E Y E C A N D Y
V O L U M E
Eyecandy Staff EDITOR-IN-CHIEF PRINT WRITERS debra bilodeau lior ayalon debra bilodeau HEAD CONTENT EDITOR jasmine lee ehrhardt jasmine lee ehrhardt catie ellwood larissa sturm gonzalez diana joves CONTENT EDITORS marisol medina-cadena lior ayalon brian mislang debra bilodeau jasmine lee ehrhardt BLOG WRITERS emily landa nick campolito BLOG EDITORS amara channer larissa sturm gonzalez diana joves MAGAZINE DESIGN lior ayalon debra bilodeau ren brownell larissa sturm gonzalez diana joves WEB DESIGN nick campolito COPY EDITORS mollie goldberg larissa sturm gonzalez emily landa FACULTY ADVISOR l.s. kim
mollie goldberg larissa sturm gonzalez michelle goodman erika mejia brian mislang laura santoro stephanie villanueva
FINANCIAL MANAGER brian deangelis SOCIAL MEDIA larissa sturm gonzalez michelle goodman melissa weiner CONTRIBUTORS seth temple andrews celia fong annie d. melanya hamasyan josh “grassy” knoll remy dixon megan needels jenny panush
Everyone tells you to write what you love, but nobody tells you how. They (who are they?) teach you to write in arguments, to state your claim, to confine yourself to that eight-page essay — but they don’t tell you how to put yourself on the page. And nobody tells you how difficult, gut-wrenching, and exhausting it will be. That’s exactly what this whole process has been — difficult, gut-wrenching, exhausting beyond belief. No one could anticipate how much this extended process of emotional and theoretical digging would reveal about our identities, how important this catharsis would be, or how friggin’ hard! We want to put our heads down just writing this. But we wrote — and drew, and photoshopped, and edited — these pieces because it is hard, because we know that understanding the media is key not only to understanding society, but to changing it as well. We aren’t going to rattle off a list of themes and ideas presented in this year’s issue. Doing so would be a disservice to the stakes every one of us had in our articles and submissions, to the communities we come from and write about. We made this for ourselves — and for you. We hope our words and images make you think, and we hope they make you talk.
Table of Contents 4
untitled (tvs) weâ€™re here, weâ€™re queer, and we like to be scared!
11 diana joves
from cool girl to sociopath
17 debra bilodeau
them are us too // in their own words
25 jasmine lee ehrhardt with artwork by celia fong #fresh off the bandwagon
31 jenny panush
please like me
32 larissa sturm gonzalez
i get my books from my mother
37 marisol medina-cadena
screening mi gente: the watsonville film festival
45 melanya hamasyan de-historicized
47 catie ellwood
boyhood vs girlhood: gender dynamics in coming of age films
54 annie d.
55 brian mislang
the cult of michael jordan
61 grassy knoll
the old masters
62 remy dixon
63 debra bilodeau
dad hard: reconciling feminism and dad culture... with a vengeance.
70 seth temple andrews infrared tree veins
UNTITLED (TVS), megan needels
. . . e r e H e r ' e W . . . r e e u Q e r ’ We e k i L e W and ! d e r a c S e B o t Lior Ayalon
Queer Identification, Subtext, and Aspirations Within the Horror Genre You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. […] If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. –Junot Diaz [i] Though this speech that Junot Diaz1 gave to a group of students specifically addresses the lack of representation of people of color in all forms of media,2 his words instantly spoke to me and my own search for cultural representation. The relationship between cultural absence and feelings of monstrosity is one that anyone of a marginalized underrepresented identity can understand, and one that I understood as I came into my queer identity. As a kid, I consumed seemingly endless amounts of film, television and other mainstream media during my early adolescence, but I always felt like there was something missing. I never felt like I could relate to conventional images of heterosexual romance and domesticity when I was struggling so much to understand my own identity, one which was clearly not a part of the picturesque landscape I had come to expect from Hollywood. Ironically, it was a genre about
monsters that showed me that I am not a monster. I am queer, and I want to make horror films. I don’t really know how it started. I mean, I remember the queer part pretty vividly. But the horror part? I remember watching one of the Child’s Play films on late night television when I was about six or seven, and I guess the rest is history. It’s possible I always had some sort of predisposition towards all things creepy, crawly and spooky, but it does not seem to be a coincidence that the genre that I always felt most attracted to is also one that capitalizes on difference as a form of fear. Could it have been that I always felt so weird, so different, so “other” that I grew to identify with the monster? Could years of middle school bullies calling me a “dyke” and shunning me at the lunch tables made me begin to see myself as Frankenstein’s monster, eating lunch all by himself in the bathroom? Ultimately, the representation of the classic horror monster as the cultural “other,” the genre’s preoccupation with the body as a source of fright, and internalized feelings of alienation and exclusion from mainstream media led many queer filmmakers, including myself, to turn towards the horror genre. Identification within the horror genre is complicated. We’re not supposed to identify with “the monster;” after all, he (and it’s almost always a “he”) is the reason the genre is called “horror” instead of
1. A writer whose powerful work focuses on his Dominican ethnicity and immigration experience. 2. In other interviews, Diaz has stated that his love of science fiction and other genre fiction is directly couched in his experiences immigrating to the United States, and that despite genre’s overwhelming whiteness, he was able to see himself in science fiction and fantasy rather than in realistic fiction.
“romantic comedy.” But with whom should audiences of horror identify? The angry villagers? The mad scientist who created the monster? The victims? It feels hard to identify with the victim when they seem to make the wrong decision at every turn. No, don’t leave the group; no, don’t go down those stairs; no, don’t have sex right now,3 you’re supposed to be running for your life! However, as Carol J. Clover writes in her seminal essay on the psychoanalysis of gender, sexuality and sex in horror films, Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film, audiences are encouraged to identify with the “Final Girl,” the inevitable female character who survives, eventually either to be rescued from the monster or killing him herself.[ii] Clover writes that the Final Girl is signaled as a main character through her own subverted femininity, as well as her intelligence, ruthlessness and will to survive. In this analysis, Clover assumes, and perhaps rightfully so, that audiences of horror are “by all accounts largely young and largely male (Clover 192).”4 Clover’s essay is a fascinating analysis of this cross-gendered analysis, but for me it ultimately begged the question: if straight male teens can identify with the female victims/heroes of a horror film, can I identify with the male villains of horror films? Recently, I stumbled across a website advertising a call for submissions for “a new multimedia festival of genre works by queer artists, performers, and filmmakers” in Portland, Oregon, which explained some of the appeal: Maybe it’s the fact that queer people are so often relegated to shadows of otherness that the horror genre is more immediately relatable for us. We grew up with boogeymen. We’ve lived with boogeymen. Goblins and ghosts are a welcome escape from real-life monstrosities.[iii] I have to clarify that identification with a character is different than supporting their actions. I do not root
for the villain. I do not wish him triumph, nor do I wish death upon the victims. It is, in way, almost a selfhating identification. I see how his difference harms and endangers the villagers, or the teenagers of the sleepy suburban town, and I want him to be punished for it. I want the respectable villagers and the pretty, heterosexual teenaged victims to triumph over the horror that plagues them. I want the difference to go away. Ultimately, despite my peculiar position as a femme-identified queer, I still occupy the male gaze and its hegemonic virtues and expectations. In order for the expectations of a traditional narrative to be satisfied, deviance must be punished, and I expect that. However, despite the selfloathing nature of my identification, it was nonetheless identification, which was more than I could find in any other genre. Much of the monstrosity in horror films comes from a subversion of gender roles.5 For example, Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill and Dr. Frank-N-Furter all, in some way, were used as a betrayal of traditional masculinity as a scare tactic. Though these characters are undoubtedly problematic and rooted in transphobia, queer fans and creators of horror can appropriate them -- in fact, horror genre’s preoccupation with subverting gender roles can be appealing to queer individuals who, despite their gender orientation, may be grappling with gender roles in their own lives. One queer horror filmmaker who played with gender roles and sexuality in his own works is Don Mancini, the writer of all the Child’s Play movies. Don Mancini also directed the last two installments of the Chucky franchise – Seed of Chucky (2004) and Curse
C o u l d iddle m years uollfies calling school ykbe” and shunningve me a “dhe lunch tables Hian’s me at teel Like Frankente ch MAde F er, eating lun monst y himself in the all b throom? ba
3. The horror genre is notorious for its morality lessons for young women -- namely, that if you ever have sex, you will die a horrific death. Those that survive until the end of horror films are almost always virgins. 4. It should, however, be noted that later in the essay, Clover does consider the implications of a female audience: The audience, we have said, is predominantly male; but what about the women in it? […] for while it may be that the audience for slasher films is mainly male, that does not mean that there are not also many female viewers who actively like such films, and of course there are also women, however few, who script, direct, and produce them. 5. For this reason, the horror genre has an immense problem with perpetuating transphobia. Just because the genre can be a safe space for some queer filmmakers doesn’t mean it can’t also be a problematic cesspool for others.
of Chucky (2013). Seed of Chucky was overwhelmingly disliked for its queer content by the film’s audience of “young straight guys.” Though the stereotypical horror audience has rejected Seed of Chucky, queer horror fans have embraced it with open arms. The film has gone on to enjoy cult success, occasionally being shown at midnight a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Mancini discusses the experience of seeing these shows: It’s been really gratifying to see the film go on to enjoy the biggest cult audience of any of the Chucky films […] Imagine watching the blood-and-sperm-soaked trials and tribulations of Chucky’s gender-confused offspring in a theater full of drag queens in San Francisco.[iv] Of course, “queer horror” films, if such a specific genre could exist outside the confines of Portlandia, are not all so outlandishly obvious or obscure as Seed of Chucky. Often just an association with a queer filmmaker or actor
can cause a film to be read as queer. From its beginnings in German expressionism and on the Universal backlots, horror has been a venue which allowed queer filmmakers to flourish, imbuing the genre with both intentional and unintentional queer subtext.6 The classic horror film Frankenstein (1931), and its equally classic but significantly campier sequel Bride of Frankenstein (1935), were both directed by James Whale, one of the few openly gay men in early Hollywood.[v] It’s easy to see that even in the original Mary Shelley novel, Frankenstein’s monster is hated because of his sense of “otherness.”7 While most of Whale’s contemporaries have denied any intentional queer subtext in Bride of Frankenstein, it has nonetheless been embraced by many modern queer film theorists as an early beacon of queer horror, and the monster’s otherness allowed him to be interpreted as a gay icon.[vi] There is, of course, a fine line between queer
6. F.W. Murnau, director of the classic Dracula-knockoff Nosferatu (1922) and key figure of the German expressionism movement, was openly gay. Nosferatu is the first vampire-themed movie, and currently the second-highest rated horror film on Rotten Tomatoes. 7. This is such a high school English class cliché essay prompt that an internet search for “Frankenstein + other” yields Sparknotes as the first hit. I, myself, had to write an essay on the subject in my sophomore year of high school.
I thought about the demographics for these types of films (young, heterosexual males) and tried to imagine what kinds of things would truly frighten them, to the core. And scary dreams that make them, even momentarily, question their own sexuality seemed like a slam dunk to me.[viii] Though it is undoubtedly problematic that the queer undertones of this film were actually intended to scare straight, male viewers, this movie is, nonetheless, gay as heck. Queer viewers were easily able to appropriate the homophobic undertones of the script and reappropriated them as homoerotic subtext. This reappropriation would be extratextually strengthened years later when Mark Patton, who played Jesse, came out as gay. Patton admitted, in a documentary about the franchise, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010), to having recognized the queer subtext of Freddy’s Revenge, perhaps while delivering classic lines such as “He’s inside me, and he wants to take me again!” While a young, closeted Patton chose to deny allegations of intentional subtext in the years immediately following the film’s release, after the release of Never Sleep Again, Patton would become a horror convention regular and cement the film’s place on the shelves of queer horror fanatics everywhere.[ix] More than just a place on a shelf though, the film has been canonized as a queer film, and is nearly subtext used to appeal to queer audiences, and queer universally regarded as such. The same can be said for identities themselves being used to terrify straight Seed of Chucky and Bride of Frankenstein, both to varying audiences. Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge degrees. Though I can’t say these and other horror films was released in 1985, seemingly without any intentional filled the vast void aching within me for queer films, they gay subtext on behalf of the filmmakers. However, the certainly eased the void a little bit. film would go on to be hailed as “the gayest horror As I make my way through film school, more and film ever.”[vii] The film contains such seemingly queer- more family friends and distant relatives feel compelled bait-tastic scenes such as the attractive male teenage to ask me,“So, what do you plan on doing after graduation?” protagonist, Jesse, gratuitously roughhousing with his I’ve grown accustomed to the way their faces twist into male best friend during baseball practice, and Jesse a concerned grimace at my response. “You want to make running into his male gym teacher at a leather bar.8 horror films? Well, that’s a good way to break into the One of the film’s major subplots is Jesse’s inability to industry until you can make some real films, huh?” they have sex with his girlfriend because he is too haunted say, before they walk away to ask my sister about her by images of Freddy. As if that weren’t enough, the film’s graduate school program. They can’t understand that actual tagline was “The man of your dreams is back.” while “real” films might win awards, horror films have had Screenwriter David Chaskin has stated that the subtext a lasting impact on me. Shot on extremely low budgets, wasn’t entirely unintentional: marketed primarily to teenage heterosexual boys and 8. Queer bait: (n.) the intentional use of homoerotic or homoromantic subtext (often presented as a source of tension) to attract queer audiences.
capitalizing on hormones and cheap thrills, most horror films are considered quintessential “B-movies.” For most “serious” filmmakers and film scholars, the horror genre is ultimately as cheap as the budget it’s made on. The genre as a whole is “drenched in taboo and encroaching vigorously on the pornographic, the slasher film lies by and large beyond the purview of the respectable (middle-aged, middle-class) audience. It has also lain by and large beyond the purview of respectable criticism.”[x] However, for myself, and so many other queer filmmakers, it is a first choice. Last year, I attended a “Queer Horror” panel of filmmakers at San Diego Comic-Con and met an incredible array of gay, lesbian and queer filmmakers who look forward to Halloween just as much as I do. I met the creator of an enormously successful franchise.9 I met successful screenwriters, actors and directors who, like me, had spent a good chunk of their adolescence holed up in their bedroom watching horror films on late night cable. In fact, a lot of the topics discussed at the panel were also covered earlier in this essay: queerbaiting, canonization, feeling generally alienated and disenfranchised. The horror genre showed me a space where I could exist, and Child’s Play was the first of many mirrors the horror genre created for me. At this panel, I
looked upon a group of successful filmmakers and, for the first time, felt like I might someday have a place among them. At this panel, I felt as if I was looking into a mirror. [i] Donohue, Brian. “Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Junot Diaz Tells Students His Story.” The Star Ledger, October 21, 2009. Accessed February 7, 2015. http://www.nj.com/ledgerlive/index.ssf/2009/10/junot_diazs_new_ jersey.html. [ii] ”Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” In Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy, edited by R. Howard Bloch and Frances Ferguson, by Carol J. Clover. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1989. [iii] “CALL FOR ENTRIES: “Queer Horror” Film Festival (Portland, OR).” Regional Arts & Culture Council. February 6, 15. Accessed February 14, 2015. http://www.racc.org/resources/call-entries-queer-horrorfilm-festival-portland-or. [iv] Abley, “Don Mancini” in Out in the Dark. [v] Juergens, Brian. “What’s So Gay About Horror Movies?” The Backlot. October 29, 2008. Accessed March 19, 2015. [vi] Juergens, “What’s So Gay About Horror Movies?” [vii] Coates, Tyler. “’A Nightmare On Elm Street 2’ Is The Gayest Horror Movie Ever Made.” Decider. October 6, 2014. Accessed March 30, 2015. [viii] Peeples, Jase. “The Scream King: A Nightmare in Hollywood Couldn’t Kill Mark Patton.” The Advocate. August 6, 2013. Accessed March 30, 2015. [ix] Abley, Sean. Out in the Dark: Interviews with Gay Horror Filmmakers, Actors and Authors. Maple Shade, New Jersey: Lethe Press, 2013. [x] “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” In Misogyny, Misandry, and Misanthropy, edited by R. Howard Bloch and Frances Ferguson, by Carol J. Clover. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1989.
9. Jeffrey Reddick, the creator of the Final Destination franchise, gave me a hug and complimented my costume.
DIANA JOVES If someone were to refer to the “Cool Girl” myth in everyday conversation, all the girls would just kind of nod to each other with an unspoken understanding. We know who “Cool Girl” is. She plays Grand Theft Auto 5 with the guys while cramming handfuls of Hot Cheetos into her mouth. She pretends to be interested in sports, drinking canned beer, and stuffing her face with hamburgers - all while somehow maintaining a size two because, most importantly, “Cool Girl” must be hot. In film, “Cool Girl” is hot, white, likes all the same things the male romantic lead likes, never gets mad – basically, she is every man’s dream — a dream and an illusion. We know who this “Cool Girl” is without having to explain, because at one point or another, we tried to be the cool girl. I was with my friend at a video game tournament during Spring Break. She was kicking everyone’s ass and attracting quite the crowd when a girl came up to us and told her, “You’re what every guy wants.” I understood that what she meant was that my friend was pretty, well-dressed, and also happened to be extremely good at playing Street Fighter. I knew the girl meant it as a compliment, but isn’t it funny that being attractive to a guy is supposed to be a better compliment than just telling someone that they’re talented? In that moment, my friend was seen as the “Cool Girl” and I can’t tell if this girl was jealous of my friend or not. This does not mean that any
girl who likes sports or video games is faking it. It is, of course, possible for girls to genuinely enjoy these things — my friend had been a fan of video games since she was little, far too young to feel the societal pressures to impress the opposite gender. She wasn’t pretending for anyone. What makes the “Cool Girl” concept a problem is when she lies to herself and only does something for the sake of male attention. There is definitely something wrong within our society when this is something expected of all girls. Pretending to be someone you’re not in order to be liked is something everyone is guilty of at least once in their life. In the film Gone Girl, Amy Dunne takes it to a whole other level. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s novel turned David Fincher-directed-screenplay1 is a commentary on the expectations for women to be every man’s ideal “Cool Girl.” There are pressures placed upon women that just aren’t present for men. You have to be skinny, but not too skinny. You also need curves — but not too many, otherwise you’re fat (one of the worst things a girl could ever be!). You need to be pretty, but don’t wear too much makeup! And you can’t just be pretty, you need to be well-rounded — smart, talented, able to cook, good at video games, “one of the guys,” — the list goes on and on. Women are expected to do all of this and what can guys (who perpetuate the the Cool Girl fantasy) do? Add on more false expectations until a girl decides to pretend for them and try to fit that image.
1. It is very interesting to note that the far from admirable character of Amy Dunne has been so highly praised by extreme feminists while on the opposite spectrum, masculinists worship the movie Fight Club along with its highly flawed male protagonists. The connection between the two is that they are both directed by David Fincher, who seems to enjoy curating films that serve as warnings from one gender extreme to another.
Gone Girl works as a feminist film because it unpacks this type of ideology, this myriad of expectations for women, and reverses the power dynamics in gender by presenting a battle for dominance with the woman coming out on top. “You think I’d let him destroy me and end up happier than ever? No fucking way. He doesn’t get to win.” Unlike female characters in most Hollywood films who remain in secondary roles compared to men, Amy Dunne refuses to fit this stereotype. At the start of the film, the narrative tricks the audience into a sense of familiarity with a string of clichés: a missing wife and a suspicious husband. When I was watching the movie with a friend, his first reaction was to yell out, “The husband did it!” However, as the film progresses, every plot point fits together too perfectly. It becomes too predictable. “I am so much happier now that I am dead.”
Amy, the supposed “missing” wife, is still alive, spinning the plot in the complete opposite direction from what is expected. Amy uses her own cleverness and the societal expectations of femininity to her advantage, faking her own death and framing her husband for the supposed murder. She fools everybody by playing up the image of the abused wife, afraid of her husband’s temper problems — the quintessential damsel in distress. One of the most memorable parts in the entire film is Amy’s iconic “Cool Girl” speech, a seven minute-long voice-over monologue featured right in the center of the film, as she drives away from the “murder” scene in the getaway car. This is where Amy lays bare the foundations of her motive behind wanting to frame her husband for murder. All aspects of both the film and novel point towards Amy being a sociopath, from her narcissism, lack of empathy, and extremely manipulative nature, but her concept of the “Cool Girl” is one that everyone can identify with.[i] In today’s society, the Cool Girl ideology is forced upon us at every turn. On every magazine cover, billboard, television commercial, it’s “Sex Tips
To Please Your Man,” “How To Get Men To Notice You,” “Top 10 Things Men Hate About Women.” The fact that women are taught to go so far out of their way just to please men without reciprocation is extremely indicative of the patriarchal society that we live in. This type of ideology correlates to the concept of the “male gaze,” as formulated by British film theorist Laura Mulvey. Existing as the foundations for any basic feminist film analysis, the phrase “male gaze” refers to how almost every film is tailored to suit a male audience. The “male gaze” puts females in a position “to be looked at,” to be desired, devoured, and dominated.To not have agency within the limited periphery of the camera lens, but to be objectified by an extension of the male gaze through modern technology. This is exactly the type of sexist perception Amy critiques after spending her entire life within a framework of objectification. Women are taught to form opinions and value others based on their attractiveness to men. What the “Cool Girl” concept has in common with other tropes - such as the manic pixie dream girl or the fake geek girl - is that they are all centered around the male gaze. To help the charmingly awkward male lead or to wear fake glasses and pretend to like comic books to attract a man — everything is
tailored to fit the “male gaze.” As Amy says, you just don’t see men suddenly becoming experts on Jane Austen, learning how to knit, or adopting any other traditionally feminine, and thus “undesirable,” interests. However, in this scene in which she condemns men and their unrealistic expectations, there are no men at all. Amy may blame men for possessing this problematic ideology and foisting it upon women, but at the same time she harbors quite a bit of internalized misogyny, holding women equally accountable for willingly trying to fulfill this “Cool Girl” role.2 As Amy sneers with contempt at the other girls driving past her, she takes what she sees, these superficial images of women she doesn’t know, and fills in the blanks. “If he likes Girls Gone Wild, she’s a mall babe who talks football and endures buffalo wings at Hooters. Maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl.” Amy’s internalized misogyny is further explicated as we see her treatment of other female characters within the film.3 She never refers to Noelle Hawthorne, her neighbor and supposed best friend, by name, but instead refers to her as a “pregnant idiot,” and likewise refers to Andie, the girl Nick is having
2. Something that is not to her own design, but something that she has been conditioned into believing because of what society has forced upon her. 3. Although Amy may be considered a sociopath by most movie-goers and the author, Gillian Flynn herself, it can be argued that she hates everyone equally. However, I don’t believe that this excuses her from being labeled as misogynistic. Within the writing of fiction, every tiny aspect is a decision that is consciously made by the author, and in this case, the author herself is a self-proclaimed feminist, leading me to believe that she deliberately chose to characterize Amy in this manner, and it is to which Amy should be held accountable.
an affair with, as a “slut,” never referring to her by her actual name. Amy’s patronizing tone towards all women, strangers or acquaintances, makes it clear that she holds herself at a much higher level than everyone else, which highlights another myth that isn’t explicitly mentioned in the film: the myth of the “Other Girl.” Most likely recognized within the phrase used by (usually unconsciously) misogynistic women, “Oh, I’m not like Other Girls.” Other Girls are the amalgamation of every traditionally feminine, and therefore “negative,” stereotype about women out there: air-headed, obsessed with shopping, makeup and the color pink, gossipy, etc. If the “Cool Girl” is a product of men’s fantasies, the “Other Girl” is a product of women’s fear for themselves. Subconsciously or not, they view being a woman as something that is so inherently negative that they need to distance themselves from it by clarifying that they are different, they aren’t like Other Girls. Amy views herself as superior to all other women out there. She is the anomaly, the only one, the chosen one. And in a sense, she is. Amy would not be able to go through with her elaborate plan if she had not been born into the circumstances that she was. How would the story be different if Amy had been Latina? Black? Poor? The answer is clear. She wouldn’t have been able to gain national coverage, she’d have been less likely to gather the funds she needed to fake her own death, have nice, wealthy parents to organize a fundraiser and search for her, and even if she did get far enough to fake her own murder, would she also have the convenience of a rich, white ex-boyfriend? The truth is, if Amy had been anything other than white, upper-middle class, Ivy League-educated, and conventionally attractive, the story would have been extremely different. Her privilege is what allows her the ability and resources to fake her own murder, the time to carefully organize a color-coded post-it calendar schedule itinerary; it allows her to get the national coverage she needs to get the media and the nation’s sympathy on her side, and most importantly, to hate her ex-husband. Amy’s inherent knowledge of racist media reflects on her ability to recognize the feasibility of her plan. In other words, she knows her plan will work per-
fectly, and wouldn’t require too much effort to create media buzz about a white, blonde, helpless housewife. The only time that Amy is ever “called out” on her privilege and has a kind of “reality check” is when Amy is robbed by Greta and Jeff; and even after that, when she is stripped of everything she owns, she is still able to fall back onto her deus ex machina— the rich, white ex-boyfriend who conveniently hides her in his spare lake house. Even when she is called out on her position of self-indulgence and privilege, it isn’t enough, and she still gets to run away to safety. Despite the fact that Amy is able to escape her dilemma relatively unscathed, the scene in which she is robbed still stands out as a very prominent moment that highlights her privileged position within society. She doesn’t
actually know true violence and abuse; when Jeff and Greta come into her apartment, she doesn’t know what to do at all. Amazing Amy is finally stumped. She doesn’t scream or fight back, all she has are empty threats — they have already seen through her disguise and are aware of the fact that she is on the run, which prevents her from going to the cops. Jeff says, “I bet you’ve never even really been hit before.” He’s right, of course. Amy flinches right as they make any sort of movement. Greta had gotten her character correct exactly: “Looks like a spoiled, rich bitch to me.” Another thing that stands out as extremely problematic is Amy’s repeated false accusations of rape. This film may be a work of fiction, but it still works to perpetuate the myth that women often lie about abuse and rape. The reality is that one in four women — 25% — have experienced domestic violence
in her lifetime. Domestic violence is also one of the most underreported crimes, and on average, 92 to 98.5% of rape accusations are true.[ii] Amy stands out as every man’s worst nightmare: a woman scorned who fakes her own murder, abuse, rape, and pregnancy, all to get revenge against a man. She eventually comes out as victor. In reality, Amy is even worse than Cool Girl. She’s aware of the myth of the Cool Girl and doesn’t do anything to tear it down, and while she may use men’s fantasies of Cool Girl against them, she does so in her own ignorance and dismissal of actual victims of abuse and domestic violence. It is easy for spectators to merely view the film at surface level and proclaim it as anti-feminist: the crazy, psychotic woman entraps the innocent, unsuspecting male. However the film is not as simple as that. Amy’s husband, Nick Dunne, is far from innocent. Though it is a bit glossed over in the film, in the novel his misogynistic, asshole tendencies are far more pronounced — he is an abusive liar, cheats on his wife, and most importantly, is a product of society programmed
to expect women to fit into his every ideal. He wanted “Cool Girl” from the moment he met Amy, and just like society had programmed her, she molded herself to fit the role Nick wanted. Even Desi, her ex-boyfriend, obsessed with everything Amy Dunne to the point of stalking her, cannot accept her for who she is. When the two are reunited, Desi is visibly shocked by her haggard appearance. When they get back to his place, he immediately sets out on transforming her back to being aesthetically pleasing—buying her hair dye, clothes, makeup, and telling her that he has his own private gym. He tells her “I just want you to be you again.” Essentially, he is not in love with Amy, but is in love with her portrayal of the Cool Girl. He is just like Nick, not taking into account the actual woman herself, but feeling entitled to a woman who fits his personal ideals. Both of these male characters are not helpless victims, and though they don’t engage in the same level of violence as Amy, they are still just as complicit in perpetuating these harmful ways of thinking about what a woman “should” be. Amy not only made herself into “Cool Girl,” but also made Nick into a “Cool Guy.” She did to Nick what so many men do to women, stating that she “forged the man of my dreams.” When they both lose their jobs and are forced to deal with financial debt, Their lives are suddenly no longer perfect Amy not only made herself into “Cool Girl,” but also made Nick into a “Cool Guy.” She did to Nick what so many men do to women, stating that she “forged the man of [her] dreams.” When they both lose their jobs and are forced to deal with financial debt, their lives are suddenly no longer perfect and Nick finally takes notice of the situation he’s been forced into — he is no longer happy with the arrangement. As a coping method he finds himself a “newer, younger, bouncier Cool Girl.” But instead of passively accepting this, Amy takes action and sets out for revenge. A revenge that has been made possible by her upbringing as “Amazing Amy” — she’s completely aware of what is needed to manipulate someone and that she is capable of doing so. The birth of “Amazing Amy” as a character in the children’s book series that real-Amy’s parents created was a result of their own desires to have the perfect child. Right from the beginning, Amy was in constant comparison to an imaginary twin that she couldn’t have a healthy competition with — Amazing Amy was always the better and more perfect one because she was fictional. From an early age
Amy was conditioned to always have perfection expected of her, which made her the ideal victim for the entire “Cool Girl” ideology. Like Amy’s parents, society conditions girls to feel as if “perfection” is expected of them, and normalizes all these grandiose expectations. Just like how Nick Dunne is not the “innocent, unsuspecting husband,” Amy Dunne is not the “psycho bitch” that ruins his life. What separates Amy from the “psycho bitch” trope is that her actions have reason behind them. She is calculated and logical within her particular mindset, whereas the “psycho bitch” is merely irrational and emotional for no good reason. In an interview.[iii] Author Gillian Flynn clarifies the difference between the psycho bitch trope and sociopath: “Q: Isn’t there a fine line between the darkness of women and the stereotypical psycho bitch? A: Well, I don’t write psycho bitches. The psycho bitch is just crazy, she has no motive, she’s a dismissible person because of her psycho bitchiness. And to me the whole point is to write scary women who aren’t dismissible, who are frightening and calculating but you know the reason why. You know Amy’s back story. And, to me, she’s sympathetic. I mean, I wouldn’t go on a road trip with her or anything. Q: Yet her response to an unfaithful husband is so extreme—so potentially psycho bitchy. A: She’s a functioning sociopath. She’s not a well person. But that’s very different than the iconic psycho bitch. I’m talking about the capital P, capital B Psycho Bitch, which to me is [Whispers]: She’s just crazy ’cause her lady parts have gone crazy!” When we think of the psycho bitch trope, we think of characters like Alex Forrest, played by Glenn Close, in Fatal Attraction (1987), the obsessive ex-girlfriend Stacy from Wayne’s World (1992), or the new temp Lisa (who Beyoncé destroys) in Obsessed (2009). Glenn Close is widely considered the original pioneer of the psycho bitch trope in her role of the single woman who engages in an affair with a married man, then launches herself on a home-wrecking mission at all costs. Her decisions (kidnapping a child, cutting herself, killing a bunny) are considerably desperate and irrational. This is what separates her from Amy, whose actions are fueled by her dissatisfaction with the inequality between gender-based expectations. The psycho bitch trope has now evolved into
a new character type with not only an understandable motive, but agency to be a subject, not an object. “You’re what every guy wants.” I’m not blaming that girl for what she said, because she probably didn’t even realize the implications behind her “compliment,” which is the core issue of sexism today. Most people don’t know that they’re being sexist. So what is my real message? Don’t stereotype, don’t manipulate, don’t try to lump all girls together in separate categories, and stop trying to project this idealized “Cool Girl” image onto every girl. I’m not saying it’s bad for men to have standards, like wanting a girl who has the same interests as them, but when those same characteristics are projected on every movie and television screen, it has real life consequences. Life imitates art and soon these female characters become role models for young women and dream girls for young men. But how can we achieve something that doesn’t exist? Amy Dunne is important because she takes that concept of the “Cool Girl” and smashes it to pieces. Amy Dunne is not a good role model for women nor is she the hero that women need. However, I believe that maybe she is the anti-hero that women need. She exists within cinema as proof that the “Cool Girl” doesn’t exist, that it is destructive to live a pretend existence to please other people, and in the end, she represents the ability for female characters to exist outside of stereotypes, as multi-faceted characters within film. If the film focused on the contest of Amy and Nick’s messed up marriage, the end of the film opens up a door to the new fucked up contest of which parent can instill more of their problematized ideology onto their new child. Amazing Amy met a perfect guy, got married, and can now spend the rest of her days playing house with her own botched creation of the stereotypical nuclear family — the perfect happy ending. From “Cool Girl” to sociopath, Gone Girl finally ends with Amy Dunne, triumphant. [i] Kim, Jeanie. “Is That Character From ‘Gone Girl’ Really a Psychopath?”. Health. October 6, 2014. Accessed May 3, 2015. http://news.health. com/2014/10/06/is-that-gone-girl-character-a-psychopath/ [ii] Brent E., Turvey. “Forensic Victimology: Examining Violent Crime Victims in Investigative and Legal Contexts.” Academic Press, 2013. 265. [iii] Parsi, Novid. “Gillian Flynn on Gone Girl | Interview.” TimeOut. February 6, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2015. http://www.timeout.com/chicago/books/gillian-flynn-on-gone-girl-interview.
THEIR OWN WORDS
CASH: For me, music is always visual, so the aesthetic comes really naturally. When I hear the song, my head is already full of moving colors and forms in a very abstract way, so the task of making a video was more to find subject matter that could take on the colors and movement that I was already seeing. We’re also both very sensitive to the feeling of spaces, and we talked about the approach of imagining a space that could embody/contain the feeling of the song. Then you can just let characters and narrative form naturally within that space. We never approached it with a definite story in mind, it was much looser and more surrealistic.
How did you go about translating your music to a visual style?
THEM ARE US TOO
Them Are Us Too, Cash Askew and Kennedy Ashlyn Wenning, are a Bay Area-based duo who met while at UCSC. Their debut LP Remain immerses the listener in massive hollows of sinister drum machine, siren-like vocals, and scintillating guitar, and has been featured on Press Play, NOISEY, and The FADER. I communicated with them via email to discuss their artistic process and their first music video, “Eudaemonia.”
CASH: I’ve always been a huge fan of music videos - some of my favorite childhood memories are watching music video collections with my dad on VHS, bands like Depeche Mode, the Cure, Duran Duran. I agree with Kenn that they can add a lot of depth to the music and guide the experience of it. Even just having a cohesive visual aesthetic that complements the music I think adds something. Videos allow you to fully immerse yourself in a piece of music in a different way, which I love. And to create one was just an exciting challenge to push our creative process further.
KENNEDY: I see music videos as an opportunity to further situation of the song/album/artist aesthetically, emotionally, and ideologically. It’s a challenging task to approach because there is not necessarily a pure isolated meaning to begin with to even attempt to translate… it’s a lot of vagueness and paradox and tension that the song in some way captures, but becomes finite only through its creation. So the video has an opportunity to clarify, or illustrate in another way the “meaning” of the song, which is ultimately undefinable and continually being constructed.
Music videos are such an interesting art form that I feel like no one ever really discusses in depth. Was your video just for practical purposes (publicity) or for something... different (for yourselves, for your music / “art,” etc)?
KENNEDY: ...We also want to encourage other artists not to think of physical space as a roadblock to achieving your vision. A lot can be done to mundane spaces to transform them entirely.
CASH: We specifically tried to work out an aesthetic that would work with the low quality of the camera. I liked taking advantage of the low resolution to keep things very vague. Letting the images be grainy and unclear really helps get the kind of unsettling atmosphere we wanted, it adds to the sense that something is wrong.
KENNEDY: It was a fun creative challenge to start with a vague aesthetic idea and then look for materials that could lend [themselves] to that world, and then hammer out the details based on what we found. It’s a way that we are very comfortable working [with] and similar to our songwriting process… trying to achieve an idea within strict material limits, which forces us to be inventive and industrious. The limits also shape the direction and ultimately the result… our work is kind of co-created by our ideas and our limitations. So it wasn’t necessarily like we wanted to make a “lo-fi” video per se, but since we could only find a shitty 10 year-old camera and a few flashlights for lighting, we rolled with it and tried to create the best effect that is possible with those tools, rather than pretend we were working beyond our means.
CASH: We didn’t really plan ahead for the video, just decided to go for it one night. The camera we had was not even a video camera, just an old 2000s point-and-shoot digital camera that could take a few minutes of video at a time.
What was the process of making your music video? It has a really cool low-res / digital lo-fi look to it. Was that intentional?
KENNEDY: I see narrativization of space/time/actions as an internal coping mechanism for dealing with the infinite multiplicities and paradoxes of life and as a way for our brains to manage chaos. The imagery that we chose is what we are attracted to visually as people, and it’s interesting (though not that surprising) that themes like femininity, secrets, and vulnerability seem to appear intentionally. These are things that are viscerally present in each of our lives, so I guess it’s not surprising that they appear in something we make.
CASH: There’s definitely a lot of symbolism going on, but when it comes to symbols I hate the idea that there is a direct A to B correlation, that everything has a specific intended meaning that can be translated if you know the code. We both feel strongly about that - any conceit of absoluteness is totally absurd. So we wanted to work with images in a symbolic or poetic way, and none of it is very defined. As I said before, we started by creating a space, or rather two spaces, that would give off the right feeling. We wanted to suggest tension and anxiety as well as vulnerability and isolation. I think secrets come into play here, there’s a tension between isolation and intimacy that permeates the video. There’s a lot of unclear connection and communication between the two spaces that are alluded to through the actions of each person. I think we hoped to create a feeling of a broken closeness. There’s delicacy in every aesthetic choice, but it’s also charged with violence. But it’s such a complicated thing that I think comes across a lot better when you can’t actually tell what’s going on, when there’s not a real story.
The use of symbols in your video is really interesting, almost surreal. The flowers, the use of water, and the bloodiness of the plum all make me think of femininity / femme-ness; the use of flash, the disembodied hand with the cigarette, the sealed envelope make me think about secrets… I am particularly interested in the surreptitiousness of how Cash is filmed: the flashlight, the darkness, the sense of being exposed + vulnerable in the shower shot; the refraction of Kennedy’s hands/legs in the water / what looks like drowning. Can you comment on that?
With this video actually I had kind of a hard time when we were about to release it, because there was a very insecure part of me that was really worried about people seeing me with a beard and misgendering me. I identify as transfeminine (nonbinary, but on the femme end of the spectrum) and it is very difficult to get people to understand and recognize that I am not male. But when we shot the video, we were actually in the middle of a tour and I had left my facial hair alone out of total laziness. Then that suddenly becomes the image of me that people will be seeing without any other context for my identity. It is weird having to represent yourself to an unknown public, and not know how they will perceive or react to you. My gender identity certainly informs the way I make music and art, but I also don’t want to have to make a big deal about it. It’s something that I always keep in mind when we put ourselves out in the world, but it’s very difficult to address.
I feel like in your press there hasn’t been much of any mention of queer / non-binary identity. By no means do I want to define you by it or think that you need to talk about it at all, and recognize that that may be a conscious choice. However, I do think that it is a really powerful thing— and that your peers (and fans?) would appreciate seeing how these identities affect your music (and, by extension, this video). KENNEDY: We haven’t yet had the opportunity to discuss publicly our identities as queer artists, but queerness is a super important part of both of our identities (both as artists and as people). Although what we’ve made so far does not really come across as “queer” in stereotypical ways, our queerness(es) come out through what we make because they are not a separable part of our identities, not an additive thing that we can decide to turn on or off. Similarly, we both are aware of and are continually thinking about how the patriarchal gaze and its effects manifest in performance (both day-to-day and artistic). I’m not even sure we talked about it specifically while making this video, but since it’s something we normally think about on the day-to-day, our relationship to that idea appeared in the video as well. CASH: I think, in the way we present ourselves and our work, we consciously to work outside of expectations that people have based on our genders (or perceived genders). For me, being queer has a lot to do with fluidity and trying to break out of the strictly defined logical frameworks that structure every aspect of our lived experience. Gender is certainly a huge part of that, but I also carry that through into everything I do. I don’t ever want to occupy an easily definable category. When it comes to the band, I like leaving people unsure and leaving space for feelings to guide the experience rather than learned expectations.
THEM ARE US TOO are touring North America this summer. For tour dates and to buy / listen to their album, please visit facebook.com/themareustoo !
CASH: Yeah, I don’t think we ever would’ve gotten to where we find ourselves now without the support of spaces like SubRosa, and I am eternally grateful for being welcomed into that community. The ability to go out and play on our own terms for people who are open and thoughtful and more interested in art that is honest than what is trendy has been amazing. And spaces involved in DIY music scenes can also be entry points to huge networks of support where you can find like-minded people all over the country doing rad shit, whether or not anyone in the “outside” world cares. We wouldn’t be able to tour without the people we’ve met this way, let alone have access to spaces where we feel understood and relatively safe.
KENNEDY: DIY spaces and artists are super critical to us. It’s the world we came up in and in which we continue to grow into ourselves as artists. It also just represents to me ultimate autonomy (and community autonomy) over your own art and collaborative projects.
What are your thoughts on the digital / DIY / grassroots aesthetic and community (both “local” and “artistic”?)
Evan Holm the river made no sound
May 21 - June 27, 2015
special artist talk tour: saturday, June 13, 2-3:00PM https://vimeo.com/106026830
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#FRESH OFF THE BAND WAGON Jasmine Lee Ehrhardt Artwork by Celia Fong ABC’s new sitcom Fresh Off the Boat premiered
February 4th, 2015, and since then I have live-tweeted every episode, read every single thinkpiece about it, and gotten into plenty of heated debates about the show. As the first network sitcom to feature an Asian American family in twenty years, the significance of this sitcom has not been lost on anyone. At first, I felt extremely hopeful and excited for this step in representing my community; however, that quickly changed.
Knowing that I wanted to write about Fresh Off the Boat, and its inspiration, celebrity chef and television per
sonality Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, meant that I was constantly writing and rewriting my article as the show’s first season developed. What began as an exciting and joyful experience quickly spiraled into one where I found myself wanting to distance myself from the show more and more. In addition to slowly realizing that I could not side with Fresh Off the Boat for its politics, I found myself more and more hesitant to truly critique and speak out against the show. It’s been scary voicing my discontent to other members of my community that seemingly adore the show. The notion of respectability politics - the mistaken belief that if a person of color behaves in a quiet,
subservient, and unnoticeable way, they can overcome any racial barrier - has been circling in my head throughout this whole process, ever since it was announced that Huang’s book would be turned into a pilot for ABC. I have felt pressured to be respectable and only show love for a show that has continually disappointed me - and yet, the show itself, and Huang’s memoir, seem to want to reject this idea of respectability as well. Part of the appeal of Eddie Huang is that he actively condemns any model minority tropes of subservience that, as an East Asian American man, are thrust upon him. His persona and his personal brand all make an effort to present someone who is brash, loud, and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I’ll admit that there was a time where I looked up to Eddie Huang and tried really hard to ignore his problematic actions because I was feeling so dissatisfied with the politeness of other Asian American spaces I have been in. Huang’s shittalking, no-fucks-given personality is a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the more moderate Asian American voices accepted and amplified by white America. While I begrudgingly admire his tenacity and his hustle, my experiences seeing Fresh Off the Boat and engaging with the extratextual aspects of the show - including Huang’s recent conduct - have made me want to reconsider his status, and the status of this show, as notable or praiseworthy parts of the larger Asian American community. Huang claims in his memoir and in his many appearances on TEDtalks and on panels that he grew up on hip-hop and hip-hop culture, and states that he found solidarity and support in that music and culture in the face of being bullied in school and facing physical and mental abuse from his parents.[i] I do not wish to negate his experience as a survivor of parental abuse (an issue in the Asian American community that needs to be unpacked in and of itself), but something doesn’t sit right with me. Huang’s
posturing, his streetwear, his co-opting of African-American Vernacular English, and his insistence on being referred to as “Rich Homie Huang,” “Kim Jong Trill,” and other hip-hop monikers don’t seem to come from a place of respect to blackness or hip hop.[ii] It seems that Huang merely basks in the “novelty” of seeing these coders on an Asian body - I rarely see him engaging in true acts of solidarity with hip hop and black people, and I don’t hear him verbally acknowledging hip hop’s historical root in black communities either. Huang ignores the power structures that grant him, whether or not he rejects the model minority stereotype, enormous power over black Americans, and seems to feel that because of his difficult childhood, he can take on the markers of blackness and use them as his own personal brand. I understand Huang’s desire to not be seen as the model minority- it is incredibly damaging not only to Asian Americans but is also used to reinforce racial hierarchies in America. After all, a “good” minority (Asian Americans) can’t exist without the contrasting “bad” minority (black and Latin@ people).1 However, treating another culture that you claim “raised” you as a part of your bankable brand - as a chef, as a television and web personality, as public figure - is not respect.2 Unfortunately, because Huang’s life and brand are so saturated with the material markers of hip hop, the ABC adaptation of his life shows the same lack of respect for the communities it claims to engage with.
If most of Huang’s appeal is the novelty of seeing an Asian man performing blackness as a part of his brand, ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat capitalizes on the novelty of not only seeing an Asian family on a primetime network show, but having that sitcom set to a hip hop soundtrack instead of the stereotypical gongs and zithers. With a theme song written by rapper Danny Brown and a soundtrack comprised of mostly 90’s hip hop (early Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G., and plenty of Ice Cube), it’s not hard to see that the show is catering to hip hop heads of all ages. However, the show does the same thing that Huang does -- it makes the material and sartorial aesthetics, not the politics, of hip hop central to their projects. Our introduction to young Eddie (Hudson Yang) and the first scene in the pilot episode starts with a rapid-fire montage of close-ups of Eddie donning gold rings, a huge gold chain, and a sideways baseball cap.[iii] The camera zooms out and we see young Eddie - chubby, a little bit awkward, looking clearly ridiculous in this attempt to “get the authentic look.” Throughout the show, Eddie’s t-shirts only feature the logos, album art, and faces of other rappers - but we never see Eddie retreat to hip hop for guidance or some formation of an identity beyond the sartorial. Unfortunately, this attitude of loving the culture but not the people that it came from (one that is repeated ad infinitum throughout pop culture in America) is repeated in the show’s narrative and treatment of black people as well.
1. The model minority myth posits that East Asian Americans “disprove” racist structures in America, citing SAT scores, median household incomes, and graduation rates to show that if a person of color merely works hard and keeps their heads down, they can succeed. This myth was established after the Civil Rights Movement to divide people of color and prevent racial solidarity, to pit them against each other across racial lines and try to pull Asian Americans closer to whiteness. 2. I find it incredibly telling that Huang is ready to engage in incredibly problematic and harmful codes of behavior towards anyone who disagrees with him simply to counteract a stereotype that causes him and other Asian American men harm.
hierarchies. Delegating the one and only black character to “The One Who Calls Eddie a Racial Slur” is lazy and uninspired writing, and instead creates a hierarchy of “most racist” (Walter) and therefore “most harmful” (again, Walter). In the eighth episode, a new student - a Chinese adoptee - comes to Eddie’s school, Eddie and the transfer student pass Walter in the hallway. Eddie says, “You’re on the bottom now. You’re outnumbered.” Eddie and Walter resorting to petty verbal jabs and mutual animosity to keep from being stuck “in the bottom” of the racial and social hierarchy at school reflects their earlier conflicts while enforcing these aforementioned hierarchies. This, of course, ignores the fact in that the grand scheme of things, Walter will always be on the bottom, and no amount of microaggressions or slurs against Eddie will be the same as the systemic racism that Walter will face throughout his whole life.
The character of Walter, the only black person in Eddie’s grade, is the most obvious indication of Fresh Off the Boat’s anti-blackness. Throughout the narrative arc of the show, the relationship between Walter and Eddie is one that is incredibly problematic - Walter is alternately a potential friend, an aggressor, and a gimmick. In the pilot episode, some white kids at the “popular table” get Eddie’s attention, and ask him to join them because of shared obsession with Notorious B.I.G., who graces Eddie’s t-shirt. Eddie promptly abandons Walter and joins this other table.3 This prompts Walter, alone at his lunch table, to comment: “An Asian dude and a white dude bonding over a black dude. This cafeteria is ridiculous.”4 It is here we see that Walter is used as a prop between the two “sides” - Asian versus white - as a way to cheekily and self-effacingly call attention to the complex triangulations of race in Eddie’s school. The power dynamics of this bond are marked by the fact that the kids continue to exclude Walter but mutually fawn over Biggie, essentially loving this culture more than the actual people who created it. Later episodes featuring Walter use him only in this way, and to see this repeated every week was incredibly frustrating.
However, Fresh Off the Boat also worked hard to “rectify” their treatment of Walter at the end of the eighth episode, about two months after the premiere. Both Eddie and Walter show up at school wearing identical Beastie Boys “Licensed to Ill” t-shirts, and Eddie and Walter bond over a mutual love for the Beastie Boys. As they walk down the hallway together, eagerly discussing the concert, the adult Huang’s narration comes in: “An Asian kid and a black kid bonding over Jewish rappers. America’s crazy.” In this scene and at this point in the narrative, Fresh Off the Boat has come full circle since our first introduction to Walter, yet still maintains a triangulation of race relations instead of working to unpack this tension between black and Asian people. It’s almost as if there needs to be a third party interloper (in this case, a band of white Jewish rappers) to bring these two “sparring” minorities together. 5 Though this newfound friendship is indeed a happy sight (they aren’t bathed in golden light for nothing), it still doesn’t erase or make up for the treatment of Walter in earlier episodes. In addition, the issue of using the Beastie Boys instead of a group of black rappers as the point of connection for Walter and Eddie shows that the show wanted to create a respectable, Kumbaya-esque gateway to black culture without having to resort to using an actual black musician. Asian kids and white kids can bond over
Later on in the pilot, Eddie goes to the microwave to heat up his Lunchable and Walter cuts him in line, telling Eddie that he’s on “the bottom” now. Eddie responds with the requisite, “No, you are!” -- and Walter’s response is, “It’s my turn, ch*nk!” The fact that Walter, the only black kid, is not only used to offer a snappy one-liner but now plays the role of the verbally abusive aggressor speaks volumes about the show’s mishandling of real-world racial 3. Of course, Eddie would be rejected from this same table for having “stinky” Chinese food for lunch. 4. In the third episode, Eddie is teased for not owning Air Jordans, and when he points out that Walter doesn’t own any, a white kid points out, “Yeah, but he’s black. That’s like built-in Jordans.” Walter responds with an exasperated, “This school is ridiculous.” Walter doesn’t need the Jordans to be cool, but he also is still not close friends with any of his classmates. Relating blackness to a material, consumable good only seems to reinforce this trend of commodification in the show. 5. After the eighth episode, Walter joins becomes one of Eddie’s predominantly white friend group, settled comfortably in the background after he’s done being used as an antagonist. Walter’s “evolution” through the show doesn’t make up for the previous problems of anti-blackness, even if it demonstrates growth or character development. It’s more of a band-aid than a completed healing process. In fact, Walter becoming a background character for the rest of the season only shows that the writers of Fresh Off the Boat have not yet undone the anti-blackness they wrote into the show in the first place.
mutual adoration of black rappers, but an Asian kid and a black kid can’t bond without a third (white) party. It’s through this consumption, co-opting, and general misrepresentation of hip-hop that ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat doesn’t work, and Eddie Huang isn’t immune from this criticism either. It’s incredibly frustrating to see this play out in a show that is seen as a source of progressive representation for only Asian Americans. In addition, the show - and Huang himself - have plenty of problems with misogyny as well. In the third episode, I found myself sitting with my jaw hanging open watching young Eddie’s fantasy - a mock hip hop video play out onscreen. Eddie perches on the hood of a muscle car, surrounded by popping and locking women, as a bare leg and heeled foot emerge from another fancy car. The object of Eddie’s fantasy, his adult neighbor, steps out and the camera tilts up her scantily clad body. To show his appreciation, Eddie sprays her with his Capri Sun. By showing only a clichéd re-presentation of an eleven year old’s fantasy of a hip hop music video - featuring a fancy car, popping and locking women, cash money, and the authentic streetwear “look” - Fresh Off the Boat shows that young Eddie is only looking to hip hop for how to pick up girls. By doing so, this scene ends up conflating blackness and misogyny.6 By tying Eddie’s growing misogyny to hiphop culture, the show removes any kind of potential for
Eddie to find empowerment or political solidarity in hiphop. This episode “denigrates hip-hop culture by portraying it as a vector for adopting sexist attitudes,” ultimately condemning an entire subculture to being a hotbed of misogyny.[iv] Fresh Off the Boat’s unproblematized misogyny is, unfortunately, not merely confined to the show. A recent Twitter debacle involving Huang and prominent black feminist blogger/activist Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous revealed him to be the exact opposite of someone the community should be looking to for inspiration.[v] After appearing on Real Time With Bill Maher and claiming that black women and Asian men are equally oppressed because of some dating statistics on OKCupid, a number of black and Asian American feminists took to Twitter to call him out - myself included.[vi] After many Twitter users pointed out that a dating statistic is not the same as structural and institutional oppression, Huang began to call McKenzie a “bum,” and then silenced her critiques by offering to take her on a date - instead of listening to what she had to say, or stepping back to realize that his words, had, you know, caused some harm. Though Huang’s crashing and burning online occurred well after the season finale of Fresh Off the Boat premiered and he had already disavowed himself from the show, I couldn’t help but think back to the third episode and that the casual misogyny -
6. In addition, Eddie’s misguided or “innocent” misogyny is never corrected in the course of the narrative. Even the interruption of the first fantasy by Eddie’s parents doesn’t “call out” Eddie’s objectification of his neighbor, and a lawn dart in Eddie’s back at the end of the episode isn’t an adequate punishment for that misguided misogyny either.
played as a part of a joke! - had a specific root somewhere. After all, it’s Huang who advocates for upskirt shots at an anime convention in Taiwan in his Vice food travel webseries.7 It’s Huang who named items on his first restaurant menu “Poontang Potstickers,” “Concubine Cucumbers,” and “Taiwanese Flat Booty Cake.”[vii] Both Huang and ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat are rife with anti-blackness and misogyny - it’s not at all the kind of representation that I want associated with my community. As if Fresh Off the Boat’s anti-blackness and misogyny weren’t enough, the tenth episode, entitled “Blind Spot,” features an Asian character in brownface. The character in question is Eddie’s mom’s gay ex-boyfriend, Oscar, who is already rife with homophobic stereotypes. In the process of auditioning for Aladdin on Ice, Oscar dons Disney’s Aladdin costume and darkens his face to perform a rendition of “A Whole New World” for the Huangs. It’s presented without comment and without retribution for this character, and is honestly the most confounding and bizarre misstep that Fresh Off the Boat has taken thus far.8 On the one hand, it shows incredible disregard for historical trends of brownface, and on the other it reduces darker-skinned people, Asian or otherwise, into more comedic tropes. Between decontextualizing hip-hop, treating Walter as a prop, and this latest misstep, the show seems to be working really hard to lift up only East Asians or Taiwanese-Americans at the expense of other races. I do not want my media and representation for me to be simultaneously kicking down everyone else. Fresh Off the Boat, needless to say, has been an experience, and the extratextual experience has been almost, if not more, interesting than the show itself. My weekly live-tweets were a part of a larger conversation on Twitter with other people, Asian and non-Asian alike. It was amazing to see people agreeing with me when we felt joy and frustration in watching the show, and amazing to see the dialogues spring up in short bursts of 140 characters. Another extratextual discourse I participated in was in the regular viewings of Fresh Off the Show, a talkback show hosted by stand-up comedian Jenny Yang and blogger Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man. Every week, they and a guest would broadcast a conversation between the two on Google Hangouts, and like a good little fan, I tuned in. Viewing the sitcom and then the talkback show made me feel like I was part of a larger community - and retweeting and talking to other people on Twitter also helped me in that sense. I felt comfortable expressing both my joys and frustrations in these two spaces - although often I felt guilt for only wanting to focus on the more difficult or unsavory aspects of the show. However, the very last episode of Fresh Off the Show gave me hope - and reaffirmed everything that I had been feeling. Oliver Wang, a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and a guest on this final
episode of Fresh Off the Show, said, You’re saying that you can’t deal with [racial hierarchies] in a network show or in the time that you have in this [kind of show], but we’ve been spending this whole time talking about how the show deals with Asianness and Asian Americanness, so if they’re capable of doing that, then they can do a better job with gender, race. I know as a Sociology professor I sound like a broken record but when hip hop is created in black culture and it’s treated as a punchline rather than something taken seriously on its own merits..... It’s really flawed, and every time I get really cringey when they do it.[viii] Wang’s words - as well as many other dialogues I had engaged in - resonated with me because they were exactly how I felt. Nothing gives an excuse for Fresh Off the Boat’s lack of nuance and concerningly long list of ideological “blind spots.” As awesome as it is to see some faces of our community on the small screen, I feel like it’s a bit of a sham if these other insidious attitudes and maintenance of white supremacist values keep persisting. ABC just renewed Fresh Off the Boat for a second season, and while this gives me hope for mainstream media institutions being open to the idea of having East Asian faces on screen, it still makes me wary. Will the same mistakes be repeated? Should we even search for “true” representation in the space of a television sitcom? I’m not even sure who to really blame - Who exactly do I hold accountable for this anti-blackness and appropriation that is mistakenly being claimed as representation? There’s no simple answer to the questions I ask about
7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUKbK8KFJzo 8. There are several layers of irony and what-the-fuckery to this specific instance in Fresh Off the Boat. In the original Arabian Nights, the character of Aladdin was Chinese. Also, for a writer’s room that claims to be the most diverse in network television, the fact that this did not get caught by any producers or writers is just astounding. It doesn’t help either that the Asian Americans on Fresh Off the Boat are all relatively light-skinned - colorism is an incredibly pervasive issue in the Asian American community, and seeing a light-skinned East Asian person darken their skin for comic relief is incredibly frustrating. Colorism, or the act of discrimination against darker skinned peoples, can be found in every single cultural formation group - and East Asian people, in our prizing of pale, clear skin, are absolutely complicit in it. In this scene, Fresh Off the Boat steps unapologetically into this discourse and turns it into a punch line.
Fresh Off the Boat, let alone the questions I ask about representation. I still enjoyed some aspects of the show, and there are still things that Huang has said specifically about Chinese-American identity, about food imperialism, that I vibe with. I’m not denying that there are things on Fresh Off the Boat that feel “right” - tiny details of the show stand out to me as real things that I’ve seen in my own home, in my own family. The superstition-bordering-on-paranoia about the number four, the jade Buddha pendant and 24 karat gold chain Louis Huang wears around his neck, the bowls that the Huangs use at the dinner table, and constant reminders of the “When I came to this country…” all remind me of my own childhood, or the experiences of my peers in my community. Visual references to Hong Kong action cinema and, specifically, Stephen Chow movies feel like in-jokes that were written for me. However, these seem to be only crumbs of representation, overshadowed by a narrative and visual tropes that perpetuate anti-blackness and misogyny. I know that the phrase “baby steps” is important to keep in mind in regards to the issue of representation, but I’m honestly fed up with baby steps. I know that this show, and the discourse around it, can be better. I’d like to think that Fresh Off the Boat can improve in it’s second season, but I confess I don’t know what that looks like. I do know that I’m going to try through the second season, phone in hand and ready to live-tweet, preparing myself to hop off the bandwagon at any time.
[i] Huang, Eddie. Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2013. Kindle. [ii] Yang, Wesley. “Eddie Huang Against the World.” New York Times Magazine. Last modified February 3, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2015. http://www.nytimes. com/2015/02/08/magazine/eddie-huang-against-the-world.html?ref=magazine&_r=3. [iii] Fresh Off The Boat. “Pilot.” Episode 1. ABC. February 4, 2015 (originally aired February 4, 2015). Produced by Edwyn Huang. Written by Nahnatchka Khan. [iv] Yang, “Eddie Huang Against the World.” [v] Keiteay. “Eddie Huang on ‘Fresh off the Boat’ - Storify.” Storify. Last modified April 8, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2015. https://storify.com/keiteay/eddie-huang-on. [vi] Chu, Arthur. “Dear Eddie Huang: You Don’t Get to Tell Black People, or Other Asian People, How They Should Feel or Who They Should Be.” Alternet. Last modified May 13, 2015. Accessed May 14, 2015. http://www.alternet.org/media/ dear-eddie-huang-you-dont-get-tell-black-people-or-other-asian-people-how-theyshould-feel-or. [vii] Fang, Jenn. “There Can Be No Room in This Movement for Misogyny.” Reappropriate. Last modified May 7, 2015. Accessed May 16, 2015. http://reappropriate. co/2015/05/there-can-be-no-room-in-this-movement-for-misogyny/. [viii] Wang, Oliver, Phil Yu, and Jenny Yang. “’Fresh Off The Show’ Online PostShow - April 21.” Fresh Off the Show. Podcast video. April 21, 2015. Accessed May 16, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOJSwPhK8SU.
PLEASE LIKE ME, jenny panush 31
I Get my Books from my Mother
L a r i s s a
S t u r m
G o n z a l e z 32
YA Adaptations (Re)-Shaping my Perception of the Industry
sat in the folds of her comforter, letting the blanket surround me in its warmth. She sat next to me and I looked over her shoulder at the sunlit pages I could not yet read. She spun tales of magic, dragons, and a boy with a lightning-shaped scar. My mother has been introducing me to stories for as long as I can remember: she read to me before I could read for myself and even then we found a way to share books. Every time my mom and I went shopping, we spent at least two hours in bookstores meandering the shelves. When we found something we both liked we bought one copy and shared it between us. By share I mean my mom got to read it first because she paid for it and good daughters wait their turn. She read it and I waited, usually not very long if it was a good one. When I got my hands on it, every time I reached a gasp or a That did not just happen!, I ran to her and we discussed every detail of that moment. I devoured every book that my mom bought for me. I spent every free minute reading, because it was easier to interact with a book than with people. I found myself entangled in worlds of magic and I was more than happy to delve in again and again. At an age when discovering yourself is about as easy as defeating a magical man without a nose, books were the perfect escape from my tween troubles. More than that, these books gave me a means to understand the most frightening yet exhilarating experience of life: romantic and sexual relationships. I was utterly inexperienced and completely inept when it came to speaking to someone I had feelings for – the first confession I ever made was filled with a lot of “umms” and “I don’t knows,” followed by me shutting the door in his face and burying myself in my moms bed sheets for the next two hours. Young adult (YA) books gave me a 33
way to experience romance without having to actually experience romance – the only problem with this was that one of my first encounters with a romantic relationship was between a human girl and a vampire who desperately wanted to eat her. YA romance, “all-consuming and invariably necessitat[ing] suffering,” is what I held in my mind as the example of true love.[i] Many girls my age found this kind of love desirable, because weathering something like a vampire war made the love seem more meaningful and passionate. I’m sure my mom thought I was joking when I said I wanted a guy from these books for a boyfriend, and I was… kinda. Despite having a warped perception of what love was, young adult novels helped facilitate a healthy outlet for my romantic and budding sexual desires. When these books started to be adapted as films, I was just as intrigued, as any young adult novel enthusiast would be.
“ I’m sure my mom thought I was joking when I said I wanted a guy from these books for a boyfriend, and I was. . . kinda. ” Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013) was one adaptation I was particularly adamant about seeing in theatres for multiple reasons. I was completely in love with The Mortal Instruments series from middle school to high school. The series had a forbidden romance, supernatural creatures, and a great evil to fight – everything a girl could ever want in her
“The series had a forbidden romance, supernatural creatures, and a great evil to fight - everything a girl could ever want in her young adult fiction. ” young adult fiction. When I saw the announcement that the series would be adapted into a film, I checked online all the time to see who they would cast as the three main characters.The actors chosen to play the heroine, Clary Fray — Lilly Collins, whose blandness is only offset by the boldness of her brows and Jace Herondale (Jamie Campbell Bower), her broody broad-foreheaded savior, were good-looking enough, but their interpretation left me feeling like they really were brother and sister.1 The third actor was Robert Sheehan, an actor I had grown to love through the UK television series Misfits (2009), and I was ready to love his beautiful face again in this film. I found myself looking forward to seeing him in the role of Simon Lewis – oh-so lovable-but tragically-unrequited in his love of BFF Clary Fray. I even went to an LA panel for the film in which I saw the splendiferous Sheehan in all his glory. Sadly, the film flopped harder than Draco Malfoy getting hit with an Expelliarmus Charm, but my mom and I enjoyed it nonetheless.2 I tend to enjoy any adaptation movie that I see with my mom--and we’ve seen some
pretty bad ones. The first thing that my mom and I say when we’re about to see a young adult film is, “It won’t be as good as the book.” Knowing this, we go to just about every adaptation of a book we’ve read. We buy our midnight premiere tickets, sneak in our Coke and Reese’s Pieces, and when the movie starts we become “absorbed in the world of the fiction, [and] we forget that it is a fiction.”[ii] It doesn’t matter that the plot has been exceedingly minimized or that the acting is subpar, we’ve already been taken in by these characters and we are already engulfed by the story. This is often referred to as suspension of disbelief, and it is vital for any piece of fiction – film or novel – if it hopes to captivate an audience. Films adapted from books are given a pass when it comes to this aspect of fiction because even before they start production they have an invested audience. Studios often assume that the novel fanbase will do their marketing for them, and they can skip over the part where they try to cinematographically captivate their audiences - often they’re right.
1. As they were rumored to be in the story.
2. Metaphor courtesy of Harry Potter franchise.
Contemporary literary adaptation analyst Simone Murray talks about this in her book The Adaptation Industry. She says that although films have little luck satisfying audiences that object to the interpretation of this scene or the casting of that character, “the readers of a book are easily and unproblematically convertible into screen audiences.”[iii] I agree that we find the prospect of seeing the film too good to pass up, more often than not. This is laid out in the following conversation between my mom and I: Me: “Agh! Did you see who they cast for [so-and- so]?” Mom: “Oh yeah! They really look like how I imagined [that one aloof guy in the book who secretly just wants to be loved.]” Me: “Ugh, he is so cute.”
The desire to see these films in theatres also stems from the search for strong female leads that 11-13 year olds can identify with. As a tween, reading these books was an escape where I could read about girls that were smarter, stronger, and funnier than boys. However, this was not my reality – at least in popular media it wasn’t. Critics such as Kathy Fuller-Seeley “[question] the extent to which female viewers [can] identify with the main characters in films produced and consumed within the patriarchal Hollywood system.”[vi] Popular movies showed me that women are always in danger of a tragic fate – like being eaten by a beast, or worse, being single – until a man comes to her rescue. YA adaptations have created a new niche of popular films that include something people have been craving for years: a dynamic, strong, and independent female lead! As a teenage girl, watching these films was like realizing that books aren’t all a fantasy and This ogling of characters-as-actors is an example of that women can do amazing things. Although these are what Laura Mulvey refers to as “circumstance[s] in which pieces of fiction, it is so much more impactful to see a looking itself is a source of pleasure.”[iv] It’s a special kind woman saving herself from danger than reading about of feeling seeing gorgeous actors represent characters that it in the pages of a book. Through my teenage years my have been crafted by fiction authors. It’s further evidence mother did her best to tell me that I could do anything I that these people could be real because now set my mind to, but it’s hard to believe that you’ve seen it as a corporeal interpretation Popular movies when the rest of society says you can’t. YA of scenes you’ve only imagined. The adaptations were one of the first places showed me that films’ reduction / condensation of the in popular media that I was able to plot also allows you to reach all of see female main characters smart women are always in the key plot points within a twoenough to be the brightest witch danger of a tragic fate - like hour time frame, as opposed in her generation, brave enough to reading a book for days or to sacrifice themselves for their being eaten by a beast, or maybe even weeks before you loved ones, and strong enough worse, being single - until to inspire a nation to rebel against get to that final emotional release or even the climax of the story. Films a corrupt government. Even though a man comes to her these cut out everything unnecessary and get adaptations have been slowly deright to the essential plot points and the volving ever since J. K. Rowling sparked rescue. ” juicy bits. By juicy bits, I mean those scenes the market for them, they have already that “[satisfy] a primordial wish for pleasurable looking,” started to change the expectations of audiences when it that, according to Laura Mulvey, focus on the desire to comes to female leads. look at others without the object being aware of our gaze and films satisfy this desire.[v] In YA films this voyeuristic My interest in the young adult book/film scene pleasure is demonstrated through shirtless scenes, kiss- lasted up until I left for college, where I no longer found ing, and basically any scene in which hot young actors time to read for pleasure or watch too many movies. I and burning passion is involved. Having handsome young still watched a few adaptations like The Hunger Games actors like Robert Sheehan playing these teen heartthrob and Divergent because I had read them in high school characters is a big reason why the YA adaptation industry and I enjoyed them. However, the experience lacked the grew the way it did in such a short timeframe. That be- same excitement that it had in the past. This summer ing said, I think the female characters in these adaptations I read the last YA book I would read at my mother’s give viewers like me a whole other reason for purchasing recommendation, The Fault in Our Stars (2012) by John their tickets. Green, finishing it just in time to see the film with my
“I have grown up with these young adult novels and films, and I’m ready to see them change for the better, and not just change, but evolve. ”
housemate. The book was cliché and filled with too many cigarette metaphors to enjoy – and the film was not much different. I didn’t notice at the time, but finding the story unoriginal and contrived marked a shift in my interests and me. Rolling my eyes at the screen, I realized that I’ve read/seen too many of these stories to find the same content as compelling as it was when I consumed it the first time. The formula for these stories needs to change or else people, like myself will get bored and move on. I have grown up with these young adult novels and films, and I’m ready to see them change for the better, and not just change, but evolve. The industry that perpetuates the cliché tendencies of YA fiction needs to look at what has been made and find a way to make it different and make it new. I want to contribute to this transformation. It started with my mom reading books to me when I was 5, but she has done so much more since then to support my ambitions. That’s why I’m currently studying to become a creative writer, of both novels and films. I want to make something that mothers can give to their daughters.
[i] Erzen, Tanya. Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It. Boston: Beacon, 2012. Print. 21. [ii] Smith, Murray. “Film Spectatorship and the Institution of Fiction.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.2 (1995): 113-27. JSTOR. Web. 03 May 2015. 113. [iii] Murray, Simone. The Adaptation Industry: The Cultural Economy of Contemporary Literary Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.157. [iv] Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. N.p.: n.p., 1999. Print. [v] Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. N.p.: n.p., 1999. Print. [vi] Fuller-Seeley, Kathy. “INTRODUCTION: Spectatorship in Popular Film and Television.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 29.3 (2001): 98-99. Web. 98.
Screening Mi Gente: The Watsonville Film Festival Marisol Medina-Cadena
“What is this alternate universe where I can indulge in screenings of independent films and dialogue with directors?” I thought after attending my first free film festival in Los Angeles. “You mean there is an actual space beyond the independent theater where people collectively enjoy and discuss alternative cinema? Why had I not been a part of this community before?” Oh, that’s right — the cost and utter exclusivity of many film festivals has prevented myself, as well as other underrepresented folks, from participating and critically intervening in such media spheres. After experiencing one (free) festival, I needed more open spaces that would bring together a multitude of people to connect over films that actually reflect the multiethnic world we live in. I wanted to belong to a film culture that embraced difference and as a soon-to-be college freshman, I was also seeking affirmation that I, a Chicana, could pursue filmmaking. In other words, I wanted (and still do) to see films and festivals that are not so overwhelmingly white, male, and heteronormative–particularly, films where Latin@s are visible.
The (Not) So Bronze Screen Film has historically been an elitist medium and industry, resulting in what filmmaker Alex Rivera describes as “a struggle for working-class people trying to penetrate the most expensive art form,” as well as struggle for filmmakers of color to break into mainstream venues.2 Subsequently, a vibrant U.S. Latino film culture has struggled to thrive despite the fact that Latinos make up the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S., at 54 million people!3 Hollywood is apparently in denial of our existence. And compared to other ethnic groups, Latinos make up the largest moviegoer group.4 Considering these numbers, it is frustrating not to see Latin@ actors and filmmakers represented in the mainstream media industry. ¿Donde está mi gente? With the proliferation of digital technology, including iPhones and affordable editing applications, filmmaking is now slightly more accessible to those who have been historically disenfranchised in media production. In spite of this phenomenon, the problem of showcasing and distributing films still remains.5 Historically, independent film festivals show alternative films that might not otherwise be screened in mainstream venues. For this reason I placed my hopes in independent film festivals to make amends for the diversity gap in mainstream media. However, large American film festivals like Sundance and Tribeca have reproduced Hollywood’s exclusivity, upholding whiteness at the expense of filmmakers of color. Perhaps this is due to the fact that these large prominent festivals have become so industry-oriented, leaving no room for up-and-coming filmmakers who do not fit the industry’s traditional mold.
Done with Hollywood’s Homogeneity Film curators and film institutions have established whiteness as the standard for cinematic “quality,” argues Roya Rastegar, a film festival curator. As a result, films that feature non-white leads are disregarded as un-relatable for mass audiences.6 I guess mi gente’s Spanglish and Chican@ flair is so threatening to the silver screen that we are institutionally denied entrance.7 Overall, I am frustrated with the lack of representation for filmmakers of color in prominent festivals, as these forums are the gateways to reaching wider audiences. Most importantly, Rastegar argues, festivals establish “public notions of quality and taste.”8 The acceptance of cultural differences in mainstream media is contingent upon the visibility of multi-ethnic stories screened at independent film festivals. Thus, I believe locally based festivals are the vanguards for changing film culture to include filmmakers and audiences of color. As a spectator and woman of color, I am tired of being expected to assume a position of whiteness and identify with onscreen middle-class white male values that in turn silence my lived experiences. It is time for a paradigm shift in American film culture. Let’s challenge the supremacy of white spec1. I have borrowed the term “Bronze screen” from the documentary, The Bronze Screen: 100 Years of the Latino Image in American Cinema. 2. Andrew S. Vargas. “According To Sundance’s Latino Reel Panel, ‘We’re About To Blow The Fuck Up.” Remezcla, January 26, 2015, accessed January 27, 2015, http://remezcla.com/features/sundance-latino-reel-2015-recap/ 3. Ibid. 4. Nielsen “Popcorn People: Profiles of the U.S. Moviegoer Audience.” Newswire. January 29, 2013, accessed February 20, 2015. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2013/popcorn-people-profiles-of-the-u-s-moviegoer-audience.htm 5. Rastegar, Roya. “Difference, Aesthetics and the Curatorial Crisis of Film Festivals.” Screen 53, no. 3 (2012): 310-317. 6. Ibid., 317. 7. Spy Kids (directed by Robert Rodriguez, 2001), is a kick-ass example of a filmic Chicano family crossing over to the mainstream and receiving box office success. I say this not just because it is one of my favorite movies. Clearly it is possible to have a funny, creative, smart, and beautiful brown family that even white audiences can appreciate. They were so un-stereotypically Latino. I felt proud to claim them as my own; sadly no other Latino families have since been featured on the big screen in this manner. 8. Ibid.,310-311.
tatorship by making all voices heard in cinematic spaces. We can begin doing so by supporting local festivals that support filmmakers of color. This will not only push film “elites” to recognize the public existence of communities of color, but also help shift popular culture, setting a precedent for political change: film festivals are critical sites for cultural production, visibility, and re-imagining an equitable media landscape. These cinematic spaces are cutting-edge forums that should embrace emerging storytellers rather than cater to industry elites.
Our Films, Our Communities My fantasies of a communal space for film enthusiasts and emerging filmmakers of color to skill-share were materialized when I attended the 2nd annual Watsonville Film Festival in 2013. The theme, “Our Films, Our Communities,” spoke exactly to what I had been looking for! It seemed the WFF grew out of necessity from the lack of inclusion in mainstream film culture and fostered a space by and for the Latin@ community. Unlike other festivals in my hometown, Los Angeles, or other prominent festivals in San Francisco, this festival was free for students, open for submissions, and accepting of audiences and creators otherwise marginalized in film institutions for their racial, economic, and social differences. Finally! Not being turned away from a film festival for financial reasons meant I could actually be an active participant in “film culture” outside the classroom.
The 2013 festival took place in downtown Watsonville at the Mello Center For The Performing Arts and the Cabrillo College Center. The three-day program included a mix of short fiction films and documentaries by local middle school, high school, and university students, as well as professional filmmakers with a retrospective screening of Luis Valdez’s breakthrough film, La Bamba (1987). Also screened were feature length films by emerging filmmakers such as Aurora Guerrero’s Mosquita y Mari (2012), a queer Latina coming-ofage story. For me, the most significant program was “Honoring Local Women Filmmakers,” particularly the films Maestra (2011), by Catherine Murphy, which tells the history of Cuban girls who taught on the Cuban literacy campaign in 1961, and Olga Nájera-Ramírez’s La Charreada! Rodeo a la Mexicana (1996), which highlights the Mexican rodeo tradition that has been sustained by Mexicanos on both sides of the U.S. border. The contemporary and historical subject matter not only paid tribute to the expressions of resiliency brown women have carried out for themselves and their community, but also inspired me to use my art as a form of truth and power.
The chance to see such films and converse with the directors about their experiences navigating the film world was the affirmation I so needed to continue pursuing film. Prior to attending WFF, I was disenchanted with my major, as I was not studying films in my courses that reflected black, brown, Asian American, or indigenous perspectives. I internalized this to mean I wasn’t meant to make films because my experiences were not considered “universal.” But as I sat among an intergenerational crowd of beautiful brown faces, collectively reacting to culturally specific references, it legitimized my desire to make films. It appeared I was not alone in wanting to see people on screen that resemble my family, my friends, and myself. More importantly, it was liberating to take pleasure in and identify with diegetic action that connected to my reality. It is a rare experience to feel normal and visible on screen when I have been so accustomed to not. Now I am a third-year Film and Digital Media student experimenting with forms and techniques to translate my lived experiences – as a fourth generation young Mexican Ameri39
can woman trying to understand my ancestral history, pay homage to my cultural traditions, and address my passion for food justice – into films. In a time when I can still count on my hands the number of Latino characters on current popular television shows and U.S. Latino filmmakers or actors nominated for their works--and still see criminalizing portrayals of Latinos on news broadcasts--I feel the need for locally controlled media and exhibition spaces like the WFF.9 Although identity-based film festivals in the U.S. like CAAMFest, San Francisco (Asian American), Pan African Film Festival, Los Angeles, and New Fest, New York City (LGBTQ) festivals have been discussed in scholarship, there have been few critical studies about small-scale, local festivals that serve working-class people.10 Unlike the excessive celebrity fanfare at Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, the WFF celebrates the audience as well as the filmmakers. The setting for the WFF-- a rural, agricultural, working-class, and predominantly Latino city — sets the stage for a very atypical festival. Moreover, it draws on the undocumented farmworker community as a source of strength and influence.
The goals of the Watsonville Film Festival are as follows
To share films that inspire, entertain, and focus on issues relevant to the local community, and encourage conversation between filmmakers & audience.
To empower local youth through video production & film culture as a way to transform the world
To promote economic development & culture in Watsonville, CA.11
In Conversation In preparation for the 4th annual Watsonville Film Festival, I spoke with Consuelo Alba, filmmaker and WFF co-founder, to discuss the festival’s emergence, challenges, accomplishments, and vision for the future.
On what inspired the creation of the WFF “It has grown very organically. It all started with a conversation about sharing films in our community. In 2011, my husband and I were in the film festival circuit showing our film El Andalón in Europe and Mexico. It was something very special to see films one typically never sees and engage with audiences, yet we didn’t have a way to share our film in our own town. With a casual conversation with our friend Jacob Martinez, who was teaching technology to students in the local school district, we agreed we need a space to show Watsonville films made by Watsonvillians.12 What a concept!” 9. The recent academy award wins for Mexican Directors Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) and Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), begs the question: have Latinos made it? I would argue no. Hollywood tends to fetishize “foreign” filmmakers, yet the industry ignores U.S.born filmmakers of color. Currently, Mexican filmmakers seem to be accepted while U.S.-born Mexicans are awaiting the spotlight. It seems that non-white filmmakers are accepted if they are foreign or if they make films not culturally specific. This phenomenon applies to festivals too as an increase in Latino films were recently screened at Tribeca this year but most were internationally made, not by U.S. born Latinos. Apparently Latino talent has to be imported because there is no U.S. Latino filmmaker in sight? 10. Ruby B. Rich “Collision, Catastrophe, Celebration: The Relationship Between Gay And Lesbian Film Festivals And Their Publics.” GLQ-A JOURNAL OF LESBIAN AND GAY STUDIES 5.1 (1999): 79-84. 11. “About WFF.” http://watsonvillefilmfestival.org/about-festival/ accessed Feb 10, 2015. 12. Jacob Martinez received the UCSC Tony Hill Award at this year’s MLK convocation for his work creating the organization Digital Nest, which tackles the digital divide by connecting Latino youth with technology.
This DIY ethos, hacerlo con ganas, that Consuelo and her team used to actualize the vision is continuing the legacy of Chican@ and other identity-based film festivals. Scholar Yolanda Julia Broyles writes that since the 1970s, ethnic groups in the U.S. have been organizing their own film festivals “to meet the needs ignored by Hollywood film festivals.”13 This includes the San Antonio Cinefest and the Chicano Film Festival, Detroit. Broyles maintains that these festivals, unlike profit-oriented festivals such as Sundance, are not as concerned with awarding films, acquiring distribution gigs, or highlighting actors. Instead, they are about spotlighting local talent, disseminating films that give visibility to marginalized voices, imparting messages of cultural affirmation, and inspiring activism. WFF, a grassroots community based festival, continues this trajectory.
On the festival’s objectives and community reactions to the first festival
“The WFF opens doors to showcase works. It creates energy. Before, students in the high school were [only] showing films to their classes, but now WFF expands the audience. It was a great [first] program. People loved to see themselves on screen and they were inspired. That’s why we decided to continue and now it keeps expanding but with that same principle about community. One immigrant viewer told me she was glad her children saw my film, El Andalón, because they were able to see the goodness about her homeland. Many people here come from similar ranchos and poor communities shown in the film. It was very important to show a different story about Mexico, a film that recognizes the many challenges there but also demonstrates the power that one can change their community. In El Andalón they saw themselves in a dignified way. That’s key.”
13. Julia Broyles, Yolanda. “Chicano Film Festivals: An Examination.” Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe (1983): 116-120.
WFF organizers are democratizing media production as a non-competitive event by rejecting the capitalist ethos of competition over community. This methodology resists the hierarchy of film culture, especially in the inclusion of the local working-class and undocumented immigrant community. In curating relevant films that parallel the experiences of agricultural workers, WFF acts as platform for undocumented stories to take center stage. Documented (2013), one of this year’s films, features award-winning Filipino journalist José Antonio Vargas outing himself as undocumented within the DREAMER movement. Many students in Watsonville are DREAMERs themselves. Before the screening and filmmaker’s presentation, one student bravely shared her own story crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Outside the theater, art and writings made by high school students gave testament to their personal experiences with the broken immigration system, all of which showcase a variety of storytelling approaches.14 This presentation of diverse narratives is unquestionably powerful and reflects the authentic spirit of independent cinema. Thus, it has gained credibility in garnering community collaboration with other local businesses, nonprofits, and artist.15 Presumably, this festival is also returning to the original American film exhibition sensibilities. Between 1905-1915 Nickelodeon theaters, which were halls and stores converted into public venues, charged only 5 cents and often showed movies in international languages.16 These “democracy theaters” catered to many working-class and immigrant viewers.17 Eventually theater managers refused admittance to these audiences in favor of middle class patrons to bring in more revenue and gain an image that appealed to the upper class.18 Consequently, Nickelodeons no longer played ethnic and foreign language films. This preference for middle class audiences founded the exclusionary model of media spaces that WFF challenges, as it only charges adults $10 for a day pass of screenings and is free for children and students.
14. DREAMers is a term some undocumented students identify with to bring attention to the need for immigration reform. DREAMers were brought to the U.S. by their parents without papers, have lived here, studied here, identify as an American, yet are not considered American by the law. The term has roots in the DREAM Act, a bill designed to grant a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth. In California, this bill was passed in 2011. But the fight to stop mass deportations and the criminalization of immigrants continues. La lucha sigue. 15. Community partners include: Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Watsonville Springfield Grange, Day Worker Center of Santa Cruz County, UCSC Dreamweavers. 16. Russell, Merritt. “Nickelodeon Theaters, 1905-1914.” Hollywood: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies 1 (2004): 27. 17. Ibid., 29. 18. Ibid., 29.
On how the festival has generated community
“[After the festival] the school district adopted our film [El Andalón] to show in classrooms. Connecting students and teachers to films is key to the festival because we want to inspire students to watch and make film. So, we work closely with the school district. For example, students in the Community Studies course at Watsonville High filmed the recent Peace and Unity March and are now working on a film about it that will eventually be screened at the festival.”19 WFF exemplifies how festivals are more than physical spaces to screen films but act as sites for audiences to think critically of their social context, identity, and self-representation. This community-based festival seeks to expand activism within U.S. film culture. According to film curator Roya Rastegar, identity-based festivals throughout the 80’s and 90’s have contributed to the mobilization around social issues.20 Likewise, the 2014 WFF acted a political forum to raise social consciousness through film. In accordance with the feature films highlighting undocumented experiences such as Documented and Food Chains, a post panel discussion featured community activists and local organizations, who shared how they are mobilizing around issues represented in the film.21
On the topic of naming the festival and whether it is considered a Latino film festival “We have heavy Latino programming to reflect the community but there have been many other waves of immigration in Watsonville. In honor of the strong Japanese American community here we had a program with the library to document oral stories from the Japanese American community. Many discussed their experiences in the internment camps. Sadly, many Latinos don’t know about that history but that conversation is important too. This year 19. The Watsonville Peace and Unity March is for victims and community members to come together to organize, heal, and speak out against violence in the streets 20. Rastegar, Roya. “Difference, Aesthetics and the Curatorial Crisis of Film Festivals.” Screen 53, no. 3 (2012): 312 21. Food Chains is about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers organizing a campaign to protest poor wages and working conditions in the Florida tomato fields. During the post discussion, UCSC student Vicky Pozos linked the film to local food justice issues.
we have another film, Eastside Sushi, that connects Latino and Japanese American experiences. We don’t live in a vacuum, thus, all these intersections and stories that make up our community are what we want to portray in our festival.” By presenting a wide spectrum of films varied in length, budget, and genre, the WFF continues to push boundaries. The variance in expressions of cultural identity resists a singular definition of what a Latino film festival is. Such multiplicity provides cultural pluralism and reminds viewers that recognition of difference can strengthen community. Moreover, the curatorial choice to pick films and performance artists from an array of backgrounds, for example, the Watsonville Taiko group before the showing of EastSide Sushi, demonstrates the power these institutions have in fostering a coalitional identity.
Claiming Voice & Visibility As festival programer Rastagar so eloquently reminds us, we film enthusiasts, critics, and makers need to “[value] film through difference… [to] unsettle learned ways of looking, and… to see parts of humanity otherwise obscured by the shadows and light of the cinema.”22 WFF does so in a groundbreaking way, setting an example for other festivals to follow. In rejecting the class and racial hierarchy in mainstream film festivals, WFF gives exposure to marginalized filmmakers and, most importantly, it strengthens community by bringing together families, organizations, local businesses, and the school district to celebrate truly diverse ethnic voices. The white-male dominated industry isn’t going to change without deliberate effort! As moviegoers we need to support local filmmakers and festivals, not the industry that silences us. To quote Consuelo Alba, “true community is contagious. Por eso trabajo aquí en Watsonville porque había una historia de activismo, es una tierra fértil.”23 I too feel this infectious activist spirit and look to the future trajectory of WFF in democratizing film culture. WFF has carved out a space where I- a young brown woman, film lover, and aspiring documentarian– feel I belong.
Afterword A few months after developing this piece, I had the honor to present my own short film, a work of healing in memory of my grandmother who recently passed away, in the program Reel Women – a reiteration of the Local Women Filmmakers program I described earlier. I did not anticipate publicly showcasing my own work anytime soon but attending the WFF for the past two years empowered me to claim my voice and thus, I submitted my film. I am learning to embrace my insecurities, draw from my childhood experiences, and use my familial histories I once thought were unsuitable for the silver screen. After the Q&A section, a high school student thanked me because my film inspired her to explore filmmaking. Her words were profound for me because it reaffirmed the power of documenting familial stories not just for ourselves, but also for the larger Latino community as a tool of self-expression and empowerment. For this, I am indebted to the WFF not just for having the opportunity to present, but in giving me the confidence that my story is one of many stories that are worth telling. With this I can move forward in the world and tell other stories that aren’t being told. Thank you Consuelo and the WFF team.
22. Ibid., 317. 23. Translation: I work here in Watsonville because there has been a history of activism. It is fertile ground.
Digital Video, 2014.
De-historicized is a result of a discourse among the Armenian diaspora in UCSC, whose ancestors have immigrated to the United States as a result of the Armenian Genocide. They weave their eldersâ€™ retellings into their imaginations and speak of forgotten cities, villages, and churches, while seeking refuge in an imaginary landscape.
De-historicized, Melanya Hamasyan.
Whether social, historical, or literary —research is an integral part of my process as it provides guidance for the final product. In the past I’ve studied Armenian folklore in photography; the goal here is to achieve in video the sense of time’s suspension that is often so captivating in still images. I also actively use photographic stills (those that I have taken myself and those taken from archival sources) in building my animated landscapes, creating dialogue in visual poetry through voice, movement, and space within the medium of digital video. Recently, I’ve become interested in the documentary medium, focusing on deconstructing ambiguous ‘truth’ and reconstructing it through a multitude of histories. Accordingly, within the documentary, I’ve begun to explore the multidimensionality of history and its construct outside a singular or dual framework.
Adapted from the artist’s statement:
Boyhood vs girlhood: Gender Dynamics in coming-of-age Cinema
Catie Ellwood “If Boyhood had been called Girlhood, no one would care.” The thought suddenly occurred to me as I was leaving the Nickelodeon, having finally seen Richard Linklater’s quiet, meandering epic following a sensitive child named Mason from kindergarten all the way through to college. Ambitiously shot in real-time over a period of 12 years, Boyhood offers viewers the extraordinary opportunity to watch the film’s young protagonist literally grow up on screen – an opportunity to which critical and popular response alike has been overwhelmingly positive. Although I enjoyed the film and didn’t feel particularly alienated by its perspective, this sobering revelation nevertheless irked me. I shared my concern with my friends during our usual post-movie debrief, and they all sadly agreed: we knew somehow that there’s no way Girlhood, even if it were fundamentally the same concept, would enjoy the same mass appeal that Boyhood has.
Having become finely attuned to patterns of reception in popular cinema and television culture (which have a pretty unsurprising tendency toward patriarchy and heteronormativity), I think I have a pretty good idea of what would happen instead: Girlhood might still garner critical acclaim, but would most likely be regarded as a niche concern. That is, it would immediately be categorized as a feminist film; undoubtedly, it wouldn’t get to be celebrated simply for being a good film. This is due to a tendency for films that depict the male experience to be read as gender-neutral, whereas films that depict the female experience are perceived as being all about gender. Since a vast majority of films privilege the male gaze, as Laura Mulvey theorized in her influential essay, “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema”, many of the mainstream film industry’s most highly coveted audience – the young, straight, white male demographic – would be
alienated by having their perspective subverted in such a way, confronted with a film that is so obviously not for them.[i] Certainly, with this critical chunk of its potential audience being so disinclined to see it, it would fail to appeal to or even reach as many viewers. Richard Linklater apparently disagrees. The director told Village Voice in an interview that he believes “Boyhood is a limited title… it is very much his point of view, but it could be Girlhood or Motherhood or Familyhood.”[ii] It is true that many critics, male and female alike, have agreed that Boyhood tells a “universal” story. Richard Roeper, a reviewer from the Chicago Sun Times, said about the film: “…this remarkable, unforgettable, elegant epic … is about one family – and millions of families. It’s a pinpoint specific and yet universal story.”[iii] Newsweek critic Paula Mejia agreed, saying, “The story – of parents struggling to raise children in a wondrous, conflict-ridden world, and the young ones grappling with forging
their identity in it – is a universal one.”[iv] The film not only has a perfect score on the widely relied-upon review site Metacritic, but has likewise made the Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 list.[v][vi] Indeed, holding Boyhood in such high regard as they do, it would seem that the film critics of the internet have presumably been able to identify with at least one of the characters within. Considering the point of view, we can only assume that character is most likely Mason. I still have to firmly disagree with Linklater’s claim that Boyhood represents girlhood, or even parenthood, as equally as its namesake. Take Mason’s older sister Sam, for instance. As with her younger brother, we watch Sam grow up on screen, before our very eyes, but unlike him, we don’t witness her actually growing as a character. Instead Sam’s formative experiences all take place off-screen, in the margins of Mason’s story. The same goes for Mason’s parents, Olivia and Mason Sr. What we see of their experience of parenting
“As with her younger brother, we watch Sam grow up on screen, before ourvery eyes, but unlike him, we don’t witness her actually growing as a character. Instead Sam’s formative experiences all take place off-screen, in the margins of Mason’s story.”
is limited by what Mason is able to witness firsthand. We are unaware of the abuse Olivia suffers at the hands of her alcoholic second husband until Mason comes home to find her beaten on the floor. We never find out how, over the years, she manages to juggle her family and work while pursuing a psychology degree in night school, eventually becoming a college professor. This is because Mason takes her struggle for granted, as children often do with their parents. Similarly, Mason Sr. makes several allusions throughout the film to his own suffering and pain, the nature of which remains as much of a mystery to the audience as it does to Mason Jr. We might have a vague idea of the sorts of trials his father has faced (based mostly on what we can glean from the sorrowful lullaby he performs for his children), but that part of the elder Mason’s experience is not immediately accessible to us, since Junior was not around to see it. Not to mention that Mason is also affluent, straight, and white, which serves to
alienate a fair portion of American citizens. Boyhood is innovative in a lot of ways – in its laidback, experimental structure, incredibly patient pace of production, and delightfully minimal style – but acknowledgement of identities outside this straight, white, wealthy male “bracket” is not among them. The film depicts the same coming-of-age narrative that has been consistently privileged throughout the history of film and television – three guesses who that is. Many films that we often acknowledge as comingof-age classics, such as Nicholas Ray’s iconic Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Rob Reiner’s acclaimed Stephen King adaptation Stand By Me (1986), or Peter Weir’s unforgettably haunting Dead Poets Society (1989), conform to this unfortunate narrative and character trope. Meanwhile, there are just as many equally exceptional coming-of-age films coded as distinctly feminine, such as Sofia Coppola’s dark masterpiece The Virgin Suicides (1999), Mark Waters’ astoundingly quotable Mean Girls (2004), or my personal favorite,
n e e b d a h d o o h y o B “If o n , d o o h l r i G d e l l ca ” . e r a c d one woul
Terry Zwigoff’s quirky yet subdued Ghost World (2001), that are either pigeonholed as feminist despite their vast acclaim; widely enjoyed but ultimately not taken seriously; or otherwise lost in indie obscurity. Notice that only 1 out of 3 of these films were actually directed by a woman, another unfortunately common phenomenon in mainstream cinema (white guys speaking for everyone else, that is). Also important to note is that these are, arguably, all 2nd wave feminist films; that is to say, they are all centered on white women, without much regard for issues of race, class, sexuality or gender and their intersections. Unfortunately, films that depict coming-of-age stories from a non-male, and nonwhite perspective in such a way that they are able to gain mainstream popularity are even fewer and farther between. The best and perhaps the only example that comes to mind is Lee Daniels’ Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009) – yet another woman’s story being told by a man. While investigating this phenomenon I came across Celine Sciamma’s Bande de filles (2014) – also known as the real-life Girlhood – the unconventional coming-of-age story of a French teen named Marieme.[vii] She joins an all-girl gang in the suburbs of Paris in an attempt to escape an abusive home, dead-end education, and the “boy’s law” of her neighborhood. I haven’t actually been able to see this film, as it is fresh off the festival circuit, but it’s reception thus far seems to conform to my earlier predictions: acclaimed by critics, who describe the film as “powerful” and “beautifully observed,” but obscure to the general populace – unheard of by the average filmgoer, absent from theater marquees, and neglected, for the most part, by cultural critics.[viii][ix] Furthermore, the sparse reviews that do engage with this film emphasize its social importance; “Girlhood’s non-patronising and credible representation of class, race and gender is a rare and per-
ceptive illustration of the intricacies of social inequality” writes Patrick Gamble for CineVue.[x] Similarly, Ann Hornaday, a critic for the Washington Post, hails the film as a “mesmerizing exercise in the enlightenment that can happen when a filmmaker shifts the male cinematic gaze ever so slightly and uncovers what looks like a whole new world.”[xi] While this sort of recognition is not necessarily a negative thing, it serves as a prime example of the feminist pigeon-holing that I mentioned earlier. Released within months of one another, Boyhood and Girlhood both tell stories about kids growing up in the troublesome world of today; both were independently produced, took home awards from various prestigious film festivals, and were highly praised by critics. Why, then, is one of these films being talked about by virtually everyone, while the other remains unheard of by practically everyone? It is especially disappointing, since (if the reviews are to be trusted) the one being ignored is considerably more ethnically diverse, socially responsible, and culturally radical? Admittedly, Bande de filles is problematic in the sense that it too is being told from a disingenuous perspective – that of an Afro-European adolescent, as recounted by a white woman. Sciamma’s other work, however, is notably and actively engaged in discourses of gender and sexuality – the subversive depictions of which tends to dominate the conversation around her films. But even despite their controversial appeal, Sciamma’s films have had trouble generating conversation about their social implications. This is unfortunate, because Sciamma is one of the few directors out there making socially-conscious coming-of-age films that not only tell enchanting tales of growing-up, but also have the potential to promote a more full and tolerant understanding of sex and gender fluidity. Take, for example, Sciamma’s most memorable project – another com-
“Released within months of one another, Boyhood and Girlhood both tell stories about kids growing up in the troublesome world of today... Why, then, is one of these FIlms being talked about by virtually everyone, while the other remains unheard of by practically everyone?”
ing-of-age film called Tomboy (2011), about a 10-year-old trans boy originally named Laure, who, upon moving to a new neighborhood, decides to use the opportunity to take on a more comfortable identity as Mickäel, unbeknownst to his parents.[xii] What Sciamma significantly illustrates with Mickäel’s story is a concept that is so often taken for granted in mainstream media – that is, the fact that gender is socially constructed; it has no actual bearing on our sociopolitical dynamics aside from the importance we give it. Feminist scholars of the 1980’s did a lot of work to turn this invisible truth into a visible reality. Judith Butler first articulated gender performativity in 1988 – the theory that, rather than being an expression of something natural or innate, gender is nothing more than a series of performative acts we carry out every day. “The life-world of gender relations is constituted, at least partially, through the concrete and historically-mediated acts of individuals,” she writes, “…Regardless of the pervasive character of patriarchy and the prevalence of sexual difference as an operative cultural distinction, there is nothing about the binary gender system that is given.”[xiii] What this essentially means is that, since identity is wholly abstract, human beings must perform their identity using signifiers which indicate to others their participation in, or belonging to, a specific culture. While it is still a widely-held misconception that gender is somehow inherently or biologically determined, this theory implies that it was pressure from hegemonic forces over the course of history that have resulted in the formation of the dominant (yet false) gender binary. Mikäel’s inclination toward masculinity negates this binary, and his exploration of his new identity serves as a study in the ways in which gender is performed. Acknowledgement of these facts, and of gender as an issue, is exactly what is lacking in Boyhood. While the film is not overtly oppressive, it is still full of aggressive gendering: a curious group of boys crowded around a laptop, watching pornography; Mason and his father peeing on the campfire in a ritual that would be much tougher for a
woman to observe; a 13-year-old Mason bragging to his imploring buddies about trysts I think it’s safe to assume he never went on; and who could forget Mason receiving his first suit and gun on the same birthday? All of these things code Mason’s experience as decidedly masculine. What is troubling is that Richard Linklater, apparently along with the entire movie-going public, has failed to recognize it since it is so normalized in our patriarchal society. While I of course find all of this bothersome, I still can’t deny the excellence of Boyhood. For one thing, nostalgia operates as the main emotional currency of the film, in a way that is particularly poignant to my generation. In the story’s chronology, Mason’s high school graduation takes place in 2014, just three years after my own; for early-90’s babies like myself, this generational coincidence made each moment that much more resonant. It seemed to me that somehow, each successive scene unearthed a new pop-culture relic straight out of my own childhood – some that I had completely forgotten about (Tamagotchis, the Oregon Trail videogames, Pearl the baby landlord, Ripstiks), others that I still find myself warmly reminiscing about from time to time (Britney Spears, Dragon Ball Z, Harry Potter book release parties, High School Musical) – each of which I recognized with a rush of wistful excitement. For another, there is also an undeniable, hyper-voyeuristic sort of pleasure in the knowledge that the film’s narrative was chronicled in real time; the conscious fact in the audience’s mind that they are bearing witness to the characters – and, by extension, their players – actually changing, growing up and living out their lives enhances the experience on a visceral level. Finally, the narrative is structured as a series of vignettes, drifting from year to year, most of them apparently inconsequential, with a handful of tension-filled scenes mixed in that depict such heart-wrenching highs and lows that I know I am as unlikely to forget about these moments as Mason undoubtedly is. However, it is certainly understandable how someone could have trouble sitting still for this film. There is not much concern for plot, as each segment simply offers a glimpse of Mason and
“Films that depict the male experience [are often read as gender-neutral, whereas Films that depict the female experience are perceived as being all about gender”
his family’s everyday life, whatever that happens to look like at that specific point in time. But despite the film’s potential to be a catastrophic bore, these seemingly arbitrary moments, when strung together, form a whole that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. The result is a stunningly beautiful portrait of a childhood – albeit a specifically white, hetero, affluent one – but one that is satisfyingly simple, introspective, and honest all the same. Hopefully it goes without saying that none of this is meant to vilify Linklater in any way. After all, he made a film that happened to resonate with his own point of view, and he is by no means to be faulted for the praise he has received. It’s just disappointing to realize that his perspective also happens to resonate with the majority of Hollywood films. Although it doesn’t quite represent both genders equally, Boyhood still has some valuable insights to offer about girlhood, as Dr. Sharon Marcus and Dr. Ann Skovorosky – professors of humanities at Columbia University – highlight in an article they co-authored for the Wall Street Journal. Among others, they point to an instance in the film where Mason is urged by his photography teacher to take himself more seriously when they discuss his art and future career, providing a stark con-
trast to Sam, who is chastised by her mother when she fails to pick up Mason from school – the first, and (as far as I’m aware, the only) inclination she shows toward putting herself first. By the time he is celebrating his graduation and getting ready to go off to college, Mason has grown into a confident, thoughtful, sensitive young man; Sam, on the other hand, has become more quiet and withdrawn, and less sure of herself. When prompted to make a speech at her younger brother’s graduation party, she recoils, clearly made uncomfortable by having to talk in front of people. “One of the achievements of Boyhood is to show how girls are discouraged from putting themselves first.” They write, “A boy can dream, the film suggests, but a girl… not so much.”[xiv] Now, whether or not the film made this critique purposefully is unclear – perhaps it could have been just a consequence of having characters’ based on the actors that play them, as Linklater did with Ellar Coltrane’s Mason and his own daughter Lorelai Linklater’s Sam. Perhaps more importantly, Linklater didn’t set out to create something that reaffirms structures of gender. There is absolutely nothing wrong telling a story from one point-of-view, even if it creates some representational limitations. As a matter of fact, films are invariably limited by per-
spective, either literally, within the story, or otherwise by the perspective of the filmmaker. Deciding to make a coming-of-age film from the perspective of a boy versus the perspective of a girl (or vice versa) is inevitably going to make a difference to the story, because (even though it is for totally arbitrary, socially-constructed reasons) yes, boys and girls experience the world very differently. But after all, part of the reason we watch movies in the first place is for the experience of being able to identify with someone other than ourselves. All a filmmaker can do is be aware of these limitations, acknowledge them, and attempt to handle them in a socially responsible way. The bottom line is really that in our media-saturated culture, films are one of the many ways (and arguably primary way) young people are socialized. For them, these coming-of-age films may potentially form the basis for their understanding of what growing up is supposed to look like, which is why it is so important that those who take on the delicate task of representation understand that false gender stereotypes in media inevitably perpetuate archetypal gender roles. Consider for a moment how many wellknown coming-of-age films (including those mentioned in this article) feature either a group of boys or a group of girls, but
rarely both, and even more rarely do these groups actually interact with each other. When they do, it is usually in the interest of heterosexual romance – hardly any of these movies feature healthy, sincerely platonic friendships between opposite sexes. Of course, there are some notable exceptions to this rule, but very few, at least in the mainstream. Our collective failure to recognize the representational limits within is troubling. We as a culture must decide to stop teaching young people to relate to their opposite sex in such unhealthy ways. We need to balance the representation.
Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16(3): 6-18, 1975. [ii] Amy Nicholson, “Richard Linklater Explains His Secret Movie Boyhood, Which He Shot Over 12 Years,” Village Voice, July 19, 2014. [iii] Richard Roper, “Boyhood Review,” Chicago Sun Times, July 17, 2014. [iv] Paula Mejia, “Review: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood Projects a Spellbinding View of Memory,” Newsweek, July 21, 2014. [v] “Boyhood,” last modified on February 7, 2014, http://www.metacritic.com/ movie/boyhood. [vi] “Top 100 Movies of All Time,” last modified on February 16, 2015, http://www.rottentomatoes.com/top/bestofrt/ [vii] Bande de filles, directed by Celine Sciamma (2014; Pyramide Distribution). [viii] “Girlhood,” IMDB.com, May 6, 2015. [ix] Sheila O’malley, “Girlhood,” RogerEbert.com, January 30, 2015. [x] Kenneth Turan, “‘Girlhood’ celebrates the power and passion of sisterhood,” Los Angeles Times, February 5. 2-15. [xi] Patrick Gamble, “London 2014: Girlhood Review,” Cinevue, October 16, 2014. [xii] Ann Hornaday, “‘Girlhood’ depicts the competition and solidarity of teenaged friendship,” The Washington Post, February 26, 2015. [xiii] Tomboy, directed by Celine Sciamma (2011; Pyramide Distribution). [xiv] Marcus, Sharon, and Anne Skovorosky, “What ‘Boyhood’ Shows Us About Girlhood,” Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2015. [i]
UNTITLED, annie d. 54
f e o h T lt l u e C icha M Jordan
SPACE JAM, AIR JORDANS, AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF MASCULINITY Brian Mislang Space Jam (1996) is the most underrated movie of all time. I have watched this movie numerous times as a kid. Whether it was on an airplane heading to the Philippines as a five-year-old child, on a charter bus to the Monterey Bay Aquarium during a fourth grade school field trip, or inserting the video cassette into the VCR while sitting on a Saran wrap-covered couch, I watched it every chance I got. Somehow I never got tired of watching it, and I loved every second of the film. While Space Jam initially did not receive rave reviews and the plot may leave some less than thrilled, it has evolved into something that will always endear those who grew up watching it. However, the appeal of the movie goes beyond the nostalgia - NBA legend Michael Jordan’s performance as “himself” captivated audiences - especially me - and helped to shape both pop culture and basketball culture, especially in the sneakerhead cultural phenomenon. In order to pursue his childhood dream of being a professional baseball player like his father, Michael Jordan retires from the NBA to play minor league baseball for the Birmingham Barons. During an off-day, Jordan is playing golf with fellow NBA legend Larry Bird, actor Bill Murray, and his clingy publicist Stan Podolak (played by Wayne
Knight), and happens to hit a hole-in-one with the help of Bugs Bunny. Jordan then finds himself in the realm of Looney Tunes after being sucked down a golf hole by Bugs and Daffy Duck. Jordan has been kidnapped to help the Looney Tunes play in a basketball game against the Monstars, who have stolen the basketball talents of several current NBA players. As if that weren’t enough, they threaten to take the Looney Tunes to their world of Moron Mountain to work as carnival attractions in order to boost excitement at their theme park. Using computer-generated imagery and a green screen to capture Jordan’s movements, Space Jam showed Jordan performing in sync with the cartoon characters in this 3D, live-action dimension, making the interactions seem natural between the two. At the time of its creation, Space Jam was revolutionary for including CGI in a feature-length film. As I re-watch it now, the level of animation is still impressive considering that the progress of CGI has grown considerably. Space Jam’s technical brilliance isn’t the only thing that makes this film great - it also made a huge impact on my life. Because of Space Jam, I am a sports junkie, and follow the three major professional sports leagues here in the United States. I picked up baseball and basketball after
being introduced to Space Jam’s zany depiction of sports in the film. While Jordan struggled at baseball in the film (as well as in real life), his mere presence on the field attracted me to the game. After watching it for the first time, I instantly became a fan of Michael Jordan and his flashy shoes. Jordan’s status as a cultural icon has not only changed my enamored viewing experience with the film, but Jordan being African-American was also significant for minorities in the way they are represented in media and culture. Being a person of color, I enjoyed seeing an individual so revered who was also a minority in my favorite movie. and it left a positive impact on me. It’s hard to really explain why Space Jam was and still is such a joy to watch - as a kid who was a fan of watching Saturday morning cartoons and basketball, this was the dopest movie for me. In the beginning of Space Jam, as a shooting star crosses the screen with the full moon in sight, the chorus of R.Kelly’s hit single “I Believe I Can Fly” begins to play while an adolescent Jordan is shooting some hoops in his backyard at midnight. His father, James R. Jordan, Sr. walks out and questions him being outside so late. The young Jordan begins to talk about his life aspirations, such as playing basketball for North Carolina, going to the NBA, and playing professional baseball while shooting some more hoops. I will always hold this scene close to my heart since it is filled with so much optimism that anything in life is possible as Jordan is predicting what he will do in the future. After he is told to finally come inside, an adolescent Jordan attempts to “fly,” and the scene juxtaposes younger Jordan against an image of present-day Jordan dunking in-game. The film then transitions into the opening credits/montage sequence as more footage of Jordan
dunking plays in between the stylized credits. Photographs of Jordan as a young child, all the way to his senior portrait, intertwined with b-roll of basketball fans and basketball footage playing for Laney High School, North Carolina, Chicago Bulls and the Dream Team, pop up onto the screen. Then we are introduced to more of the cast of Space Jam, with the iconic “Space Jam” theme song playing background. This montage shows us the greatness that is Michael Jordan, and what makes him such an idol to millennials. His artistry on the court, his mannerisms such as hugging and kissing the trophy, and of course the insane dunks he pulls off – all of this is what makes him considered to be arguably the best player to ever play basketball; it is on display as the movie treats us to his best basketball highlights. Not only are the images on the screen visually striking, but the fast cuts, blurred motion, flashing lights, contrasting colors and fonts on the screen (while an up-tempo song plays) mesmerizes me whenever I watch it. In addition to seeing how awesome Jordan is, I just enjoy the amount of editing and time that was put into this montage. It is well produced, and even now it is just as impressive as present day opening credits montages. It reminds me of a hip 1980s-90s pop or hip-hop music video that gets the viewer hyped and ready to watch the rest of the film. Space Jam does a great job continuing the glorification of Michael Jordan as a revered character, and there are many scenes where Jordan becomes the subject of the audience’s adoring gaze. After Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck successfully retrieve Jordan’s basketball gear from his mansion in our world, Jordan is introduced to the rest of the Looney Tunes. Here we are shown a close up on his iconic Air Jordan IX shoe, followed by a tilt shot, revealing the rest of Jordan’s basketball attire. As the camera and the audience takes in Jordan in all of his six-foot-six glory, we as the audience
become awed by not only his impressive physique, but the aura that his presence brings. While Seal’s “Fly Like An Eagle” plays in the background, Jordan begins to dribble the basketball across the court and performs basketball moves such as the pull up mid-range jumper and various dunks. The rest of the Looney Tunes are visibly in awe of his movements, expressing exactly how the audience should be feeling this whole time. Seeing Jordan finally playing basketball in the film and showing no rust in his game is exciting for all watching him, both the audience and in the film - and, most importantly, me. Watching the basketball simply roll out of his hand in slow motion and into the basket, as well as performing double-clutch, tomahawk, reverse dunks made me want to imitate Jordan’s every move. Even now it still has an effect on me, as watching this scene always gets me in the mood to immediately grab a basketball, go to my local court, and just shoot around. Seeing him play so effortlessly – with the added effect of a hip song - just perfectly expresses the mystique of Jordan. We are gazing at him with admiration that a basketball legend is going to put on a performance that he specializes in, and succeeds as Jordan pulls up for a mid-range jumper or is in flight for a dunk. It is like watching an artist painting a masterpiece, and Jordan is making the sport of basketball look easy and effortless. You can hardly blame 5-year-old me for being so in love with this film - and that lasting impact hasn’t changed for me at all. Let’s jump ahead. In the penultimate scene when Jordan returns to the real world and gives the the five NBA players their talents back, they tease him that he does not have the skills to play basketball anymore. Since they are oblivious as to how Jordan was able to get their own talents back, it felt rewarding as viewers to see that Jordan is able to prove them wrong and show that he is back, better than ever, by making a comeback. On to the last scene of the film (which is real footage of Michael Jordan’s first game back out of retirement) Larry Bird is shown to once again hilariously bring down Bill Murray’s belief that he can play professional basketball. Next, we see live footage of Jordan taking the ball down the court before completing a one-handed dunk roll - the footage then freezes to a still shot of Jordan in flight about to dunk while sticking his tongue out in his iconic expression as the credits begin to roll. This ending has left a lasting imprint, not just because it was the end of one of the best films to me, but also because it reaffirms Jordan’s greatness and why he is endearing to me. Jordan was able to fulfill his promises and show that anything in life is again possible. Both of these scenes
made me feel so embedded in the film that I always had to watch it again, and it has stayed with me all these years. As Jordan mesmerized audiences with his appearance in Space Jam and his basketball court legacy, he also revolutionized fashion culture on and off the court. On the court he wore longer and baggier shorts than everyone else before the trend caught on, sported a gold chain during the 1985 and 1987 Slam Dunk Contest (in which very few players sported jewelry during a sporting event), and lastly, was one of the first players to revolutionize the sneaker game of the NBA.[i] In a time where wearing white shoes was standard, Jordan’s black and red shoes became another facet of his iconic image as a basketball player and hero. The NBA often punished Jordan for wearing his signature shoes, but this trend began to catch fire and eventually NBA players started wearing colorful shoes resulting in the NBA’s end to the practice of fining players for on-court dress code violations.[ii] The highly successful Nike-owned Jordan brand paved the way for other shoe brands such as Adidas, Reebok, Under Armour, Peak, And 1, Anta, and Li-Ning to thrive and make their way to basketball players’ feet. Colorful and unique shoe models began to catch on, and signature player shoes for the top NBA players in the league began to follow in Jordan’s footsteps. Off the court, Jordans are just as popular for streetwear as they are for basketball use. Sneakers and basketball have been tied together since Jordan changed “the game” by wearing his outrageous sneakers on the court, and as a result, the basketball sneaker had to be included in Space Jam as well. Shoes first started having this impact “during the late Victorian period… essentializing masculinity and the products associated with it” and would soon snowball into the cultural capital sneakers have today. “In other words, advertisers constructed an ideal of who was a true man and produced what it was that he needed to fulfill this masculine construction… Since the 1970s basketball has been constructed as both masculine and black. Todd Boyd maintains that basketball is ‘the embodiment of blackness in contemporary popular culture.’”[iii]
“It is like watching an artist painting a masterpiece, and Jordan is making the sport of basketball look easy and effortless. You can hardly blame 5-year-old me for being so in love with this film . . .”
The connection of Air Jordans with blackness also reinforced the relationship between hip-hop culture and basketball. Hip-hop culture figures have become immersed into the basketball culture, from Kurtis Blow’s rhythmic
and catchy song “Basketball”, Drake’s odes to current NBA players such as Andrew Wiggins, Stephen Curry and Lou Williams, to seeing the likes of Jay-Z and Spike Lee sitting courtside during basketball games. In the Space Jam, Michael Jordan’s two featured pairs of Air Jordans also become the object of the audience’s covetous gaze. Just like the close-up of his Air Jordan IX’s, his glossy Air Jordan XI’s are seen in a close-up right before the tip-off, as one of the Monstars looks on at his shoes with fascination and stating, “Cool shoes!” Jordan’s shoes are supposed to pique the interest of the audience. The film’s edition of Air Jordan XIs (also known as Space Jam 11s) translated cultural hype into a whole sneakerhead culture and is seen as one of the holy grails to any sneakerheads collection, setting the trend of Air Jordans to be worn as casual wear. While I don’t consider myself a sneakerhead, I am going to say that while Air Jordans did plant the seed of me taking an interest in shoes. The first shoe that did it for me was NBA superstar LeBron James’ first signature shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Generation. Having a shoe from a big influence such as LeBron James made me feel really good about myself. It meant a lot to me as well because my parents could not afford to buy me Jordans, and these shoes were the most expensive they could ever afford for me before I could finally pay for my own shoes. So I can imagine what it was like for those who had Air Jordans and feel like they are on Cloud Nine. However, while it may be a good thing to idolize the seemingly positive influence that is Michael Jordan, it can also be harmful. In today’s society where many young individuals feel the need to fit in within a crowd to be considered cool, Air Jordans are a big deal in trying to become hip. These shoes serve as status symbols and unfortunately, this can have consequences. Most retro Air Jordans releases are limited to a smaller amount than most shoes, thus being hard to buy at a retail price. Every Saturday morning, there are huge masses of people lining up at malls just to cop the newest pair of Air Jordans. It is almost impossible to buy them online at retail price because of consumers using “bots” that allows one to jump into the front of the virtual line. If you wanted to purchase a shoe that wasn’t available for retail, you would have to buy from resellers who ask for absurd prices. On eBay, if you search for “deadstock original” or retro Air Jordans, you will see that they are being resold with prices ranging from $200-1000. Some are even being resold to an absurd $30,000.[iv] You also hear unfortunate stories every year about people getting killed for the Air Jordans on their feet.[v][vi] People act literally insane for an expensive shoe made by sweatshop labor.Jordan’s reputation of being cool and Nike/Jordan Brand releasing his sought out shoes in limited/expensive quantities has an
effect. I do not think Michael Jordan should not shoulder all of the blame for this, and Nike should take blame as well. In the end, it is also a result of underlying issues such as materialism and screwed up mindset/priorities. The cultural hype revolving around these shoes is insane and persistent, and we can see the roots of it in Space Jam. Writing this piece was very difficult for me. I initially had trouble finding a scope for a kids film that came out in the 1990s - and I had a hard time really explaining why I love this film. I came to the conclusion that Space Jam was and is still very relevant in society because of the persistence of sneakerhead culture, and Jordan still being a prominent icon today. The fact that I can look back on this film and see all of these connections to sneaker/fashion culture, and the commodification of masculinity goes to show that stupid kid’s movies do have value to them. Space Jam is now somewhat of a cult film, as it is considered a great classic film amongst those who grew up watching it. In fact, when I pitched this essay to EyeCandy, everyone was incredibly enthusiastic about it - it’s not just me. Space Jam, the most underrated movie ever, clearly holds a lot of significance for many people my age. I don’t think we’ll forget it any time soon.
[i] Powell, Shaun. “Jordan’s fashion move helps basketball grow into new era.” NBA News. Last modified July 20, 2011. Accessed May 21, 2015. http://www.nba. com/2011/news/features/shaun_powell/07/20/michael-jordan-long-shorts/. [ii] Barias, Marvin. “The True Story Behind the Banned Air Jordan.” Sole Collector. Last modified October 18, 2014. Accessed May 21, 2015. http://solecollector. com/news/the-true-story-behind-the-banned-air-jordan/. [iii] Miner, Dylan A. T. “Provocations on Sneakers: The Multiple Significations of Athletic Shoes, Sport, Race, and Masculinity.” CR: The New Centennial Review 9, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 73-102. [iv] Griffin, Darren. “Undefeated X Air Jordan IV Available on eBay for $30K.” Nice Kicks. Last modified January 4, 2015. Accessed May 21, 2015. http://www. nicekicks.com/2015/01/04/undefeated-x-air-jordan-iv-available-ebay-30k/. [v] Mutasa, Tammy. “Police: Teen killed at Dayton Mall was trying to rob man of shoes.” Cincinnati’s WLWT5. Last modified December 22, 2014. Accessed May 21,2015.http://www.wlwt.com/news/police-teen-killed-at-dayton-mall-was-trying-to-rob-man-of-shoes/30352428. Welty, Matt. “A Recent History of Sneaker Violence.” Complex. Last modified November 26, 2014. Accessed May 21, 2015. http://www.complex.com/sneakers/2014/11/recent-history-of-sneaker-violence/neakers/2014/11/recent-history-of-sneaker-violence/.
THE OLD MASTERS Grassy Knoll About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; perhaps they never intended Patrick Swayze to be counted among them, but in times of woe we find the ones we need. Just about everything from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack feels like a cry for help, but none quite as plaintive and desperate as, Livin’ without her, I’d go insa-ne. Even invoking the name of Swayze feels like a cry for help—but it doesn’t change the fact that he sang the most dead-on accurate heartbreak song in the last fifty years. She’s taken my heart, but she doesn’t know what she’s do-ne! Something about that saxophone solo resonates in the key that hearts shatter in. It leads me through moonlight only to burn me with the sun. Feel her breath in my face, her body close to me. Can’t look in her eyes, she’s outa my le-ague. Just a fool to believe I have anything she needs.
How well they understood, its human position. She’s like the wind.
RHETORICAL DEVICES, remy dixon
R E C O N C I L I N G F E M I N I S M A N D D A D C U LT U R E . . . W I T H A V E N G E A N C E . D E B R A B I LO D E A U
Hans: You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon? McClane: Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really like those sequined shirts. Hans: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy? McClane: Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker. ’Twas the night before Christmas, and John McClane went on a kickass “terrorist”-killing rampage all through the Nakatomi Building in hopes his unruly wife Holly would still be there. This is my Christmas story: A Visit From Bruce Willis. I make my family watch it every year—in a family home with no tree, this is the closest we have to a holiday tradition. Die Hard (1988, dir. John McTiernan), widely considered to be one of the greatest action films of all time, occupies a special niche in my headspace, existing at the intersections of the personal and the political: of film form, family, and society. My love for it also started my
love for “dad” media: cheesy, middle-of-the-road, mid-tolate- eighties working class-leaning films (and TV shows); media that I enjoyed with my parents like Top Gun (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987), and the original Die Hard (1988) series. In 1988, both my father and Bruce Willis were in their mid-thirties. I imagine him to be a lot like John McClane: slightly balding, estranged from his wife (though divorced as opposed to separated). H e h a d e v e n a p p l i e d t o b e a c o p i n O a k l a n d . If he had gotten the job, who is to say that his life wouldn’t have been as fantastic as John McClane’s, as impossibly gritty and sweaty and glib? His dad died Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve we watch Die Hard. My father sees a different version of himself onscreen, a version of himself in another life. Or, perhaps more accurately, I do. In 1988, my father was working as a maintenance person at the now-closed Cinedome 8 in my hometown of Fremont, California. He installed the concrete platforms for wheelchairs mandated by the recent Americans with Disabilities Act, then was laid off for a family hire—but not before he got to see Die Hard for free. I asked my parents
recently about Die Hard, Vietnam, and Ronald Reagan. I asked them why they liked John McClane. My mom kept repeating, in the snappy way she often does, that “ H e ’s a w o r k i n g s t i ff ! ” Bruce Willis, they point out helpfully, got his start in television—that least glamorous of acting jobs—on Moonlighting and as a guest star on Miami Vice. But before that, he was a bartender, and his folksy flintiness is so much of his public persona. As a star, Bruce Willis seems to be the closest thing to working-class in Hollywood. But what is stiff about McClane? In her book Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era, Susan Jeffords examines the physicality of the action protagonist/hero as “emblem of the national body”—and McClane is no exception.[i] In comparison with the impossibly chiseled bodies of contemporaries Stallone and Schwarzenegger, however, Bruce Willis’s body is remarkably average: though trim and fit, h i s m a c h i s m o i s o f s w e a t a n d d i r t , b i c e p t a t t o o , w i f e - b e a t e r, a n d r e c e d i n g h a i r l i n e . His midsection is doughy, but his arms and legs are strong; I think of my dad’s white-asa-sheet beer belly, but also his almost-orange arms—that watch tan!— and his red neck. In other words, McClane is shown as a regular working-class man, his masculinity connoted by his physical labor— in the sweat and dirt glistening in every air-shaft closeup and machine-gun-firefalling-sparks tracking shot. What does it mean that I look at these characters and imagine who my father was in the last years of his pre-Debra life, or see him as he was for the m o s t p a r t o f m y c h i l d h o o d ? There are more echoes of my father in Martin Riggs, half of the black-white buddy cop duo at the head of Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon series. The military service, the trailer on the beach, even the Curly from the Three Stooges impersonation. The vaguely kooky look in his eyes speaking to trauma and grief and unknowable pain and rage. The loss he brings up sometimes, the only times I see him cry. Even with Mel Gibson himself: chauvinism and misogyny, sure, occasionally, but alcoholism is what haunts me. W h a t does it m ea n that my pa re nts and oth er B ab y Bo o m er s looked at John Wa yne a nd imagi n ed wh o t h e i r f ather w as , their dad and the mythic al fat h er o f t h e A mer ican West, of Manifest Dest i n y an d t h e o pen r ange? Maybe it’s precisely because imagining
is all we can do. Maybe I do it because of a fundamental inability to understand that era in American history, why a generation turned from Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young to trickle-down economics. Perhaps my interest stems from the fact that this is when film—classical Hollywood myth—bled into American social reality. What of the whole nation swayed by images of their mythical forefather? 1988, that magical year, was also Ronald Reagan’s last full one in office. To quote Robynn Stilwell: “By 1988, American politics and the movies had blended into one, rather surreal ethos. Hollywood in the 1940s, the era of Ronald Reagan’s heyday there—an era of Westerns, of World War II movies and of mothers who cared for their children in patriarchal homes behind white picket fences—was melded with conservative Republican concerns of the 1980s.” [ii] The US was global sheriff, President Reagan the Chief Deputy, his “Reagan Doctrine” funding guerrilla movements around the world in an attempt to curb the spread of Communism while the War on Drugs at home threw the penal code at non-violent offenders, accelerating the growth of the largest incarceration rate per capita in the world.[iii] In popular culture, there was a longing for their parents’ generation, the good fight of World War II and America still being the white knight of the western world. A simpler time, with Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Roy Rogers on the screen. Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy of the 1950s (the time of McClane’s birth) is presented in Die Hard as the archetypal precedent, the wistful singing cowboy long before McClane’s estrangement from his wife. In other words, he is the symbolic father of John McClane, whose utterance of Rogers’s “Happy Trails, Hans” at the film’s climax signifies the resolution of the conflict. This resolution, which sends Hans on a thirty-floor fall after McClane unlatches Holly’s watch, is both a literal resolution of the good-guy bad-guy conflict and of the domestic conflict—being a gift from the amorous Ellis, “a symbol both of her business success and of her attractiveness to other men.”[iv] This time John Wayne does “walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly,” contrary to Hans’ adjunction. Die Hard echoes this in its domestic and external conflicts featuring old-fashioned World War II antagonists: the Japanese Nakatomi Corporation antagonist in the domestic
struggle of family vs. feminist careerism, and Hans Gruber, the West German terrorist-cum-thief with the European posse. This choice is even referenced in the film when Joseph Takagi, chairman of the corporation, says, “Pearl Harbor didn’t work out so we got you with tape decks.” Though described as being born in America — even interned in Manzanar! — Takagi is allied with the foreign, invasive other; Holly working for a Japanese corporation “align[s] feminist interests with Japanese takeovers of the U.S. economy—both trying to destroy the fabric of American patriarchal capitalism.” [v] But it’s important that the film makes much note of the fact that Hans, being the invasive foreigner, can’t get his movie trivia down, and, in the final confrontation, he butchers the film’s famous “yippee ki-yay motherfucker” (with what me and my friends aped as “maddafack”). In so doing he “demonstrates that he is unworthy of survival by displaying a faulty knowledge of Hollywood history” — that is to say, the American myth put forward in the Reagan era.[vi] A throwback to singing cowboy culture itself, “yippe e ki ya y ” i s , i n t h e wor ds of Slate writer Eric Lichte nf el d , t h e m o m ent w her e “Mc C la ne , an e ve ryma n, as s u m es t h e m antle of Americ a’s archetypal h ero es , ” a c t i n g in “collective wish-fulfillment.” [ v i i ] In a sense this is what we all do when we quote these films. I often say, “Hans, bubbe, I’m your white knight” ironically to my friends, referencing the scene in which
Holly’s lecherous colleague Harry Ellis tries to negotiate with deadpan terrorist Alan Rickman over Coke, on coke; bubbe, meaning “grandma” in Yiddish, was ad-libbed by the actor — “inspired by his Jewish grandmother”![viii] T h o u g h t h e fact t h at t h e o n l y g l i m m er o f m y o w n p o p J ewi s h n es s s een i n t h e fi l m i s as s o cia t e d w i t h a g reed y h al f-wi t i s a b i t al arm i n g , t h e f o l k s i n e s s o f t h e fi l m — i t s s l an g y s wag — al wa y s s t r u c k a ch o rd wi t h m y o wn l o wer-cl as s , b ras h s e l f . I wasn’t alone. In high school, my best friend Katie and I bonded almost exclusively through ping-ponging quotes back and forth in Spanish class, escalating to ridiculous heights of brassy mock-machismo, rejecting much of the media made for teenage girl consumption and claiming macho media for ourselves. Katie reclaimed Die Hard differently from me, though; she had a massive crush on Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber the way other girls fawn over anime characters and boy-band singers. He was her phone background and the focal point of all our ribbing of her. More importantly, though, t h i s b ecam e h e r w a y o f recl ai m i n g an d rep u rp o s i n g t h e t ex t ; unable to find a similarly sophisticated, adult, nuanced man in the media constructed specifically for her demographic (teenage girls), Katie found her own—the effeminate villain, no less — in a film genre traditionally intended for men. Die Hard was the first film to carry such a cultural cachet with my friends and I — the second was Anchorman, particularly
important in this sense to us because it makes this cultural critique explicit — giving lip service to 70s “Women’s Lib” and making “enlightened” jokes at the expense of male oafs so laughably chauvinistic one of them wears a cologne named “Sex Panther” —while also featuring Ben Stiller in brownface and more of the Frat Pack men = idiots, women = shrews paradigm. It was the first media text in which I found a community — teenage girls adopting and mocking machismo — that I saw myself in. We learned about white supremacist patriarchy not just through their old-fashioned, exclusionary chauvinism, racism, and homophobia, but also through their twisted, clumsy attempts to reconcile (Second Wave) feminism to big-budget genres generally marketed to men. For example, t h e fir s t time I eve r he ard the word “ misog y n i s t ” w a s in a J am es B ond movie . Goldeneye (1995), the nineties pseudo-reboot, to be exact. M : “ I think you’ re a sexist, misogynist di n o s a u r. A r e l ic of the Co ld War…” The female M puts Bond in his place in this moment, sure, but the narrative ironically demands that she sponsor his womanizing, trivializing her feminist stance. This irony is central to my (and our) relationship to these films. Let me clarify, however, that my love of the films itself is not ironic. I love them the same way one loves their parents unconditionally but eviscerates them for their faults— my complicated relationship with them is my complicated relationship to patriarchy, to my parents, and, by extension, to the Baby Boomer generation. The media I grew up with affirms a patriarchy whose oppressiveness I reject—while still reveling in the teensiest amount because it appeals to my nostalgia to be considered a dinosaur. Not out of a political reactionaryism, but because my personal feminism allows me to acknowledge that taste is a class marker. My family’s income always wavered near the poverty line. M y f a t h e r w a s a w a r e h o u s e w o r k e r a n d delivery driver and six-pack-a-day man, and our story is that of the dying—already dead, by m a n y a c c o u n t s — A m e r i c a n w o r k i n g c l a s s . I’m the only person I know my age to have lived under such circumstances. I still remember latching onto this when I started to grow up, saying “ I g r e w u p i n a t r a i l e r p a r k f o r o l d p e o p l e ” and realizing that that explained something about me that nothing else could capture in the same way. I guess a Marxist would call that the emergence of my class consciousness; I’ve always constructed my
personal narrative in relation to my humble beginnings, and the humility of their lack of intellectual currency (especially in the academic community). To live in the American working class as a white person is an interesting thing: as Noel Ignatiev states in an open letter eventually part of a collection of works called “White Blindspot,” “the greatest ideological barrier to the achievement of proletarian class consciousness, solidarity and political action is now, and has been historically, white chauvinism.” [ix] That is to say, white supremacy and the privilege it entails: white exceptionalism prevents the eventual liberation of the people by forcing white workers to act against their own interests by neglecting possible solidarity with workers of color. And only recently did I realize how even my own self-description “working class” (labor! they try!) is so often coded as white while “poor” is the label applied to people of color. I think about this in relation to the mobile home my mother filled with bookshelf upon bookshelf of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Harrison Ford, and James Bond. White men enforcing the law. My mother: what is the space between a liberal, privileged, Jewish 1960s Massachusetts upbringing with Ivy League parents, and a shag-carpeted, metal-sided double-wide? And what does it mean to idolize the lawgiver in these films but to shudder at the sight of a police car? Writing this, trying to understand the reasons why I study film, why I like what I like, and why my family watches films together instead of talking has often been painful. I can’t think of any stories about either of my parents’ childhoods, aside from the fact that my dad had an adolescent crush on Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (who didn’t?). But at least the films I know they watched—my mother, for example, saw Jurassic Park while pregnant with me— connect me to who they were at the times they watched them, what their lives were like. I keep thinking about how McClane as a hero, in becoming an updated, wise-cracking version of the ol’ lonesome cowboy, took up his father’s fight. H o w m y f a m i l y a n d I identified with the perseverance of characters like him, cleaving to the American imaginary — to the self-satisfied, swaggering superiority of American pop culture — when we had nothing e l s e . Escaping the sometimes-traumatic narratives of our lives by taking pride in ‘Merica, and how we relate to each other through these archetypal fathers. It seems that every new generation attempts to understand their parents through emulating / recycling the previous
generation’s fashion (and music), from the fedoras and three-piece suits of the Seventies to the bellbottomshag carpet-van aesthetic of the Boogie Nights/That 70’s Show era of film and television. My dad had a Seventies Econoline van. We had shag carpet. “Before it was cool.” It has become countercultural to embrace the values and aesthetics of one’s parents. Ragtag retro has become hip. Much has been said by my friends of their and my own resemblance to the musician Mac DeMarco, a Canadian singer-songwriter famous as much for his gap-toothed-dirtysnapback-ashtray-smell style as his neon, jangly, crooning “jizz jazz” and his Dionysian onstage antics. He represents, to me, one manifestation of a cultural phenomenon known as “dadcore,” which alternately ironically and sincerely celebrates unglamorous athletic shoes, utilitarian work jackets, and ball caps. So what of the New York fashion student and dreaded Santa Cruz hipster attempt to emulate this threadbareness with $90 American Apparel Mom jeans, “vintage” snapbacks and slider hats, and exorbitantly priced Birkenstocks, Danskos, and New Balances? Their poverty is only that of people used to the good life, to the comfort of not having to live paycheck-to-paycheck. I had to shop at stores like St. Vincent de Paul, was forced to. It was not desirable. For people like my parents, it’s a look that they more or less could not afford to change. This wave in fashion is how the Millennial generation acknowledges this lost, dying America, “subverting” mainstream Trump-Kardashian excess as it simultaneously commodifies abject “poor” culture, as it has with the commodification of hip-hop culture (but without facing any of the much-deserved critique associated with appropriating Afro American resistant practices). It very deeply angers me to see a caricature of my own lack, which in many ways is invisible. But I still wear my dad’s Athletics cap, and the four or five other ones I own. I still make my parents watch Die Hard every year — e v e n i f m y d a d i s j u s t g o i n g t o sit at the dining-room table behind us smoking a c i g a r i l l o — because the work of my life up to this point has been to fit this silent family watching workingclass heroes into the larger narrative American mythology sells. To reclaim both this heritage and to forge an identity beholden neither to traditional notions of ciswomanhood or class hierarchy — one where I acknowledge a macho, masculine working-class culture that is my birthright while also critiquing the systems in place that make it the way that it is.
[i] Jeffords, Susan. Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994, 53. [ii] Stilwell, Robynn J. “‘I Just Put a Drone under Him…’: Collage and Subversion in the Score of Die Hard.” Music & Letters 78, no. 4 (Nov., 1997): 557. JSTOR. [iii] The Drug Policy Alliance, “Drug War Statistics.” Accessed April 23, 2015. http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-war-statistics. [iv] Stilwell, “I Just Put A Drone,” 559 [v] Ibid. [vi] Ibid., 558. [vii] Lichtenfeld, Eric. “Yippee-Ki-Yay… The Greatest One-Liner in Movie History.” Slate, June 26, 2007. http://www.slate.com/ articles/news_and_politics/summer_movies/2007/06/yippeekiyay. single.html. [viii] “Die Hard: 25 Years On,” Shortlist.com, accessed March 7, 2015, http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/die-hard-25years-on. [ix] Ignatiev, Noel. “White Blindspot: The Original Essays on Combating White Supremacy and White-Skin Privilege.” In Revolutionary Youth & the New Working Class, ed. Carl Davidson Pittsburg, PA: Changemaker Publications, 149.
69 INFRARED TREE VEINS, seth temple andrews
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