Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Tragedy of Maleficent

Spoilers abound for anyone who has yet to bear witness to the festering bed sore that is Disney's latest abomination,

Once upon a time, humans lived among the fair folk. They were allowed to live as they liked, so long as they paid the fey their due respect. Some fairies responded with obeisance, others with reward, and still others with disinterest, so long as the humans observed the appropriate rights.

As it happened, one king and queen allowed the power they had over their fellow humans to go to their heads, and upon the birth of their daughter, publicly spurned an unpopular but vastly powerful fey named Maleficent by expressly not inviting her to the christening. In equal parts retribution to the royal upstarts as well as a reminder to those to follow of the foolishness of incurring her wrath, Maleficent cursed the newborn princess. She bore the babe no ill will, the child was merely collateral damage in the political chess game that the royal family had instigated. Sadly, Maleficent's quest for justice was thwarted by lesser fairies and the entitled entourage of the human royals, and she died a martyr to her own brand of retribution.

Sadly, this is not the story that Disney chose to tell with their re-imagining of one of their most beloved villains. In the trio of films that would go on to anchor the Disney princess franchise, Maleficent was a larger than life powerhouse among the vain, aging queen and the social-climbing, sycophantic stepmother. While Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora are all equally innocent victims, Sleeping Beauty was the first film to depict a villain who was provoked before lashing out. Aurora, the titular beauty, is merely the catalyst for the events of the film, but it has always been Maleficent's story.

The live-action adaptation starring Angelina Jolie is, at best, a subpar Lifetime movie about a good woman done wrong by a bad man, and oh look, sparkles.

Maleficent starts out as a sunshine-vomiting fairy who epitomizes the Dark is Not Evil trope, and right away that's a major flaw in the film. Maleficent IS evil, deliciously evil, her very name is a portmanteau of mal (French: bad) and magnificent. Her malevolence is just a manifestation of her nature, and nothing, nothing that happens from here on out will convince any moviegoer that the 2014 Maleficent is capable of becoming the 1959 Maleficent.

As the film progresses, with a helping of trite and redundant narration, Maleficent falls in love with a sweet but ambitious boy named Stefan, whose human kingdom fears and loathes the neighboring fairies. In a quest to prove himself worthy of the throne, Stefan cuts off Maleficent's wings to prove to his warmongering king that he has slain the fairy, and so marries the milquetoast princess and becomes king.

Heartbroken and stung by betrayal, Maleficent uses her magic to curse her former lover's newborn in an almost word for word recitation of the animated film's iconic scene. She mentions the lack of invitation, but she's merely mocking the king--make no mistake, this is a classic example of woman scorned. Three fairies take Aurora off to raise her as a commoner, but while this is a cunning plan in the original,  the fairies are so bafflingly stupid that Maleficent herself is forced to keep watch over the child so she can live long enough to enact the curse. Over the next sixteen years, in various sickeningly sweet scenes, Maleficent predictably falls in love with the child and seeks to undo her own curse, which, failing to do so, she unwittingly breaks it with True Love's kiss in a "twist" that Disney property Once Upon A Time has done much better. Twice.

No one fears the bite of a de-fanged cobra, and no one will find anything to fear in the vacillating cream puff that purports to be one of animation's most terrifying villains. Maleficent was introduced as a badass, and the creators of this latest film should be ashamed for what they've done to her.

It's hard not to see Maleficent's stolen wings as a huge and disturbing rape metaphor. The first king makes war on her lands because he fears her power. Stefan drugs her, and then takes what is rightfully hers without her permission. Notable at this point is that Maleficent is the guardian of her moor, friend to all fairies, with long brown hair and a dress to match, the virtuous embodiment of "good" womanhood. Following her "rape", the film justifies Stefan's victimization of Maleficent by turning her into a "bad" woman who kills babies while the crowning glory of her femininity is bound under tight, uncomfortable looking black leather. She finds her way back to "goodness" by forming a maternal bond (the pinnacle of womanhood) to the child she swore vengeance upon. You can tell her redemption is complete by the end of the film because she once again has long hair flowing around her face, and the moor sparkles in her presence.

Following the USCB shootings, this is an especially disturbing parallel to our view of rape victims. Rape turns victims into "bad" people, continuously accused of lying, of asking for it, as being damaged goods. Stefan, for most of the film, gets away with his actions, even achieving his ambitions as a direct result of what he did to Maleficent. Even as he spends the majority of the film in a downward spiral of insanity, it's due to his fear of retribution, not guilt.

Maleficent started out as one of the greatest characters in film canon. She was conceived as evil, she died evil, and from beginning to end she terrified the audience with a drama and flair that female characters 55 years after her debut would kill to possess. The tragedy is we've used this strongly defined villain to paint an ugly portrait of how our society sees women, and splattered it across screens to show girls everywhere what we do to those who don't fit our molds.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

White Disney World

Recently, I've been substituting all the things I used to do--spending time with friends, reading, concerts, movies, dating, gym, exercise--with Pinterest. I blame the fact that the app runs better on my iPhone than it did on my droid, and therefore, I cannot be held responsible for the fact that my traitorous  thumb swipes over to it every time I get an email or a text. Due to the massive amount of time I spend on there, I've run across this gem at least five times:

This image is originally from
All credit due the creators and other such indemnification.

First of all, Brave is set in Scotland, not Ireland. I have relatives that would murder you for failing that distinction.

But with that minor quibble very serious infraction of cultural sensitivity addressed, let's examine the underlying argument being stated: namely, that because Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa are from traditional European fairy tales/folklore, and Merida is a medieval Scot, Disney is not guilty of whitewashing.

While it's true that it makes the most sense for the three protagonists and deuteragonist to be white for these three films, and also, for the bit and supporting players to be white in the contexts of the story, in the past four years Disney has failed to release a feature film in its princess pantheon with a non-white lead or a diverse cast. While the films are most definitely based on traditional fairy tales, every culture has a rich tradition of storytelling that Disney could've mined and adapted, but in four years, they've chosen from a strictly European formula. Also, stories such as "The Frog Prince" are from the same cultural landscape as "Rapunzel", but Disney storytellers set it in the Jazz age of New Orleans with a black protagonist, black villain, black mentor, white foil, and ethnically ambiguous love interest--more diversity in 2009 than 2014.

Additionally, while one could argue that old school Disney princess films such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Cinderella", and "Sleeping Beauty" skewed pretty closely to the original tales, "Frozen", Disney's latest offering, is set in the fictional land of Arendelle, with clothing, technology, and inheritance rights all suggesting an anachronism stew of time periods and locations with no real world counterpart. Kai and Gerda, the main characters of "The Snow Queen", upon which the movie is loosely based, are not even in the film, so loyalty to the source material is moot. Yet, all the characters were so white I barely noticed when SPOILER! the land was engulfed in an eternal blizzard. Clearly, while not actively whitewashing by refusing to update the racial makeup of Arendelle, Disney certainly isn't being progressive either.

As for the assertion that there are "plenty of ethnic Disney ladies", I invite the reader to check out the list of official Disney princesses here. If you'd like confirmation from the Mouse, there is a link here, that hasn't yet been updated to include Anna and Elsa. If you'd rather not distract from the brilliant wit that is this post, there are thirteen official Disney princesses, in order: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine (Aladdin), Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana (The Princess and the Frog), Rapunzel (Tangled), Merida (Brave), and Anna and Elsa (Frozen). Esmerelda doesn't count as a princess, being the love interest of her film instead of the protagonist (like Jasmine), and not being royal by either birth or marriage (like Mulan) and also because basically Disney says so. Note that out of 13 princesses, two are Asian, one is American Indian, and one is black, bringing the total to a whopping four. Let everyone be aware that 4/13 qualifies as plenty. Try arguing that point should you get that grade on a test--which would be a 31%, for anyone keeping track. And the fact that Tiana has no black friends to hang out with at the Disney princess parties, that Pocahontas is the only American Indian, and South Asian Jasmine and East Asian Mulan don't know any princesses who look like them, we've added up to that ugly little t-word: tokenism. If you break through the glass ceiling, but you're standing alone on the rubble with no one following behind, you haven't really accomplished much.

I don't want to live in a PC world, filled with stories and characters that have been flexed and molded to  appease everyone and so please no one. I loved "Tangled", I  adored "Brave", and "Frozen" warmed the cockles of my fairy tale loving but feminist heart. I wouldn't change a thing about any of them. I would want to see movies--and I mean feature films that are added to the official princess list--that feature characters as flawed, interesting, diverse, and heroic as Rapunzel, Merida, Anna, and Elsa with a plethora of skin tones and ethnic backgrounds. I want the rich tapestry of folktales and legends from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas updated, adapted, and given a Disney ending. I want an upgrade from tokenism to diversity. I want Disney, the stamp upon my childhood, to stop whitewashing. And I want them to mean it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Perks and Pitfalls of Bringing Non-Nerds to See a Geek God

Meeting the creators of my favorite art is one of the best experiences I've ever had and meeting them after they've just made new art is even better.

Sometimes, life gets in the way. Wil Wheaton was in Philadelphia on Friday night, but due to the fact that I'm poor and the holidays are looming and my car decided now would be a good time to shit out its transmission, I instead signed up to work a double shift. Now, for clarity's sake, I should note that my love for Wil Wheaton began in earnest when I read this post. I never was a big fan of Star Trek (and before anyone spams the shit out of me, I'll get around to watching all the Trekkie goodness eventually. It's just never been my thing). The point is, I love Wil Wheaton the writer/comedian/professional awesome dude/Sheldon nemesis, and I am unabashedly nerdy in professing such love. I am, in fact proud to call myself a nerd in all respects. And undaunted, I wanted to see me some Wil Wheaton, and no time and a half with a $.50 pay differential second shift was going to get in my way.

Hence a 60-minute car drive followed by a 90-minute train ride and a 20-minute cab ride from Philly to New York so I could catch his show the following night.

And it was glorious.

However, 170 minutes is a long time for a solitary journey, so I enlisted reinforcements in the form of my three good co-worker friends, among whom there are a total of zero nerds. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Want to head up to New York on Saturday?
Friends: Why?
Me: Wil Wheaton is doing a show.
Friends: *crickets*
Me: He was on Star Trek: The Next Generation
Friends: *slightly louder crickets*
Me: He was the main kid in Stand By Me.
Friends: *hooting of an owl over the sound of crickets*
Me: He's Sheldon's arch-nemesis on The Big Bang Theory
Friends: Oh, right, that guy. What kind of show?
Me: Stand up
Friends: Is he funny?

If we were allowed access to YouTube at work, I would've pulled up a few vids of his past stand-up and let that do the talking. But since we're not, the better part of the next hour was spent convincing my friends that Wil Wheaton was funny and ultimately, they decided that I rarely steer them wrong and plans were made to visit the home of the Yankees (who suck harder than a Hoover, for the record).

At this juncture, just so you know what a magical night it was, I bring you "Kitty Corliss", first brought to me by co-headliners Paul and Storm.

To be fair and honest, you do not need to be a nerd to appreciate either the hilarity of Paul and Storm, whose song "My Favorite Band" perfectly encapsulates how I feel about My Chemical Romance, or Wil Wheaton's story about spicy dick milk (the name of my Michael Jackson cover band). The non-nerds I brought into the fray were cracking up over Wil's hysterical stories and the awesome Paul and Storm songs. And after we left, each of them declared themselves brand new but very enthusiastic fans of both.


In a room full of geeks, I was sitting next to the people quietly, politely smiling during the references to Han shooting first, aiming to misbehave, and why his shirt was confusing to normal people. While I love converting the uninitiated, it's hard to explain the shorthand of nerd culture when you're rolling on the floor in glee. And the end of the evening is somewhat decimated when you recount the evening to your buddies and the explanation leaves them more baffled than the initial joke. There's a reason nerds gather amongst each other. We have the gene, and those who don't are confounded by our ways.

Since Wil Wheaton's name appears in this post a whopping nine times, I owe him one. He and his wife,  the lovely and sweet Anne Wheaton, are raising money for the Pasadena Humane Society and you can help them out with that here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Expiration Gaying: The Boy Scouts of America Permit Homosexuality for 18 Whole Years!

If you ask the Boy Scouts of America, being gay is the sexual identity equivalent of pooping your pants. It's fine for a child, but when a boy becomes a man, a man cannot be having that shit anymore. A boy can love a boy, but a man can't love a man.

Bypassing the pissing and moaning of parents who want to yank their children from the BSA (soon to be renamed The Great All-American Gay Porn Hub), the leaders of one of the largest youth organizations in one of the greatest countries in the world, in 2013 I might add, are squatting on their hopelessly dated policy of banning openly gay adults from serving as leaders, and they are not budging their tight, white, wrinkled, Conservative-cash-loving asses on that one.

Gay youth are being double-damned on this policy, because while their inclusion gives lip-service to a spirit of acceptance and progress, the gaping hole where their gay role models within the organization should be are empty. And that void is not silent. It's filled with the omnipresent threats of anti-gay organizations to pull funding because the very acknowledgment of gay individuals is an affront. It is filled with the constant shitstorm of media controversy that gay people find themselves at the center of simply by being open about who they are. The void is tacit compliance on the part of BSA's leaders to invite gay youth into the organization to be isolated, marginalized, and bullied on a public stage.

And yet, the BSA's historic vote today, the marginal good, the extensive bad, the exceedingly ugly, is progress. Those who advocate an end to the ban against gay people in it's entirety point out that gay boys grow up to become gay men--and they are entirely right. It's easy for the BSA to turn away leaders who are TEH GAY, that massive, faceless entity that they've conditioned themselves to believe impugn the masculinity and morality that the BSA strives to uphold. In ten years, when the openly gay youth who are admitted to the scouts next year apply for leadership positions, they will be Brian, and Andrew, and Steve, the highly decorated and able scouts looked up to by their younger troop mates. And it will be much harder to turn them away after a decade of service to the organization.

The BSA ban on gay leaders is still discrimination in all its ugly, ignorant glory, but the number of people being discriminated against is dwindling. We pause to acknowledge that victory, and then we fight on until that number is a fat, happy zero. The gay youth (and adults) of America are counting on it. The straight youth are, as well. When gay men and women are held up as leaders, based on their intelligence, compassion, and general decency, all kids learn that sexuality is a baseless reason to eschew anyone. It's a lesson worth learning, and a goal worth pursuing.

And today, we are one step closer.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dude Days Are (Never) Over

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you are very familiar with the furry face pictured above. My dog Dude took up about 90% of my pictures because My God, look at that cute wittle face! Sadly that face is only in pictures now, because my precious little boy died on February 16th at the age of twelve, because one of the cruel realities of the universe is that pets don't live as long as their people. One of the few blessings in all this is that he died both suddenly and peacefully, with no pain, in his home with the family he loved, that loved him with all their hearts.

I was fifteen when we got Dude, Christmas Eve of 2000. LittleSis was twelve and BabySis was eight. If you have sisters, or daughters for that matter, you'll know that three girls of those ages under one roof are generally hellbent on each others' destruction at the exclusion of all else. But it was very fairly agreed that Dude could unite us, make us playful, fun, and kind to each other, because he wanted to play with all his sisters at once, dammit, and His Royal Furriness always got his way! (The baby of the family always does).

He was actually a giant pain in the ass.

From puppyhood on up, he never learned the difference between outside barking and inside barking. He could show off his "inside voice", sure, but only if he had absolute certainty that there was a treat in it for him. Otherwise, doorbells, conversations between people in two different rooms, construction work going on in the neighborhood, fireworks, the flutter of a butterfly's wings in China, all were met with a healthy (loud) dose of barking, courtesy of The Dude (His full first name. Not inspired by The Big Lebowski. Just want to make that clear.)

He also chewed shoes when he got pissed off at whomever owned whatever pair he was chomping on. He had a particular and uncanny habit of always choosing the left of any pair, because the vindictive little fur face wasn't content to just ruin a pair of shoes altogether when he could taunt us with a right shoe that was both perfectly serviceable yet utterly useless.

Finally, Dude was, and I say this with utter gravitas and no hint of hyperbole, the biggest chickenshit alive. Hiccups, sneezes, burps, thunder, other dogs, small woodland creatures (yes, even bunnies)? All terrifying to our little boy, and he would bolt from wherever they were with a speed that athletes shrink their testicles to achieve. Once, I got the hiccups while taking him on one of his beloved walks and he wrestled himself out of his collar to get away from the horror of it all.

Somehow, none of this takes away from the fact that he was the best dog in the world. There's nothing quite like coming home after a long, painful day of work to a flurry of jumping, puppy kisses, and barking that translates to ohwowi'msohappytoseeyouyou'remyfavoritepersoninthewholebigworldiloveyouyousmellexcitingletmesniffyoupetmelookmytail'swaggingaren'ticuteyou'rethebestpersoneverdidimentioniloveyou (The translation is accurate, I spoke fluent Dude).

Despite being all of thirty pounds when soaking wet, and, as previously mentioned, a total chickenshit, Dude possessed total assurance that the house was not safe until he'd done a thorough patrol and personally seen to it that everyone was safely tucked into their beds. When LittleSis moved out, he would stalk the upstairs hallway all night, every night, until he visited her apartment and understood that his human lived here now and all was once again right with the world. He would still be awake if BabySis or I went out until the early hours of the morning, and greet us with a thumping tail and sleepy kisses, bearing no grudge that we'd kept him up all night.

He instinctively knew when we were grieving or stressed. He sought out my parents, my sisters, and myself when we cried and curled up next to us, laying a silent head on our laps and gazing up at us with his loving brown eyes until we felt better. He even tolerated our cuddles when we needed some puppy time, a big sacrifice on his part. Dude usually took a very catlike attitude towards physical affection, only acceptable on his terms, although petting was always welcomed--sometimes encouraged by a sleek head burrowing under a stationary hand for a stroke between the ears.

He was completely in love with a live audience, prancing out in the middle of the room to chase his own tail whenever people had the temerity to be in his house without paying attention to him. He also pawed at our legs if we weren't giving him a baby talk speech about how cute he was and what a special, wonderful, perfect little boy he was. Luckily for us, the one regret none of us could ever possibly have is the idea that we took him for granted. No day was complete without playing with, petting, and gushing over our sweet, beloved, admittedly spoiled little boy.

Anyone who has never loved a pet might be completely unaware how incredibly human they can be, full of distinct personalities and quirks. Although Dude might be the only dog in history who wasn't a dog person, he was also one of the only dogs to capture the hearts of people who flat out do not like dogs, or even animals in general.  He made our family complete, and now we are missing my parents' son and our baby brother.

So here's to Dude. We had him for twelve years, we will love him for all our lifetimes.

The Dude
October 16, 2000-February 16, 2013
Perfect love, wrapped in fur

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Bad things happened this year. Most recently, 27 families lost Christmases and birthdays for now and the rest of their lives with loved ones who were far too young, and died in a manner far too violent. Tomorrow, which is already today for some of my readers, I will spend eight hours at work with people who can't spend Christmas with their families this year.

And then I'll go home, and spend the day with my family, eating my dad's amazing Beef Stroganoff and laughing together. I'll hear the voices of my friends on the other end of the phone when I call to wish them a Merry Christmas. Sunday night was the first of several mini-celebrations I'll share with various loved ones. And that is no small thing. Good things happened this year, to me, and to the world, and the existence of bad things cannot change that.

Christmas comes at the end of the year. This time next week we'll be wrapped in the excitement of New Year's, which will soon segue into the romance of Valentine's Day, the bawdy cheer of St. Patrick's Day, Easter and the awakening of spring, the hot, sticky, beach and barbecue days of summer, the excitement of fall, the thrills of Halloween, the warmth of Thanksgiving, and back again to Christmas. It's a constant in a world of unreliables. This year it even conquered the apocalypse.

So this year, and every year, to one and all, honor your losses, embrace your memories, kiss your loved ones, and revel in the good cheer of the season.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gilmore Girls > Philadelphia Football

Today I was folding laundry while watching a trifecta of Gilmore Girls reruns, because I'm glamourous like that, when my dad happened upon me in between the innings/quarters/periods/eras of the Eagles vs. Whoever Beat the Eagles This Time game. I don't know from sports, but I do know that Andy Reid has done the same thing to the team this season as he's done to his cardiovascular system over his lifetime. In fact, I'm fairly certain that there's a secret city statute that forces my parents to watch the game week after frustrating week during the season upon penalty of giving our dog away to Michael Vick. It's the only reason I can ascertain as to why they would force themselves through such miserable disappointment from September (probably?) to January (I think?).

We wouldn't risk Dude for anything.

In any case, my dad wanted to know why I was watching an episode (or three), that I'd already seen, in his estimation, eighty four thousand times before.

He suffers from a mild case of exaggeration.

And the reason I was watching Gilmore Girls for the eighty four thousandth time was that, in addition to the fact that there's precious little available on a Sunday afternoon in December that is both new to me and at all interesting to watch, and isn't the Eagles, is that Gilmore Girls starts when it says it will, ends when it says it will, and reliably, Lorelai will be snarky, Rory will make oblique pop culture references, the boys will be cute if somewhat milquetoast, Sookie will knock something over, and the coffee will be consumed in greater quantities than Starbucks does annually. I get exactly what I want, and I won't be screaming or throwing pillows at the tv at the end of it all.

Suck it, Reid.