“Power Rangers”, Mean Girls, and Why Kimberly’s Slut-Shaming is a Big Deal

abril 8, 2017 at 1:11 pm (ABC Family, Film, Pretty Little Liars, Reviews, sexism, Television, Uncategorized) (, , )

(Spoilers for Power Rangers ahead.)

So in my Power Rangers review, I happened to write the following:

A good amount of time is spent on Kimberly’s angst, and on how her recent actions have alienated her from her social circle, and made her begin feeling a measure of self-hatred. When we’re told what the inciting incident to all this is—she maliciously shared a nude pic of a classmate to humiliate her, it feels a bit out of proportion to her response, but that’s just me an adult and official old person. She believes this makes her horrible, and that’s what matters.

It got some critical feedback, which is good, not only because it means that somebody read the review and cared enough about it to disagree, but also, because there’s a lot worth criticizing in the statement, notably, the suggestion that sharing a nude pic of a friend–a female friend, at that–is no big deal.

Yeah, no.

To be absolutely clear, what Kimberly did is objectively terrible, and Kimberly is right to characterize herself as terrible for having done it*. I know this, I knew it when I watched the film, and I knew it when I wrote the review. Despite this, my main takeaway from that scene, while watching it for the first time and writing about it, is “Kim, you sweet, beautiful overdramatic child.” The terribleness of it doesn’t really come across on any emotional level, and I’ve spent some time since then thinking of why that is the case.

Part of it is my own damn fault, of course, for not immediately seeing all the angles even when made plain and empathizing more about the character I cared about rather than the ones she’d harmed. Another part of it, though, is the way the film deals with that moment and how it characterized Kimberly in comparison to the people she betrayed, and, more in general, with the film’s portrayal of Kim as a mean girl in the larger context of mean girls on film and TV. If Kim’s actions don’t feel as the big deal they are, it is because as terrible as Kimberly’s betrayal of her friends and general slut-shaming (and, technically, illegal distribution of child pornography) are, they are positively dwarfed in that larger context.

Pretty Little Liars starts out with the girls having blinded a classmate, and is steeped in blackmail and murder. Riverdale is headed in that same direction. Mean Girls has Cady manipulate Regina George into altering her body in unwanted, possibly irreversible ways. Heathers was all about murder, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had its characters slut-shame as casually as they breathed. And it’s not the antagonists that do this–or rather, it’s not only they who do it. It’s (also) the heroes, the ones we’re made to root for, while being all glamorous and pretty and sympathetic, without the self-recrimination Kimberly displays during her confession, in stories where the effects of their actions tend to be downplayed, victims tend to be less affected the more time we’re meant  to spend with them, and forgiveness is granted with disturbing ease. Taken together, it has a definitive desensitizing effect, making the terrible feel not so, or even awesome at times. Mona Vanderwaal may be a killer and blackmailer, but damn if I don’t love every bit of her.

And really, the film itself doesn’t help. Kimberly’s victims aren’t really characters, they’re extras whose main quality is being catty in a way designed to draw sympathy away from them and towards Kimberly; they are pissed, and rightfully so, but they do not seem harmed.  And we really don’t get to see pre-epiphany Kimberly, which means we’re left to draw our conclusions from the version we see on screen.* All of which makes the confession scene feel unbalanced, with only Naomi Scott to sell it. As mentioned in the review, she succeeds, to some degree, but perhaps not all the necessary ones.

The thing is, though, that none of that should matter. Kim is clear about what she does, and what she does is terrible. And yet it does. There are a lot of dimensions to Kimberly’s story, and those dimensions all got the short shrift in my review, and my thoughts were expressed in the worst, most dismissive and harmful form–one that I, for all it’s worth, apologize for.

—-

* There’s one moment in the film where we get an unvarnished hint of what Old Kimberly may have been like, and that’s the moment when  she takes pleasure at seeing her former friends’ car wrecked during the Goldar battle, perhaps not considering that she and her friends were a few feet away from being squashed. There are a lot of arguments that one could make about that scene, as it goes on to suggest a whole lot of things about Kimberly’s story arc that don’t really get elaboration, and make it feel as if its missing some necessary pieces rather than simply unfinished, as, say, Trini’s. That said, I’m not sure I see that ambiguity as a flaw, and I hope it’s something the writers either intentionally included or noticed after the fact, and that it gets more development in subsequent films.  It deserves to.

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Self-Plug: Privilege Undermines Disney’s ‘Gargoyles’ Attempts to Explore Oppression

diciembre 7, 2016 at 10:11 pm (Uncategorized)

bitchflicks-gargoyles-elisa-and-matt

People who read this may know that I periodically post episode reviews and essays about the Disney animated series Gargoyles on my other blog, Monsters of New York. Recently, though, I wrote an essay not for my blog, but for the fine feminist critique site Bitch Flicks. Like the title of this post says, it’s about how the show’s attempts to be tell a story about oppression are undermined by the creators’ privilege, and it goes something like this:

Gargoyles is also a fantastic showcase of what can happen when creators possessing privilege write stories about the oppressed without their input. Weisman and his staff had good intentions, and yet that didn’t stop them from writing “Heritage,” a perennial contender for the award of Most Racist Story That Tried Not to Be Racist (Television). In the episode, Elisa essentially tells the chief of a failing First Nation village, whom she’s only just met, that he’s performing his identity wrong, and is proven correct by the narrative. While that episode is an outlier, it is not alone — despite the show’s attempts to be about oppression and about being the Other, it falls down in multiple and consistent ways featuring more than one episode where the message they wish to send is not the message they are actually sending.

Yay me! Once you’re done, the sit also has many other fine posts by awesome writers about various films and TV shows for you to read, so please give those a look. Thank you!

 

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The CW’s “Nikita” is a Spy Story about Healing

octubre 27, 2016 at 12:06 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

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(Series-wide spoilers below)

There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance required in order to accept La Femme Nikita’s premise on its own terms. The series wants us to believe that clandestine intelligence agency / assassination bureau Section One is necessary in order to ensure the world’s safety, and that its work somehow justifies the monstrous way the group operates. At the same time, everything the series tells us about the Section suggests that such a claim isn’t factual. It obtains its “recruits” via kidnapping and dehumanization, which belies its alleged legitimacy—surely an above-board agency would be able to obtain agents some other, less illegal, way. It lies to and manipulates its people constantly, not because of a need to keep information properly classified, but to keep them compliant. Its oversight appears to include no one connected to any government entity anywhere, or anyone who is themselves subject to oversight. And yet, in order for the series to work, one has to choose to disregard all of this, and believe that the Section lies about everything but is completely honest about its agenda.

It’s hard to understate how significant this is to the series. If the Section isn’t working for the greater good—if that claim is just another one of its countless lies—then the story simply falls apart. There’s no reason to care about Nikita’s fate, or to consider her anything other than a great big fool, in addition to an accomplice to continued abuse. And while mitigating factors exist due to her status as a prisoner and victim, those become much less mitigating once she manages to escape, scot-free, and then decides to return. Similarly, there’s no reason to wish for any of the characters to succeed. And while this element of uncertainty was always baked into the premise’s cake—there is every reason to be just as skeptical of the agency in Luc Besson’s original film—that original version manages to get away with it because Anne Parillaud’s Nikita, by and large, doesn’t care about what she does except insofar as it affects her. It is only in the TV series, where the agency and its manipulation of Nikita (Peta Wilson) became central, that its role in the world becomes truly relevant. And yet, the show proves ambivalent at best on this point, seeming uninterested in providing evidence about the good the Section allegedly does. The largely episodic and insular storytelling makes it hard to get a bead on the long-term consequences of the Section’s actions, and the vague world-building—to the point where the Section doesn’t defend any one nation, but rather “the West”—makes it impossible to determine with precision whose interests the Section is supposed to be aligned with, leaving us only with the assertions of proven manipulators with no incentive to tell the truth. How can we trust then, that the people behind Section One aren’t simply using their people for their own personal gain?  So important is this question, that J.J. Abrams, intentionally or not, based half the initial premise of Alias on it.

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“Alias” is a Show About a Spy, and Not Much Else

mayo 25, 2015 at 12:30 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Alias made the current action TV landscape possible.

Part of what defines the current so-called golden age of television, particularly when it relates to the action-adventure genre, is its ability to rival film when it comes to sheer scale and craft. Before 2001, you really needed film in order to make Superman fly; Lois & Clark may have understood Superman, but it had no other choice but to suggest his more impressive super-feats, rather than actually show them. Now, with shows like The Flash, there’s no obvious sense of compromise: while there’s still a gap between what you can do in each medium, it’s much less noticeable, and mitigated by the fact that there’s a lot of things you can do with TV that you just can’t do with film. Alias, the 2001-2006 action / espionage show starring Jennifer Garner and created by J.J. Abrams, was in many ways the show that began to bridge that gap.

Compare the first season of Alias to the first season of La Femme Nikita, a show that stopped airing a scant few months before spy royalty Sydney Bristow made her debut. Sure, the earlier show could occasionally pull off some slick moments, and yet, these were these few and far between, exceptions in a show that oftentimes felt quite limited. Alias, on the other hand, often succeeded in making it feel as if those limits didn’t exist. Whereas Femme spent most of its on generic cities or inside Section One HQ, Alias took place all over the world (in a simplistic, theme-park-y, made for TV way—they sure as hell weren’t filming on China, Japan, Monaco, etc.—but still). While Nikita got into a lot of relatively-easy-to-stage shoot-outs, Sydney got into a lot of brawls, car chases, and races, requiring considerably more involved choreography from the creators.   La Femme Nikita had style and tone; Alias had that and vision. Perhaps most importantly, while La Femme Nikita was structured in a manner not dissimilar to countless other shows, with self-contained one-shot episodes and very few recurring characters, Alias had several large, overarching and interconnected storylines, involving lots of characters and events and places, giving the show a scope that at the time was unmatched and requiring far more attention and trust from viewers than was the norm at the time. Without Alias, there would have been no Lost. Without Lost to popularize the mytharc and assure TV execs that yes, viewers could deal with complex and elaborate story arcs, shows like Arrow or The Flash wouldn’t exist, at least not in their current forms.

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Stuff I like: Dance Montage Videos

enero 1, 2013 at 12:47 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

One of the things I very much like to do, even though I’ve never believed I’ve been very good at it, is dance.  Once I get into groove and forget about being nervous–which for me requires copious amounts of drink, and or a specific choreography–it can be intensely pleasurable.  It is also especially fun to see other people do it well, which is why shows like Glee can sometimes be very fun, in spite of any flaws or problematic elements they may have.  Hence, one of those things I consistently find engaging is the montage dance video, in which pieces of various dances are set to music.  Here are three of my favorites.

Is it Safe to Dance?

Song: “Safety Dance”, by Men Without Hats

Choreography: Shelby Warmbrodt

Come Again

Song: Various, Arranged by Kleptones

Choreography: Crumbs Chief

Improper Dancing

Song: “Improper Dancing”, by Electric Six

Choreography: DockValentine

Happy new year, y’all.

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Wherein I judge the first two episodes of Nick’s TMNT

septiembre 30, 2012 at 2:03 am (Reviews, sexism, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I first began hearing news about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon–this one produced by Nickelodeon–I wasn’t sure what to think.  While I was skeptical of the idea that it would win my heart the way the previous TMNT series did, several of the ideas seemed intriguing, and the direction of the toon didn’t seem like a bad one to go with.  Plus, with it being backed by Nickelodeon, there was no way it wasn’t going to have the best production values of any of the series to date.

The show’s two-part pilot “Rise of the Turtles” aired today, introducing the turtles, Splinter, April, and the two groups who appear to be the main antagonists for the immediate future, the Kraang and The Foot.  Given that the franchise has historically had very good first episodes, this version had a lot to live up to, and while it doesn’t quite succeed in that regard, it has enough interesting bits to keep me watching, at least for a while.

If we were to measure the series on a scale from A to 10, where A is the original comic book and 10 is the original cartoon, this incarnation probably rates a nine.  It takes a lot of liberties with the original material, some of them intriguing—Splinter was a father before he ever met the turtles (*), the Utroms are now The Kraang and have identical-looking human disguises and an amusingly stilted speech patterns—and some which I’m not at all sure work—April is now the turtles’ age. It’s also far more focused on being a funny show than it is in being an exciting or emotionally complex show, although shows like Adventure Time have taught me that initial impressions can be misleading. In any case, what it does it does reasonably well; all in all, it feels like a worthwhile incarnation of the series—moreso than the IDW comics, anyway.

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On the first year of IDW’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

septiembre 14, 2012 at 8:02 pm (Comic Books, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

A cropped version of the cover for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-series Vol. 1”

One year in, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has featured ninjas, brain-like aliens, corporate espionage, reincarnation, eyepatch-wearing mutant cats, and attractive women who are sensibly clad and plausibly posed. It is also incredibly boring.

To say that something feels like fan fiction is not, I feel, a particularly useful description. It´s generally used when somebody wants to criticize a work and wants to pretend that there is no such thing as awesome fan fiction. (*) Instead, I’ll say that Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman have taken elements from past incarnations of the property and redeployed them with what appears to be little concern of what made them work.  It’s as if they believe that merely using them will be enough to satisfy the audiences, regardless of execution.

Thus, the series has taken characters and plotlines from what came before it, it has not replicated what made any of them appealing. It strives to replicate the original comic book’s tone, but feels too safe to successfully replicate its grit. It takes several of the characters and concepts created for the original cartoon, but strips their appeal in trying to make them viable as “serious” characters (*). It lacks the original movie’s affability and wit, or its sense of time and place. It feels less audacious than the Archie comics, and less ambitious than the second cartoon. There’s little in the way of notable moments or quotable lines—heck, even the notoriously inconsistent second Tales of the TMNT series was at least always interesting.

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No, underwear is not the same as swimwear

enero 23, 2012 at 2:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

[Content note/Trigger Warning: Rape culture, assumptions about consent]

So a Facebook friend of mine posted this earlier today, thinking it was funny.

(The Spanish-language bit, by the way, says: “FEMALE LOGIC: Incomprehensible to all men”)

My first instinct was to defriend the guy on the spot: we’re not that close, and I doubt he’d notice. A second thought was to blast the entire ideas expressed in the picture for the bunch of sexist crap it is.  The idea that eventually won out, though, was to post this (in Spanish, which I’ve translated here):

Nothing complicated or illogical about it: just like I have no problems being naked in front of my (theoretical) girlfriend, but would have problems being naked in front of a classroom, there are women who have moments where they like showing skin, and others when they don’t.”

While possibly more diplomatic than they deserved (yeah, “they” the post quickly received multiple comments about how “true” the sentiment expressed in the picture was), and probably less forceful than is necessary, it’s what I was willing to say out loud–I’m not good with confrontations.  If nothing else, I hope that some of them at least get the point that this is not just an idiosyncrasy only women indulge in, or senseless.  Still, it only scratches the surface of the Brobdingnagian amount of fail expressed in the picture.  Hence, this post.

I’ll grant this to the poster: there are people–not all of them women–who do, in fact, feel this way.   I can not speak as to the reasons why, except to say that culture has a lot to do with it.  We’re taught that different contexts require different responses, and what’s okay in the beach (displaying a lot of skin) isn’t okay in the funeral parlor, and this is a natural extension of that.  Saying that this is something that only women do is, at best, unobservant and at worst, dishonest.

This picture also carries with it the underlying idea that if a woman is open to dressing or acting sexily in one place, then she must be okay with being that same way everywhere else, which no: I reject the premise in its entirety.  Just because a woman (person, really) consents to being ogled, or kissed, or whatever in one place does not mean that she must consent in every other context.  She’s free to give or withdraw that consent, no ifs, ands, or buts–that’s what the word MEANS.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  If a woman I’m with feels embarrassed when I accidentally catch her changing, even after we’ve spent the day at the pool, well then that’s quite alright–I feel  the same way, lots of times.  She’s allowed to have her own opinion: it is her right as a person.  And if I happened to believe that what she wants is secondary, and don’t apologize for disrupting her privacy, then congratulations, me: I’m a huge asshole.

Second is the implication that women are inherently senseless (“Female logic”), which includes the corollary that men are logical, and that never the twain shall meet–individuality or personhood need not apply. It’s this type of thinking that forms a major part of the rape culture feedback loop.  After all, if women aren’t logical like men, then they are less than men–less than people.  And if they’re less than people, you don’t need to feel empathy for them, and it’s okay to grope them and harass them and embarrass them, and to make proposals in elevators and to drug their drinks.  After all, they’re just women, right?

And women aren’t the only ones being insulted here–men are, too, since the poster implies no men can understand  women, which personally offends me.  I’ve worked very hard to try to understand people, so implying that I can’t understand half the world’s population belittles my efforts and my intelligence.  If you can’t that’s fine (no it’s not), but don’t go I think the same way you do just because we happen to share a Y gene.

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Cinco Reglas de Virtualidad

noviembre 28, 2007 at 6:25 pm (Uncategorized)

Entre los crímenes de la noticia Métele duro en la cada…puño, puño, publicada en la edición del lunes 26 de noviembre de 2007 se encuentra, de manera prominente, la esquizofrenia. En 19 párrafos, la periodista, Camile Roldán Soto busca hablar de dos fenómenos distintos, no desarrolla ninguno, y acaba con un artículo digno de…bueno, de El Nuevo Día.

Claro, solo por que los temas—violencia estudiantil y la publicidad dado a sucesos como este en lugares virtuales como Youtube.com—hallan sido mal tratados por el periódico más importante del país no quiere decir que los temas carecen de importancia—todo lo opuesto. Los temas, particularmente aquel del rol del Internet y la legión de proto-reporteros que ha incubado deberían ser discutidos.

En su libro ¿Sociedad virtual? tecnología, cybérbole, realidad, Steve Woolgar establece lo que llama sus cinco reglas de virtualidad. Estas són:

1. La aceptación y utilización de las nuevas tecnologías depende de forma crucial del contexto social local.

2. Los miedos y riesgos asociados con las nuevas tecnologías están distribuidos socialmente de forma desigual.

3. Las tecnologías virtuales son un complemento y no un sustituto de la actividad real.

4. Cuanto más virtual, más real.

5. Cuanto más global, más local.

No discutiré todas las reglas aquí; no tengo ni el interés ni el conocimiento necesario para hacerle justicia al tema. Sin embargo, quiero notar que el hecho de que el artículo del Día comprueba, por lo menos en parte, la validez de la regla numeró cuatro: “Cuanto más virtual, más real”.
La violencia estudiantil, según informa el artículo, no es un suceso exactamente raro: 1406 peleas se registraron el año pasado. Sin embargo, estas peleas ocurren en burbujas, separadas del resto de la humanidad, y por lo tanto usualmente no son un factor a aquellos no involucrados directamente.

Entra Youtube a la escena. De repente, sucesos locales obtienen distribución masiva, y la burbuja explota. El Nuevo Día lo cubre, en un artículo no muy bueno. Gracias a la iniciativa de proto-periodistas, todo el mundo puede ver por si mismo la violencia estudiantil. Lo real para pocos (las peleas), se hace virtual, (el video), se hace aún más real (el artículo), y Woolgar obtiene un poco más de evidencia para su teoría.

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