2010/08/06 Comments off

Dear blog,

I’ve been using you for my own selfish aims. I started this blog in the desperate midst of my job search so that I could have some semblance of a writing portfolio to show potential employers. And guess what? Mission accomplished! I’ve been working for a couple of weeks since my last post as a technical writer for a tech firm. So I guess I owe you a thank-you e-card, blog.

The added bonus is that as a writer (if the word writer is in the job title, I’m only slightly bending the rules by calling myself one) I spend eight work hours a day making a portfolio for myself and I get paid to do so. Huzzah! Doesn’t that make you happy blog?

 So… it’s not that I don’t love you any more, and this isn’t your fault, but I have to spend some time with this new job. Really get to know it and spend lots of time with it. A job is a big commitment and, well, maybe we should take a break.

Of course I want to write stuff in you, don’t be that way! I finished three books, went to three movies, and did some pretty fun stuff lately. I even won a contest. It’s not that I don’t care about you or that I haven’t done anything but work, but sometimes we have to rethink our priorities.  

No, I’m not starting a new blog on Tumblr.

Look, I even gave you a shiny new theme and a new title!

We both knew this was a short-term thing. We’ll always be friends.

Maybe sometime soon we can have coffee together, just as friends. Maybe I’ll write about something exciting. I’m moving this weekend, so maybe I can show you my snazzy new place when I’m all settled in.

Until then let’s just see other people. I hear Le Plateau has finally started up in full force and Kim’s blog is always fabulous. Of course Rosel is always a great read… so… why don’t you spend sometime with your fellow blogs and really just get to know yourself?

I just want you to be happy.

Sincerely, Alex

Categories: Uncategorized

See: The Last Airbender

2010/07/16 Comments off

M. Night Shyamalan only blesses us with a new film every three years or so, and whenever he does I make the pilgrimage to my local cinema to enjoy his latest offering. I can sincerely say that n is not only my favorite director, but simply the best director of films ever. Thus, I consider it my duty to tell you to rush as fast as possible to go see The Last Airbender. Pure gold.

I am not a fan of the medium of film. For whatever reason, cinema generally not only does nothing for me, but actively bores me. So when a terrible movie comes along – like almost everything by Shyamalan –  I get to feel justified. Shyamalan’s movies are so terrible that they render null and void all previous cinematic accomplishments. My friends and I have a theory that Shyamalan is making progressively worse movies so that his first movie, The Sixth Sense, will look like a masterpiece in comparison.

And with The Last Airbender, he is well along on his way is making that dream come true. The dialogue is terrible, the actors are given almost no opportunity to act, and the story telling is pitiable. The last third of the 1 hour 45 minute long movie is all foreshadowing for the “epic” last ten minutes. Problem is, instead of mounting suspense, the last forty minutes merely repeat the same “clue” over and over again. Even people like myself who have never seen a second of the anime Avatar: The Last Airbender could predict exactly how the film was going to end making most of the film an excruciating ordeal to sit through. The 3D effects were poorly done and didn’t add anything. Enormous 3D ships drove straight toward the audience and didn’t stop until they were conceptually passing through their faces. All the shots were extremely tight, meaning that the screen was filled with extreme close-ups of character’s noses. The “bending”, the magical hoohaa stuff that is what supposed to be cool about the Anime series is taken too literally in the live-action revamp and just ends up looking silly; the battles in the film look more like modern dance battles than sprawling wars. Shyamalan falls into the same trap many directors do when transforming an animated concept into a live-action form: when taken too literally it looks ridiculous. Worst of all, Shyamalan breaks the cardinal rule of visual story telling, opting to tell the viewer what is happening rather than showing us. The Last Airbender is essentially all narration, with the lead female sidekick’s voiceover explaining what sort of cool stuff had happened in the movie we unfortunately didn’t get to see. 

In short, I loved it. 

I‘m not going to go into the whole racial politics side of The Last Airbender (in case you haven’t heard yet, all the Asians from the original series have been replaced with white actors who can kind of pass). Except I would like to point out that in the village of Inuits there just happens to be the world’s whitest women cast as a village elder. Don’t worry though! The bad guys are still dark-skinned – it’s nice to see that Shyamalan is being equally racially offensive to every minority. in case you were wondering, in the original series the heroes from the Inuit tribe actually had darker skin and the villains from the fire Nation were pale skinned… soooo… basically Shyamalan strayed from the original source as often as he could as long as it was offensive. Maybe he isn’t all to blame, there is a chance he didn’t personally select each actor by himself. Oops, I guess that I did go into the whole race thing, my bad. Some random searching online for funny pictures of the cast directed me to, so why don’t you click that link to read a more in-depth examination of the casting?

 If I may step onto my personal soap box for just a few words, I would like to point out that The Last Airbender demonstrates exactly why I am against the advent of 3D movies. Aside from the fact that they make the non-3D object blurry and hurt my eyes, 3D movies remind me a bit of product placement. Directors have begun to put things into movies simply in order to have them be in 3D. Rather than augmenting the message of the film, 3D becomes a spectacle. Space documentaries in 3D? Awesome and they have a reason to be that way. The fact 3D looks “cool” doesn’t justify, for me, inserting useless doodads into movies. Maybe that’s why I’m generally anti-movie, because too often the point is to awe us with spectacle rather than speak to something larger than surface appeal. 

Which is part of why I believe every one should go see The Last Airbender. Or any M. Night Shyamalan movie. Movies, particularly hollywood blockbusters, are far too self-congratualatory. It’s almost as bad as the indie-music hipsters scene. M. Night Shyamalan movies are like Brittany Spears songs, they are a humbling reminder of how much we truly suck, which is important for tempering our tendency toward hubris. Just when we start thinking too highly of ourselves (I’m looking at you James Cameron) someone like Shyamalan comes along and earns millions of dollars by producing crap. Essentially, if MacBeth had only watched some Shyamalan films, perhaps things would have ended better for him. So go do yourself a favor and see The Last Airbender and feel terrible about the state of humanity. You’ll thank me between sobs of disgust.

Categories: Film Tags:

See: Baggage or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Jerry Springer

2010/07/09 3 comments

I‘ve been hesitant to write about my new favorite TV addiction, Baggage (the dating game show hosted by Jerry Springer on the Game Show Network), because it is the most mind-boggling combination of insulting, terrible, refreshing, subversive, and normative. I’ve flip floppped back and forth in my mind how best to watch the show, and I think I’ve reached a tentative hypothesis. But first, let me explain a little how the show works for the uninitiated.

The show features an eligible bachelor or bachelorette who is looking to find love. It is assumed that said single is at least a little bit desperate. The single has a deep dark secret however, his or her baggage, contained within a large, red suitcase. Jerry tempts the studio audience by offering three possibilities for what the case may contain, one of which is true. Then three possible future mates are brought on stage for the eligible bachelor(ette) to select from. Only, each of the three suitors comes with three suitcases, ranging from small, medium, to large. The size of the suitcase corresponds to how dramatic the secret baggage is. Generally the small baggage is something along the line of “I have smelly feet” or something of that ilk, while the bigger bags contain things like “I left my wife to date her younger sister”, etc. In the first round all the suitors open up their smallest bag and explain/justify/minimize it. Then Jerry opens up the medium cases which have been placed randomly, so that the single and looking contestant has no idea whose baggage is whose. He or she must then pick which of the secrets is a deal breaker, and that contestant is eliminated. In the third round, the suitors open up their biggest cases and try to explain them. The bachelor(ette) decides which of the two remaining has the most acceptable baggage. But it doesn’t end there, as the bachelor(ette) must open his or her big red case, revealing their own enormous baggage, and the suitor is now given the chance to say if all this baggage is too much to handle. So, it’s a bit like the other popular game show, Deal or No Deal, what with all the cases opening and people rejecting things.

Let me try to explain my hypothesis, which is that Baggage is possibly the closest thing we’ll ever come to subversive queerness that we will ever get to on a game show. Yes, even more so than shows like “Big Brother” or “Survivor” that frequently feature gay and lesbian contestants. And here’s why I finally feel confident saying that: Baggage demonstrates that the “otherness” of queer individuals is really just a figment of society’s imagination. Through the guise of a heteronormative dating show (to date there has not been an episode matching up same-sex  partners), Baggage reveals that there is no such thing as “normal” and that you can’t always pick out the queer by their asymmetrical haircut. I don’t just mean that is shows us that normal is a construct because no one on the show is normal, what I mean is that queer sexuality in all its forms (not just same-sex attraction) has infiltrated a show designed to pair up men and women.   

Of course, this is still mainstream television, and so any baggage that is nonheteronomrative is met with a studio full of “oooooo’s” and gasps. However, the important part isn’t whether or not a studio audience condones the baggage or not, but that seemingly normal singles are suddenly revealed to be even just a little bit queer; it pulls the rug from under our feet, in a good way. The power of Baggage, unlike Big Brother is that you really never know when queerness is going to spring out at you. In Big Brother there is usually the gay contestant, and he or she (99% of the time HE) is cast very specifically as the gay one. While visibility is a good thing, game show visibility is usually mere tokenism disguised as acceptance. Baggage dispenses with the empty gestures of false acceptance and just bombards the viewer with visibility, saying to hell with what people think. The people with queer baggage in the show aren’t there as token others, but as regular people floating about in the straight-world dating pool.

For example, my favorite pairing ever in the show’s brief history was a couple consisting of a woman who did not believe in monogamy and a man who feels sexiest when dressed up as a woman (the show ran its credits over a picture of him in drag, wearing his wig, makeup, and a slinky red dress that episode). That pairing does more to dismantle assumptions about straight coupledom than any other show I’ve seen on TV. Or last night, one single didn’t believe in the institution of marriage. Straight men have admitted to gogo dancing in gay bars to pay for college, people admit to enjoying sadomasochism in the bedroom, selling sex toys, dating a transsexual, preferring group sex, and having sugar mommas. It’s a queer, queer world out there!

The best episodes are arguably the special “cougar editions” in which a cougar (a woman of a certain age) chooses between three sexy twenty-something men, all vying for the chance to be with an older woman.  I know the whole cougar culture thing has been absorbed into heteronormative culture, but it still belongs in the category of cross-generational sex. Unsurprisingly, the Cougar episodes are the most highly sexual, with almost every comment and secret focusing on what the cougars and their “cubs” would shortly be doing in bed together. Interestingly, the term cub has long been used in the Bear subculture before it entered the Cougar vernacular.

It all reminds me off an oldie but a goodie foundational text in sexuality studies, Gayle Rubin’s essay “Thinking Sex”, in which she outlines Western culture’s “charmed circle” of “good/natural sex”. Watching Baggage is like checking off the list of “bad sex” and “unnatural acts”:

Unmarried, Promiscuous, Non-procreative, Commercial, Group sex, Casual, Cross-generational, With manufactured objects, Sadomasochism… Transvestites, Transsexuals, Fetishists (11-12).

I‘ve seen all of those on Baggage! I’m not arguing that there isn’t yet a long way to go on TV, nor that Baggage is indeed a beacon of queerness in the wasteland of heteronormativity, but as far as game shows go (and trust me, I watch a lot of them), Baggage at least shows us that queerness is not necessarily reserved for those society deems other.

Categories: Television Tags: ,

Feeling Down? This Won’t Help.

2010/06/30 Comments off

I’ve been self-diagnosed with what I’m calling “End of the World Syndrome” (EWS). No, not that mandatory growing despair one feels when they’ve just finished school, have to find a job, pick another tiny apartment to lease, and a new set of goals to develop, but an unavoidable hopelessness that the world has become a sinking inflatable life raft that any amount of personal bailing out will not save.

As I grow and mature (and manage my own finances) I am becoming increasingly aware of the impact my actions and purchases have on my immediate and extended environment. I do my best to buy local, organic produce at farmer’s markets. I’m actively making an effort to buy recycled and used clothing. I am spending my summer scouring garage sales and back alleys for house wares. Even my nerdy-ness needs are being met by only buying used and pre-owned videogames. All my light bulbs are compact fluorescents. I only use green-certified cleaning products, and my soap, shampoo, and conditioner are essentially clumps of grass in bottles. It may sound like I’m bragging here, but I see these as inconsequential baby steps in a walk I fear may be longer than I’ll ever be able to walk: I still don’t grow my own food, I take long, hot showers, eat imported goods, buy lead-filled things from Dollarama, and have a stack of Styrofoam plates left over from a dinner party a few months ago. I’ve lately begun to feel guilty for owning ziplock bags and using paper towels.

The prime symptom of EWS is that it one’s efforts can never feel like enough. I have come to some firm conclusions in this regards: 1) Even if I stop purchasing anything and somehow manage to have literally zero or a positive impact of the environment, the world is going to end. 2) I do not possibly have the power to convince everyone on the planet to stop everything and just go frolic with the fawns or whatever regional fauna that they live near to. What with things happening around the world like oil spills, how do the happy-type greenies stay hopeful? Did I miss the vaccination for EWS when they were getting distributed?

The other force working against me is the fact that I’m not entirely convinced by the environmentalist critiques and solutions offered that I’ve come in contact with. Recently I considered joining Le Frigo Vert, an anarchist, organic, fair trade, student-run co-op here in Montreal as a way of alleviating EWS. Unfortunately, unless I want to subsist entirely on grains and beans and the occasional sprouted bean, it was not the place for me. Am I just being a privileged brat? The excellent short documentary, The Story of Stuff ( by Annie Leonard, confirmed my opinions on consumerism (including my own), lists several possibilities for change and argues we need to radically change how we produce and consume goods. I wholehearted agree, but her enthusiasm and positivity still cannot convince me that such a change is possible. Leonard groups people into two categories: those who are positive and hopeful about total environmental change and those who want to continue to exploit our world. Heck, even the oh-so-subtle film Avatar suggests we all fall into the same types. But what about those of us who look at the uphill fight as a Sisyphean endeavour?

Perhaps it’s just a case of me being too all or nothing about the whole thing, which is entirely possible. It’s not going to stop me from continuing to be as green as I know how, and learning new ways to do so, and I’ll keep looking for something to cure my bad case of the EWS, but at this rate I’m more likely to find a little cabin in the middle of the woods and live by eating the turnips I’ll (hopefully) find there.

Categories: Uncategorized

Blame Game

2010/06/25 1 comment

It seems that after every natural disaster/catastrophe/event it doesn’t take long for some political and/or religious nutjob (who am I kidding? That /or shouldn’t be there) to blame the queers for it. This week’s earthquake in Central Canada may not have been earth shattering (apologies), but somewhere someone is blaming me.

I get confused by the logic of this blame gaming, however; as far as I can see, there’s two ways of placing blame: either God/Deity/Skyfather caused it, or the gays did.

The usual line of thinking is that God/whoever caused the event in order to punish whatever place it occurred for being gay/being fair to gays/not stoning gays. But if that’s the case, he has lousy aim. The earthquake that shook Canada managed to rattle a few of the jars in my fridge, though I may just be attributing a passing semi with tectonic plate-shifting capabilities. A neighbor, one of the most fab people I know, didn’t even realize there was an earthquake. No one (thankfully) has been reported killed, and the queer neighborhoods in the major cities hit by the quake sustained no damage.

Alternatively, God causes disasters to teach straight leaders a lesson. But doesn’t that seem a tad vindictive? It falls too closely in line with the whole Phelps family version of God, who hates (insert pretty much any noun here). I can’t remember which comedian made the joke, but someone noted that for some reason when nature affects someone else it’s to punish them, but when it happen to you (your church, for example, catches on fire) it’s God testing your faith. Funny how that works.

I like to think that there’s a group of people who actually believe that the gays are directly responsible for natural disasters. Like, that there’s a rainbow coalition deciding when it would be bitchiest to cause some trouble. I’m sure how I join or how they accomplish their mission; do we have a weather-control device I wasn’t aware of? Are we magic? I’ve heard some pretty ridiculous anti-gay propoganda (see the Ugandan “kill the gays” stuff going down), but I’ve yet to come across a pastor or pope condemning us for drinking blood and communicating with the dead (wait a minute…)

As far as I can tell, God is either a lousy aim, a bully, or I have a secret tunnel to the Earth’s core. There can’t be any other option can there? Oh, wait! The G20 protestors, it must be them. Things like this can’t actually just happen naturally, right?

Categories: Uncategorized

Defending Video Games

2010/06/22 2 comments

In the most recent issue of Bitch Magazine (No. 47, the “Action” issue), writer Hilary Barlow examined the work of a small Belgium indie video game developer, Tale of Tales. Tales creates feminist retellings of retellings classic narratives, which Barlow praises as a small step in revitalizing the video game industry which “do[esn’t] have a great history as a source of positive female characters.” She argues that “if the token chick isn’t a princess in another castle then she’s sexed up to a ridiculous degree just to get in on the action”, which then perpetuates misogyny and sexism in the largely male audience of gamers. She has a point too, there is an overabundance of video games that reinforces the idea that women need to be rescued/are the sidekick/don’t exist. However, I can’t help but feel that Barlow paints the entire industry with too wide a brush; the video game industry is arguably still less dependent on the objectification of women and the exclusion of minorities than the movie industry, television, music, pornography,  women’s magazines, fashion, etc. I should also point out here that I’m about to delve into my deeply geeky side, so I should assure you that I do actually go outside occasionally and get sunlight and exercise.

Barlow points especially to the existence of the game “Rapeplay” (which you can probably figure out from the title) as evidence of the specific danger video games pose to women. The fact that such a game exists is obviously horrifying, yet there are far more films of all types which not only depict, but glorify rape. In terms of sheer volume, video games represent just a drop in the ocean. To Barlow, “Rapeplay”–a game you can’t get a hold of in most places and wasn’t produced by any reputable party–is a “phenomenon” but why doesn’t she hold all media to the same standards?

One doesn’t need to look far (certainly not as far as Belgium indie developers) to find positive female characters in video games; what follows is by no means a fully comprehensive list, but is instead meant to be a counterpoint to the accused dearth of “complex female characters”. Yes, I realize that I’m cherry picking my examples and that one could possibly find an objectified bimbo for every strong heroine on the list, but they do illustrate that female characters can be more than captive princesses.

One of Nintendo’s largest and most successful franchises, The Legend of Zelda, has not only strayed from the save the princess routine but also transformed Zelda, the titular princess, into a bad ass team mate. The N64’s first Zelda offering, “Ocarina of Time” saw the princess donning a disguise and becoming an enigmatic ninja who knew more than Link, the male protagonist. Soon after, the game “Wind Waker” cast aside the princess role and recast the Zelda figure into a ruthless pirate warlord. The villain of the game is defeated by a magic bow that only Zelda is powerful enough to wield. The latest Zelda game on the DS, “Spirit Tracks”, featured Zelda as a powerful ally the player controls alongside Link in order to solve puzzles together. Zelda has been kick ass, and even cross dressed; Zelda moved beyond the princess stereotype well before 2000’s.

The widely popular survival horror franchise Resident Evil has always starred tough as nails female protagonists who survive the zombie apocalypse but have in the past also saved their male counterparts. The first game allowed you to play as Jill Valentine, elite STARS member and ex cat burglar who could pick locks unlike the male character and was the only one able to handle the enormous grenade launcher. “Resident Evil 2” starred Claire Redfield, Chris’ sister, also surviving a zombie apocalypse (there’s really only thing that happens in these games). Game #3 stars Jill again… you guessed it. Yes, in 3 Jill is wearing a tank top, but there’s at least no cutscenes of her being bouncy or anything that low. By the way, Jill is the crossover character featured in the Resident Evil movies.

In the same survival horror vein, “Silent Hill 3” of the Silent Hill series, is one of the first games I know of that engages in a discourse of abortion and a woman’s right to control her own body. Now, the rest of the Silent Hill series may have tended to the misogynist side in its early years, but 3 focuses on the teen aged Heather who survives some pretty psychologically disturbing stuff. She’s got a cultist chasing after her, she’s surrounded by gross monsters vaguely reminiscent of foetuses, and the anti-Christ is trying to burst forth from her womb. Gross. The ending culminates with Heather defying religious teachings and symbolically aborting whatever got inside her. One doesn’t need to look hard to see a woman making the difficult decision to terminate an unwelcome pregnancy forced upon her against her will, a narrative that unfortunately exists in reality today. Sure the message is coated in spooky monsters and creepy sound effects, but at least “Silent Hill 3” is dealing with the complicated parts of feminism politics and not just easier to handle forms of female empowerment.

The newest Final Fantasy game stars a female protagonist who is just as mysterious, moody, and strong as male heroes in the past. And “Final Fantasy 13” isn’t the first time a female led the charge against whatever evil was trying to destroy the world. “Final Fantasy 3/6” (depending on where/when you played it) had an ensemble cast headed by Terra. The game dealt with themes of motherhood, love lost and love gained, and generally involved women warriors kicking ass and taking names (and loot).

Even Mario Brothers games have moved away from the princess perpetually in another castle; Peach has stood on her own in a DS game, is a powerhouse in the “Super Smash Brothers” games as well as Mario Karts, Mario Parties, “Super Mario RPG”, and on and on. We stopped rescuing Peach a long time ago. Anyone remember “Super Mario Bros 2”? Peach was for the first time a playable character (only 2 games into the NES franchise) and was clearly the best character.

Another retro moment: Samus, the high-tech fan favourite from the Metroid series takes off her helmet at the end of the very first game to reveal that she is a woman, blowing the minds of all the players who naturally assumed that since they were being awesome they were playing a dude.        

And Miss Pacman is faster and tougher than Pacman ever was. There’s even a scene in the arcade version where she chases after Pacman, which I guess could be considered gender role reversal to a certain extent.

Canada’s largest video game developer, BioWare, which is responsible for the megahits “Dragon Age”, “Mass Effect 1 and 2”, “Baldur’s Gate”, “Knights of the Old Republic”, etc. has even begun offering players the opportunity to dabble in a queer relationship, though only for a moment. But the moment isn’t treated as a joke or milked for laughs, nor was it designed to spark outrage and thus create publicity, it existed simply because some player out there might want to see that part of their character represented in-game. I’m still waiting for a genuine same-sex love story in a mainstream game, but we have begun to take the first steps.

Despite the overabundance of objectified women, gender stereotyping, and heteronormativity in video games, I still feel video games allow me more space for creating and interpreting narratives in my own way beyond the regulations of patriarchy than what I’ll find playing at my local movie theatre or on my cable television. At least with a controller in my hand I can actively have some say in what I’m implicit in.

Which brings me back to my point: I’m glad there are indie developers out there like Tale of Tales, but we should acknowledge that the industry (yes, even the stuff by mainstream developers Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) might even be a place we can turn to in order to find some feminist fun.

Categories: Games Tags: , ,

See: Sex and the City 2

2010/06/01 1 comment

I just saw the film Sex and the City 2, and I have not had more fun in a theatre since M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. The film is 2.5 hours of pure laugh-out-loud terrible. It deliberately avoids any sense of character development or conflict or message and instead rejoices in showcasing opulence and ostentation. On top of that, there are problematic depictions of race, class, colonization, heteronormativity, sex, and excess. Numerous other commentators have already decried SATC2 as inappropriate rich-girl porn, and so I’ll do my best to avoid that line of thought, but really, ignoring the celebration of excess while talking about talking about this film is to ignore 95% of its content. And since this is one of those films in which you know exactly how it’s going to end before you buy your ticket, I’m not going to attempt to be vague about any plot points that come up. So consider that your spoiler alert.

While it may be overreaching to claim there is any sort of unifying theme to SATC2, the idea of what makes a ‘normal’ relationship is arguably the  big question the women seem to be facing. Except for Samantha who is rarely facing anything but a headboard. Miranda and Charlotte struggle with their career and child rearing, respectively, while Carrie deals with the idea of her husband taking a 2 day vacation off from the burden of living with here every week. No one is content, and so a trip to Abu Dhabi (“the NEW Middle East!”) with Samantha on a PR excursion seems to be the solution. After what Sarah Jessica Parker calls a “caper”, the women find peace doing almost exactly what they were doing before; now they just feel empowered doing it. Miranda is still a lawyer, but now she’s in a law firm that is ‘progressive’ (they have meetings on a rooftop patio, and there’s two different people of colour on staff). Charlotte, thanks to having a full-time nanny, is able to take time off from her kids in Carrie’s old apartment, reading magazines and sipping tea. Carrie’s conflict is resolved most disturbingly, with her on her knees in front of Mr. Big, begging his forgiveness and being forced to repeat a set of marriage vows he’s written for her. She finally is willing to relinquish her own last name to take his, signifying the complete dismantling of her pre-marriage identity, which of course brings her happiness. Samantha basically just has sex under some fireworks, which is probably the least misogynistic ending of them all, which says a lot about the movie in general. I was a bit shocked, however, at how passive Samantha is during the actual sexual act; for a character so sexually aggressive and liberated, all she does is lay back and spout relatively uninspired grunts. I guess she’s positioned so that the camera can objectify her male lovers (we get a lot of male buttock), but considering her entire character is built around sex, you’d think it would be a bit more interesting.   

There’s too much to write about, really. The whole film was scene after scene of stale dialogue, false dilemmas, and pointlessness, backgrounded by extravagance. Every scene began with a panning shot of the fabulousness of the set: every room, poolside bar, and desert sand dune was resplendent with furniture, fashion, and food.  I’m still not sure why the dining table in the women’s hotel room had twenty extra chairs at it. There was an attempt at psuedo-feminism at the halfway point: they sing a karaoke version of “I am woman” in a bar, which prompts every other women present to join in. Carrie makes the ‘deep’ comment that burqas and niqabs worn by Muslim women are an attempt to silence them, which is simultaneously simplistic feminism made for easy empowerment and culturally relative. The main conflict of the last hour of the film is based entirely on the women’s resistance to flying coach: they go to extreme lengths to ensure they don’t have to flyback to New York in anything but ultra-first class. We are, of course, meant to worry that they won’t. SATC2 seems to have overstepped the line between making the women fabulous and letting us care about them; they are so rich and so successful that their problems are completely unrelatable. 

But my main issue with the film was how is dealt with nonreproductivity. Big and Carrie are happily childless, their life epitomized by Carrie’s phrase “We are two adults with no kids. We have the freedom to design our own lives”. As a non-breeder myself, I am all for choosing not to reproduce, but SATC2 implies that there is only one path for happy childless couples: excess. Because she has no children, Carrie can afford two apartments, Manolo Blahniks, and couches that inexplicably take two and half months to procure. I’ve heard many times that couples without children are essentially selfish, and it would be hard to argue that point if your only case study was Big and Carrie. There are many good reasons not to have children (Earth is already overpopulated, additional strain on natural resources, you simply don’t want them), but Carrie hasn’t thought of any of them. It appears that the freedom to design your own life, means for Carrie, quite literally, that your life should be full of designer goods.

Sex and the City 2 is a behemoth of a movie. It’s long, it’s epic, and will probably make millions upon millions of dollars. I recommend seeing it, not because it’s good but because it’s utterly fascinating in its multiple shortcomings. I know there’s already many, many fans defending the film’s right to be escapist fluff, but I can’t help but feeling they’ve just been seduced into passive consumption. For example, one blog on, an info/fan website  manages to find the film a “fantasy of empowerment” (they must have closed their eyes during the ending or mistaken owning Versace’s newest Spring line with female economic equality). Side note, the actress’ bios on the same site link to’s profiles of them, which rates them on two parameters: sexiness and success. Truly empowering.  

Go see the film, it’s already too late to have any negative impact on its box office by boycotting it, and have a few laughs at its expense. trust me, you won’t be alone. When I went there was a small contingent of audience members really buying into the movie, but far larger was the rest of us, enjoying it for totally different reasons. The movie itself will make you cringe, but hopefully you’ll be refreshed at seeing how many people are unwilling to passively consume easy feminism, colonialist humour, and object-driven empowerment.


Categories: Film

Just a Question…

2010/05/26 Comments off

How is it that Glee, arguably today’s most watched, highest praised prime-time television show with out queer cast members (Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer) consistently disappoints me with its insistence on heteronormativity and then (sort of) wins me back by the end of each episode? Particularly this week’s Lady Gaga themed episode, “Theatricality”, which had the highest potential to date for radical queer politics. Half of the show relied entirely on reenforcing gender norms, with “the girls” (including Kurt, the young gay teen character) dressing like and performing songs by Lady Gaga. “The guys”, however, uncomfortable with the idea, don KISS costumes and rock out in a more “acceptable” version of glam. I suppose painting a lightening bolt on your face is femme-y while painting on cat whiskers is butch?

Meanwhile, Finn struggles to cope with the idea of sharing a bedroom with Kurt, the result of their parents moving in together. He is troubled by Kurt’s omnipresent queerness, claiming he “puts [his] underwear on in the shower every morning” because he’s uncomfortable with Kurt’s sexuality. Finn is even physically repulsed by Kurt’s attempt to help him remove his KISS make up with a moist towelette. While Finn’s reaction is probably a realistic representative of how many highschool boys would respond to queerish contact, it’s a story we’ve all heard ad nauseum.

Unfortunately, however, Finn can hardly be blamed; Kurt’s character has taken a rather creepy turn in the past few episodes, concocting a scheme that pairs up their parents in order to position Finn as a kind of brother/room-mate/ object of desire. The whole dynamic has a problematic incestuous vibe to it. Kurt is simultaneously the creepiest and the most emotionally realistic character in the show; his coming out to his father was one of the most emotional scenes of the entire season, but his continued efforts to get Finn into his bedroom are borderline disturbed. And, again, isn’t the story of the gay boy hopelessly infatuated with the straight jock another narrative past its expiration date?

Conversely, the scenes with Kurt’s father have continued to be heartwarming and reasonably progressive. When Finn refers to Kurt’s choice of decor as “faggy”, Kurt’s father bursts on to the scene demanding that Finn leave his house immediately and reassuring Kurt that the room looks great. It’s standard fare, yes, but it’s about as good as I’ve come to expect from the average television show. The episode concludes with Finn defending Kurt’s right to be different from a pair of football players, wrapped in a red shower curtain (which I guess is the straight boy version of a Lady Gaga outfit).     

So my question is, it is alright to be completely essentializing and heteronormative on the one hand, and moderately progressive on the other? Is Glee giving viewers the queer-lite version of progressiveness (“Being different is fine! We’re all different!”) while continuing to propagate what it means to be a “real” man/woman? And perhaps most importantly, am I asking too much from a television show that one can watch on basic cable?

Categories: Television Tags: ,

See: Exit Through the Gift Shop

2010/05/22 Comments off

I learnt a few things from watching Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film documents the eccentric Thierry Guetta (AKA Mr. Brainwash) in his rise from vintage clothing store owner to street art videographer to economically successful street artist. Along the way, the audience gets exposed to many street artists and their history, and are offered a rare inside glimpse at the politics of their world. 

Within the first few minutes of the film I learned that I really like street art. I actually wouldn’t mind it if all of Montreal’s metro system was covered in *quality* street art. (DISCLAIMER: this post, like the film, is engaged in the tricky rhetoric of “art” “high aht” and “quality” all of which mean different things to different people). A lot of our alleyways are filled with some really nice stuff actually, and I wouldn’t mind more of it, instead of those graffiti tags that no one can read all over the place. I particularly like the tiny T-Rex wearing gladiator high heels on the Redpath Library. Street art must be contagious, as my companion and I both left the cinema wanting to do nothing else but develop artistic skills so that we could climb up tall buildings and leave our mark.

I also learnt that you can apparently get everything you need for street art at Kinko’s. It seems you can go get  your enormous Andre the Giant faces printed off there no questions asked. And this is a good thing. I think I’d have some major qualms if Kinko’s could arbitrarily decide that your printing needs did not meet the standards of decent society. Still, before seeing Exit I kind of figured there were secret underground places to get street art supplies or something.

Thirdly, I got to see first hand how difficult it is talking about yourself as an artist without sounding like a pompous jerk. Banksy, the sometimes narrator and creator of the film, claims the film is about Thierry, because he’s “more interesting”, but the actual mystique of “legitimate art” is reserved for Banksy. Banksy is the holy grail of street artists that Guetta wants to film, the one who makes real statements, the king of the streets. And in a way, he is: his street art is fantastic, he is politically minded, and is really the most recognized name in street art to date. The problem is, in a movie made by Banksy, it comes across as self-aggrandizing to talk about how marvelous Banksy is. At one point, just before Guetta finally gets to meet with Banksy, the music becomes reminiscent of a choir of angels. I get it, it’s playing off the idea of Banksy as Guetta’s holy grail, but having a beatific soundtrack to your own introduction is a bit… well, high and mighty.

Bansky is a little critical, too, of people who don’t “get” his art. Specifically, one section of the film follows the development of Banksy’s first L.A. exhibition. It features a real elephant in the warehouse space painted with litres and litres of children’s face paint to match the space’s wallpaper. The piece was titled “the Elephant in the Room”, and was supposedly meant to make literal our metaphorical elephants in rooms.  News casters and activists, however, were critical of using a live animal in a not-enormous space and of painting it (I presume children’s face paints are regulated to be non-toxic). Banksy lambasts them for being unable to see past the easy critique and really think about what he meant to say. Well, yes, there is a message behind the piece, but that also doesn’t negate the fact that an elephant was transported in a tiny truck and subjected to presumably hours of people taking pictures of it, shoving video cameras in its face, and — worst of all — talking incessantly about how wonderful art is and how they by extension are good people for seeing it. But at least Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were there, that must have made the elephant happy! 

I left torn, having enjoyed the film but also recognizing it as a character assassination piece. Or, at least, cinematic bullying. Exit does not offer a sympathetic or unbiased portrayal of Guetta; instead he is made out to be a joke, a wannabe, a fraud, and a plaigarist. Exit, at least, never claimed to be a documentary. The film, which begins by making Guetta seem a harmless, quirky Frenchman, depicts him by the end as a pathetic, desperate poseur. The thing is, the film’s argumentation is well made enough that one can hardly help but agree with Banksy that Guetta/Mr. Brainwash really isn’t making art, nor should he be dubbed an “artist” (whatever the heck that means).  Exit shows you the worst things about the man, and then asks you “he’s terrible, isn’t he?”. It’s difficult to argue with that reasoning. My companion argued that you are technically given a choice as to whether Guetta makes legitimate street art (no one holds a gun to your head and makes you agree with them); basically, it is never outrightly stated that Guetta is a fraud, it’s just implied over and over again. To come to any conclusion but Banksy’s means you have to willfully ignore the context and subtext of the entire film.

Personally, I think the film could have taken a more sympathetic approach to its subject without detracting from its central themes or even argument. Guetta, who compulsively videotapes everything he sees for hours on end, clearly has some sort of hoarding complex.  The film hints at this, stating that Guetta’s mother died when he was young and now he tries to capture his life on film so nothing will suddenly disappear on him, but more could have been made of it. Guetta had thousands of hours of footage of street artists at work, and though he was unable to compile them into a coherent documentary, Banksy could have easily created a comprehensive piece about street art instead of undermining one slightly unwell but well-intentioned man.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is definitely worth the time to see it, if you live in one of the select Canadian cities it’s playing in. When viewed with a critical eye, the film offers up a new appreciation of the art we walk past everyday and the hidden politics behind it.

Categories: Film Tags: ,

Read: The Bedwetter

2010/05/15 Comments off

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee

By Sarah Silverman

New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

pp. xv + 240. $28.99

Despite being best known as an edgy and sassy comedienne with a taste for blue language, Sarah Silverman’s autobiography, The Bedwetter, is surprisingly serious and tender. The stereotype of comics having hard lives holds true for Silverman, which quickly becomes evident in the first few chapters of the book. That’s not to say the book isn’t funny. In fact, it is borderline amazing the way Silverman weaves humor and spunk into every memory, no matter how tragic.

Take, for example, the chapter about her relationship with her Nana, entitled “My Nana Was Great But Now is Dead”. She beautifully unravels her Nana’s complicated relationship with a cruel and senile husband without becoming either too romanticizing or trying too hard for pathos. Similarly, she recalls her teenaged years and a struggle against depression, including a shocking period of being prescribed 14 Xanax a day, with the same aplomb. Silverman skillfully navigates the fine line between telling a sad story and digging for sympathy.

Bedwetting, however, is the main trope running through most of the book, both as a source of shame and of strength.  Silverman was a bedwetter well into her teen years, despite the efforts of her parents and the medical establishment.  Being a bedwetter becomes the way through which Silverman comes to define herself, even through the death of a sibling, her parents’ divorce, clinical depression, and aspiring comic. Later, having conquered bedwetting, Silverman cites it as the reason she is able to do standup:

“But maybe my lack of stage fright was the upside of years of nightly bedwetting. Maybe that daily shame had ground away at my psyche, like glaciers against the coastline, so that somewhere in my consciousness , I understood that bombing on stage could never be as humiliating. My early trauma was a gift, it turned out, in a vocation where your best headspace is feeling that you have nothing to lose” (74).

 Thankfully, like with most people, blossoming out of the awkward highschool years was a transformative time for Silverman. She moved to New York City, and pursued comedy stardom. She details her one year stint at Saturday Night Live, her film Jesus is Magic, and the resulting creation of her Comedy Central show The Sarah Silverman Program. She lovingly describes her relationships with co-stars and writing team, blending into the narrative commentary on censorship, racism, and equality. She never becomes too preachy on these subjects, but nor does she shy away from making her political positions known.

Those unfamiliar with Silverman’s stand up routines or her show should be warned: Silverman’s persona deliberately takes on the most ignorant and racist stances possible in a complexly ironic form of social critique. It is easy to fall in to the trap of mistaking the context and subtext of her jokes. Plus, she has a penchant for bawdy humour and relishes fart jokes. Those who do not care about the struggle to get the word labia past Standards and Practices will probably find little to laugh at. Furthermore, Silverman omits practically all mention of her former relationship with Jimmy Kimmel; her fans will be left wanting much more in this regard, as a noticeably large chunk of her life seems to be missing. Of course, Silverman gets to decide how much of herself she reveals to the public, and is perfectly within her rights to stay silent on her very public breakup. That doesn’t mean readers won’t potentially be disappointed.

The Bedwetter will probably take readers by surprise: it is strikingly sincere and insightful, while simultaneously laugh out loud funny. Silverman’s casual style makes for a quick easy read, and though she is not the most articulate author to ever pen a book, her personality and charm shine through.

Categories: Books Tags: , ,