Feb. 8th, 2009 04:51 pm
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On the way home from lunch Hodge and I heard an interview with Joss Whedon about the upcoming Dollhouse.

By the way: Dollhouse? A show pivoting around identity, misogyny, and Eliza Dushku? Was there ever a show more geared towards my own interests?

Anyway, the interview was a little bit obnoxious. Jacki Lyden asks the oft-feminist-lauded Whedon how having a disempowered identityless protagonist who is programmed to have sex with whoever is willing to pay for her when she's not going on crazy black-ops missions is remotely a feminist idea. This would be a reasonable question once, but she grills him on it throughout the whole interview. What makes the interview worth listening to is that Whedon articulates the conundrum of the politically-aware storyteller quite gracefully.

"The fact of the matter is, I've been worried about this. It's kept me up nights. But I believe the best way to examine anything is to go to a dark place," Whedon says. "You can't be a storyteller and a speechwriter at the same time."

This is something I fret over all the time. How do you create art that is dangerous, new, risky, etc., if you're hyperaware of the hegemonic potential of your medium? What if the story you need to tell involves women who are weak? I think part of why Buffy has been meaningful to so many people is that it reflects the power struggles young women face much more accurately than a consistently empowered heroine would. Guess what? We don't live in a world of consistently empowered women. We live in a world where you have to fight to become empowered, and it's so much more meaningful to see a Buffy who is sometimes naive, vulnerable, and powerful, because we know we can count on her to grow and fight exactly the way the rest of us must. I'm assuming Echo, Dollhouse's new heroine, is not going to be passive for a full season. I'm guessing we're going to get some fight out of her, and how satisfying will that be, to see her strength finally push through?

The audio is worth a quick listen (the printed version just paraphrases; the audio will be available later tonight) just to hear Whedon's calm confidence about the power of a narrative to do something that a polemic cannot accomplish.

Also, Dollhouse will be on my television this Friday, so if any of y'all is looking for a spot to watch it give me a ring.

(PS: I obviously fail at livejournal. Apologies. It has been that kind of month.)

zenithblue: (mad mod)
In some ways, I don't think it's fair to hold Bristol Palin's pregnancy up as an emblem of her mother's backwards sex-ed policy. That bump is between Bristol and her baby daddy, and I can only imagine the poor kid is already experiencing enough shame and misery without being dragged into the spotlight and held up as an indictment of willful ignorance.

But really, I despise abstinence-only education so very much, a part of me is happy to indulge in a spiteful smirk. Of all the violence inflicted upon a woman's body, the witholding of vital health information is the most reprehensible. Ignorance, lack of education, and misinformation were used to keep women subjugated for centuries already and I for one am done with that bullshit. While I myself am passionately pro-choice, I can empathize with a pro-life position; but I can't even imagine a position where you would keep girls so in the dark they haven't the tools needed to avoid that situation in the first place. Here is a piece of information that might be helpful to policy makers: teenagers are willful, and simply telling them not to do something typically does not yield great results.
zenithblue: (hysteria)
I'm reading Freud again for the first time since my undergraduate career--Studies in Hysteria. I'm always interested in cutting back to Freud's own work, as opposed to some of the more strained interpretive leaps his followers have made. Freud tends to get a lot of flack from critics because he was wrong about so many things, and, more often, because his work has long out-lived its shelf-life in terms of therapeutic usefulness (Oedipal nonsense and penis envy being rather less useful in the long term than an early modernist gentleman might have anticipated). That said, Herr Doktor was really pretty revolutionary in some regards. While some of his systems and equations don't quite hold up, his is the first modern construction of trauma. He has an understanding of pain as an event that must be processed actively, or else it will come out through the body in some grotesque manner. That doesn't seem so far wrong to me.

Okay, yes, hysteria as a disease is a patriarchal artifact, a pathologizing of women's bodies. Freud as a man immersed in his own time was not interested in deconstructing that myth; he was interested in finding ways to treat patients. And megalomaniac he might have been, but how many people--how many women--did he empower to own their own pain? He notoriously hijacked the personal narratives of many of his patients. But did he also allow them access to language they didn't know they were allowed to use? Did he also allow them to see themselves as human beings with internal worlds as vital and as real as their male counterparts?
zenithblue: (anne bonny)
More than a century has passed, and billions of events have transpired that are a billion times worse than what happened there, and thousands of miles rest between me and Whitechapel. Part of me worries that it's my easily titillated  playground-self that's obsessed, that there's a gross-out contest inside me satisfied by the gothic gruesomeness of the crimes. That the spooky ethos of Victorian London is what sustains me. I always have this worry: that I'm as sordid as the bluehaired women clucking their tongues over the pulpy true crime books in the check-out aisle.

But there's always something more I keep coming back to. I really do think Alan Moore got it right: those crimes ushered in the era we're standing in right now. Jack the Ripper wasn't created by some crazy nutjob who wanted to hack at prostitutes. He was created by the society around him. I'm not talking about where the responsibility lies--not saying that poor Jacky got beat by his mum and so had no choice but to cut up whores. What I'm saying is that the industry of serial murder was invented right then and there, or maybe just perfected.

The same system that created prostitution as a necessity, that failed to give women the resources they would have needed to get by, is the system that later capitalized on their respective demises. I keep thinking of Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, manufactured by Disney to be exactly what they are. And now the magazines are having a great time eviscerating them. In 1888 the newspapers were having a field day. The crime scenes were carnivals. Multiple hundreds of average, every day London citizens started writing fake Jack the Ripper letters to the police and papers. One gets the grim suspicion that only a few of these are schoolboy pranks, that the letters tapped into something a bit more sinister: an identification with the murderer, perhaps, or a slavish need to participate in what became the biggest gang-bang of the Victorian world. Let's all make a little cut.

Goodbye and goodbye and goodbye, Mary Kelly (and Catherine Eddowes and Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride, and all the other women who have felt the knife in some way, then and now both). One-hundred-nineteen years of goodbyes, and we're still pimping you out and cutting you up.

Last year's sonnet, not a perfect sonnet, but dusted off for the occasion:

zenithblue: (Default)
...more or less dealt with.

I have twenty pages of my draft of The Diamond in the Window, and three more pages of notes on the parts I haven't been able to write yet. It's sort of a big messy ambitious failure, but that's why we call them "drafts" and then opt to rewrite them over and over. This play is going to have to be so physical and probably I'll have to collaborate with choreographers and puppeteers (and we all know how well I collaborate with others) if I ever want to actually stage it. I've never written anything remotely like it.

The good news is when I get back to writing for grown ups it'll be ridiculously easy. All the scenes take place in the drawing room? Awesome. I need a road, a tree, and two dudes? Fucking rad. Two guys in a California house working at typewriters? That's really it? Oh, and a million toasters. Well, I think I can handle that.

(Speaking of which, Sam Shepard is supposed to come hang with us playwrights at some point this year. You'll know when that happens because my blog will devolve to something like OMG ZB + SS 4EVR!!!!!!!)

The best thing in the draft so far: a firey speech from Louisa May Alcott. That's right, I got to write a speech for Louisa May Alcott. Presumptuous? Probably. Exciting? Most certainly. And it allowed me to make the female characters more active (it's always seemed weird that a children's book by a female intellectual privileges Thoreau and Emerson's philosophy over Alcott's activism and ambition). Super exciting.

lucky girl

Oct. 21st, 2007 05:49 pm
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So this week was busy. Yesterday Hodge and I went to see  Fefu and Her Friends, a really intriguing play by Maria Irene Fornes. I thought it was bizarre and incredible both. There was an argument afterwards about whether or not it was a feminist play, which I thought kind of a stupid argument since it comes down to a semantic issue (i.e. you have to answer what feminism is before you can decide if this thing fills the criteria, and good luck with that). Besides which, the play has an active discourse about women in the thirties struggling wildly with their roles as educated and impassioned beings who are still controlled by patriarchal forces. Whether or not the play didactically answers how they should live, it is much more about how they do live, and how they interact with the forces of their lives. That's the best kind of feminist play, if you ask me. I definitely wished [personal profile] te_amo_azul, the watermark feminist in my life, had a chance to see it with me.

Anyway, the other totally awesome thing that happened this week was the lecture at the Ransom Center. Because guess who came and gave a talk about Arthur Miller? Tony freaking Kushner.

Yup. I was in a room with the most important living American playwright, talking about one of the most important dead American playwrights. And it was awesome. He is probably one of the best intellectual/artistic lecturers I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Besides that, I've spent the week writing scenes from A Diamond in the Window and trying to finish this stupid S.I. story (it's getting close but I'm just not sure how I want to end it). Also all the other reading and nonsense. I've been doing a lot of collage, which is something I like to do when I've written myself into a corner. Cut and paste is just plain therapeutic (plus putting your faith in the magazine gods gives you a chance to make some connections you might not otherwise have made with regards to a story that isn't working).

The cough and sinus infection are still there. I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, so hopefully it'll stop slowing me down soon. Otherwise things are pretty much ducky.
zenithblue: (Default)
Tonight I was reminded why I have historically been frustrated by academic feminism. I checked out the film The Piano from the library and decided to watch it, and by and large I really thought it was a beautiful movie. I was too young when it came out to bother with it, so it was my first time seeing it. I love Jane Campion's visual aesthetic, and I thought the performances were incredible. I liked best the parts where issues of identity and connection sneaked in past the love story part--those parts were very well done. And the love story wasn't bad.

When I went to look up some more information on the film I discovered that there's been quite a feminist controversy over whether or not Campion's work is feminist, or whether it reinforces the patriarchal structure. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised--Campion is, after all, a woman, so of course the politics of her position are going to become an issue. The most notable thing I found was an essay by bell hooks that frankly made me want to hit my head against the keyboard. hooks is a smart lady, but it felt to me like she watched the film with her dander up already, bent on seeing the parts of it that reinforced something she already knew about the white colonial narrative. While I agree with her that parts of the love story are troubling, I just felt like there was all this stuff she didn't see about the movie. She claimed that the piano was Ada's erotic self, that once she got some dick she didn't need it anymore and that's why she pushed it overboard, that her muteness represented some part of her oppression.

For me, the muteness was an interesting literary device because it rendered Ada unknowable. The movie worked because she as a character was this intense, hard to comprehend, willful person with a completely hidden internal self. As the story unfolded it occurred to me that it was less a love story and more a story of connection, the impossibilities of knowing someone fully, and the mysteries of why or why not a connection is possible between two people. When she pushed the piano overboard it wasn't because she had gotten laid. It was because she was so miserable, in that moment, that she wanted to die from her disfigurement. She changed her mind, and in the end that decision was mysterious to everyone, including herself. Of course, when the movie came out 10 years ago everyone was shitting themselves over the profundity of the love story. Maybe a lot of the criticism has to do with having that idea shoved down their throats; maybe the critics of the movie would see it differently if they didn't have to hear a million people gushing over the eroticism that in my viewing played second fiddle to the other parts of the film.

For a long time (when I was younger) I avoided labeling myself a feminist, because I didn't want a political rhetoric to limit the stories I could tell. I'm over that these days--I am much more politically critical than I used to be (I'm no hard-core revolutionary but there's plenty to be pissed off about). But I reserve the right to let my imagination function in any of the millions of ways it wants to. Imagination isn't just a way to come up with how the world should be (although it can be that, and that is one of the things I like about bell hooks--her imagination of a more equitable world). Sometimes it's a way of crafting form from something murky and dark in ourselves, or a way of imagining how someone completely unlike you feels, or a way of getting that word or image that sticks with you out in the world. Or any number of other possibilities. Overly simplistic political critiques of things bug me because it's a reductive way of seeing something that came from someone's rich world of experiences. Sometimes things sit inside of us and they aren't pretty and they don't make sense and they don't agree to be articulated according to some political manifesto they don't jibe with our ideologies but they are there...what do we do with those?

If you're too focused on "Campion as woman" or "Ada as woman" you miss "Campion as auteur" or "Ada as character." Not that those are inextricable--but they're part of a holistic whole.

Maybe I should be talking to [personal profile] te_amo_azul about this. She's so much more literate on this topic than I. And she has awesome taste in movies.


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