The Pussy Hat

In the lead up to the Women’s March last weekend, Pussy Hats were a thing. Women and men unified in the quest for pink yarn, a set of needles or a hook, and set out to make pink hats with little points on top.

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A sea of pink decorated the marches. Samantha Bee joked that if you want to get white women unified in a cause, you should just give them a craft. (I think there’s some truth to this statement; it’s not just a satirical comment.) I did set about making a pussy hat, but didn’t finish. So instead, I wore my pink Mickey Mouse/Cheshire Cat ears. I figured that a literal pussy hat would suffice to represent. I’m still going to finish the hat, and I’m still going to wear it with pride.

Before the march, a couple blogs were sent out about how the pink hats were in fact acts of gender normalization. In one article, author Holly Derr writes,

Not to rain golden showers down on the pussy parade, but I’m not sure that pink, cat-eared hats are a great symbol for the largest women’s march in years. The infantilizing kitten imagery combined with a stereotypically feminine color feels too safe and too reductive to be an answer to the complex issues facing women today. For example, while the March claims intersectionality as central to its platform, and the Pussyhat Project claims to be speaking for both cis- and transgender individuals, the latter’s conception of what it means to be a woman is remarkably narrow.

Which, of course, gave me pause. I’m no fan of pink, because I do feel that it is overused as a color of girlhood, but I am a huge fan of having animal ears on my hats. The accusation of this being both infantalizing and stereotypical is a fair assessment, and was that something I wanted to endorse?

She goes on to write,

Furthermore, the Pussyhat Project is engaging in a form of gender essentialism, which asserts that the gendered characteristics of femininity are directly linked to the biological characteristics of femaleness and, specifically, the presence of a vagina. This binary is one that feminists have fought against for years, arguing instead that femininity is a social construction assigned to femaleness and that females can be feminine or masculine or any combination of the two, as can males.

Gender has become a tricky conversation, and it’s one that I honestly can’t discuss. I’m  comfortable with my gender and sex, and American culture rewards me for also being willing to play within certain expected norms (such as being straight, a mother, and willing to wear a dress). This has afforded me a place of privilege. But I have enough compassion and empathy in my heart to know that the struggles of many of my friends and family are real…but I can only provide sympathy as an outsider. That’s a difficult place to have to reside.

So what message do I want to send with the Pussy Hat? I like the fact that they’re pink and distinctive. This means that they’ll stand out. Imagine, now that the march is over, seeing a woman wearing this hat. It’s like a call to solidarity. When I was driving up the New Jersey Turnpike on my way home from the march, I would see women in line for the bathroom, and it was like, “Yep. We’re in this together.” And, for me, the issues we’re marching to protect aren’t just those for women. They are the issues of common sense and compassion that will have an impact on EVERYONE. To reduce the hates down to a gender issue ignores the larger message that they’re trying to send. Plus, it ignores the fact that women chose to do this. This is how women chose to express themselves: by throwing stereotypes back into the face of the people who reduce them to stereotypes.

What are your thoughts on the hats and what message they send?

I also see something else in the hats. I see pink Bat Hats. Yep, like Batman.

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So, I’m going to be like Batman, and be the vigilante hero America deserves.

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I wrote a book!

I’m a little late to my own party (such is the life of an adjunct teaching new curriculum during the summer), but remember that dissertation thingy I wrote? I made it into a book and it’s available for your purchasing pleasure!

walts utopiaHere are a few links where you can find it:

McFarland Books – This is the publisher

Amazon.com – This is one of my favorite online booksellers because of their convenience

Barnes and Noble – Because why not?

No public events are currently scheduled, but I’ll make sure I post something should they appear. I don’t necessarily have the resources to travel far and wide, but I’m open to any suggestions and invitations.

Here’s the blurb from the back:

The “Happiest Place on Earth” opened in 1955 during a trying time in American life–the Cold War. Disneyland was envisioned as a utopian resort where families could play together and escape the tension of the “real world.” Since its construction, the park has continually been updated to reflect changing American culture.

The park’s themed features are based on familiar Disney stories and American history and folklore. They reflect the hopes of a society trying to understand itself in the wake of World War II. This book takes a fresh look at the park, analyzing its cultural narrative by looking beyond consumerism and corporate marketing to how Disney helped America cope during the Cold War and beyond.

I did want to take a moment to comment on the writing process, since that’s what this blog has been mostly about for some time, right? I admire those people who can seemingly *just write a book.* With the academic research process being what it is, I’m amazed at people who seem to publish a new book every year or two. I started my dissertation in Fall 2010, and it only became book-worthy at the end of 2014, and that was with the benefit of taking a couple summers off from teaching. More interestingly, the final push to turn the dissertation into a book involved adding some new content. At the time I was writing this new content, most of my books were in storage, so I had to swim those waters with unfamiliar tools. But somehow I did it, and I gave my dissertation-child to the world.

So, here it is, dear public. The culmination of everything this blog has been about for the last 5 years. I have a few Next Projects in mind, all Disney myth related. I even have them outlined. Stay tuned, all two of you who still follow this blog. More to come!

50 Shades of…Myth?

My Facebook is a-twitter (see what I did there?) with articles and responses to 50 Shades of Grey. While I did once read the Twilight series (and have since come to my senses about it), I refuse to read 50 Shades. One of my friends, posted this article, which perfectly captures why. But reading the article, and commenting on his post, has left me feeling something. The such of something that’s preventing me from grading student responses, or reading my book while I wait for a training meeting. I can only identify this feeling as anger? frustration? gas? So, I’m turning to the blogosphere to hash this one out, so this post may be kind of stream-of-consciousnessy. Here’s the reply I posted:

This is so much of why I just can’t condone 50 Shades. Now, I’m not one to blame society’s ills on a single piece of pop culture (I am a Disney Defender after all), and I see 50 Shades as an extreme example of so many wrong things in our society. What concerns me more is that there aren’t counter-myths being played on the same stage. Sure, there are stories about love and romance, but they aren’t on the same viral level of 50 Shades and Twilight. And it concerns me that people see these as good… But looking at it from an Aristotelian perspective, these series have helped bring the conversation about women’s roles to the national, mainstream conversation. They have raised awareness through their warped attempt at catharsis. From a mythic perspective, I would hope this would help usher a new era, but my fear for the media-saturated generations is that their complacency will lead to our downfall–Hellenistic America, perhaps.

Like I said, I’m not one to blame the ills of society on one piece of popular culture. I’ve posted here a few times about why I can’t blame Disney Princesses for America’s warped relationship with itself. They are one cog in a larger problem, a problem that manifests in all areas of media. We *want* a media-savvy society that equally respects all of the various differences people have, but we don’t want to *live* that equal society. For example, if Disney constructs a utopian, populist kingdom that celebrates people for playing to their strengths, they aren’t being diverse enough in their portrayal (and when they are diverse, they do it wrong. Can’t have it both ways, people!). Similarly, the waves of feminism over the last several years have advocated for a certain image of Woman in media, which is all well and good…until the new generations decide they want to be a different kind of woman. We’re in a phase of feminism that seems to want to strike a balance between perfect women who can be both June Cleaver AND Hillary Clinton at the same time, which is causing massive amounts of burn-out among young women. We’re in a phase of hyper-media in which users have developed a disconnect between the permanence of technology and the fleeting moment of “Feels.”

As I become ever more a “Fuddy-Duddy,” I find myself looking down my nose at young women. Don’t they know that pictures last forever on the Internet, so keep your boobs in your shirt? Don’t they know that Edward Cullen and Christian Grey are exemplars of the kind of boyfriend you DON’T want?

The greater problem I see with this current generational divide is that there is SO MUCH media to sift through. How can we expect any one to grow up media-savvy? What means “media-savvy” anyway? Sounds kind of like an adultism–something the “grups” would say–to me.

It occurs to me that stories like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are epic tragedies. They are epics because of the extent to which they communicate cultural norms setting a larger-than-life character against a mere mortal, reminding us of our place as lesser-beings. They are tragedies, because they certainly aren’t comedies. They focus on the bringing down of the female protagonist, not on her elevation.

So, here’s a thought. Are these stories more shocking because they are written from the perspective of the submissee as opposed to the dominant character?

A friend of mine posted THIS post on her blog, and I fully agree. I wrote about Twilight and “Cupid and Psyche” while I was at Pacifica, I am fascinated by the seductive power of the Demon Lover. What is it about us today that we even need a Demon Lover? What is so unfulfilled about us that we are trying to find thrilling experience from stories that promote the wholesale mistreatment of women? There’s some serious shadow stuff being worked through in this culture. I wish I could offer solution, but maybe the best solution is to ride it out? To teach our children the counter-myths to the stories that us Fuddy-Duddies think shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

It’s timely, then, that my friends just published the book based on her dissertation, in which she challenges the accepted model for the Heroine’s Journey (you can get her book HERE).

Lego Instructions Are Useful

My research frequently takes me down a rabbit hole in pursuit of “the American identity.” I frequently find laudatory analyses of American individualism, the symbolism of the rugged cowboy, and many, many questions about the faults of American iconography and imagery since World War II. American myth and media is filled with savior-type heroes who are either saving the worlds by themselves or are rallying the people to save themselves, or are rallying with other superheroes to save the world together.

Enter into this discussion, The Lego Movie (2014).

*Spoilers may follow.*

We can poke fun at the fact that the Wise Old Man figure is a Master Builder/architect named Vitruvius:

Or that the secret hide-out of the Master Builders is a sky-city named Cloudcukooland (reference: Aristophanes, The Birds):

Or even that there is a Kragle gun:

This movie is filled with all of the expected cliches: Lots of jokes, an unexpected hero, father atonement, so on. For our purposes, I want to consider a very, specific turning point in the film.

Emmett, the construction worker who is marked as “The Special,” finds himself stranded in the ocean with a bunch of Master Builders. The Master Builders have tried to vanquish Mr. Business through rebellion, lawlessness, and their original constructions. Emmett, in an inspired moment, encourages these self-righteous Masters to follow the instructions, because that’s exactly what the bad guys aren’t expected.

All Lego sets come with an instruction book. Piece by piece, page by page, one can successfully build the model on the outside of the box as long as one follows the directions. These instructions become the tools of mass control in this film. Everyone is expected to follow the rules and deviating from the rules is severely punished. As such, Emmett has never actually had any of his own building ideas (except for a double-decker couch with coolers in the seats), and has a “prodigiously empty” imagination. The Master Builders, on the other hand, can see useful pieces anywhere, and can turn seemingly random blocks into vehicles or other useful tools. Haven’t we all found ourselves in similar dualities? Having that one friend who wants to follow the instructions versus that other friend who would rather dump all the pieces on the floor and see where the imagination takes them?

As someone who always follows the instructions, I personally find it frustrating that I can’t build an awesome spaceship out of random pieces, but I find it even more frustrating when people buy Lego sets then mix all the pieces in with their other pieces and have a giant bucket of random Lego pieces. My Lego sets, when not put together on display, are in Ziploc bags, sorted by set for easy reconstruction (no, I don’t sort my pieces beyond the overall set. I like the fun of the dig for that 1-pip, clear blue piece needed in step 150).

The instructions are the means of mass control in this Lego land. The God-like Father (Will Farrell) treats his Legos as models and collector items, not as the toys his son sees them to be (overtly, this is the point of the movie–to bring Father around to enjoying his Legos are the toys they are). But they also provide the secret to infiltrating the Infinity Tower and were almost successful in stopping Tako Tuesday.

In the American identity, we favor the rebellious Master Builder mentality–that the only way to overcome something that makes us unhappy is to break the rules. But what if the secret to change comes from rebuilding the system from within instead of without? This is a constant conflict in our society. Americans want community, but they don’t want to be herded into sameness. They want change, but not necessarily at the hand of revolution. (As always, I’m speaking to a generalized middle.) So what The Lego Movie seems to be telling us is that the first point of rebellion is to follow the instructions. And then, everything can be awesome.

Reflections on: Fandoms

When I was a little girl, I went on an archaeological dig through my family’s “basement.” I say “basement” because we were then renting a house whose basement had been converted (or perhaps built from the get-go) as a full functional living space that mirrored the floor above ground. Below the stairs was a convenient storage area for family artifacts that didn’t belong in other places. I was prompted by my mother to go on this dig–perhaps to give me something to do while she quietly sewed her latest project–because I had recently discovered Star Wars. She revealed to me that my brothers were avid fans and thought that some of their toys might be found in that storage area. Yes, I did find their old Millennium Falcon and some action figures (a few of which were missing limbs). And I found an almost complete set of trading cards. And there was an envelope of ship blueprints that I wish I still had. But there was one other gem (that I also wish I still had): a quiz that my brother had written to pass around his friends. In my love of Star Wars, my Trivia Geek persona was born thanks to my brother’s little quiz.

Back then, being part of a “fandom” was very different than it is now. Well, not really. There are those fans who dress up, attend cons, have salons in their mom’s basement. But being “out” as a fan outside the acceptable realms of fandom marked one negatively with a scarlet letter “x.” I remember one of my junior high crushes was very “out” as a Star Trek fan, which was perfect since I was fairly “out” at the time as well, but I also remember the difficulties of being a tween and young teen were that much more annoying because I was a Star Trek geek and fairly uncool.

At some point between my awful junior high experiences and right now, being part of a fandom has shifted from being something negative, but rather has become a crucial part of one’s identity. Remember that Star Trek fan in [was it Arkansas?] who wore her uniform to work? She stood out at the time. People either praised her for being true to her self and her values, or they judged her negatively. Now, it’s okay for me to wear my Doctor Who scarf. It marks me as a “friendly,” it helps build communitas. I occasionally wear my Harry Potter sweater (complete with tie) without shame. I could even dye my hair Twilight Sparkle purple.

So what is it about fandoms? I just finished wanting a documentary about Bronies (a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom). The Bronies are the latest incarnation of the “inclusive” fandom–“it’s the place where I find acceptance;” “it’s where I can feel like myself;” etc etc etc. A Brony made a comment in this documentary about how other fandoms are exclusive. I have yet to have this experience. If I feel excluded, it’s likely because I’m not pouring enough energy into the fandom.

Which I don’t much any more. I followed the Potter fandom with fever until it lost steam after the release of the seventh book. I also lost a lot of respect for it after Pottercast made a comment that Twilight was the next Potter. I do wish I could have the hours of my life back from reading that series. I walk on the fringe of several fandoms.

Fandoms seem to exist because a particular pop culture channel speaks to several people on a mythic level. They provide the fulfillment that Joseph Campbell would once have attributed to traditional myths (I often wonder what he would have to say about fandoms if he were alive today). They also allow us to respond to the pop culture channel in our own unique way. Some people consume the fandom–they collect, they decorate their homes and offices around the fandom, and they are walking encyclopedias about the original work (and maybe all of the collectibles and fandom artifacts as well). Some people are the creatives–they are so inspired by the original work that they create something new within the parameters of the canon–fanfiction, filks, and for the obsessive knitter like me, wearables and toys. And there are those who just need the community–are they looking for validation or are they so hungry for community? These people want the conversation. And there are those who are along for the experience.

“Experience” is a complicated word. In the way I’m using it here, it could mean a few different things. I could be referring to the experience of the myth. I could be referring to the experience of the fandom. I could be referring to the experience of the experience of communitas. I could be referring to the ritualistic experience fandoms allow. I refer to all of the above. “Mythic experience” happens for each of us differently. That moment when “Star Wars” engulfed the screen for my first viewing is just as potent to me as the moment when the Enterprise first hits the screen, or when the TARDIS appears, or when I exit the tunnel under the railroad and am embraced (welcomed) by the sights and sounds of Main Street, U.S.A., or when I am standing underneath the Rose Window at Notre Dame de Paris during mass, or when I first stood in the Sistine Chapel and looked up into the face of God. My mythic experience is different than your mythic experience because we are different people. Fandoms are born when we find people who have the same degree of experience that we had. The Internet has made it easier for us to find each other and, hopefully, be friends. And that’s totally groovy.

Downton Abbey Took a Violent Turn and I’m Not Happy About It

***This post is inspired by a recent broadcast of Downton Abbey in the US, and contains spoilers.***

When it comes to violence in the media, I have a few criteria I like to follow:
(As a note: I’m not a big fan of violence. I don’t condone it. I would love a world without violence, and maybe someday such a world will exist.)
1. Is it gratuitous? My gratuity line is significantly lower than most of Hollywood–thanks to my Walt Disney-colored glasses and parenthood–but I can appreciate that some violence is supposed to be there. For instance, you can’t have Romeo and Juliet without the death of Tybalt, and The Shining or Titanic wouldn’t have made such an impact without characters freezing to death. But did Johnny Depp really need his eyes ripped out in Once Upon a Time in Mexico or did Doc really need to chop off his fingers in Escape from Alcatraz?
2. The obvious intent behind the film. I allow Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock to get away with their violence because they are either presenting dark satire or handle the violence artfully. A movie like Caligula haunts me with its gratuitous sexual violence (it is an art porn, as it were), as do many horror movies. It may be sacrilegious, but I even find the two major acts of violence done to Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back unnecessary. There isn’t significant character transformation by his experiences.
3. Who is the violence against? Who doesn’t cheer when the Evil Queen falls to her death?
(I don’t buy into the argument that violence in media causes violence in real life. Violent people are violent in their nature. Violence in media is a response to something in the culture. Think there is too much violence? Then, please, rethink what media you consume. Through embargo can we get the moguls to give us new themes. But if 100 years of Hollywood is any indicator, we like the catharsis of violence. Victorian repression doesn’t work either. Oh well.)

This is all getting me to Downton Abbey‘s recent episode, Season Four Episode 2. I binge-watched the entire show, since it airs the hour before Sherlock, which returns this weekend with Season 3. It is well-written, such that I imagine that fans cried at the same points, laughed at the same scenes, held their breath at the same time. The characters are fairly black and white. By the end of the first episode in which they appear, we know who to love, who to hate, and who to pity.

Come to think of it, Aristotle would be pleased with this show, if he were writing The Poetics today.

So Anna’s brutal rape is a matter of controversy. Not only is she one of the most loved and selfless characters, but how it was presented recalls the old cinematic trick of careful montage editing. While an opera singer performs for the entire house (upstairs and downstairs), her screams echo through an empty hallway. The performance is full of light, while the hallway is dark. I’m not remembering which silent film dealt with a rape in much the same fashion. This type of distancing effect tugs at our heartstrings: we are connected to the show (if you’re a faithful watcher), but this scene confuses us. Anger for Anna or joy at operatic beauty?

A commentary I read pointed out that the scandal of her situation could ruin her career as a Lady’s Maid and mark her publicly forever. Such is British society. Julian Fellows did her a favor of writing her attacker from her class, even if she can never have justice. Another commentary, or maybe the same one, suggests that how this is handled in coming episodes will make or break the season. And Fellows himself suggests that it had to be Anna.

Even knowing writer’s intent and show purpose, I’m not in favor of this one. If Fellows needed to rape Anna, did we really have to see it? After all, we were spared Matthew’s war and car accidents, Thomas’s coward shot (how on earth did he get away with that?!), Cora’s fall, and do on. So why this?

Yet another commentary suggests that this event is designed to speak to the fate of Downton Abbey in a time when the family itself is losing its grip. Downton Abbey is meant to represent a microcosm. Through the disguise of a period piece, I suspect the primary commentary is about the tension between nostalgia and the ever-changing face of the planet. Through a piece at the time when Britain stopped being an empire and the class divide became less rigid, we can read a commentary about the connectivity of the world and how easy we can go from place to place through the Internet. How much easier it is to be a self-made person with the right resources, or not.

Perhaps Anna represents Britain, or the West, or the Earth. Perhaps the rape of her is the rape of our planet of her resources. I suppose I’ll know more on Sunday.

*Please no spoilers about what happens next if you already know.*

Reality and The Truman Show

“It’s not fake. It’s just controlled.”

I know I’m a little late to the party, but I finally saw 1998’s The Truman Show. I’ve heard much about the show for ages, so I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it before now. (Unless it’s because it’s *THAT* movie that everyone has seen already, so no one wanted to watch it with me, and I tend to watch familiar films, television shows, or documentaries when I’m alone.)

The premise is that Truman slowly discovers that his entire life has been lived on a live, 24-hour television show. It’s like what we call reality tv without the editing. Truman has no control over his life, which causes a major existential crisis. The producer, Christof, and his team fabricate every single one of Truman’s experiences.

Which invites the question, just how much control do we have over our lives?

Anyone who grew up in America following World War II has had their entire lives influenced and shaped by corporations and what Jean Baudrillard calls “hyperreality,” a simulated environment so perfect that we willingly accept it in lieu of it’s real, non-simulated counterpart. Examples permeate our consumer culture, from themed restaurants to shopping malls. Disneyland is cited by Baudrillard and Umberto Eco has the paragon example.

We would like to believe that we have control over our lives, that our decisions make a difference. My cousin recently posted on Facebook that he young son, with no known exposure to Disney princesses, could describe princess attributes. Is this because the princess is an archetype that all children can identify? No, it’s because the image is saturated across modern culture. (I’ll add here that this cousin lives outside the United States.) Prior to 1989, Disney’s princess line-up consisted of FOUR princesses: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, and what’s-her-name from The Black Cauldron (thank you to Amy Davis for that reminder). Now, almost every Disney movie has a princess and it has branded them as their own franchise. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this young boy can identify princess behaviors.

And there’s the decisions we make thinking we are doing something good for the world, like buying eco-friendly products (that are really produced by the big corporations). For example, until I had a major life-change that hindered my idealistic intentions, I cloth diapered my baby. Once upon a time, cloth diaper options were a square of fabric folded just so and safety pinned to baby. A single Bum Genius brand diaper can go for $20, and the thinking is that what’s $20 if you’re helping the environment? What’s wrong with that square of fabric?

Reality television is one such hyperrealistic world we consume. Each episode brings into our homes someone’s “life” in a very controlled environment. Each participant is informed–to differ from Truman’s experience–of the level of involvement the show will actually have in their experience, some events are actually heightened in the interest of “good tv.”

Why are we so interested in reality television? Even though we know the set-ups are fake, we willingly accept their version of “reality” almost as reminders that our lives aren’t nearly as pathetic as we think they are. This is why reality shows dominate television.

The really sad part is the comment about our world that we choose hyperreality over reality. Is it because current culture sucks that much or is it because we are being blinded by leisure at just how much it sucks. Or is the argument that the world is suffering in fact part of the simulated illusion?

A Glee-ful update

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus for the last couple months, which I’m sure a few of you have noticed (or not). In October, I entered mommyhood. This has been an interesting period of transition, to say the least. Perhaps one day I’ll write about it. Interestingly, mommyhood has affected my perception of kids/teens in some of my favorite TV shows. Today, I’ll look at Glee.

To be over-30 and a “Gleek” seems silly, the same way that being a Potter-fan was perceived 10(!) years ago. I find the show to be a very guilty pleasure. With the exception of last season, I’ve watched the show faithfully on Hulu since it launched. I’m not sure what attracts me to the show. It’s certainly NOT the glee club remixes of pop songs and show tunes. And it’s certainly NOT the forced union between song and story.

I do appreciate that the characters have realistic storylines. The first season dealt with high school crushes and teen pregnancy. The second season dealt with bullying, homosexuality and being “out.” The third season dealt with graduation, teen fears of moving on, abuse, and winter pregnancy. This current season is dealing with growing up post-graduation, bullying, and eating disorders.

Here are a few of my thoughts about specifics.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Coach Beiste:
I love Coach Beiste. When they first introduced her in season two, it seemed as though it was a cruel joke—a not-so-feminine woman coaching the football team? The kids on the show made fun of her more often than not. It wasn’t until they revealed her soft side that her place on the show changed. She became a sort of Tiresias, the Greek mystic who, in mythology, spent time as both a man and a woman, and is called upon to address life’s mysteries. Beiste offers motivational advice to the students and love advice to anyone who asks. How she accomplishes this is through sports metaphor and simple answers. Her perspectives are spot-on at the time when a character is going through a major turning point. In the third season, she finally finds love, only to find out that the man she loves is abusive. She goes back and forth about whether or not to leave him, finally deciding that she needed to. The strength and advice she needed came from the same students she was constantly motivating.

Marley Rose:

I’m not necessarily a big fan of Marley, but I am a fan of her plot. She’s the daughter of the new, very large school lunchlady. She has been to several other schools and has been run off when people realize who her mom is. They bully both her and her mom on a regular basis. They haven’t, as of yet, explored the mom’s reaction to the bullying (is she really that much of an emotional rock?), but Marley doesn’t take it well and tries to stand up for her. What has developed so far is that she has become the target of the head cheerleader, Kitty, who is the bulliest of them all. Kitty sabotaged Marley’s costume for Grease to give her a complex about her weight—telling her that she has the “fat gene.” In one touching scene, Marley talks to her mom about her weight. We learn that mom gained her weight as a result of comfort eating her way through a very traumatic divorce. Nonetheless, Kitty is getting through to Marley, and the suggestion is made that Kitty has talked Marley into dappling with bulimia. This can’t end well. I hope that Marley comes through OK, and that Kitty gets some sort of awakening about how her words and actions hurt, and can potentially, kill people. This season has gotten too cluttered, so this may be the Big One they are saving for Spring Sweeps.

Rachel Berry:

I’ve never liked Rachel, and I still don’t. I don’t like that she got away with being hyper-pushy and full of herself for three seasons, and I’m not a fan of “belting” pop singers. What I will grant is how her character changed as a result of moving to New York and going to NYADA, a performing arts school that has revealed to her that she’s really a small fish in a big pond. I keep hoping that plots such as the one involving Cassandra July and Rachel’s post-Finn crush Brody will toughen her up. She’s way too naïve.

Sue Sylvester:

How can I write about Glee and not write about Sue? She’s my other favorite supporting character. In fact, I recently watched a couple of Christopher Guest films just because I love her character so much. She’s the bully of all bullies, but what sets her apart is that her soft spot is closer to the surface than the show implies. Her snarky comments inspire the New Directions to be awesome, and when a situation calls for it—such as intervening on Coach Beiste—she is soft and responsive. One of my favorite scenes with her was the funeral for her sister, who had Down’s Syndrome. Because her favorite movie was Willy Wonka, the Glee Club performed “Pure Imagination” in tribute. This season, they have only mentioned Sue’s Down’s Syndrome baby a couple times. They have, however, created a new tension between Sue and the New Directions by having Finn Hudson, McKinley Alum and temporary replacement for Will Sheuster (who is off in Washington for most of this season), call her baby “retarded.” For the first time in the history of the show, Sue is fully enraged and is fighting Finn and the Glee Club all the way, even though Finn did apologize. This will be another plot that I’m sure will come to a head in Spring Sweeps. A very deserved rage, I say. War is on. Sue is Agamemnon, and the Glee Club is Troy. Perhaps this war won’t come to the same tragic end.

The Dark Knight of the Soul

The Dark Knight Rises PosterThe weekend was a Batman buzz, torn between celebrating the release of The Dark Knight Rises and mourning the events of the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting. Throughout the discussion included comments about the killer’s mental health and questions about whether it’s time for the country to revisit gun control. One Facebook friend made the following post:

Waking this morning to a sick feeling when I see what happened in another theater in Colorado. While we were mesmerized, watching a film about the heroic strength of the human spirit and how it cannot be dominated by brutality, someone else took the opposite message and chose the comic-book villains as their inspiration. I hate to say it, but someone took their cue from this series a little too completely. – Katie G.

And here’s a link to a wonderful op-ed written by Roger Ebert: We’ve Seen this Movie Before.

This trilogy revisits the Batman mythos in a fascinating way, and the title of this third film makes a clear statement about its overall message. But there is something about the Batman mythos that invited the events of Colorado (not to suggest that I condone the events).

But first, my relationship to Batman. I have never read a Bat-comic, but I did watch the old Adam West reruns growing up. Beyond that, Batman was just another superhero until I stumbled upon the Lego: Batman videogame a few years ago. The ability to play a story as either a hero or a villain drew me in with Joker and Harley Quinn becoming my favorite characters to play. This is the only Lego videogame I’ve played through not once, not twice, but four times. My fascination for the game encouraged me to watch Batman Begins and later The Dark Knight, and my love of Batman was cemented. Last year, I celebrated my birthday with a Batman themed cake and a marathon of the Tim Burton Batmans. I’m waiting patiently for my chance to play Lego: Batman 2. And I keep looking for a Batman omnibus at my local used bookstore hoping for an easy foray into the comics.

lego_batman-2

Of all the super heroes, Batman is a shadow hero (and this is the main reason why I prefer DC to Marvel). He is deep, tormented, and is motivated by an unhealthy desire for revenge. As such, the villains that he combats are either shallow and stupid or are as equally deep, tormented, and mad as Batman (Joker, Scarecrow, Riddler, or the new Bane, for instance). This latter category of villain leads me to my point. Joker et al sees Batman as a nemesis and toy with him whenever possible. By doing this, they test the limits of his desire for revenge and his inherent goodness to save people. See for instance the climax of The Dark Knight, when Joker gave Batman an impossible choice. And Batman took the bait.

(As an aside, we watched the blu-ray over the weekend and this was our first time watching the film since the theater. The final scene with Joker was vastly different than we remembered it. Our cousin confirmed our suspicions. So I have to ask: was the film reedited for home release and why?)

Last week, the people of Aurora bore witness to someone acting out the Batman villain, but it seems as though the villain attacked a crowded movie theater to see if the Masked Crusader would come to the rescue. It’s no accident that the villain chose a Batman film, rather than say The Avengers or Spider-Man or Brave. The Batman mythos invites madness and it invites us to play into our place of personal wounding.

We have a chronic problem in this country of denying the shadow, and the more we deny it, the more it is going to affect more people. We are living in an era full of disease (dis-ease), medication/self-medication, and explosive tempers. For most of us, whatever ails us doesn’t affect a larger radius of people. We may not even realize that we are ailing at all until we lash out at our loved ones and ruin a relationship over something seemingly petty. Others take their ailment to a larger level, such as the young man who attacked Aurora. He didn’t need to affect the lives and families of so many people, or even the trust of an entire country’s movie-going public. But, yet, somehow he did, which is why the events transpired.

Identifying with the villains seems to be a recent phenomenon, but a necessary practice since we try as a society to ignore the shadow. I was first struck by the idea of Vampire: the Masquerade and reports in the 90s of kids actually sucking the blood out of people resulting in some deaths). Then there was the whole Columbine thing. And then at Harry Potter conferences, the number of people who dress up as Snape or a Malfoy or Voldemort. By playing the villain, we can confront our innermost negative energies. They’re there, even if we’d like to believe they’re not. Once upon a time, kids just played Cowboys and Indians, but today, we need a little more than that to satisfy our shadow. Our shadow is burdened with the shadow of America, which we have been carrying on our shoulders since the end of WWII. Events like Columbine or Aurora, when one person snaps and takes the game into the real world, reflect this.

The rules have changed, and this is what Batman reminds us at the end of The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Rises sees Batman trying to restore the rules in a way that adapts them to a new Gotham. Not enough attention is being given to this same practice in the real world, but if enough media outlets (Hollywood, YA literature) keep challenging the status quo, perhaps we can excite some real change. As Batman shows us, it’s not enough to occupy. One has to take up the cause. Meanwhile, as Batman further shows us in The Dark Knight Rises, it’s okay to struggle with your own stuff, as long as you remember the cause.

The Rise of Dark Fairy Tales

It is probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am a fairy tale enthusiast. It’s a topic I keep returning to time and time again, and it’s a topic that provides hours of academic muddling for this mythologist. That’s what scholars such as the Jungians find so fascinating about fairy tales. In their simplicity, they speak archetypally, deeply, meaningfully… They can become whatever story the reader or listener wants them to be.

And it’s probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am also a Disney fan, and that Disney’s versions of fairy tales are hands-down my favorites. Why, you might ask? This is a complicated answer, and one that I don’t have lying around, but part of the answer lies in the fact that Disney’s retelling of these stories captures that magic that attracts readers to them in the first place while also translating the stories to a new medium. There’s something that Disney “gets” in its storytelling that makes these stories speak to the culture. Sure, perhaps 200 years from now, Disney’s fairy tales will be shelved along with Grimm’s as future readers try to find the next new gripping version of a tale that’s already been told 1000 times.

Finally, it’s probably no surprise to the passive reader of this blog (all two of you) that I am also a lover of the Disney parks, notably Disneyland since that’s the only one I’ve visited with any capacity to build memories. The parks do for the experience what the films do for the fairy tales. They capture the magic that attracted us to them in the first place. I’ve been to Universal Studios, Six Flags, and my childhood theme park, Eliches (or however it was spelled). But Disney keeps me coming back time and again because of the experience. I trust the rides to not kill me (even with those few scary stories of accidents); I trust the park to be clean and safe; and I trust that, even if I’m tired, sore, and cranky, that the day in the park will still make me very happy.

I am a product of the Disney mythos.

So here’s my point. My love for all three of the above things are combined in the book series Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson, also known for his adult thrillers and his work on Peter and the Starcatchers. The Kingdom Keepers are a group of teenagers hired by Disney to be the models for DHIs, or Digital Host Interactive, digital tour guides through the parks at Walt Disney World. What these kids don’t know is that they have also been recruited to help the Imagineers fight against the Overtakers, who are Disney villans who come alive when the park closes at night. Villains such as Maleficent, Pirates, and Crash Test Dummies. The other Disney characters come alive as well, but they are powerless by themselves to stop the Overtakers from fulfilling their goal of overtaking the park. So the teens at night, when the fall asleep, become the DHIs, and spend their nights in constant battle against the Overtakers, receiving missions from the Imagineers, and trying very hard not to be caught in Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, which occurs when the DHI is prevented from crossing back over at the end of the night and the human teen is locked in a mysterious coma-like sleep.

These books capture the essences of the park and Disney magic and are thrilling for anyone who is either a fan who knows the parks intimately, enjoys a good sci-fi thriller, or even dreams of going to the park one day.

The most recent installment of the series, Shell Game, begins the process of moving the DHIs and the Overtakers to California from Florida by way of the new cruise ship. Having never been on a cruise, let alone a Disney cruise, I was a little skeptical about reading this book. But, of course, I enjoyed it thoroughly (having read half of it on the airplane to and from my dissertation defense). And, of course, in typical Disney fashion, find myself really wanting to take a Disney cruise now to share in the experience.

But that’s still not my point. In one particularly potent scene, the leader of the DHIs, Finn, confronts Maleficent, who is believed to be the leader of the Overtaker operation (though no one is certain about that). Finn and the other DHIs are in an auditorium doing a presentation for the cruise guests when they are besieged by pirates (of the Caribbean). Maleficent appears on the monitors and makes a rather bold statement:

 “Behold the New Order,” Maleficent said in her eerily calm and grating voice. “The dawning of a new age. [. . .] Enough of all this prince-and-princess spun-sugar nonsense. It’s time for the Grimm in the fairy tales to express itself. The woods are dark, my dears. The beasts within them will eat you for supper, not sing you a song. Wake up and smell the roses.” (484)

Remember up above when I said that Disney “gets it?” There is something happening in fairy tales right now, a sort of paradigm shift. In 2010 Disney claimed they were no longer going to make fairy tale animated features. At the same time several, albeit bad, fairy tale features were released by other studios. In 2011, Disney gave us Once Upon a Time. It’s as though the songs of the princesses in the forests have lost their magic for us. And it’s no wonder, given all of the darkness surrounding us as a culture. We are hungry for the magic; we are hungry for the good hero to defeat the dark evil bad person. But we are also hungry for the darkness to become a part of us, because it already is.

There is a shroud of darkness on American culture today, and it is spreading into other parts of the world. Perhaps this is because of the prevalence of our cultural exchanges, or perhaps this is a darkness that has been trying to take over (the Overtakers) for decades (think Great Depression, atomic bomb, and Cold War), but the American optimism has always kept it at bay. That optimism has taken a vacation, it seems. Even Disney, who always gave us a message of hope and happiness in our darkest hour is putting forth messages that this is the time of monsters (KK) or that the fairy tales have forgotten who they are (OUAT).

Meanwhile, fairy tales are being retold with a vigor that we haven’t seen in a while. New Grimm texts were found. Movies retell the stories. Vampires, werewolves, and zombies are everywhere and literally eating us (though occasionally, they may sing us a song to lure us in their charms).

It’s difficult to describe the change that is happening while being in the middle of it happening. Hindsight is always 20/20, but At-the-moment-sight is typically blind. We’re still looking to the past, expecting it to have all of the answers. Oh but wait, you’ll notice we’re looking at the 1950s for those answers. Just because television and the movies painting the decade as Pleasantville, the decade was anything but. Darkness perpetuating darkness.

We haven’t learned anything from our previous encounters with Darkness in the past, which is why it is still bothering us. Call it the shadow or whatever, but until we start communing with this Darkness and learning something from it, we’ll be on this endless cycle for a while yet.

Lessons we’re learning from today’s myths: 1. Believe in magic. 2. Remembering or finding your true identity or self is the first step toward dealing with the darkness. 3. Listen to your elders–you don’t know how much longer they’ll be around to advise you. 4. Don’t listen to your elders if you know they’re advising you poorly. 5. Saving good from evil has no room for EGO.

That said, I’m looking forward to the last two KK books. If the DHIs are successful in bringing down the Overtakers, perhaps we could stand to learn a thing or two from them?