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Friday, May 31, 2013

You Need to Watch Orphan Black Immediately

Orphan Black has been drifting around my Tumblr dash for the past few weeks, so I finally made the decision to watch it. This decision resulted in me staying up until 4:00 A.M. and curling into a ball of feelings and insanity.

This show will destroy your life. Watch it.
The only thing I knew about Orphan Black going in was that there was a well-written lesbian relationship. Real talk: that alone informs about 95% of my decision to watch a show or not. I'm actually very glad that I didn't know anything about the plot going in. It made the reveals a lot more effective and exponentially increased my enjoyment. Since I want you to enjoy it as much as I do, I'm going to try and convince you to watch this show without telling you what it's about.

First thing about Orphan Black: it's complex. The best thing I can think of to compare it to is Pretty Little Liars in terms of how twisted the plot gets. But we're not in high school anymore. The stakes are higher than they are in Pretty Little Liars, and the stakes in that show are pretty dang high. There is a big sense of urgency in each and every episode, and you will never ever have to worry about getting bored.

The next thing you need to know about Orphan Black is that this lady is the star, and she is a magical acting goddess.
Also, just appreciate her face for a second.
This is where it gets trickier for me to tell you much without spoiling you, but rest assured that Tatiana Maslany deserves all the awards. I'm continually blown away by her acting ability in each and every episode, and so shall be you.

In addition, Orphan Black passes the Bechdel test every ten seconds. For those of you who don't know what the Bechdel test is, it's a way to gauge how well a TV show/movie/book/whatever thing is representing women. There are three criteria: 1) There must be two named female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. While that doesn't seem all that difficult, you'd be surprised how many things don't pass. Basically this show doesn't just pass, but breaks the Bechdel test. I'm actually pretty sure it wouldn't pass the reverse Bechdel test if there had to be two named male characters who talked to each other about something other than a woman. Subversive awesomeness.

Also, that well-written lesbian relationship that moved me to watch it is there, too.

The season finale of Orphan Black is tomorrow, and there is a marathon on BBC America leading up to it. I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but that's just the perfect opportunity to get caught up, isn't it?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

An English Major-Style Over-Analysis of Heathers Because It's the Actual Best

So, I may or may not have watched Heathers three times in the past two weeks. Not only that, I have roped  unsuspecting Heathers virgins into watching it with me by telling them that it's basically Mean Girls from the 80's with a dark twist. Which is kind of true.

There is even an Africa-themed lunch joke, I'm not even kidding.
Of course, since Heathers came before Mean Girls, it would be more accurate to say that Mean Girls is kind of like Heathers-lite. And Mean Girls is awesome, so clearly Heathers is just as awesome, if not more awesome. What I'm trying to say is that before reading the rest of this post, you need to go watch Heathers.
If Mean Girls or other movies like it aren't appealing to you, well...

I love me some Mean Girls, but one of the things about Heathers that makes it appeal to me a bit more is that there is so much stuff that can be analyzed in an English major-y fashion. There are literary allusions, symbolic colors, and of course lots of dark, satiric goodness.

Let's dive in, shall we?

First off, we have the opening shot with the iconic scrunchie.

There's a lot of red in this shot, isn't there? Red swatch, red nail polish, and, most importantly, red scrunchie. Red symbolizes power, and that's exactly what the scrunchie in Heathers represents. It's passed around a bit during the movie, and whoever has the scrunchie has the power. It doesn't get more 80's than that.

The fact that there's so much red in the shot lets us know right up front what this movie is about. It's about power.

I'm really tempted to quote Buffy right now, but I won't.

Heather Chandler is the All-Powerful Scrunchie Overlord at the beginning of the movie, and she's in charge of the Heathers clique. All of the Heathers are color-coded for your convenience.

Of course, all the colors get shuffled later when shit hits the fan.

The reason that shit hits the fan is this guy.

James Dean - whoops, sorry - JASON Dean (JD) is the film's satirical version of the "bad boy". Unlike most other "bad boys" in fiction, JD is legitimately psychotic. Being the villain of the piece, and black being the color most often used to represent evil, he wears black for the whole movie. You know who else wears black some of the time? The protagonist.

The girl also uses a monocle. For real.
Veronica Sawyer falls for JD's "bad boy" ways and gets swept up in his murder schemes. While she does resist him most of the time, her wardrobe shows us that she's got some darkness in her as well.

JD gets the idea for these make-it-look-like-a-suicide murder schemes when he glances at a copy of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath in Heather Chandler's room. You may know Sylvia as that brilliant poet who was regrettably cursed with depression and stuck her head in an oven when she was thirty. I don't know much about The Bell Jar itself (though it is on my never-ending must read list) but referencing Sylvia Plath, who was pretty and blonde just like Heather Chandler, is awesome enough for me.

Death by drain cleaner, not oven.
After Heather Chandler kicks the bucket, Heather Duke (Ms. Green with Envy) claims the Power Scrunchie and starts wearing a lot of red. Heather Duke has been holding on to a copy of Moby Dick for most of the movie, and only decides to get rid of it when she rises to power. While I've never read Moby Dick, I know enough about it to guess that she sympathizes with Captain Ahab trying to conquer a power much stronger than himself. She only decides to ditch the book when she becomes the whale herself and starts eating people.

Veronica takes the Scrunchie of Power away from Heather Duke at the end of the movie after she's defeated JD. Something else worthy of note is that Westerburg's school colors are red and black. Power and evil are the forces rubbing up against each other there, so it makes sense.

Veronica became part of the Heathers clique in the first place when she abandoned her best friend, Betty Finn. Their names are doubly symbolic of their destined BFF status. The first names, Betty and Veronica, might remind you of Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics (which I have never read) and the last names, Sawyer and Finn, might remind you of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain's classic novels (which I once read way back in the eighth grade). With destiny friendship names like those, it's no wonder they reconcile by the end of the movie.

I tried to find a less gay still of these two and could not. Make of that what you will.
I'm sure there are even more things to analyze that I'll notice on subsequent watches, but this is all I've got for now. I hope that you've enjoyed my little self-indulgent English Major post. At the very least, I hope I've convinced you of the awesomeness of Heathers.

Heathers 5ever.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Contrary to Popular Belief, Television Will Not Rot Your Brain and Here's Why

So, how many of us have heard over and over through the years that TV will rot your brain and that you should read a book instead?

Thought so.

Now, don't get me wrong. Books are incredibly important. I'm an English major, so clearly I think books are pretty snazzy. I just don't think there should be a polar binary between books and television in which books are endless pools of knowledge and imagination while TV shows are evil, nasty brain suckers.

The main thing that this cliche glosses over is that there is good and bad in both mediums. Actually, good and bad is a, well, bad way to put this. There are books and TV shows that stimulate the mind and get our brain juices going, and that's awesome. There are also books and TV shows that are mindless fun, and that's also awesome. The point is that neither is all good or all bad.

Another thing that tends to be glossed over is that books and television actually function in very similar ways. They are both portals into worlds and experiences we would never have access to in our own lives. They both tell stories that we can invest in and learn from. And, most importantly, we can see ourselves reflected in them.

Here's another question. How many of us have felt connected to a fictional character presented either in print or on a screen because you related to their experiences?

Again, thought so.

If you have never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, please skip over the following paragraphs until the bolded lettering so as to avoid spoiling yourself, proceed to the nearest television, and watch it immediately. It's for your own good.

When I was sixteen, I was starting to figure out that I maybe, kind of liked girls in a friend way and also a more-than-friend way. The main catalyst of this was that I was sort of in complete puppy love with a girl who was sort of one of my best friends.To make matters worse, I lived in a one stoplight, bible-thumping, everybody-knows-everybody's-business town where I felt I needed to stay deeply closeted for my own good. Yikes.

Me at this point in my life

This was when I watched my first ever episode of Buffy. Unfortunately, it was the episode where Tara dies. Even though I had jumped into the middle of the story and had seen only that episode, I was so emotionally affected by it that I couldn't really function for a good hour afterwards.

Accurate representation
Even after this emotional scarring, I was hooked. I started watching the show from the beginning and fell in love. The first few seasons of the show were amazing, but I waited with bated breath for the introduction of Tara. The brief glimpse I had gotten into the relationship between her and Willow was the first time I'd seen my feelings reflected at me in a way that reassured me that they weren't wrong.

Seriously emotional just looking at them
When Tara finally turned up in the fourth season, I marathoned like nobody's business, locked away in my basement with the remote at the ready to turn the TV off should anyone come downstairs. I lived vicariously through their relationship, with all of its ups and downs, until the bitter, tragic end. Even after it was all over, I felt complete in the knowledge that I wasn't alone. I wasn't the only person who had these feelings, and my feelings were okay. A television show helped me accept myself and gave me the courage to come out.


Books have that power as well. I've read Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters at least four times for the same reason I've rewatched every episode of Buffy at least twice (and any episode involving Willow and Tara together in any capacity more than that). I still connect with the characters in them on an emotional level. Books and television are both incredibly powerful mediums that, in my opinion, can work in tandem very well and change our society for the better. They can live together in peace and harmony.

Yes, I'm ending this post with an Avatar reference

Monday, May 6, 2013

Shit Idiot White Cis Straight Men Say #1

Last night, my girlfriend's ex demonstrated his extreme mastery of Facebook misogyny. After a crap ton of super fabulous women kicked his ass with the sweet power of words, I realized that there had been quite a bit of Facebook idiocy happening lately. I also realized that the group of people perpetuating this idiocy had some things in common. Namely, they were white, they were cis, they were straight, and they were men. So, I've decided to start a series of posts not only to honor (read: shame) them, but also to hopefully spark discussion about why this keeps happening.

Now, I've taken some precautions to preserve the identity of these guys and anybody else involved in the discussion. I've done this out of the benevolent goodness of my heart. Actually, I'd just really rather not have to deal with more crap from them if I can help it.

I'm going to start off this series with the event that inspired its conception. Here's the original status that started the shitstorm.

One of my girlfriend's Facebook friends posted this status. It's your typical female empowerment Facebook status, slightly problematic, but with an overall good message. And about fifty people liked it, which is awesome. More power to the empowering Facebook statuses. But then this happened. For clarification, black is the original poster, while brown is Mr. White, Cis, and Straight.

Now, this doesn't seem malicious at first. It's clearly not intended to be malicious, either. I am in no way claiming that men do not face societal pressure, because they do. They do not, however, "experience body envy as much as women". Do men have pressure to fit the masculine ideals in the media? Yes, but they don't have the threat of objectification hanging over their heads. The feminine ideal that women are expected to meet is an object of masculine desire. The masculine ideal that men are expected to meet is powerful and has control over his own domain. The idea of objectification is much more dangerous. Also, apparently a girl's mother is supposed to teach her what men go through? What?

Now, a lovely debate between this guy and my girlfriend erupted, but I'm not going to subject you to those screencaps because 1) they contain big long paragraphs that aren't necessary to get the gist of this story, and 2) I'm lazy. All you need to know is that Mr. WCS ended it passive aggressively and that was that. Or so it seemed to the outside eye.

I searched "The Plot Thickens" in Google Images and this was the best I could do. I'm sorry.

Mr. WCS sent my girlfriend a private message. It really speaks for itself, so here it is.

 No. Not okay. This kind of gendered insult demonstrates the misogyny that the original status was crusading against. Also, the protective girlfriend in me wants to rip off his balls and feed them to wolves, but that's neither here nor there.

So, my girlfriend in a move of spectacular brilliance, screencapped this glorious ignorance and posted it on Facebook for all to see. The backlash was fun.

The fun was taken to the next level when his mom joined in.

I would make my own commentary about why that's a bunch of bull, but look! A lovely Facebook commenter already did it for me!

The comment thread that follows is longer than the Nile, but I'm sure you get the gist at this point. I think what really got to me about this was the fact that he was getting support for his misogyny from other WOMEN. I almost understand the mom, since it's probably hard to see the flaws in your own child, but this guy had support from a few other women not related to him as well. Misogyny in our society is so internalized that when someone stands up against it, they're the ones who get reamed. You know what, people who perpetuate misogyny as the norm in our society? 

Because I don't want to end this post on a negative note, here's an adorable gerbil on a swing. Have a nice day.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Beginning of This Blog Is About Endings

Hello, my as-of-yet nonexistent readers. Welcome to my blog. I've been planning on starting one for quite a while now, and have finally stifled my inner procrastinator enough to actually act on those plans. Here's some basic info: My name is Erica, I'm an English major at Simpson College, and I'm also the president of Simpson PRIDE (the campus LGBTQIA group). If you want to know more things about me, there are some social media links on the side that should satiate your curiosity. If those don't do the trick, feel free to contact me through this blog or social media.

Now that introductions are out of the way, and this blog is about to officially begin, I want to talk about endings. Namely, the very recent ending of one of the best TV shows I've ever had the privilege of watching. That show is a little Canadian show called Bomb Girls.

Just look at those gorgeous Canadian faces
For any of you who don't know, Bomb Girls is set in Canada in the midst of WWII. It follows the lives of women working at Victory Munitions, a factory making bombs for the war, and their struggles with various issues like misogyny, being gay at a time when that was definitely NOT okay, equal pay for both genders, etc. It is exactly as awesome as it sounds.

Immediately before beginning this post, I watched the (likely) last ever episode of Bomb Girls. This was me at the end of it.

Global cancelled Bomb Girls after two seasons. This may not sound too bad, but one has to keep in mind that Bomb Girls started off as a mini-series with only six episodes. It got so much critical acclaim and buzz that Global ordered a second season of twelve episodes. So, Bomb Girls in its entirety consists of only eighteen episodes, less than most American TV shows have in a single season. Global has promised a two-hour TV movie event to wrap things up in the future, but no contracts have been signed and we all know the future Veronica Mars movie is regrettably not the norm.

To add salt to the wound, the news that Bomb Girls had been cancelled arrived on the wind of Glee being renewed for not one, but two more seasons.

The reason this is so maddening is because Bomb Girls actually is what Glee pretends to be. Namely, a socially progressive show with the power to change television as we know it. Where Bomb Girls presents female characters with unique personalities, character development, and the ability to overcome the many obstacles that stand in their way, Glee presents female characters who are thrown to the wayside in favor of the male characters. Where Bomb Girls presents a lesbian character fighting to exist in a time period that doesn't want her, Glee makes the only lesbian storyline about the straight, male football player who outed her.  Bomb Girls clearly opposes slut-shaming and promotes women having agency in their sexual lives. Glee slut-shames shamelessly with no repercussions. Also, Bomb Girls has an ACTUAL PLOT.

Even the cast of Glee is not impressed with this chain of events
There is a campaign going on now to save the show, and there is quite a bit you can do to help. Follow @SaveBombGirls or visit the campaign's website to stay up to date on the latest campaign information. Send emails or letters directly to those in charge of this decision saying why you think the show should be renewed (the article is from before Bomb Girls was cancelled, but the addresses are still accurate). Sign these petitions so Global knows just how many people they are disappointing. You can even donate to the campaign so they can send bandanas in bulk to Global to show how serious they are. If you donate $25 (Canadian dollars) or more, you'll get a bandana for yourself. They say "Keep Calm and Save Bomb Girls" and look pretty snazzy.

We can do it!
The very last scene of Bomb Girls ends with a Winston Churchill quote: "Now this is not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning." Let's show Global that this isn't the end of Bomb Girls, but only the end of the beginning.