The Following: Killers in Love

In case you didn’t know, Fox’s newest crime serial (yes, there is yet another show out there looking to steal your soul) has been tearing up Monday nights since January, and it’s well worth the investment. It is about the pursuit of convicted serial killer Joe Carroll and the collection of psychopaths and wannabes that have evolved around him. He calls them his friends. The FBI calls them a cult. They are united by their devotion to Carroll, who they believe has given purpose and guidance to their lives. Their goal so far is unclear, other than seriously distorting classical literature and driving Kevin Bacon’s character, Ryan Hardy, out of his mind.

thefollowing

The Following is about a lot of things. It’s about violence and victimization, about conspiracy and paranoia. I think principally, though, it’s about love. Between the killers and the heroes, there lies an intricate web of intimate bonds and tentative alliances. Faithful friends, loyal followers, and the unbridled passion of sworn enemies. The show seems to be asking how much can you trust the person next to you, and how much stronger are the bonds between people who know each other’s darkest secrets? In the process, The Following is bucking the common heteronormative ties that most shows focus on, and instead developing a web of relationships that are both sincere and pretty scary.

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Sex and Destruction in Shatter Me

I’ve written a little bit previously about Young Adult literature. It’s a ripe field for the pickings, with its mainstream appeal as well as a litany of problematic story elements. It also can be really addictive. Most of the genre is leaning towards science fiction/fantasy at the moment, centering on young women in impossible situations, with fast-moving plots and titillating romances. The YA market has become one of my favorite indulgences.

Enter Shatter Me, written by youthful and beautiful new author Tahereh Mafi, one of the most anticipated releases of last year, already with two sequels (the novella Destroy Me, and the second part in the planned trilogy Unravel Me which dropped last week), and the movie rights sold before the first book’s release. It is the story of a 17-year-old girl named Juliette Ferrars with an uncontrollable and isolating ability – she can kill with a touch. To make matters worse, Juliette lives in a world that has depleted its resources and poisoned its atmosphere, leaving it open for an organization called The Reestablishment to come in and take control and hoard what’s left. When the novel opens, Juliette has been imprisoned in some sick hell house version of a mental institution for close to a year, barely clinging to her identity, wishing for freedom and love.

Shatter Me is the type of YA fantasy that is light on world building and high on emotion and elaborate prose. It’s not perfect, to say the least. What I found fascinating about the novel though was its implications about sexuality.

What’s immediate striking to me is how the novel as a real sense of sexuality and sensuality. A personality, shall we say. However, there is also a theme of dominance and violence that colors this, and creates a character that is both heavily defined by her sexuality and by actions put upon her. As she learns to connect with people for the first time in her life, Juliette is repeatedly defined as an object, seen as something others can use and act upon, even in a relationship that supposed to healthy and loving. Through the story elements as well as the dialogue and prose, a picture is painted of a sexual landscape fed by power struggles and destructive passions. It’s also an important aspect of the novel, as this is a story about a young woman who can either create or destroy with a touch.

(Spoilers for Shatter Me and Destroy Me under the cut)

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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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Why You Will Never See CL in Gold Booty Shorts

With the release of 2ne1’s first full length album, and unprecedented comeback that involves promoting not one but three singles at the same time, this foursome has undoubtedly shown themselves to be head and shoulders above the teeming flock of Korean girl groups. Now, let’s see if we can’t figure out why that is.

I’m not going to get on any girl who wants to shake her butt in booty shorts- we all know how much I love Hyuna and that I think she’s powerful and amazing – but the fact of the matter is that sexuality is not at all a part of 2ne1’s appeal. Sure, they’re hot, Minzy brings in a blush-inducing Lolita-factor and Dara has never looked more glamorous than in this new video to me. But that’s clearly never been their priority. Neither their clothes nor their choreography showcase particular body parts (and particular body parts is key, gyrating every once a while doesn’t count),  but instead their personalities, skill as entertainers, and their chemistry with each other.

The same can’t be said about new group Rainbow, who have been making a name for themselves with the sexy pop anthem “A.” Recently, the girls (ahem, that is, their management) have come under fire for a certain shirt lifting move in “A” ‘s choreography, and they’ve been barred from using it in performances here on out. Despite the fact that they’ve been promoting this song with the move for over a month now.

I hope its clear how these two video are like night and day, not just because one is “hip hop.”

Now, I love “A.” Its  a completely enjoyable song and video. But when I first saw the shirt-lift, I rolled my eyes. Not because its a failure as a sexy moment, quite the opposite. Its a very suggestive move, and its a perfect example of this “Look at me, don’t look at me” complex that K-pop girl groups seem to be infected with. Its not the exposure of skin that’s the problem, but this faux come-hither, I’m-going-to -pretend-to show-you-something-but-we-all-know-I-won’t attitude topped off with bright wide eyes and smiles so perfect and sweet they make your cheeks hurt that pisses me off. It’s a propagation of Disneyfied sex, bedroom antics and dance hall pussy popping made safe for a presumably more naive audience to consume. So how is that 2ne1 with their swagger and hoodies feel so much more dangerous?

Lets talk fashion for a moment. Did you notice the uniforms? Both videos feature their girls in different scenes, each with its own look that all the girls share. While Rainbow’s showcase their legs, their navels, and their rear ends, 2ne1 is covered nearly head to toe for almost the entire video. Even when they get to show their arms, the skin is covered in fake tattoos effectively giving them another kind of sleeves. Are they any less attractive for it though? The difference is what we’re attracted to is their faces. Imagine that. The tease, instead of a little bit of abdomen, is the edges of their newly dyed hair that peeks out around their hoods.

We all know that sex and girls being sexy is awesome, but what seems to not be so universally known is that its not just about body parts and imitating what grown ups do when they love each other very much.  It just so happens that personality and style can get people way more excited when its genuine and creative. And if you can’t at least imagine that little inner purr that’s transmitted through your screen when Minzy smiles, then you don’t know what sex really is.

Its not that Rainbow is sexy and 2ne1 isn’t. 2ne1 has their own kind of sexuality that’s based around them as people, not a collection of desirable parts. Its not that the girls of Rainbow are being exploited and CL and company are not. We should all hope to be used so beautifully at some point in our lives. And its not that Rainbow – and 4Minute, and Girls’ Generation, and all the other girl groups who take the same approach as them – at the rate they’re going will not reach the success that 2ne1 is clearly heading for…oh wait. That’s exactly what it is. Which group received gifts from Jeremy Scott in honor of their comeback? Which group received a YouTube shout out from will.i.am.? Take a guess. Yes, sex does seem to sell. And yes, controversy sells even more. But what goes home with the trophy at the end of the race is almost always innovation, edge and personality.  But even if it doesn’t in this case, while Rainbow will continue to simper and wiggle like robots, lift the edges of their shirts like its a chore, 2ne1 will clap their hands and love every minute of it. And I get to see Minzy smile.

Murder, Secrets and Lesbians! Oh My!

A friend of mine got me watching the new ABC Family teen drama Pretty Little Liars. There was a significant amount of cajoling, but really her argument boiled down to one thing – there’s gay. And who can say no to that? Even when it comes packaged with preposterous story lines and wooden acting.

The story of Pretty Little Liars revolves around four high school juniors whose lives seemed to be built on a foundation of deceit, to the point where should one piece be revealed, everything would fall apart. At least, according to them. There’s Aria, our artsy, headstrong heroine who witnessed her father having an affair with one of his students and is now engaging in her own with her young English teacher; the formerly Hefty Hanna, who has since become the Queen Bee at Rosewood High, has a sticky finger habit and possibly an eating disorder; Spencer, the stern-faced perfectionist who has a thing for her sister’s significant others; and last but not least, Emily, the competitive but demure athlete struggling with her sexuality. The one thing they all have in common is Allison, who disappeared the year before and the only one who knew all their secrets and now seems to be threatening to reveal them from beyond the grave via text message.

The girls, who grew apart over the past year, come together again over their shared troubles, even though they never actually reveal them to each other. One wonders how these girls even hold a conversation when everything personal they feel they need to distort or straight up hide. I lied before when I said that Allison was the one thing they have in common – the other is shame. Continue reading

Alejandro; or a Love Letter to the Male Mystique

Finally! I get to feel relevant. Lady Gaga’s latest epic, “Alejandro,” premiered online at noon today. I watched it twice, took a hot shower, watched it again as I ate my lunch and am now writing this. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish and post before I have to go to work in a couple hours.

“Alejandro” is a visually stunning and erotic commentary on gender roles in our society, specifically the institutionalized on-going assault on male sexuality. Gaga’s previous videos have addressed women as the objects of patriarchal control, but men, particularly gay men, are not immune to this oppression either.  Certainly human beings of the male persuasion enjoy a privileged status in this world, whether they realize it or not, but as George Orwell has testified and any dominatrix will tell you, holding the superior position does not always mean you are in control.

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