Showing Hollywood’s Awkward Turtles Some Love

I really hope you all don’t kill my love for my girl, Jennifer Lawrence. But after keeping track of the live buzz during the Oscars it’s starting to get there.

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It started when she tripped on her way up the stairs to accept her award for Best Actress. Tumblr was awash with textual squeals of how adorable and real and human she was. And she totally was. I giggled, like anyone else, over her closing, flabbergasted, “Thanks!” But then I had to stop. Because a little while ago the internet was saying quite the opposite of Kristen Stewart, when she limped out on stage with Dan Radcliffe to present.

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Men, Women and Monsters

“I would never suggest a young woman to kiss a man who held her captive. What kind of message is that?” When Once Upon a Time’s Evil Queen Regina uttered this line last Sunday, I all but leaped out of my chair and did cartwheels. It was the blunt and hilarious culmination of something that has been building for months on that show, even if it was rather clumsily handled in the past.

I’m talking about how a modern show handles gender relations in a story that uses classic fairy tales as its groundwork. Fairy tales are not generally kind to women. They are often the epitome of gender stereotypes, and today are one of society’s basic ways of instilling traditional values in youngsters. Fairy tale women are often merely vessels of beauty and purity to be rescued or fawned over by dragon slaying princes and/or knights, and their worth is based on if they are married or not.

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When It’s Good To Be Bad In K-Pop

Well, it seems that the indefatigable Korean Pop scene has met its nemesis – bona fide, honest-to-whomever, female sexuality. Last month marked the debut of a girl group years in the making, Rania, with a racy song, black leather costuming, and not even remotely subtle choreography. Not surprisingly, Rania is the creation of an American producer, Teddy Riley, with ambitions of creating international juggernaut of hot Asian girls. Based on the first single, he’s off to alright start.

Personally, I didn’t think much of their debut song “Dr Feel Good,” and not just because of the blatant pandering to pervs like myself, but because the song just isn’t that great. There’s nothing new about the sound, and the hook, unlike everything about this group, is exceptionally modest. I wanted to like them. Rania’s members, who hail from all over the Asian world, are clearly very talented, and there was plenty of effort put into their packaging (a little too much, probably). Plus, I love sexy girls. Musically though, there is better stuff out there.

What I do like about Rania is their conviction. As I’ve talked about previously in this blog, K-Pop is rampant with an infantalized, doubethink kind of sex appeal, where if a girl group is going to dance in a suggestive way or in tiny shorts, they have to do it with the hapless expression of a 12-year-old. Its refreshing to see a group that simply is what it is – grown-ass women who are good at being sexy. As an American, to me Rania’s single and video were not shocking in the slightest, but in the context of K-Pop its a bit like a bowling ball to the forehead. Even the raciest of Korea’s girl groups, while they might have some suggestive lyrics, never actually sing about wanting to get some, not in a single anyway. Rania, clearly, has no interest in beating around the bush. This mentality, this unwillingness to compromise, is reflected in the finished product. Each note, dance move and toss of the hair speaks of utter commitment, performers that know where they stand. Whereas the rest of the K-Pop scene, even the boy groups, are forced to compromise and fuss around with an image that only makes their producers and prepubescent girls happy, resulting in routines that appear tired and disingenuous. While by image alone Rania resembles subtle-as-a-sledgehammer groups like 4Minute and T-ara, their solid presence is more like that of f(x) or 2ne1, two groups that are exceptional for not using sex to sell their records.

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“Lauren” and her Criminal Mind

I suppose I got what I asked for.  With Paget Brewster taking her leave perhaps permanently from Criminal Minds, comes a storyline to give her character, Emily Prentiss, a proper send off. An enemy from her past, Ian Doyle, mysteriously breaks out of a North Korean prison, intent on playing out his vendetta against her.  Prentiss and her then team put him away while under deep cover during her time with Interpol,  her role was to become as close to him as possible *wiggles eyebrows*. He was supposed to have never known who she really was – her persona, Lauren Reynolds, died in a car crash – but somehow he does and comes to D.C. to enact his vengeance. Its exactly what I said I was looking for, a true test of character. Or is it? Well, its a test of someone’s character, but no one I know.

This story is about Lauren Reynolds, not just the identity Prentiss assumed to meet an end, but the life she left behind when she left Interpol. This woman, as it turns out, is quite different from the Emily Prentiss we thought we, at least vaguely, knew. Prentiss up to this point is a woman who once struggled with acceptance and personal identity in her youth, watched as a dear friend spiraled into self-destruction as a result of the cognitive dissonance her own circumstances might have caused in him, and had a mother in politics who’s work took her all over the world. As an adult she held a defined sense of right and wrong, and viewed politics as something toxic that divides people. These things only occasionally manifested themselves in her work and life. Prentiss has had frequent struggles with what is the right thing to do and what she has to do, nothing too exciting though. We’ve never seen her really stick by her principles to the point of personal risk or undermining the rest of the team, like say the way Spencer Reid has, she just sort of shuffles her feet a bit and pouts and then decides her job is more important.

Ah, but if only we had known what she was really willing to do to get the job done. Seduce a terrorist? Tie a kid up and point a gun at him? Not a problem, for Lauren Reynolds anyway. However, a point that does stick out is when one of her former comrades, Clyde Easter, claims that she’s in the habit of running away from problems. There’s nothing in her known history in the show to suggest this, and honestly its rather mind boggling. A highly ethical FBI agent who hunts serial killers but runs away from conflict? Huh? Doyle also makes a comment consistent with this by saying that the only thing that she values is her life, though admittedly he was probably just trying to be mean. But what does she do at the end of the episode, “Valhalla”? Run away. Its supposed to be an effort to protect her team – its not fear for herself that makes her walk out the door, but a fear for them. In the moment it makes sense, but really what is happening is an effort to tell a story of female self-sacrifice that just comes off as cliche.

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Sticks and Stones

We currently exist in an era of pop music where style is thumping substance with an iron fist. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Either way, each single that’s released is less about the hook, or the beat, and more about the gimmick, the new hair, the shock value. Such is the case with two new videos from Kanye West and Rihanna. Both are considered trend setters, but somehow I doubt either of them knows why.

I’m not shocked or offended by very much. Not when it comes to pop culture and media, anyway. I get that most of what celebrities do is to make money, that it’s nothing personal, and instead of flying into a rage about it I dissect and analyze what it means that we buy into it. In case you hadn’t noticed by now.

So most of Kanye West’s “Monster” did not catch me off guard, especially since I had heard plenty about it before hand. The issues are glaring – dead white women as accessories, evil black women as monsters. Generally, I found the video itself to be poorly executed, and as such lacked impact.

There was only one moment that I gave me a sharp sting like a slap in the face, and even now, thinking about it, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That is the opening, where Rick Ross sits on a thrown, surrounded by female bodies hanging by their necks. The image is a direct reference to the typical rap video shot of the pimp surrounded by his ladies. Most of the time though, they are at least somewhat clothed and very much alive. There’s a similar shot with Jay-Z, where a dead women is draped on a sofa behind him. In both cases, the women are set pieces, emphasized by the Jay-Z or Ross’s lack of interaction with them, as opposed to how West is posed in bed with two dead women, posing and rearranging them. That moment at least can be read as an attempt to engage with someone who has already left him behind, something that West talks about a lot in his music.

In anycase, this is not just a matter of applying the video’s motif onto the template of a typical rap video, though maybe West is convinced that it is. It’s literalizing what women essentially are in videos like these – bodies. Perhaps West is actually doing us a favor when he points it out so blatantly. However, if he thinks he’s doing something edgy and boundary-pushing, he is sorely mistaken. He’s simply taking what is already an on-going trend – the high-fashion zombie aesthetic and the mainstream zombie paranoia – and using it on a song that takes its title from two other big pop tracks that were released within the same year, and then laying it over the same old song and dance. I’m –the-greatest-in-the-world-oh-and-check-out-my-hoes.

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“He is such a bitch”

Its that time again, time to go back, back to a world where high school is full of designer clothes and tantalizing secrets. The world of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars. I couldn’t bring myself to keep up with the fall season in posts, but now that I’m caught up for the winter I find myself unable to resist. The past three episodes in particular have been nearly jaw-dropping, but not for the plot twists or red herrings. I am seriously impressed where this show is taking ideas of gender roles and sexuality.

The show’s return has brought back a lot of the ideas that got me so involved in the first place. The episode “Know Your Frenemies” is probably the most interesting as the girl’s deal with the threat that A may be their fellow student, Noel Kahn. He is of course not, but the episode is ripe with the implications of a male oppressor – he begins by threatening Aria’s relationship with Ezra. Realizing that Aria has passed him over for their English teacher, Noel quickly moves from trying to “help” Aria based on the assumption that she is a victim in the situation, to completely disregarding anything she might feel by deciding to blackmail Mr. Fitz. Ezra, rather impressively, refuses to buckle, even with all the repercussions that entails, but luckily A swoops in and saves his ass just in the nick of time.  Noel’s game play, while clumsy in comparison to the masterwork of A, is enough to make the television screen reek with male entitlement. He never once considers that Aria should have some autonomy in her relationships, that he has a right to her interest in him, and her relationship with Ezra is based purely on the fact that he’s an authority figure, as opposed to her, you know, being in love with him.

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