came in made me feel oddly liberated. Basically like this:
However, while I flounce around like the liberated house elf that I am, I also have to reckon with the fact that I really AM done with school and can do (more or less) whatever I please. Society has fully granted me the status of independent twenty-something. And for some reason, this just makes me want to go out and buy Capri Sun drinks and Lunchables, essentially the diet of hyperactive American elementary school student.
I'm part of the "real world" now, people say, as if college was some how not a reality and that stress is not at all similar to the sort of stress I'll find in the workplace *spoilers: it is*. I do have to say that my first day as a graduate at work was a bit intense and that arriving home from my internship to find that my apartment building overlords had scheduled tours in times that had been free for me but later weren't and gave me last minute notice that I was actually expected to do these tours AND notify tenants about me coming into their rooms was a bit, well... much. C'mon, give me a chance to feel happy about being a graduate! Don't make me all bitter and rage-filled and jaded already!

No fears: the fact that I haven't turned into a giant green rage-machine yet means I'm probably not going to turn bitter and jaded on my first day back from my graduation hiatus (which was less of a hiatus and more of a mini-family reunion fiesta). Point is: graduation doesn't happen in that ceremony with the magic pixie dust and the fake diploma. I liked the ceremony; don't get me wrong. But that's only part of it. Graduation is a state of mind - a place of accepting that college and the work world have far more in common than people give it credit for, but is vastly different in ways that needs transitioning. So far, I haven't had a major existential crisis. I have realized that I deeply need to reevaluate what I thought I wanted to do as far as day jobs go (writing, of course, being my main focus and the job that slowly consumes my soul). I know that I don't really have a plan for... anything (except that I WILL FIND A WAY TO SEE CORIOLANUS IN LONDON. I WILL FIND A WAY). And yet I'm not scared terribly stiff. I'm mostly just excited.

Finally I NEED to stop doing these soul-searchy blog posts. So this is the last one (I hope - no promises. Every time I say I'm done for sure, I end up prolonging the topic). Back to fandom stuff soon, I should think. And considering it's still technically Tuesday as I write this, I owe you all a Wednesday post. Let's see if I can actually accomplish that with what's destined to be a fiasco of a morning at my apartment building...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

On Graduating
Whether it's completely set in yet or not, I have had the last day of class for my undergraduate academic career. I've started working on finals, I have one paper to finish, and by Wednesday, I'll be done with everything except the graduation ceremony itself.

It's all a little weird. And by a little weird I mean incredibly freaking bizarre.

I've never been one to romanticize college. This might be surprising, I imagine, but I never actually wanted to go to college. I never planned on it as a kid, never thought about about it, never really knew what it was until I started high school and suddenly that became the primary focus of everything. I went to college mainly because it was expected of me, I had to go in order to study music (what I initially went to university for), and... well, everyone else was doing it. I never wanted to go to Harvard and didn't contemplate going overseas and I wasn't too sure I wanted to think of college as similar to Hogwarts because, in the words of Darcy from Thor, "I am not dying for six college credits" (no offense, Harry Potter, but going to school with you seems like a fairly major hazard).

That being said, college has been way more amazing than I expected it to be. Okay, honestly, I had no expectations. I'd read The Overachievers and Pledged by Alexandra Robbins, both of which are books that give an interesting view of college and college-bound students. I had my dad's awesome stories but he'd gone to a liberal arts college for men in Northern Indiana that sounded myth-like and part of a system of education far unlike the one I'd be entering into. I only applied to one school and when I got it, that was it. The University of Minnesota was my top choice, partly because I was lazy and partly because it seemed the perfect fit. I seriously had my doubts my freshman year but I ended up being right. It was the perfect fit. As much as I complain about the research-centered psychology program and dislike how athletic events overshadow others things on campus and feel a bit dissociated from the University of Minnesota because it's so gigantic, I honestly love this stupid school (I've begun to use "stupid" as a term of an endearment for everything here lately. Curse you, Tumblr).

Maybe I feel this way because I'm finally feel free, not seemingly trapped here with a bunch of requirements to fulfill. I've reached the end and now I can appreciate what I've had. There's no stress, no worry (minus the bit where I wonderfully remind myself that I will be utterly unemployed by the end of August) and so, I can appreciate the weird beauty of campus and feel strangely joyous of my endearing dislike for the frat houses, the business school, the terrible communication from the higher levels of the university, and the variety of other things on campus that I've expressed contempt for over the last four years.

Eddy Hall, circa 1933. Just in case the U is ever accused of not being classy.
This weird, unexpected nostalgia at first worried me. Especially as I keep having high school flashbacks and similar feelings to my graduation from Lakeville South High School four years ago, and that whole experience was strange, to say the least. However, I'm in a much different place - a much better state of mind, for sure - and things feel far different. I'm not facing graduation with any trepidation. I'm elated, excited, proud. A bit nostalgic, yes, but hey - this has been my home for four years. I'm allowed to feel that way. It's going to feel weird not going back to campus for class next fall, to plan out my schedule and buy textbooks and fret about whether or not I'm going to have a good instructor or not. Leaving is a bit... well, weird. As John Green says in Paper Towns, "It is so hard to leave - until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world" (page 229). This isn't the first time I've graduated and I know departing from will be easy. Staying away... well, not so much. Grad school is looking pretty darn likely in the future (though for what, exactly, I'm still not quite sure. My friend Kevin has made a compelling argument for me to go to grad school at the University of Reading (in England) where he's thinking about going for doctoral school. And they have a really interesting television/theater/film research department. And I'd be hanging out in England with my brother from another mother (wait, does that sound weird? Yes...yes it does) (this is not the only weird thing I've been caught doing. Maybe the nostalgia is getting to me...)).

Maybe I'm just tapping in on my inner Sherlock Holmes.
Unlike when I graduated from high school, I have absolutely no idea what I was doing next. For some reason, I am far more relaxed about this than I was about college. Maybe I'm being a bit too cavalier about it all, but the fact that I could do anything is strangely comforting. Frightening, yes, but also freeing. There are a billion possibilities out there. I only have to choose where to start. Which of course is the hard part.
Maybe an existential crisis will set in later on and maybe I'll suddenly find myself thinking I've missed out on my golden days of college or made some terrible mistake. But I'm feeling pretty good generally, glad about the choices I've made and what I've done in my time at the U. And now it's time to find the Great Perhaps somewhere else (too many John Green references in this post. Jeez. That's what I get for reading Looking For Alaska in one day). I feel like Bilbo Baggins running off without his handkerchief yelling, "I'm going on an adventure!" Because that is exactly how I feel. I've forgotten my handkerchief, I've no idea where I'm going, there's a fairly good chance that I'm going to piss off a dragon in the process. But I'm also in the company of some really fantastic people - and dammit, it's going to be a lot of fun. Or as my father decided to write on this post when I abandoned my computer for a minute: "And a good time was had by all." Exactly. Thanks forgiving me a perfect way to wrap up my post, Dad :D

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

First Light

I know I've promoted my book previously on here, but until I get around to making an annoying sidebar ad for it, I'm going to make another post to promote it. Because as much as I'd like to pretend not to be a pushy, bragging auteur, I'd be lying. And so...
Ta-da! There it is. But what's it about? Here's the description (which I wrote, nothing fancy):
Annabel Guerra is a first year med school student grieving the loss of her sister when she meets Doctor Victor Klemens, an accomplished anatomy professor, who hires her as his research assistant. As her work with him continues, she discovers that his research stretches beyond that of modern science and into the realm of the dangerous experimentation. Committed to curing death and restoring life, Klemens plans on creating a human being out of the bodies of the dead and, with Annabel’s help, his plans could become a reality. Against her better judgment, Annabel helps him and embarks on a journey of creation and destruction from which there is no return.
As I've said before, I promise nothing. But I'm actually rather proud of it. I can't decide if that's because it's actually good enough to quell my self-depreciation of my writing or if I've just decided to mentally become Tony Stark when talking about my work. Here's where you can purchase it in PDF, MOBI, or EPUB format. Here's where you can buy it on Amazon if you have a Kindle. And good news! I inquired about these things called BookStubs and found out I should be receiving in the next couple of months (yes, I know, it's a while out. It takes a while to process and make them). They are basically free downloads/gift cards with a code on them that allows you to download the book from the BookTango site. So if don't have the money but are interested and patient enough to wait until I get the BookStubs, that's an option. I do have a limited number and a few reserved for people (ie: mentors) but if you're interested, let me know and I'll certainly try to send one your way. Maybe figure out how everyone does free giveaways and make that happen....

So there you are. Even though I feel like Bill Nighy from Love Actually, books don't exactly sell themselves. So thank you for your indulgence. And buy my ridiculous book :P
Also, on a broader blogging note, finals week is beginning next week but I actually should have more time on my hands. So, perhaps after this weekend I'll be able to return to some lengthier posts (and the million drafts I have waiting to be finished...) Cheers!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Violence and Silence: A TED Talk

Since it's practically finals times and I have mountains of work to do before the semester ends, I have a feeling this might be the last post I'm able to do for a couple of weeks. My apologies; I'll try to get some things written up out here, but no promises. And today's post won't be much on my end, but it's a video very much worth watching. It's TED Talk on sexism and gender violence and very much worth watching. It's about twenty minutes long but watch it if you have the time, do watch it. It's brilliant.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cinderella Story

While surfing through the website IMDB today, I came across this article about an upcoming adaption of Cinderella directed by Kenneth Branagh:
However, it's not the article itself that's led me to write this post. It's the first comment posted in reaction to this article and the responses that followed it (sorry it's a bit small; me vs. Blogger's formatting options once again):

I get the point about this not being anything new and just another retelling - but why then is there a problem with it being "brought up to date with... a feminist point of view?" How would this be "murdering another cornerstone"? Why, as a later comment says, should they keep it in "orig times... and not bring it up to 2014 or 2015"?

I'm not sure where this dislike of a modern adaption of Cinderella is coming from because A) nothing in this article alluded to it being at all modern or set in present day and B) wait, what? We're okay with like the whole damsel in distress needing a prince to save her from her mundane life narrative? Am I too far gone now? Have I reached the point of no return of not even being able to look up movie news without feeling impacted by latent sexism?

The answer to that question is probably yes. But that's not entirely a bad thing. Before I go any further, I want to point out that I'm not condemning the people who made these comments; this isn't about them personally as I certainly don't know them. But I don't want it to look like I'm attacking these individuals; perhaps they didn't mean their comments the way I am interpreting them. However, there's a reason I'm interpreting them as I am, not because of who they are but because of what they said. Which is unfortunate for them.
I found myself reacting very, very strongly and personally to this Cinderella situation. One of these reasons is because I have a strange emotional attachment to this story, partly due to the fact that working in an apartment building has made me hyper-aware of how much it sucks to clean up after people who don't give a damn and also because I've had reoccurring dreams that are retellings of the Cinderella fairytale since I was about twelve or thirteen. Don't ask me why - I never really cared for the original Disney movie but something about the story must have stuck. The second part of this story is I recently had a dream in which I smacked an acquaintance in the face for because he said something sexist and when I confronted him about, he said that he thought stereotyping women was a good idea. It was a ridiculously vivid dream.

This obviously has nothing to do with the comments on this article, but it did help fuel my reaction to it. I can understand that people are tired of new retellings of the same old story and always needing a different spin on things but... that's kind of what storytelling is. As Umberto Eco states (who I'm quoting from Janice Radway's Reading the Romance: myths are "'almost always the story of something which had already happened and of which the public was aware...' Therefore," Radway adds, "the act of retelling the same myth functioned as the ritual reaffirmation of fundamental cultural beliefs and collective aspirations" (Radway 198). Although it's more blatantly obvious in film right now because remakes that are very much like the original are being made, everything is influenced by something else and we like to hear the same stories being told. I don't hear objections to adaptions of Jane Austen novels. No one ever demands that there be no more Shakespeare retellings or revivals. So why all the backlash against the Cinderella film?

Well, the comments about "murdering a classic" and so on... Why did have to write that? Of all things, that? And original times? Are we talking the era the original animated Disney film was made? The Ever After retelling set in the 1700s or so? The setting of the animated film (the specific historical time frame of which I quite clear on because it didn't matter when I was five)? I care less about the era its in but the message it conveys... and "murdering a classic"... well, to put this bluntly, maybe it deserves to be murdered.

Let's get this straight: I grew up on Disney. I am a rather well-adjusted adult. I like Disney films. But to utterly honest, I never, ever liked the films Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella. They had the least amount of stuff going on with the protagonists, the princes just kind of showed up and really didn't have a lot of depth, and the stories reinforced pretty obvious ideals. Snow White is the quintessential 50s housewife. Cinderella is the woman who's prided on her looks and gets a chance with the prince because she's good-looking (and a whole bunch of stuff about materialism, I'm sure), and Sleeping Beauty... if you can't see what's wrong and creepy with this story, then I can't help you. Also, if you've never looked up some of the more grisly versions of Sleeping Beauty, I encourage you to do so, only because it's terrifying and the adaptation of these tales is fascinating and worrisome.
Though watching these films didn't destroy me as a person, they also didn't really give me a whole lot of inspiration and encouragement in the realm of female role models. They're not terrible characters and I don't hate them, they're just... not very good. They all really fall flat, especially when compared to far more complicated protagonists being expressed elsewhere. Yeah, sure, I was five and didn't know a thing about feminism, but trust me, I think I would have felt a lot more encouragement as a young girl if I'd seen Snow White be less keen on cleaning house and more interested in regaining her rightful throne. Or if Cinderella had been acknowledged more for her work and patience rather than being just a pretty face. Honestly, I would have much preferred it if she'd just crashed the royal ball instead of getting spruced up by her fairy godmother and won over the prince with her riveting discussion on class structure and work ethic. Or because she's genuinely a good, interesting, clever person (I'd like to tell you I'm not trying to write a retelling like this, but then I'd be a liar. Ask my mother; she and I were discussing this over my spring break.) (But really, Cinderella was the original party crasher. Think about it...)

Long story short is I don't really see the issue in adapting Cinderella to a more feminist storyline. Unless you have an issue with feminism. And then you might want to reconsidering some things. Fairytales retell and reaffirm certain aspects of our society and often these are sexist and misogynistic elements. Why not adapt them so they, you know, don't do this, and allow girls to feel good about themselves, as well as allowing boys to be something more than just "charming"... some personality and a back story would be nice, thanks. So by all means, Kenneth Branagh, please - feel free to make it feminist. I'll be utterly elated if you do.

This concludes feminist post number two zillion and twelve. Well, we did have anything on feminism for a while - it was about time.

Also, there's a retelling I've just come across called Cinder where Cinderella is a cyborg. Um... YES. I'm going to have to check this out...
Edit: Okay, so five minutes after publishing this, I realized that I failed to acknowledge that films like A Cinderella Story and the Cinderella adaption with Brandi exist. I haven't seen them in ages, so I can't really speak to what their like. But the deal is that adaptions keep happening because there's a hundred ways you could tell this story. Now, whether the story is ever effectively told in different ways or whether we are telling the exact same tale over and over is a different story, and what exactly it means to tell the story differently are questions I leave open. I promise I'm done for real now.