What Twilight Tells Us (maybe)

July 14, 2010

One of my favorite podcasts to listen to on long commutes is Mark Kermode’s film reviews from Britain’s Five Live radio broadcast. He’s frumpy and funny and insightful, and complimented well by his sidekick, Simon. I don’t watch movies these days – too busy – but I can certainly listen to these reviews, which are entertaining, whether the movie was great or rubbish.

So, Kermode liked the latest installment of the Twilight series. Unlike some other haughty reviewers, he views Bella’s decision about which guy to go with – werewolf or vampire – not as just a whiny Which Boy to Date melodrama, but as representing her choice about who she is and who she wants to be, what world she belongs to – a deeper question of identity.

I have not seen any of these movies, nor have I read the books.

But this comment struck me, twice:

  1. First, I thought, How Refreshing, not only that the movie actually is more than just about superficial teen attraction, but that this very opinionated guy recognized that, beneath the hype and the hot film stars. Yay for feminism, I thought. Too quickly.
  2. Second, I thought, Yes, but would this story line work in reverse? Would there be a boy choosing which girl to date in the same emotional mood?

That is, why is a girl choosing her life path having to do so through the catalyst of a male/relationship, while a guy would be choosing – what – an action? Which adventure? Why does romance represent the most significant choice a woman makes?

Yeah. Boo, feminism.

I’m glad there’s movies demystifying the male aesthetic, but I want more. I want a teenage boy to get a makeover. I want a teenage boy to weep over his divided heart, and the choices that will have ramifications the rest of his life. I want men to suffer from relationship choices as much as women do. In the movies. In real life.

Do women still see the arc of their lives in terms of love and marriage? Despite all the careerists and working women and all the rest?

Do girls emphasize relationships at the exclusion of their spiritual, financial, and other considerations?

I think – yes. We have only to see the movie to know this – art is imitating life, and life is still true to the usual form. The power balance in relationships remains tilted towards dudes. It’s women and girls who get date raped, who get killed by angry boyfriends or pissed husbands. It’s the female of the species who carries the child to term – or not. It’s the woman who gets paid less for the same work. It’s women who have to contend with stereotypes and malignant assertions if they act at all uncouth, willful, strong, aggressive, and fail to procreate, settle down, domesticate, and send greeting cards.

Men get to be vampires and werewolves – hungry, hunting creatures whose animal instincts drive them and excuse them for their rash and often childish behavior.

Men get off easily (pun intended).

Women are left to choose between them. Or, failing that, to not choose men at all, and live with derisive labels. Or suffer their anger at her rejection.

Are there movies I’m missing?

Am I too callous and cranky?

Let me know. Also, I do want to see the movies. I love vampires and romantic triangles. They get me every time…


New Working Mom (and Dad) On the Block: The Office Has a Baby

March 15, 2010

As some of you know, I don’t own a TV. I do, however, watch shows here and there on Hulu, when my brain is too dead for meditation and I don’t have a good book.

Well, I love The Office, and recently the character Pam had a baby, and I just have to give that show a huge thumb’s up for dealing with three very key contemporary issues for parents these days – especially ones who work:

1) Pam doesn’t want to have the baby until after midnight, because insurance only covers a one-day hospital stay. Ha! She fights her labor to try and eek out a second night of support.

2) After she has the baby, she can’t get it to latch onto her breast and nurse properly. Her frustration and angst lead one annoying nurse to try to comfort her by telling her to give up trying. Infuriating! In his new state of exhaustion, Jim, the dad, gives Pam the wrong baby to nurse in the middle of the night. Anyway, they keep trying and eventually, the latch happens. Yay!

3) Jim returns to work first, and he has a hard time being away from his wife and baby. I love the fact that the idea the dad might miss his child is dealt with here!

Ok, so it’s a comedy – but comedies matter, sometimes even more than dramas, in what they tell us about where our culture stands on certain issues. By giving credence to the feelings of these characters with regards to the limitations of insurance, the struggle to nurse sometimes even against unsupportive medical professionals, and the very real challenge of either parent returning to work after the baby is born – well, it’s all very human stuff, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of it dealt with so genuinely and so sweetly as I did on this show.

Now, if they have Pam pumping milk in a closet, I am giving them an award…


The Lessons of “Glee”

January 15, 2010

the cast of GleeI like the TV show “Glee.”

But I’m not sure if I totally agree that it teaches the valuable lessons it’s trying so hard to convey.

On the surface, you have a collection of kids that would heart-warm any hard-core member of the Liberal Diversity Police – they’ve got it covered, with the gay kid, the kid in the wheelchair, the Asian chick, the big black girl, the “ugly” but talented girl with two dads, and the “beautiful” cheerleader who gets knocked up.

And somehow, they’re talented performers learning the valuable lessons that despite their shortcomings and differences, they CAN have friends, they CAN earn success, and they CAN – yes, they can! – find love and acceptance!

You can tell I’m being sarcastic, can’t you?

So, yes; the kids overcome their challenging flaws.

But the show’s argument, “valuable lesson,” still rests upon, agrees with, the founding assumption that being anything less than blonde, svelte, abled, white, and “pretty” indeed is a challenge and a flaw.

This is a problem. And it’s an outdated one. I don’t know what reality the show’s high school is based upon, but I went to two high schools, one in California and one in Virginia, and neither of them looked at all like Glee’s.

Yes, there were cliques, and distinctions about popularity and beauty, but they weren’t this cookie-cutter, this cut and dry and black and white.

One of the most popular girls at my magnet school in LA had a large port-wine birthmark on her face – yet she was a dominating queen of the social sphere, barely talking to me.

And in California, the most popular girls were the most tan, and that made the darker skinned girls – of various Asian and African-American ethnicities – reside securely at the top of the heap.

At my high school in Virginia, where the student population was more starkly black and white, it wasn’t so much beauty as past relationships and histories dating back to kindergarten that created hierarchies of power and exclusion. Really ugly girls with pimples and braces could sneer at gorgeous ones, because the former were known and the latter had just transferred from out of state.

Glee’s ideas of who is in and who is out seems more based on simplistic cliches promoted by advertising – and the whole thing is very slick, shot in that clear, colorful glow of a commercial – instead of reflecting the complexities of how things truly work.

I just really have a problem that the black and Asian girls are considered outsiders by virtue of their race – there’s no real question of this initial line of thinking. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of places in this country where that kind of discrimination exists – but the show presents this without any cultural context, or without calling it racial discrimination. It’s just assumed that that’s how things are.

So instead of really questioning and undermining our ideas of beauty and acceptance, the show reinforces stereotypes – including the stereotype that blonde cheerleaders are mean and thoughtless snobs. I was a redheaded cheerleader, and I can tell you that plenty of my teammates were just like that – but not all of them conformed. My blonde friend Jennifer was a sweetie pie.

The main lesson I’m learning from “Glee” is that television shows have an easier time finding their popularity by staying on the surface of our cultural cliches –  and we apparently are so starved for any kind of diversity in our media, we’ll take it. Which is kind of pathetic.