I Read the Internets – 12/23/06

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Hello internets!   Goodness, have I had a busy week!   Christmas is coming up, and since I celebrate it, have lots of friends and relations to whom I would like to give presents, and yet do not make much money, I have been doing a lot of knitting and embroidering lately.   Oh man, have I ever.   (btw, for those of you in similar straits, check out Sublime Stitching next time you’re looking for embroidery patterns that even your hip young friends would like to have on their tea towels.   Pirates!   Robots!   Unicorns!)   While so engaged in my various crafty pursuits, I often like to have a DVD playing in the background to keep me company.

The criteria for a good background-to-crafting movie are very stringent.   It’s got to be something that I’ve seen before, or I’ll be distracted.   It has to be something where the charm of the film is not entirely or mostly in the visual effects, because I won’t be looking at it that much.   And it has to have a fairly straightforward and predictable plot, because I’ll probably miss large chunks of dialogue while I’m screaming curses at my dropped stitches.

I’ve found, over the years, that particularly shallow “chick flicks” and Christmas films are both really good candidates for this kind of thing.   Perhaps that’s because, as sbg pointed out earlier this week, they’re often pretty much the same movies.   Which, y’know, is cool and all – except that the kinds of messages these films send about romance are kinda not cool:

Women in Christmas movies ultimately find romance and love by the end, and they usually realize that’s all they’ve ever really wanted anyway and, like, whoa, how cool that it came at such a magical time of year? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been luckier in love around the holidays than I have during the rest of the year”¦magic, schmagic.

Ladyred of Postcards from Guyville explores some similar ideas, this week, in a post about the film version of Bridget Jones’s Diary (which, I admit it, I have watched twice this week – once without commentary, and once with.   Also, the sequel.   Colin Firth, people!):

Here’s what pissed me straight off about it this time around: it pretends to be about Bridget finding herself. That’s one of the things that sold me on the film — the moment after Colin Firth and Hugh Grant fight over her, and she essentially turns them both down. She basically decides it’s better to be single than to compromise what she knows she wants in a partner.

I made that exact decision earlier this year and it was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. Strangely enough, 15 minutes later I didn’t find myself on a snowy street in my underwear kissing Mark Darcy as though my life depended on it. But in Bridget Jones’ world, that’s exactly the promise: commit to yourself, refuse to compromise your values, and you will be rewarded straightaway with the very handsome prince you let go of in favor of choosing you.

Empower your way to true love, ladies!

Ouch.   This is one of the tricky things about being a feminist consumer of culture (pop or otherwise), isn’t it?   How do you reconcile your enjoyment of something with the fact that you kinda know it’s as good as poison for your brain?   Once you’ve thought about the oppressive cultural messages encoded in a movie you’ve enjoyed, can you still watch it with pleasure?

My personal experience is that it’s possible – you just have to hold two somewhat contradictory things in your mind at the same time.   Good thing we’ve got such nice, complex brains, eh?

Alternatively, we could try harder to bring attention to movies (and books, and comics, etc.) that carry more diverse messages.   Ladyred picks up on that idea in a follow-up post to her Bridget Jones piece, titled “The I’m Fine Fest for Single Gals.”   Check it out, and make some recommendations, if you can.

I think it’s important, too, to remember that romantic plots are not in themselves always a bad thing.   Kalinara, at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise, wants to see more romance – in superhero comics.   Reading her post right after those about romantic holiday films has me thinking about the dangers of creative works of all types being too closely bound by genre conventions.   We get sick of romance in “feel good” movies and “chick flicks” because it’s so overplayed – it’s become conventional.   But there are plenty of genres in which romantic plots are not conventional, and in which a little romance might be fresh and interesting.

Moving away from the topic of romance, but still focusing on Christmas films (it’s possible!), C.L. Hanson posts about learning that classic Christmas special The Year Without a Santa Claus (“the show that proves that colorful characters and memorable scenes are far more important than trivialities such as internal consistency or a plot that makes sense”)had (basically) three writers:

I was thrilled by this new insight, and immediately wanted to use textual analysis to divide the special into the components written by the different authors the way the Biblical scholars isolated the “book of J” from the sections written by the other anonymous authors of the first part of the Old Testament. (Yes, I know, I should be telling this to a psychiatrist and not to a blog, but blogging is cheaper…)

If you enjoy The Year Without a Santa Claus, or textual analysis, or both, be sure to read the whole post.   It’s a hoot.

Taking an academic approach to movies even farther (and completely unrelated to Christmas, so far as I am aware), brownfemipower has posted a really interesting essay on her blog titled “Transpositional Appropriation in Othello: Black Male Sexuality Centered.”   I’m gonna suggest that if that title reads like Greek to you, you probably want to skip it.   But if you’re into lit crit, give it a read – brownfemipower has pointed out some really interesting ways in which the 1995 film version of Othello differs from Shakespeare’s play.

Changing topic rapidly, there’s an interesting post over at She’s Such a Geek about “The Women of Doctor Who.”   Via another post over there – a link roundup – I came across an article titled (wait for it”¦) “Best Buy gets in touch with its feminine side.”

Wow.   Here are some of my favorite quotes from the piece, totally out of order because they’re much funnier (but, sadly, only slightly less depressing) that way (all emphasis mine):

“Women are drawn to flat-panel TVs,” Gilbert says. “They want that big, clunky TV out of the living room.”

“¦

“It’s no longer the days of eight-track tapes and big speakers with the big foam that smells,” Gilbert says. “The products we sell and the services we sell are about trends and fashion.”

“¦

Despite the changes underway, the company is “not going to alienate the guys,” she says. It will still have the newest, fastest, biggest, shiniest stuff. And the changes will be good for all customers, she says.

“We’re not going to paint the stores pink.”

“¦

“Women couldn’t get anyone to help them,” Gilbert says. “They weren’t treated with respect.”

Oh, Ms. Gilbert – judging by this article, that “weren’t” should still be “aren’t.”   I mean – what?   We only like tech when it’s fashionable, trendy tech?   Painting the stores pink is even remotely equivalent to training your sales force not to be condescending asshats to half of the population?

Yep.   I won’t be buying my new, fast, big, shiny tech at Best Buy, that’s for sure.

If the language in the Best Buy story didn’t piss you off enough, check out this atrociously-titled New York Times article, “Chick Lit, the Sequel: Yummy Mummy,” which provides an interesting discussion about genre, and a vehicle for a fabulous quote from Jennifer Weiner:

Jennifer Weiner, the best-selling author of “In Her Shoes,” resents that women writing domestic dramas are categorized in ways that male writers aren’t. “My feeling about my own work is, I could be writing “˜The Aeneid’ and they would still have to call it chick lit or mommy lit or menopausal old hag lit.” She paused. “Crone lit “” is that what’s coming next?”

Tamora Pierce also had some things to say about women in literature, this week (in a widely-linked post that probably won’t be new to anyone reading this edition of IRtI, but just in case!) – specifically, about the importance of heroines:

More and more these days I am being asked why I choose to write female heroes, and/or when will I write male heroes. I’m polite in my answers, because people honestly seem puzzled by my choices, but I’m starting to boil a little, and I’m definitely building up a head of frustration. Why does no one ask male writers why they write male heroes?

Read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.   Really.

And to end this edition of I Read the Internets on a somewhat lighter note, Violet has come up with a list of “Book Seven Titles the Fandom Would Have Preferred“ for Harry Potter fen.

See you all next weekend.   I’ve got to go and finish embroidering some napkins.

Comments

  1. says

    That’s an amusing observation about the film of Bridget Jones’s Diary.

    It reminds me of the confusing moral of Beauty and the Beast: Beauty’s reward for deciding that her lover’s appearance isn’t the most important thing is that her lover becomes handsome. So if that’s a good reward, then maybe his appearance was kind of important after all…

    Oh well, at least for once the story is concerned with whether the guy is physically attractive enough for the girl’s taste and not the other way around. Still, I prefer the improved version of the story in Shrek. ;-)

    I’m glad you liked my little analysis of The Year Without a Santa Claus!!!

  2. says

    Now that I’ve read your site mission, I have one more comment:

    I specifically mentioned Mrs. Claus and Mother Nature first on my list of memorable characters because these fun characters are among the main reasons I like The Year Without a Santa Claus. (Also the brave baby reindeer is a girl.)

    Even so, the show still fails the Mo Movie Measure because the one time Mother Nature and Mrs. Claus talk to each other it’s to discuss their sons and husband…

  3. says

    Shrek is one of my very favorite family-friendly films for a variety of reasons, and one of them is definitely the way the “ugly/beautiful” issue gets resolved.

    I did very much enjoy your Year Without a Santa Claus post. I studied biblical lit in college, and the idea of picking apart a multi-author children’s film the same way scholars separate the threads of the OT cracks me up.

  4. says

    I’m trying to think of a feel-good holiday movie that doesn’t fail that particular (very worthy) test. I always think of Little Women as a holiday film, and there are several instances of women talking to each other about things other than men in it. Hrm. It does have romantic resolutions coming out of its metaphorical ears, but I find them less contrived, somehow, than the standard holiday romance fare.

    I’ll have to keep thinking, and see if I can come up with any others.

  5. says

    I sort’ve assumed you had to be disgusted by it, from what I understand about the She’s Such a Geek project. (and what right-thinking geek isn’t disgusted by about 90% of everything Best Buy does, anyway?)

    I really need to remember to purchase a copy of the She’s Such a Geek book! I was really interested in it when I saw the call for submissions floating around the internet a year or so ago – I was actually planning to write something really long and insane about D&D being the ultimate genderbending hobby and submit it, but I got busy with trying to graduate college, and never wrote it. I still think the book is a fantastic idea.

  6. says

    I hope you like the book! Too bad you didn’t get us your D&D essay, although we’re living in hope that the book will do well enough to justify a second volume. I’ll be curious to see what you think of Quinn Norton’s D&D-themed essay…

  7. says

    I’ll probably pick one up with my holiday book money (at least one of my relatives sends me a card for books, every year. Score!), and I’ll more than likely feel moved to write a review.

    A second volume would be very cool. The subject matter is dear to my heart, as you can probably guess. ;-)

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    It’s too bad, because I recently wrote on an ad Best Buy ran which suggested to men they should buy wives and girlfriends laptops or desktops. It seemed a straightforward message: “Guys, women like tech stuff just like you do. Consider it for a gift.” Which I thought was great.

    But the article sounds more like the Best Buy I know. The one where if I get approached by a floor worker, it’s to be checked out or flirted with. If I know more about the product than Salesboy or refuse to simply buy what Salesboy tells me to buy (like a good girl_, Salesboy sniffs and goes elsewhere to sulk.

    BestBuy needs to get to know actual women instead of marketing stereotypes.

  9. says

    If I know more about the product than Salesboy or refuse to simply buy what Salesboy tells me to buy (like a good girl_, Salesboy sniffs and goes elsewhere to sulk.

    That basically sums up every infuriating experience I’ve had there. Except there’s also the fun of being completely ignored by Salesboy (on one memorable occasion, for nearly an hour) because, dude, you’ve got boobs! You can’t possibly be a real customer!

  10. says

    Perhaps Miracle on 34th Street? The Mom probably talks to her daughter about various subjects.

    Actually, I found that one surprisingly progressive for its time because the woman is a divorced single mom who is at once highly competent in her job and also a good mother (unlike the awful ball-breaker-bitch-who-needs-to-be-softened-by-motherhood career woman we’re treated to in too many movies…) Of course I’ve only seen Miracle on 34th Street once, so I may be misreading it and/or confusing it with a different movie. Plus the happy ending is that she gets married and assumedly quits her job…

    On an unrelated note, in my current situation I rarely see grown-up programming or movies, but I end up watching tons of kids’ stuff, and analyzing all of it. This is partially for my kids’ sake but mostly unintentional. ;) I’m particularly interested in the portrayal of female characters, and I end up Mo’s-movie-measuring everything my kids watch. (Most of it fails, unfortunately.)

    My kids love to role-play every film or program they like, and one interesting thing I’ve noticed is that my older son (Nico, 5) will always play either the main or most interesting character himself (and give the second-most-interesting role to my little Leo, 3), regardless of the character’s gender. If one of the two main characters is female, he and/or his brother will play a female role with absolutely no hesitation. Of course they end up playing far more male roles because that’s what kids’ programming is like.

    If you guys are interested, I could maybe write a guest post sometime discussing the portrayal of females in the films and programs my kids watch.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    We’re interested! There’s a contact form accessible from a button at the top of the header – please use that to email me and we’ll talk further.

    I’ll back you on Miracle being progressive for its time. As I recall, the mother was doing the best she could to raise a child while working for a living. She was very calm, competent – not out to prove anything. She was a good but imperfect person, a good but imperfect parent… very human, very well-drawn (for that time period). I’m even willing to cut them slack on the ending because there is nothing wrong with quitting your job to take on full-time parenting. It was an unfair standard back when it was expected of women and denied to men, but it’s a valid lifestyle choice.

  12. says

    “Women are drawn to flat-panel TVs,” Gilbert says. “They want that big, clunky TV out of the living room.”

    I also love how this (probably true statement) is seen by the great minds at Best Buy as proof that women care soooo much about how things look,

    I want a flat panel monitor and TV – but I want them so that I don’t need movers or a handcart everytime I want to move my TV.

    “It reminds me of the confusing moral of Beauty and the Beast: Beauty’s reward for deciding that her lover’s appearance isn’t the most important thing is that her lover becomes handsome. So if that’s a good reward, then maybe his appearance was kind of important after all…”

    One of my favorite versions of the story had an afterword by the illustrator that said something very similar. The beast in that version was this fantastically strange and beautiful creature.

    (but he still changed into human at the end)

  13. says

    My fiance is the one who is obsessed with flat-panel everything, between the two of us. Because it looks cool. I guess he’s a gender traitor or something!

    Have you read any Robin McKinley? She wrote a version of Beauty and the Beast where the Beast stayed Beastly. And everyone lived happily ever after, too.

  14. Jennifer Kesler says

    I want a flat panel monitor and TV – but I want them so that I don’t need movers or a handcart everytime I want to move my TV.

    Good point. That influences a lot of my furniture choices as well as electronics choices. Heavier, bulkier items sometimes look great to me, but I prefer to sacrifice a little style for what works best functionally in my life right now.

  15. says

    That’s not just Beauty and the Beast, though. Snopes points out a 1943 story currently popular through email lore that has the same twist. Barbara Mikkelson, the author at Snopes, has a biting comment on it:

    It’s a touching tale, one that tries to convey an admirable moral (i.e., personality and character above beauty), so I find it bitterly ironic that it actually delivers the opposite message. Note the man’s reaction upon deciding to approach the woman he presumes to be Hollis: “This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which he had been and must ever be grateful.” On the strength of a correspondence, a romance had been budding in this man’s mind; upon catching sight of his correspondent, he drops any such idea. His decision is made purely on the basis of the woman’s physical appearance — he writes her off without so much as first speaking to her.

    She shows some early versions, back to a 1386 version by John Gower.

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