A question about Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback apologists…

Posted in Editorials on December 9th, 2014
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There’s a line of rationalization I’ve been hearing from (white) people in the wake of police killing of 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio this past November 22. Tamir was playing with a toy gun in a public park. Police, responding to complaints of a juvenile with a gun that was “probably fake” arrived and shot him dead in seconds.

What did he expect? He was playing with a gun in a park! He was waving around a gun! The orange tip was off!

I wonder how many of these same people will sit down on the 25th an watch “A Christmas Story” and root for Ralphie, a nine year old white boy to get a gun for Christmas and then go outside and play with it, even fire it Christmas morning. How many of them will spend money on or already own merchandise from the film? How many will go to see the touring production of “A Christmas Story: The Musical”?

And how many of them will see no contradiction?

Skyfall Fail: Why the “Step One – Be Attractive” Meme is Wrong

Posted in Editorials on November 27th, 2012
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This post contains spoilers!

Skyfall was mostly enjoyable, but there was a scene that left me feeling very uneasy.

Bond meets Sévérine in a swank casino and tells her that “it takes a certain type of woman to wear a backless dress with a Beretta 70 strapped to her thigh.” Through their conversation it is revealed that she was kidnapped into the sex trade as a young girl. Bond promises to help her escape if she will lead him to her boss. She tells him to meet her on her boat. The appointed time arrives and he is not there.

Sévérine appears to be taking a shower of angst when he steps into the shower, naked. He tells her “I like you better without your Beretta.” “I feel naked without it,” she replies.

The scene was disturbingly creepy on several levels. Forbes (to my suprise) and The Vagenda point out how the power dynamic here makes it questionable as to whether or not Sévérine could consent. This is important, but not the first thing I thought of.

Even if we grant that Sévérine wanted to have sex with Bond, why would someone supposedly as skilled at getting laid as he supposedly is SNEAK UP ON A RAPE VICTIM IN THE SHOWER?!. He couldn’t have waited for her in her room, in his infinitely flattering swim trunks? Or left her a note that she could meet him up on deck for a nightcap in the moonlight?

Could he have refrained from commenting on and eroticizing that she was now disarmed and could not escape?

There was an SNL skit once where it is explained that a man can avoid being accused of sexual harassment by

Be Handsome..

Be Attractive..

and Don’t Be Unattractive.

Dudes on the internet are especially fond of this and have narrowed it down into a constant drumbeat of “Step One – Be Attractive, Step Two – Don’t Be Unattractive” whenever a woman complains about a man’s creepy or boundary crossing behavior.

But the feminist critique of Bond’s behavior in Skyfall is evident as to why this is really poor reasoning. No one is denying the hunkiness of Daniel Craig. It’s just incredibly unsettling that the movie portrays sneaking up on sexual assault victims in the shower as the height of romance, or at all acceptable with anyone you don’t already know very well.

I’m not totally sold on the argument that Sévérine wasn’t capable of consenting at all. And as last nights on Earth go, she didn’t appear to have a bad one. But creepiness isn’t sexy, and Sévérine’s apparent consent isn’t a pass for Bond or the movie’s creators. James Bond – symbol of sexual prowess – should probably know better. Master of seduction doesn’t mean master of the implication.

My Blue Heaven

Posted in Editorials on June 27th, 2012
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Nora Ephron has died. She is best known for writing When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. While I love WHMS, My Blue Heaven has always been a favorite of mine.

Steve Martin chews the scenery as Vinny, New York mobster taken to a suburb of San Diego as a part of the Witness Protection Program. Rick Moranis plays Barney, the FBI agent trying to keep him out of trouble, and Joan Cusack is Hannah, the small town District Attorney fed up with Vinny’s criminal mischief.

It’s overly silly at times, with a sanitized and cartoonish view of organized crime, but the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously so that’s okay.

What keeps this movie on my DVD shelf is the character of Hannah Stubbs. She’s a geek, and a socially awkward one at that. Overzealous but vulnerable, it might seem like she falls into the “women are killjoys” trope, but she has reasons for acting the way she does. Hannah doesn’t always make the best decisions, but she gets a in few good jokes and her actions definitely impact the plot. My favorite part of the movie is when a policewoman mentions that Vinny makes the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Hannah bristles that this has never happened to her before. Barney makes his entrance, waves his badge around, and Hannah pauses and touches her neck quizzically before calling him out for stepping on her turf.

Their courtship is sweet, and it’s nice to see a geek girl get the guy. At the end of the film there’s a moment where Barney lies to her, and she believes him. I’ve never been sure what to make of it. She isn’t stupid, but she wants to be rid of Vinny and the problems he’s made for her relationship with Barney. So my interpretation is that this is a conscious choice. She’d rather be happy with her guy than miserable fighting a criminal she’s realized she will never have the resources to catch. And Barney actually took a much bigger risk in lying than Hannah did in choosing to believe him. Hannah has everything to gain, but Barney could have lost his career and his relationship, while she retains plausible deniability.

My Blue Heaven is cheesy as hell, but worth checking out if you haven’t seen before. The characters are fun and will make you smile.

Movie Review: The Purity Myth

Posted in Editorials on June 12th, 2012
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When I was at Netroots Nation, I had the chance to attend a screening of the documentary “The Purity Myth” featuring Jessica Valenti. I had read the book it is based on, which is in my opinion her best work so far, so I was excited to see the film.

The movie is short, about 45 minutes, and features Valenti explaining her thesis – that The Purity Myth is our cultural myth that a woman’s worth is based on her sexual behavior and not on her character or accomplishments – interspersed with short clips giving examples from popular culture, politicians, religious leaders and educators. The film draws heavily from the BBC Documentary, “The Virgin Daughters” about the Purity Ball movement in America.

What I liked about this documentary is that it is more open about the link between the moral panic around young women’s sexuality and religion than other panels I had attended. I was suprised that some of the people in the audience laughed while watching John Hagee rant about the “blood covenant” between a man and his virgin wife. It’s absurd, but I felt outrage, and sadness for the millions of women who approach their weddings in a state of panic instead of joy because they could potentially suffer harsh consequences if their vaginas do not bleed on their wedding night. Even in the United States, this is still a point of pride for some men.

The movie also featured a short vignette of adult women in wedding dresses, which were fairly revealing. Someone in the audience asked if they were supposed to be that sexy, and Jessica Valenti said that she was puzzled by them also and did not choose that clip. I think the film maker made a good choice here. This shows the paradox of the “sexy virgin.” Valenti explains in her book and during the film that by spending so much time and energy focusing on the virginity of young girls, we are in reality sexualizing them. I thought of the mania surrounding American weddings and that there are entire television shows about not only wedding planning in general, but just about wedding dresses specifically. The pressures put on brides to look beautiful but not too sexy are intense, and reminded me of this paradox.

The Purity Myth is a powerful idea against an oppressive cultural narrative. Valenti makes the case against it and in doing so, also against similar myths – that women are only good for sex, or for having babies. I think this film is an excellent tool for generating discussion, and for an insight into how sexist cultural messages are harming young women.

I Speak For The Lorax

Posted in Editorials, Pictures on February 29th, 2012
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During this year’s Superbowl, I had my first look at the trailer for “The Lorax” a new animated film adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic. I was not amused. Adam reminded me that this version didn’t stick to the story of the original book – I was tipped off by a stupid joke about a “mannish” looking woman.

A few days later I was browsing in a store and saw a box of Lorax Valentine’s Day Cards for children. How could a movie about saving trees have a marketing tie-in with a paper product?! I looked closely and did see that the Valentine’s were printed on recycled paper, but they were being marketed more as an advertisement for the movie than as a green alternative to other Valentines.

On Thursday night, Kate Sheppard from Mother Jones tweeted a link to her article about the movie’s tie-in with a new Mazda SUV. No, it’s not a hybrid or a plugin.

I was able to push the whole mess out my head, until Saturday afternoon. I was clipping coupons and saw…


…this atrocity

“The Lorax’s Breakfast With Green Eggs & Ham, Truffula Chip Pancakes”

I just felt so overwhelmingly frustrated at the bitter irony of it all. The Lorax was a very important story in my childhood, and to see it undermined in this fashion is heartbreaking. It’s not just the blatant commercialization. I dig Star Trek and Star Wars and Archie Comics and Harry Potter – fandoms with endless merchandising, that I know is not always the best thing for the environment. But SUV’s and pork are two incredibly destructive products with regards to human health, climate change and biodiversity.

According to the EPA, after electricity production at #1, Transportation is the #2 source of Carbon Dioxide emissions – the greenhouse gas most abundant in the atmosphere that is contributing to climate change. This is why advertising an SUV – one of the most inefficient forms of transportation – in conjunction with a movie that is based on a book about preserving the Earth’s ability to sustain life is so distasteful.

But what about the green eggs and ham? Can’t a kid have a nice brunch with family? According to The Sierra Club, those eggs aren’t so bad – at only 4.8 pounds of CO2 emissions per kilogram of food, they are a reasonable indulgence. But pork produces much more CO2 – 12.1 pounds per kilogram of meat. And that’s not all. In the United States, most pigs raised for pork live in CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The EPA defines a CAFO as an animal feeding operation that:
(a) confines animals for more than 45 days during a growing season, (b) in an area that does not produce vegetation
(c) meets certain size thresholds

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? It’s like a chicken coop! But for pigs. Not quite. The thing about raising pigs – for those of you who never think about where your bacon comes from – is they create an incredible amount of manure8 pounds or more per hog, per day. And all of that fecal matter has to go somewhere. Most farmers or factory farms are responsible, I’m sure. Generally, pig manure is stored in lagoons to decompose. Yes, lagoons. And sometimes, accidents happen. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

In Oklahoma, nitrates from Seaboard Farms’ hog operations contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents.

Large hog farms emit hydrogen sulfide, a gas that most often causes flu-like symptoms in humans, but at high concentrations can lead to brain damage. In 1998, the National Institute of Health reported that 19 people died as a result of hydrogen sulfide emissions from manure pits.

Huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, are prone to leaks and spills. In 1995 an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst, spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River. The spill killed about 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.

When Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina in 1999, at least five manure lagoons burst and approximately 47 lagoons were completely flooded.

Runoff of chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, killing millions of fish and causing skin irritation, short-term memory loss and other cognitive problems in local people.

That’s why I was seeing red when I looked at that IHOP advertisment. I was thinking of all the lakes of pig feces in our great nation that are making people sick. And the flesh of the pigs who produced it was being marketed to me as a delicious family breakfast. By The Lorax.

I’m not even going to write anything about the diaper tie-in.

I want to be clear, I’m not a saint. I eat meat a few times a week – mostly poultry and the occasional grass fed beef if I can find it. (Writing this post might have been the motivation for me to give up my weekly BLT once and for all). I try not to be wasteful, and to research the environmental impact of products I buy before purchasing – but I’m sure I mess up on occasion. That’s not the point. My achievements or failings as an environmentalist are not being portrayed to market a children’s movie based on a book about saving endangered species and taking care of trees.

The marketing team for The Lorax did choose some partners that make sense. Stonyfield organic yogurt, Ecotourism in Costa Rica, and the EPA Energy Star Program are all much more appropriate sponsors – because even though they are consumer products, they are ones produced ethically and have a smaller environmental impact than SUV’s, diapers, and ham. The movie’s producers did not stop there, however. It’s almost as if they watched Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold as if it was an instructional film about movie marketing. I can’t pretend to know how these decisions were made – but I would wager it would have something to do with taking for granted that most people are stupid and uncritical of their media.

I speak for The Lorax, and this is an unconscionable exploitation of the story told in Dr. Seuss’ book. Whether or not you see this movie, think about where your money goes, where the products you buy come from, and about what assumptions are made by those trying to sell you something.

Orgasm, Inc.

Posted in Editorials on October 4th, 2011
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Although I missed it in theaters, I was able to watch Orgasm, Inc. on DVD this weekend. It’s a documentary about the quest to find a drug that can increase sexual function in women, a “female Viagra.” What I learned was compelling.

As you might have guessed, the quest for a “female Viagra” began immediately after the original hit the shelves, drug companies were heady with success and had dollar signs in their eyes. The filmmaker, Liz Canner, follows one company racing to be the first to stake a claim and win FDA approval and also the New View Campaign, a group of activists led by several feminist academics who claim that drugs are not the answer to Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD).

For a drug to be approved by the FDA, it must treat a specific medical condition. New View claims that FSD was made up by the drug companies who are looking to sell more drugs to women. I have always been skeptical of the claim that 40% of women are sexually dysfunctional. It sounds like whatever traits these women have in common would be within the range of normal human sexuality, which varies wildly. However, I was curious, perhaps it was like nearsightedness or flat feet – an incredibly common ailment but one that was also harmful and could be easily treated.

The opposite point of view argues that if women are having trouble with sex, the culprit may be that women’s expectations of sex are much too high or that they are simply uneducated. One of the women in the movie who claimed to have FSD was capable of orgasm, but could not do so during intercourse! I was aghast. Most women cannot orgasm during intercourse. Research indicates that the ability to orgasm during intercourse might be related to a physical characteristic – the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening – not a medical problem.

Dr. Leonore Tiefer from New View repeatedly states that an orgasm does not come from a bottle. She talks about how sexual desire is something created by the people having sex. It seemed like a call to women who prefer to view sex as something that “just happens.” In a culture that views women as sexually passive and objects to be acted upon, this is a challenge. It is a radical shift to see oneself not only as a person who is sexually desired by others but as a person who has sexual desires and can act to pursue them.

Orgasm Inc. explores other topics related products and services related to women’ sexuality, pornography and sex toys, labiaplasty and even media personalities who have made a name for themselves advising women about sex. A storyline about a sex educator who crashes an FSD conference, and a suspenseful FDA hearing create the climax (!!) of the film. This documentary  updated my sex education – there were several stories I had heard about briefly in the news, like the orgasmatron – a spinal implant that can dispense bliss with the push of a button that I had never followed up with.

In our increasingly sex negative culture, it was refreshing to spend some time thinking about efforts being made to improve the sexual happiness of women – even if many of the people doing it have agendas that are entirely profit motivated. In exposing the marketing blitz of Female Sexual Dysfunction, Orgasm Inc. encourages us to think critically about our sexuality – something that can be a little bit scary, but can lead to great beauty and joy.

Political Flavors Presents: The Greatest Movie Review Ever Posted On A Blog

Posted in Editorials on September 27th, 2011
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Adam and I finally got around to watching the latest from Morgan Spurlock, “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” a deliciously clever documentary about product placement – paid for by product placement.

The Greatest Movie draws attention to the ubiquity of advertising in entertainment, and while it is short on what consumers can do about this annoyance, it gives exclusive insight into the marketing strategies that place these advertisements. We see Spurlock speak with many companies about potentially buying into the film, and the reasons they accept or reject are telling. Some of the companies are skittish because of Spurlock’s controversial reputation and others simply don’t get what he is trying to accomplish. I found myself rolling my eyes at the folks who just didn’t get it because if I were in their shoes – I would jump at the chance to appear so smart and hip! I’ve never tried many of the products featured in the movie, but I do have a higher opinion of them now. I have no problem with earnestness in general, but it should be balanced with the occasional snark and levity.

Also of interest in the film, interviews with musicians about their decisions whether or not they license their music for commercials. The line between art and advertisement is blurring. I’ve been watching Nip/Tuck on Netflix and definitely was unable to suspend my disbelief when the characters had an argument about who took the last Yoplait.

A school district in Florida that allowed Spurlock to purchase advertisements for the movie inside their buses and sports field. Anyone who played little league knows what it’s like to be sponsored, but schools are taking it a step farther these days. My junior high and high schools had two billboards each outside the locker rooms advertising personal care products to boys and girls, and my university signed a contract with Coca-cola banning the sale of competing products on campus. I’m generally in favor of allowing schools to do what they need to provide the best education possible, but I would feel better about this if media literacy was a larger part of general education requirements. I did have some in my Home Economics class, but one week in the 8th grade is not nearly enough.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold presents is an entertaining and savvy look into the world of advertising and the way corporations are beginning to commandeer every aspect of our media.

Cinematic Titanic September 24, 2011 Best Buy Theater

Posted in Pictures on September 25th, 2011
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From left to right, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Frank Frank Conniff taking a bow before a cheering crowd at the Best Buy Theater. The Cinematic Titanic Live Show “East Meets Watts” was met with a standing ovation from their adoring fans on Saturday night.

Movie Review: If A Tree Falls

Posted in Editorials on July 5th, 2011
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When I was a teenager, I remember reading about the radical actions of “Earth First!” I was both horrified and fascinated at the same time. I wondered who its members were and what they were like. Were they young? Were any of them women? I devoured all of the articles on Salon about them and anything else I could find on the internet of the late 1990′s. This perverse interest was what first made me question the idea of radicalism, a skepticism I haven’t yet abandoned.

It was this adolescent curiosity that made the latest documentary from Marshall Curry absolutely irresistible to me.

I was more than surprised to learn that the infamous “eco-terrorists” were not quite the white-people-with-dreadlocks clique from college who made me feel conspicuous for shopping at the mall and not being vegan. They were instead political activists who worked day jobs at places like Burson-Marstellar, the public relations firm that consulted with the likes of Exxon and Phillip Morris.

The movie follows Daniel McGowan, arrested in 2005 on charges of arson, while he is out on bail awaiting his fate. McGowan became involved in Earth First! after coming to believe that traditional forms of activism were not effective – as they hadn’t prevented the Forest Service from selling old growth forest to loggers. Increasing episodes of police brutality against tree sitters and similar protesters also led many to the conclusion that current tactics were not going to work anymore.

A harrowing moment of the film shows two women during a sit-in having their eyelids forced open by cops and cotton swabs dipped in pepper spray stuck into their eyes. One of the women squealed that violent force should not be used against peaceful protesters. I wondered if her cries haunted the police officers as they will many people who watch this film.

The film centers around two questions. Is what Daniel McGowan and his Earth Liberaton Front cell did terrorism? They did destroy millions of dollars of property, but not a single human being was injured or killed as a result of their actions. The same cannot be said for other radical groups in the United States that they are sometimes compared to, like pro-lifers or the white power movement.

In my opinion, terrorism requires violence, and violence requires harm to a person. I understand arguments about mental or emotional harm, but I am not swayed that this standard is met by ELF’s actions. A law enforcement officer interviewed by the filmmakers said “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” I don’t really think that “freedom fighters” is an apt description either. I see them as deeply misguided vandals, who, while deserving of some punishment in prison, are not terrorists. They are criminals.

The second issue the movie explores, is the idea of the prisoners dilemma. Six members of the cell had been arrested. The ones who would cooperate and agree to testify against the others were told that they would be given immunity. The ones who don’t face life in prison. (Today I Learned: Arson can carry a life sentence.) Each time Daniel insisted that he could not turn against his former colleagues, I wondered cynically, “Why is he trusting arsonists with his life?” Especially when, according to him, the group broke up because of an argument over whether or not to begin assassinating people.

“If A Tree Falls” illustrates the failure of radical environmentalists who used destructive and criminal means to draw attention to their cause. At the same time peaceful activists had won gains, forcing corporations like McDonald’s to stop using styrofoam, for example. In New York State, we have finally passed the bottle bill, which will increase the rates that plastic water bottles get recycled because of grassroots activism and good old fashioned lobbying. Radicals today are more adept at using the media than they once were. The Yes Men do quite a better job of communicating their ideals via creative activism than the ELF ever did in their anonymous press releases.

Do we need a more powerful environmental movement? Yes. But I remain unconvinced that the radicals – especially criminal ones – will give us traction that more legitimate outlets will not.

“If A Tree Falls” is a spell-binding, well researched documentary that I highly recommend. Screening information is available here.

(Wo)men know what (wo)men like

Posted in Editorials on May 17th, 2011
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I heard about an opening night event in NYC for the new movie Bridesmaids sponsored by GLOC (The Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy), so I decided to go with a few of my friends. I had read about the movie a few months ago on Jezebel and was curious to see if it lived up to the hype.

I had very high expectations for this movie, but was not disappointed. It’s about a woman, Annie (Kristen Wiig), who is asked to be the Maid of Honor at her best friends wedding and isn’t quite up to the task. The other bridesmaids have very different personalities and she has a comically messy personal life to boot.

Many times during the movie, the audience was laughing so loudly that I missed portions of the dialogue, and so I will definitley give it at least one more viewing. The story was not just a send up of modern wedding cliches, but also touched on issues of extended adolescence in the current economy and how friendships can grow and change over time. While there was some gross out humor (Salon called it “a triumph for vomit and feminism“) it wasn’t too much for me – and I have very little tolerance for toilet humor and slapstick. There were several surprisingly touching moments as well. One reviewer commented on Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph’s chemistry as best friends and I agree that they seemed very natural together. The interactions of the different personalities and great comic actors contained incredible potential and was not wasted by the filmmakers.

I’ve read criticism’s of Judd Apatow’s work but the only other movies I’ve seen of his was The 40-Year Old Virgin, (He produced Anchorman but didn’t direct it). I think part of what made this movie work so well was Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s script. Much of the dialogue – especially where the women characters were concerned – rang truer than other mainstream comedies. We finally get to see some raunchy humor based on a woman’s sexual experiences. It was very silly but quite refreshing!

I am a little wary of people who want the success of this movie to prove that women are funny, because if it had failed, I don’t think it would mean the opposite. However, I welcome with open arms more movies that show women as more than just love interests and with desires more complicated than just getting the guy (or getting the dream job). I like Bridesmaids because it explored women’s friendships, something that is too often mocked and derided – women are catty bitches to each other, dontchaknow? And while none of the characters are perfect friends to each other, they all have an honest desire to connect with other women, which I think a lot of us can identify with. This desire isn’t treated as a source of mockery, although sometimes the women’s terrific failures are set up as something to laugh at, we are also meant feel bad with them, when they are lamenting their loneliness. This is key to the way the movie shows women as people. They’re not just backstabbing bitches or airheads simpering about girl power. The characters, while ridiculous comic caricatures, have genuine feelings.

So, go see this movie, it’s a great popcorn flick that won’t make you turn off your brain or your patriarchy blaming skills.