Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Transformation of Jake Sully into Braveheart Smurf

The good-white-guy/saviour trope reproduces the very racisim [sic] that it supposedly aims to ‘critique’ and in my view at least, it’s clumsy, painfully bad story-telling that attempts to keep an incredibly boring, repetitive trope alive.

- Westerly

I'm also tired of the old white-guy-going native-to-act-as-savior trope which I believe started with the telling of TE Lawrence's story by Hollywood. I don't care about how one of the "oppressors" feels about his and his people's actions. I want to see how the "natives" feel about having their land and way of life encroached upon by outsiders.


Yes, I saw Avatar. No, I was not impressed. Although, I was not disappointed, since it was pretty much what I expected, especially from a director who had the following exchange with Playboy:

PLAYBOY: We seem to need fantasy icons like Lara Croft and Wonder Woman, despite knowing they mess with our heads.
CAMERON: Most of men's problems with women probably have to do with realizing women are real and most of them don't look or act like Vampirella. A big recalibration happens when we're forced to deal with real women, and there's a certain geek population that would much rather deal with fantasy women than real women. Let's face it: Real women are complicated. You can try your whole life and not understand them.

PLAYBOY: How much did you get into calibrating your movie heroine's hotness?
CAMERON: Right from the beginning I said, "She's got to have tits," even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na'vi, aren't placental mammals. I designed her costumes based on a taparrabo, a loincloth thing worn by Mayan Indians. We go to another planet in this movie, so it would be stupid if she ran around in a Brazilian thong or a fur bikini like Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.

PLAYBOY: Are her breasts on view?
CAMERON: I came up with this free-floating, lion's-mane-like array of feathers, and we strategically lit and angled shots to not draw attention to her breasts, but they're right there. The animation uses a physics-based sim that takes into consideration gravity, air movement and the momentum of her hair, her top. We had a shot in which Neytiri falls into a specific position, and because she is lit by orange firelight, it lights up the nipples. That was good, except we're going for a PG-13 rating, so we wound up having to fix it. We'll have to put it on the special edition DVD; it will be a collector's item. A Neytiri Playboy Centerfold would have been a good idea.

PLAYBOY: So you're okay with arousing PG-13 chubbies?
CAMERON: If such a thing should ­happen—and I'm not saying it will—that would be fine.

Keeping it klassy, Mr. Cameron. Also, I could clearly tell where most of Avatar's estimated $400 million budget went, and it was not to the writing of the script.

For further analysis, read these:

Avatar: Count the "isms", by Ariel, Feministing.

When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"?, by Annalee Newitz, i09 via Racialicious.

These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color - their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the "alien" cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become "race traitors," and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it's like to be a Na'vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode . . . When whites fantasize about becoming other races, it's only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and nobody will let you be a leader of anything.

[ . . . ]

Whites need to stop remaking the white guilt story, which is a sneaky way of turning every story about people of color into a story about being white. Speaking as a white person, I don't need to hear more about my own racial experience. I'd like to watch some movies about people of color (ahem, aliens), from the perspective of that group, without injecting a random white (erm, human) character to explain everything to me. Science fiction is exciting because it promises to show the world and the universe from perspectives radically unlike what we've seen before. But until white people stop making movies like Avatar, I fear that I'm doomed to see the same old story again and again.


Friday, December 18, 2009

By now I was supposed to be married to Elijah Wood,

and we were supposed to be having our first child. Clearly that did not happen, for many humorous reasons, like the fact that we've never met.

I was reminded of this plan that I had created for myself in middle school when I saw Up in the Air this week. In the movie, George Clooney's new young colleague Natalie explains that at 23, she expected to be driving a SUV with a baby, and married to her boyfriend, whom she doesn't really like, but who fits her expectations because he has a one-syllable name. That made me laugh. Marrying someone because his name is Matt or Dave.

Anyhoodle, I really liked Up in the Air. I know, it's crazy! It is the one movie I have seen in a theater this year that I liked. And it only took till December.

* Spoiler alert for those of you who want to be surprised. *

I liked that there were strong, honest roles for women. Of course, all of those roles went to white women who were fairly thin. There was one black woman with a speaking role in the movie, but by the end of the story, she was no longer with us. Also, I did not need the naked bum-bum or side boob in the first hotel room scene, unless that bum-bum happened to be George Clooney's. Alas, it was not. So yet again, as throughout most of film history, the woman with the biggest role in the movie had to be naked in it. And she is 12 years younger than her male counterpart. Well done, sister suffragette. Votes for women, step in time.

In addition to having realistic female characters who were not berated for their life decisions, I also liked that there were not happy endings for most of the characters. This was the kind of movie I had hoped for when I saw (500) Days of Summer, but my hopes were not met.

My favorite part of the whole movie was George Clooney's sister, Kara. She was played by Amy Morton, whom I almost immediately recognized as Thomas Ian Nicholas's mother in Rookie of the Year. I know! The best part was that she has not pulled up her face past her eyebrows like many other actors in Hollywood. She looks like a normal woman living in Northern Wisconsin.


Why I don't want to go back in time

"How many advantages could one person have? I'm a white man!"

Let's keep this train moving forward to the future for me. Choo choo!


Monday, December 14, 2009

I would be on Team Jacob,

but he is only marginally less controlling and manipulative than Edward.

I did see New Moon this weekend, and it left me with one major question: why can't Bella drive herself home? Half the guys in the movie were driving her truck, even though it was her truck. Is Bella incapable of driving her own vehicle if a male character has a scene with her?

The rest of my concerns, and other people's concerns, were covered in the following articles and in the comments underneath them:

New Moon: Old Story?
, by Wendi Muse, Racialicious.

[ . . . ] If anything, the title itself adds an ironic twist to a tale that spirals into a stereotypical narrative to which we are all well-conditioned by now, both in films and other more readily-available media in our every day lives. Have you ever heard something along the lines of “dating someone who is [insert ethnic/racial group] ok, but you’d better not marry one!” or “Native Americans are so in touch with nature!”? Have you ever seen a film or tv show that relegated the person of color as the trusty sidekick, loyal friend, or temporary romantic plaything, only then to have the white hero enter in medias res and get all the praise and attention? Have you ever seen a piece from an ad campaign or historical policy discussions in which non-white people are portrayed as animalistic, in both their behavior, thought processes, and athletic ability? Have you, as a person of color, or if you are not, any of your POC friends, ever complained of feeling that their societal value was reduced to their physical appearance or a specific body part?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you have already seen New Moon.

[ . . . ]

But beyond all the drama, there is a story that we have seen played out countless times in every other movie, tv show, etc. that decides to employ a character of color, only to put them on time out when the fun really begins. Despite being abandoned by her (technically) dead boyfriend, Bella, in true masochistic form, continues to go after him, even though living and breathing Jacob is a better choice for a beau. Not only is he charismatic, attractive, and fun, he can protect Bella too, which seems to be at the crux of her very existence. Playing the damsel in distress is Bella’s forte, so Jacob could fit the bill as a boyfriend who would suit her most important need. Yet his big character flaw, beyond actually being interested in Bella, is the fact that he’s not white.

Yes, poor Jacob, as “beautiful” (Bella’s words) and awesome as he may be, is one of the Quileute, an indigenous group of the northern Pacific coast. While it’s not explicitly stated in the film that this is the reason Bella doesn’t continue the relationship with Jacob, any audience member who knows a little bit about American film already knows quite well that it’s a rare case when a main character of color, especially if surrounded by other main characters who are white, actually succeeds in the end and remains a romantic interest. [ . . . ]

It was particularly heartwarming when Bella's best vampire friend Alice calls Jacob's family "a pack of mutts" and refuses to continue her conversation with Bella until she "puts the dog out." Which Bella does.

Also, the one black guy in the movie has less than 10 minutes of screen time before he was killed. By the Native Americans/werewolves.


New Moon, Same Old Sexist Story, by Carmen D. Siering and Katherine Spillar, Ms. Magazine.

Bella doesn’t come across as an empowered young woman in New Moon, especially as she uses one man to get over another. And yet, as Ms. pointed out in our Spring 2009 article “Taking a Bite Out of Twilight,” Meyer has insisted that she sees Bella as a feminist character, writing on her website that in her opinion the foundation of feminism is being able to choose. But what Meyer fails to acknowledge is that all the choices Bella makes are the one’s Meyer would make—choices based perhaps on her background as a member of the highly patriarchal Mormon church.

This is a film full of gender stereotypes—testosterone-driven male aggression, females who pine away over lost loves, boys who fix motorcycles and the girls who watch them. The one role-reversal in New Moon, where Bella saves Edward for a change, is immediately negated when Bella’s low self-esteem takes center stage. Even as Edward declares his love to her, Bella deems herself “unworthy” of it, being simply human while he’s a vampire and all. Perpetuating the idea that this is true love—torturous, painful, and unrequited—is detrimental to all of us, women and men.


New Moon and domestic violence, by Ann, Feministing.

[ . . . ] I was not prepared for the way the movie portrays physical relationship violence, particularly in Native communities. For all the talk of Edward's abusiveness throughout feminist blogworld, I've seen much less written about domestic violence as it relates to the film's competing love interest, Jacob Black -- a 16-year-old Quileute boy who can turn into a werewolf.

At one point in the movie, Bella meets Emily, the fiance of one of Jacob's fellow werewolf-men. As she turns to put a plate of giant muffins on the table, we see that she has a massive scar on one half of her face.

After breakfast, once Jacob and Bella are alone in the car, Jacob explains that Emily's soon-to-be husband lost his temper "for a split second," became a werewolf, and mauled her. (Earlier in the film, he has told Bella that this whole turning-into-a-werewolf-when-you-get-angry thing is actually a genetic trait carried by many men in his community.) He explains that he's worried that he's bad for Bella because he doesn't know if he can control his own anger.

It's more than a little problematic for New Moon to portray violence as an endemic trait among Native men. Yes, domestic violence is a very real problem in American Indian communities. According to Sacred Circle, Native women are more likely to experience violence than any other U.S. population. A full 64 percent of American Indian women will be physically assaulted in their lifetime. They are also stalked at more than twice the rate of other women. But to imply that this is a result of Native people's genes rather than related to other issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, or centuries of racism and marginalization, is inexcusable. (See Latoya's post on Jacob Black for more on Twilight's treatment of Native communities.)


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"In case you couldn't tell . . . I'm a character."

I agree with the mission of Characters Unite. I too believe that "life is richer and we are stronger as a country when we see beyond stereotypes and appreciate each other for the characters that we are."

However, it is hard to take the mission seriously when most of USA's original series are centered on the lives of white males. The two exceptions are In Plain Sight, starring Mary McCormack, and Psych, co-starring Dulé Hill. There are only four non-white regular characters in these series: one Indian/British/American woman, and three black men, including Kofi Kingston on WWE Raw. And to my knowledge, almost all of the characters on all of these are American and straight.

I do subscribe to "promoting greater acceptance, understanding and mutual respect of ALL people." But it's hard to take the movement seriously from a network that calls itself "USA", yet does not begin to represent the people of this country. Especially considering that the network has no regular characters who are recognizably Hispanic, even on the series Burn Notice, which takes place in Miami. Miami!


Monday, December 07, 2009

Yeah, you could have.

Justin Timberlake: 'I Could Have Handled Wardrobe Malfunction Better', Starpulse via mun2.

Justin Timberlake has come to regret the way he handled Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show, insisting he should have been more supportive.

The "Cry Me A River" singer was performing onstage with Jackson and ripped open her jacket breast to reveal a naked boob to the world on live TV.

As the scandal of the big reveal escalated, the singer spoke out and confessed he had no idea Jackson intended to go topless - if that, indeed, was her intention.

Timberlake distanced himself from the incident and from Jackson, but now feels he could have handled the controversy and the fall-out from the show a lot better.

He tells Entertainment Weekly magazine, "I wish I had supported Janet more. I am not sorry I apologized, but I wish I had been there more for Janet."

Commenter mjlove shares my reaction to this five-years-too-late declaration:

Get outta here JT, now that youre comfortable in your career you want to issue a statement about that after all this time. Its all good that he feels that way and thats his right to put it out there, but damn where was you when the woman was getting blacklisted left and right. Fine time to feel empathetic towards her huh, but thats just my opinion I'm not judging. I just think that he wasnt very supportive when it would have counted the most, thats all...

I agree. Except that I am judging.


Sunday, December 06, 2009

It's 2009, Mattel,

and Disney, too. Way to include black characters in a movie with outdated animation, while keeping the rest of your current slate of movies as pale as ever. Including Prince of Persia, and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean coming in 2011? Really? I've never been to Persia, but I have been to the Caribbean, and I've seen some colorful people there.

Back to Mattel. I read this post on Jezebel--"Dear Mattel: This Is How How You Make Barbie More Diverse"--after I read another post on Jezebel, and the following post on Feministing: Real Talk about Barbie: When experience and narrative don't match up, by Ann referencing Latoya. Emphases mine.

Did Barbie impact me personally? Not really - I wasn't inclined to play with dolls, and I was conditioned to recognize when I was being sold something. I learned from a very early age that white beauty isn't the only beauty and there was no reason to feel bad about some white doll thing when there were so many other cool things in the world.

But that was my experience.

My cousin, who had dozens of Barbies and their cars and their dreamhouses thinks Barbies are wonderful toys for her four year old daughter. My cousin jokingly describes herself as looking for a Ken (we are both moving into our late 20s) and keeps her hair long and relaxed.

Unlike my cousin, I never hid under a towel at the pool to keep my skin from turning darker.

And unlike some of my friends, I never felt that sting of being passed over to play with Barbies because there weren't enough black one's to go around. I didn't walk around with a towel on my head swinging it around as if it was long flowing hair, and I didn't (as described in a seventeen magazine article that was published when I was still in the age range to read it) pump out lotion and leave it on my skin pretending I looked white.

I never felt that pain that one of my friends felt when her classmates teased her about having dark skin and short hair, even though it was relaxed and she used a variety of products to try to make it grow.

And I never felt the kind of pain one of my other friends felt when she went up to her white crush and confessed her feelings, only to have him reply "'re black." All the parental affirmation in the world was not helping then.

When you have children, you are their primary example. For a while. And then they go to school, they socialize with others, they pick up words, ideas, actions that you never would have dreamed they would. Some of my friends had color struck parents. And some of my friends just got caught up in a glossy, aspirational, media saturated world that paints a very clear picture of who in our society is beautiful and wanted and who is not. Barbie is a part of that. Hollywood is a part of that. TV is a part of that. Advertising is a part of that. And it is relentless and endless.

It might not make sense to some of you who have not felt the sting of feeling entire pieces of your identity excluded from view and representation. Who take for granted that while you may not relate to Blake Lively or Lauren Conrad that you can always turn on the television and see someone of your race and your gender doing all kinds of activities and seen in all sorts of contexts.

If you felt like you could relate heavily to Daria and Jane but you were still thankful for the one time Jodie made a speech about being the only black kid at Lawndale, if you watched The Craft because it was awesome, but you always remember that it was Rochelle who got told that her "little nappy hairs" looked like "pubic hairs" or you just realized that the only "role"for black girls in society was as the silent/funny/pathetic side kick in a white girl's story then you understand.

I still identify with Daria more than Jodie, because although Jodie was black and ambitious (like me!), Daria was well-read and ostracized by her classmates due to her honest points-of-view (like me!). I liked that Jodie wasn't anyone's sassy black friend. Her character had development and a purpose, like most of the characters in Daria did, regardless of gender. Those people had distinct, meaningful personalities.

That's one of the things I don't like about The Office. I was happy about the "Scott's Tots" episode this week, because who doesn't like dancing children who are going to college? I liked that Erin was featured more in this episode, although she was functioning as a less cynical version of the old Pam, conscripted to assist Michael in another embarrassing endeavor.

I don't like how Pam has transformed from Fancy New Beesly--the aspiring artist who is taking charge of her life--to Pam Halpert--Jim's wife/baby mama who traded her art career for a position as a mediocre salesperson in a bankrupt paper company.

I don't like that you can count the colorful people at Dunder Mifflin on one hand, and if you blink, you'll miss them. I don't like that the women on the show haven't been humorous on their own in a while. I don't like that all of Michael's love interests have been carbon copies of Steve Carell's blond wife (who now goes by Nancy Carell), with no discernible personalities of their own aside from their inexplicable infatuation with Michael. Though I did like crazy Jan and her baby created from super sperm.

This is probably why both Sherri and Parks and Recreation have grown me, with their somewhat diverse casts and their funny female characters. Although, they could both use some more, or any, Asian and Latino people.

In conclusion, I need some black friends to talk with about the above issues. Or, if you're not black, but you would still like to talk with me, let me know. I'm a nice lady!


Mayhem and Foolishness

I have been trying to find the clip from either Clean House or The Dish that shows one of the inappropriately funny scenes in this episode, but and YouTube are not working with me.

As you can see in the above clip, Niecy Nash, the regular host of Clean House has invited her crew to clean her own house and help her mother. During the process, cast member Mark Brunetz expresses that doing the show about Niecy's home may be difficult. When Mark and Niecy have to talk about furniture, the conversation takes an unexpectedly, shall we say "insensitive", possibly scripted, turn. Danielle Fishel then showed that scene on this week's episode of The Dish. Here is a transcript:

Danielle: Niecy Nash is used to powering through other people’s messes on Clean House right here on Style. But when her crew had to clean Niecy’s house, I think [Clean House cast member Matt Iseman] summed it up best.

Matt in clip: I believe we’re about to hear a whole lot of “mmm!”s.

Danielle: So obviously designer Mark has no problem communicating with Niecy, right?

Mark in clip: So I want you to pick a textile for the sofa.

Niecy in clip: I want, like, Booyah! brown. You got that?

Mark: Booyah brown?

Niecy: Well, because you’ve got to think about three kids and my mama, eating.

Mark: So, forgiving? So if you spill something like chitlins or something, you’re going to actually be able to clean it up.

Record scratch!

Niecy looks at the camera.

Mark: Is that what you mean?

That's racist!

Danielle went on to suggest other ways in which Mark could have made the situation more uncomfortable.

Danielle: Or maybe if you spill some fried chicken on it? Or hair relaxer? No? What I meant to say is that, a brown that goes with hip hop music, or maybe our President would like it. No? Tell me this: is it like a Tyler Perry movie? Is it a brown that doesn’t crack? What? Why are you making that record scratch noise?

Here is more fun time with Danielle and Niecy, and Star Jones:

Apparently, Kathy Griffin has already been with that young tender, but I doubt Levi Johnston has ever talked right or looked right.


Combining a McDonald's cookie, McDonald's fries,

and a few boxes of strawberry and grape Nerds before bedtime led to the crazy dream last night that Michael Lohan was my biological father. It was disturbing.


Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When I have presentations to do,

I like to think of myself as a young comedian working on my stand-up act, like Patton Oswalt below, but without the expletives:

The A.V. Club: What if things don’t go well? Are you able to get perspective on that pretty easily, or is it bruising if something doesn’t really work?

Patton Oswalt: It’s not that it’s personally bruising. I’m in New York right now, and I had to run two sets for a TV show, so I went to two clubs. I went to Comix and I did my set and it went fine, and then I went to Gotham, and I ate it so fucking hard. [Laughs.] You get to a point when [the audience] knows who you are, so they’re happy to see you, but every now and then, you just get that, “This shit is not flying.” And then it’s even worse, because they’re like, “This asshole’s on TV, and he’s not fucking funny.” Like they almost expect you to know what the fuck you’re doing after you’ve been on TV for a while. So when you eat it like that… I actually ended up being pretty excited as I was re-writing it in the cab home [from Gotham], because I was like, “Oh, I have a lot more to work on.” I never want to get to a point where I feel like I’m done. Or like I got it. You always want to have that, “Oh shit, this wall just collapsed, and there’s a whole room behind it to explore.”

AVC: Is it better now than it was? At the beginning of your career, when you weren’t as known, it seems like it would have been an uphill battle every time, getting an audience on your side.

PO: Definitely. But you know what’s really weird? I’m grateful that I had that uphill battle for 10 years of going onstage and having nobody know who I was, because you have to win them over. Because I have a lot of friends who were stand-ups, and they just stopped after a while, because they didn’t like that battle, or they just couldn’t do it. And then they would get on a sitcom and get visible and get back into it, because the audience was just way easier on them. But they lost those crucial years of learning to turn any audience into your audience. And I think that’s really, really important. That’s why they’re okay stand-ups, but they’re never going to be great, because they don’t have that presence. They never built those muscles up.

I have a lot more to work on, too! And I would never have a home birth.