Momentum


What a difference an almost-year makes! I’ve started collecting my clips over here at this Tumblr yonder, resolving to blog there and failing utterly. I’m mostly on twitter and instagram, save the 3 weeks I took off for a Book-writing intensive, that partly paid off but then partly… well…

 

Let’s just say the biggest piece of advice I’ve often heard and frequently ignored is “PROTECT YOUR WRITING TIME.” Teachers tried to tell me, established writers tried to tell me, friends tried to tell me, and you better believe Charlotte Brontë tried to tell me. So, this summer began in a flurry of proctoring law school exams, freelance editing, laying very still and recuperating from 3 months of puppy-related sleep-deprivation, then teaching a summer high school creative writing workshop (where for the first time I let my guard down and bonded with my students and it was AMAZING), and then my BFF was in town…but then I had a month, a whole month, in which to do nothing but work on my book (my 14 page essay is a BOOK NOW, you guys! And I went to Haworth and did research and everything but I digress).

 

And the first week was phenomenal. I deleted twitter and instagram from my phone (I kept FB so I could post Brontë quotes and um, become reobsessed with FB) made progress, I chalked up hearty word counts, I edited with discipline and judgment. And then the second week…I had to go back to the books, and transfer from writing/editing mode into research mode. It was bumpy. And then family came into town and disrupted 2 days worth of writing. And then petty little editing projects “Oh it won’t take you more than a day” started to creep in. And then E and I went to the beach. And then E went out of town for 4 days and I reinstalled twitter to fight the loneliness. But then I got to go to the Morgan Library and do some more first person research! Which now I have to transfer back into a writing mode to infuse into my book and. And then my fall syllabus was due today, so I spent this week equal parts working on it and procrastinating. Oh and did I mention I decided to start up a dogsitting/walking business amidst all of this? DISRUPTIONS EVERYWHERE. 

My writing tracker looks like this

7/21/14 8:30 – 1:00 1053 Welcome back. Critical heritage! 65,106 66,159 WH/AG critics
7/22/14 8:30 – 2:30 2116 Critical adds, mostly 66,159 68,275 215 Spotty work habits!
7/23/14 7:30-1:30 with breaks! 1906 Criticism, WH – Villette (reviews!) 68,275 70,181 10:30 – Dog business
7/24/14 7:45-11:15 1090 Criticism, letters, Villette–Haworth 70,181 71,271 217  
7/28/14 11:00-1:30 589 Notes on each chapter, snapshot, added Haworth rainbow 71,271 71,860 220 Made appt request for the Morgan library! 8/8
7/30/14 7:30 825 Letters 71,860 72,685 222 Embarassing work day.
8/1/14 7:30-10:15 176 Runthrough-beginning through Innocents abroad 72,685 72,861 Back to the grindstone, dammit
8/5/14 8:00 1004 Letters; most words added aren’t mine 72,861 73,865 stay awake!!!!
8/6/14 8-11; 5-7:30 1139 Research paper; Letters 73,865 75,004 229
8/7/14 9:00

Sigh. I got basically a week and a half of work out of my book-month. I’m trying to elbow out all of next week. I really need to have absolutely nothing else on my plate. Once school starts there’s, you know, school and thesis advisor conferences and a freelance project I took on that involves developing and editing a book on workplace writing skills. And I can be derailed by something as simple as proofreading a blogpost for someone else, so I need to have no errands, no appointments, no obligations to really PRODUCE as the professional writing types say. 

 

Protect your time, writing types.

A dog can help you think while you walk them but they will not help you re-energize at night. In the afternoon, mid-draft, sure. They’ll knock you out for 4 hours and you won’t know what hit you. 

 

That said, Roxy continues charming. For those first few months she was waking up at 5 am every day, at which point I’d drag us both to the couch to cling to an extra hour of sleep, but she seems to be gradually growing out of it. She even slept in until 9:00 while Eric was out of town. She plays well, sleeps well during the day, her separation anxiety is way down thanks to the judicious deployment of canned food involving pumpkin bits and gravy.

 

And Twitter and Tumblr and FB and uh, real life, know all about this but psst, WordPress! We’re getting married! The wedding-planning is done! I just need to uh, finish making invitations to the post-nuptials dinner and send them. I made the process very difficult for myself so it’s entirely my fault that it seems too daunting to bother with. The joy of planning a small elopement-style ceremony and a dinner with family afterwards is we get to separate all (well..many) of the opinions and expectations that surround a wedding from our actual vow-exchanging, and then provide an evening for our loved ones that is just about celebrating this new be-unioned-state. 

 

Also. 

Guardians of the Galaxy was awesome. I wish Gomora could have done a little more but I really, really liked it.

Maleficent was also great–the visual homage to the original animated film were beautifully done. 

I’d convinced myself the second Avengers movie was out already and I had an opinion on it, but this seems to have been a hallucination. 

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Dazed and Schooled


Yesterday marked my first ever (..this semester) Tuesday that was not Just a Recovery Day From Monday And Or Stressful Weekend Travel. I have been molding young minds for approximately 5 weeks now and I love it. They’ve just gotten their first essays back and are preparing to embark on outlining their second essays. I like the prepping, the teaching, the grading, and the conferencing. I really like chalkboards.

I love the whole rigmarole so much that my hydra-headed nest of a 5 year plan has gone from “I don’t know maybe trying to write for TV or tutor or run creative writing workshops or teach high school or just copy edit while I finish my Brontë book project and make comics and sell crafts on the side God can we just have a baby so I don’t have to think about any of this THX” to…..

“Teach here for my two year appointment (try to segue into a fulltime gig for afterwards), turn in my thesis, adjunct for no more than a year or two while finishing/shopping my book (and freelancing so I can eat, and stuff), then begin applying for fulltime writing faculty positions.” 

So blammo. Sorry, people who follow my blog for whom I am extremely grateful, for my lack of blog-focus. I won’t pretend I didn’t have time to post here–I beat Lego LOTR basically by myself last month. But it’s hard to operate on multiple channels simultaneously. It was easier when I was younger and fancy free, I guess. Plus I wasn’t living with a partner and trying to be a grownup (we cooked actual dinners involving ingredients and heat this week! TWICE! Things are going really well. In non-food areas too). 

I think it may be about time to retire this here forum and set up shop on a Professional Type Blog, with my full name on it, where I can post clips and blog about my book project in a manner likely to attract positive professional attention, even. I’m still on Twitter, and maybe will start using Tumblr more often. Right now it intimidates me because I am inept.gif 

Anyway. Thank you for reading and being around. I wrote this thing at The Toast, in case you missed it :) 

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Hostility and the Feminist Critic


It’s no secret this blog ‘o mine has been receiving some undeserved neglect these past few months. Summer’s been busy, with the writing and the teaching and the moving to Inwood to live with a partner for the first time, and the writing and the teaching and the sudden unalterable nonbudging of a body allowed to be at rest for the first time since starting the second year of grad school. So I’ve been posting less and doing other stuff more (including publishing other places, working on my Brontë thesis, teaching a graphic novel class, and planning a trip to Haworth, woooo), and yet I still get the occasional comment from someone Googling through.

Most frequently it’s been comments on this post, in which I playfully excoriate Oblivion, by and large the stupidest sci-fi adventure featuring two Tom Cruises I’ve ever seen. 

Because I made the decision to critique it while being a woman possessing feminist views (despite also possessing a love of sci-fi, stating my love of sci-fi, and linking my frustration with this film to the climate in which it exists), the most lengthy comments I’ve received have been from Dudes Who Have a Problem With My Tone.

I’m not surprised, just curious. It’s no secret that some men don’t like it when the ladies get mouthy. Even the dude who likes to brand himself as the most feminist male feminist to ever feminist has issues with women’s anger (I have issues with him, also, and not to victim blame but if he could stop talking over his shoulder about how he’s really done this time, feminists who don’t drink his koolaid could get on to other, more interesting, less Schywzer-y things).

At first I rose to the “you’ll never publish this” bait and published them. Then, I looked at the annoying debate I’d been drawn into, accompanied by insults (gotta love a troll who tells you you’re imagining misogynistic sentiment in the media, probably because you’re a PMSing feminazi) and condescension and atrocious grammar. And I deleted them. And it felt better. I get to choose who speaks to me publicly in this space, and I prefer to approve people who are saying nice (even not necessarily complimentary) things.  So if you’d like to disagree with my critique, by all means do so, but if you can’t do it without being an offensive asshole, believe me the rest of the Internet is happy to accommodate you so you should take it up with them. 

But the frequency of these comments, appearing as they do on my super opinionated posts, has me thinking, what is it about a woman being pissed off that prompts douchebros to weigh in telling her not only that she’s wrong about the movie, but about misogyny in general. “Misogyny doesn’t exist, you stupid bitch, so stop complaining and go take some midol” is not exactly, not precisely the way I’d go if I wanted to convince me of anything. 

I’m allowed to be tired of objectification. I’m allowed to be tired of trivial female characters. I’m allowed to be tired of men getting all the good parts and women’s adventures being invisible once they graduate out of midriff tops. And I’d be hard pressed to see how my being tired of this shit affects you at all. If all that macho woman-erasing hullabaloo is your bag, congrats. The mainstream action movie industry is super on your side. What is the point of barging in here to tell me I’m stupid for even asking to see something original instead of something recycled in a Sarlaac’s intestine? 

 

Besides, I never review movies when I’m PMSing. I’d get chocolate all over the keyboard. Obv. 

 

PS, thanks for the recommendations, most recent troll, to other, less misogynistic movies. You’ll note I never said they didn’t exist, or that I hadn’t seen them. I agree, the 5th Element was pretty rad, and I like Mila Jovavich. But dude, Oblivion blew, and fuck you too. 

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What are musicals for: A Study in Contrasts


This weekend I had the opportunity to see both Spider-Man, Turn Off The Dark, Julie Taymor/Bono’s Busch Gardens entertainment homage, and Pitch Perfect, an ode to collegiate acapella starring Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick. As someone who counts musical theater as one of my first languages, I had Many Thoughts and Feelings about them both.

For what it’s worth, the fragments of Julie Taymor’s vision I could see added up to a musical I would have watched, little as it had to do with Spider-Man. The rest of it, the presumably signed-off-on-by-Marvel part, was no better than what I remember from years of amusement park stunt shows.

Because the makers didn’t seem to know what anybody liked about:

  • Comics
  • Musicals
  • Stunt shows and/or the circus
  • Words

In comics, we draw to express what we see and what we can’t say. In musicals, we sing to expose the raw emotional subtext of what we can’t say. In stunt shows, you want to see people trained to do cool things actually do cool things. The show’s makers were in a tug of war over whether to go for stylization (with comic-drawn backdrops and lots of posing) or emotional realism (MJ’s 2 minutes of backstory) and the result had neither. I expected comic book dialogue. What I didn’t expect was songs that were so aware of their irrelevant and meaningless lyrics or a book confused about its place and time. You may either have cell phone and facebook jokes OR you can put your steno pool in the 40s. You may not do both. We use words to EXPRESS THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS in ways that are resonant to ourselves and others! Not to fill up time, copy-and-paste from pop culture, or populate our power-ballads with vowels.

~~~~

And then I saw Pitch Perfect, which got middling reviews, had mediocre dialogue (acascuse me?) and a Final Draft Screenplay Template Plot, but still gave me goosebumps more than once. I watched it the same way I often watch Glee, doing something else until the musical numbers came on. What it did, and what I liked about Stomp the Yard, Center Stage, Dance Academy (Aussie series of awesome schlock and excellent young ballet) etc, is use its musical content to tell a story, to show an evolution. In this case it was the introduction of mashup technology into college acapella groups…which actually probably predates the technology of mashing-up, but w’evs. There is just something about the texture of close harmony and vocal percussion and pop music that connects somewhere inside my rib cage.

Plus the goal of the movie was clearly to get high school choir nerds excited about playing college ball (evidence: HS-level vomit humor, the culmination of the heroine’s romantic relationship in a kiss). The performances were the most dynamic part, and the movie passed the Bechdel Test over and over because the leading ladies were way more interested in their actual interests (whether DJing or singing), than in hooking up with dudes. Anything that reassures kids who might feel like outsiders that they are actually on the inside of a much cooler crowd (and has a beat you can dance to) I am down with.

And the thing is, that’s supposed to be the point of Spider-man too (at least in its reboot incarnations), that Peter Parker, Scrawny Nerd, Photography Enthusiast, became magically stronger and cooler. But the opening bullying scenes were so cardboardy and hollow, the song was even called “bullying by numbers”. Having a high school boy who gives a presentation on spiders and chemistry (that actually is boring if you’re not privy to the airborne Arachne) and gets called a “loser” a bunch of times before one of the saddest dance fights I’ve ever seen….there’s nothing to hold on to, nothing to identify with. We don’t even learn anyone’s name other than the head bully.

Becca, the heroine of Pitch Perfect, is into DJing. Her romantic counterpart wants to score movies, and accepts his TurboNerd roommate. Fat Amy calls herself fat so “thin bitches” don’t do it behind her back. The movie had some unfortunate token POC/LGBT casting (one Asian girl, one Black lesbian, and one Indian dude who raps do not diversity make) and all the white tenors with brown hair were hard to tell apart, but ultimately it was trying to promote acceptance, and it was able to do it in a relevant way.

The makers of Pitch Perfect knew what people like about college rom-coms, about Glee-style musical numbers, and about girl-powered competition flicks. So I liked it. The makers of Spider-man only know what people like to see when they’ve sought air conditioning to escape the heat. So once I cooled off, I had nothing to hold on to.

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Whedon, Shakespeare and Much Ado


I was as excited for this movie as it is possible to be — I remember when Whedon hinted at shutting his friends up in his house and filming it, I remember when the cast leaked out, I am a big fan of Shakespeare adaptations generally, and Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespeare comedy, despite all its deficiencies, because Benedick and Beatrice are my favorite Shakespearean couple, bar none. And any devastated fan of Angel was eager to see Wesley and Fred back together, sadder but wiser and less possessed by an alien ice thing. So I was bouncing in my seat as the opening credits rolled. 

And I did like the music (put together by Joss and Jed Whedon), the physical comedy, Joss Whedon’s ridiculously gorgeous house, and the development of my favorite subtextual theme, that B&B had a previous relationship that soured and just needed nudging to give it another go (so much more plausible than the instant just-add-water love….).

I thought Sean Maher was good as Don John (although my god the handsome man needs to close his mouth between lines sometimes), and the direction of the scene where he initially misleads Claudio (Fran Kranz) about the Duke’s wooing of Hero was very finely done, highlighting that Claudio tends to fly off the handle about lots of things, which makes The Great Wedding Shaming more plausible as well. 

That said…. it left me a little flat. I felt like it lacked energy, in part because of the black and white palette, some too-leisurely editing, and partly because…well…the accents were so American. Whedon’s got a great eye for gorgeous scene-setting, but the pace and momentum were lacking for me. Setting it contemporarily when clearly everyone was hooking up behind the scenes meant it was extra-tricky to understand why it was so important that Hero be a virgin. And worse still, because it was so hurriedly put together, I felt like Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff, though at their best in scenes with eachother, just weren’t quite up to the task. They’d learned the lines but hadn’t had time to absorb them, to be able to convey images with their text, to bring the archaic rhythms to life. Denisof seemed self-conscious during the necessary monologuing, and Acker wasn’t much more at home. Hero is a thankless role, and Jillian Morgese’s main achievement was in looking an awful lot like Amy Acker. Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro was convincing but a little wooden.

Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry, resolutely attempting to evade Michael Keaton’s shadow, was funny but similarly lacked precision on the punchlines (his buffoonery with Tom Lenk was delightful, however). When 2/3 of a character’s speech is malapropism, the language needs to be even more sharply articulate, and I felt like he was giving it Captain Hammer diction instead of the more classical sharpness you’d expect/hope to hear. 

I finally breathed a sigh of relief when the Friar stepped in to officiate the wedding (Harold!). Shakespeare is in an English accent what opera is in its original language–at ease, at home, and fluent. That’s simplistic, I know, and I have seen adaptations where Americanization didn’t bother me, but I wanted fireworks and what I got were sparklers, some of which glowed brighter than others (Clark Gregg was perfect — I could hardly tell he was speaking Shakespeare at all; his castmates could take notes). It has to be hard to go up against Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson at their best, and I’m glad Whedon tried. I hope he keeps it up and works his way through the entire canon–his Antony and Cleopatra would really be something. 

AND WHILE I’M HERE

I want to draw your attention to this casting-in-progress for a film adaptation of Into The Woods.  Singing, like Shakespearean acting, is hard. Only people who have proven themselves good at it, really, should get to do the movie versions. Nothing against Chris Pine, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Blunt, or James Corden, (Johnny Depp I will never forgive for butchering (…) Sweeney Todd or participating in The Lone Ranger), (Ms. Streep may of course do whatever she wants), but PEOPLE WHO AREN’T SINGERS ARE BAD CHOICES FOR MUSICALS. Grumble. 

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Thresholds and the hierarchy of media criticism: Arrested Development and Stefon Edition


A night or two ago, amidst much anticipation for the new Arrested Development episodes, someone I respect retweeted comments from somebody expressing frustration with the omnipresent Arrested Development fawning; she had been thoroughly disgusted by the transphobia and homophobia in the show, and found it exasperating that so many people who wanted to consider themselves LGB and Trans allies were willing to set aside those concerns to enjoy the show. This commenter admitted she hadn’t noticed them before becoming trans herself, but now that she was aware, she found it impossible to watch Arrested Development and wanted to make it clear to other prospective allies that sure, they could watch it anyway, but she’d be judging them and wanted them to know they were being hypocrites, now that they’d been alerted to these attitudes.

This reminded me of an experience a few weeks ago when plenty of Twitter (including me) was mourning the departure of SNL’s Stefon, and another person I respect said that he was glad to see Stefon go because of his repeated slurs against people with dwarfism. And I agreed about the dwarfism – every time Bill Hader peeked out between the hands pressed to his face and said something about “midgets” I cringed, because a) I don’t think jokes about dwarfs are funny and b) it wasn’t necessary to the jokes he was telling (which Bill Hader didn’t see ahead of time) that the slur be included. It was just for the shock value of it. What I loved about Stefon was the way Hader reliably and irrepressibly broke character during his appearances. Since the SNL writers put jokes Hader had never seen before on the prompter, he frequently got tickled while trying to perform them and would giggle helplessly into his hands, and I’m a sucker for performers who break down and laugh. In this case, that outranked my disapproval of the word “midget”.  The person speaking up on Twitter and Facebook has a daughter with dwarfism, and nothing’s more important than that. Rightfully so. After I read his comments, I agreed with him. I likely wouldn’t have enjoyed Stefon as much had he kept reappearing.

Opening my eyes to an ableist/sexist/transphobic/homophobic flaw is usually needle that punctures the balloon. I loved Friends, but when I rewatch now I’m constantly cringing at the casual homophobia and anti-fat humor that is lazily spread all over it. Sex and the City was thoroughly ruined once I moved to New York and it sunk in just how whitewashed the whole thing was. So when I was watching Arrested Development reruns yesterday, I was listening actively for transphobic attitudes I’d missed at first. I knew mostly what she was talking about — Henry Winkler’s character patronizes cross-dressing prostitutes, at one point Tobias goes into a wig shop and is assured that “TVs” shop there, Michael assures his family that Rita is not a man and Gob says “as far as you know.” There are plenty of jokes that betray the fact that the writers are not thinking of the Trans community as viewers whose feelings might trump the laugh that comes from putting something inappropriate in a Bluth mouth (. . .).

And there are plenty of issues that I have that instinctive repulsion for, where a very little _____-ism crosses the threshold into intolerable and I switch off the show and refuse to watch it. Jokes at a rape victim’s expense, obviously, and jokes about alcoholics (not made by alcoholics). It’s also true that not every portrayal of an attitude indicates approval of it.  Obviously we know Barry Zuckercorn’s internalized homophobia is a character flaw, it makes him laughable (and later we see him thrilled about having gay sex). Lucille Bluth’s xenophobia contributes to her character’s cartoonish awfulness; she’s critical of her daughter’s body and weight; maybe we laugh as we cringe because we relate to it. Tobias’ closeted identity and freudian slips are comedic because he is bombastic and silly, plus his family knows the truth anyway. I can see how somebody who’s living in the closet because they fear their family/community’s reaction could find those jokes upsetting, but that person is not actually the target of the joke.

I’m not going to go through every joke and try to justify each one — who’s the object, who’s the subject, what the writers’ intent was, how even though it uses ____ as a punchline, it’s not really laughing at that, it’s laughing at people who think like that… — that rhetorical device is usually used in an attempt to diminish someone’s pain or explain why their feelings don’t matter. If I want to be a better ally, I have to be willing to consider feelings other than my own about a sensitive subject. When someone from a particular community watching a show feels the jokes are targeting them, and is hurt by that, that’s result of a choice the writers made and they have to live with it. And when I recommend the show to someone, I might say “the attitude towards X sucks, but the rest is funny enough to make up for it” (I have this problem with Archer, which is ridiculously offensive but occasionally the timing is so good it hurts).

When I’m writing TV someday, I want to make sure that none of my jokes are lazy, that my intent is clear, and that I don’t exercise any of my privilege as a mostly white, higher educated, middle class ciswoman to make jokes at the expense of someone who doesn’t deserve it or can’t defend themselves. And I get to use my vulnerabilities to make jokes at my own expense, that other people might not appreciate because they cope with that vulnerability in a different way.

My policy, even with shows I love, is that there’s a threshold for bad/hurtful jokes. One or two usually bounce off the doorjamb — humor is subjective, one bad apple doesn’t have to rot the whole barrel, I felt guilty for laughing but I laughed so the joke “worked” — but a habitual pattern that targets a group in my hierarchy of identity or allies, and yeah, the show’s ruined.

And that’s a decision everybody has to make for themselves.  Nobody has to make my battle theirs. If I can make a persuasive case that a joke represents an antagonistic attitude, and not just an observation about oppression that exists whether or not someone makes it a punchline, someone might agree with me and a show might lose a bunch of viewers just because they couldn’t resist one more tired “Bisexuals, they never make up their minds, amirite?!?!” jab. Or someone might value the construction of the joke above the content of it, or be so attached to the characters that they’re willing to forgive a joke in poor taste. Or they might not care that someone’s making fun of bisexuals because they’re not bisexual so we’re on our own. Everybody has a different threshold, a different perspective on their allies, on what community is “theirs”.

I really want to be a good ally. I want my feminism to be intersectional. I don’t want to be someone who gives a favorite show a free pass to avoid criticism. I want to be critical and I want to be demanding. And I want to give Arrested Development the chance to show us that in ten years off, it has sharpened its humor and refocused on targets that deserve it, targets that don’t receive abuse and mockery from every corner anyway. Because it is a damn well-written show, with interwoven jokes that span all three seasons. Some of those jokes are bad ones, and it does affect my ability to enjoy the show as whole.

But Natalie, I wanted you to know that I heard you, you got me thinking, and to say thanks for speaking up.

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Oblivion: Maybe the Only Movie Madder At Women Than Tom Cruise Is


The Previews: I am fed up with futuristic postapocalyptic worlds where men get to do cool things like get juiced up to break into Elyria and race cars and crash cars and women get….rescued, mostly? In fights with other women? Dance in the background? I’m just tired of bodies like mine being used to sell everything from Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s latest cinematic effort to fragrance mists from Bath and Body Works. Is this Oblivion/Tom Cruise’s fault? No. But I will point out that men get to be the action stars because men are the box office draws…which they become because they are action stars. Which allows them to draw more box office and make more action movies. I would just like it if a universe could be full of fully dressed astronaut ladies who put their hair up into a ponytail when it’s hot just this one time because it is the FUTURE and can we at least IMAGINE a future where ladies get to do the cool stuff? 

Then the movie actually starts. The premise, depending on which preview cut you saw, is EITHER that Tom Cruise is The Last Mechanic Left On Post-Apocalyptic Earth and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough aka Emily Blunt with any sort of distinctive personality removed) is his shift supervisor OR that Morgan Freeman is Morpheus leading an underground rebellion of Tuskan Raiders against some alien overlords and their clean-up crew.

Like….imagine a live-action Wall-E where Eve is still an angry-faced droid and Wall-E is Tom Cruise. It’s basically that. Plus Failsafe, Planet of the Apes, The Truman Show, Swiss Family Robinson, The Little Mermaid (Tom Cruise does everything but sing “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat!” to his collection of aviators and vinyl albums during an interlude as Tom Cruise, Plaid Shirted Baseball Capped Man of the People), The Matrix, Mad Max, Alien, Dune, The Manchurian Candidate, The NeverEnding Story, An Affair to Remember, Castaway, Moonraker, E.T., Independence Day, The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones, Portal, Portal 2, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, and of course, Star Wars and 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Also, everything is the chariot race scene from Ben Hur. Everything.

Anything that isn’t the chariot race scene from Ben Hur is the Death-Star-Destroying-Canyon-Flying scene from Star Wars.

All you know for sure is that there was an alien invasion and nukes were launched, and now The Little Mechanic That Could and his supervisor are servicing drones… (stolen directly without passing go I mean really now:

….that patrol what remains of Earth to protect the salt-water-sucking generators that fuel the Tet, which is a big triangle-shaped vagina, space station that waits to carry our mechanic/supervisor team to Triton, the moon where all the rest of the humans allegedly are.

I’m going to go ahead and spoil the whole thing so if you’d like to see it and enjoy the twist feel free to scroll on by. But it’s not much of a twist. It would only be like… Act 2 for M. Night Shyamalan. It would be the first 2 minutes of The Twilight Zone.

So, Tom Cruise, though he’s a drone fixing master, feels nostalgic for the America (read: New York City) of the past, which he only remembers in hazy dream snippets. He’s sleeping with Victoria, because what else are you going to do, and entertains her during his maintenance missions (directed by Sally, up on the metal space vagina ship Tet, via Skype and touch screens) with Generic Reminiscences about Football and Hail Mary Passes and is interested in books he finds. He brings her some little flowers growing in a can (Imma let you finish but Wall-E brought the best plant EVER) but Victoria tosses the possibly radioactive spore specimens out of the treehouse house on a pole. This is how you know they are not Really In Love — she is obviously a terrible person who wants to rejoin the human race and he is obviously a noble planet warrior who wants to die alone in the radioactive rubble of Generic 2017 Champion Stadium. Let’s all be sure and tune in because it sounds like it’s going to be a hell of a generic game.

Plus his hazy dream memories involve a woman smiling shyly at him on top of the Empire State Building, which in one of his missions he discovers buried up to its antennae (oh, did I forget to mention, the aliens blew up our moon so Earth self-destructed amid earthquakes and tsunamis before nuking itself to death? That’s why they’re contained in giant “Radiation Zone” bubbles. FYI. Tom Cruise tells us this handy bit of exposition in the opening, and then repeats it for the benefit of the sole survivor of a craft-crash WHO JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE THE WOMAN FROM HIS DREAM. I know!). Victoria is not pleased to see this Julia person (Olga Kurylenko, who apparently remembers nothing of her NASA flight officer training), but pretends she doesn’t know anything about her.

Tom Cruise takes Julia on a magic carpet ride in his phallus no seriously it has testicles whirlygig autogyro and they get kidnapped by the Fremen the Scavs who it turns out are not alien raiding parties (THEN EXPLAIN THE TUSKAN RAIDER MASKS, SCAVS!!) but humans, led by Morgan Freeman, who want to show Tom Cruise the light. I.e. that each radiation zone contains a Tom Cruise and Victoria Clone Team, servicing drones and boning eachother in pools like it ain’t no thang. DUN DUN DUN DUN. PS Morgan Freeman is the only black person and almost all the Scavs are dudes, obv, except for the one or two women necessary for baby-birthing.

Morgan Freeman wants Tom Cruise to reprogram a droid with fuel cells they’ve been collecting for years so that it will return to the Great Vagina Tet Space Station and blow it up from the inside. But oh noooes, Victoria sent more drones after Tom Cruise and Julia, who it turns out is his wife from whoever he was before he was mind-erased or cloned or whatever. She was in orbit for 60 years so she still looks great, don’t worry.

And the drones blow everything up because the resistance fighters, even though they made machine guns out of old drones that wheel around exactly like the Millenium Falcon’s turret, can’t seem to figure out which part of the drones’ armor is the weak spot (Hint: IT IS THE ENTIRE EXPOSED BACK REGION which we know because sometimes Tom Cruise can bring a droid down with just a handgun while other times it takes normal mortals like eleventeen machine guns).

Exasperated sigh.

So it turns out that no, the humans did not win the war with the Vagina Space Station. They lost. There is no Triton colony and soylent green is made from Cruise Clones, presumably.

<Aside >: Who built the Tet space vagina? Is it the alien life form itself, or a robot built by other alien life forms? Why would aliens OR robots build drones that need to be serviced by human hands? Why wouldn’t there be an assembly line? Why wouldn’t they service themselves or be solar powered or come with an internal crazy straw to suck up their own salt water? < / Aside>

Tom Cruise is super in love with his past-life-wife and she appears unconcerned that he is a clone of her husband and not the actual guy, even when confronted with two of him (Tom Cruises 49 and 52) fighting eachother. Of course she was probably distracted by the sucking stomach wound that nearly kills her (though not before Cruise49 carries her out of the sun, fly-drives to TomCruise52’s house, kisses Victoria52, then steals their med kit and drives his autogyro back to whereverthehell. Sometimes the movie seems confined to the island of Manhattan, other times it takes between 2 minutes and the better part of a day to get all the way to Buffalo and back. Details!), until Cruise49 heals her with a space glue gun.

<Aside: >

  • Here are some things men are allowed to do in this movie: Fly cool machines, fire cool guns, wear jump suits, fix things, heal people, make plans, have hobbies, wear capes (dammit, Morgan Freeman), boss people around, shove their way to the front of crowds, Be A Savior, be curious, rescue people, chew gum, go rogue, make decisions, shower.
  • Here are some things women are allowed to do in this movie: Shower, get naked in a pool, stare limpidly, stare panickedly, recite Tom Cruise’s earlier monologues back to him, “wait here”, get shot, squeal, wear sweaters, wear no underwear, get shot, get healed, be unconscious, have their consent to be touched overridden, sleep with Tom Cruise (the least believable thing in the movie), smile, mope, sit with hands clasped reverently, serve as navigator, demand things, get jealous, take creepy pictures, touch Tom Cruise’s face, smile knowingly, “Dream of us.” Die conveniently and kill by accident. Get hella lied to.  The Evil Woman is punished by dying and the Virtuous Woman is punished by getting pregnant the ONE TIME she gets laid in 60 years and then has to birth a baby in total isolation in Tom Cruise’s Wonder Cave. So.

The ONE cool thing women are allowed to do that is usually reserved for men is the equivalent of being preserved in carbonite. Which, you know. Is not actually that cool because they are literally a woman in a refrigerator that motivates the hero.

</Aside >

So, with their drone-refurbishment plan shot to heck, Tom Cruise realizes he needs to hand-deliver the nuke to Sally, and Julia insists she will go with him. Sure enough Sally detects Tom Cruise’s ship and the extra life lying in stasis in the backseat and lets him in, alerting us to the fact that Alien Space Robot Hal Sally can detect lying but not irony.

Tuns out, Alien Space Robot Sally (and all the doors to get to her) are GIANT VAGINA SYMBOLISM. Tom Cruise lied to Julia, and instead of bringing her to space, schlepped her back to his Earth Souvenir Cabin. He brought Morgan Freeman (who seemed pretty close to dead when he was shot up during the drone attack about forty-five minutes ago but has hung in there) up to the incubator set from The Matrix with him, so together they can say “Fuck you, Sally”* and nuke the giant vagina, leaving all the clones on Earth to do the best they can at repopulating with the Fremen while avoiding incest (which is extra tricky because ALL THE TOM CRUISES ARE IN LOVE WITH JULIA).

*I am not paraphrasing. The climactic moment of the film actually consists of Tom Cruise unpacking a human-sized suitcase carrying Morgan Freeman and telling off a giant black triangle with a big red eye in it. And then we fast forward with TomCruise52’s voiceover as he and the Fremen Oregon-Trail-it to Julia’s lakeside cabin.

Look on the bright side – at least we know how Tom Cruise makes so many movies. There are at least 52 of him. Sally help us all.

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MAD MEN! Season 6, episodes 1-2, and 3.


Last week I was off my game, so this week you get double summary/analysis/repeated instructions for Pete to Shut. Up. My Big Picture interpretation of the series so far is that season 1-3 were Don Draper’s Ascension, and Seasons 4-6 would be his descent to god knows where….so I kind of hope seven will turn out to be a post apocalyptic Thunderdome. But let’s burn that bridge when we come to it! 

Episode 1-2! The Doorway

This did not need to be a two-hour premiere. I think Matt Weiner resented the amount of commercials and so pushed for 1:25 of content instead of the usual 54 minutes. There were a lot of commercials and most of them would never have made it off Peggy Olsen’s desk. I only got to watch it one and a half time so my observations are in the form of a list. 

Don Draper’s Silence: Anybody else notice he didn’t say a word to Megan in Hawaii? The first time we saw them get intimate, it was like he was mad at her; and clearly Megan still hardly knows Don at all if she thinks she’s introducing him to sex things he hasn’t tried before. 

The Drunk Soldier: ….I have no idea. This was practically the first guy who Don actually spoke to, there was supposed to be some profound war symbolism intrusion something? Maybe it was all to set us up for Megan’s slideshow to be projected on The Carousel. Maybe the drunk soldier guy has Don’s lighter so he’ll steal Don Draper’s identity all over again to get out of Vietnam. Sidenote: Is Joan’s RapistExHusband dead somewhere, please? 

Dante’s Inferno: The season with Grandpa Gene was The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, so for this one we should all keep an eye out for Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery. . .just like every other season of Mad Men. Here’s hoping Violence is the one where Pete finally falls out a window.

Somebody is definitely falling out a window: ALL THE FORESHADOWING! From the first moments of the opening credits lo these many years ago, to all the season promos with people standing looking out windows, to all the references to how high the building is and how flimsy the glass is…. Somebody is definitely falling out a window. I really hope it’s Pete. It might also be Roger. 

Don’s New Advertising Strategy: You know, how you go to the beach and take off all your clothes and drown in the ocean? You know? Totally well-adjusted and normal and everything? 

Sally Draper. Sally Draper, you are my everything. Mostly because Kiernan Shipka is amazing. I think the whole plot with Sally’s new BFF, Sandy the Violin Prodigy, was a stand-in for the rebellion Weiner really wanted to give Sally, but couldn’t because it would boil over into Don’s life too much if his daughter went missing. I also think he just wanted us to get a good look at These Kids Today and the contrast between Timeless Suburb Life and Big Time Corporate life, which is these grimy gross kids squatting on the Bowery.

Oh, and HOLY EFFING GOD, the Betty-in-bed-with-Henry-being-ghoulish moment! I have always liked Betty, liked her twistedness and her childishness and her sadness, but I think Weiner wanted to push her somewhere else and I don’t think it’s a successful or wisely chosen place. But maybe the whole “do you want to rape my daughter’s 15-year-old friend” gesture to “spice things up” followed by a real encounter with people rejecting the status quo helped Betty see that a level of subversion she’s more comfortable with is being a brunette instead of a blonde. Now she’s truly a Jackie and not a Marilyn as befits a political trophy, instead of a corporate one. 

Stan and Peggy are conference-call-pen-pals: This might have been my favorite moment – it was absolutely precious and satisfying to see that not only did Peggy win Stan’s respect by being a badass lo these many episodes ago, but they’re still keeping in touch. I also like how hard she is on her staff, and it’s both pleasing and sad to see how much of Don’s MO she internalized. I have no use for Abe or his beard. 

Don’s Neighbor Bromance: Maybe somehow this guy will wind up falling out a window. The moment of him skiing off on a crosstown voyage was so…. *shakes head* you know, man? 

Linda Cardellini: I know I should be analyzing her role as Don’s in-building mistress and not just fixating on her hair and how she looks like the human version of Betty Rubble.  Don’t you think I know that? I know that. Confidential to Matt Weiner: pleasepleaseplease do not have James Franco on your show. Please. If you want to catch up to Freaks and Geeks and have a crossover where Lindsey Weir is the illegitimate daughter of Don Draper and Silvia DoctorNeighbor, fine. 

The Director of Photography: One of the things I love about Weiner and his entire creative team is how much they’re in love with the visuals of their world. The lush shot that followed Megan walking onto the balcony in Hawaii, the stark shot that pulled back through the door as Don walked into the snow….all gorgeous. 

Circle of Hell: Limbo

 

Episode 3! The Collaborators

This episode is all about chickens coming home to roost.  I’ll try and avoid spoilers in case you’re still getting caught up, but I have to firmly reject my Gentleman Associate’s assertion that this was not a good episode. I think Weiner is deliberately evoking the soap opera tropes that Megan’s channeling into their lives, so we’re seeing adultery get more brazen, we’re seeing career/client drama, we’re seeing seeds planted episodes and seasons ago finally in bloom, and I think we’re about to see some implausible ridiculousness bust into life (Pete is becoming exactly who Don said he would become in the pilot, plus there’s NewPete dogging at his heels, Joan was right about Megan, and now we know why Don’s so into prostitutes). 

Whorechild: I know people have mixed feelings, but I love the Dick Whitman flashbacks; without this week’s scene, Don’s nausea at Roger’s mother’s funeral makes much less sense. 

TRUDY. Trudy has always known what’s up, and this episode proves it. Pete has never been so callous and oily and crude as he is now–he used to at least be excited by the way his power got women to respond to him. Now I think he’s bored. I want to think he still has some deep existential pain left, or that Rory Gilmore’s electroshock therapy had a real effect on him, but I’m just not convinced. Every time he speaks I tell him to shut up. 

Insider Baseball: I loved Don’s deliberate sabotage of the Jaguar scumbag’s misguided marketing idea, and the chaos of the Heinz client visit, but not the way Peggy told Ted Chaoueough the straight scoop. C’mon Peggy. You hid a baby from people. You can deflect an inquiry into a private phone call. I believe in you. 

Criticism: Not enough Joan, though what we did get was so angry and sharp I was happy about it. Not enough Peggy when she’s not at her desk. Not enough clarity during  the Sylvia-Megan discussion; everything was so oblique it barely felt like women having a discussion. Here at the MKP & E House of TV Judging we always have heated discussions where he doesn’t think anything happened and I’m awash in the beautiful sea of slow-paced nuance and don’t mind the shape it takes, but I will agree with E that the character-juggling is less deft than it used to be. I will also, however, argue that the “units” of Weiner’s storytelling are not always an episode. Sometimes it’s an episode and a half, or less than an episode, or several episodes to accomplish a story goal. 

Circle of Hell: Lust

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Writing on Charlotte Bronte at The American Scholar!


If you’ve got a few minutes for some literary nostalgia today, please check out my new piece online at The American Scholar! 

Charlotte’s poem, written on a scrap of an envelope

 

. . .She wrote the poem when she was only a little younger than I was when I first fell in love with Jane Eyre. Much of my life as a reader and writer stems from the moment my father gave me that book. I return to it, and the rest of the Brontë canon, whenever I need guidance or inspiration. They have never let me down. . .

It has the added benefit of being my first professional clip since undergrad :)

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#TheWeekly #12 (Blame Spring Break Edition)


AKSHULLY  I worked super hard on my spring break! Well, the second-fifth days of it. I got myself up on the regular, wrote, edited, and made art. Which I’m just about reconciled to the fact that I do on the regular. Make art, that is. Apparently it’s writing I don’t do anymore.

ANYHOO. If you’re the type who visits this actual blog page you may have noticed I added an Instagram link over on the right there (also Tumblr, but I’m still figuring out what belongs on Tumblr, what belongs on the blog, and everything else just goes to Twitter), where I’ve started posting the artwork I’m making as I make it. It’s exciting and inspiring to see other sketchbook artists, so if you’re interested feel free to bookmark it and check back occasionally!

This week I finally turned on the little antique books I found at the Friends of the Ithaca Library book fair last year. I know people have mixed feelings about repurposing books in artwork, but my philosophy with these particular books is that they are old and archaic and falling apart and nobody is ever going to open them for reading purposes again, so why not highlight specific pages in an artistic context, and turn what remains into art too?

I started with this birthday present for my friend Sally, who loves cupcakes, obv. Then I made one for E that’s all lovey dovey (and will not be getting a close up :P) and finally one for my mom, and since I had frames handy, I framed them.

E's, my mom's and Sally's (L-R) - if you'd like to commission one, I have tons of pages, every letter of the alphabet and plenty of musical terms to go on

E’s, my mom’s and Sally’s (L-R)                      If you’d like to commission one, I have tons of pages, every letter of the alphabet and plenty of musical terms to go on!

Sally's Cupcake

Important question: Would youse buy these if they were on say, Etsy (or a less evil/reseller prone site that you’d looove to recommend to me in the comments? Because between these watercolors, the artist’s books I’m making for my Art of the Book class, the folding books ,the sketchbook marker fests and another school-related art project I completed recently involving Shakespeare and an extended bird metaphor…. it turns out I have a body of work! This summer I’ll get my lil screenprinting press up and running too.

So. Would you buy it? Any specific images you’d like on a t-shirt or a mousepad or whatever else CafePress prints on? What else would you like to see?

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