The dialogue looks great and quippy. Mark Ruffalo may prove to be the first plausible on-screen Hulk. We’ve got a fun look at Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, though every time I see her on-screen I keep expecting the next scene to be set in MacLaren’s Pub:
But Peter Suderman notes something that’s got me anxious: The Avengers doesn’t have a rating or a run time yet, which means with a May 4 opening date, it’s not actually done (by contrast, The Dark Knight Rises, which isn’t out until late July, has its PG-13). Do we think there’s last-minute studio agita at work here?
One of the most interesting and difficult parts of the debate over The Help, the Oscar-winning adaptation of a novel about a young white woman who documents the lives of maids in her Mississippi community, was over the appropriate role of white characters in cultural depictions of the Civil Rights movement. There’s no question that white people participated in the Civil Rights movement with great bravery, and in some cases were targeted for additional violence for the sin of siding with black protesters rather than white bigots. But there’s also no question that the Civil Rights movement is not the product of benevolent white liberals, and that it’s proper to acknowledge white participation in the movement as the work of allies rather than as progenitors. But pop culture likes telling stories about people who are at the center of the frame, frequently elevating allies to central roles. So what’s a well-intentioned storyteller to do?
I’ll be curious to see if Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave, an adaptation of a true story of a free man who was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and redeemed out of it through the hard work of his wife and a white New York lawyer, has some answers. Chiwetel Ejiofor is set to play the main character, Solomon Northup, Michael Fassbender will play the plantation owner, and Brad Pitt will play the lawyer who represented Northup. As much as stories of black empowerment are critically important to tell, it’s also important to illustrate the depths of white brutality, and to acknowledge that in a deeply racist system, there were certain functions only white people could perform, and certain avenues that they had privileged access to.
But even so, I still want my Harriet Tubman biopic.
I was quite struck this weekend by a piece in the New York Times this weekend by Amy Schalet, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who chronicled her research into how boys decide how to have sex for the first time. She wrote:
The Dutch boys I interviewed grew up in a culture that gives them permission to love; a national survey found that 90 percent of Dutch boys between 12 and 14 report having been in love. But the American boys I interviewed, having grown up in a culture that often assumes males are only out to get sex, were no less likely than Dutch boys to value relationships and love. In fact, they often used strong, almost hyper-romantic language to talk about love. The boy whose condom broke told me the most important thing to him was being in love with his girlfriend and “giving her everything I can.”
Such romanticism has largely flown under the radar of American popular culture. Yet, the most recent research by the family growth survey, conducted between 2006 and 2010, indicates that relationships matter to boys more often than we think. Four of 10 males between 15 and 19 who had not had sex said the main reason was that they hadn’t met the right person or that they were in a relationship but waiting for the right time; an additional 3 of 10 cited religion and morality.
It’s not as if popular culture is totally immune to these ideas. When American Pie came out thirteen years ago, of its four protagonists who were hoping to have sex for the first time, both Oz and Kevin were deeply in love with the girls with whom they had sex for the first time, and Jim later married Michelle, to whom he lost his virginity. There are many, many ways in which teen comedies and sex comedies have generally failed to build on the foundation laid down by American Pie, and that’s certainly one of them.
I also wonder if that’s one of the reasons The Hunger Games has been so successful across gender lines. It’s not just a movie with a badass female heroine who boys as well as girls ought to be able to identify with, because who doesn’t love awesome displays of archery? It’s a story about male romantic suffering. Both Gale and Peeta love Katniss, but they’re constrained in their ability to act on those emotions. Katniss is snatched away from Gale just as their friendly and collegial feelings appear to be developing into something greater, and it’s the very trauma of that parting that heightens their feelings. Katniss’s departure means she has to ask Gale to take a formal role in protecting her family. Peeta’s interactions with Katniss in the past have been constrained by shame, dependency, and class, and his declaration of love for her is simultaneously a gallant piece of strategy and profoundly awkward and unfair to Katniss. The books and the movie are about the difficulties of all three characters communicating their emotions and navigating towards what they want, rather than simply the fantasy of being desperately wanted. And as a result, I suspect they give boys a way in to the story in a way that Twilight doesn’t. Studios that want to recapture that magic might do well to think about boys’ emotions as well as snazzy weaponry.
Inspired by the experience of a recent and nasty spike in conversation about whether or not she’s had plastic surgery, and if she has, whether she’s lost her looks, and if she is, whether she ought to get on it lest she lose her husband, Ashley Judd’s published a column in the Daily Beast about the conversational cycle that produces these kinds of judgements:
I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).
There’s something fitting about the fact that Judd’s piece came out at the same time that Lifetime has released significantly altered images of Jennifer Love Hewitt to promote her new show, The Client List, in which she plays an employee of a massage parlor, and shortly after Lindsay Lohan’s Saturday Night Live hosting appearance prompted a new round of speculation about and judgements of the results of her plastic surgery. They’re all striking illustrations of the ownership both studios and the public feel we have over the bodies of women who entertain us for a living.
The photoshopping of Hewitt’s body reverses the usual process. She’s made less voluptuous, and her bra is photoshopped to cover more of her body so it functions as a very skimpy tank top rather than as lingerie. The show’s walking a very fine line with its concept in any case. Hewitt’s rub-and-tug provider is meant to be an subject of identification for women viewers rather than an object of lust for male ones. She’s presented as attractive, but she can’t be too attractive lest viewers find her looks as well as her profession threatening. It’s not only men who actresses’s looks are tailored to satisfy and comfort.
And the speculation over Lohan’s reputed plastic surgery illustrates the ugly side of our pickiness. A viral YouTube video’s circulated tracing the evolution of her face:
The horrified reaction to her looks has been impressive even by the standards of collective internet bodysnarking. But for all the head-shaking sorrow about what people believe, erroneously or no, about what Lohan’s done to her face, it’s hard to imagine the same level of outrage and disgust about the rumors that circulated six years ago that she had gotten breast implants. There is no world in which women in Hollywood could possibly be making decisions about their bodies for their own pleasure or satisfaction. If they don’t submit to our collective whims, the general public seems to have given itself permission to destroy them.
‘Game of Thrones’ Renewed for Third Season |
Well, no surprise here given the ratings and the critical and popular buzz for the show, but we’re getting a third season of Game of Thrones. I cannot wait for us to get to Dorne, people.
In the days after it became clear that a winning MegaMillions ticket had been sold in Maryland, speculation ran rampant over who would come forward to claim it, especially after a woman named Mirlande Wilson first claimed to be the winner, then said she’d lost the ticket. Now, more details have emerged about the real winners, and as Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino said “It couldn’t have happened to nicer people.”
While the winner’s names are being kept private, it turns out the three of them work in Maryland’s public education system as an elementary school teacher, a special education teacher, and an administrative assistant—and all of them work second jobs as well. They do not work in the same school, but know each other from work, and each contributed $20 to go in on tickets as a pool. They will take home $35 million after taxes, and according to Martino, plan to purchase homes, travel in Europe, and pay for their children’s college educations. And, in a nice little rebuke to ugly sentiments that paint public school teachers and public servants as lazy, Martino said they plan to keep teaching.
There is something quite nice about the idea that the MegaMillions will, at least in one state, enrich people of previously modest means. But that story’s only heartwarming in the first place because we don’t pay teachers enough so that they don’t need to take second jobs. It’s bittersweet that chance is making up for our failures of policy.
Glenn Greenwald has a horrifying look at the repeated harassment to which filmmaker Laura Poitras, who has made a series of powerful documentaries about the impact of the War on Terror, has been subject when she’s returned home to the United States from trips abroad:
She has had her laptop, camera and cellphone seized, and not returned for weeks, with the contents presumably copied. On several occasions, her reporter’s notebooks were seized and their contents copied, even as she objected that doing so would invade her journalist-source relationship. Her credit cards and receipts have been copied on numerous occasions. In many instances, DHS agents also detain and interrogate her in the foreign airport before her return, on one trip telling her that she would be barred from boarding her flight back home, only to let her board at the last minute. When she arrived at JFK Airport on Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, she was told by one DHS agent — after she asserted her privileges as a journalist to refuse to answer questions about the individuals with whom she met on her trip — that he “finds it very suspicious that you’re not willing to help your country by answering our questions.” They sometimes keep her detained for three to four hours (all while telling her that she will be released more quickly if she answers all their questions and consents to full searches).
Poitras is now forced to take extreme steps — ones that hamper her ability to do her work — to ensure that she can engage in her journalism and produce her films without the U.S. Government intruding into everything she is doing. She now avoids traveling with any electronic devices. She uses alternative methods to deliver the most sensitive parts of her work — raw film and interview notes — to secure locations. She spends substantial time and resources protecting her computers with encryption and password defenses. Especially when she is in the U.S., she avoids talking on the phone about her work, particularly to sources. And she simply will not edit her films at her home out of fear — obviously well-grounded — that government agents will attempt to search and seize the raw footage.
The New York Times did a wonderful interview with Poitras as part of its September 11 coverage last year:
Apparently, it’s threatening to set up a continuum of reactions to the War on Terror that includes both Americans’ emotional reactions to the physical reality of Ground Zero and opponents of the U.S. occupation who are running for office in Iraq. Or perhaps Poitras’s sin is suggesting that things like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan torture and indefinite detention…”are the things that were not created on 9/11. Those are things that we chose.” Because if we chose them, we can roll them back.
Creating sympathy for people who are harmed by our actions and suggesting we take responsibility for our own are just some of the powerful things that art can do. But confusing ideas that are dangerous to your interests—for example, the suggestion that the huge growth of our security state haven’t reaped us tangible benefits and may in fact have done some damage—and dangerous to the country is a mistake intelligent people out to be ashamed to make. Greenwald points out that DHS concluded that their interrogations of Poitras had produced nothing of value, and yet continued to perform them. Maybe those agencies should answer some questions about what they expect to get next time around, and why harassing Poitras is a valuable use of their time. It’s a far milder query than the ones Poitras is being interrogated for posing.
I like Simon Pegg a great deal, but it looks like his latest project, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, might be a little much for me:
Coming on the heels of Young Adult, one of my favorite movies of last year, about a YA author who drinks too much, hasn’t gotten over her high school boyfriend, and is obsessed with her outer appearance at the expense of her inner self, this movie also seems to join in the idea that there’s something a bit off about writers of fiction aimed at children and young adults. That sentiment isn’t particularly surprising, I suppose, given the larger backlash against adults who read fiction aimed at younger people. If folks think they’re lazy, then it would stand to reason that they view people people who produce that fiction as somewhat suspect.
I didn’t say this in my post about Joel Stein’s condescending condemnation about adult YA readers, but the hysteria about grown-ups reading in the genre is strangely disconnected from our other conversations about teenagers. We worry about the state of young people a lot: whether they’re having sex, what their future economic prospects are, whether they’re bullying each other into early graves, how media affects them, whether they’re civically engaged. We probably go overboard on fake trends and panics, whether it’s rainbow parties or salvia. But there’s nothing inherently unrespectable about worrying about what ideas and ideals we’re passing along to the young people in our lives, and what kind of people they’ll turn out to be. Sure, there’s trashy YA fiction mass-produced by people like James Frey’s factor. But a lot of the folks who write for younger readers, whether they’re J.K. Rowling or Friend of the Blog Tamora Pierce, up-and-comer Leigh Bardugo or a legend like Beverly Cleary, are taking on serious questions that we ask in a lot of forums. There’s nothing childish about considering how good children become good adults.
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.