My Random Thoughts on the NCAA and Perfection and Stuff.

This turned into a monster and I regret nothing.

1. Kentucky has an opportunity to go undefeated. They’re the first team since UNLV to reach the Final Four with an unblemished record, which is damn impressive. Let’s be honest – it’s much harder in the men’s game to go undefeated. Well, it’s hard to do it in the women’s game too, but we just make it look super easy. We run our practices like Marine Corps run their boot camps, so the games will always be simpler in comparison. There’s actually a lot of parity in the women’s game if you remove us from the equation.

2. That being said, I was definitely rooting for Notre Dame when they almost upset KU in the Elite Eight. Not because I have anything against Kentucky (although I despise the culture of “one and done”, but we’ll get to that in a minute) but because of the fact that I like watching David beat Goliath, and it would have been interesting to watch the entire country implode if Kentucky lost. As I groaned when the buzzer rang and UK gutted out the victory, I thought to myself, “Wow. This is how people feel when we lose, huh?”

3. Everything that my Dad said in that article that everyone is having a heart attack over? Have you seen a men’s game lately, with the exception of the big time programs that score a lot because they actively recruit scorers? They’re horrible, and most of it is due to the reason that nobody knows how to score, everyone tries to be a showboat playmaker, and the shot clock is 35 seconds when it should really be 30 or even 24. If there’s a reason to love the NBA (ugh), it’s because those dudes can score. Now, everyone who’s been commenting being like “Oh, he’s a women’s coach, he shouldn’t be allowed to have an opinion”… A) Your biggest decision in life is probably deciding whether or not to pick the Cheetos residue out of your boxer shorts before you open a new bag, and B) You’re clearly watching the wrong women’s games. The women’s tournament has been incredibly exciting. Despite the fact that all number 1 seeds made the Final Four, that barely scratches the surface of the stories that have been happening. Princeton was amazing. Dayton nearly beat us, Gonzaga almost beat Tennessee, and Notre Dame is winning despite their best player not at her optimal performance level. Just because the players are woment doesn’t meant the game is less exciting, and it’s misogynist, reductive thinking to assume otherwise. We don’t appreciate women’s basketball because aside from the great coverage we get on ESPN (and believe me, I think Kara, Rebecca, and Kevin Neghandi are amazing and don’t get enough credit for being so great) we barely scratch the surface of the amount of respect we should be getting. Yes, we’re different from the men’s game. But we should be appreciated equally for what we are, even without the high-flying dunks or below the rim play. And don’t tell me it’s because perfection is boring – everyone from ESPN to Grantland is practically having When Harry Met Sally levels of orgasm over Kentucky, calling it the first time in college ball history that a team will go 40-0. Really? I’ve got a team from 2012 and a team from 2014 that would call BS on that.

And just remember this, Misogynist Internet Trolls – I read Dad some of your comments, and he laughed. Because he knows something you don’t – You’re watching him. Who watches you? Your mom to alert you the DVR has started recording Hot in Cleveland? Go back in your hole.

Addendum: Dad does love Wisconsin. WHO WOULDN’T? They’re obsessed with stenographers and get caught saying adorable things on hot mics. Plus their style of play is capable of high scoring. Love it.

4. I used to get really mad that Bill Simmons wouldn’t cover women’s basketball on Grantland, but then I remembered he’s a New England Patriots fan. He doesn’t have the best judgment when it comes to sports.

5.I wrote this before Maryland ended up beating Tennessee, but here we go:  If we end up playing Tennessee I will barf into a garbage can. Not because I don’t want to play Tennessee (It would be kind of fun to revisit the many years of panic attacks I had when we played them in the Final Four), but because it will end up becoming a complete media circus. I’m unconcerned about us and Tennessee, I’m concerned about the other two talented teams already in the Final Four – South Carolina and Notre Dame – who will get screwed out of valuable media coverage due to every single journalist in America freaking out about us. That’s unfair to the Irish and the Gamecocks. I hope we never play Tennessee again, just to make those journalists mad. I don’t think it’s good for the game, at all, if we play in the Final Four.

6. Plus, all of the girls on the UT/UConn teams were barely toddlers (or not even alive) when the rivalry was at its full height. It’s not about the game at that point, it’s about the fans.

7. Apparently rumor has it that the 2016 Women’s Final Four will be moved out of Indianapolis if the religious freedom act is still signed into law at that point. If the Final Four is still held in Indiana next year, and the new Indiana law allowing private companies to discriminate against LGBT customers is still in effect, I won’t go. I doubt many other fans of the game will go, too. It’s no secret that the women’s game is highly supported and viewed by LGBT fans, and many LGBT athletes participate in Division 1 women’s basketball. I understand the need to have the Final Four in Indy because that’s where the NCAA is, but I don’t care that it would be Stewie’s last Final Four. I’m not going. I won’t support a state economy that has legalized hate. (On a side note – kudos to CT governor Dan Malloy, who has passed legislation severely curbing travel funds to Indiana in an attempt to boycott the state. And I know we have a law with similar language in CT, but Indiana doesn’t have anti-discrimination laws and we do.)

8. The “one and done” is a bad concept. Paying athletes, while in theory not a bad idea, would be horrendous in practice. Who gets paid? How much? Men would get paid more than women because the men’s game gets more revenue. Men’s basketball stars would get more than guys that ride the pine or walk-ons. Lacrosse players wouldn’t get anything whereas football players would get a ton. How fair is that? Logistically, it’s a black hole of legalese. It will never work. Now, does the NCAA need to change and get rid some of their antiquated rules? Of course. But paying the players wouldn’t work. Just get rid of the “one and done” and let the kids go straight to the NBA if they want to get paid to play. The other students will get their education if they want it and play their sport. Also, that’s why a lot of the lower seeds upset the higher seeds – the lower seeds normally have four-year athletes.

Man. Spitting truth is tiring.

And it’s really awesome to read comment after comment calling your Dad, the man who raised you to be a strong, independent, good person, names that you wouldn’t even call your most hated enemy. But then I remember something very, very important.

These people, who have nothing better to do than sit behind their computers and type – they have the entire world at their fingertips. They could do literally anything with that three seconds they sat at the computer composing that brilliant comment of “Douchebag”, and they choose to pronounce hate on someone they don’t even know.

I choose to do something different with the world at the end of my fingers.

The choosing is everything.

ally

Work Worth Doing: A Tribute to Leslie Knope.

The same reason I love politics is the same reason I will never go into politics – the concept of fighting the system, of trying to make the country better, when so many people want things to either remain the same (broken) or destroy it further. I feel like politics are for either the most lion-hearted of optimists or the coldest of wonks. I just bingewatched the first season of House of Cards and I compared it to cotton candy – deliciously empty.

That is why I am so thankful for a show like Parks and Recreation, which ended its wonderfully improbable seven-season run two weeks ago. I say improbable because the show, by the end of its run, had less viewers than the population of Indiana, but those viewers were fanatical in their devotion. They kept the show going when everyone thought it would fail. They were the personification of Parks and Rec‘s indefatigable leading lady, Leslie Knope.

In its initial, truncated first season – only six episodes, or the length of a longer than average movie – Leslie Knope was faced with obstruction, mockery, and outright indignation at every turn, and her personality is more grating. Her goal, to turn a local pit into a park, was ridiculed by most of her staffers, who saw her as an annoyance rather than an inspiration. Andy, a local kid who had broken both of his legs by falling into said pit, was trying desperately to win back his ex-girlfriend, nurse and rule-breaking moth Ann Perkins. Everyone else was more or less a cipher, and the show didn’t look too promising. I watched the first episode because it premiered after The Office, and didn’t think too much of it. It looked like Michael Scott running a Parks Department, but we already had a Michael Scott.

Then, over the course of the next year or so, the entire feeling of the show changed. Rather than reacting with mockery, the members of the Parks Department started to respond to Leslie with warmth, admiration, and even love. Leslie transformed from a clumsily eager government employee with weird ideas into a force of optimism and progressive social change that kept getting obstructed by the city she so desperately loves (“Pawnee: First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity.”) She adored waffles, female politicians, and Lil’ Sebastian, a local celebrity that also happened to be a miniature horse. So help you God if you call him a pony…

Leslie wanted to have it all, but unlike the Lean In philosophies that I have issues with, she quickly realized that just asking for something wasn’t going to get her everything. She was elected to the City Council, but then was quickly recalled because nobody wanted her brand of government. She had to perform a filibuster in rollerskates in order to stay a vote, then watched as the vote went through anyway. But in true Knope fashion, she plowed on, a little bent but never broken. She was also the leader of the Pawnee Goddesses, the first wilderness troupe specifically for girls. But after a debate about gender equality, they included boys in their ranks. She also taught a group of senior citizens how to use birth control and put on condoms, much to the chagrin of the more conservative townsfolk.

Leslie Knope was extremely unlucky in love for the first and second seasons (with references to a horrific romantic history – “I can’t tell you how many of my ex’s weddings I’ve been to!”), although she did have a lovely little romance with Officer Dave, played to perfection by Louis C.K. However, they broke up when Dave went to San Francisco, and I was starting to worry that Leslie would become one of “those” girls. You know the girls – the girls who have a high-traffic career that they love and are very good at, but as a result they never find love or personal happiness from outside of work. Everything gets sacrificed for the job. You might remember that this is pretty much what the writers did to Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother: because of her job, Robin and Barney decide to divorce, and she spends the next twenty or so years with great professional success, but every time she hangs out with the old gang again she gets sad and nostalgic for a life she doesn’t have. In short, her personal life is complete shit because she ‘sacrificed’ it for her career.

As a working professional, I call bullshit. So does Leslie Knope. At the end of season 2, she met an Indiana state auditor, super nerd, and calzone enthusiast named Ben Wyatt, and despite the fact they weren’t supposed to be together, this happened. And it was amazing.

Later on, they would marry, have triplets, get elected to government positions on the state and national level, and then in a flash-forward in the series finale, it’s heavily implied that one of them is the Commander in Chief. (At first I thought it was Leslie, but Ben is wearing a flag pin, so maybe he is? Either one of them would make an awesome POTUS.) They both had to make sacrifices for their relationship but neither of them sacrificed who they innately were to achieve the goals that would make them professionally and personally successful.

My point is, Leslie Knope truly had it all. By the end of the series, she’s a wife, mother, highly successful politician, and has served two terms as governor of Indiana with a library named after her at Indiana University (“Aw f*ck, the library?”) and she didn’t have to sacrifice shit. Sure, she was frazzled and frustrated at times and there were moments she got super drunk and had fights with her friends – Snake Juice will do that to a person. But she was also bold, brave, terminally optimistic, and full of hope for her country while also very much aware that there were things about it that needed to change. She also loved waffles.

Recently I’ve started watching House of Cards, which might be the most pessimistic view of politics ever put on screen. While it’s fun to watch people be absolutely terrible to each other, I prefer the viewpoint of politics put across by Parks and Recreation, which, while complete wish-fulfillment, was also an optimistic view of where our politics could maybe take us. It was all exemplified by its star. I wish we could all be in the position in this world to be Leslie Knope, and I feel we would be better off as humans if we emulated her spirit.

ally

P.S. If I could recommend any one episode of Parks and Rec that sums up why I love the show so much and why it was so necessary to feminism as whole, it would be the season 7 classic “Pie-Mary.” In the episode, Leslie chafes at the tradition that congressional candidate’s wives participate in a pie bake-off (“The loser is all women”) so Ben volunteers to enter the competition himself and wear one of his five personalized aprons (I LOVE BEN WYATT). They manage to piss off the Indiana Organization of Women for even considering the contest at all, as well as the Male Men, a men’s rights activist group that are REALLY angry that women are getting all equality-crazy (“Men have had a really rough go of it for just recently”), and by the time Ben has to speak on his economic platform, he and Leslie use that media coverage as a way to go after every single stereotypical thing political candidate’s wives have to deal with on a campaign trail. It’s a beautifully sharp satire that cuts right to the heart of everything going on currently with our country’s views on feminism, and it articulated just why I’m going to miss this show so much.

SPORTS!

So a few weekends ago the conglomerate of douchebaggery known as the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl thanks to well-timed passes by Tom Brady and the most horrific offensive play call in the history of football. After the interception, a friend of mine saw me laying prostrate on the floor and asked “Ally, are you dead?” To which I replied, “Yes.”

I don’t even like the Seahawks, and I was pissed. But in the spirit of fun and sport, I’d like to take this time to tell you about why I support the teams I do. Sometimes people ask me and it’s always fun to hear about why people support certain athletic teams, whether it’s because of a family tradition or because you got into the team on your own. So here we go!

Also, it’s Valentine’s Day, and nothing inspires love and obsession and all the things in between like sports.

The New York Giants.

For a few years I was a New England Patriots fan. Then, the whole “They might come to Connecticut so let’s blow a ton of money and ruin the economy to make room for them OH JUST KIDDING” shit happened and it left a bad taste in my mouth. I wasn’t really sure what football teams I liked, but I did support the Eagles whenever they played (more on that in a bit).

Then in 2008 I went to a friend’s house to watch the Super Bowl, when the 17-0 Pats took on the very young New York Giants. Now, knowing me and my family, you would assume I’d root for perfection. Not the case. I took a look at this polished, perfect machine that was the New England Patriots, and then I looked at the scruffy, ballsy team they were playing (led by human Muppet Eli Manning) and told my Dad “I hope the Giants win.” He scoffed, “They have no chance, Ally! The Pats are amazing this year!” But for some reason, I had a feeling. And the sight of the Pats joking around and being cocky SOBs throughout the first half of that game only compounded that feeling.

I was the only person at the party convinced the Giants would win. I should have put money down. The moment David Tyree pinned the ball to his head for the infamous Helmet Catch, I knew things were going to turn around. And I laughed in my dad’s face when Plaxico Burress made that touchdown catch. (And then regretted it when Burress got arrested for shooting himself in the crotch.)

Ever since then, I’ve been a massive fan of Big Blue. When they’re bad, they’re horrendous, but when they’re good, they’re stellar.  The last two years have been annoying because the potential has been there but then they make a few defensively shitty decisions and then Victor Cruz got hurt, but with the rise of Odel Beckham Jr. I think they’ll be a good team next year.

Boston Red Sox.

Again, I like an underdog. Although I can’t even call the Sox underdogs now with all of their World Series wins over the past decade. But when I got into them in high school they were still that scrappy team with supremely shitty luck. When they lost the 2003 ACLS to the Yankees I was thrown into a depression. (Also, my best friend is a Yankees fan and she was my roommate at the time. That was fun!) Then, the next year, it was like a complete whirlwind – the bloody sock, the turnaround in the ACLS, and then the beating they put on St. Louis to win it all. I watched the final game in my dorm room and when that final throw to first sealed the Series, the screams of a hundred Sox fans reverberated through the halls of Buckley Hall.

Now, what can I say? Laser Show. Mike Napoli. BEARDS. They’re just the blue-collar heroes of my dreams. Plus BEARDS.

Are Sox fans annoying? Most definitely. Is it the biggest pain in the ass driving into Boston for games at Fenway? Of course, because Boston was designed by a drunk. But do I care? Nope.

The Philadelphia Eagles/Phillies.

“HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!” That’s the response I get from most people (usually Giants fans) when I tell them I’m also a fan of any pro team that plays in Philly (and until the whole issue with Ben Roethlisberger from the Steelers, I was into any pro team in Pennsylvania, period). I literally cannot watch Giants/Eagles games with my boyfriend’s group of friends because A) they’re all Giants fans and B) it usually results in a whirlpool of insults being thrown at Philadelphia.

My parents both grew up in Philadelphia. I’ve been going to Philly nearly every single year for as long as I can remember. It’s almost a second hometown to me. It’s the reason our beach house for fifteen years was at the Jersey Shore rather than the Cape – because Philly people go to the Jersey Shore.

“But what if the Red Sox/Philles or the Eagles/Giants play each other?!” you might howl.

Whoever wins, I’m fine with it. This year, the Eagles beat the Giants twice, and I was both happy and bummed out. It would have been the same if the Eagles had lost both of those games, too.

In 2008 when the Phillies won the World Series I was in a production of Camelot. I was getting updates from people in the show about how the games were going. During a quick change, a fellow Phillies supporter came up to me and lifted up his costume to show me he was wearing a Phillies shirt underneath, and told me they had clinched the series. I nearly screamed into my live microphone.

I don’t really watch a lot of hockey unless it’s college level or the Stanley Cup, so I can’t really say what hockey team I support. But the story of the Broad Street Bullies is fantastic, so if I were to have a hockey team it’d probably be the Flyers.

Liverpool Football Club (LFC).

I had never been a huge soccer fan. I was what you might call a Word Cup soccer fan – when the tournament was on, I’d watch it all day, and I knew who Landon Donovan and Tim Howard were, but had no idea who any European footballers were let alone the tons of South American and African ones. I knew about hooligans and how soccer culture was a huge deal in Europe but I had no idea how many fans of English clubs there were in the US. The only clubs I was familiar with were Manchester United (because David Beckham) and Arsenal (because someone I knew was a fan).

Boyfriend has been a Liverpool supporter for over 15 years, so one very snowy day three years ago he taught me about the culture of Liverpool Football Club. I ended up doing more research on my own and I learned about all of the players and the history of Anfield (oh, the beautiful Steven Gerrard), and most importantly I learned about the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, in which 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death as a result of an overcrowded stall and horrible police management. (ESPN’s 30 for 30: Soccer Stories produced an incredible documentary about it last year to commemorate the 25th anniversary. It’s really hard to watch but worth your time.) They’re a really wonderful club to support. The fanbase is rabid, but not douchey like a lot of other clubs in the PL (ahem, Chelsea FC).

I also learned that LFC’s official club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” As in the classic song from Broadway’s Carousel. As in one of my favorite songs from Broadway, ever. So you can imagine my reaction when we went to Boston for Liverpool’s American tour three years ago and they BLASTED that song throughout Fenway Park, and I saw grown men screaming the lyrics to one of my favorite songs:

Three years ago, when we were in London for the Olympics, Boyfriend and I went to Anfield and took a tour of the grounds. Ever been to a church on a random day of the week when no services are going on, and it’s deathly quiet and vastly spiritual? That’s what it felt like on that pitch.

Plus, you know, Steven Gerrard is my favorite human.

Granted LFC have recently added some super adorable men to their squad (AHEM, Adam Lallana) but Stevie G will always be tops. Despite the fact he’s leaving the club at the end of the season to go to the LA Galaxy. Dammit.

I’m not sure what the point of this post was. But stay tuned next week – I’ll have something of more content then. They can’t all be searing critiques of the cultural landscape, guys.

ally

2014: The Year of Mistakes.

Every few years, Neil Gaiman (who is one of my favorite people on the planet) writes some New Year’s wishes and posts them on his website. Three years ago, he wrote this:

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
Let this year be the year in which Ally Made Glorious, Amazing Mistakes. This year, my world came crashing down around me not once, not twice, but several times. I had some Serious Stuff happen with my health, my mind, and my relationships.
In January, my panic attacks came back, which set up the rest of my year as one lived in abject fear. I did a lot of crying.
In February, I got rejected from every single PhD program I applied to. I did a lot of crying. I also did an awesome ‘snowed in sleepover’ at my friend’s house that was one of the best nights ever.
In March, I got really sick.
In April, two of the great things of the year happened – we won the National Championship, and I got into therapy.
In May, I started a wonderful new job at a bookstore, and my brother got engaged. Around the same time, I lost one of my best high school friends to suicide. Please don’t do this, if you’re reading. Please. The people you leave behind will never be the same.
In June, I got to watch one of my oldest friends get married.
In July, I got to go to a drag bingo night for a dear friend’s bachelorette party and afterward we all read erotic literature out loud to each other while drinking wine. I highly recommend this.
In August, I got diagnosed with my benign tachycardia and got put on a medication that would change my life for the better. I also started pulling myself out of the mental cave I’d been in for eight months, and officially gave up coffee and added sugars from my diet. (except for Christmas. Christmas calls for cookies.)
In September, I lost someone close to me to cancer, and then two pets that I’ve come to see as my own passed away within a month of each other.
In October, I was in my best friend’s wedding and it was one of the best days ever. Then I did an Advocare 10-day cleanse that honest-to-god changed my life, and then I was bedridden for three days with a bulging disc.
In November, I was in a wedding with the Boyfriend that was wonderful and hilarious and got to do the Ministry of Silly Walks in our bridesmaid/groomsman introduction.
In December, my brother and his fiance got a mini Goldendoodle, and I am already plotting her kidnapping. I also sent out a ton of PhD applications, and celebrated Christmas with my family.
A lot of stuff happened, but it wasn’t really stuff I could control.
So here we are. It’s the end of another year, and the beginning of a new one. You would think I’m kind of worn out, or bemoaning that there’s yet another year ahead of me, considering the year I’ve had.
I’m pumped for 2015, because all of the mistakes I’ve made this year, I assume, are going to set me up for a pretty great year to come. Especially since the past few months I’ve been working through those mistakes and I’m starting the new year feeling like I did last year – confident, at ease, and content. Although I am fighting through a pretty annoying cold at the moment, but that’s another matter.
I hope you make mistakes. Because they will clear you out for new beginnings.
ally

ally

Star Wars: A (Not Very) Brief and Awkward History.

Up until last month, I hadn’t seen the original Star Wars trilogy in their entirety.

HEAR ME OUT.

I say “entirety” because when I was in seventh grade my science teacher, in an effort to stay “hip”, brought in a VHS of A New Hope and showed us the scenes where the hologram of Princess Leia appears out of R2-D2 so we could learn about image projection. I was intrigued, and had my mom rent it for me that weekend. After the first twenty minutes, I got bored and turned it off. Remember the first twenty minutes of A New Hope? It’s R2 and C3-PO getting tossed around a Jawa dumpster. To a twelve-year-old girl who loved medieval epics and Titanic, this was boring as shit. Plus, robots? No thanks. I know they’re droids, but at the time I didn’t know the difference.

When I was 15 I saw the part when Luke gets attacked by the wampa in Empire Strikes Back and got so freaked out I ran out of the room. I saw bits and pieces of Return of the Jedi (so yes, I knew the whole twist with Darth Vader, and that Princess Leia gets in a gold bikini, etc.). I saw all three of the prequels – mostly due to Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen – and thought they were insanely boring, to the point that I thought to myself “Why is anyone into these movies?”

I never really minded the fact that I wasn’t super into Star Wars because I had tons of other super-geeky interests anyway – I own three DVD versions of each Lord of the Rings movie, for crying out loud, and I’m slowly getting more and more into Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Yet I always sort of liked the universe of Star Wars more than Star Trek. Star Wars seemed more historical than sci-fi, more like a western than philosophical pondering about the nature of the universe, which, to teenaged me, was boring as shit. Obviously, I was an idiot. But I digress.

The Star Wars thing remained a secret until three years ago, when Boyfriend and I started dating. We had a conversation wherein he mentioned his deep and unabashed love for Star Wars and how he owns nearly all of the novelizations, how the prequels made him want to bash his head into a wall, etc. Then I mentioned my deep, dark secret, and his reaction was similar to Ted’s.

The grammatical error on that .gif really irks me.

So finally, on Thanksgiving this year, we watched A New Hope. Then three weeks ago, we watched The Empire Strikes Back. And finally, this past Saturday night we watched Return of the Jedi.

Here are my honest thoughts.

note: we watched the George Lucas edited versions of these films, but Boyfriend pointed out all of the changes and alerted me to things that were cut or rearranged, so I’m not even going to make them a part of my review. The changes George Lucas made were perfunctory or, in the case of Return of the Jedi, super damaging to the film quality. Also – Han shot first.

Star Wars/A New Hope
1. Well holy shit, every single movie ever from 1977 to now has ripped off this movie. What with the Hero’s Journey Luke undergoes to the Strong Female Character Who Don’t Take No Shit to the Great Emotional Reveals to the Boy Who Becomes A Man to the Scrappy Sidekick to the Sidekick to the Sidekick to the Immovable Object That Is the Evil Antagonist. Every single cliche from then to now is because of this movie.
2. I still maintain that for a 12 year old girl, the first twenty minutes of this movie are sort of boring, with the robots doing dumb things and getting into trouble, and Luke being a whiny little shit. Although I will admit the entrance of Darth Vader is pretty awesome, and Leia kicks inhumane amounts of ass. She’s so sassy, I can’t handle it. “I knew I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” YAAAAAAAS GIRL.
3. I was NOT PREPARED for the “Owen and Beru Lars roasted like barbecue chicken” scene. My goodness. I didn’t realize this movie got so dark.
4. I get the Han Solo adoration. One hundred percent. And if they made a whole movie about how he and Chewbacca started hanging out together, I would be into it. Also, Harrison Ford? YEOWZA.

5. This movie is way funnier than I imagined it would be. The whole running gag of Vader getting pissed at different commanding officers on the Death Star and Force-choking them and hiring another guy, then Force-choking them too, was really funny to me. I didn’t find Vader to be that threatening, I found him to be a guy slowly losing control of a very volatile situation. It made me even more pissed off that the prequels are terrible because I would have loved to have seen a really smart take on how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, in a more elevated way than Force-choking a robot Natalie Portman and being a whiny, petulant child. Then again, Luke is like that in A New Hope so I suppose that works?
6. I have to go back and watch this one again because we watched it on Thanksgiving, and therefore I fell into a food coma right around the time Han and Luke got to the Death Star and ended up in the compactor. So…my memories of the ending are hazy at best.
7. Figran D’an and the Modal Nodes is such a goddamn good name for a band.

The Empire Strikes Back
1. I don’t find the whole opening on Hoth with the wampa attack and Luke getting shoved into the steaming innards of a tauntaun to be really important to the rest of the film. I mean, I get why the Rebel Alliance is on Hoth, but what was that whole scene trying to show? That Luke was irresponsible? That Han has a soft spot for his friends to the point of self-sacrifice?
2. The AT-AT walkers are kind of horrifying and I loved them. I also loved how they looked like giant mechanical elephants that shoot lasers. Like if Mumakil were robots.
3. With all of the fan love Boba Fett gets I was expecting him to have more screen time. Not the case. It was sort of odd. But his outfit is great. Very threatening but functional.
4. YODA. Oh my goodness, Yoda is so wonderful. He was like the prototypical cantankerous uncle in every single 80s comedy. It was amazing. The puppet work by Frank Oz (along with a bunch of other people) was stunning. I just wanted to give him a hug. And at the beginning, when he’s just bullshitting like a confused idiot while Luke just gets more and more pissy? So great. I also loved the Rocky-like training montage of Luke doing eternal handstands WHILE trying to lift shit with his mind. And I know the prequels suck, but getting to see Yoda actually fight was worth it.

5. The Han/Leia kiss made me feel a LOT of feelings. Holy crap. I ship it forever. Their whole relationship was so much more energetic and fun than the Anakin/Padme one; that one was trying way too hard to be something it wasn’t. I mean, do you see the difference between this…

\

And this?

I’ve seen more passion in a colonoscopy prep.
6. The Luke/Leia kiss has been, I feel, taken out of context. Before watching the films I thought it was a legitimate passionate kiss, which makes the later reveal that these two are siblings really uncomfortable. But watching the scene play out, I realized it was actually a power play Leia is making to make Han uncomfortable. She kisses Luke to piss Han off, to spite him into action, because she knows that he loves her but he’s being a dick. That kiss says “I could get with anyone I want – even HIM – so quit being a douchebag.” Which is AWESOME and UGH LEIA FOR THE WIN.
7. The ending is the ending. I mean, I already knew what the ending would entail because I’m a human being, right?
8. I like how Leia is constantly in the Alliance’s equivalent of a Hilary Clinton pantsuit.

Return of the Jedi
Okay, this one I had major, MAJOR issues with. Not just because of the Ewoks. But there was just so much that went completely unexplained, with plot points that went nowhere, and I was full of questions the entire time.

Why does Leia devolve from an asskicking feminist superhero to a pair of breasts in a gold string bikini getting choked by Jabba the Hutt? (Although I did appreciate how she’s the one who ends up killing Jabba, and how she’s the one who rescues Han. So she’s got her moments, but still. Bad form, George Lucas.)
Why is Luke suddenly a Jedi ninja of the highest order with all of these amazing powers? He left Dagobah and the last time we saw him he was on a medical triage ship getting a fake hand grafted on, watching the galaxy float by. When did all of this superior mind shit start happening?
When the Empire falls, why does the added-in supercut of all the planets celebrating show us the city-planet Coruscant? According to Boyfriend, that’s the Empire stronghold, so wouldn’t they be, like, mad?
Why does the scope of the series get boiled down so much? The first two movies had epic opening crawls, talking about the Rebel Alliance, the Empire, etc. This one basically says “Luke has to find his awesome friend Han Solo!” It takes this amazing, sprawling premise and dilutes it to fan service.
Again, we watched the edited director’s cut version, so in the middle of the Jabba scene there was this CGI-filled cutaway to this lead singer of a band wailing away in some made-up dialect and it just made no damn sense. Also, at the end in this version they edited in Hayden Christensen as Anakin at the end, which caused me and the BF to boo loudly.
HOW DID LUKE BUILD A LIGHTSABER?! My conversation with my boyfriend went as follows:

Me: Where did he get that lightsaber?
BF: He built it.
Me: How?
BF: He became a Jedi Knight.
Me: How?!
BF: After he nearly sacrificed himself rather than join the Empire, he gained a greater understanding of the Force.
Me:…WHY DIDN’T THEY MAKE THAT MOVIE?!

I mean, talk about a missed opportunity! Imagine the movie that could have been – fuck the Ewoks, I want to see the moment where Luke had greater understanding of the Force, and realized his potential as a Jedi Knight, and built that lightsaber, and then went to rescue Han and Leia from Jabba. As it is, Luke just shows up looking like a Jedi samurai in that all black getup and goes HAM on everyone in Jabba’s palace while I’m staring at the TV like “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!”

There were some lovely moments. The callback to “I love you/I know” with the gender reversal was a lovely surprise. Yoda’s death made me a bit teary (it speaks to the skill of these people that I got teary over the death of a puppet). Han’s joy at realizing Luke and Leia are brother and sister. Vader killing Palpatine to save his son was pretty sweet, and I loved the moment where Luke took off his helmet so Vader could see his son with his own eyes. Also, the Ewoks are sort of cute – that one moment where the Ewok mourns the other one that died in the AT-ST explosion was so sad!

I’m sure I have more thoughts on all of them. But these were the ones I had lined up at this moment.

On the whole, I greatly enjoyed the movies, but what’s more – I completely understood the fervor over them. The graphics hold up incredibly well, the scripts are smart, the acting is great, and you thoroughly care about all of the characters and want to see them succeed and beat the Empire and blow up all the Death Stars. And honestly, it was just fun watching it with someone who has clearly been so impacted by these movies. It’s like when he watched The Return of the King with me a few years ago, except by the end of that movie I was sobbing like a child and the Star Wars movies don’t really spur that reaction. But they were fun, and I really get why people got – and still get – so latched on to them as a cultural touchstone.

Please don’t take away my Nerd card. I need it to get into all the secret meetings.

ally

The Best Christmas Specials of All Time. OF ALL TIME.

Hey guys – did you miss me?

I apologize for my lengthy, lengthy time off. The semester decided to do a number of things to me (and my body) that were not appreciated. First of all, I was a bridesmaid in two weddings in the span of a month, which caused me to bruise a nerve in my throat. Then, I got a bulging disc in my lower neck that ended up pinching a nerve in my back, rendering me entirely unable to move from a prone position on the couch for an entire week. My physical therapist was awesome, though, and I’m much better now. (He did yell at me for using computer stuff while laying in bed, saying it puts undue pressure on my skull. You try to be a teacher, man!)

THEN, I had to take two GRE tests (scored well on one, did not do so well on the other) and commenced applying to several schools for PhD work. That was fun. But now I’m all done with the semester, my tree is decorated, and today, instead of cleaning my car, I decided to sit down and share some words with you.

I don’t really know what I can say about this year just yet. But! I have a really generic and stupid post for you guys to hold you over until that time that I can string words together in a more coherent fashion about this 2014 we all survived through. So for now, I give you my list of the Best Christmas Specials of All Time. OF ALL TIME. #kanyevoice

Note: I am a Christmastime freak. The minute it hits Black Friday I want to fire up the DVD and watch ALL of the specials. So some of these are from the same programs, and some of these are really random. Deal with it. I fucking love Christmas.

Friends, “The One With the Holiday Armadillo”.
The plot of this one is fairly simple – Ross gets to have his son for the holiday season. Since he and his son are part Jewish, Ross decides he’s going to teach Ben about Chanukah. When he finds out Ben isn’t too excited about this prospect and would rather see Santa Claus, Ross attempts to scrounge together a St. Nick costume two days before Christmas. Needless to say, it does not go as planned.

This is one of funniest sequences Friends produced. It’s up there with the “who knows each other better” game in “The One With the Embryos” and “you gave me a teeny weenie!” in “The One With the Rumor”. I think my favorite part of this whole sequence is Ross’s physical comedy in the armadillo suit. There’s one little gag with the tail but then the rest of the comedy comes from Ross trying to embody this armadillo with little  head shakes and the deep, booming voice he puts on to tell Ben about the Festival of Lights. Plus, Chandler’s reaction to Ross in the costume is priceless and it’s all worth it to see Chandler/Santa and Joey/Superman sitting on the couch, listening to Ross talk about Chanukah, and the culminating image of all three in costume lighting the menorah (“My favorite part was when Superman flew all the Jews out of Egypt!”)

Community, “Regional Holiday Music”.
When the original Glee Club is forced to cease and desist for copyright infringement, the director (Taran Killam) enlists the study group to help by infecting them with psychotic feelings of “glee”.

Basically I love this episode because I hate Glee. That, and I am a sucker for musical episodes of TV shows. So to have the entire cast of Community get hypnotized into an almost Body Snatchers-esque scenario in which they compulsively dance and sing while not having any clear understanding of why they’re doing it – except for the fact that they might make “Regionals” – is just hilarious to me. And it wouldn’t be an episode of Community without a super dark twist at the end (the glee director killed last year’s Glee Club and staged it to look like a bus crash) and a wonderful credits sequence of Pop-Pop, Chang, Dean Pelton, and Star Burns singing a rendition of “Carol of the Bells”. The high point for me is Alison Brie’s hysterical take on the “dumb girl in a Christmas song” trope by asking Jeff to teach her “How to Understand Christmas” while her speech and mental patterns devolve into baby talk by the end (“Boopy doopy boop boop sex!”)

South Park, “Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo.”
Kyle Broslovski’s mom complains that the town of South Park, with its huge emphasis on Christmas decorations and song and forcing Kyle to participate in the school’s nativity play, is disrespectful to other religions, so the town decides to take away every single piece of religious iconography from its annual play, renaming it The Non-Offensive Non-Denominational Holiday Play. And then Kyle gets a visit from Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo who will teach everyone the True Meaning of Christmas. He’s literally a turd that comes to every good boy and girl that gets enough fiber in their diet. “Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo/He loves me, I love you/So, vicariously, he loves you!”

I first saw this episode ON Christmas Eve, 1997. I was at my friend’s house for dinner with my family and they were watching South Park in the basement, and I died laughing. There’s really nothing funnier to a 12 year old than people in cartoons accidentally eating shit. But the main part of the joke that makes me laugh now as I approach 30 is the angle of the War on Christmas. The town decides that rather than just pay respect to Judaism, they suck all of the religion out of Christmas for fear of offending anybody and anything that watches it. I’m a Christian, but I definitely have non-Christian friends who get annoyed at all of the Christmassy things during December. Also, they get 8 nights of presents. They get the better deal.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Obviously, I’m talking about the original one from 1966. I mean, come on. It’s the best ever. Anyone who says anything different is lying. I don’t know what’s better – the Grinch’s increased mania as he attempts to become Santa, or his hapless dog Max trying to help him. And Chuck Jones’ animation is priceless, as he illustrates the slinky, yet clunky nature of the Grinch and the innocent sweetness of Cindy Lou Who (“who was no more than two”). The 2000 adaptation starring Jim Carrey is pretty great, don’t get me wrong. But this version takes the cake. I also think the AV Club had it correct in their review of this short – the Grinch isn’t greedy. He’s just pissed off that the Whos down in Whoville are making a huge fuss.

A Charlie Brown Christmas.
This special means more and more to me as I get older. Charlie Brown’s dilemma is something I feel every once and a while, but particularly this year, when so many godawful things have been happening one on top of the other in my life and in the world. Black children are being gunned down indiscriminately (or choked in the street). Women are denied justice in thousands of rape cases every year. Just this week, 130 kids were murdered by the Taliban for the crime of going to school and getting an education. So I can resonate with Charlie Brown when he tells Linus “I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” The world can be pretty harsh sometimes, and Charlie Brown gets that. But then at the end, when Linus gives his wonderful speech quoting from the King James Bible (I love that he drops the blanket as he gains momentum), it all comes back to what should be the main focus of the season – love, peace on earth, and good will toward man. I’m not really the best Christian on the planet, but with a seriously badass Pope at the helm of the Catholic Church and a heart that desperately wants to see that the world can heal, that sentiment of love and redemption is something I definitely can feel strongly about. And of course, the halting line readings done by the real kids employed as the cast members (some of them had to be fed the lines one after the other because they couldn’t read yet!), and the adorable dancing and skating and the brilliantly simple animations done by Bill Melendez. And who could forget the absolutely beautiful jazz soundtrack by The Vince Gauraldi Trio?

Wee Sing: The Best Christmas Ever!
Now, let me just be clear – this movie is terrible. It’s badly acted, horribly scored, and insanely written. But I watched it for the first time when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and it has stuck with me like a goddamn venereal disease.
The plot is cellophane-thin: One of Santa’s elves blows off course in his snowflake sleigh and lands in the home of the Smiths, a typical 80s Wonder Bread family in horrible Cosby sweaters. They are shocked and amazed that an elf is in their presence, and not at all horrified. The elf takes them back to the North Pole and they help one of the other elves figure out why he can’t make the Christmas toys as fast as he used to (spoiler alert – he’s like 60 years old and needs glasses).
It sounds simple enough, but here’s where it gets bananas. The elf with the snowflake sleigh? His name is Poofer. Poofer. That’s not far off from “poofter” which is a homophobic slur. And they don’t do a lot to disguise the name’s origins – Poofer is portrayed as being jazz-hands level gay. The Smiths don’t come off well either – they have an adopted Asian daughter named Suzy, an adorable little kid who legit looks like the bobbed-hair emoji on the iPhone, and she speaks in nothing but rhyme the entire movie. Not just rhyme – really scenario-specific rhymes with matching hand movements, and the rest of the family just gathers in front of her and watches her do her thing like she’s a wind-up Christmas robot they found in the basement. This is one of the exchanges in the film:

Mom: Okay Suzy, you want to help me set the table?
Suzy: These are Mother’s knives and forks/This is Mother’s table/This is grandmother’s looking glass/This is baby’s cradle!

And every time she does these weird minstrel-like performances, the youngest son Johnny goes “YOU’RE AMAZING, SUZY”, like he can’t believe she’s a real human. NEITHER CAN WE, KID.

And I haven’t even mentioned the United Colors of Benetton carolers that come to the Smiths’ door and then end up just hanging out in the living room with them for a good fifteen minutes of the movie. You can tell this movie was made in the 90s because it’s so multicultural – there’s a kid in a wheelchair, a black kid, and there’s also a black elf in Santa’s workshop! And then there’s the fact that the entire family sleeps in the living room of the house (in sleeping bags?!) on Christmas Eve, so Santa and Poofer nearly trip all over them trying to get the presents under the tree.

About three years ago I found the entire thing on YouTube and laughed hysterically the entire time, so if you want to kill an hour (and maybe a few brain cells), give it a look. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRpgW1vIEGs

I’ll probably have one more post between now and Christmas but in case I don’t get to it – I hope all of you have a wonderful and happy Christmas. I know it’s a hard time of year for a lot of people, but remember the true reason for the season. Family, friends, and the people you love.

ally

Feminist Friday: On Privilege, Lena Dunham, and the Right To Exist.

I received a copy of Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl for my birthday, and although I haven’t read it yet, I’ve skimmed some reviews.

Let’s be honest – Lena Dunham is a firecracker for a lot of people. She used to be one for me. Either you love her to death or you wish she would shut up. Go away. Hide.

And to clarify before we go further, I have yet to watch a single episode of Girls because to be honest, if I want to watch a bunch of women in their mid-twenties complain about their lives in New York City I would buy a time machine and set it to Summer 2009 and just watch myself.

But as a person, feminist, and writer, I love Lena Dunham the human. She’s the shit because she just doesn’t give a shit. And in this newfangled notion of IDGAF Feminism that I’m expressing (the “Fuck it” wave, as I’m calling it), it strikes me as fascinating that so many people – WOMEN – are content to rake her over the coals because of her privilege. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an article from Jezebel slamming her for one reason or another and most of it comes from people who are all butthurt about her being privileged. Or they just call her fat, because the worst thing insecure people can say about other people is that they’re fat.

If you didn’t know, Lena Dunham comes from money, and therefore the assumption is that Lena Dunham shouldn’t complain one iota about her life or act like she’s had struggles because Money, despite the fact that Lena Dunham is one of the few female celebrities who wears her feminism like a badge of honor, like a weapon instead of a shield. Like her work and success was handed to her on a silver platter.

Also, there’s that whole argument that her work navel-gazes. Meanwhile, EVERY OTHER MALE AUTHOR EVER does the same thing and it’s just being thoughtful on human nature or some shit when they do it.

Privilege is a funny thing. I never really thought of myself as privileged in any way until I went to a different high school than the one in my town and realized just how good I had it when a girl in my class referred to me as “sheltered”.

Let’s be honest – I’m a white cis-gender heterosexual girl who grew up in the United States in a liberal state that was one of the first to recognize equal rights for LGBTQIAASP peoples,and I’ve never been sexually assaulted. I’m privileged to an absurd degree before you even bring money into it. But I grew up relatively frills-free in a little one-floor ranch house until we moved to a slightly bigger home in a better neighborhood. All of our Christmas decorations were homemade, and I got most of my clothes at discount prices. When I asked for expensive dolls or clothes for Christmas, I was denied. I got books instead. I was barely allowed an American Girl doll because it was so costly. I’m also the weirdest human being in my family – I literally have a giant stack of pagan and history of witchcraft books crowding up an entire shelf in my house.

But there are still a lot of people who assume I don’t have to do things like “work for a living” or “pay bills” or “be a functioning and independent adult.” I rarely ask for help, unless I’m literally on my last penny. I’d never forgive myself for resting on someone else’s dime. Plus my mom would kill me. I pay all of my own bills, I watch my money, and I’m saving up for the future. Without anyone else’s help. To be honest, there have been times where due to the extreme strain being an adjunct professor can sometimes put on my bank account, I have asked for help and it was immediately given. But it was given because I only ask when I have no other option.

All of this being said, I will admit it is pretty damn great to get free stuff from Nike and to travel with the team and to be able to say that I met the freaking President, twice. The fact that I have these things readily available to me is amazing and I’m so grateful for these opportunities. I’d be a dick if I weren’t. Privilege checked.

Listening and creating dialogue checks your privilege. Showing empathy checks your privilege. Using your privilege for something other than personal gain checks your privilege. I would rather use my privilege to critique anti-feminists and fat-phobics (what the fuck is wrong with you people, btw?), and help girls feel better about their bodies by sharing my story, rather than use my parents as human ATMs. My privilege is a tool to make the world better, it’s not an excuse to be a rich asshole. How did I become so humble and privilege-checking? I wasn’t raised by assholes. I was taught to view every human experience as valuable. I was ordered to work hard and do my best at everything and to make something of myself. I was exposed to experiences that weren’t great. I went through some profound shit with my life that had nothing to do with privilege and everything to do with my viewpoint on myself and the fear of my own limitations.

Lena Dunham makes glorious public mistakes and she owns up to them. She fucks up boldly and apologizes, but she keeps on trucking. She’s impervious to the public ridicule that slanders her for even taking up molecular space. She proudly displays her body (which might also cover up insecurity, but who cares if that’s the reason?)

Lena Dunham uses her privilege to examine a specific part of the human condition. Sure, it may not be everyone’s experience, but it’s hers, and she can do whatever she wants with that lens. Part of being a feminist is giving people the space to make their own choices with their lives. And I think Lena would think the same. Pro-choice doesn’t just mean abortion, y’all. Does Lena mess up a lot and say bad things? Of course! WHO DOESN’T. Who in their right mind is perfect?But women aren’t allowed to be anything less than perfect, while guys can be all complicated and deep and stuff.

Giving everyone the freedom to make their own choices is kind of what being a feminist and a decent human being is all about. I hope Lena makes more mistakes, because mistakes are what make you a person and not a robot. And if you try to shame her into silence, she probably won’t care.

Which is probably why she infuriates so many people. She simply doesn’t care what people think. I like that. We need more people like that.

ally

Special Post – Reflections on 28, Thoughts for 29.

Hey, all of you gorgeous crazy people.

So first things first – today is my birthday. I’m 29. Yeesh.

I’m the youngest of my friend group by a wide mileage. Most of my friends in school had their birthdays in the summer, so I was always the youngest kid in the class. It makes sense because my mom always refers to me as a “new soul.” It also explains how for most of my childhood I felt like I was always tagging along after the bigger kids.

I’m not the type of person to have a big event on my birthday and for every subsequent day for the next week; the boyfriend told me it was “birthday girl’s choice” for dinner tonight and the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Uh, *insert place my parents always go*, I guess?” I hadn’t thought about it at all.

Truth be told, I’m glad the 28th year of my life is in the history books. It was a shitty, shitty year for reasons I’ve expounded upon at length in this blog space and for reasons I’ve kept private. I’ve dealt with a lot of my demons this year, which I guess means it was all for a good reason.  It taught me a lot about resiliency and growth and my own capacity to either realize my potential or dig myself a huge hole. It was the year I got help for my chronic generalized anxiety, and I’ve been working my way through my shit ever since. It was the year that saw me get diagnosed with a benign arrhythmia, and the medication I was put on has not only allowed me to reestablish myself as an athletic and active person, but it has also had a tremendous positive impact on my daily life by blocking the adrenaline that caused so many anxious and panicked years.

This year, two people who have majorly impacted my life in various ways were lost, and both of their lives taught and teach me to live mine in a better, more focused way.

I learned who my true friends are this year, from the girls who made sure I laughed on my worst nights, to calling me and forcing me out of the house to dinner, to texting me and letting me know they were thinking about me, to asking me to be in their weddings. In my 29th year, I hope to start whittling down my group to the bare essentials. The friends that keep me honest and grounded but also fill me with light.

I’m really thrilled to have found peace in the months leading up to my 29th year. I have a lot to do this year. Better get started.

ally

TV Tuesday: How Outlander Told the Male Gaze to Eff Off.

Maybe it’s because I wasn’t having any of it. Maybe it’s because I was afraid of it, desperately, until I was in my mid-twenties. If you hit on me at a party I immediately found the nearest exit and took it. But for about ten-fifteen years or so, I was completely obsessed with sex. Not having sex, mind you. Just obsessed with the concept. When I was nine years old I accidentally stumbled across a copy of Forever by Judy Blume in the library and it altered my brain chemistry – although, for real, the guy in the book named his penis Ralph. It’s a euphemism for vomiting, if you remember correctly from the film Clueless. Think about that.

Now, I wasn’t just obsessed with sex on a pornographic level, although the day that I came across scrambled porn on the television was an interesting evening; I wanted to listen to a scrambled HBO presentation of Cool Runnings and got way more than I bargained for. Feel the rhythm, indeed. Anyway. I was just fascinated with the mechanics and the way that two people could know each other intimately. It’s not all I thought about, not by any means. But whenever I wrote fiction or poetry or looked at film in general, I would just automatically go to the sex. Those early attempts at fiction are straight up embarrassing and that should have been a sign that I’m much more of a humorist and critic, rather than a novelist. They always say that we obsess over the things we don’t have. I was a very overweight, nerdy and weird kid. Nobody wanted to hold my hand, let alone invite me to any pants parties.

Conversely, the thought of myself actually taking part in these acts scared the ever living hell out of me, mostly because sexuality in the media is framed entirely from a male perspective (more on that later). I thought it was all about the overwhelming goal of making the guy happy. If youd didn’t make the guy happy, you were ostracized.

Nowadays I’m not as sex-crazed, perhaps because I hold a much more realistic viewpoint on female and male sexuality. But I still make it a point to critique or take interest in the way sexual subjects are portrayed in text and film as part of my scholarship. Which is why the newest episode of Outlander made me want to run around my house screaming with happiness. Basically, we’ve been over how much I’m completely obsessed with Outlander. Yesterday, in an episode appropriately titled “The Wedding”, Claire and Jamie got married (in a forced ceremony to keep Claire out of trouble with the English) but that’s not what most people were watching it for. They were watching it for Claire and Jamie to get down to bidness, coitus style. That’s exactly what they did, in a way that both blew my mind and moved me in a way I didn’t expect having read the books.

Before I go any further I want to talk a bit about a literary theorem called The Male Gaze. Originally conceived by Laura Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” The Male Gaze posits that women in film are positioned to be looked at, not to be objects in action but objects and that’s it. They are valued by their “to-be-looked-at-ness”, and not by their character arc. Mulvey argues that the male gaze can be voyeuristic or fetishistic. Basically, if you’ve watched a television at all in your life, you’ve seen a LARGE amount of the Male Gaze and not nearly as much of the Female Gaze, or, a male body positioned from the point of view of a woman. It’s the reason why “All About That Bass” is both so good and problematic at the same time because it positions body-confidence from the POV of “Men think this body type is sexy, so you should too!” I still love that song, but you get what I’m saying.

Usually this theory is applied to sex scenes in film but also just whenever a woman’s body is presented. For example, it’s not a huge secret that I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones, but that show, with all of its intrigue and snarky quips from Tyrion, has a big bone of contention with me in its depiction of women through the Male Gaze. I’m not saying that all of them do this, but a lot of the time on that show we see the woman in relation to a man. I always point to the scene in season 3 when Tyrion repays Podrick for his service by bringing him some of his best “girls”, hookers in the King’s Landing brothel, who proceed to perform acrobatic feats for Podrick’s amazement. One of them binds herself up in a pretzel with her vagina practically hanging out. All of it for the benefit of a man, without situating the females themselves as sexual subjects, only sexual objects.

The only time this got circumvented on GoT was when Daenerys, in a horny fit of pique, asked Daario Naharis to get undressed in front of her. The camera did something it hadn’t done in the history of the show – it lingered over the male form from the point of view of a woman, and luxuriated in it. When I watched it, I didn’t think “Oh, there’s some boobs again.” I thought “DAT ASS.” I was objectifying a man the same way men, in so many different ways in media, objectifies women(Remind me to write a blog post about why I appreciate the Nicki Minaj “Anaconda” video for precisely the same reason). I can honestly say that scene made me want to fistpump, not just because the actor playing Daario had a nice butt, but because it located Danaerys as a woman who wanted to get herself some, and didn’t apologize for it.

What Outlander did in its seventh episode was not only give us the Female Gaze, but it gave us an episode entirely centered on the female as a subject of sexual desire and control. It captured the breathlessly awkward quality of the “first time” while also effortlessly showing a seriously lusty roll in the hay. Also, it showed an oral sex scene where the woman was ENTIRELY in control of the situation. It was erotic because both participants were on equal playing fields. And it was FUNNY – so many films and TV shows fail to depict people laughing during sex, and not due to something going wrong but just because the act of sex itself is inherently hilarious. At one point Claire asks Jamie to get undressed and the camera, similarly to when Daario disrobed, moves around his naked form as Claire surveys it, and we as the audience are invited to stare as Claire stares. It’s textbook Female Gaze and it punches you in the face. It invites women to be sexually desiring and aroused, and it exalts the male form as a sexual object, which doesn’t really happen that much in media. They even allow Claire to orgasm first (and it’s a loud, throaty orgasm, but not a pornographic “OH GOD YES” sort of fake one. It was a punctuated, breathless moment), and she’s still breathless a few minutes later and she’s in that p0st-orgasm haze of not knowing what do to with herself, which was SO REALISTIC, and then what does she do? She controls a bout of seriously hot oral sex on Jamie, the virgin, who takes it with a series of shots aimed directly at his face that show him in blissful ecstasy, completely under the spell of his more experienced wife “and happy to be there.”

DO YOU REALIZE HOW RARE THIS IS?! IT WAS LIKE WATCHING A SEXUAL UNICORN.

I mean, it helps a lot that Jamie and Claire are both really, really, really really really goodlooking. But the sex was passionate and lusty and awkward and infatuated and REAL. It took all of those sex scenes I’d seen on television film, the over-directed and overperformed acro-yoga pyrotechnics, boiled them down to their essence, and showed two people on the cusp of really getting to know each other but also really into each other sexually. It was perfect. It took the male gaze and inverted it and stuffed it in the garbage.

There’s a lot more where that came from, too, and I’m bonkers excited. Can you tell?

ally

Feminism Friday: Intolerable Images.

Two years ago I took a course in Testimony and Human Rights in which we read and discussed works of testomonial literature (Shoah, the work of Primo Levi and Rigoberta Menchu, etc.) and at some point we read an essay by Jacques Ranciere titled “The Intolerable Image.” Speaking on pictures and photography of war and trauma, Ranciere states “What makes an image intolerable? At first sight, the question seems merely to ask what features make us unable to view an image without experiencing pain or indignation. But a second question immediately emerges, bound up with the first: is it acceptable to make such images and exhibit them to others?”

I’m a woman, so naturally the original video of Ray Rice dragging the unconscious body of his then-fiance Janay Palmer out of an Atlantic City elevator felt like a knife in my stomach. I’ve seen the original video in fits and starts, stumbling upon it when I flipped through channels, immediately feeling like I’ve intruded upon something terrible. It wasn’t like the videos and photographs I’d seen in that testimony course, of men and women staggering out of concentration camps or a prisoner about to be executed. Those were pictures, frozen in a past that was too far away to be immediate. This was violence in real time, a cowardly suckerpunch caught on tape. It’s similar to the feelings expressed by Tom Junod regarding the execution video of journalist James Foley in his new introduction to the award-winning piece “The Falling Man“: We are bearing witness to something, but that something is incomprehensible.

The pre-evidentiary image was intolerable, to be sure. But not intolerable enough. Just showing the evidence of violence isn’t enough for a lot of people. Sometimes, intolerable images are what people need. They need the full picture, the full grotesque display, in order to fully understand. We’ve gotten really good at dismissing things, at shrinking the stuff we don’t want to enlarge the stuff we do. Sometimes they need the entire, excruciating video to understand domestic violence, and the new footage released last week of what actually happened – Ray Rice cold-cocking his wife in the face, knocking her out cold, standing in an incredulously banal way over her still form – was finally, finally, what it took for people to get it. (We can obviously debate whether or not the NFL saw the full tape back in April when they requested it, because the NFL has more money than God and they could have most certainly gotten the full tape, but I digress)

It is very hard to equate my love of football (and sport itself, really) with the fact that the National Football League, with all of its pink shoelaces in October and female sideline reporters and Carrie Underwood singing of the Sunday Night Football theme song, really and truly doesn’t give a flying fuck about women. When it does try to care, it sells us jerseys bedazzled in sequins or dyed bright pink. It gives us Marie Claire cut-outs with Brooklyn Decker telling women how to ‘pretend they like football’ in front of their boyfriends. Even my own school, when trying to appeal to female football fans, felt it necessary to hold a girls-only workshop that managed to tie in cosmopolitans and pink helmets. I thought I needed to wear a pencil skirt to even consider applying. Just give me a regular damn jersey. I’m not one of those chicks who pretends to like football because it’s going to make me fuckable. I already know I’m hot. Let’s talk passing yards.

I don’t have to pretend I like football. I legit love football. And European football, too (Come on, you Reds!). I tailgate every Saturday. I met my man at a football tailgate and it’s possibly the cutest story ever told in the history of the world. But hey, if you don’t like sports, that’s okay, too. You don’t need to be anything other than yourself.

But maybe that’s the problem. We keep saying to girls that they need to like this, that, and the other thing in order to be more desirable. To make men want us sexually. And to extrapolate that idea further – we say to girls that they need to be docile. To not speak up. To let ‘men be men’ and to giggle about football and the difficult shit, because being giggly and dismiss will make men want to put their dicks inside us.

We rarely let women be women. We rarely let them be. And if they do speak up, we say that they deserve what they got, or they were a gold digger, or they’re crazy, or that they’re whores. Because God forbid you are a women who likes sex.

I can’t tell you the complex and ultimately personal decisions that led Janay to marry Ray Rice in spite of this abuse, but I can posit that in Janay’s mind, she is the one that can fix him. Because women are the great healers of troubled men. If we just work on them a little bit harder. If we just love them enough one day the punches won’t land. I hope it doesn’t take a catastrophe for Janay to realize that in this instance, love will absolutely never be enough unless Ray Rice makes a severe Michael Vick style turnaround. I hope that’s the case. But that hope is very cautious.

Part of me wonders if I should even talk about these issues at all. As I’ve said before on this space, I’ve never been abused in a relationship and I’m loved by a very good and decent man, so to sit here and presume I know the dynamics of such a situation would be a lie. I’m saying all of this as a fan of a sport that consistently shows it doesn’t care about the lives or health of women, no matter what color is on the jersey. I’m saying this because I’m one of the statistically lucky women who has never been hit by a lover, but who has friends who have been hit and worse by theirs. I’ve listened to them. I’ve taken their stories into my body. And I stand as an educated ally. The Indianapolis Colts recently donated $100k to a domestic violence foundation, which immediately made me stand up and applaud, and there have been several other athletes getting kicked off or banned from their teams due to domestic violence charges. But who else will follow?

We can keep yodeling until the cows come home about how the conversation needs to change. But it can’t change when we aren’t even offered a spot at the table, as the fabulous Katie Nolan argued in her AMAZING video. Nolan also says that the NFL will never respect women until the media it answers to does. I think we are getting better in a lot of ways, but this whole debacle shows that the Goodell Era will be marked by politics over morality.

Obviously the first step would be a get rid of Goodell because he runs the NFL like an inept Vladimir Putin with a better tan, but with every day that passes I don’t think that will happen. Instead, the centralized vision of power needs to be dissolved, and there needs to be more attention paid to the way the NFL looks at its players and the culture of toxic masculinity.

My other question is this – if this is how the NFL tries to hide the domestic abusers in their ranks, who is to know how much information they’re hiding about concussions? Or any other criminal activity?

I don’t want Janay Rice to become another Kasandra Perkins. I want the conversation of violence around a knowingly violent sport to change. I don’t want us to pretend this stuff doesn’t exist until there’s more dead bodies on our hands. I want women to be invited into the conversation not out of pity or out of difference, but out of respect for our knowledge of the game.

Women love football. Right now, it doesn’t love us back. Or it’s trying to in order to satisfy the dollar signs. And hopefully, the firestorm and scandal surrounding this very embarrassing and upsetting issue will kickstart some genuine, actual change in the way we view sports and female discourse.

ally