?!?!???><><_)_)_~) Katie Dempsey--writer, illustrator, distance swimmer, tennis dabbler, sarcastic quip generator, philosophizer, rogue psychologist, bibliophile, food appreciator, theoretician, movie watcher, may or may not actually be Batman? P.S. I've mostly relocated to my tumblr blog you guys hey you guys hey everybody let's all relocate to tumblr wooo

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Did Avril Lavigne's 2002 hit "Sk8er Boi" discriminate against ballerinas?!?!?

Ten years ago, Canadian pop-punk songstress Avril Lavigne released a song called "Sk8er Boi", which was, presumably, supposed to be a cute little love song about two "outsiders" finding love. 

OR WAS IT? I intend to prove that a deeper look at the song's lyrics will reveal the dark, bigoted underpinnings of this chart-topping hit. Let's begin with the first verse:

He was a boy
She was a girl / 
Can I make it any more obvious?

Lavigne speaks very simple sentences here to indicate the "universality" of this love story, referencing the "boy meets girl" trope. She emphasizes this by adding "Can I make it any more obvious?" to draw attention to the simplicity of the love story. So far so good.

He was a punk./ 
She did ballet./ 
What more can I say?

Ok, I guess this is supposed to be the "twist". Now Lavigne has taken the same sentiment in the first triplet, echoing "Can I make it any more obvious" with "What more can I say", but twisting it around to suggest this love story is, in fact, NOT a simple boy+girl. There is CONFLICT. Apparently, a punk boy and a ballerina girl could not have a "simple" romance, as evidenced by the next few lines:

He wanted her./ 
She'd never tell./
Secretly she wanted him as well.

The fact that the girl would "never tell" and "secretly" wanted the boy implies that she considers wanting a punk boy to be something shameful and "beneath her".

And all of her friends/ 
Stuck up their nose./ 
And they had a problem with his baggy clothes

Or is it really the girl herself who considers the boy to be "beneath her"? If you think about it, she must not consider him really to be beneath her if she "wants" him. 

Aha! Here is the crux of the problem! THIS is the real reason why this girl must keep her love of the boy a secret. She is obviously terrified of her friends, who don't care about this girl's happiness or what SHE wants, merely that she act in ways that conform to their personal opinions and the norms of the group. This is Peer Pressure at its worst, people. And groups of ballerinas are particularly nasty offenders of it.

Then there's the first chorus:

He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy./ 
He wasn't good enough for her.
She had a pretty face but her head was up in space./ 

She needed to come back down to earth.

This is where Avril's bigotry starts to reveal itself. Is it really fair to say this girl's head was "up in space" because she had cruel, domineering friends, who "turned up their nose" at the boy she liked? Avril states that this ballerina girl said "see ya later boy" because "he wasn't good enough for HER", but isn't it clear from the earlier verse that he wasn't good enough for her FRIENDS? Obviously since she "wanted him", she did indeed consider him "good enough" for her. It gets worse--

Five years from now
she sits at home/
 feeding the baby, she's all alone.

She turns on TV and guess who she sees?/ 

Skater boy rockin' up MTV.
She calls up her friends./ They already know/ 
And they've all got tickets to see his show.
She tags along/ stands in the crowd./ Looks up at the man that she turned down.

The details aren't clear, but from saying that this girl is "sitting at home, feeding the baby, she's all alone", we can surmise that she accidentally got pregnant and the dad wants nothing to do with her child. Or perhaps she got married young and had a kid, but her husband works all the time and she never sees him. Or maybe her husband left her because pregnancy made her fat and he's a shallow jerk.

And what of her terrible, bullying friends? They got tickets to see the show of this boy who they initially didn't approve of? Does that mean they do approve of him now that he's famous? Or are they going to see his show out of sheer curiosity? Avril doesn't specify. Either way, this new attention to the "boy who got away" probably isn't making this poor ballerina girl feel any better about being a lonely single mother.

He was a skater boy, she said see ya later boy./ He wasn't good enough for her.
Now he's a superstar/ Slammin' on his guitar/ Does your pretty face see what he's worth?

Sorry girl but you missed out./ Well tough luck that boy's mine now.
We are more than just good friends./ This is how the story ends.
Too bad that you couldn't see.../ See the man that boy could be.
There is more than meets the eye,/ I see the soul that is inside.

Okay, now Avril's just getting mean. This is the second time she's used "pretty face" as a derogatory term, pairing it with her "head being up in space" and now of "not being able to see [skater boy]'s worth", as if beauty and intelligence cannot go hand-in-hand. She also seems to be a little spiteful about the fact that she and this boy are together, saying "sorry girl but you missed out/well tough luck that boy's mine now". It's a little disturbing that she says "he's mine", implying ownership of this boy, which is not usually the basis of a healthy relationship.

Clearly Avril is displaying her intolerant opinions and prejudices of ballerinas/"pretty girls". She implies that this ballerina girl is dumb ("her head was up in space"), accusing her of not being able see the "worth" of the skater boy (even though we would assume that she would have seen his worth if she secretly "wanted him"). 

She uses "pretty" as a derogatory slur, implying that being "pretty" is inherently bad. Avril also seems to be gloating over the ballerina girl's misfortune (single mother; alone at home) by bragging about how Avril (or her first-person character in the song, presumably meant to be semi-autobiographical) "owns" the skater boy ("that boy's mine now"), and that the ballerina "missed her chance". 

Avril does not once take into account the devastating power of peer pressure on the ballerina girl, nor does she consider that the ballerina girl might have been pressured by her friends to not pursue the skater boy even though she really did want to be with him.

What if we changed the social groups of the characters in this song? The boy plays football on the high school team (adjusting for American gender roles, the masculine equivalent of ballerina), and the girl is a punk skater. The boy wants the girl, and she secretly wants him too, but her punk friends don't approve of his football playing and Abercrombie clothes, so they forbid the skater girl to be with him. 

Five years later, the boy is a star quarterback for a NFL team, and the punk girl is a single mom. Actually, if we're really adjusting the roles to social group cliches (in the original song, the one that popular girls from high school have babies right after they graduate), maybe we could adjust so the punk girl is a heroin addict living under a bridge. Meanwhile, the boy is married to a team cheerleader, who, in the song, mocks the punk skater girl for not being able to see the boy's inner worth, and gloats over winning the boy, maybe making a derogatory reference to the punk girl's purple-dyed hair and tattoos. Yeah, not cool man. Not. cool.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Watching Star Trek: TNG again

I watched Star Trek: TNG a lot growing up because my parents were fans. In fact, my dad was a huge Star Trek fan, going back to the original series. We owned all the movies on VHS. But when I was younger I thought TNG was boring. It seemed like a lot of just people having lengthy discussions in rooms.

I think my first awareness of TNG came when I was very very young, probably younger than five, and was watching an episode of Reading Rainbow with Lavar Burton, where he goes to the set of TNG and the costume people sat him in a makeup chair and started fitting him with his trademark visor. I remembered thinking, what is he doing, they're letting him try on the costumes?  I didn't realize he was actually part of the regular cast.

"Hey Kids! For today's story I'm going to use my visor to identify all the iso-linear thermo-nuclear ranges of this planetoid's atmospheric charges!"

So I've started watching it again on Netflix. To be honest, the show is, indeed, a lot of lengthy discussions in rooms. It can, indeed, be boring. But it can also be FUCKING AMAZING. Jean-Luc Picard is probably one of my favorite fictional leaders of all time (this is a top 5 list I will need to make eventually) (bottom of the list? Rick Grimes, both comic and TV version. Screw you Rick, you're adorable but WORST LEADER EVER.)

"Just because this is the apocalypse and I'm a policeman doesn't mean I have to  like, make an effort to explain to  these people how survival works, right? Because it's a lot easier to just yell at them." 

I skipped the first four seasons because I remember them being awful. Everyone was kind of stiff and wooden and unlikable. Riker was kind of a dick and Captain Picard was kind of aloof and uncaring. Troi was just ridiculous, the writers obviously had no idea what to do with her. An alien in another ship would be yelling "I HATE YOU GUYS" and Troi would be all "I sense that he's angry, Captain!" Well, no shit! What are we even PAYING you for, lady?? Worf just grunted a lot and Data's lack of understanding of jokes, social nuances, etc, came off as really contrived.

Also, the replacement of Dr. Crusher with Dr. Pulaski was baffling. It's no question Diana Muldaur is a talented actress, but her character just didn't seem to fit. She was basically playing Dr. McCoy, who fit just fine in the macho-swaggering cowboy-standoff world of the original series. But Next Generation is a show about diplomacy. It's a show about empathy and sociology and morality and emotions and feelings and all that crap. Not Bill Shatner wrestling a lizard-alien for twenty minutes.

"This is the best diplomacy session I've ever had!" --Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Eventually the writers seemed to get a handle on what they're doing, finding a common ground with the actors. Season five is the time when I start thinking of everyone as a real person and not a character on a TV show. Around season five, when a character does characteristic of themselves, I'll smile fondly and say something like "Oh Geordi why are you so afraid of women?! Just come out of the closet already!" or "Will, you scoundrel, you think you're cute enough to get away with that egotism but you're only about 90% cute enough to get away with it!"

And of course, the plots get better too. The second episode of season five was the critically-acclaimed episode Darmok, where Captain Picard has to figure out how to communicate with an alien whose species' entire language consists of nothing but references to their mythology. In Season Five we also get -

-Ensign Ro, which is a fantastic study of what it's like to be an outsider (and also one of my favorite Guinan episodes, I love the chemistry between her and Ro)

-The Game, an incredibly dated 80s study of addicting video games and one where I find Wesley Crusher actually half-likable (actually now that I know how awesome Wil Wheaton is, it's hard not to like Wesley by extension now, no matter how badly written his character)

-The Outcast, where that stud Will Riker has a sexy forbidden relationship with an sexy androgyne*

"If you had a vagina I would totally be all up in it"
*also ham-fisted attempts by the writers at political and social analogies to homosexuality, transexuality, etc etc etc

-Perfect Mate, staring Jean Grey! as a super-sexy metamorph (isn't it crazy that she plays a memorable mutant twice in her career?), who changes her personality perfectly to attract the man she's with (showing us Picard's perfect woman, who is just as awesome as Picard is and is only further proof how awesome HE is)

-Imaginary Friend, where an alien entity takes the form of, you guessed it, a lonely child's imaginary friend! (a very Shining-esque imaginary friend, too) (this episode actually totally sucks, the child actors were atrocious)

-I Borg, where the Enterprise crewmembers attempt to "rehabilitate" a Borg drone

-The Next Phase, where Geordi and Ro are basically sci-fi ghosts and everyone thinks they're dead and they watch their own funerals and they can go through walls but somehow don't fall through the floor? And it turns out to be some weird experimental Romulan cloaking phase-shifting technology? And Ro and Geordi actually have great chemistry which sucks because I'm pretty sure we never see them interact at length like this ever again? AND WHAT WAS RIKER GOING TO SAY ABOUT RO AT HER FUNERAL?!?! WE NEVER FIND OUT!!!

-The Inner Light, perhaps just as famous as Darmok, where Picard lives a lifetime in a now-extinct society
and of course Time's Arrow Part 1!! Where Data travels back in time to early 1900s San Francisco, followed soon after by the rest of the crew!

All in all, this is the season I would recommend starting on if you are new to Star Trek: The Next Generation. From season five until the end of the series you get some pretty top-notch stuff. Some boring stuff too, but mostly just great sci-fi television. Four out of Five stars!

"You can touch my beard if you want. Go on. Touch it."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Thor Review

So yeah, I thought Thor was a surprisingly decent movie! Certainly better than Captain America: The First Avenger. I watched Captain America in 2D but the whole point of it seemed to be that it should be viewed in 3D (can we please get over this 3D fad already?!?). The backgrounds looked like a videogame, which was distracting. The plot was hard to care about, the villain was hard to care about, and Captain America himself was hard to care about. The whole thing seemed kind of rushed and slapped together.

Captain America wasn't BAD, exactly. They managed to hit all the key points -- backstory, motivation (ish), transformation, downfall(ish), redemption. But it was all done without any sort of "spark", any of the little details that made you really care about the characters. Steve Rogers is just plain boring. Give him some flaws that we can relate to, for God's sake. Luke Skywalker was kind of whiny sometimes, and even selfish, but at least he seemed like a real person. Steve Rogers was just a cardboard cutout of a person. 

With Thor, I got the same vibe of Paint-by-Numbers Marvel Superhero Movie, but it was a little more engaging. Thor felt more real to me, as a character. At the beginning of the movie, he was kind of an arrogant, headstrong prick. Like one of those football jocks winning all the games, just expecting to be praised for everything he did, not thinking he was capable of mistakes or failure.

With his exile to Earth he finally started to learn some humility and that whole arc was very well paced and believable. Naturally at first he stomped around and kept demanding things (like when he stomped into a pet shop and loudly proclaimed "I NEED YOUR BEST HORSE" to a thoroughly unimpressed stoner cashier--priceless!) But I liked the way the arrogance seemed to just drain out of as the reality of his situation started to sink in for him.

Also, compared to the boringness of Hugo Weaving's Red Skull in Captain America, I'd say that Loki made a pretty decent villain (I would say SPOILER ALERT, as he seems like a 'good guy' at the beginning, but come on. I could see his impending villainy from a mile away. He was wearing all black, black robes, sulked around, and had long black greasy hair. OH WOW I WONDER WHO IS THE BAD GUY IN THIS MOVIE? ). It remains to be seen how he'll do in the Avengers as a villain. I think he'll be ok. 

(of course, no movie-Marvel villain will ever be able to top Ian McKellan's Magneto, in my opinion. He did such a great job of making Magneto a villain you could both fear and kind of respect while at the same time being the a total bad-ass.)

As the love interest, Natalie Portman was pretty goddamn useless. All she did the whole movie was giggle and blush and make doe-eyes at Thor like a giggly schoolgirl, even though she was supposed to be some sort of intelligent, independent... um...research physicist? or something? 

I mean, occasionally she'd say a scientist-in-a-movie line like "this is ten years worth of my research!" or "I've never seen readings like these before!" but her main goal seemed to go all fluttery and breathy and fumble over her words every time Chris Hemsworth looked at her. And of course they had zero chemistry. So that was, in my opinion, the weakest point of the movie. The rest, pretty good. And the visuals of Asgard were fantastic. 

Thor and Captain America round-up:

Both movies seemed mostly to exist as tools to pump Marvel fans up for the upcoming Avengers movie. They were almost more like brief character sketches than movies, but they did introduce the characters pretty well. And I AM totally pumped for the Avengers movie (although I'm not completely sold on Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury). And Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans are both sexy and charismatic as superheros, almost enough that they might be able to stand next to Robert Downey Jr. and not pale TOO much in comparison. So yeah, bring it on Marvel! Let's see what else you got! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Words With Friends

So I finally started playing Words With Friends. I was never a big Scrabble fan as a kid, but this time, I was ready. I researched strategy and everything. All of a sudden, this game had become the Super Big Important Thing To Be Competitive About In My Otherwise Incredibly Unsuccessful Life. I thought, I have a college degree in the English language and goddamnit, this will be MY game.

Results have been spotty so far. One website reassured me that as a beginner, I should expect a certain amount of failure at first. But I wondered, how much is success at WWF governed by luck and how much by skill? Can a really skilled WWF player take a consistently bad collection of letter tiles and still win the game? Can an unskilled WWF player win a game with a really good collection of letter tiles?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dawn Treader review

I didn't see Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader when it came out in theaters because it was in 3D and 3D movies give me a headache. But I wanted to see it because I loved this book when I was a kid--it was my absolute favorite of the series.

I loved all the Narnia books, but always felt that Dawn Treader was unique.
There was a main quest, but they got into all these fun little side adventures-- sea serpents, dragons, slave markets, a magical lake that turned anything that touched it into gold. I think my love of Dawn Treader represented what would later turn into my love of Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek: Voyager. There's something about the voyage into the unknown, encountering weird isolated alien worlds, that has always captured my imagination. What's not to love?

Of course, I didn't go into the movie version of Dawn Treader with high hopes. The adaptation of Prince Caspian was pretty much an abomination, and it seemed at that point like the Narnia movie series was losing steam. Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe was pretty good, but the Narnia books never really lent themselves to being a clear-cut "series"--a more-kid-friendly Lord of the Rings, or whatever Disney was hoping for. In the Narnia books, the only frequent main character was Narnia itself (and Aslan, I suppose.) It's hard for a movie audience to connect with a series if the actual people involved in the story keep changing.

Dawn Treader follows the two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy and Edmund. They are staying with their aunt and uncle when they, along with their insufferable cousin Eustace, get whisked away to Narnia, on a ship called the Dawn Treader. The Dawn Treader is commanded by Prince Caspian (now King Caspian), who is searching for seven lost Lords of Narnia who had been banished by his uncle, the former king.

Eustace is now the outsider to Narnia, and his character is by far the most interesting in the movie. He is a spoiled brat used to getting his way, and complains nonstop. Will Poulter does such an excellent job playing Eustace that in the first half of the movie I wondered how such an annoying kid could ever manage the transformation his character undergoes in the book.

Unfortunately, the pacing of the movie leaves much to be desired. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is more of a sort of "leisurely paced" quest (as opposed to the "fast paced" quest of Lord of the Rings), and the story would have been much better served in a format such as a BBC miniseries than a movie. As a movie, it kept feeling too rushed, then too slow, then too rushed again.

Most of the characters in Dawn Treader are very well done. I'm ambivalent about talking animals in movies (works fine in books, but can come off as kind of silly in movies i.e., The Golden Compass), but the noble mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) is actually pretty likable, and his growing friendship with Eustace (a nice "pessimist learns some things from an optimist" character study) is believable and charming. Georgie Henley as Lucy does a wonderful job, and really seems like someone you'd like to hang out with, and Skandar Keynes (Edmund), although not the greatest actor, does display a sort of adolescent male charisma. Ben Barnes' Caspian leaves a lot to be desired, but he serves more as a prop than anything else.

For fans of the books, Dawn Treader is certainly worth seeing, and does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of Narnia. 20th Century Fox took over the series on this picture, and I will be interested to see if they can keep it going on The Magician's Nephew, which they say will be the next movie in the series.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011