Tuesday, January 31, 2006

flanagan free associates and i'm struck dumb

hey, femme feral, I need your help.

it seems new yorker writer caitlin flanagan has reviewed a book called the rainbow party.

i honestly don't know what to make of flanagan's review, which careens wildly through young adult fiction, teaching girls aggression, her own interpretations of rap lyrics, pornography without definitions, personal gossip and media hysteria. and emdashes, who pointed me towards the review, available on Powell's also seems a little floored. i think emdashes says that the review was originally written for the atlantic monthly.

of course anyone with a critical interest in what i will provisionally agree to call, "the teenage oral-sex craze" can respond, but this issue seems to cover a lot of femme feral's territory.

i would also like to say that femme feral's new blog title banner thing is a visual pleasure in the best sense of the words.

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tmi: meme 4 implodes on contact with intensely private and de-centered subject

Four movies I HAVE watched over and over (and to no academic purpose):

1. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)
2. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
3. Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994)
4. The Big Lebowski (Coen Brothers, 1998)

Fine, good, no problem. I'm comfortable sharing this.

Four TV shows that I routinely sing the theme songs to:

1. M*A*S*H*
2. The Golden Girls
3. X-Files
4. Freaks and Geeks

Or if there aren't words to the theme song, I'm making strange, high-pitched, mimetic noises. Also, my feet dance as they are propped on the coffee table while I watch self-conscious . . . but it's not like I'm so secretive, you can check my all consuming lists. Except my film tag doesn't seem to be working properly. Dammit.

Four of my favorite foods:

1. Cioppini and its variations. Anything with runny red sauce and seafood at a good restaurant.
2. Sushi, sometimes especially Korean sushi served with Korean dishes and side dishes
3. Pizza, all kinds of authentico
4. Cake, but only dry crumbly types. Not moist cake. Unless you mean dry crumbly cake soaked in alcohol.

That's this week. But I also like various Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai noodle dishes, lots of cold foods and many foods I've only read about. Most of the time I obsess about my palate, which I think draws me towards foods that are sour, dry and salty, metallic, spicy . . .

Four places I’d rather be right now:

1. Visiting old friends.
2. On a bicycle ride with my family.
3. At the beach - any type, any weather.
4. On my porch, in weak sunlight.

No one beleives me when I say that, within some given perameters, I am indifferent to place and I think it is important to live well no matter where I am . . . and it's not true anyway. I'm much happier here than I was in the last place I lived. And I think I'd be slightly happier in

5. Philadelphia

Four websites I visit daily:

1. The New York Times

But that's it. I don't have this habit quite yet. I obviously love all the blogs on my little blogroll, but they'd know I as lying if I said I visited them everyday. If I took this literally I could add

2. PittCat, the catalog of the University of Pittsburgh Library System
3. IMDb
4. My personal, blog and school-related email accounts.

I'm periodically frustrated by, and very self conscious about, the fact that I don't have film-type sites or blogs that I keep up with, but I do like

5. Senses of Cinema
6. IndieWire

for interesting film info I can trust, in a hurry. You know what I'd like? I'd like to share Delicious lists with all my friends and readers. But maybe it's too much work and my friends don't seem that interested. I am always looking for recommendations . . .

Tagging Bloggers:

Well, I think everyone that reads this blog has been tagged by this meme already. Except maybe

1. Sepoy

and I hesistate to put people on the spot. My friends know this and it frustrates some of them because I never ask questions because I hate to pry and then it seems like I don't care but I do.

I apologize for the TMI, but I couldn't do it otherwise. And I told EL I would participate when she tagged me and then I found it all so difficult. This is the first time I've been tagged, and, unless I miss my guess, this will be the last. Ouch, it hurts.

UPDATE: I wanted to add this.

Four Places I've Lived:

Portland, OR
Parma, Italy

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Friday, January 27, 2006

flanagan and bremmer to enroll in research methods 101

I thought it was one of Sepoy's much appreciated non sequiturs, but then I realized . . . it's not a non sequitur, it's about all about BIBLIOGRAPHY, again.

Sepoy left a link to the CJR record of an ongoing discussion between Travers' biographer Valerie Lawson and New Yorker editorial staff under the comments to my post on the Brandenn Bremmer story. Essentially, as the Columbia Journalism Review sums it up,

"In the current New Yorker is a letter to the editor from Valerie Lawson, in response to Caitlin Flanagan’s December 19 article on Pamela Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins. Lawson is the author of a biography of Travers, and her letter reads like a relatively benign effort to make clear the decades-long effort by Poppins scholars to tease out Travers’s elusive life story. It did not begin that way, as this lengthy — and not so benign — e-mail thread between Lawson and editors at The New Yorker shows. The exchange offers a glimpse at the sausage-factory aspect of how the magazine handles complaints, and raises interesting questions about what journalists owe, in terms of recognition, to their sources."


Flanagan isn't required to show us, or Lawson, or anyone but the quite protective NYer staff anything like a bibliography because this is popular journalism. Blogging is even less responsible, and this blog especially so (Chocolate Lady, however, is very good about citing things, which is interesting because cookbooks are a very touchy sort of publication issue). But if Flanagan did the research herself, or relied heavily upon Lawson's work, or the work of other scholars, we'll never know. My bets are that Flanagan was sloppy and took certain facts for granted as public knowledge that aren't widely published . . . I mean, Flanagan's idea of research is to refer to herself and her experiences and maybe those of her friends . . .

I'm quite paranoid about this issue because my dissertation relies on both popular biographies (written with archival research but without footnotes) and archival research in the same archives and a lot of messy stuff that I hope I'm responsible about.

Does it say how the CJR got copies of this correspondence?

On the other hand, when it suits me, I'm not a big believer in intellectual property rights. Especially when it comes to visual materials. I use uncredited google images all the time to illustrate intro film lectures . . . But maybe that's just like shoplifting from the mall?

Still, I got really upset when a fellow grad student had me explain something to her and then she explained it to the class during our seminar presentation, without acknowledging that I'd sketched it out for her . . .

And I've got that nominal copyright button on this blog. Obviously, when someone is taking advantage of labor done by someone else, I guess I'm a little uncomfortable with that. Oddly, it is rather like housework (or recipes). Intellectual labor could be imagined as non-economic (any labor could, but academic labor and housework more often are), but as long as we are working within capitalism you'd better pay somebody something (even if its just respect, or give them "credit") because that's how we value labor . . .

On on yet another hand, I think that even in an economy that uses scarcity to produce value, libraries and publishers and even authors usually benefit from the illicit proliferation of information and materials to which they have sole possession. With or without explicit mention of the title of her work, Lawson will probably get more readers as a result of the publicity afforded by Flanagan's piece.

So, how do we feel about my taking a photo of this image, by Frank T. Merrill, from Little Women? And posting it here?

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

tom cruise wants our eyes wide shut

In honor of the hot news from Sundance alleging Tom's censorship of Katie's sex scene . . . I sat right down and watched Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 1999).

You all know how to google, but here's Defamer and PopSugar and Yahoo News. The last is the only source of the three to name the director of the edited/censored film Thank You For Not Smoking.

If Cruise did cut the scene, I think it rates as his creepiest effort yet.

But if Thank You for Smoking director Jason Reitman did it for promotional reasons, he's fuckin brilliant. Or maybe he's just the son of a man whose been selling sex and teens and celebrity since Katie was just a twinkle in the eye of a Toledo housewife.* That would be Ivan Reitman, producer of Animal House (Landis, 1978) and other fine films in that tradition.

You know what I found creepy about Eyes Wide Shut? The way that USPS mailbox followed Cruise around London.

At the Scientologists' Annual Dinner Dance. (A cheap shot, but I couldn't help it.)

*Note: I do not know if Mrs. Holmes worked outside the home at any point before during or after little Katie's birth.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

jan 19 issue: the body in the bedroom

Somewhere out there, in I think, the New Yorker forums, someone accuses Konigsberg of writing the most sensationalistic story in the NYer since the editorship of Tina Brown. I disagree with this, everything's a sensation - hair loss, weight loss, New Orleans, Osama's youth, all the rest of it. Why does this story seem more so, or offensively so?

This story has a dead child at the center of it. A big blinking sign that reads *sensationalism* . . . I've mentioned King Vidor's film The Crowd and one of my favorite things about this mythic American story is that the baby dies and the movie has to confront that. Exploring the social, cultural and material causes of the death of a child rather than just mourning it is, I think, a kind of taboo. Because no one wants to admit that right here in the good old US we exploit children (you know, like when we pimp them to/as pop stars and stuff).

Konigsberg's story is constructed as a mystery . . . He says on page one, "His suicide was a mystery to them." (45) Plus, Konigsberg seems like he's embedded (or discovered?) a mystery in his own family history as well, in his book Blood Relations, so this is his thing. The essay is called "Letter from Nebraska" and I know that's just a title, but it's a literary form too, one that suggests that the whole story is a subjective account of a historically real event. So no, it's not true and I don't have to believe it's true to follow along. It's Konigsberg's interpretation and I'd go so far as to say he's made himself the detective on the case. Who killed Brandenn Bremmer?

Clearly this is an engaging, popular style for people who didn't know the Bremmer's and aren't personally concerned with whether or not they are accurately represented. But speculations predate the NYer essay and given the wide range of evidence Konigsberg is sorting through, his readers can choose from a range of theories - Brandenn's isolation, his pushy parents, supernatural causes, the pain of living in this world, teen angst, those wacky Silvermans . . . but all theories are not equal to the detective himself.

Konigsberg reveals clues that would lead his readers to suspect the parents of pressuring Brandenn, or a kind of culture of "gifted-ness" and early acheivement that overwhelmed him and them too. At least it seems like the New Yorker readers, especially momo, picked up on this hypothesis. All the moments that readers cite as evidence for this - the high school transcript, the publicity efforts, the evidence of the music teacher, the unreliability of IQ testings are evidence that Konigsberg offers in his highly constructed account of the boy's life. Except that thing about his mother checking his heart everyday, which might be seen as corroborating evidence gathered by the local paper, but skews the story towards a kind of emotional angle that Konigsberg dwells on less. A similar theory out there somewhere is more attuned to the local media's role . . .

In any case, the NYer essay has a kind of repetitive structure in which Konigsberg offers what appears to be objective description of Brandenn's intelligence, "When he wasn't being challenged or engaged, he squalled" (47) followed by more qualified statements like "At the age of two, *the Bremmers say,* Brandenn read aloud all the Dr. Seuss books they could order from a book club." (47) Same with the IQ - he tells the story of the testing first as an uncomplicated proof of Brandenn's abilities (47), then he retells it critically, implicating the investment of Silverman and the Bremmer parents in producing this genius, "But some critics of the test say that it not only assesses higher scores; it tends to produce them." (48) It's this structure that I think makes emdashes statement, "as I remember it, Konigsberg expresses open skepticism only once, in a brief aside" sound a little, well, disingenuous. The essay is formally structured on skepticism. And that skepticism leads to an implied hypothesis. And that hypothesis is not so much the answer to who (really) killed Brandenn Bremer as it is to why might this death be interesting to New Yorker readers . . . .

So, in the end, I think Konigsberg was using the Bremmer's story to critically examine the culture gifted hype in the US and to engage readers who are also, probably (clearly if you read the comments), participants in variations on this culture in one way or another. I think he really wants to engage them in a kind of self-conscious reflection on, for one, this indigo child craze. Particularly the conflation of parent, child, emotion, affect and intelligence that the indigo child craze relies on.


But I'm a sucker for a good mystery and I say it was . . . .


Again, mostly what I've got to go on is the evidence Konigsberg assembled. So I'm not claiming this is the truth. I'm just saying that of all the issues the New Yorker essay raised, this is the one I'm interested in. Bibilography.

"There were a lot of new academic challenges. "He was kind of feeling his way along," [community college bio instructor] Morris said. "I'd assigned a term paper on natural history. I knew from talking to him that he'd never done anything like that, and of course he had to learn how to do the citations. And he was nervous. We talked about doing some typing of his notes and how that might help him. It was an adjustment for him, but he was going to be fine." (53)

Brandenn had not yet been taught to do research, keep notes or write a bibilography at the age of 14 and he was suddenly expected to do so. He could maybe learn to do it, though it would take the instructor, or his parents (who might not have known how to create such a paper) working through a number of steps with him and "backing up" a little bit to work from what he did know and understand . . . if I were spinning theories I'd say that this episode reveals how inadequetely educated Brandenn was for what he thought he wanted to acheive in the world beyond his family life - med school - and how frightening and discouraging this was when he began to realize it. Rather than accumulating lots of evidence for this theory, we'll have to let it stand as a microcosm of what happened when Brandenn began to be educated outside the farm.

For me the story is about how children and their assorted gifts are not and should not be considered the sole responsibility and/or property of their parents. They should be educated by the state to create bibliographies.

Related to this is another piece of evidence that Konigsberg doesn't do much with . . .

"When Brandenn was thirteen and taking time off from music class, Patti recalled, Martin had taught him construction. They'd gutted the barn, put in insulation and sheeting, and reinforced the walls with two-by-sixes. Over a single weekend, Brandenn learned woodworking and how to pour concrete, and he put up most of the aluminum siding himself." (57)

On the one hand, Konigsberg's language plays into the *amazing Brandenn !!* story, with the "over a single weekend" and "he put up most of the aluminum siding himself" claims. On the other hand, this is one of the most concrete and analytical descriptions of learning and teaching given in the whole article. Which isn't saying much - Brandenn's education is shrouded in mystery (the music teacher's story, and the bio teacher's story, above are about as detailed as this, everything else, reading, math, science, history even less). Anyway, we can use it for my argument. There are lots of different types of education and a smart kid and a good teacher can acheive a substantial amount if given time and freedom, but this ain't pre-med and the transition between light construction and intro bio isn't easy, inevitable, natural or the responsibility of your biological father.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

jan 19 issue: prairie fire, brandenn bremmer story

I read it, I was very much interested and I'll get back to you all on this later. Meanwhile, emdashes pulled a lot of things together, and the New Yorker Forums were actually put to good use. Maybe, after all, you don't need my 2 cents on this one, but I'll think of something . . . I may need to bounce a few ideas around with Madame Librarian before I write anything. And what do you make of it all?


Friday, January 20, 2006

jan 9 issue: deluged

I liked this piece on the New Orleans Police Department. More than personal stories and more personal stories, this kind of investigation gave me a sense of what the chaos might have meant and mean. Still, the New Yorker seems obsessed with the Montana family - a young girl and her mother from this New Orleans family were profiled in Talk of the Town when they relocated to Brooklyn maybe right after the storm, and the same family history was used in that profile and in this article - an account of how Chief of Chiefs Allison Montana "recounted forty years of NOPD mistreatment" of African-American Mardi Gras crews at a public meeting and then dropped dead. In the end, emphasis on individuals sometimes obscures the extent of the problems (located conveniently, for the rest of the nation) in New Orleans . . .

If you've been reading recently, you know I was thinking of Katrina in terms of the film Jezebel . . . well, we were watching Treasure of the Sierra Madre on DVD and among the extras was some newsreel footage from, I guess, around 1948. This included footage of the aftermath of a gulf coast area hurricane. Maybe 20 people were killed . . . but the images were so conventional, identical even, to these sensational-domestic "world turned upside down" photos from the New Yorker . . . Again, not to say, "Nothing ever changes,"

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jan 9 issue: the power of hair and the glow of the pig

Sometimes I say I hate the New Yorker, but I don't really mean it. But recently, I mean it, I hate the New Yorker.

This thing on hair restorations or whatever. I started reading it and got to the part about the videotapes, which is an interesting use of cinema, I guess. (Guys want to watch Scarface while having their hair transplanted, fascinating. Wait, no, I mean cliched and predictable.) But then I realized that I was reading about expensive, unnecessary surgical procedures and that made me mad because, you know, health care is in such a bad state, what with the old people needing to use a computer to get their medications. I might as well be reading about plastic surgery . . . I don't mean to be a bitch, I know this is a sensative issue. Hell, I'm losing hair. But this one time I vote we just get over it.

And what about the tanning industry. Actually, having read this far Benjamin and I did have a hilarious discussion of the possible "science of tanning" including the burning (ouch) question, "Do animals tan?" I think the answer we arrived at was that maybe pigs got sunburns.


PS. Speaking of pigs, I did, eventually, read that hog essay by Frazier a while back. Some parts funny, some parts cliche. I generally like things about development and natural/unnatural environments, so I liked that angle. My favorite point to make, when people start discussing how untenable it is to rebuild NO is to argue that none of the development we're currently pursuing in the US is sustainable . . . though I have to admit it IS taking less heating oil to keep Pittsburgh warm this winter, thanks to, I am sure, the mild weather produced by global warming. The price of the heating oil itself though is skyrocketing . . . I AM a curmudgeon this morning.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

response to the Golden Globes, which I didn't watch, on the question of Brokeback Mt, which I still haven't seen

I've been insanely busy: visiting my committee and workshopping my first diss chapter, attending a great series of talks on kissing and early cinema and marxism as a realism, schmoozing with assorted grown-ups academic and otherwise, wearing lots of black for personal and professional reasons, driving, flying, drinking to forget and sleeping in strange beds . . .

So I didn't see any Golden Globes and I still haven't seen Brokeback Mountain but I was moved to respond to EL who recently added I Hate The New Yorker to the blogroll at My Amusement Park. (Thanks!) MAP only allows comments from team members. I'd love to try out for the team, but, barring that, here goes . . .


On Golden Globes and Brokeback Mountain, EL who seems to have actually seen the performances in question, writes,

"Okay, 4 for Brokeback. Good. Best Dramatic Picture, Best Director, Best Song, and Best Screenplay. But NO HEATH???

Nominations for all the Desperate Housewives (just because they felt bad about leaving Eva out last year, I guess), but the one non-DH, Mary Louise-Parker from Weeds was the winner. DH won best Comedy, though, upping that queer quotient.Felicity Huffman got lucky on Transamerica and Philip Seymour Hoffman on Capote; in other words, two fine actors were rewarded, as they deserved, but for playing queer, of course. (So, why not HEATH?)
Geena Davis (President Mac Allen) won for Commander in Chief. So, what does it all mean?

1. Hollywood-America has embraced liberal values: feminism, queers, drugs.

2. Hollywood-America still sees performing these liberal values as a particular challenge. (Imagine, a female president: what material does an actor have to work from?)

3. Heath better get an Oscar or people are going to be mad. Including me."

Original Post, with images.


Why No Heath, A Response.

I'd argue that Hollywood-America doesn't embrace liberal values, it constructs them . . . in a kind of backwards way.

Practices of sex and gender in Hollywood-America (love this term, btw) are and have been VERY radical throughout the 20th C, maybe not more radical than other everyday practices, but more influential. Hollywood-America's representations of sex and gender have been tempered (read liberal, watered-down) representations for the mainstream of the radical possibilities for sex, gender and power that can and do exist. Read any Hollywood memoir. Or watch Celluloid Closet.

This actually explains WHY there's no Golden Globe for Heath. (Actor plays) queer masculine figure who submits to heterosexist repression and plays straight? Nothing new. Give the Golden Globe to Cary Grant or Rock Hudson or Tom Cruise or George Clooney or you name it . . . all of whom can be understood as queer masculine figures playing (and thereby defining and creating) the straight American hero. Hoffman or Huffman playing (more or less) OUT characters is then a breakthrough.

But the significance of BM may be that extra "(Actor plays)" in the equation: The great thing about BM, then, would be that Hollywood-America reveals its participation in the construction of mainstream masculinity as a performance of repressed queer masculinity . . . and that's a bit more difficult to sell-abrate right now.

Does this make any damn sense? I'm working on it . . . All I'm saying is that we've been taught what masculinity and femininity are by radical queer Hollywood actors, who have been mocking, and playing, straight. And that rocks, but it's nothing new.

The first image accompanies the lines, "Look into my Eyes" as Bette Davis and Geraldine Fitzgerald confront their feelings in Dark Victory (Goulding, 1939). This image ends a scene entirely constructed on the two women NOT looking at one another in poses much like that in the Brokeback Mountain promotional poster- where the two figures are looking down and not at one another in a kind of criss cross position. That would be the second image.

I've commented on this promotional image from Brokeback Mountain before, but I think the image, and film, at least as I saw it, through Anthony Lane's descriptions, are all about repression.

Finally, Dark Victory also features Ronald Reagen (below, center), who later complained, in his autobiography, about having to play this "one of the girls" part too queer, to satisfy Goulding, whom Reagen thought was projecting.

Other notes for EL - Here at this critical juncture we never got into SITC, for one, because we have no cable. For two, because we didn't find it sexy. Not the boys, not the girls, not anybody. My next problem, the un-sexiness of Sex in the City.

And you will all be tickeled by this. EL has links to a blog after my own heart - I Hate Boomers. Love the title, know the feeling.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

the school of pain

A rather abject concept from the young adult novel "What Katy Did" (1872, Susan Coolidge) . . . all about this young girl who is all rebellious and a troublemaker (and she has no mother, but does have a stern Aunt Izzie) and she goes on this forbidden swing and then injures her spine and has to stay in bed for over two years. But when she arises from the sickbed she has learned how to be a perfect housekeeper and a patient and charming young lady.

How did she learn this? In, what the book calls, with a heavy dose of Christianity, "the school of pain" !! How disturbing is that? Granted, this learning to be a lady from a near fatal illness is a kind of children's genre unto itself, but this one is very extreme. My favorite line, imparted by the saintly and disabled Cousin Helen (pictured, and who predates Helen Keller by quite a few years), "A sick woman who isn't neat is a disagreeable object."

Don't beleive me? Read it yourself. With illustrations.

And, apart from the descriptions of Katy's fear and despair, it's emotionally and sensorially not as rich or complicated as Little Women or Anne of Green Gables . . . And it's got almost no irony. It was a recommendation of Madame Librarian - she recommended it with qualifications which is my favorite kind of recommendation. "You'll dislike this and possibly be offended by it, but it's relevent to what you do and think about and like."

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Monday, January 09, 2006

jezebel and katrina and, surprise, david denby

Jezebel is set in, I think, say, 1850 New Orleans. And it was made in 1938.

One of the first scenes in the movie includes a bunch of New Orleans big-wigs, bankers, lawyers, the town doctor sitting around a sort of board room table. They are discussing the economic utility of a railroad to New Orleans and the ways in which New Orleans might become cut off from the rest of the national economy.

The doc speaks up and calls the city leaders attention to a yellow fever epidemic that could return. There's some talk of draining the swamps, cleaning up the streets, the city's responsibility for public health and sanitation, and so on. No one really takes doc seriously. As the film unfolds, a second yellow fever epidemic does hit the city.

And as the film incorporates this into the narrative, there is attention to:

The responsibility of the city for public health and safety.

The relationship of the city to the nation, economically and politically, and the isolation of the city from the nation.

The restriction of mobility in the city during yellow fever epidemic; there's the shooting people who "cross the fever line," the designation of parrishes as safe or unsafe, and the isolation of communities within safe or unsafe spaces.

The sick, dying and elderly bodies as they are removed from the city and contained in an isolated space.

This is not to suggest that the moral of the story is "nothing ever changes" but rather that there are conventional ways of representing New Orleans, race, poverty and public health crises (and, to some extent, a dichotomy of urban and suburban life in the US) that we still rely on today, despite the breaks and continuities of history . . . I might use this for teaching, if I teach again soon and it's appropriate.

This wouldn't be so interesting if the yellow fever just sort of provided a backdrop for the narrative, but given the recurring attention to abject bodies, described below, it's more disturbing than just background . . . and the whole film is so damn disturbing that it really is more of an indictment of the social and political violence of the ante-bellum South than some sort of plantation nostalgia.


Of course I read Denby's review-bio of James Agee's collected works. I'll leave aside for now how Denby develops a really lame definition of film criticism . . . and just try touch on the poverty themes. I mean, he's writing about journalism and poverty and a kind of Christian WPA politics and aesthetics of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (objectification mixed with sensationalism and sentimentality mixed with an emphasis on proximity and distance) and there's some pretty sensationalistic images of New Orleans in the very same New Yorker. Not the exact same conventions (the abject poor are white in Evans-Agee and that changes a hell of a lot) but it's interesting when the US allows or produces very in-your-face visual representations of "national," "domestic" poverty and when such representations disappear . . . and I think in every case this tension between what is considered national or domestic and what is "foreign" is very much at stake.

I'd say we've got them now, and I remember sensationalistic stories from the late 80s and it seems like they were popular in the 1930s and the late 1800s . . .

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jezebel (wyler, 1938) abject bodies

Let's say I "skimmed" the movie Jezebel to make that red dress-bw movie argument in my dissertation last week. I'd seen it before, but not recently. This is how BD describes the Olympus Ball scene, in her autobiography,

With all the girls dressed in white, Julie out of spite arrives [at an ante-bellum New Orleans ball] in scarlet to the embarrassment of her escort and the horror of the guests [As Julie and her escort dance] His grip on her waist becomes tighter, his step more deliberate, his eyes never meet hers. And always the lilting music, the swirling bodies and the peripheral reaction shots of the stunned pillars of society and Auntie Belle, who suffers with Julie. It is a scene of such suspense that I never have not marveled at the direction of it. (The Lonely Life, 217)

When I did watch the movie all the way through, I found how significant Chocolate Lady's comment about forgetting the cane and forgetting to use it was . . .

In the face of BD's own interpretation of the scene, as "suspense," I'd argue that the scene also produces nauseous physical abjection for Julie and the spectator. The music is crazy the way it swings, and you get these low angle shots from the floor of Julie's swaying dress.

The shame and humiliation Press causes Julie to feel, forcing her to dance like that, when everyone else stops and stares is, in the film, a physical substitute for the beating he forgot to give her with the cane. And that beating is only ever verbally described, but not seen, when the town doctor recommends that Press "whip her and lard her welts" to teach her her place.

And THAT beating, I think, stands in for the violent abuses of slavery, unspoken but present in the film. Some of the opening lines are from this sort of annoying shallow woman who tags along with Julie's family everywhere. She tells her driver (black, slave) to stand the horses in the shade, but reminds him to keep his coat buttoned and his hat and gloves on. The man looks hot as it is and you get the strong sense that this will be very uncomfortable . . . and of course that is metonymically the least of his suffering . . .

I think there's a bit more on the kind of bodily transferences of the film in Linda Williams Playing the Race Card, but I'm not sure I agree with her entirely there . . .

Oh yeah. And that awful awful "Raise a Rucus" porch singing scene. I think that's supposed to be painful too because, you know, someone is going to die and everything. That may be the scene Williams has a slightly different take on.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

class, affect and teen TV; a comparative study

FemmeFeral on TV Tough Girls.

Lots of thoughts on this one. The post below is the comment I left FemmeFeral at Fluffy Dollars. As usual, I'm indebted to the thrifiest girl in LA, my partner in crime and Madaem Librarian for inspiration.

A rough draft of similiar themes.
With mzn.

And somewhere out there in blogoland, I've used the phrase "Kim Kelly is My Friend" (somewhere on Haverchuk?) to sum up my feelings about something or other. Why is it this such a beautiful and meaningful title?

So, without further ado, I give you, my thoughts on "class, affect and teen TV; a comparative study"

(a) I think Kim Kelly is My Friend may be my favorite F&G episode. I like the way the series sort of reprimands Lindsay for having been so judgemental about Kim (and for being very unsisterly when she makes that comment to Daniel about how it would be such hell to date Kim). You just don't know what another person lives with, so shut the fuck up prissy, judgemental, self-righteous little Lindsay.

(b) I know Lindsay is cooler than this, but the root of her character is, well, very good girl. Which is why, in the end, I compare her to Joey Potter on Dawson's. Dawson's is melodrama, and F&G is, I think, a kind of TV realism, but no matter the genre, there is something similar about the characters of Joey and Lindsay . . . and it's something lame. Busy Phillips on Dawson's is cool too, but not as cool. And "The Smokers," which is one of the minor works of Busy Phillips.

(c) On the other hand, I found Kim Kelly is My Friend to be a little offensive. While it is great to see, a girl from "a lumpen class back-ground" I disliked the easy equation of: poor parenting = poverty = bad kid. On this one, Dawson's is a little better - unhappy kids come from all kinds of families . . . I even think That 70s Show is a little better, too; the reiteration of this equation over and over in Hyde becomes an ironic critique of how easy it is for some people to make these assumptions.

(d) And you know how That 70s Show diffuses a lot of it's tension with humor? I like that, but the forcing you to watch awful situations play out in F&G is different and one of the best things about the show and part of what give the show, for me, a realist aesthetic. Donna's mabye not a Tough Girl, but she does have a phyiscal presence similiar to Kim, tall with a lot of swagger.

(d) Back to F&G on class, one of my favorite moments is, late in the series, Daniel and his mom in the rain. This is better - the reason Daniel seems like such a fuck up by high school admin standards is because his life involves responsibilities and compromises that your standard high school admins haven't considered. This seems a more nuanced portrayal than the Kelly family. Maybe we are seeing the Kelly fam through Lindsay's eyes . . . so the representation is overblown and emotional, just because she's so shocked? OK, that's a bit much for TV . . .

(e) I'm a little curious about the qualifications for Tough Girl. Class, sex, drugs, wit and physical violence . . . ? Of these, my favorite is the physical violence/physical confrontation thing. In some ways, this is what draws the line, for me, between the Tough Girl and other feminine types - a vixen or whatever is manipulative, not directly confrontational.

(f) In the literary long history of directly confrontational young girls, you've got the women of Joyce Carol Oates Foxfire, whom I'm sure you know.

(g) But with them you've got great scenes from both Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder, where each of them gets violent in the schoolroom. I'm interested in representations of "temper" . . .

(h) And then theres unsocialized children, which you know I'm into.

(i) And just recently I found a reference to Leslie Fielder's work (more literary) on "Good Good Girl" stories, 19th C stories for girls about girls who get sick (or are very poor) and as a result of their misfortunes, learn to be "good girls" - they are disruptive tomboys before, brave patient young ladies afterwards. My children's librarian friend, M. Librarian loaned me "What Katy Did" awhile ago; it's one of these. Now that I'm done with my chapter (!!!) I'll read it.

And that is why my head is spinning so fast and I had so much to say on this topic. Sorry about that.

Good luck with this one.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

home sweet home, another angle.

gingerbread from Madame Librarian
Originally uploaded by zpa.
Something happened to the roof. You can tell it is our house because of the tiled archway over the door . . . I left Madame Librarian's with an intense sugar high and then me and my partner in crime at the whole thing in about 48 hours.

FYI, I was the only person at the party without a kid to help. Shameless.

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happy new year.

gingerbread from Madame Librarian
Originally uploaded by zpa.
I made this over Madame Librarian's house. Are gingerbread houses a thing? I never made one before, except at school, in pre-K, with graham crackers. But it seems like everyone is making them these days.

I'm going to do this again next year. If Madame Librarian doesn't invite me over, I'll get my little sister to do it with me. The gingerbread was amazingly good and provided a nice strong, sharp not-so-sweet counterpoint to the candy.

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