I tend to be suspicious of studies or articles that proclaim the end of men, or of the gender gap—after all, the hecession turned into the hecovery, and sexism looks relatively entrenched to me. But I’m kind of intrigued by Liza Mundy’s The Richer Sex. That book notes that 40 percent of married women now outearn their husbands, and starts thinking about how our sense of masculinity might evolve if men and women switched their roles.
There’s already a fair bit of pop culture that explores the lives of stay-at-home dads, of which the best, I think, is Up All Night. But a lot of those depictions are still rooted in the idea that fathers taking on primary responsibility for their children or women supporting their husbands and families as the sole breadwinner is a strange and new thing. And in these worlds, what we understand to be masculine and feminine is pretty much the same thing, with a dose of daddy grooming rituals to keep things hot at home.
This goes hand in hand with our conversation from a couple of weeks ago about world-building. But I’d love to see someone take a book like The Richer Sex and use that as a basis for thinking about a science fictional world. We’ve had some good science fiction, like The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men that’s come out of a rethinking of the value of women’s fertility: when it goes up, women tend to be in even more danger of finding themselves under men’s control. But I wonder if we can imagine a future where women are more economically powerful men that is culturally different but not inherently antagonistic. What does masculinity look like when it’s divorced from the exercise of power? And what does femininity mean when it’s divorced from domesticity. I’d imagine different in the short-term and long-term, but that’s a thought experiment worth doing.
I spent a lot of my childhood reading the Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library, which is highly recommended for the semi-macabre young person in your life. They’re particularly a good reminder of what our fairy tales really are, and how sanitized Disney in particular and Hollywood in general have made them for mass consumption. But I wonder if we’re at a moment when fairy tales might be having not merely a resurgence, but recovering some of their original, horrific power.
First, there was Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood. The movie was a huge disappointment, failing to fulfill its promise to do something novel with the identity of the wolf, and full of cheap-looking foam sets and MTV-styled hair. But it at least had the right impulse: Hardwicke wanted to restore the sense that the night is dark and full of terrors, particularly when you’re surrounded by the big woods. And she was wise to suggest that order can bring fear with it, too, though the message gets watered down a bit when it comes in the form of Gary Oldman in doofy facial hair and wielding the power of a Torture Elephant:
A short film called Red (thanks to io9) does a better job of getting at those ideas. It’s bloody and it’s heartbreaking: if you have to cut your way out of the belly of an animal that’s devoured you and drag the broken body of your grandmother out with you, even if you win, you’re likely to end up fairly traumatized. Becoming a warrior is not always a particularly delightful experience. And having to kill to survive is exhausting:
Snow White and the Huntsman, which arrives in theaters in June, appears to be going the same route, albeit with a bigger special effects budget. The Queen’s evil isn’t implied, she’s not killing her victims with anything as quaint as a poisonous apple. She’s sucking the life force out of them, stabbing them in bed, ravening for their hearts. The forest may be more full of wonders than terrors, but said wonders aren’t of the adorably singing woodland creatures variety. And becoming a hero means going to the front lines in a medieval siege, an enterprise that carries as much risk of grisly death as it does potential for glamour:
By contrast, the dreadful-looking Mirror, Mirror looks like an anachronism precisely because it’s so pristine. These aren’t dark woods so much as they’re a Hollywood set, or an incomplete CGI rendering. It’s hard to be terrified of a world where people’s teeth literally sparkle, and curses turn people into adorable simulacra of puppy dogs. These people are plastic: even if you cut them to the quick, there’d be no blood or guts to spill into that snow.
Once Upon a Time has a bit of that shininess problem, though conceptually, it’s gone darker. There’s a girl who turns into a wolf, and an actual heart in a box that’s been identified as belonging to a character we’ve gotten to know. That’s upsetting, even if we don’t see the organ itself. Grimm, which recently got a second-season pickup, and has improved by focusing on the core relationship between the detective and the werewolf, has been horrific from the beginning: we’ve got stolen organs, fights to the death, and incredibly ugly acts of murder all of them. The premise of the show itself is deeply unnerving—that there’s something else hiding under the skin many of us present to the world.
And Once Upon a Time and Grimm are nodding at a question it’ll be important for fairy tale storytellers to consider if this trend is to continue. In the absence of the dark woods, the arbitrary nature of feudal lords, the horror of high infant mortality rates (at least in the developing world), the wolves that steal the sheep, what are our terrors? And which stories are the best matches for telling them? The persistence of crime dramas would suggest that the big city has replaced the big woods, that serial killers are our ravening beasts. But I’m not sure we have myths to embody the new fears generated by a world that’s much larger than the village, or the disembodied terrors of the digital age.
Almost since there’s been hip-hop, there have been white women covering songs originally recorded by black men, often for comedic effect. Most recently, Katy Perry turned in a less-utterly-humiliating-than-could-have-been expected rendition of “Ni**as in Paris.” She avoided the most obvious conflict by performing the clean version, subbing in “ninjas” for the title term and avoiding the spectacle of a white girl thinking it’s okay to use “nigger” or a variation thereof just because it appears in lyrics. Plus, the oral sex jokes are at least kind of in keeping with the faux-Sapphic hijinks that got Perry famous in the first place:
Then, there’s Karmin, who have made their entire career out of the incongruity of two white hipsters—but really, mostly, a white chick—stepping into the lyrics laid down by black rappers. There’s no question that Amy Heidemann deserves to be the champion at any number of karaoke nights, but there’s something a little weird about the idea that this is a hook for an entire career. It’s also interesting to see them take Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” to Ellen and Ryan Seacrest’s show, places where the original artist himself is (justly, I think) not exactly welcome:
In 2006, Robyn and Jenny Wilson covered Saul Williams’ “List of Demands (reparations).” It’s a song that’s arguably as much about romantic relationships as race, and that’s clear in the original. But Robyn and Wilson did leave out a striking verse that compares a confrontation between lovers to a confrontation between a man and the police. Williams sang in the original “Call the police! / I’m strapped to the teeth and liable to disregard your every belief…Protect ya neck,’cause, son, I’m breaking out of my noose.” That seems like a wise omission. It’d be hard for either of these women to deliver those lines with any credibility or claim to familiarity with the experiences they’re using as metaphors:
But the best entry in the the white-ladies-covering-black-male-rappers genre remains Jenny Owen Youngs, who in her cover of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” made herself the most normal thing in the setting. When there are giant penguins and abominable snowmen about, the focus doesn’t have to be the supposed incongruity between the singer and her lyrics:
The marvelous Dan Drezner reminds me of this cover of “Whatever You Like,” which is one of the few of these covers to successfully and transgressively change the meaning of the initial song. In it, Anya Marina claims the kind of economic power that rappers tend to hold as their sole prerogative to dispense to women. And the setting makes the “Let me put this big boy in your life” line much funnier than it initially was:
Those of you who loved Jane Espenson’s marriage equality comedy Husbands should be delighted: Jane and star Cheeks are writing the second season of the show now. And they’re turning to Kickstarter to fund it. I’m so glad to see we’re at a point where it’s basically a sure thing that an established artist can get project funding from their fans now. Not all artists want to work this way, but for those who do, and who want to explore projects that aren’t necessarily going to attract studio funding (like, say, gay romantic comedies rather than gay family dramas), it’s logical and wonderful that they’d be able to go directly to the people who want to purchase that specific product.
The interesting question, though, is what’s the next step beyond single-project funding? People will put up $50,000 for a season of Husbands or $100,000 for the first edition of the female-created comics book Womanthology (which, it was recently announced, will run as a regular series). But would they fund a full run of Community? Would they give Joss Whedon a million dollars for a project they knew nothing about whatsoever? Or would they contribute to a general project fund for an artist or a group of artists?
I had a long conversation with Linda Holmes from NPR, the filmmaker David Dylan Thomas, and the author Kevin Smokler about this at SXSW, which David wrote up in a great post here, with particular insight into the artist’s perspective:
For this model, the term “crowdscourced patronage” seems especially appropriate. As an artist, it’s an exciting idea because I find that the thing holding me back as a filmmaker isn’t money for equipment, it’s a lack of time because I work a full time job. What I need is money to live, not money for tools. In this model, a large enough subscription base could make that possible.
We discussed how that might skew the relationship between the artist and the audience and how it might make one a little too beholden to one’s fan base–I mean how disappointed would you be if you contribute $1,000 a year to The Whedon Fund and Serenity 2 sucks versus just paying $12 at a movie theater and having Serenity 2 suck? But I feel it’s only an extension/refinement of the current artist/fan relationship and, if Serenity 2 sucks, you can cancel your subscription. Although I suppose there’s a risk there that “burned” patrons will be less likely to fund other artists.
As the scale gets larger, both in terms of the projects and the pools of money at stake, the questions get more complicated. A show like Husbands might sell some merchandise, but it’s not necessarily going to generate revenue above and beyond the costs of production. Something like Cabin in the Woods, on the other hand, has the opportunity to make a bucket of money. If it had been funded by fan donors, or a subscription fund, would the filmmakers be obligated to pay the fund back so it can continue its work? Will fans be content to be paid in swag unrelated to the products they’re funding, as is the case in most Kickstarter campaigns, if the projects they’re supporting become commercially viable?
This kind of power to get projects off the ground is fantastic, but at some point, it also starts to raise questions of infrastructure and fairness. There are valuable things that come from working within the studio system when you’re working on projects of a certain scale. And fan power is incredible, but that also doesn’t mean it’s attractive to exploit it. Fans are stakeholders. And if they start acting as investors, maybe they should be treated that way.
Jasiri X has been on quite a tear lately, and his most recent track, an excoriation of both George Zimmerman’s actions and the attitudes that have contributed to Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida three weeks ago and the refusal to charge Zimmerman, is no exception:
I really like the decision to build this off of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild.” That “What’s a king to a god? What’s a god to an unbeliever?” couplet is a nice way to get at both the power relationship between Zimmerman and Trayvon, and the enormities of justice promised and denied.
Listening to this crystallized my main point of frustration with Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball, which felt like a solid but weirdly unengaged album. It’s so obsessed with creating myths that there aren’t specific narratives in the songs, whether they’re fictions out of the whole cloth or fictionalized versions of stories that are familiar because they’re true. There are veiled references to Katrina, and giant mosquitos in the Meadowlands, dates thrown out for us to sink emotional hooks into, but there are no characters, and no real stories. America’s too rich in terms of its triumphs and its tragedies to turn our iconic figures into blank monoliths. We need a thousand Lonesome Deaths of Hattie Carroll. Springsteen isn’t the only person capable of writing such songs these days (we do, after all, still have Dylan around), but if he’s going to tackle injustice, it would have been nice to see him do it with some detail.
I think we’ve found President Obama’s new campaign entrance music, no?
I’m not sure I would have gone after Romney’s faith when there are so many other, and so many more meaningful reversals in his record to explore—Mormonism really isn’t that confusing or mysterious. But it’s still pretty funny. And maybe this can coax Eminem back into recording voter turnout tracks like he did in 2004.
Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke have provided an embarrassment and a revenue sink for his employer, Clear Channel, which has had to contend with increasing numbers of advertisers who have pulled out of advertising on Limbaugh’s show. And as Limbaugh has continued to magnify his own woes, first with an anemic apology about his word choice, and then with an incoherent Twitter campaign against his critics, the signs are clear that Limbaugh’s position as an icon of the right might no longer be secure. In Limbaugh’s self-inflicted wounds lie the opportunity for a conservative rival to emerge—and for a rival network to Clear Channel to scoop up an enormous amount of money.
That rival talker is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and the rival network is Cumulus Media. “The Mike Huckabee Show” launches on April 9, and Cumulus is eager to sign up radio stations to carry it. The opportunity for them is two-fold: if stations decide to drop Limbaugh, there’s an obvious opening for them to carry Huckabee’s show instead. But even if they don’t, most of the local station contracts with Limbaugh are exclusive: another station in the same market can’t carry him. In the past, that meant the station had snagged itself a prize. In the future, it might look more like they’re saddled with a cigar-smoking albatross.
Cumulus Media’s seized that opportunity, telling stations that don’t have Limbaugh now and that might choose not to reup their contracts to carry him in the future, that in Huckabee, they’ve got a better alternative. The company’s distributed a list of 31 advertisers who have asked that their spots not be affiliated with any Limbaugh-related programming. And they’re pitching Huckabee’s show by telling stations it’ll offer “more conversation, less confrontation.”
In a few weeks, we’ll start to see if that strategy works. And even if it does, Huckabee’s tone may be different from Limbaugh’s, but that doesn’t mean his positions—with a few exceptions like childhood obesity and arts education—will vary much from the man he has a chance to dethrone. But as radio stations reassess their budgets, they might want to reconsider whether Limbaugh’s once-vaunted brand will continue to be worth it to them at the end of the next contract they sign. More than 140 advertisers have already made that assessment and decided to move on.
This is fascinating in concept if not precisely in execution: Lifetime is remaking Steel Magnolias, that redoubtable weepie of Southern women, beauty shops, and diabetic comas, as a television movie. But it’s doing so with an all-black cast that includes Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, and Jill Scott. Latifah will play M’Lynn, taking Sally Field’s role in the original, and her daughter Shelby, portrayed by Julia Roberts in the original, will be played by Rashad’s daughter Condola. All the casting discussion aside, this project raises a number of questions* that I feel like I don’t have answers to.
Should we embrace remakes of movies that originally had black casts with white leads?
Or should we wait until original stories about characters of color can get into production, even if there’s little likelihood that studios will do the work to get those projects to cross over?
Television gets a lot of hype as a place where creators can be more innovative than they are in movies. Is that really true when it comes to race? It feels as if it’s less true now than it was in, say, the early nineties.
If a remake moves a concept from the movies to television, does that count as a demotion?
And will a remake of Steel Magnolias just slot Latifah, Rashad, and Scott into essentially straight rewrites of the original? Or will it be mindful of the ways in which the black and white southern experiences are different for women? It’s true, of course, that both black women and white women visit beauty parlors. But if you get that far and think you’ve figured out that folks are the same, you’re missing some rather important things.
*As a side note, I will be fascinated to see if the movie includes the original’s pilot about taking Shelby off life support, or if in our moment of resurgent pro-liferism and after Terri Schiavo, even that’s become too controversial.
Alyssa Rosenberg is the Features Editor for ThinkProgress.org. She is a columnist for the XX Factor at Slate, and a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Daily Beast,The New Republic, Esquire.com, The Daily, The American Prospect, and National Journal. Read more.