Feminist Friday: Feminist Disney Movies?

Since last week’s post was a little heavy, I decided to lighten it up a little bit with today’s post. Remember a few weeks back when I mentioned that I absolutely love Buzzfeed? Well, I really do, and when they post articles like this, that love just grows stronger.

I grew up on Disney Channel Original Movies, so when a friend sent me a link to a post that Priya Krishna and Kate Taylor at Buzzfeed wrote entitled, “50 Disney Channel Original Movies, Ranked By Feminism” I knew I would love it. I think my favorite one in the list is probably “Kim Possible: So The Drama”, because Kim is a bad*** and, well, Ron is adorable. Which movie on the list was your favorite?

Feminist Friday: My Top Five Favorite Feminists

I like making lists. Grocery lists, favorite movies, a summer bucket list, my favorite types of macaroni and cheese, you name it, if I’m interested in it, I’ve probably written a list that quantifies it in some way. This week, you get to peek into my brain space and find out who my top five favorite Feminists are. Ready, GO!

1. Sylvia Plath

Let’s face it, I was an English major. Books and literature and authors are my lifeblood. Before I even identified as a Feminist I knew I loved Sylvia Plath and her poetry. Plath was a modern American, Feminist, confessional poet and novelist who committed suicide in 1963 when she was only 30 years old. Sylvia suffered from depression for a good chunk of her life and it is definitely reflected in her poetry. I first discovered Plath’s poetry during a Summer course I took at Southern Virginia University called “Modern American Poetry”. I was struck by Plath’s honest, at times shocking writing. The way she wrote about her family, her relationship with her father, her thoughts of life and death, I loved all of it. By choosing to write poetry that was raw and, at times, harsh, Plath cemented herself as a strong female writer and helped lay down the path for others to follow.

2. Laverne Cox

Laverne is amazing. She is a star in the amazing Netflix original series, “Orange Is the New Black”, an advocate for trans rights, a producer, an amazing public speaker, the list goes on and on. Here’s a short excerpt from her personal website talking about one of the many projects she has worked on.

Her documentary Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word aired on MTV & Logo to impressive ratings. The hour-long documentary explored the lives seven transgender youth from across the country and their determination to lead their lives as the people they are meant to be. Laverne was the host and executive producer of the ground breaking documentary which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.

Laverne is also producing another documentary titled Free CeCe in order to heighten visibility and awareness surrounding CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman who was controversially sentenced to 41 months in prison for second degree manslaughter after allegedly defending herself against a racist and transphobic attack. The documentary will focus on McDonald’s case, her experiences while incarcerated in a men’s prison and the larger implications of her case for the transgender community.

She is truly amazing and I can’t wait to see how many more wonderful things she accomplishes…also, I can’t wait to watch season three of OITNB because I know she will be fabulous.

3. bell hooks

bell hooks is actually the pen name for Gloria Jean Watkins “an American author, feminist, and social activist. Watkins derived the name “bell hooks” from that of her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films, and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern perspective, hooks has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism.” (Thanks Wikipedia for such a concise introductory bio!)

I have loved everything I have ever read that she has authored and I have a personal goal to read her book “All About Love: New Visions” before the end of the year!

4. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Do I even have to elaborate on why The Notorious RBG is amazing? She’s an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, she has battled cancer, she is a fierce advocate for women’s rights, she was a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU and was on it’s board of director in the 1970’s, and she has an extensive jabot collection, what’s not to love!  I’m so excited for her biography to come out in October.

5. Amy Poehler

Not only is Amy Poehler hilarious and talented, she is also a very outspoken Feminist. As the star of the TV show, “Parks and Rec” a cast member on Saturday Night Live and the creator of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, she has a lot of accomplishments under her belt. Amy encourages girls and women to step up, be assertive and take control. I truly love her and her sense of humor. Also, how can I not love someone who is best buddies with Tina Fey!

Who are some of your favorite Feminists?

What Happens When You Buy The World A Coke

I cannot get the ending of Mad Men out of my head, man.

There is surprisingly no consensus on what really happened, and even less so over the tone of the finale. There is somewhat of a neat divide over what kind of future the show leaves for Don Draper. Is it a cynical inversion of human emotion fitted to capitalism? Or a triumph of Don’s creativity and humanity? I think it’s both, but more on that later.

This whole last season really threw me, and I started picking up on what exactly has drawn me to this show in the first place. When it first landed on Netflix, I watched the first few seasons in a very steady pattern; alone, in the dark, after long days of studying and delivering pizzas. It was escapism, for me, living as far from the glamour of 1960s New York City as possible. I didn’t always get it, but I consumed it like a sweet-toothed caffeine addict consumes cans of Coke.

In fact, I think it was the first TV series I really started looking at critically. Those nights of binging on the exploits of Sterling Cooper coincided with my internship for Under the Radar, and with the prospect of reviewing TV and music for a major publication looming on the horizon, I needed to start sinking my teeth into scripted drama. I discovered that Mad Men was rich with meaning, symbolism, and just amazingly complex moments.

But for some reason it was always a show I couldn’t explain, even to myself. If I wasn’t watching it, I could never remember why it appealed to me in the first place. But then I’d put it on and remember just how satisfying a world Matthew Weiner created.

Back to the ending. The simplest way for me to digest what the final moments really mean is as an objective viewer. Meaning, I don’t think it is necessary to speculate much on whether or not Don found peace or squandered his humanity for capitalism, or whether he wrote the ad at all. I think it is fairly obvious that Don conceived of the famous Coca-Cola ad during meditation, and his state of mind is, at least in that moment of conception, completely at ease and in balance with nature.

Which, is exactly right. Because as much as we spent the last seven years trying to understand the kind of man Don Draper is, that moment is really the final revelation. He is an artist for hire. That is his purpose, his zen, the end.

My other big takeaway from that moment, though, is that it signifies a bigger global change that we’re still grappling with in modern day reality. Don’s submersion into hippie ideals turns out to be no different than his day-to-day among corporate ad agencies. In the end, they’re both selling an idea. Don’s epiphany is the moment that brings them together. Global idealism and pragmatic capitalism. The birth of post-modern consumerism.

That’s the death of the sixties, isn’t it? When the suits twisted the values of counterculture into for-profit mechanisms, everything got mixed up and truth and art and lies all bled together. It started with Coca-Cola broadcasting a feel-good jingle about global solidarity with a diverse cast on a sunny hilltop in Italy, and now it’s Tom’s promising a new pair of shoes for third world countries with every pair purchased, it’s Starbucks’ charitable foundations, the Ronald McDonald Foundation, etc. These are all marketing disguised as altruistic responsibility. It’s still a lie, just like all the lies that Don Draper concocted over the years. Only, before “I’d Like to Buy The World A Coke,” companies didn’t have to worry about grand statements of global unity and social responsibility, they just had to sell you a product. Which method is more honest?

Mad Men was always about change. The setting of the ’60s heightened the elements of change, while it’s main protagonist seemed impervious to the shifting tides. He was stuck in the past, in nostalgia, and never quite grasped what the undercurrent of counterculture was trying to accomplish. Until he does, and his response is to adopt the aesthetic of anti-capitalism means for a capitalist end.

A lot of people have pointed out the opening theme as a perfect summation of how the show ended. It always looked like Don was going to jump to his death, but of course, he didn’t, in fact, the opening always ends with him back on the couch like nothing happened.

Because Don is a survivor. He spent the sixties lost in the chaos of social change and personal meaning, but after all is said and done he just adapts. But because of who he is, and what he represents, his adaptation changes the landscape of corporate culture, globalism, consumerism, politics, everything.

Is that a bad thing?

It depends. From a Marxist point of view, absolutely. We’ve become blind to the oppressiveness of capitalism because it assimilates its greatest critics for its own purposes. But on an individual level, maybe it is not so bad. We no longer have to choose between our comforts and our souls, because the machine is taking care of the world for us.

All we have to do is buy a Coke.

Journey Through Twin Peaks

One of the most engrossing films I’ve seen in recent years is Room 237,  a film essay exploring the depths of critical analysis on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The Shining is one of my all-time favorite films, because it carries an atmosphere that is almost intangible, but careful viewers have pieced together the various tricks that Kubrick used to create that atmosphere. A lot of people focus on the moon-landing theory behind The Shining, but that’s only one interpretation of the film among many, and it’s the least plausible. It doesn’t fit in with the some of the other more plausible analyses, but leaving it in certainly helped spread the word about Room 237. 

Mostly, I just love the idea of film criticism as entertainment. So much so that I immediately planned on a similar treatment of another work I find as equally open to interpretation, Twin Peaks. If you couldn’t tell, since this is not the first blog I’ve written about the TV show, and until JJ does another layout change you’re looking at some heavy Peaks imagery directly to the left, I’m a little more than obsessed with the franchise and will needlessly fit it into unrelated conversations. “Oh, you love the new Batman vs. Superman trailer? You know what else is dark and brooding? Twin Peaks. Go home and watch it. Yes, it is on Netflix.”

If I couldn’t make the film essay myself, I at least wanted to present my interpretation of Laura Palmer’s struggle as a powerful symbol of ending a cycle of physical and sexual abuse. Laura is the hero of Twin Peaks because she refused to let the horror that tormented her continue, whether it was by some demonic presence or something closer to home.

Joel Bocko beat me to it. His series, “Journey Through Twin Peaks,” presents a thorough and beautiful analysis I could never pull off on my own. Unlike Room 237, however, he did it all himself and threw it up on YouTube, instead of submitting it to Sundance. But I think that’s fitting, because it turns out there is quite a bit more to Twin Peaks than the feature-documentary format offers.

I’ve watched Twin Peaks in its entirety about four times since 2010, and Bocko highlights points in the series that I never noticed. It’s the loving criticism the series deserves. He presents a coherent thesis, that the magic formula of Twin Peaks is a child of the tension between David Lynch and Mark Frost, and backs it up with specific examples of the different ways they treat characters and situations. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, but someone could easily watch his series without any knowledge of Twin Peaks and have a clear understanding of what makes the show work.

But there’s no good excuse for not watching Twin Peaks. I particularly like the analysis of the end of Fire Walk With Me, though he credits it to someone else (spoiler, obviously) that the flashing light on Laura’s face as she sits in the Red Room with Dale Cooper is actually Laura watching the entire series and reacting to the impact her life had on the town, both good and bad. Seeing it through that lens completely decimated me emotionally. It could easily be one of David Lynch’s most beautiful moments. (Update: Joel provided the source of this theory in the comments below.)

Bocko also suggests that everything Lynch has done since is not only influenced by Twin Peaks, but actually about the experience of making Twin Peaks. That’s a powerful realization, especially since I was also under the assumption that Lynch never lingered on projects, and for years seemed too willing to put the series behind him.

However, I think he and I would disagree about whether the series should continue without Lynch. I think Frost’s vision of the series is underrated, as does Bocko, but I also think it’s only fair that he gets a crack at developing his ideas on his own, since Lynch had a chance to go back and explore Laura Palmer’s character. I stand by it. Twin Peaks without David Lynch would still entice me.

Anyway, the whole series is on YouTube, in 28 different videos, divided into four parts. He covers the entire series with surprising depth, explains some background on the mystical influences on the mythology, and defends Fire Walk With Me as a crucial masterpiece to Lynch’s entire career. I’ve been waiting for a satisfying treatment of Twin Peaks like this, and if I couldn’t do it myself, I’m at least glad it’s done so well.

Feminist Friday: A Man’s War Two

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about how Feminism helps both men and women. I started off on the basics. This week I want to talk about a common advertising trope that I just can’t handle; the idiotic, bumbling dad/husband/partner who has no idea how to properly take care of his kids or clean his house. Having a hard time imagining what a commercial like that looks like? Here’s one from Samsung, a company notorious for their sexist ads.

I know that some of this is “tongue-in-cheek” humor, but it’s still frustrating to watch. I really feel like these portrayals are unfair and damaging for men, and I’m not the only one who thinks this way. In 2012, Josh Levs wrote a great article for CNN.com entitled “No more dumb old dad: Changing the bumbling father stereotype“.  (I’d really suggest that you go read his article, I just can’t do it justice with my summary.) He points out that the “dumb dad” trope has existed since the 40’s but really came into the playing field in the 1980’s when TV shows and commercials were trying to distance themselves from the sappy, cheesy father figures from shows like “Full House” and “Growing Pains” and instead created characters like Homer Simpson.

The obvious question here is; “Why is this bad for men? Does it really matter how men are portrayed in the media?” Absolutely it does. I asked my husband how he felt about how men and fathers are often portrayed in the media. He said, “It’s insulting, it’s making fun of you for wanting to be a good dad. It tells me that I’m less of a man if I want to take care of my kids.”

While I could go on and on about how the “useless husband” trope negatively impacts women, I want to focus on how it affects men. Again, please read Josh Levs article for CNN.com, he’s much more articulate than I could ever be. The main issue that I see is that these kinds of stereotypes disincentivize men from being care-takers and stay-at-home dads. Why would men want to take care of their kids if they are constantly being told that they aren’t good at it? The good news is that most men are great dads. According to Josh, Pew Research shows that, “Almost all fathers who live with their children take an active role in their day-to-day lives through activities such as sharing meals, helping with homework and playing.” That’s pretty good news.

You might be wondering, “How does Feminism fit in to this?” One of the many goals of Feminism is to get rid of strict gender roles, allowing men to fulfill the roles they want. I know a lot a great stay-at-home moms, and I also know a lot of really great stay-at-home dads, too. The idea that housework and child-rearing is only reserved for females is pretty archaic, but is also still widely believed. Unfortunately, in a society mostly run by men, the roles they are allowed to fill are few. Men aren’t expected to be sensitive and kind, those are seen as womanly traits. Again, I have a hard time seeing how the patriarchy is actually helping men in the long term.

The good news, is that not all companies are using these damaging stereotypes. In recent years, more and more big name brands are finally starting to realize that it’s in their best interest to compliment consumers. One of my most favorite new commercials is this one by Cheerios which came out last year. I get a big smile on my face every time I watch it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no dummy. I know that at the end of the day, large corporations just want to sell me shoes, deodorant, cereal…whatever. But, let’s face it, I, like most people, am a sucker for advertising. So if I can feel confident knowing the the brand I’m buying from has great, empowering commercials, I’m much more likely to buy more Cheerios than I am to go get a Carl’s Jr.’s burger.

At the end of the day, Feminism is all about leveling the playing field. It’s all about equality for women and men. “Feminism, isn’t it about time?”

Further suggested reading:

“Retire the Bumbling Husband: He Isn’t Helping” by Jamie Zucker for Huffington Post

“Let’s Kill the Media’s Stereotype of ‘Incompetent Dads’” by Abby Schachter for Acculturated

Twin Peaks Without David Lynch Might Still Be Pretty Good (But Give Him Everything He Wants Anyway)

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the original air date of the Twin Peaks pilot. This is a huge deal, both in the context of the show itself, and in the real life influence of the series on television and pop culture in general. Twin Peaks undeniably changed television forever, and changed it unlike any other groundbreaking series.

It is about the mystery of “who killed Laura Palmer?” but grows into something much deeper and poignant than that. It is a surreal work of elegant Americana, flawed but beautiful. Once someone asked me what my biggest geek obsession was, and without hesitating the words “Twin Peaks” left my mouth. I hadn’t ever considered that before then, but it felt right. Since then, I think fascination over it has only grown.

Part of what hooked me originally was the hero, Dale Cooper, and his wise optimism when facing unspeakable darkness. David Lynch is surely capable of pulling off some disturbing imagery, but the show always portrayed horror through the lens of Cooper, which dangled hope in front of us even when staring down the toothy gaze of Killer BOB.

Try going to sleep after watching that.

Now that television is in its renaissance, nearly every show has creative roots in Twin Peaks, as showrunners and TV writers are all basically trying to recreate the magic formula the David Lynch and Mark Frost stumbled upon in the early ‘90s. I make a point to include Frost because it seems like he’s left out of too many Peaks-related discussions. Especially considering the sometimes larger-than-life creative personality of David Lynch. But Lynch is an artist, truly, and brings with him some inherent flaws that alone would have made Twin Peaks impossible. He’s temperamental, unfocused, incoherent—all the marks of a real visionary. But Frost managed to reign in Lynch’s surreal images and disjointed storytelling and form it into a reasonably easy to digest drama.

I bring this up because this anniversary is marred by Lynch’s recent announcement that the Showtime-produced third season of Twin Peaks might have to go on without him, due to contract negotiations. Immediately fans of the show rallied behind the filmmaker to #SaveTwinPeaks, followed quickly by the residents of Twin Peaks themselves. They have a point. The core of Twin Peaks is trademark Lynch, a dreamy exploration of the seething underbelly of American suburbia.

Last month, Lynch hinted that he wasn’t sure how involved he would be in the new project, and I thought (after the initial mournful gasp) that it was a perfectly executed negotiating tactic. I still think that’s what’s going on now, even moreso that he’s flat out admitted this is all about the money. I honestly hope it works out, because returning to Twin Peaks without David Lynch would be bittersweet. But it might not be a disaster. In fact, it could still be amazing.

I think Twin Peaks’ fans should consider that maybe the new series will be fine without Lynch. There are plenty of good writers and directors influenced by Lynch’s style to complete his vision, and plenty of reboots were disasters in the hands of their original creators (Star Wars, Indiana Jones) while passing the torch worked far better in other cases (Battlestar Galactica,  Star Trek: The Next Generation). Not to mention, Mark Frost is still on board, and to me, that’s just as good. I don’t want to say Twin Peaks would be better without Lynch–but I think everyone can agree that Star Wars would have been better if Lucas kept his role minimal during the prequels.

Don’t get me wrong. I want David Lynch on board, and he’s much more capable and self aware than Lucas. But I also want new Twin Peaks episodes, even if he can’t work things out. Yes, some of Twin Peaks’ best moments had Lynch at the helm, but he left the series fairly early in the second season, around the time the network pressured the creators to reveal the killer—a move that proved to undo the plot in a way that spiraled Twin Peaks into cancellation. That wasn’t really anyone’s fault, though. And when David Lynch did revive Twin Peak for a feature film, it wasn’t nearly as consistent as the series at its best. I do love Fire Walk With Me, especially because it really gives Sheryl Lee a chance to portray a three-dimensional version of Laura Palmer. The film is remarkable for her performance alone, especially considering she was originally hired solely to play a dead girl on a beach. It is, however, a perfect example of Lynch without restraint. Which brings me back to everything I love about the work of David Lynch—it is cerebral, but arty, and often lacks a coherent narrative. That works just fine in an insular work like Eraserhead or Blue Velvet. Twin Peaks, on the other hand, relies on a focused plotline that uses Lynch’s trademark strobelit performance art with subtlety. David Lynch is a visionary, but television needs more structure than that. It needs to hold together and keep at least one toe on the ground so audiences can come back and know what they’re getting into.

There is something uniquely Lynchian about the whole debacle, though. The series was born out of a writers strike, otherwise no network in their right mind would have aired something so edgy on prime time. Behind-the-scenes controversies pushed and pulled the series in all sorts of directions, and now the new series is starting off with the same kind of production struggles. If anything, it gives me hope that whatever direction Twin Peaks is headed, it’s the right one.

If you liked this blog, check these out:

  • Twin Peaks, of course. It’s on Netflix, and yes, it is worth all the hype
  • Blue Velvet – one of Lynch’s best films, and also stars Kyle McClachlan
  • Beach House “Bloom” This whole album sounds like Twin Peaks, which is pretty cool. They even got Leland Palmer for one of their videos.