What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Time for some links to the things I’m thinking about this week.  I’m also pretty active on Tumblr for the time being, and I’m linking to and reblogging other stuff there.

Expectations for Girls in YA Fiction, Misleading Reviews, and Female Sexuality (Stacked)

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever stop linking to posts by Kelly Jensen, because she’s kind of my librarian hero, but she’s also writing some pretty amazing things right now.  This post about girls in YA fiction is thought-provoking, important, and touches on a lot of the things I think about all the time when it comes to YA fiction (and, I would argue fictional stories in general, whether they’re in books or movies or TV).

At any rate, Jensen talks about some reviews she’s read about the upcoming book The F-it List by Julie Halpern, and how concerning some of the language within those reviews was.

Although I could dive into the notion that Alex performs the items on the f-it list out of guilt — an idea I disagree with entirely, as Alex begins to really embrace this as a commitment to her relationship with Becca — what I find fascinating is this line: “Both girls have casual, unprotected sex with all of their boyfriends without any thoughts of taking precautions.”

Like me, Jensen has some pretty clear thoughts about this:

This line presumes a few things in it.  The first is that it’s the responsibility of the girls to think about and carry out the actions necessary for protection during sex. While print space is limited and words have to be carefully selected in a trade review, the way this particular line is phrased, in conjunction with the line before it, casts a judgment upon the female characters in the story. They’re crass, with limited vocabulary, and they’re not taking responsibility for their own actions. These are the kinds of girls you don’t want to be role models for readers, since they’re not being “good girls.” They don’t arouse sympathy because what happens to them is all a matter of consequences and choices they make. They weren’t smart enough or thinking through things enough to protect themselves.

But what is worse in this line is that it’s factually incorrect.

I could probably quote her entire article, because it’s that good, but the quoted stuff here is what’s so important.  Jensen takes issue with the review she read not only because the language is loaded and shows the reader’s bias, but because the review got factual information about the book wrong.  What’s so alarming here is that in a review that’s only a paragraph long, the reviewer felt it was important to mention the stuff about sex and consequences but didn’t even bother to get it right.

Jensen ends her post with this thought:

I can’t help wonder, too, whether books that do similar things as Halpern’s but feature a male main character undergo the same scrutiny and character judgment.

I’m Not a Feminist, But… (Beth Revis)

I tweeted out a link to this post very late last week, but I wanted to post it here and talk about it a little, too, because I think what Beth Revis writes about in her post is super important.  Capitalizing on the commonly used, “I’m not a feminist, but…” statement that many women (and some men) make, Revis breaks down exactly what’s wrong with that statement and the thinking that goes along with it:

First, it’s wrong for me to couch my opinions with a disclaimer. Saying something like, “I’m not a feminist, but I feel like women deserve the same rights as men,” belittles not just the idea of feminism, but also the idea that what I’m saying matters. I’m dismissing my own words before I even speak them. I’m giving an excuse for why I should be allowed to say the words following the phrase, as if the only reason I would say those words is if I had such an excuse.

The second thing wrong about that phrase is the fact that it exists.

Revis’s whole post is great and won’t take you more than a few minutes to read, but the takeaway is that the more we recognize that feminism is wanting equal treatment and respect, pure and simple, the closer we’ll get to the day where that’s possible.

The Quiet Radicalism of All That (The Atlantic)

Pretty much the best thing I read all week, this article talks about how radical–and awesome–Nickelodeon’s All That was when it was on TV in the 90s.  Take this, for example:

The original cast included four girls (Denberg and Reyes, with Angelique Bates and Katrina Johnson) and three boys (Kenan Thompson, Kel Mitchell, and Josh Server); three white performers, and four performers of color. Compare that to the concurrently running Season 20 of Saturday Night Live (1994-95), which featured a cast of 17. Only four were women, and only two were of color….Furthermore, the kids of All That were refreshingly normal-looking. Some were traditionally attractive, sure. Others were still growing into their features. Absent were the hyperactive, over-costumed Disney Channel tweens (Lizzie Maguire, et al), or the pouty, brooding 26-year-olds playing 16 on The WB (like the weirdly grown-up high schoolers of Dawson’s Creek or Popular). The cast of All That reflected the nature of its audience: They were growing up—lanky limbs, zits, and all.

So, where is a show like that today?  Where?

So You’ve Decided to Go to Library School (The Toast)

This humorous and incredibly uncomfortably spot-on essay about what library school is like probably won’t work for you if you’re not connected to the field.  But it’s worth a look at, just because the site it’s on–The Toast–is pretty awesome, run by women (who don’t work for or answer to men), and is already profitable less than a year into its run.

At any rate, this hit close to home:

Librarians have to do something with their hands while they’re bingeing on pop culture, so you should probably develop a craft. Knitting and crochet are acceptable, but cross-stitch works too. But what do you eat while you’re watching all that tv? Hopefully you’ve baked some Sorting Hat cupcakes for your Harry Potter marathon. Baking is preferable, but home-brewing is an acceptable substitute. At the very least you should love to eat.

The absolute best thing about library school is your peers. You will all have a Leslie Knope-ian intensity about something. It may be Star Wars, hockey, astrophysics, or that damn rock wall, but everyone brings some kind of obsession to the table. There is sure to be someone who will be a little too into board games. People will regularly discuss Weasleycest and Tami Taylor’s hair at parties, because if there’s one thing librarians get, it’s an enthusiast. We are all punk-ass book jockeys, and we want you to read our favorite book. And then maybe we’ll break down the Library of Congress Subject Headings afterwards.

Yikes.

What got you reading and thinking this week?

 

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

I took an unintentional hiatus last week because I took a few days off work (and subsequently from blogging), but I’m back this week with the things I’ve read this week that made me think.

The F Word: Inside Amy Schumer, the Most Sneakily Feminist Show on TV (Slate)

I actually saw Amy Schumer last week when she was in the Twin Cities for her stand-up tour, and she was amazing.  She’s definitely got the gross-out humor thing going for her, but there’s also something really subversive about her comedy.  I loved every second she was on stage (although the gentleman behind us didn’t much care for her abortion jokes, which made me wonder why, exactly, he was at an Amy Schumer show), and I love her show.  I’m so glad that the show was renewed for a second season, which just started.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, I encourage you to do so (the show airs on Comedy Central, you can watch clips on their website or Youtube, and the first season is streaming on Amazon Prime).

This sums up Schumer’s subversion pretty well:

Schumer hides her intellect in artifice and lip gloss—that’s how she performs femininity. By wrapping her ideas in a ditzy, sexy, slutty, self-hating shtick, her message goes down easy—and only then, like the alien, sticks its opinionated teeth in you.

And this stuck out:

The best sketch of the new season has Schumer playing a video game not unlike Call of Duty with a male friend. Schumer picks a female avatar—the friend grimaces at this—who, in the game, is raped by her superior. The guy Schumer is playing with doesn’t believe that it happened. Schumer must have “done something wrong.” Meanwhile, the game starts bullying her—“You were just assaulted by a fellow solider. Do you wish to report?” “Yes.” “Are you sure? Did you know he has a family? Does that change your mind about reporting?”—before sending her to Level 25, which is all paperwork.

You can’t argue that what she’s doing isn’t important or smart, because it is.  I love her, unabashedly so.

A Censored History of Ladies in YA Fiction (Book Riot)

I’ve actually been sitting on this link for a while, but I had to include it because I think Kelly Jensen writes such smart, interesting stuff about YA and librarianship and gender politics.  Everything in this article is great–S.E. Hinton paving the way for YA literature but doing it with only her initials because she would be dismissed by male critics if they knew she was a woman, the fact that the books most challenged are written by women, etc.–and it’s well worth your time.

Jensen writes:

Call them by any name you want, but these challenges stem from fears about girls’ stories coming to the front and being told. Men have their novels challenged, too, but less frequently and, more likely than not, for reasons similar to why women’s novels are: the fear of something different (anything outside the “mainstream” white, straight male standard). Blume has more titles on the most-challenged list than any other author — even Robert Cormier could only muster three — because being female and writing about issues girls face are challenge- and ban- worthy actions indeed.

She also makes this point, which is something that’s been talked about a lot recently:

Men write universal stories. Women write stories for girls. Men write Literature. Women write chick lit. Even in a world where women do publish in heavier numbers than men do, they are underscored, underseen, and undervalued. Twilight is and will remain a crucial part of YA’s history — YA’s female-driven history — despite or in spite of the fact it doesn’t garner the same praises that those held up as idols within the community do. Men like John Green become symbols of YA’s forward progress and Seriousness as a category, whereas Stephenie Meyer gets to be a punchline.

Anyway, read it.  Be incensed.  Think about the larger issues at play.

5 Biblical Films That Sparked a Religious Backlash (Alternet)  

To be completely honest, I don’t have any interest in the Noah movie.  I’m not a religious person.  I think that biblical epics like this one, featuring a bunch of white people, are totally ridiculous.  The reviews on this one have been pretty mixed (with many critics coming down on the “It’s a trash heap” side of things), and I honestly thought that it was supposed to be a movie pandering to the fundies.  But apparently not? Because they’re actually sort of up in arms about it?  In a hilarious way?

This article talks a little bit about the Noah film, but it also lists a few other films that have been super controversial for the Christian right.  It’s worth a look, I guess.

 

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.

The Long Summer of Not-Reading (BookRiot)

I’m not a parent, but this was still an essay that has application in my life.  Frustrated with what a fight reading to his children became every night before bed, author Peter Damien gave it up for the summer.  In a house where books ruled and where he himself was a voracious reader, this was an immensely difficult thing to do.  But he did it for his kids, because:

Because reading should not be a chore…Reading should be approached willingly and happily, because you want to. It should be done when and how you want to, and that’s it. It’s as simple as that. It should not be fought over.

His son who struggled the most with reading has since come back to it naturally and is now keeping a reading journal.  I think there’s some interesting stuff here to think about, especially that this doesn’t just apply to kids: I think we as adults are allowed to have cycles with our own reading.  I’m a voracious reader and even I tire of it sometimes, preferring to get lost in a TV show or movies or, much more rarely, crafts.  But I always come back to reading, and it’s largely due to the fact that I allow myself breaks.

Is All of Twitter Fair Game for Journalists? (Slate)

Probably the most thought-provoking article I’ve read this week, this article, written by Amanda Hess, takes to task the concept of things like Twitter, social media, and journalism in the age of the internet.  It focuses on a woman (with a following of about 13,000 Twitter users) who tweeted about a recent rape case in the news and asked followers to share bits of their own sexual assault stories.  She received a great deal of response, which is what she wanted.  But when Buzzfeed picked it up, she got angry, because she didn’t give consent for that.

What had started as a story about consenting to sex had turned into a story about consenting to viral news.

Here’s the thing, though: Twitter is public.  When you tweet something out on your account, you are consenting for it to be picked up by your followers or by other people.  It’s easy to forget this, I guess, but I find it sort of weird that people don’t seem to fundamentally understand this.  That being said, the article doesn’t look at this issue as black-or-white:

The journalistic landscape has changed so much in such a short period that it feels a little square to harken back to traditional ethics codes. The Society of Professional Journalists’ version, which was established in 1926 and updated most recently in 1996, instructs journalists to “use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects” and to “recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention.” If reporters view all statements on Twitter as equally quotable—who among billions of Twitter users couldn’t be accused of seeking “attention”?—then the divide between public and private is rendered meaningless. On the one hand, news is being created and shared on social media, and journalists cover those platforms like a beat in order to keep their readers informed. On the other hand, the obliteration of the private sphere is very convenient for journalists, and not just because it enables us to exercise the right to a free press in service of the public good.

So, journalists play a role, too.  I’m not a journalist; I don’t have to decide what my ethics are here.  But I do firmly believe–and I teach this to my students all the time–that what you put out on the internet matters, and you have to be able to understand that it’s public and it’s published.  A lot to think about here.

How to be a Good Bad American Girl (The New Yorker)

A lengthy and fascinating piece about being an audacious young girl in America, this excellent piece traces a line between Lisa Simpson to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and Harriet M. Welsch in Harriet the Spy.

The entire piece is excellent, delving into the author’s lives and their fierce female protagonists, but this bit stuck out to me:

The idea that survival requires impersonation, and that artifice is sometimes necessary, is especially charged for girls who are gender nonconforming. But, in recognizing this, both Scout and Harriet are further humanized. The lesson that they themselves may sometimes have to hide makes them more aware that everyone has secrets, and everyone has a complex inner life.

At any rate, go read it, guys.

What things got you thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

I’ve got some heavy stuff for you this week.  Without further ado, these are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.

‘I Don’t Want My Children to Go to College’ (The Atlantic)

So, okay.  So.  Back in 2013, during a public conversation between Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, New America Foundation President Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Buzzfeed president Jon Steinberg, the topic of the flaws in the traditional college model came up.  Steinberg, in a moment of sheer unadultarated genius (one I’m sure he’ll never regret at all ever), said that he doesn’t even want his kids to go to college.  Wait. It gets better:

Said Schmidt: “The purpose of college… has a lot to do with, not learning about education but learning how to live on your own and so forth…. The core question is what to do with 18-year-olds and the best thing to do is to put them in college until they’re 22. We’ve [got] sort of a warehousing problem.” …Slaughter mentioned that her son, a junior in high school, is mulling college but has also “learned more from the [free educational site] Khan Academy, in many ways, than he has in class.”  She adds it’s becoming more common for students to take time off before attending college. “These kids are sort of thinking, ‘But I can learn what I need to learn online.’ … That sense that, ‘If I don’t go to college between 18 and 22, I won’t make it,’ is really changing.”

Is this a conversation about privilege, or is this REALLY a conversation about privilege?  The dilemma (if you can even call it that) for the children of THESE INCREDIBLY WEALTHY, PRIVILEGED, AND IVY-EDUCATED PEOPLE is whether or not they should go to college at all.  The idea that this “mulling” process is the norm for 99% of America (and the world) is so utterly ridiculous that it makes me physically angry.

Luckily, Stacia L. Brown (yes, the same woman whose blog I linked to above), seems to understand where I’m coming from:

In the larger country in which we live, however, first-generation college students still make up about 30 percent of freshman classes each year. First-gen college students find it difficult to adjust to most post-secondary learning without dedicated mentorship. Low-income first gens are four times more likely to leave college after the first year than their multi-generation peers…Students like mine could not be tossed into the deep end of MOOC without having first spent whole semesters sitting at shared desks, raising their hands, and exchanging their writing among teachers, tutors, and peers.

Imagine how it must feel for them, hearing that this pinnacle toward which their families have urgently and hopefully pushed them is now considered all but obsolete by the titans of industry they believe are stakeholders in their future.

That last part is what made me actually tear up in frustration.  Because those are the student populations I have been working with my entire professional career, first as a high school teacher and now as an academic librarian.  Because this idea that a person can learn everything they need to know online is so privileged and ignorant that it makes me CRAZY.  Because learning online means that students lose out on so many other important things that come with the traditional college model.

What is Rape Culture? (Buzzfeed)

I have definite BuzzFeed fatigue, but this compilation about what rape culture is is too good to pass up.  I’m not going to stop talking about rape culture until we don’t live in one, guys, so you might as well get used to it.  If you only ever read one piece about what rape culture is, this is it.  It’s accessible, it’s short, and it’s on point.  It’s also really, really important for us to keep talking about this and what it means.

Yes, this list of what rape culture is includes “gray rape,” victim blaming, slut shaming, anti-rape wear, and street harassment.  No, I’m not going to argue with you that some of these things aren’t part of rape culture, because they are.  Read the article.

The Rapist Next Door (CNN)

This is really interesting long-form journalism from CNN about the prevalence of rape in Alaska, and why its numbers are so much higher than other parts of the country.  It tackles the case of one rapist, an indigenous man who is undergoing a great deal of cognitive behavioral therapy as well as continuing to live in his community. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking and well worth your time.  Here’s a snippet:

There was a time when politicians in Alaska argued rape survivors were simply reporting rape more often in this state than elsewhere. Those arguments, however, have been largely abandoned as the scope of the violence has become clearer. If anything, the taboos surrounding rape here would suggest that the crime is underreported in Alaska, relative to other states.

There’s so much at play here: economics, social class, race, imperialism, alcoholism, systemic abuse.

We Have Known Boys But None Have Been Bullet-Proof (Stacia L. Brown)

I’ve been following the news coverage of the murder of Jordan Brown pretty obsessively this week, and this is the most beautiful, haunting piece about racialized violence in America that I’ve seen in a long time.

If you don’t know who Jordan Brown was or what happened to him, I encourage you to do some reading about it.  Get angry.  Get angry about the fact that it happened two years ago and is only really seeing news coverage now.  Get angry about the fact that Florida’s fucked-up, COMPLETELY AND UNAPOLOGETICALLY RACIST “stand your ground” law is KILLING PEOPLE.  YOUNG PEOPLE. TEENAGERS.

In Praise of Disregard (NYT)

One of the friends with whom I regularly dissect articles on the internet sent me this one in response to some other stuff I sent her this week, and I’m trying to adopt it as my new philosophy.  The premise is simple:

In the past, it was easier to avoid what you didn’t need to hear. Today, it requires a concerted effort to do so, and it still isn’t possible to sidestep troubling views altogether. In addition, most public speech can now be commented on, and often is, thanks to the web. Recent years have confirmed that when things can be commented on, especially anonymously, people often become the worst versions of themselves. The opinions of others washing over us is the inescapable state of things today.

But it is possible to subdue those ideas that do violence to us. Ideas are given credence only when they are entertained. By disregardingthem, we can erode much of their influence.

As I was reading it, I started to worry a little bit.  “What about the things that actually matter?  Do I ignore those, too, even if people are being totally bigoted ignoramuses?”  But, no.  That’s not the point.  The point is to tune out the garbage so you can care about the stuff that matters to you.  And that is something I can get behind:

It is important to be sure that the ideas you want to eliminate from existence aren’t those that would have spurred you to action in your actual life. For example, if getting angry about the retrogression of women’s rights or about the increasing margin between rich and poor could impel you to get involved in your community to change these things, then, by all means, let the negative feelings fuel you. But many of the ideas we encounter, especially when rehashed in ever more amplified ways, serve only to distract us from the real issues. In a gesture of good faith and honesty with yourself, identify what you know you will never actually do anything about and eliminate it from your field of thought.

So, I’m working on it.  That stupid BuzzFeed video about being ladylike that irritated me this morning on Facebook? Letting it go.  A couple of people on Facebook who literally post every article whose headline they have read but CLEARLY DID NOT READ THE ACTUAL CONTENT who make me RAGEY? Letting it go, because they are dumb, insignificant, and possibly functionally illiterate, given their regular status updates.  I’m going to try to let things go, because damn do I have a lot of feelings about a lot of things.

What articles got you thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About this Week

Here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  I don’t have a ton of stuff for you today, mostly because I’m lazy.  But here are a few things to read and think about this week.

Choosing Comfort Over Truth: What it Means to Defend Woody Allen (The Nation)

Look, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow sexual abuse allegations, and no matter what you think about the whole thing (and I hope you are thinking about it, and being critical about how the media portrays it and how people react to stories like this), you need to realize that despite what people say, we are not in the midst of an epidemic of false rape accusations.  We are in the middle of an epidemic of quiet sexual assault with a culture that condones rape.  We are.

This article is brief but thought-provoking.  Whether or not you agree with Jessica Valenti’s article (she’s a bit polarizing, I guess), you should take a minute to think about what all of this means–and how you feel about it.

Finally, a Bachelor Contestant Exposes the Show’s Weird Sex Issues (Slate)

Let’s start this by saying that I don’t watch The Bachelor.  I have seen the show, but not in years, and I don’t generally care about what happens on it, because it’s a step up from the worst kinds of reality TV, in my mind.  I think the show is icky and gimmicky and completely ridiculous.  But this article caught my eye because it touches on so much of what I find appalling about the show and its bizarre, backwards ideas about sex.  Take this quote:

The show assembles a harem of attractive women who attempt to woo one man not just with their charm, but their bodies, their insecurity, and their willingness to suppress any part of their personality that might make them seem difficult—in particular, their innate discomfort that this man is availing himself of numerous other women as he speaks to each of them about feeling a “real connection.” To distract from the ickiness of this setup, The Bachelor plays the prude, only ever speaking of sex in the most coded, vague terms, like a pimp who blushes at the word “vagina” and claims his clientele are just playing cards.

There’s not much else to say, but this Slate article tackles the issues head-on and provides some interesting things to think about, whether you watch the show or not.

Mean Girls Director Spills 10 Juicy Stories 10 Years Later (Vulture)

Can you believe it’s been 10 years since Mean Girls came out?  I’m feeling super old today.  At any rate, this is some fluffy entertainment reading to get you through your Friday.  I’ve always liked stories about what happens behind-the-scenes, and this is the perfect example of that.

What Happens When You Tell People You’re Reading Only Women (The Toast)

Some of the things you’d probably expect: people lauding the effort, people following suit. Others aimed accusations, calling the project sexist, reverse-sexist (uh, okay), misandrist, etc.  But that’s sort of missing the point, isn’t it?

But the point of the reading project was to raise awareness about the way that female writers are still seen as less important, less literary, and less canonical than male writers, and even some of the coverage about my work hasn’t changed that.

Case in point: when The Guardian launched its #readwomen2014 project, they interviewed one writer/critic who had vowed to read only female authors in 2014 …Even when it comes to promoting books by female authors, it’s evidently still more important to ask men what they think in order to legitimize something that might reek too strongly of feminism.

There’s some great stuff here, about reading and experience in general:

Reading is so much more than looking at words on a page. At least they’re reading, as if a grocery list and a poem could be the same, could each weigh as much as the other. I wanted my reading, a pastime I enjoyed for its quietness and solitude, to also be a declarative statement. Women have always understood that there is more than one path to revolution. Quite simply, I would not be the human I am without having read My Antonia when I was sixteen years old.

At any rate, there’s a lot to unpack and think about here.  I really liked this article.

What got you thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the articles I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.  Let’s go!

Revisiting the Reductive Approach to YA Revisited: Contemporary YA and Generosity to Readers (Stacked)

There’s a lot to unpack in this excellent piece by librarian extraordinaire Kelly Jensen, but it’s worth a read if you’re at all interested in how YA gets written and talked about, and the rise of the bogus concept of the “YA Savior.”  In it, Jensen takes issue with a New York Times review of A.S. King’s book Reality Boy, written by the polarizing (but mostly beloved) John Green, and then expands upon Green’s influence in the media these days:

Article after article from publishing insiders talk about how contemporary realistic fiction is on the rise. That it’s the next trend to really hit YA fiction. While I disagree that it’s the next trend — it’s always been a staple of YA fiction as much as being a teenager has been a staple of being between the ages of 13 and 19 — I think the actual trend is the rise in YA fiction that reads like or can be sold as being a John Green alike.

That’s not all that this article covers, though.  Jensen talks about Green’s position of power in the world of books, and she talks about the fact that while he doesn’t abuse that position, he also makes grand pronouncements and doesn’t back them up.  Recently, he tweeted this:

Fascinating to see responses to Allegiant because I think many of the book’s readers are just, like, wrong about what books are/should do.

He goes on to talk about the fact that readers have an obligation to be “generous” to the books they read.  Jensen has some questions about all this:

So what is it that a book is or what a book should do? And more than that, why does the reader owe generosity toward a book? He doesn’t offer a suggestion here, but rather a platitude that doesn’t dig deeper into the implications of what being a generous reader means.

I’m not doing a very good job of summarizing this post, but that’s because there’s so much here to think about.  Jensen is very fair to Green–much more fair than I probably would, but she raises some really good questions.  It’s worth a read.

Why TV Wives are Always Way Hotter than Their Husbands (Alternet)

It’s no secret that there’s a double standard in Hollywood when it comes to the attractiveness of men and women.  Men are allowed to be much more ordinary-looking than women are.  It’s much more common to find a kind of schlubby dude paired up with a much hotter, fitter (and often younger) woman.

Across the board, audiences today are subjected daily to female characters who are not, for lack of a better word, ordinary. They are almost always gorgeous, fit, sexy and dating or married to someone not nearly as attractive as they are. Men can be all shapes and sizes on film; women must be hot.

In this article, the author, an actress herself, took a look at a bunch of different character descriptions that casting directors use to fill spots on TV shows.  The message is clear: what a woman looks like matters.  It’s worth reading the different character descriptions (how many euphemisms can we find for “hot”?), but it’s also so, so discouraging.  With fewer and fewer roles for women, why does it always come down to what they look like?  And wouldn’t everyone benefit from seeing more representation onscreen?

My So-Called Life Set the Path all Teen Shows Would Follow (AV Club)

Wasn’t My So-Called Life the most amazing thing, like, ever?  Can you believe it’s been nearly 20 years since it aired?  Does that make you feel as old as I do?

My So-Called Life felt utterly and completely unique when it aired, and it feels utterly and completely unique now; if this show somehow found its way onto the schedule in the fall of 2014, it would almost certainly be just as hailed as it was in 1994, and it would almost certainly feel as fresh as it did then. It is an oasis in the history of television, but like all oases, its presence was far too small.

This article is such a beautiful love letter to a show that was pretty much flawless.  I think I have to rewatch the series now.

Don’t Hate Macklemore Because He’s White. Hate Him Because His Music is Terrible (Slate)

I’m including this article not only because I think it raises some good points, but because the title made me laugh.  Look, I’m sure Macklemore is a nice person, mostly.  I don’t think about him a lot, but when I do, it’s usually because he’s done or said something that’s well-meaning but sort of awful.  He’s been in the press a lot this week after his (completely undeserving) wins at the Grammys, and that’s to be expected, I guess.

This article is pretty great, though, for a lot of reasons.  This is one:

No, I hate Macklemore and Ryan Lewis because I think their music is terrible at best, and worse than terrible at worst. It’s the lowest sort of middlebrow, an art-like commodity that shallow people think is deep and dull people think is edgy…This is rap for people who don’t like rap that makes them feel proud of themselves for not liking rap, and for buying Macklemore albums, and as such it moves from bad music into immoral, bleached-out hucksterism…

It gets better when it starts to dissect Macklemore’s music, and why, exactly, it’s so awful:

As Jon Caramanica noted in a Times piece far more levelheaded than this one, Macklemore apologists and detractors alike often argue that his music is more pop than hip-hop, and that to compare him to Kendrick and Kanye and any number of other artists who were up for Best Rap Album on Sunday is an unfair equivalence. This is bullshit. For starters, from a musical standpoint both Kanye West’sYeezus and Drake’s Nothing Was the Same are easily more genre-straddling works than The Heist, a conservative record in every sense other than its politicsSecondly, and much more importantly, Macklemore claims himself as a hip-hop artist, proudly, at every opportunity.

I mean, whatever.  In the scheme of things, he won some Grammys, and people are either in on the fact that the Grammys are kind of a joke or they’re not.  People either understand that there is white privilege at play here or they don’t.  I’m not trying to be a social justice warrior and I’m not trying to rail against people who think his music is good (it’s not, guys) or fun (I guess I’ll allow this).  I’m just trying to engage in the discussion about what Macklemore’s wins mean, and how it relates to the pop culture machine.

I’ll leave you with this:

And this is when I wonder: Who does this dude think he is? The number of lazy elisions and smarmy misdirections buried in here are confounding. In what asinine, addled universe is “hip-hop” reducible to YouTube comments? Hip-hop is certainly a culture “founded from oppression,” but what might you know of that, Macklemore? It quickly starts to feel like the white kid in the front row of the Af-Am Studies class, droning on about his own radicalism, convinced he’s the only one in the room with Dead Prez on his iPhone.

Okay, I’m done now.

What did you read this week that got you thinking?

 

 

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

These are the things on the internet I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.

Why Women Aren’t Welcome On the Internet (Pacific Standard)

Look, I don’t care how you feel about rape culture because the fact of the matter is that it exists.  The fact of the matter is that women are more likely to be targeted with threats of violence, both sexual and otherwise, and the Internet makes it easier than ever for these threats to escalate and increase in occurrence.  This piece by Amanda Hess delves into her own experiences with threats as well as those of women all over the world, targeted simply because they are women:

But no matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment—and the sheer volume of it—has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages.

This piece is lengthy, but it’s thought-provoking and deeply disturbing.

Unlikable Characters (Slate)

I love Girls, guys.  I think it’s a really smart, funny show, and I think Dunham is doing something on TV that pretty much no one else is.  Do I think it’s a perfect show?  Of course not, but that’s part of what makes it so fun.  Dunham has made a point of sort of tackling the criticism of the show head-on and putting that criticism to work.  The characters are narcissistic and awful?  Let’s ramp that up to 11.  The show is racist?  Let’s have Hannah say awful, horrifically ignorant things to a black boyfriend.  You get the idea.

And I think it’s brilliant, and I don’t watch the show to like the characters.  Jesus, could we just stop with the “likable characters” thing all together?  People don’t need to like the characters to enjoy a movie or a book or a TV show, so why do we keep getting tripped up on this?

 It’s the sharpest show out there about the self-justifications of the self-obsessed and the immense power even of decaying friendships. That’s the price Girls paid for beating the haters at their own game: It learned to hate.

Ending “Gone Girl” Differently: The Dangers of Alternate Last Acts (Salon)

Okay, I read and mostly enjoyed Gone Girl as much as the rest of America.  I thought it was a little long, and I didn’t think that any of the plot twists were that shocking, really, but it was an enjoyable read, and there was some good, scathing criticism about relationships in there.  I’ll see the movie because it will be a big film event.  But this week, I read the feature in Entertainment Weekly about Gone Girl, and I came away with a couple of takeaways, one being that changing the ending of the book–in what sounds like a pretty major way–for the film might be kind of a mistake.  And by “kind of,” I mean awful.

This piece tackles that same issue, and like me, has some of the same issues with it:

The ending of “Gone Girl” strikes me as perfect, in that I can’t imagine any better one. No wonder Flynn had to tear up the whole “third act” in order to work her way to an alternative. But just knowing that Flynn thinks it might all have turned out otherwise takes some of the pleasure out of it.

For me, it’s deeper than that: why bother telling the story in the first place using a different medium if you’re going to fundamentally alter the story?

Manic Pixie Dream Mom (The Awl)

Well this is amazing:

Lost your mom, sad, trendy movie guy? It’s not all bad. You can make a new mom with a new woman. No, don’t just paste in a copy of the same old peevish lady—the one with her own job, your laundry, and your stupid, needy dad in her face. This time, make your perfect mother. You’ve already got the fantasy, lying latent somewhere in the depths of your childhood lizard brain. Trot it out. Show us your dream mom scaled up to the dimensions of a dream girl. And don’t stop the fantasy at actually getting to smooch your dream mom—er, girl. Go ahead and create the ultra-attentive, indefatigable, sparkly fairy you deserve. You can even suit her up in the vintage dresses your mom used to wear—or that someone’s mom must have worn.

Pages Ain’t Nothing But a Number (Book Riot)

Because I read a lot and like to track that reading, I love articles that talk about what that looks like for other people.  This short, interesting piece at Book Riot is interesting because it talks about how people set goals for themselves, but it also talks about what complete assholes book lovers can be to one another.  Largely about the numbers of books that people read in a year and how that’s tied to whether or not someone is a good reader:

Because 20 books in a year? It’s a good goal. 100 books in a year? Good goal. 5 books? Good. 200? Why not.

You can literally read any amount of books you want to and still be a good reader…

If someone reads fewer books than you do, it does not make them less intelligent than you. It does not even make them a worse reader. If someone reads different types of books than you do, it doesn’t make them a bad reader, either. It just means they are a different human being than you.

This isn’t completely new information, it’s just something to keep in mind.  I’m guilty of being kind of a pain in the ass about how much I read, and it’s stuff like this that helps me check myself.

What got you thinking this week?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Ready for another round-up of the articles I’ve been reading and thinking about this week?  Look no further!

Pop culture:

The Most Racially Tone-Deaf Casting Decisions Ever (Salon)

The concept of casting actors to play different ethnicities and nationalities than their own is something I think about a lot.  I obviously railed against Johnny Depp’s Tonto in this year’s The Lone Ranger, but that’s just one example of Hollywood’s bizarre and totally racist decision to cast actors in roles that are totally inappropriate for them.  Salon has an interesting list of some of the most egregious examples of this, and they have a pretty great explanation, too:

A good actor is able to do all manner of things, and no one is too exercised about, say, Meryl Streep playing an Australian or Brit. But when it comes to nationalities whose stories we don’t see on-screen as often, unimaginative or careless casting denies talented people the chance to represent their own experience. Maybe Tonto could have had a bit more dignity, in “The Lone Ranger,” if he’d been played by a Native American actor; perhaps a Persian actor would have made “Prince of Persia,” a movie that threw all manner of vaguely Middle Eastern clichés at the wall, a bit less sloppy (though, of course, it’s not the job of actors of color to “save” stereotype-ridden film projects).

It’s an interesting list, and it has the ones you’d probably expect–Depp as Tonto–and the ones you might not–Jennifer Lopez as Selena.  Whether or not you totally agree with it, it’s worth taking a look at and thinking about it for a minute or two.

Pop’s Lamest Lyric (Slate)

Definitely fluffy, this piece takes aim at some of the cliches in pop music’s lyrics and saves its extreme vitriol for the singers who lament the fact that they can no longer breathe when their lover leaves them:

What I find so odd about this particular lazy metaphor is that the act of singing the lyric disproves its intent. Writer’s block yields piles of unused paper. Painters in a rut neglect their canvases. But a singer is actually using the air in his or her heartsick lungs to express, and then dispel, this thoroughly exhausted announcement of breathlessness. The instant the line is uttered, the fallacy is exposed, and the moment deflates.

I mean, yes, of course.  Good point.  It is lazy, and it is melodramatic, but much of pop music is so focused on the conveyor belt that I doubt anyone penning the lyrics is giving that much thought to it.

Top 25 Scariest Science-Fiction and Fantasy TV episodes (i09)

October is my favorite month, and Halloween my favorite holiday, and yet, I’ve done nearly nothing this month to celebrate it.  I love horror but haven’t watched any movies (I did DVR a few, so I hope to knock those out this weekend), and apart from getting together an absolutely EPIC costume for a contest at work, it’s been a fairly lackluster Halloween-prep.  But this list of scary TV episodes makes up for.  I love that Buffy makes the list (and that is definitely the scariest episode of the show, unless you count how terrifying the realities of The Body are).  And that X-Files episode?  DAMN.

Sexuality and Gender:

Will Women Ever Have the Freedom to be Ugly? (Jezebel)

First, hat tip to @GingerGoingHAM for the link this week.  This one is both depressing and completely thought-provoking.  The article is all about how dudes (and dudettes, I guess) default insults have to do with a woman’s looks.  What woman hasn’t had someone tell them, “You’re too ugly to be this bitchy.”  It doesn’t matter how untrue it is: it’s the quickest way to cut someone to the quick.

The article also talks about standards of beauty and how often, women who are considered ugly aren’t even that: they’re just non-compliant. And a double standard exists:

Women are “supposed” to be pretty all the time, whereas men can be a lot of things, and good looking is but one of them. And if he’s not good-looking? Well he can just go be interesting, funny or rich.

As a fairly attractive person who works hard to take care of myself and takes a certain amount of pleasure in getting dolled up to go out, I identify with the themes of this article, as I imagine most women do.  I’ve been on the receiving end of those hurtful, fucking stupid insults, and I know they’ve shaped the way I think about myself, my body, and my looks.  I know that part of the reason I work out 5-6 days a week is because it makes me feel good, but it’s also because I have a fear of gaining and being unattractive–to others, to my partner, to myself.

Lots to think about here.

What did you read this week that got you thinking?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Without preamble, these are the articles I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.

Life, etc.:

What Do You Call the Person You Are Probably Never Going to Marry? Your Fiancee. (Slate)

I’ll be honest when I tell you that Hanna Rosin, the author of this piece on Slate this week, is not my favorite journalist.  She cohosts the Double X Podcast and I find her generally insufferable and about as pretentious as can be (not to mention completely clueless half the time).  So I had a great deal of bias going into reading this article.  That being said, the piece is interesting (especially the parts where she quotes from people who actually know what they’re talking about):

Sociologists Wendy Manning and Pamela Smock, who study changing family demographics told me that they, too, made the mistake of assuming couples who said they were engaged were making plans to get married. But when they asked follow-up questions for a large qualitative study they recently conducted with young adults on “Cohabitation and Marriage in America,” they realized that wasn’t true.  Instead the term engaged, for couples of all races, seemed to be a kind of placeholder, “a way to keep the relationship going without actually making the move to marry,” says Manning. Smock says she noticed that couples use the term fiancé or engaged in a “flexible” way, that is, when dealing with authorities on the phone, or in a social setting where they might want to “own” the person more or seem like more of an “official couple.”

It’s thought-provoking, to say the least.  It plays into all the things that fascinate me so much about weddings, spectacle culture, and how it creeps into our daily lives.  Rosin does make a good point that America is incredibly hard on couples who aren’t legally married, and until we let go of some of those restrictions, this trend isn’t likely to change.  Thoughts?

Engagement Rings are Barbaric (Salon)

In the same vein of weddings and engagements, here’s a completely different take on the concept of engagement rings.  This sums up what the article is basically about:

The engagement ring is not, as diamond advertisers of the last 80 years or so have insisted, a symbol of love: it’s a sort of down payment on a virgin vagina

And this:

What we now call a “traditional” wedding is actually just a cheap pantomime of a society wedding that has been marketed to the masses.

I don’t agree with all of what Rupp says in her article (I think she’s choosing to ignore a lot of factors), but some of the history in this article is interesting enough to read.

Politics and the stuff that plays into it:

Chris Brown’s Latest Revelation was about Rape (Feministing)

Before you roll your eyes and skip this article, realize that it’s not really about Chris Brown.  Really, it’s not.  This article is about rape culture and how gendered it is.  It’s about the fundamental divide between women and men when they speak about sexual assault.  And it’s really, really important.  Here’s the piece that has stuck with me:

We are raising boys to believe that their manhood rests in their ability to have sex with women as early and often as possible, to the point they believe any sexual encounter is simply a right of passage. Even if they know it’s wrong, they don’t admit to it because they believe this is expected of them. They are supposed to want it. And when they are assaulted, instead of speaking about the trauma they revel in the “success,” often masking the hurt and confusion.

I pretty much think Chris Brown is a piece of shit, but I also recognize that he did not have a great childhood, and that had a hand in turning him into the douche bag he is today.  This new piece of information? About how he lost his virginity at AGE EIGHT (8)?  This plays into that.  And it plays into male sexual assault in general.

How Jezebel Smashes the Patriarchy, Click by Click (Mother Jones)

I read Jezebel pretty much daily, and while I don’t always agree with everything they post, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they have their finger on the pulse of feminism and pop culture.  This profile of Anna Holmes, the website’s founder, is an interesting, important read if you’ve ever spent any time clicking on Jezebel’s articles (and watching the fights in the comments–that’s often more fun than the articles themselves).

She has a book coming out, which I just added to my Amazon wish list.  Not gonna lie.

What did you read this week that got you thinking?

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

Without further ado, here are the things I’m reading and thinking about this week:

Books/Reading:

More Teachers Should Assign the Racy Popular Novels of America’s Past  (The Atlantic)

This piece felt fortuitous since I’m up to my neck in programming for Banned Books Week at my library.  I’m working on displays of classic books that have been challenged or banned, and I’m still completely flummoxed about why people are so crazy when it comes to things they object to in books.  This piece is more of an interview with Phillip Gura, a professor who wrote Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel.  But it’s still an interesting read, and perfect for this time of year.

 Jennifer Weiner: I’m Glad the NYT is Finally Covering Commercial Fiction, and Sorry if I went too Far (Salon)

Look, I’m not necessarily Weiner’s biggest fan.  I think what she’s done in the world of commercial fiction is admirable and awesome, and she’s certainly used social media to her advantage (just ask her).  I’ve read a few of her books and they’re entertaining and light and exactly what they’re supposed to be.  But this piece is really interesting, because she owns up to the fact that she went hard at the New York Times because of their refusal to cover “commercial fiction” in their book reviews.

But it raises some interesting ideas that I think about a lot as a book lover and as a librarian: book snobbery still exists and is a major roadblock in creating accessibility to readers.  This is particularly true of books about women written by women.  It’s a pervasive problem.  I’m guilty of some book snobbery myself, but I work to be aware of it.  This is an interesting think piece, at the very least.

Politics:

Racist “Patriots” Want Me Dead (Salon)

This is a follow-up piece to one I linked to last week about the questioning of “Support the Troops” as a mindless form of patriotism.  Since publishing that article, the author has received death threats and racist threats like you would not believe.  This is an important piece, and it’s definitely worth your time to go read it.  It reinforces the point of his first article.  People, man.

Pop Culture:

Aaron Sorkin Gets More Sexist Every Year (Salon)

I’ve been pretty clear on where I stand on the whole Aaron Sorkin thing, I think.  I kind of hate him.  I think he’s written some great stuff, but I think it’s a sexist, misogynistic egomaniac who is so completely out of touch with the world that it’s almost laughable if it weren’t so scary.  This piece from Salon is great for so many reasons, but this quote sums up much of what I find so contentious about Sorkin:

But Sorkin’s vision is of a world in which male hegemony isn’t just acknowledged but accepted, even relished, and in which women are always the object of male ambition or of lust. When allowed to speak for themselves, women consistently reveal themselves as being in desperate need of rescue.

The article dissects some of his projects to better prove this point, and it’s fascinating and discouraging all at once.  Every time I read something about The Newsroom being “not that bad,” and my decision to avoid it wavers, I’m going to think of this and stick fast to it.  I don’t need that condescension in my life.

When Comedians Walk Off, It’s the Crowd’s Fault (AV Club)

Kind of an interesting look at the culture of heckling and what it says about a crowd.  This piece also looks at the comedy of Dave Chappelle, and how he’s handled hecklers since coming back onto the comedy scene.  If you’re interested in live stand-up at all, this is worth checking out.

What did you read this week that you found particularly interesting?