Sunday, April 17, 2011

Talking Points #10: Twilight

I feel like before I truly start this blog post, I should warn "Twilight" is something I have really, really strong feelings about. I have a feeling the strength of my feelings may make this one of my weaker blog posts. Also, I tried very hard not to bring the later books into this, incase anyone hasn't read them and wishes to do so.

I do not think this is a love story. I think it is a story about power and the misuse of power in place of love.

Bella Swan, at the beginning of Twilight, is a stereotypical teenage girl. She is actually portrayed as rather independent, in contrast to her peers.

Throughout the books/movies, she is shown as losing that independence. Bella is never shown being independent, because Edward is constantly swooping in and saving her from her poor, dumb, female decisions. He is there while she sleeps. He is there while she is out with friends. He makes decisions for her. He demands information from her, in case he has to protect her. In fact, one of their very early conversations in the movie includes this exchange:
Edward: What's in Jacksonville?
Bella: How do you know about that?
Edward: You didn't answer my question.

He is constantly shown as using his strength to intimidate her. She mentions once that she isn't afraid of him - so he throws her over his shoulder and proves to her just how big, strong and dangerous he is. He forces her to do things she doesn't want to - such as go to the prom or apply to college, both of which are huge ordeals in the books. And this is presented as the right thing to do. In fact, the one time Edward is not present in the books, Bella stops existing - as in, there is no writing, just blank pages to represent that time.

"About three things, I was absolutely positive. One, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him, and I didn't know how dominant that part might be, that thirst for my blood. Third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him." 

This quote was thought so important that it was the ONLY text on the back cover of the original book printing. It wasn't thought to be disheartening, or scary, no. It is presented as incredibly romantic. It's also presented as, well, okay. Not the ideal situation, but really, he's a vampire - he can't help himself. Much like Tolman and Higgins discuss in "How Being a Good Girl Can Be Bad for Girls", Edward just can't be blamed for his lack of control.

I've heard many people protect Edward by saying that he is supposed to represent another time, and I think that's one of the main issues. Edward, the character, is from another time. He presents antiquated ideas of gender, romance, and society in general. However, I think if Stephanie Meyer had portrayed Bella and Edward working through their relationship to update and overcome these outdated values, it could have been a very empowering tale for young females.

Instead Edward is the hero, and Bella is the stupid lamb. Bella is often written talking about how she can make her own decisions, and take care of herself - but her plans always seem to fall through, and Edward always comes out the victor.

I am, personally, a little horrified that this has become such a phenomenon. I often have been told it is just a silly teen book series. However, as our course assumption says, media matters. With young girls learning antiquated gender roles, I sincerely worry. I don't want my nieces thinking that they need men to guide them and protect them through life - and I definitely don't want them to think that the control Edward has over Bella is the ideal, perfect, relationship. I've heard it described as such, and I can't explain how much that scares me.

Can anyone find any positive female roles in the movie? I think her mom was the most independent female presented, yet in the film it is even suggested that her happiness is all thanks to her new husband. There's the female vampire, but even she ends up seeking revenge for her mate, if I remember correctly. Plus, she's, of course, evil.

To end this on a positive note, I want to include a fun video introducing Edward Cullen to everyone's favorite Slayer:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Talking Points #9: How Being a Good Girl Can Be Bad for Girls

"How Being a Good Girl Can Be Bad for Girls", Tolman and Higgins
In "How Being a Good Girl Can Be Bad for Girls," Deborah Tolman and Tracy Higgins explore the "cultural" stories surrounding being a female in our sexual society. These cultural stories are pervasive ideas such as:
  • Good girls don't have sex unless they're married/it's to procreate.
  • Bad girls have no morals and will have sex with anyone.
  • Sex (for females) is not for desire, but relationships.
  • If you have sex with more than one person and/or outside of a committed relationship, you are a bad girl.
Males cannot be given such titles because they are hormone dominated and just can't help it.
    These ideas take the sexuality away from females, and puts it in the hands of society to judge them with.  Tolman and Higgins focuses on how these cultural stories effect sexual assault victims. I thought of two very high profile cases:
    • Roman Polanski's sexual assault case; specifically, a witnesses statement. One of only two witnesses (the other being Jack Nicholson), Angelica Houston claimed:"[The Victim] appeared to be one of those kind of little chicks between - could be any age up to twenty-five. She did not look like a 13-year-old scared little thing."(Source)
    • In Cleveland, Texas there was recently a gang rape of an 11-year-old girl. The press coverage, specifically a New York Times article, has been incredibly victim blaming and focusing on the girls appearance.
      • "They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s."
    These sexual ideals for females have gone past what they do and has grown to include what they wear or how they look. These features - the way they dress or look - are taken as signs that they have desires and thus are sexually available to all men.

    "Since the moment I fell down that hole, I've been told what I must do and who I must be." - Alice

    Both Atalanta and Alice deal with this idea - being told what you must be.  Atalanta, in the end, is successful in taking control over her life - just like Alice. However, while watching "Alice In Wonderland", I focused more on the portrayals of woman who weren't Alice. Alice was a positive portrayal of females, especially for a period movie. However, as with "Save the Last Dance" and "Glee", there can be the "but..." factor when it comes to media that tries to be empowering. Many of the other females, especially the older ones, are used to highlight how wonderful and perfect Alice is. The Red Queen, especially, encompasses all that is "bad" in women. She is jealous, wrathful, easily bought with pretty gifts, and sexual - in fact, she is the only female in the movie who is seen as expressing sexual feelings. Her ultimate punishment is much like the current "slutshaming" - she is to never have a friend and no one is to ever speak kindly to her ever again.

    However, there's a very important scene in "Alice in Wonderland" dealing with the same issue. When the Red Knave is coming onto Alice and is seen, he instantly points the finger at her for being seductive and claims his inability to resist as proof of his innocent. She is ultimately sentenced for her "crime." This is the very essence of much of our society's victim blaming, and it was really interesting to see it portrayed.

    I ended "Alice in Wonderland" very confused. I think who wins here is very important in this case while discussing the topic of sexuality specifically. The film has very positive messages regarding female independence (though it's interesting to note all of the positive figures in Alice's life, excluding the white queen, are male), but the way it presents the good girl/bad girl in regards to sexuality is...confusing. 

    Why is the only female who ever shows true romantic inclination the one who is ultimately shamed out of society? Is this a representation of the good girl and bad girl that Tolman and Higgins discuss? 

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    Talking Points #8: Final Project

    1.) The Metamorphosis of Teen Movies
    Though teen movies have been around for awhile, I think they became truly popular in the late 70s, early 80s. These are the movies so many of our mothers and fathers have passed down to us, movies they watch with us to recapture their teenage years. GreaseThe Breakfast ClubPretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller are all movies geared towards a teen audience.  More recently we have movies such as Clueless10 Things I Hate About You, and even Dazed and Confused. I have multiple questions regarding these "new classics."

    • What do these movies teach us about stereotypes? Do these stereotypes still continue to exist?
    • What lessons are teens internalizing from these movies?
    • Is SCWAMP ideology apparent in these movies?
    • Do many of the same themes appear in current teen movies, such as JunoEasy A and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?
    It's easy to write off these movies as simply just entertaining - many are comedy based and light hearted. (Which may reflect how the movie industry sees teenagers) However, as our class assumptions say, media matters. As Christensen explored with cartoons, some of the lessons learned can be completely subtle, as I think might be the case with more recent films, or completely obvious.

    One the examples that came to first to mind is a very famous scene from "Grease":
    The scene definitely sets up clear gender roles. What is the audience supposed to take away from this scene? I know when I watched it as a child, a pre-teen AND a teenager, there was never any discussion on how teenagers are portrayed in relationships, in social life, and even in sex and drinking. I think it's important to note that "Grease" is routinely aired on the ABC Family network - this movie, as well as the other new classics listed, have stayed within our culture as iconic.''

    2.) Representation of Female Heroines
    Buffy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars of Veronica Mars are two of my idols and have been since about age 13. I, personally, learned how to be a teenager from them. However, looking back, I wonder whether some of the messages received from these shows were truly positive. Joss Whedon, the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", has many times been called out for his possibly misogynistic portrayals. Yet Buffy is repeatedly cited as a source of strength for many young girls, and Whedon has spoken out about his desire to break down the stereotypical gender roles. Was the power of soceities overwhelming ideology playing a part in the creation and production of Buffy? What does it say about society that a show we site as a positive role model still has extremely questionable portrayals of race, gender, and class, among others?
    While I know there are issues with Buffy, I honestly have never viewed "Veronica Mars" critically before. I think it would be interesting to look at a show that acknowledges so many of societies "evils" - sexism, racism, classism, victim blaming in the case of sexual assault, white privilege... just off the top of my head, and whether it is free of internal ideology, like Grinner's SCWAMP, or if it succumbs to it without even realizing. 

    This is just two ideas, but they hit me instantly and I felt I needed to get them down before I forgot! Can anyone think of any other movies they watched as teenagers (or even younger) that shaped their view of how to be a teenager? Any other positive female heroines? 


    If anyone is having problems getting access to netflix, I have no problems sharing my account for a few days. :) feel free to email me at for the login information!

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Talking Posts #7: Hip-Hop and the Corporate Function of Colonization

    Jared Ball, Hip-Hop and the Corporate Function of Colonization"

    In our society, we have an established control of power. The people who are in power will largely continue to have power, while everyone else struggles to reach that ideal. I think Amanda's post on Jared Ball's arguments within " Hip-Hop and the Corporate Function of Colonization" is very strong.

    "If people were free to create a new culture or behavior that became massively accepted and popular, that would mean the end of established power. Another way this is controlled is by allowing only carefully selected forms of culture to be promoted."

    The power for all music is ultimately in the hands of the record labels. Music forms a huge part of our culture, and I thought it would be interesting to offer up two current, specific examples of how, as Amanda puts it, "faceless CEOS and share holders" decide what culture we absorb.

    Lupe Fiasco, "Hurt Me Soul"
    I wish I could post the full lyrics to this song in my post. The song opens, "Now I ain't tryna be the greatest, I used to hate hip-hop... Yup, because the women degraded." Throughout the song he discusses what he sees as hypocrisy in the hip-hop world: all the horrors in the world, yet no one cares unless their girls are good in bed and their cars are done up.

    But I'm not here to discuss the issues within the hip-hop world. I'm here to discuss the controversy around Fiasco's third and most recent album, "LASERS." This is not the album he intended to put out - he always had the plan to end a trilogy of albums with "LupE.N.D" However, his contract stopped him from ultimately being able to do so. He was forced to re-write songs, do songs he didn't want to do, because of a contract. In an interview with MTV, he states that:

    "I was literally told for 'The Show Goes On' that I shouldn't rap too deep," he told the newspaper. "I shouldn't be too lyrical. It just needs to be something easy on the eyes."

    Lupe presents intelligent lyrics, pushing past the stereotypes of hip-hop and its culture - but apparently, according to record labels, society needs to be spoon fed club anthems.

    Childish Gambino, "Put It In My Video"
    In many of Childish Gambino (also know as Community's Donald Glover)'s songs, he seems to be struggling with his need to be signed by a label, and be recognized as a 'real' rapper, beyond just being another actor trying to rap. In "Put It In My Video," he seems to further struggle with trying to present positive ideals, such as body acceptance - but it's undermined by his continued objectifying of women. He mentions Lil Wayne multiple times throughout his tracks, and compares himself to the established rapper multiple times. He seems to believe that to be signed you to follow the already presented topics: womanizing, partying, and money.

    And by the struggle Lupe Fiasco has dealt with? It would appear he's right.

    I can't help but wonder if this is an active thought process. I can't figure out if my mental image of evil CEOs rubbing their hands together in glee as they work to keep the masses down is founded in at least some fact - or are they just as entrapped by the protocols of our society as the rest of us? Do they have no clue what they're doing?

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Talking Points #6: Glee

    "Glee" takes on a heavy load. It has the apparent mission to embrace and empower society's underdogs.

    "Coach Bieste is like us. Like Glee club. She's an outsider at this school. No one appreciates her or her talent because they've decided that she's too different and for you to abuse that, even in private, is the opposite of everything we're trying to achieve here."
    - Will Schuester, Never Been Kissed

    I think this line delivered by Mr. Schuester during the 'Bieste' fiasco is a good encompassment of the entire shows overall message. It has dealt with issues of stereotypes and prejudice ranging from homophobia, religion, disabilities, teen pregnancy, and class issues, just to name a few. It has been praised for many of its individual episodes. However, I feel many of its plot lines, dialogue, and characters are based on the stereotypes they are ultimately trying to fight against.

    "We're all lucky enough to have boyfriends on the football team, so I say we band together and demand that they confront Karofsky."
    - Rachel Berry, Furt
    Gender comes into play throughout the series, and is set up immediately in the Pilot episode. Finn, the first football player to join Glee, is teased and punished for joining because it is not the masculine thing to do. Throughout the show, even though it battles these stereotypes on the surface, they stay steadily in place. Finn (and eventually the other males) simply work on staying 'popular' to balance on the un-masculine past time. Yet, Finn especially is plagued by the need to remain popular and on top as a way of survival. Even after his regret at not helping Kurt, he continues to manipulate and control the society of McKinley High to stay as popular as possible. This is directly connected to the very prevalent class struggles. "Glee" is not breaking the idea of 'cliques' in high school, as it's members are simply set on becoming the top of the social ladder. Both the males and females of the show discuss the need to pair off and become romantically involved in the most popularity boosting way possible - Quinn the Cheerleader talks multiple times of becoming Prom Queen through her pairing off with Sam the Quarterback.

    The show is very heterosexually geared. Every dating plotline irks me a little. As stated above, it all seems to be fueled by the need to be popular and very rarely love - even Finn and Rachel's relationship, where Finn says he loves her in Furt, originated from Rachel's need to be popular. Many times, the females are treated as solely sex objects. The characters of Santana and Brittany especially play the roles of sex symbols. Though the roles could be a powerful new take on female sexuality, the treatment and remarks about them from other characters undermine them - in Never Been Kissed, Puck advises Artie on Brittany: "You don't need any cash for her, she's free." The standard beauty images and issues stand - beauty is an important standard, as suggested by many statements: "They screened potential surrogates based on beauty and IQ." "He's losing weight, and not in a good way." "Tell you what, you two show up at Breadsticks around 7, and if we don't find hotter chicks to date tonight, maybe we'll show up." and most importantly the Coach Bieste plot line. The plot line had the opportunity to be empowering, yet lost much of that when Bieste seems to base her entire self-worth based on male attention, or lack there of.

    "Or, you can refuse to be the victim. Prejudice is just ignorance, Kurt, and you have a chance right now to teach him."
    - Blaine, Never Been Kissed 
    Further, "Glee" has been praised for its handling of the Kurt-Karofsky plot lines, and I agree it is well deserved - sort of. The episode's handling this issue are powerful, moving, and eye-opening... and also disheartening. No one really helps Kurt. Sue Sylvester's hands are tied, Mr. Schuester is clueless (as he always has been - flashback to the opening scene of the series, where he blindly walks by Kurt being bullied by the football team), people in the hallways walk by their physical altercations, and the Glee club, well, resorts to violence based on assigned gender roles. Ultimately, it seemed that Kurt was forced to change his life and leave instead of there being consequences for Karofsky. The entire conclusion seemed very victim-blaming to me.

    "Glee" reminds me of Grinner's discussion of "Save the Last Dance" and Christiansen's exploration of cartoons. Like "Save the Last Dance" and Disney cartoons, I think the creator of Glee has set out to empower and fight society's negative stereotypes. So much of prejudice has been accepted simply as part of society and the way things are.

    I can't help but wonder if these instituted stereotypes continue to be repeated, will they ultimately undermine what steps society and the media have taken from the sexism, homophobia, racism, and over all discrimination of the past? However, I want to have faith in "Glee"'s ability to explore and handle issues in society. I do find it encouraging that it continues to get people talking about the issues. In a recent Vanity Fair review, a writer referred to Kurt and Blaine as a homophobic slur - due to the response, an apology from the writer and from the editors were printed.