Posts Tagged ‘Entertainment Weekly’

Every Pixar movie since Toy Story 2 has had pressure to live up to the (commercial, if not always critical – ahem, Cars 2) success of its predecessor. Pixar’s most recent release, Brave, has the added pressure of featuring – gasp! – a female protagonist. The excitement over the prospect of a strong female character lasted until it was reveled that Merida, the primary character, happens to be a princess. Slate summarizes these reactions nicely:

The general disappointment with Pixar’s new movie Brave, which opens Friday, began long before even a trailer was released. The complaint was focused on the lead character Merida, who Pixar proudly announced would be its first girl heroine. After enduring some public and critical outcry over the lack of female leads, the company, known for daring to foist extreme dystopian landscapes and despot teddy bears on the world’s children, was now making its big feminist statement with a … princess. Peggy Orenstein was already mad about it in her 2011 book Cinderella Ate My Daughter and now she is even madder: “It still irritates me that a team as creative as Pixar’s, which has imagined so many extraordinary male characters, can’t imagine a female protagonist unless she’s a bloody princess” she wrote last week.

Now that the movie has actually been released, some of the reviewers have picked up on the fact that Brave is, at heart, a story about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters (though they could also argue convincingly that it is about the complicated relationships between teenagers and parents generally). The review at Entertainment Weekly touches on this point, as does the review at Slate. Slate‘s XXfactor blog goes further, connecting Brave to a growing list of movies that deal with cultural issues of women and power, stating:

When the Queen explains to Merida why she can’t be rebellious she lists not just generic duties to the kingdom but personality traits which a proper princess should have: compassion, patience, caution, cleanliness, a yearning for perfection. This could very well describe the average ambitious college girl. People often ask why there aren’t more women in power. The real answer is that even though women are more successful than ever these days, we hold on to a cultural ambivalence about women with real power. Women can be competent, perfect, compassionate, but not quite dominant.

I think this is partly because we associate dominance with physical force. In the hunter/gatherer origin myth, men control the resources because they have more upper body strength. And even though upper body strength is irrelevant now, we haven’t been able to let go of the myth—until now, when it seems a shift is afoot. Pop culture is reflecting our anxieties about that shift, with ever more uncomfortable roles for women who fight and kill: Hanna, Salt, The Hunger Games, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and now Brave.

Some might point to movies like these and say that they are part of a larger solution to the problem of negative gender stereotypes more generally, but these depictions also demonstrate our society’s apparent inability to accept that a woman can be strong and powerful and emotional and normal. A blog entry at Entertainment Weekly asks, for example, “Could the heroine of Pixar’s Brave be gay?” The evidence in support of this question, which Stephen Colbert and others also commented on, is as follows:

But could Merida be gay? Absolutely. She bristles at the traditional gender roles that she’s expected to play: the demure daughter, the obedient fiancée. Her love of unprincess-like hobbies, including archery and rock-climbing, is sure to strike a chord with gay viewers who felt similarly “not like the other kids” growing up. And she hates the prospect of marriage — at least, to any of the three oafish clansmen that compete for her hand — enough to run away from home and put her own mother’s life at risk. She’s certainly not a swooning, boy-crazy Disney princess like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel or Snow White. In fact, Merida may be the first in that group to be completely romantically disinclined (even cross-dressing Mulan had a soft spot for Li Shang).

I should note that Merida is basically depicted as asexual – the “romantic” interests in the movie are in support of the story about her relationship with her parents, rather than the story itself. So we have apparently reached a point as a society at which depictions of strong female characters are becoming more common but are not so common that we can see them as normal rather than a sign that the characters in question are somehow different. As a doctor, I prescribe more strong female characters in media from all backgrounds and sexualities so that we can see that strength does not depend on one’s gender, background, or sexuality.

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The appeal of smoking escapes me but I know that lots of people, even smart people, have found comfort in the feeling of hot smoke clouding their lungs.  Since I’m not a smoker I rejoice every time a restaurant, campus, or city goes smoke free, making my visits both cleaner and clearer.  The movement toward smoke-free locations, though, highlights the fact that most places were once smoke-full, including the ad agencies and airlines of the 1960s.  Following the success of AMC’s Mad Men, which is set in the smoky ’60s, ABC is attempting to get a piece of the period pie this fall with its new show Pan Am.  One difference between the two, as related by this Entertainment Weekly article, is the fact that ABC’s Disney overlords won’t let smoking appear on Pan Am.

More interesting to me (though maybe not the woman sitting near me on my flight to Las Vegas last month who decried the lost days of smoking in metal tubes flying through the sky) is the fact that the lack of smoking is not the only anachronistic element of the show.  As EW states:

Ironically, the jet set drama from Nancy Hult Ganis, who was a former Pan Am stewardess, has already made plans to introduce an African American flight attendant sometime later this season even though the mile-high jobs were exclusively awarded to white women in the early days. The first black stewardess didn’t appear on a flight until the mid-60s, Schlamme admitted.

Of course, there is no intention of having multiple African American flight attendants.  It will be interesting to see if she is involved in any of the struggles that the early African American flight attendants surely experienced or if she will just be there to provide some contrast for the white cast members.

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Like love (and Christmas), sociology is all around us.  It is always interesting to see entertainment outlets take sociological approaches to the media.  Entertainment Weekly recently examined the conflicting views of Bella Swan and her supernatural friends in the Twilight series of books and films, arguing that one’s view of the characters is connected to differing ideals “of what love and sex and romance should look like and feel like, of what they should be“:

A movie like Eclipse may be a far cry from art, but it’s increasingly clear, at least to me, that the movie hits a nerve, even in people who say they hate it, because it embodies a paradigm shift: a swooning re-embrace of traditional, damsel-meets-caveman values by a new generation of young women who are hearkening back, quite consciously, to the romantic-erotic myths of the past. The Bella Swan view of the world may, on the surface, be the opposite of “rebellious,” but the reason her story sets so many hearts aflame is that it is, in a way, a rebellion — against the authority represented by a generation of women’s-studies classes. Bella’s story is, by nature, a meditative, even meandering one because it’s the story of how she wants to be acted upon, to be loved, desired, coveted, fought over, protected. A movie like Eclipse represents nothing less than a new and unambiguous embrace, by women, of the male gaze.

This analysis is even more enlightening when you consider that the world of Twilight, especially in the books, is a place with dial-up internet where a vampire lends his human girlfriend (who he is constantly terrified will be harmed) his cell phone because she doesn’t have one of her own and where a junior in high school who has gone on one date with a boy in her class before prom hopes that is enough to lead to a first kiss on prom night.  In contrast to media descriptions of teen binge drinking and hook ups, I’m not surprised that this world has found an audience who yearns (morosely, if they follow the lead of their favorite characters) for a different image of teen life.

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The title of this post is one of the more gentle quotes compiled from Twitter on this site following Kanye West’s interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday night.  For those unfamiliar with the situation (though I recently saw this story on CNN, so if you’re reading this you’re probably familiar), Taylor Swift won the award for Best Female Video and Kanye West took the stage to say that Beyonce’s video for “Single Ladies” was one of the best of all time.  Apologies followed, but the story continues to be told.

Entertainment Weekly, of all places, does a good job of examining the racial implications of this situation:

Then there’s the other context underlying this story: namely, race. I want to make it 100 percent clear that I am absolutely not accusing everyone who’s criticized Kanye’s VMAs conduct of having racist motivations. That would be ridiculous, not to mention hypocritical. But racism is a undeniable part of this controversy. Not just from the Twitterers and blog commenters whose first instinct has been to spew truly vile racial slurs in Kanye’s direction. (Blogger Harry Allen has compiled some of the most disgusting examples; warning, lots of NSFW language.) I’m talking, too, about all the characterizations of Taylor Swift as a victim of some awful crime. When a black man speaks rudely in the presence of a younger white woman — and that’s all Kanye really did — and it gets described as an “attack” or a “violation” or an “assault,” you bet that’s playing into centuries of racist tropes. When a black man does something impolite, making no reference whatsoever to race, and he immediately gets crucified for “hating white people” or “reverse racism,” that itself is a form of racism. Here’s a question for those who use this line: VMAs host Russell Brand made some pretty gross jokes about Katy Perry and Lady Gaga during the broadcast. Does he hate white people, too?

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