Anna Faris should play Britney Spears.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Last week, watching the season premiere of House, “Dying Changes Everything”, I was struck by the patient of the week’s philosophy. Wanting something for her wasn’t attainable, and she single-handedly shot down Thirteen and the popular conception that Americans, but women in particular, have, about wanting something.
Like Thirteen, I was taken aback by this woman’s attitude. She was a minion to a woman who didn’t care a whit about her, but the woman didn’t care how terribly she was treated. Thirteen’s attitude isn’t wrong, per se; it’s a very ingrained notion to the last two generations of women. But the more I think about it, the patient is right in a way. We can aspire—want—whatever we want, but we shouldn’t expect that we will get it. But she fails because she’s given up; she doesn’t even want to try.
Wanting something has become this big catch-all. We are supposed to want more and more, and increasingly, expect to fulfill those wants, whether they are monetary, romantic, consumer, or status-oriented. Aren’t we supposed to teach children that they can’t have everything they want? Yet why do we believe so ardently that we will eventually win the life lotto?
The core of the American dream seems to be boiled down to if you work hard, you will achieve. If you achieve, you get what you want: money, status, the family and kids and great job. Somewhere along the line this idea beefed up; now it’s just the idea of fervently wishing, of praying and working and imagining the success, of putting a plan in motion and believing that it will succeed. There is no realization that it may not work, because it will.
This idea is rampant in books like The Secret, those self-help tomes of visualization, of “positive thinking.” Positive thinking can be delusional, but nobody wants to call it that. We’re conditioned to want more. More ice cream please!
I tend to fall under the very Housian quote, first mentioned in the pilot, to borrow Mick Jagger’s line “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” The problem being that you often don’t realize what you need, and knowing that you won’t get what you want is a very depressing thought. There’s no way to get around this.
Oh, I am always told, things will work out. They always do. It seems a rationalization of the way life unfolds, from one bad or depressing turn to something else, unexpected, a different direction. Maybe it is what was needed, though they didn’t know it. But this is something I’ve only heard from women. It’s not that men don’t ruminate; maybe they aren’t as obsessed as finding the right way, or the best way.
The SNL skit does what the best SNL skits do: boil down an issue to its essence, pointing out the truth while mocking the absurdness of it all. Sarah Palin represents that American notion, as indelible as the frontier spirit, of if you believe it, and you work hard, luck will conspire with you to form great things. Hillary Clinton here is the opposite, the underside of the American dream: what happens when hard work isn’t enough, when forces outside your control conspire against you.
Politics especially seems to have that quality, of “if only”. Al Gore is always served as an example. If only he was president! But look, he completely changed his career! He’s now considered one of the most beloved figures in America, and has had a tremendous amount of influence that he wouldn’t have if he became president. But that is what you do. You adapt; you go in a different direction because you must.
(The only reason this wasn’t posted last week was because FOX makes you wait a week and a day for House episodes to be available online. And while I was waiting, the New York Times published an article relating to the topic.)
Sunday, September 21, 2008
“You can see how what they want the most is beauty. Not in a chauvinistic way, not even as something they can act on. Just instinctively, to look at and enjoy. It’s what they expect, and who they expect it from most of all is teenage girls. When you’re older, it’s all right to get heavy, but when you’re a teenager, being beautiful or at least cute is your responsibility. Say the words sixteen-year-old girl to any group of males, eleven-year-olds, fifty-year-olds, and they will leer, maybe a lot or maybe a little or maybe they’ll try not to leer. But they will be envisioning the sixteen-year-old’s smooth tan legs, her high breasts and long hair. Is expecting her beauty even their fault?”
--The Man of My Dreams
How has it that teenage pregnancy has become this big thing? Yes, teenage pregnancy was always around, and for most people it always loomed as a danger to avoid (at least in modern life). But in the past year it’s just exploded, with the idea of teen girls having sex a linchpin of the culture wars.
There has been a lot written, particularly aimed at Juno, about how “normalized” teen pregnancy is becoming, and it must be that newfound attitude that the Republicans and the media adopted when the news that Bristol Palin was pregnant hit. She and her mom were lionized for keeping the baby, and unbelievably, this story is spun as a positive thing.
I do not want to suggest that
Sex is this great chasm. Angela Chase put it best in an episode of My So-Called Life (7:30): “There's this dividing line between girls who have had sex, and girls who haven't. And all of a sudden you realize you're looking at each other across it.” She’s talking about an old friend here, one who’s suddenly grown up, on the other side of that line. Sex is adulthood, and you haven’t reached it until you cross that threshold.
Sex is the bane of young adults. Watching the VMAs brought this home: Many of the stars were under 20, and their stances on sex were Not Until Marriage. The fact that they were so public about it—and that Jordin Sparks felt compelled to defend her choice so ardently in front of millions of people when attacked by an aggressively heterosexual 35-year-old male—just made that culture line so much sharper.
Jordin Sparks’ sex life is only her business. Making a joke about how the kids are wasting their youth by choosing to not get any by any of their ardent fans might elicit a chuckle and some boos, but it’s tacky, and makes it seem like they are only in it for the booty, not because, y’know, they actually like music. Nor is
One of Britney Spears’ biggest mistakes was to announce that she was waiting until marriage to have sex, because that vow was constantly hanging over her head. It subconsciously colored her image, and made her appeal vastly more interesting. But when she couldn’t hew to that misguided standard she set for herself, her image fell apart. She shouldn’t be judged for doing something millions of other teen girls do, and she shouldn’t be punished because she said something really stupid when she was young. But it also shouldn’t be the standard that is espoused to the youth of
It’s not fair that these starlets are forced to say these things. Miley Cyrus may really and truly want to wait until she is married…but she’s 15, and she will probably reevaluate many of her statements for the next few years. After all (and you can take this with a grain of salt, since it is a post-scandal apology), she said she didn’t realize the pictures in Vanity Fair were sexual, and is deeply embarrassed by the outcry. A teenager, especially one in the public eye, should not have to discuss her opinions on sex when most of us know—even if she doesn’t—that they will probably change, and if our immediate reaction to the comments is smirking that they are lying.
These statements are a way to protect the stars, a way of saying it’s ok to look up at them, an excuse to offer them as role models. It’s ok to emulate them, even though they put up provocative pics on the internet, because they aren’t going to have sex until they’re much older and have a wedding ring to prove their commitment. It’s not just dishonest, it’s a terrible message to send. We can sexualize ourselves all we want, make ourselves sexual commodities for other people’s fantasies, but we hold off until it really matters. The song and dance is old hat; it’s called being a tease. And yes, being a tease can be fun. That’s also called flirting. But in a public space, it’s also ripe for judgment, because it’s a way of subverting the system, of having the cake and eating it too, with no caloric payback.
The stars also become oddly sexualized by just making these statements. I know very little about the Jonas Brothers, but hearing that they all wear promise rings—and having that become a defining fact, instead of their music—immediately makes one think of them as sexual beings, because they are announcing their (lack of) intentions to the youth of America. They shouldn’t be mocked for that decision, but rather we should be questioning ourselves to why it’s necessary in the first place.
Our culture is also conditioned to accept teenage girls as sexual beings, and increasingly, they are marketed that way.
Other clothing retailers, like teenage mainstay Abercrombie & Fitch, have similar lines. And they are hardly the only ones marketing sexualized material to a young audience. Music, movies and especially television always revolve around sex as the be all and end all, with looking good as the way to get sex, and often some of the most memorable episodes of a teen drama revolve around When They Finally Have Sex (see Everwood, Gilmore Girls,
Sex and its consequences are also the backbone of the popular Twilight series; the first book will be released as a movie in a few weeks. Popular with teenage girls, Twilight features a traditional female lead, complete with a waiting-for-marriage-to-have-sex philosophy.
This ideology is hailed as being a positive role model for the target demographic, despite the fact that Bella, the protagonist, is largely a cipher. The sexual content of the novels is one of the draws; there’s no sex 'til the fourth novel, Breaking Dawn, but it’s all heart-throbbing lust until then. Edward, her eventual husband, is marketed as the perfect man (except in vampire form), patient, understanding, responsible: a real caretaker. Yet she gives up everything for him, and when she does, both she and the story lose a lot of their appeal. Reviews of Breaking Dawn all harp on this point; the story dissolves into a very traditional happy homemaker life, one that author Stephenie Meyer apparently has. In addition, her views of love and what makes a happy couple are very alarming: most, including the main one, seem to fall somewhere on the “abusive” scale. She also does not believe in the word “choice”, for in her world, everything is preordained, and nothing goes against destiny; it’s just a matter of waiting.
Twilight might be telling girls to wait—but sex here is also viewed as an act that has violent and horrifying consequences: she is badly beaten up during it, and becomes pregnant with a child whose sole existence is seemingly designed to torment her physically, psychologically, and mentally. The passion and her new life are supposed to be worth the expense of physical torture, but it’s a trade-off that doesn’t sit well with many readers. The message to wait is lost—thirteen-year-olds (not to mention twenty-five-year-olds) may be scarred by the idea of sex equaling broken bones and demon spawn.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with waiting to have sex, though in this culture, it’s often scorned at. At a certain age, the choice to wait is regarded as a curiosity. How can you not have sex? It’s a biological imperative. The 40 Year-Old Virgin exemplified this. Despite its “old-fashioned” values, the movie still managed to condemn the lead character, and by doing so, scared some people into having sex because they didn’t want to end up in his position.
Teenagers shouldn’t be forced to hold to a societal standard of sex, whether or not that is the rampant hookup or sanctioned chastity, and they shouldn’t have to defend their choices on a public scale. It robs them of the complexity of sex, boiling it down to an either/or, a narrow line of wrong or right, depending upon who’s doing the judging.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I do not approve.
I am a purist. These teenage prequels are watering down the brand. “Carrie in high school did not follow the crowd — she led it,” Bushnell explained. While Carrie is a trendy character, I doubt she would be Miss Popular—and honestly, it never once occurred to me she would be. There has never been any evidence in the show that she was that kind of girl, even the few that discussed high school (“Boy, Interrupted”, “Hot Child in the City”). She had her friends, she dated, she liked fashion and most likely already wanted to go to
Executive Producer Michael Patrick King once said that all four ladies are supposed to represent different facets of a woman; they are each archetypes, and together they make up one woman. Carrie is hardly an everywoman, especially with her affinity for high-class fashion and shoes, but she stands for certain kinds of women; none of them scream to me catty, seductive, or Type A; that’s Samantha.
The prequels also raise an important issue: Carrie has to have a family, a background that was previously nonexistent on the television show (and, presumably, the book. I never finished it.). The prequels demand a whole new cast of characters. After all, sometime in her twenties Carrie moved to
That was a deliberate choice. Michael Patrick King has said in one of the show’s commentary that he never wanted to show any of the main characters’ family. The exceptions were in “My Motherboard, My Self” when Miranda’s mother dies, and in “Shortcomings”, but he regretted the latter case. Even when
Carrie: Hey, you think it could really be as simple as my father walked out, therefore I'll always be messed up about men?
Miranda: My father came home every night at seven on the dot and I have no clue about men either.
were meant to illuminate the characters’ present conditions, not to flashback to an earlier era.
Of course, Michael Patrick King is not Candace Bushnell, and while their versions of Carrie Bradshaw may overlap tremendously, they probably each have a certain conception of the character in mind. Who really owns the character? Sarah Jessica Parker embodies Carrie and Bushnell created her, but Michael Patrick King (and Darren Star, and to a lesser extent, all the other writers and producers) brought her to life. They created her stories, formed her life, her personality from the template that Bushnell set up in Sex and the City the book, which is very, very different from the series. Arguably, King owns the screen version, and Bushnell the book version. Each, I suspect, wants to stay true to their own idea of the character.
As much as I don’t like the idea of a prequel for all these reasons, I have to separate the show from the story, Michael Patrick King’s vision from Candace Bushnell’s. They are part of the same universe, but they are not the same.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
TRL will officially be saying sayonara in November, after 10 years on the air. The show has been limping along the last several years, with a revolving cast of VJs, ever-younger acts, and odd timeslots. Designed to capture teenagers, the show started in 1998 from a meld of MTV Live and Total Request, two shows nobody watched. Carson Daly inexplicably became the guy with the coolest friends in the world, despite being incredibly dull. Unlike legions of young'uns who would love to be MTV VJs (many of whom appeared on TRL for their "I Wanna Be a VJ" contest), he either wanted to be a priest or a professional golfer, two deadly boring things for an MTV viewer.
TRL was no American Bandstand, but it became the de facto destination for actors and musicians to stop and pimp their work, taking a few pictures in the photo booth for posterity.
What's most notable might be that the show managed to hang on so long, even after most of the original acts showcased dropped out of the limelight. TRL was such a basic concept, easily fitting in with the realities of the new century by being user-friendly before that term was applied so liberally. The show increasingly edited videos down to nothingness, even forgoing some altogether, and while it gave a VERY skewed interpretation of what was popular in the US, it tapped into a certain teenage sensibility. The stats were interesting, and the idea of retiring a video meant that the countdown would never be dominated solely by one or two acts, though it sometime seemed that way. Apparently though, as the internet became increasingly sophisticated, the reason to vote for videos waned, and the structure behind the show changed.
I spent many an hour after high school idly watching TRL. I never voted, although I once recognized the voice of a classmate on the television. It was also useful for checking out the weather in the city. That practicality never changed, even after all the names and faces did.
I also learned how to properly shout "Woooo!"Now that's a skill I will need.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
So "Gossip Girl" is hot. I saw ten minutes of it and never went back. But according to Newsweek, lots of men are loving it (Dawn Ostroff wants proof of this, in the form of ratings.) Why? Because it has fully fleshed out male characters.
Well, duh. I don't like buffoons and one-note male characters any more than I like silly and one-dimensional female characters. Joshua Alston notes that the reason why the Sex and the City movie got thumbs-down by men is because the men were "pencil sketches", "a cavalcade of broken men" with a variety of hang-ups ill-suited for their ages. Hey, I agree! One of my biggest problems with that movie was that the men were so underutilized, and their sides of the story (specifically Steve's) needed to be told. Just like women want to see a female character hanging out with the boys (Seinfeld, see anything related to superheroes), men want a male character who doesn't suck in their chick-heavy entertainment.
I knew many males who liked "The OC" back in the day, too. Cause the friendship and the characters of Seth and Ryan was compelling and realistic; it was Marissa and Summer who were boring. Everyone agreed on that, and Seth Cohen's character became an icon for a certain type of male.
There's always a lot of talk about how television dumbs down it's audience. That's true, especially if you watch a lot of "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?", but in creating shows with compelling characters, it pays to make sure that they're interesting no matter the gender or genre.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
While I have no interest in watching the new "90210", I read the Times interview with many members of the old cast, and this jumped out at me:
[Executive Producer Charles] ROSIN We did our prom episode, which was written and directed by Darren, and Brenda loses her virginity to Dylan McKay in a hotel room and comes down and tells Kelly that indeed this has happened.
[Creator Darren] STAR The affiliates were scandalized — not because they had sex, but because Brenda was happy about it, and it didn’t have any dire consequences. I was strongly advised to write a show that would address the consequences of that sexual experience. So the first episode of the second season Brenda broke up with Dylan because their relationship had gotten too mature. (Bold mine)
There has been a long history in television of showing negative consequences for teenagers having sex. Pregnancy scares are usually the first plotline, hyped up to get the kids a-watching. For girls especially sex is usually aligned with punishment--something Amy Sherman Palladino tried to mock in "Gilmore Girls" by having Paris have a public meltdown when she discovers she was rejected by Harvard, thinking it's a direct connection to losing her virginity. Of course it's preposterous, but that wasn't the message that came across. If you have sex and enjoyed it, you will pay.
So now we have "Beverly Hills, 90210" to thank. I haven't watched this show in a long, long time--since maybe I was 14--and even then I didn't like it. I found it then to be too slow and painfully boring; I found it hard to believe that this show was so controversial and scandalous. And the episodes I saw were the early seasons. To a viewer with another eight years of teen shows behind her, the old 90210 would only look even more old-fashioned and quaint (those were the words I used then) compared to Gossip Girl, Dawson's Creek and The OC.
But notice: The Dylan/Brenda breakup--which I'm sure was a pivotal, dramatic moment in the history of the show--was necessitated by suits too uncomfortable to show a regular teen girl (albeit in stylish Cali '90s wear) living a regular life. They can't show that! This is a show about teens for teens! What will happen to the youth?!?!? Brenda fell for the bad guy, a guy who was going to lead her down the Wrong Path, and for that they needed to show that she should have waited.
I bet that many, many shows followed in this wake, whether it was because the execs pressured them to, the showrunners felt other pressure to showcase a certain value set, or just because they couldn't fathom doing something different. Teen sex isn't always the best course of action, we know. But to demonstratively prove, time and again, that the woman who is having the sex must be "punished" in some way is sexist and ridiculous. Far too many girls (and even boys) take away messages from the television they watch, both conscious and unconsciously, and for them to fear or worry that sex will always negatively affect them is wrong and irresponsible. I understand where the execs were coming from, especially considering a new network that needs to desperately please advertisers, but too many times the need to moralize is just a knee-jerk reaction. Did Dylan go through any doubts or fears? I doubt it. From the little I can recall, he was an Elvis-type figure, aloof and cool to the extreme. This was before the era of sensitive guys, and it wouldn't have occurred to anyone that he would have any of the hangups that Seth Cohen did.
Granted, I haven't seen the scene, so if someone has, feel free to enlighten me. This also goes for the original "90210" as well, in addition to any examples of teen sex where the plot twisted in a way that made the girl regret she had sex (though if you give me time, I can find some that aren't Gilmore Girls-related).
Monday, September 8, 2008
Yeah, I watched them.
--What's with the glitter? Everything Britney Spears wore was sparkly. Ciara sparkled. It was too garish and made me appreciate the black leather on Rihanna and Russell more.
--I liked Russell Brand more than the audience did. He was a vast improvement over Sarah Silverman. He was a little too loud, a little too earnest, and had quite the motormouth, but he seemed genuine and sincere and wasn't vulgar, despite the fact that he only made sex jokes.
--The videos nominated, like in past years, usually sucked. Mariah Carey should have won Female Video of the Year, as her video was the most interesting out of the insanely boring crop.
--Christina Aguilera, of whom I am not a fan, actually did a very smart thing by opening with a funky, spacey version of her first single, "Genie in a Bottle". Even the choreography scored with what her new single must be, which sounded like "Superbitch".
--Most of the videos nominated I hadn't seen, but knew the song. But I could still tell they were nothing special. Seriously, "I Kissed a Girl" is the perfect song to have an interesting video, but all anyone could think of was put Katy Perry in a vaudeville-esque outfit and have the camera focus on her pouty faces.
--Parade of young and hip Hollywood, with the exception of the random appearances by Kid Rock, Demi Moore, and Slash.
--While sex is always the backbone of anything music-related, it seemed like this was fighting with the Forces of Virginity. Russell Brand made one two many jokes about sex, invoking the Jonas Brothers and promise rings, and Jordin Sparks had to climb on her high horse to defend
her the decision to wear a promise ring to wait until marriage. Russell Brand then apologized in his rambling way. Honestly, guys, let's move on. It's bad enough that when I saw Vanessa Hudgens standing next to Zac Efron I thought about how they totally had sex.
--T.I.'s lady in his performance was wearing what looked like a sluttier version of a dress I own.
--Paramount Theater was much smaller than their usual performance halls, and many of the performances were outside. As it was in Los Angeles, it was still light at some points. I liked the smaller theater, though it seemed that the network wanted the VMAs to be low-key compared to the past.
--Kanye closed the show by performing a new song. But he was singing, and the song was about love, two things that are not Kanye. And the song was somber, with a backdrop of pretty sunsets and skies. Not the best note to end on; would have better fit midshow.
--Hayley Williams of Paramore should have stuck with her usual black/white combo. Tight yellow pants just didn't work, and she kept touching her inner thigh for some weird reason, though the pants did make her hips look wider.
--Commercial breaks were designed to cut off performances. The television audience only saw the end of The Ting Tings performance. And Katy Perry's much-touted "Like a Virgin" and "I Kissed a Girl" medley was chopped in half by ads. Her pinup outfit worked in conjunction with her "style" but didn't fit her songs.
--Both MTV and MTV2 aired the VMAs at the same time, the first time as far as I'm aware that they've done that.
--Lil Wayne needs to pull up his pants. Nobody needs to see men's underwear on a stage.
--Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson need to stop. Now.
--Tokio Hotel won Best New Artist, though I'm not convinced of anything except that they're the token hipster band. I couldn't even tell if the lead singer was male or female. I decided, after scrutinizing the poor person's body, on a girl...and then he spoke.
--But perhaps the biggest thing of all is how staged the whole Britney deal was. She won three moonmen, the first time she's ever won a VMA (yes, that's correct), and they were all for the horrendous song and video "Piece of Me", a supposed commentary on her tabloid life. Blah. The wins were engineered for her career, a low-key "comeback" to present her as being normal, to prove that she's back from crazy. Her acceptance "speeches" amounted to nothing more than "thank you God, my lovely children, and my fans." That's it. She was perfectly polite, but there was nothing there. She knew she was going to win in advance, hence the dead "I'm so happy" that appeared at the end.
Next year will be my tenth VMAs, assuming I watched all of them. But considering how low my VMA IQ was in regard to this year's nominees and how high my age is in comparison to the groups showcased, it might be time to move on.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
So the Video Music Awards are on tonight. I kinda want to watch them, but just for the performances. Although I check in on MTV often enough, I’m still out of it. Every year they nominate a bunch of videos that are rarely seen, but making sure that the big names of the day (and some from yesteryear) make an appearance, and try to manufacture something shocking. Most of the time it’s not. I used to watch all the documentaries on the MTV of the past, the “Greatest VMA Moments”, the “Best Performances”, the backstage happenings when MTV poured through its history back in the early years of this decade. But the last few years, as MTV has lost its way among the mass of other media, the VMAs have largely become irrelevant. What does it say when I—a person most of friends consider knowledgable about pop culture stuff—cannot recognize the host? Even his name (though rarely used in the advertisements), Russell Brand, means nothing to me.
The nominees, too, have also tended to include esoteric artists, a way to afford cultural panache with a group of hipsters that tend to not watch the channel anyway. Tokio Hotel? Not really big with the name recognition. The ones that do are superstars (Rihanna) and “kiddie music”, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.
I should know better than to watch the VMAs. It’s best to watch parts of it, selected performances, mainly, and now with the web it’s best that I do just that. I remember watching the show in its entirety several years ago (P. Diddy hosting? All I remember is him) and it was just horrible. I was so mad at myself for wasting two hours of my life on that dribble, and vowing never to watch the VMAs again. Of course, like most of my vows, I knew it wouldn’t hold.
It’s sad that MTV is relying on Britney Spears to give the show a boost. Britney’s “comeback” backfired last year (though I didn’t think the performance was that bad), and the girl should just not bother. But her career is in the same stage as the awards show: completely, totally uninteresting.