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!