May 11, 2009
The recent movie Obsessed has been called in bad taste, and of course that’s true. It’s probably a little easier to spot the vulgarity here, because of the inter-racial sexual scandal, the flinging around of the slur “bitch,” and the sight of Beyonce kicking ass in heels. These are all more obvious signs that we should be uncomfortable, even though we tend not to notice much of the latent violence, racism, and misogyny of more mainstream and white films. I’m actually curious about a certain terrible pleasure in taunting back, in having the upper hand for a moment, even at the cost of dredging up dangerous stereotypes and cultural divisions. The morally suspect, lascivious white woman; the vanquishing of the white woman stealing the Good Black Man; the defense of the upwardly mobile black family against the threat of the corrupt white trickster — these are old and harmful tropes for sure, but they express different fears and prejudices than the usual ones that jam the airwaves. Besides, the film is rife with conflicting messages about gender, race, and the family — and isn’t that why we’re here?
The plot is simple. Handsome successful Derek (Idris Elba) exchanges a few pleasantries with the skinny blonde temp at the office, who turns out to be bat shit crazy. Lisa (Ali Larder) continually tries to get in his pants, stalks him, and compromises his integrity. Eventually she notches up the stalking to kidnapping levels, and only a major girlfight with wife Sharon (Beyonce Knowles) can stop her.
December 18, 2008
This article is still being written? And emailed around like it’s news?
Sigh. Mr. Blow obviously didn’t read my round-up of these pieces from two years ago. Or he did, and just regurgitated them.
Guess that means this blog still has a reason to live. Apologies for the months of neglect, but we’re coming back big in ’09!
Happy holidays ~
June 12, 2008
In the couple weeks since Sex and the City movie came out, the film has taken something of a beating at the hands of the news media. These articles read much less like film review than cultural critiques, perhaps because the movie was poised to disrupt box office trends, or because the four-year hiatus gave everyone an opportunity to say his or her piece about the series and its legacy. Embarrassed by the fan frenzy (female pleasure is just so frivolous), many of these reviewers have taken out on the movie issues that have long been understood about the show. Goodness knows I have plenty to say about what’s wrong with SATC on the big, or small, screens. I’d like to take this moment, however, to stand up for a film that was, at the very least, a love letter to fans, but also significantly more than that.
Anthony Lane begins his snide review in the New Yorker with a reflection on the excitement and secrecy that surrounded this release. Standing in line at the theatre, Lane shares his predictions about the plot with a woman nearby:
I took a wild guess. “Apparently,” I said to the woman behind me in line, “some of the girls have problems with their men, break up for a while, and then get back together again.” “Oh my God!” she cried. “How do you know?”
Already, Lane begins with the notion that the film’s subject matter is too appallingly trivial to care about. What an incisive and witty take-down of those silly female fans: this movie is about nothing but love and suffering, and it definitely wasn’t worth his time.
Lane reveals a nasty condescension towards the subject matter; indeed, many writers seemed mortified by the masses of women who invested their time, money, and emotions into this movie. Slate assembled four of its women writers to dish on SATC, and their conversation was saddled with the persistent need to condemn and distance themselves from the movie’s frivolity.
Meghan O’Rourke: Carrie, after Big Jilts her, says, “I feel like I took a bullet.” Um, really? You mean like a soldier?…
Erin Bucklann: So many audience members were sobbing throughout my screening and I was struck by hearing more crying in that movie than during any serious war movie or mourning scene I’ve watched in a looong time.
Measuring stories of intimacy, friendship, and heartbreak against war, politics, and tragedy, these critics participate in a didactic and classically sexist framework that assigns value to one experience over another and pits the mythical and heroic against the everyday and interpersonal. Historically, women’s stories have always been relegated to second-class art, and it looks like not much has changed. This is a zero-sum game in which women always lose.
May 21, 2008
Last night, the first season of Gossip Girl came to a close, or, a kind of fizzle. But if Georgina’s comeuppance was a tad disappointing and all the promising relationships (Lily & Rufus, Blair & Chuck) somehow relapsed, the show might have had one of its most telling and honest moments yet.
After much misunderstanding, Serena and Dan reach what might be the point of no return. The previous episode ended with Dan, manipulated, confused, and believing that Serena just drunkenly cheated on him, canoodling with Georgina on a stoop. The big question was, would they have sex or wouldn’t they? You’d be forgiven for optimistically thinking, as Serena and I did, that Dan and Serena “were forever,” and that the writers would never pull something so cruel. Turns out they’re even crueler than we could have expected.
The next morning Serena finds Georgina coming out of Dan’s bedroom: she assumes the worst but really doesn’t want to know the details. Dan, however, insists on sharing them: “I didn’t sleep with her,” he tells Serena. Relief! “But I may as well have.” Yikes.
Grown-ups usually get pretty nervous over the idea of hooking up. They put the phrase in quotes, they ask each other what it means, and then they declare that kids themselves don’t know what it means. That’s the inherent danger in hooking up: the ambiguity. No doubt many of young people’s romantic and sexual interactions are ambiguous, and I’d like to return to this topic later–exactly how much uncertainty can our delicate frames withstand, I wonder–but in this particular case, it seems that hooking up is scary not because it’s vague but because it’s heartbreakingly explicit.
The bloggers at New York know just what I mean: in their weekly tally of Gossip Girl‘s “reality points,” they declared “Plus 8 for the fact that Dan offers an awkward, horrifyingly evocative confession of said visit for the purposes of clearing his own conscience: ‘I didn’t sleep with her. But I may as well have.'” They go on to allot “Plus 2 for the fact that that totally means oral.” Whatever interpretation you choose, what’s so awful about this moment is that it requires you to wonder: if they didn’t have sex, what EXACTLY did they do instead?
Just a few weeks ago, a shocking photograph hit the blogosphere and tabloids: Pamela Anderson was spotted reading former Punk Planet editor Anne Elizabeth Moore‘s latest book, Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity (New Press, 2007). In a bikini, no less:
And really, who doesn’t enjoy a good read in the sun? While gossip blogs made a few painfully old dumb-blondes-can’t-read jokes, Jennifer Pozner chose instead to point out the cognitive dissonance of “one-woman brand-maker for Playboy, Stuff, G.Q., Baywatch, V.I.P., and numerous other my-boobs-move-media devices” reading AEM’s excellent tract against corporate creep.
A brand is a symbol, perhaps also a phrase, that connotes very particular meanings and qualities, and most essentially, that is standing in for a product. The most successful of brands don’t just suggest a specific idea, but actually come to mean them. In other words, if you looked up Busty Blonde in the dictionary, you might just find Pamela Anderson. The product could be any number of things, from Baywatch paraphernalia to men’s magazines. It’s a powerful thing to attach Anderson’s name and image to a product; people might purchase it because they’re attracted to her and want to find out more, but many will also pick up a product for the simple reason that it’s Pamela Anderson. You know that you have branding power when someone will buy something simply because your name is on it, even if that thing is totally unrelated to your work and identity. Celebrity perfumes, for example.
The tricky thing about a person actually becoming a brand is that you run the risk of your body actually becoming the product. Women, already commodities, are particularly vulnerable to this trading in flesh. Like Victoria Beckham in this provocative/misogynist Marc Jacobs ad, women can be tumbled into an enormous shopping bag and carried home, dangling a pair of twiggy legs that aren’t even recognizably human.
Except, in this case, where the varnished doll-like legs are recognizably Posh. Victoria Beckham, of course, is a perfect example of successful branding. From the beginning, the Spice Girls were built on the idea of five distinct women with easily defined and internally consistent personalities. This premise allowed femininity to include such meanings as sporty and…scary? (read: not white), thus propelling the concept of girl power to the global scene. By way of this, the Spice Girl industry also established the notion of girl power as an explicitly commercial tool, one that initiated pre-teen girls into the role of consumer.
Over the course of the last five months, Sex Like Men was at a standstill. No new posts, no comments, no sign that it would ever live again. And yet, during these same five months, one Friday in February to be precise, 1,220 people read my post on Vanessa Hudgens. That day was an extreme, but pretty much every day that particular post gets me more attention than anything else on this blog (although Marina’s nice plug did shift the numbers recently: thanks!) The great pity is that this post isn’t even a good one! It’s not analytical, certainly not profound, but something more like filler. Of course, most of the people who’ve landed up there don’t mind. They’re weren’t necessarily looking for analysis, so much as pictures of Vanessa Hudgens naked. That brings us to one of the more disturbing features of the blogging world: the ability to track the search terms people were using when they stumbled upon your site:
“vanessa hudgens”; “vanessa hudgens naked”; “vanessa hudgens naked pictures”; “sex fuck girls naked”; “sex children girls”; “vanessa hudgens pics”; “vanessa hudgens sex”; “naked vanessa hudgens”; “men who want to watch young girles have”; “pigtails sex”; “lesbians having sex naked”; “vanessa”; “women sex party”; “vanessa hudgens naked pics”; “girls watch men have sex”
I know. The name of this blog is Sex Like Men. There was bound to be some confusion. Which is exactly what concerns me–that, despite my wish not to judge people’s desires, I’m terribly dismayed every time I read these search terms. Is this really what people look for on the Internet? Obviously it is, and the truth is that I just didn’t want to know.
April 1, 2008
Sure, I’ll admit it. Sex Like Men has been out of commission. But that was before a spokesperson for the anti-sex campaign went and employed my phrase, in the goddamn New York Times Magazine (you’ll remember them from that classic piece, “The Kids Call It Hooking Up”). This most recent article features Harvard student and abstinence-crusader Janie Fredell, who argues that:
“Conventional feminism teaches that control of your body means the freedom to have sex without consequences — sex like a man. ‘I am an unconventional feminist,’ Fredell said, in the sense that she asserts control by choosing not to have sex — by telling men, no, absolutely not.”
While abstinence-only programs are federally funded and touted by many of the nation’s leaders as the only moral choice, on a conventional college campus in the Northeast, the public decision to abstain from sex can be a lonely road. But Janie had coping mechanisms of her own: “To bolster herself, she often thought of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.”
November 12, 2007
Last Wednesday, it happened. The “plus-size” contestant got kicked off America’s Next Top Model. We’d all been waiting for it–the only real question was what excuse they would use this time. Actually, it was pretty harsh: Sarah was deemed too skinny for plus-size but too big for regular modeling, and unceremoniously booted from the show. She wept. It was sad.
As Sarah herself had pointed out, she’s a regular-sized girl. Who’s hot, and really awesome, but whatever. I guess we’re not supposed to expect a girl like Sarah to win Top Model–call me crazy, but I actually had thought the show might evolve.
It’s not just the judges’ decision that proved me wrong, but the rest of the episode as well. We’ve got a major front-runner this season, Heather (at right), and her almost unbeatable appeal comes from a pale, bony body and striking, sometimes disturbing, features. Besides making Asperger’s the hottest new neurological disorder, Heather takes great pictures and charms the audience and the judges with her awkward eagerness. She also plays up a kind of false modesty—her favorite story to tell goes something like, “Until I was eleven, I sincerely believed I was ugly.” (Sounds tragic, Heather. We’re glad to hear you’ve since recovered.)
October 22, 2007
Thanks, Koreanish, for this sad/funny post on the way the media (everyone) hounds young female celebrities in some weird ritual sacrifice. My feelings exactly.
We prop these women up, rewarding all kinds of idiotic behavior, only for the pleasure of punishing them when they stumble. (For more, see my previous posts on Vanessa Hudgens and Paris Hilton.) As you say, “it was like after Princess Di instead of ‘never again’ it was ‘oh yes, annually.'”
And can I just say, I fucking hated Iphigenia in high school? Even that one important film version from the ’70s. It’s just this small gag reaction I have to the brutal sacrifice of young women in the service of working out society’s problems.
October 19, 2007
Dear Gossip Girl,
In the first episode of this admittedly fascinating show, Chuck attempts to rape Jenny on a rooftop. He’s mildly punished by the valiant brother Dan, but faces no consequences from his own social group. In almost every episode, he pays fleets of women to service him and his friends, not to mention making sexist and classist remarks at any moment—-but his friends seem to brush it off. “That’s Chuck,” they justify, or, more likely, “That’s what this world is like.” As Chuck says himself that first night: “It’s a party–things happen.”