Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You and Your Racist Friend

(The title of this post comes from a They Might Be Giants song, before I get any questions about it. I'm bad at titles.)

Okay, so I'm still working on other entries, but they're requiring more research on my part, so they're slower going. And I really felt the need to post something about this, since it's such a prevalent part of discussing pop culture, and particularly films.

Several years ago, Nickelodeon had a show on called Avatar: The Last Airbender that I enjoyed, but rarely saw just because I was usually too busy and was never entirely sure when it was on anyway. But it was a pretty progressive show for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the break from the typical European/Anglo-centric setting/characters, but also because it had a linear plotline that progressed throughout the series, and some other things that others who know the show better than I have talked about at length. But it was very deliberately set in a Pacific-Asia-based world, with certain countries and regions based on Chinese, Tibetan, Inuit, Mongolian, and South-East Asian cultures, respectively, and heavily used philosophy, religion, clothing, writing and other such elements from the same regions as well. It was a very well-thought out world and the characters always seemed to me like they had a bit more depth than your typical afternoon cartoon show as well, and it developed a pretty big following, not just amongst children, but teens and even adults as well. It had a complex storyline that dealt with issues like war, xenophobia, ethnic cleansing, and the like, and it seemed to handle them well without getting too disturbing for younger viewers.

Well, because it was so popular, of course Hollywood, which seems to have run out of ideas of its own these days, came calling about a live-action adaptation. And of course, Hollywood being Hollywood, got its grubby paws all over it and whitewashed the cast. The three main lead characters, two Inuit-based and one Tibetan-based, are being played by white actors in the film. The fourth lead, the villain, was originally cast to be white as well, but due to massive fan outcry, the studio recast Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame in the role, thus making him, and the Fire Nation from which he comes, the only leading character of Asian ethnicity. So yeah, not only are there three white kids saving the world, but the main antagonist nation is basically India. Yeah, that's not just slightly distasteful or anything.

I could go on at length about how much I find wrong with how the studio has handled this film, but it'd probably be pretty hypocritical of me, since I've only seen the show a handful of times. However, there is a lot of dialogue about it from plenty of people who have, and I recently came across this post from someone who is not only a fan of the show, but a professional in the animation industry as well (edit: sorry, she's not actually a pro, she just knows enough that I thought she was. Whoops!), and she put her concerns so much better than I could have, so I'll just link you: On the Avatar Racefail.

Now, having said all that, at the end of the day, I can't honestly say I'm surprised that this happened. What does surprise me is the number of people who seem to think it doesn't matter. Sorry, guys, as much as some people like to say so, we don't live in a post-racist society. Of course I don't believe that race should matter as much as it does, but regardless of how we know things should be, we also can't let it obscure our view of how things really are. And as diverse a place as the US is, you wouldn't really know it to look at most of our TV and film output. Despite living in the twenty-first century, most of our film-based pop culture is very white, middle-class because that's what producers and studios think the "default" is. When they're selling a product (and believe me, that's what most pop culture media is-- "art" very rarely enters the equation), their main concern is making it as accessible to the widest audience possible. Sure, they'll toss some "tokens" in to keep the "P.C. Police" at bay, but you will almost never see a minority character in a leading part unless they've become too popular to afford to leave out. See, the dangerous thing about this form of racism is that it's not so much a "keep the minorities in their place" thing, it's a "well we need to reach the biggest demographic and more people relate to white guys" thing. The assumption is that having "ethnic" leads will alienate the mainstream American viewing audience, which is so beyond assenine, I can't even begin to articulate all the reasons why.

This is the same mentality that Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding has recently written about dealing with when trying to pitch her new movie idea-- "Women Don't Go to Movies"-- huh?. This isn't some antiquated old school of thought from back in the Hays Code days of Hollywood, it's still very much alive now, it's just less overt. To the people who say, 'it's not that big of a deal', or, 'why do you people have to make a race/gender issue out of everything?', I say it does matter because there's a huge percentage of the population in the U.S. alone who feel marginalized, or even outright vilified by the culture they live in, even if they're fifth-generation U.S.-born. And people make a big deal out of this stuff because if no one said anything, nothing would change. The studios in Hollywood don't give a rat's ass about anything but their bottom line, and the only way they change anything is if the viewing public fail to give them money for their product. If people who know better don't make a stink and raise these problems (that do tend to get brushed under the carpet, probably because they're such an intrinsic part of our culture and people just don't notice it), the problems will not go away on their own.

I've actually been kicking around the idea of asking people to try something the next time they go to a rental store, or are browsing Netflix, or looking at the movies playing at their local theater, to take a second and look at the movies and take note of what the race and gender of the star. And then change them. And then think about how they feel about the movie then, or even how they might feel if those really were their viewing options. I'm not trying to be snotty (although I'm sure I'm coming across that way), I'm honestly, genuinely curious to find out how people feel about it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"I Mow the Lawn!"

While I am actually working on some other pieces for this blog right now, I felt compelled to share some of these, since they fit right in with the whole 'analyzing popular culture' theme we've got going on here. Sarah Haskins is one funny lady, regardless of if she's talking about laundry, Carls Jr., Barbie, or "gardening".

If you want to see more of her stuff (and you should, she's got a ton of amazing little "pods" that are addictive like heroin or crack or chocolate (ha!)), you can check them out here: Target Women, with Sarah Haskins.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sing, Sita, Sing.

I'm sitting here with a mouth all pleasantly a-tingle after snorking down a handful of Tim's jalapeno kettle chips, and fantasizing about Halloween. I can't help it, it's almost July and that's what I do this time of year. Just be glad I haven't started humming Christmas carols yet; I did that for almost two weeks straight once, in August. I was on mission in Honduras, and remembering snow was the only thing that kept me from going up in a big, sweaty fireball.

Since that intro was apropos of nothing, I will now get to the point of this post! I want to talk about Sita Sings the Blues, an animated film done by Nina Paley (who had no animation experience), and is simply awesome. Bevin's madly in love with this movie; she watched it online and was one of the first people to order the Sita DVD when it came up for sale by Nina Paley. I can see the allure-- it's quirky and funny, but still true to the original story as set down in the Ramayana.

The narration is done by three people of Indo-Aryan descent (HA! Like that? I love history!) and most of the voice work is done by actors of the same heritage. But the narrators aren't reading from a script; instead it sounds like three people who know the story of Lord Rama and his wife Sita sat around and retold it to each other and it was recorded and animated as is; there are some pronunciation flubs that are honestly some of my favorite parts of the film. The title of the film is drawn from Sita's singing, animated over the performances of Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer from the 1920's. To be honest, I would have been fine if this part had or had not been in the film; I most enjoyed the dialogue and narration provided; Sita informing Lord Ravana that his ass was grass quite made my day.

The basic gist is that Lord Rama is run out of the kingdom by on of his father's wives; he must not return for fourteen years ("don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out" is how she put it) so Lord Rama and his wife Sita leave to live in the forest for that time. Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu, and Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi, both members of the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses. Rama spends this time in exile trying to whup as many rakshasa as he can since they're essentially gross trouble makers with a taste for human flesh, and Sita is simply happy to be with her husband because she loves him completely.

Everything's peachy until Ravana, the lord of the rakshasa, gets pissed and wants to get back at Rama. Ravana's sister, who is apparently really hard to look at, plants the bug in Ravana's ear that Sita's pretty hot, and taking her as his own wife would be a pretty excellent way to get back at Rama. This is probably my favorite part of the film, because every aspect of Sita is described to Ravana as being lotus-like, including her boobs. ("They are like two.. juicy.. LOTUSES!" I peed a little at that one.) Ravana decides that he covets her juicy, lotusey form, and nabs Sita, taking her to his kingdom of Lanka (Sri Lanka today).

But Sita is patient and not afraid, and believes that her love, Rama, will save her, which he does.

I'm not going to do the complete run down of the whole story; if you want to read it it's not hard to find, just do a GIS for the Ramayana. Essentially, Sita's faith in Rama is repaid with suspicion that she slept with Ravana. She passes the trial by fire, and that's another awesome bit of animation. Sita all in black against the flames, working her snake arms:

Rama then takes Sita back, knocks her up, and dumps her again because there are rumors in his kingdom that the baby might be Ravana's. Of course it's not, but Rama, in true heroic fashion, has his brother dump her in the forest anyway. Amazingly, Sita's not bitter. I personally would have spit in his bed before I was taken from the palace, but that's because I'm bitter and mean, and if I'm an incarnation of any goddess it' Hecate. Then I would have burned his castle down.

Sita gives birth to Rama's twin sons, and raises them to praise Rama. Rama eventually meets them, realizes they're his, and decides to test the innocent Sita yet again. This time she declares her innocence and basically says "if I'm innocent let me return to mother earth." The ground swallows her up. Rama realizes he's been a putz, and in a very moving scene, cries one tear.

Interspersed through all of this is the animated account of Nina's own big break up, and how she eventually got on with her life. All around great stuff, and I'm very curious now to read the Ramayana. What I find most interesting about all of this ties into what I mentioned above: Rama is an aspect of Vishnu, and Sita is an aspect of Lakshmi. Vishnu and Lakshmi are a couple; so even though it didn't work out very well for them on earth, they're together to this day. Kinda neat, huh?

A variety of animation styles are used to tell this story; the flash styles shown above, a few more "traditional" styles, and a more realistic/ simplistic style for Nina and Dan's break up. There is even some amazingly well done rotoscoping, which is awesome to see!

Check this movie out, really. It's silly, fun, sad, and something everyone can identify with: god or human, everyone's had a truly crappy break up.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Cherchez la Femme"

There's a popular phrase in the French mystery genre that goes a little something like; "[if you want to find the source of the trouble,] look for the woman". I know, seems pretty sexist, and it is on a big-scale picture: either the woman is deliberately causing the trouble through manipulative machinations, or she's not doing anything deliberately but people (probably men, since the use of the word "woman" is singular) are causing trouble because of her. Either way, the woman's the cause of something bad, and I don't think any female archetype is more exemplary of this concept than the femme fatale.

As is no doubt evident from the title of this blog, this is one of my favorite archetype, not only because film noir is one of my favorite film genres, but because of the interesting and contradictory nature of the role itself. Is it feminist? Is it anti-feminist? When is a femme fatale not really a femme fatale and where is the line dividing the two? I love contemplating stuff like this.

So, I decided that, in honor of my finally getting this blog going, I'd make a list of my favorite fatal femmes. But first off, I feel I need to define this role specifically, to understand where I'm coming from and why certain women are or are not included on my list. And also because I love talking about stuff in specifics because it makes me feel smart.

According to thefreedictionary.com, "femme fatale" is defined as:
1. A woman of great seductive charm who leads men into compromising or dangerous situations
2. An alluring, mysterious woman
Most specifically for film noir, the role of the femme fatale is summed up beautifully by John Blaser in his article No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir, "She refuses to play the role of devoted wife and loving mother that mainstream society prescribes for women. She finds marriage to be confining, loveless, sexless, and dull, and she uses all of her cunning and sexual attractiveness to gain her independence. As Janey Place points out, "She is not often won over and pacified by love for the hero, as is the strong heroine of the forties who is significantly less sexual than the film noir woman." She remains fiercely independent even when faced with her own destruction. And in spite of her inevitable death, she leaves behind the image of a strong, exciting, and unrepentant woman who defies the control of men and rejects the institution of the family."

While that's just about pitch-perfect,
I do need to qualify that with a sub-categorization of the archetype: the woman who is dangerous not because of anything she herself specifically does, but because of how the men around her see and react to her. They do get lumped into the femme fatale category instead of the good girl category, though, because they're presented in the film for the audience to see as dangerous, even if their actions and motivations aren't. (Think of Jessica Rabbit in the first part of the film, before she's specifically revealed to be a good girl drawn 'bad'.)

So, now that we're hopefully all on the same page I have to admit something kind of embarrassing. Despite it being one of my favorite film genres, and having taken a class devoted entirely to it, I haven't actually seen that much films noir. So I've probably left someone's favorite noir lady off the list, not out of spite, but simply ignorance. And so I won't have a really short list, I've also added female characters from other mediums whom I consider to be femmes fatales in part because they're cool and in part because a lot of the time, they tend to be forgotten when people talk about those classic 'dangerous dames'.

(Oh yeah, and there might be some spoilery stuff in here for people sensitive to that but I promise that if there's something really cool that needs to be a surprise, I won't mention it.)

So, finally, in no particular order, are my favorite femmes fatales.

Laura Hunt, in Laura. Gene Tierney's one of those actresses who, despite considerable popularity at the time, is known pretty much only to film buffs today. Which is too bad, because not only is she gorgeous (as she is primarily remembered for being), but she's actually a pretty good actress. Most people remember her for The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Dragonwyk, or Leave Her to Heaven, which are all pretty good movies but Laura is my personal favorite. Laura herself is one of those faux-femmes, where she doesn't actually do anything wrong, but the film still sets her up to seem dangerous and tempting. While there are a lot of those types on my list Laura is very unique in several respects: she was a woman who had her own career in the '40s who wasn't a secretary or a schoolteacher-- she was an ad executive who got the job because of her intelligence, talent, and creativity, not her looks. She had her own apartment, which she didn't share with her sister, extended family, or kooky best friend, and which she paid for and decorated herself with her own money. She also had a love life that was not limited to one character, and an implied sex life to go with it. Oh yeah, and she's dead at the beginning of the movie and the male protagonist is the police officer charged with solving her murder. While the movie does deviate from the novel it's based on in a number of areas, it's not Laura whose character was significantly changed, but the male lead, Mark. Laura retains her career and independent personality, and Mark went from a more sensitive, intelligent, well-read guy to a more one-note, hard-boiled, man of few words. But both versions of Mark develop a fixation on the dead but still fascinating Laura, and through him, the audience does, too.

Gilda Mundson, from Gilda. Rita Hayworth's breakout performance as the fun-loving, sexy, and misunderstood party girl Gilda is one of those roles that absolutely outshines the rest of the film (especially the incredibly unsatisfying ending). Everything else fades away every time she's on screen and I find myself hard-pressed to remember what the actual plot of the movie is; all I really remember is something about a former Nazi, how incredibly unlikeable I found Glenn Ford's petty, vindictive, and patently uninteresting Johnny. Perhaps on the page, Gilda came across as some wild maenad of a woman, in desperate need of someone to tie her down until the frenzy leaves her system, but on film, she's a woman clearly enjoying her own sexuality and completely at home in her own body. This is the classic example of a screen presence being so compelling and memorable that it completely obliterates the film's moral about a woman's proper attitude and role, and overshadows everything else about the film altogether. It's also a shining example of a femme who is fatale only in the eyes of the men around her.

Norma Desmond, from Sunset Boulevard. With every film of his I see, I become a bigger and bigger fan of Billy Wilder. Of the four I've seen so far, this movie is my favorite in large part because of Norma Desmond. Here's a film that simultaneously writes a love letter to and gives a big middle finger to Hollywood, and no other character in the film captures that dichotomy like she does. She's egocentric, insecure, haughty, needy, talented, laughable, delusional, likable, hateful, pitiable, comical, and about a dozen more adjectives. Her role as femme fatale is probably debatable (for my money, Hollywood itself fits that role in the film), but while it may be pity that leads the protagonist to his doom instead of sex appeal, there's no denying that Norma is captivating. Gloria Swanson's career was revived because of this role, but unfortunately she was never able to break free from it afterward. Norma Desmond is simply too unforgettable to ever truly be upstaged. It really was the pictures that got too small to contain her.

Kathy Moffat, in Out of the Past. Probably one of the most quintessential noir films has one of the most quintessential noir ladies. Jane Greer is primarily remembered for this part, and it's well-deserved. Kathy isn't one of the faux-fatales like a lot of other women on this list, though she does a really good job of seeming that way at first. It isn't until the last half of the movie that we really see what she's made of, and it's definitely a testament to Greer's acting chops that she pulls off both the decent girl in over her head role and the stone-cold, calculating puppet master role seamlessly. In a movie filled with interesting characters, for me she tops the list. It's a lot of fun to watch her be so very, very bad and very nearly get away with it.

Megara, from Disney's Hercules. Yeah, yeah, I know it isn't cool to admit you like Disney stuff, but I'm an inveterate animation hound and in terms of out-and-out animation quality, it's hard to find better than Disney. Meg is one of those rare Disney heroines who dared to break the Princess mold, and she's also clearly an homage to the dangerous women of the silver screen. While she isn't a true femme fatale in the way that Kathy Moffat is, she certainly has elements of the archetype. She's one of the few brazenly sexual Disney heroines, actively attempting to seduce the protagonist at one point, and with a romantic life that pre-dated the meeting of the protagonist. While she isn't married to Hades, she's still in a stifling and unhappy relationship to him (as his minion) from which she is attempting to escape and her seduction and manipulation of the lead character are a direct means to that end. Of course, Disney couldn't go full-on noir with her, and she is ultimately a faux-fatale, she does still stand out as being sexually charged and dangerous. She's the Lois Lane to Hercules's Clark Kent, the brassy, street-smart big city gal with a heart of gold and her own set of ambitions.

Himemiya Anthy, from Revolutionary Girl Utena. To call her complex and mysterious is not to do her justice. Anthy is probably one of the more controversial characters from the long list of the show, along with her brother Akio, who is the epitome of the rare homme fatale. She is both victimized by her sexuality and able to manipulate others with it, the very image of passive-aggressive behavior, and epitomizes the qualities that result from oppression. She is spiteful, vindictive, and two-faced, but conceals it under a veneer of quiet, happy passivity. In terms of the fairy tale tropes the show uses as metaphors, she is the Witch because her brother is the Prince and since her role is defined by his, she cannot be the Princess, and there is no other role available to her. She uses her sexuality and femininity to take revenge on a world she despises, and seeks to escape from her eternally perpetuating role as the Bride. A lot of fans hate her, but their reasons for doing so are the reasons I love her. She is simply and endlessly fascinating.

Catwoman, from DC Comics. Even though she's been referred to "the Feline Fatale" for most of her long existence, the moniker never really stuck with me until Ed Brubaker's short but fantastic stint as her writer. He took her into noir not only as a femme fatale, but as a protagonist of her own story at the same time, which is a pretty neat trick. Of course, she qualifies more as a faux-fatale anyway, what with her never really being evil, or even all that bad, save for a lack of respect for other people's property. But she is most definitely a sexual being and a serious temptation for Batman, the usual protagonist of the stories where she appears. Whether or not you accept the idea that she was once a prostitute, a dominatrix, a child orphan turned street urchin, an abused housewife, a bored socialite, or a flight attendant with amnesia (seriously), she has nearly always been a woman escaping a bad situation and seeking independence. While her costumed identity started out as a play off of someone else's, she has finally begun to define herself apart from it, and with Brubaker finally found a distinct, unique voice that sets her as hard-boiled detective, seductive fatal woman, and ultimately someone too complex to be fully defined by an archetype. Probably the only thing she will never be is the "good girl", and that's fine by me.

Nami, from One Piece. Not so much now, but during the first "act" of the manga One Piece, Nami was set up as a very femme fatale-like character. She was mysterious and secretive, manipulative, independent, money-hungry, and in a very bad situation from which she was trying to escape. Of course, underneath all the lies, betrayals, manipulations, and dirty dealings, she was a good person at heart, and all her under-handedness was for the sake of the people she cared about more than anything. However, even after the resolution of this bad situation she still remained a conniving, manipulative, money-hungry, underhanded woman and I couldn't have been more delighted. She's smart, independent (one of the few fictional females who doesn't exist as a serious romantic interest to anyone), very comfortable with her own body and sexuality, even though sex is almost a non-issue in the book, and has her own ambitions which she is willing to use nearly any means to achieve, no matter what most people might think of her for it. Though she's unfortunately being drawn more and more as a sexualized titillation for male readers, her personality is always intact and remains at the core of her portrayal.

Nico Robin, from One Piece. Like Nami, Robin began as a classic femme fatale, but going a step further by being an actual villain. When she joined the main cast, nobody saw it coming, and for quite some time afterward, her past and motivations remained a mystery. Given her past role as an assassin, she is clearly lethal, and her calm, unflappable personality, immense intellect, and experienced and sophisticated air create a different sexuality from Nami's young, confident, more "in your face" style. But like Nami, she also does not exist as a romantic interest for anyone, and is her own fully-formed character with her own agendas and ambitions. Also like Nami, she does betray the main cast of characters for reasons that are not revealed until later, but her betrayal comes after several years of camaraderie and is more of a surprise. She too has been prisoner to a bad situation from which she has been trying to escape, as well as probably the most overtly abusive relationship in the series up until then. While she has also become more sexualized of late, her personality also remains intact and at the core of her portrayal, and so remains a character of interest and, if the hints being dropped are true, one of great importance on a very large scope, as well.

Also worth mentioning:
Phyllis Dietrichson from Double Indemnity. I know it's probably blasphemy to leave her off my main list, and she is very much a femme fatale, but the sexual chemistry between her and Walter was practically non-existent for me which detracted from the "evil seductress" routine. Still, a great performance by Barbara Stanwyck.

Lady Kaede, from Ran. Akira Kurosawa's epic retelling of King Lear is an absolute masterpiece in so many ways but one of my favorite elements is this lady. She's ambitious, vindictive, manipulative, seductive, dangerous, cunning, and possibly a little bit crazy. Better still, she sort of wins at the end.

Friday, June 19, 2009

In the Saddle Now!

Hey all, I'm Stac, Bevin's less erudite partner in crime. She invited me to write with her, and I jumped on the chance to once again run off at the mouth via keyboard. Hopefully Cins will jump aboard soon as well, and we shall be the trio of screeching harpies God intended us to be!

Cins and I write another blog together, this one horror/creepy themed (Bev's not so into the scary scene, which is why she started this blog which is more aimed at film and less specific on genre than what Cins and I write. (Don't let that fool you, though; basically Cins and I take any opportunity we can to talk about cocks. What can I say? I think they're cute.) Our blog is called Creepy Kitch (deliberately misspelled by Cins), and you can check it out at . If you dig horror and you're curious to see it from the (crude) female perspective, please give us a look see and a comment-- we gulp feedback like some gulp cheap wine. We just don't usually have a headache after.

I recently watched Sita Sings the Blues, a movie Bevin discovered and has been raving about, and I can see why! I'll be writing a review shortly, which will be a sister piece to an article Bevin's going to write about an episode of my favorite show, Kolchak the Night Stalker. The episode in question, Horror in the Heights, deals with an east Indian monster predating on an elderly community. The monster in question is called a rakshasa. Rakshasas feature heavily in Sita Sings the Blues. I love kismet!

So look for both reviews soon, and God knows what from Cins once she makes it in!

Glad to be here and always glad to be writing about something!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nostalgia, or 'why is it so easy for me to define my childhood on Youtube?'

So, being a non-traditional college student, I'm reminded on a near-constant basis of the passage of time and how it pertains to me-- essentially how old I am compared to the people I'm surrounded by. It's always a little bit jarring when I reference something from my childhood in passing and nobody understands what I'm talking about. My mental self-image tends to be of me about five years younger than I actually am, so when I realize that the people I'm friends with were kids when they were watching the same stuff I was watching in high school, it throws me a little off-kilter.

So, of course, when you get to be my age, and surrounded by people who don't know what a Smurf is (seriously), you start waxing nostalgic about the 'good ol' days' of Saturday morning cartoons, monolithic rental VCRs (the kind that weighed about fifteen pounds, came in a big, padded briefcase, and had the tape compartments that popped up out of the body), and a time when 16-bits was an exciting leap forward in videogame technology. So in honor of this milestone (sort of like menopause, but on a purely psychological level), here's my top-5 list of things that still, at the age of thirty, make my inner-6-year-old gasp and flail with excitement.

This was a show on Nickelodeon way back in the day, and I was hooked on it like smack. My mother, having flashbacks to when my older brother was my age and hooked on Speed Racer, forbade me from watching it for fear of it giving me nightmares. Of course I watched it anyway when she wasn't looking, and if it gave me nightmares, I don't remember them. Over the years, the show faded from my memory entirely, until not too long ago when I stumbled across some fanart or other on DeviantArt and for hours afterwards I was unable to get the theme song out of my head. Seriously, I think the part of my brain most people use for things like remembering how to do math problems is being used to remember music from 80s cartoons.

This is another one that, like many, many skits from Sesame Street, has stuck with me vividly through the years. I am still unable to hear this piece from Carmen without thinking of this orange, imagining the singer making the same rubber band contortion with her mouth, and so forth. I will probably never be able to see an actual performance of this opera without having to excuse myself to giggle in the ladies' room during this number. Jim Henson's legacy lives on, indeed.

Everyone has a movie they loved so completely and passionately as a kid that they'd watch it over and over again, to the point that their parents would hide it for the sake of their own sanity. This was that movie for me. Whenever one of my parents, usually my dad, would take my siblings to get a few movies over the weekend, this was nearly always the one I would pick. I knew exactly where it was at the rental store and would beeline for it as soon as we came in. Not only would I rent it just about every single time I was able, but I'd watch it as many times as I possibly could before it had to go back. My love of this movie has actually persisted-- where most of my favorite childhood shows and films have not held up exceptionally well upon later viewing, I still love this one, warts and all. It's another one where I was still able to recall nearly perfectly all the music, including the background music, well into my late-teens when I was able to find a copy on VHS and relive my childhood whenever I wanted. I'm a bit miffed that this one hasn't made it to DVD yet.

(Okay, I tried really hard to find a clip of Optimus Prime just talking, but evidently nobody on Youtube gives a crap unless he's dying at the same time, and while that certainly brings back loads of memories for me, none of them are happy. So instead you get Peter Cullen doing the Prime voice at a con.)
Optimus Prime was one of the big, big heroes of my childhood, along with He-Man and She-Ra. Oddly enough, the Transformers theme song doesn't fill me with the wave of nostalgia of that those other shows' songs do, but Peter Cullen's voice sure does. I was going to marry that big, hulking robot from beyond the stars when I was six years old, and the sound of that voice still, to this day, fills me with the adoration of my six-year-old self. I remember doing a double-take when Cartoon Network started using him as a narrator for their Toonami lineup and squealing at the nostalgic memories that stirred up. Peter Cullen was by far the biggest draw I had to see the Michael Bay movie a few years back and is pretty much the only draw I have to see the new one in a few weeks. And even at the age of twenty-nine, sitting in the exact same theater I'd seen the original Transformers movie in, way back in 1986 at the ripe old age of eight, as soon as Peter Cullen's voice boomed at me out of the speakers, I was gripped with a sudden and profound terror that I was about to watch him die again. I think I white-knuckled my armrest until the ending credits. I will probably do the same thing with the sequel.

Putting aside all disputes about what show was better, this or He-Man (which I was also absolutely obsessed with), this one wins out for me because She-Ra was, bar none, my defining role-model as a kid. This, He-Man, and Transformers were the triumvirate of shows that guaranteed an absolute tantrum if I missed a single episode, repeat or not. To say that I loved this show is an understatement: I was obsessed with it for years. I can remember being ten years old and drawing one of the characters on my desk at school over the entire school year and being so incredibly proud of it, since it was probably one of the best things I'd ever drawn up until then. I had a good number of the action figures, but my best friend had most of the playsets and the harder to find figures like Peek-a-Blue and Mermista. Unfortunately, on their annual trip to Costa Rica, they'd somehow run into money problems and had to sell her collection, which I think deavestated me more than it did her. On retrospect, there was a really interesting story there but to my 8 year-old self, all I knew was that the really awesome toys were gone. (My priorities were a little messed up at that age.) But between this show and He-Man, just the sound of the Filmation logo that preceeded every show is still enough to make me perk up with excitement. Can't really watch the show itself for more than a few minutes, but that opening will forever make me happy.

So there's my childhood in a nutshell, pretty much. Sure there were other things outside of TV that happened and influenced me, but they're (thankfully) impossible to find on Youtube, so there you go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Deadpool Addendum (aka: "argh")

So, not too long after I finished my embarrassingly long love letter to Deadpool, I came across this interview with current writer, Daniel Way, wherein he answers fan questions about Wolvie and Wade. Evidently, he has big plans in the near future for everyone's favorite mercenary, plans that no one's ever done with him before. In his own words: "The first year involved him proving that he’s the best mercenary in the world. He eventually does that; but only to himself. But what he realizes is, that’s not enough. The second year will be about Deadpool’s quest to be something new, something he’s never really been before – a hero."

Really? Really Daniel Way? That's so original and fresh and "outside the box" of you! No one's ever had that idea before.

That's funny, I wasn't aware that Marvel had started doing DC-style retcons where you basically scrap everything and start over fresh, but that's the only explanation I can find for Mr. Way's above comment in the light of nearly seventeen years of continuity. Come on! Why is no one at Marvel tapping him on the shoulder and saying, "excuse me, but here's some back issues you may want to read so you don't just start re-hashing everything that's already been done". Pardon my snark, but really, this is ridiculous.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Look Kids, Comics! (Especially Deadpool)

Okay, so I freely admit that I rarely buy comics anymore. Most of my adolescence, teens, and early twenties saw me buying a lot of them, and I still have a bunch of them in longboxes in my closet. But somewhere between being unemployed, the guy at my local shop putting more books in my pull file than I actually wanted, and subsequently ordering my comics from a store in another town (in another state, if you want to get down to it), I just got tired of the hassle and stopped getting everything. That, and my favorite books were either canceled or changed to the point that I stopped enjoying them, so the incentive to keep trying wasn't really there anymore.

But that doesn't keep me from keeping up with things in the mainstream comics world through online recources like Comics Continuum and various message boards. And I still partake of online comics, like "Platinum Grit", "Penny Arcade", "Order of the Stick", "Dar!", "Shrub Monkeys", and "Girl Genius", too. (Totally not pimping strips out. really.) In fact, the major difference (for me) between online comics and professional mainstream comics is a pretty decisive one: consistency in creative control. Online comics are a private thing, written and drawn by the person/people who created it in the first place and who can do pretty much whatever they want, whereas mainstream American comics (basically superhero comics, with some exceptions) go through many different hands over years and years. Now, that's not to say that some mainstream creative teams can't come up with some really cool stuff, because they can, but the constant changing can also play havoc with consistency and continuity (especially when there doesn't seem to be much damage control by way of editorial oversight-- I'm looking at you, Marvel!). Of course, there's downsides to webcomics, too, in that they aren't necessarily written by professionals, quality can vary, and sometimes, like in the case of an old favorite, "Return to Sender", the creator can lose interest and drop it before resolving anything.

I think in part, my frustrating with how superhero comics are set up is because I've gotten really used to reading manga over the past several years, which are set up more like independent comics, where the creator has most of the control over story, art, characters, and all that, and there's usually a definitive story arc-- when they tell the story they wanted to tell, then it's over, it doesn't just keep perpetuating in teleological limbo for decades.

I think the only reason I've even been thinking about this at all recently, is because of Deadpool. Yeah, he's a holdover from my old comics-reading days of the '90s, and I still love that character. I was really excited to learn he'd gotten his own book again, and that Ryan Reynolds is playing him in a solo movie. In fact, I was so excited by this, that I dug all my old DP back issues out of my closet and proceeded to read them through the last few weeks of school instead of doing my homework. This includes the first X-Force appearances, the first two limited series, his first ongoing title (my collection there gets kind of sketchy after Kelly left), and the ongoing series with Cable. It's funny, I really didn't like Cable and Deadpool much when it was first coming out, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because I was getting Brubaker's Catwoman series at the same time, and I loved it so much, everything else just paled in comparison, or maybe I just wasn't in the right mindset to appreciate it. I dunno.

Whatever the case, I'm glad I re-read them because I think that's actually my favorite series for Wade. I know some people don't like Fabian Nicieza's sense of humor, like it's too scatological/political, but it didn't bother me any, since it didn't strike me as being particularly out of character for him. Don't get me wrong, I adore how Joe Kelly wrote Wade back in his first ongoing, and I love the supporting characters he came up with like Blind Al, and the whole Siryn thing, and how really painful he got with showing the internal struggle in someone so damaged trying to be good but not really knowing how. But I do have some beefs with some of his run, too, namely his writing of Typhoid Mary (a longtime favorite character of mine), the cosmic-ness of the storylines (an intergalactic bank is the main sub-plot for pretty much the entire run) which is fine if you really dig on the super sci-fi stuff, but Wade just doesn't seem like an "outer space" kind of character to me, and the whole T-Ray thing. Yeah, I sort of like to pretend that last part never happened.

While Kelly's run had some really great stuff in it (issue #11 will probably always be one of my favorite issues of any comic book ever), and he really established a great voice for Wade that's been hard for other writers to follow, Cable and Deadpool just felt more solid on all aspects to me. The plot was more interesting for me, in part because it was a lot more grounded in events I can relate to more (like people trying to make the world a better place but being unsure if they're doing it the right way), the characterization was really strong (Cable's actually interesting? how did that happen?) and what drives the story forward, instead of trying to shape the personalities to follow the events, and somehow managing to create a constantly advancing line of thought despite having to contend with those annoying multi-book crossovers that tend to crop up every other month. Some people dislike the differences in tone and characterization from Kelly's Wade to Nicieza's (even if Nicieza was writing him before anyone else, but hey, whatever), but I can actually see a progression of character from DP's ongoing title to C&D, and I really like that he seems to have grown in some respects. His belief in Cable as a messiah figure flows naturally out of the things Kelly had been doing with Wade as a supposed messiah-like figure, his interactions with Siryn evolved from obsessive stalking to something more comfortable and less objectifying, and he really clicks with the characters he's surrounded by. Deadpool's a great character, but he really works best when he's part of a dynamic, like his relationships with Blind Al, Siryn, and Cable in particular. He's a really funny character, but he needs someone else to bounce off of to really get him to spark, especially when it's largely these characters that allow him to have these amazingly humanizing moments. I think why I probably like Nicieza's writing on C&D so much is that Wade has those great dynamics, and he has a lot of those humanizing moments, but we also get to see how he can give other characters their own moments as well. (Gavok over at 4th Letter compiled a really comprehensive list of Deadpool's 70 greatest moments, using a variety that showcases the many facets of the character and why his fans love him-- check it out if you haven't.)

Now, having gone through all that, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I'm pretty disappointed with how Daniel Way's writing him in his new series. I know a lot of people like it, and I can see why they do, it's certainly not a terrible book. I just don't find it terribly interesting, especially in the wake of re-reading Wade's old adventures. The new stuff is fun, I particularly enjoyed the early issue with the zombies, but at the same time, the book itself really doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Wade's on his own, his supporting cast having mysteriously and inexplicably vanished from where C&D left things, and so to make up for it, Way has given Wade schizophrenia. Sure, he was never exactly what you'd call "sane", and it's one of the reasons he's so lovable, but one type of mental illness is not interchangeable with another. Before, he was a sociopath/psychopath, but now he literally has conversations with other voices in his head and actively hallucinates (what has now been dubbed "Pool-O-Vision"). While I can see how this could be interesting, and it can certainly be amusing, ultimately it just seems like a writer taking huge liberties with character because he's too lazy to write supporting characters. This very sudden shift in mental illness is never explained, nor is it mentioned as being new or out of the ordinary-- the reader is basically expected to forget all those previous years of characterization by multiple writers and just accept that Wade has always been schizophrenic. That irks me. I can handle it when characters change from writer to writer, that's to be expected since writers are unique people too, I can even handle it when a writer deliberately changes a character, provided there is some sort of logical, understandable explanation provided to me, acknowledging that a change has taken place and telling me why. I don't like being treated like an idiot, basically.

I'm also not wild about the loss of, what was for me, the biggest draw to his character, and that's his inner struggle between trying to be a "good" person, and being the "bad" person he's naturally more inclined to be. That's been such a fundamental part of his character for so long, and provided so many of my favorite things about him, that without it, I find him to be pretty uninteresting. Comics have lots of guys in flashy bodysuits running around shooting each other, and Wade's inner struggles with himself over morality and self-identity were a large part of what separated him from them. If Way's even touched on that in the ten issues I read, I completely missed it.

But hey, lots of people like the new Deadpool book, and that's fine, too. Not everyone feels the way I do about stuff, and if they did, the world would be really boring. It's not a terrible book, like I said, it's pretty fun, and the art's consistently very nice. I have just come to expect different things from Deadpool than what Way wants to write, and it's his book now, so he can do what he wants. I just felt the need to voice my disappointment, since I feel like a pretty unique character is being lost. So I'll be sticking with my back issues and C&D collections, and riding the merchandise wave until people get over saturated with the character and move on to something else. Really, guys, 'Pool's awesome and all, but I think two ongoing monthlies and a ridiculous amount of guest appearances is pushing it a bit.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dresses Are for Girls, Swords Are for Boys...

...And ne'er the twain shall meet. Or so a bunch of people on the internet would have us believe.

I wasn't sure about posting this right out of the starting gate, but honestly, this one hit me close to home. I'm hoping to go into animation in the next few years, and regardless of my success in that endeavor, it's still my favorite storytelling medium. I never outgrew my love of watching drawings run around on a screen and have adventures, even though I went through a phase when I was around 12 where I tried to convince myself that I had. There is just something in me that craves it, that delights in seeing it in its many forms. So when I saw some of the responses posted to Linda Holmes's (I thought) very polite and respectful desire to see Pixar deliver a movie with a female leading character (that isn't a princess, since there's already loads of those), I was, to put it mildly, shocked and dismayed.

In retrospect, I suppose it was naive of me to think that because I'm fully aware of the fact that girls like adventure stories just as much as boys, are just as capable of being interesting and enjoyable, and like seeing people they are inspired by and can identify with up on the big screen, that most people had come to the same assumption I did. Thank you, internet, for pulling me back down to planet Earth and reminding me that there are still a lot of people out there who have trouble with the foreign concept that women are, in fact, people.

Over at Cartoon Brew, a blog all about animation that I used to really enjoy perusing but have recently lost my taste for, there was a particularly high volume of outrage at the idea Ms. Holmes posited. In their brief article, entitled "Dear Pixar, How About a Chick Flick...?", responses ranged from supportive, to neutral, to downright hostile. One poster responded to someone's comment about not understanding what was wrong with wanting to see a story about a girl and the things that happened to her instead of a boy and the things that happened to him with, "The lady in front of her in line got the pair of shoes SHE wanted at Payless. The girl in the cubicle next to hers keeps laughing on the phone all day and getting on her nerves. She starves herself all weekend and yet gains 2 pounds! All exciting and true topics to be sure (courtesy of my wife) but I can’t say as I’d like to see them animated with 3-D characters." Another poster had this to say: "Everybody has an agenda. I’m sorry if this delightful movie didn’t service yours. Perhaps we should petition President Obama to oversee the animation industry, and appoint a Gender Equity Czar to implement “representational justice” on the silver screen. I nominate Barney Frank for the position." But far and away the most common sentiment I saw expressed there (and on other sites as well), was essentially this: "The real reason behind Pixar having never released a film focusing on a female character is because all of their films thus far have been directed by males." That sentiment is further encapsulated by this from another poster: "As is said above, you can’t pay most men and boys to go to movie about a girl. While I respect the drive for equality and am willing to stand up and be counted when it comes to supporters of both equal opportunity and equal wages, I am among those who could not be payed to go see a movie about a female unless it had an incredibly compelling story and was superbly done." There were even a small number of more hostile people who saw the letter as a declaration of female superiority and an effort to exclude the male population from movie viewing.

Now, this really made me stop and think. Why is it that the mere mention of the idea makes so many people uncomfortable, makes them automatically assume that it's part of a PC ploy, or that it's even female superiority rhetoric? I read the same letter they all did and I didn't see any angry accusations of sexism, no war cries, no knashing of teeth, no criticisms of the company's movies, nothing. I saw a respectful letter written to a movie studio that the author obviously respected a great deal, expressing a wish that she (and frankly, many other women) have had, not because of something wrong with their movies, but because of everything they do right. Women are not given leading roles in films very often in Hollywood, and it's not because male writers are fundamentally unable to write women well, nor is it because male viewers are fundamentally unable to connect to a female protagonist, but because somehow the idea that those two things are true have become "common sense". The problem with common sense is that it isn't necessarily built on real truths, but on the popular opinion that something is true. 'But women are so alien and unfathomable' male writers cry, 'how can we do them justice when we don't understand them?' The fact of the matter is, men and women have far more in common than not, but we culturally focus on the differences and blow them out of proportion which leads to this mindset that 'men are from Mars, women are from Venus', when really, we're all from Earth. There are differences, yes, psychological and phsyiological, and the genders do identify more strongly with their own than with the other, but that does not mean it is impossible to do so. If that were the case, then female movie-goers and literature-readers over the vast passage of time would not have enjoyed the vast majority of produced works because they wouldn't be able to identify with the male lead. And yet we have and we continue to do so, as box office returns will tell you. A movie like The Dark Knight doesn't become the biggest movie of the year and one of the highest-grossing of all-time on the sale of tickets to men alone, and that goes the same for any other hit movie.

So what this tells me, is that men who protest so vehemently against the idea of seeing a leading female protagonist in a film are either a.) not impressed with most of the representations of leading women in films, or b.) don't like the idea of surrendering their gender-perspective for an hour and a half. (There's probably more to it, too, but I have no idea what it might be, so give me a heads-up if anyone might know because this stuff fascinates me.) Maybe a lot of the outrage was stemming from the idea that Ms. Holmes had accused Pixar of being sexist, or was demanding that they change how they make movies to fit some personal agenda, but I'm somewhat at a loss to explain how many people came to that conclusion based on her letter. Personally, I can't speak for her, since I don't know what she was thinking when she wrote it, nor will I ever, because I am not her. But I can speak for what I saw when I read it, and what I saw was not anger, but hope. We ladies adapt to a male viewpoint for the duration of most media forms because very often they're made by men for men. And there's nothing wrong with men making movies for themselves, at all. But there is a serious deficiency in the other viewpoint, too, and after a while, we start going, 'well where's my story?'

I think Pixar was chosen for this focal point, not because of any deficiency or a problem with their films, but because they have shown such consistency in storytelling, and in particular their depiction of women, that it creates an excitement amongst viewing women at the possibility of a female lead. 'But most of Disney's leads are female', people say. Actually, most of Disney's leads are male, if you look at the actual story (in Sleeping Beauty, the title character has less screentime than the prince character, and barely any speaking lines at all), and by and large they tend to fit one archetype: the princess. Now, I'm not arguing that there's something wrong with enjoying princesses, I've certainly enjoyed my share of mine, but one has to wonder where all the other types of roles are. Girls can be more than just one thing, just like boys, and yet nearly all of the leading women in U.S. animation are one thing. Yes, there are exceptions like Mulan and Lilo, but they're the ones that prove the rule.

Why, when directors like Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon can achieve such great success with leading women in Japan, a country that is arguably more restrictive toward women, are U.S. directors and studio heads so reluctant to branch outside of that box? Do they not think that little girls will like a female character who isn't a princess? If that's the case, they need to meet more little girls. Just because princesses are popular, doesn't mean that's all they want. Girls will identify with a female on-screen no matter what her 'role' is because she's female, just like boys will identify with a male character because he's male. And I'd bet good money that boys would be able to identify with the story of a girl on an adventure just as much as girls identify with boys on an adventure, so long as the adventure is compelling. But the most important thing it could do for kids of both genders is to say 'girls can be anything, too.' And maybe when kids finally see that message in action instead of being given conflicting messages, society at large will finally start to acknowledge that being a girl isn't anything to be ashamed of, isn't demeaning, isn't alien or unfathomable, and isn't second-best. That's my hope, anyway.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Test Drive

So, howdy to cyberspace. This is yet another blog about pop culture. Just what everyone needed, I know, but what else is the internet for except sharing opinions that nobody cares about anyway? So here I am, doing my part. You're welcome.

So, about me, I guess. I'm a film and video studies major in college, concentrating specifically on critical studies, so basically I'll have a degree that doesn't qualify me to actually do anything except annoy other people with my ability to pick apart their favorite movies. But I love what I do, and I tend to apply the techniques of film analysis and theory to things outside of film, when it seems appropriate. And sometimes when it doesn't, but it's my blog and you can just go to a different page if you don't like it.

Of course, I am an inveterate geek, as well, so expect to see posts about animation (country of origin is really not important to me, including Japan, so no bitchin'), comics (again, country of origin not important, and superheroes aren't necessarily a prerequisite, either), and of course, film. There might be other stuff, too, I'm eclectic.

My friend Stacy from Creepy Kitch will also contribute sometimes, just so you know who that other person in the banner is.

Hopefully the blog turns out to be more interesting and less self-centered than this turned out to be.