Archive for feminista
I’d never seen an earlier installment in the Mad Max franchise when I went to see Fury Road at Grauman’s Chinese IMAX Theatre. I felt it was a movie I needed to see because so many people were asking me whether it succeeded in its effort to be a feminist action flick. But what really captured my imagination – and inspired me to watch all three of the previous films – was its singular vision and its relentless originality.
I often judge the sci fi I read by its ability to avoid exposition – to simply immerse me a world that is completely unfamiliar. This is a standard feature of cyberpunk style, which Bruce Sterling recently summarized at a terrific conference I attended at USC called Cyberpunk: Past and Future (videos are available).
Turns out that Sterling’s description fits Mad Max to a T. He argued that cyberpunk style typically entails
- “Oozing stuff out in all directions” – aka, sensory overload
- “Beatnik eyeball kicks” – surprising details that give a sense of a lived world. He also called them “small visual assaults.” An iconic instance in Beyond Thunderdome: a frightening child named Scrooloose cuddles a Bugs Bunny doll.
- Weird mood switches – in Mad Max, the heartbreaking intermingling of the tragic and the comic (e.g., cute little feral children toting giant guns).
- Lack of explanation; not stopping to “coddle the straights.”
Reading a cyberpunk novel should be like entering a foreign country – stumbling into the wasted world of Mad Max surely qualifies. If we manage to get beyond the shock of witnessing the intoxicating collision of life force and death drive that characterizes all Mad Max films, we can start to appreciate the intricate aesthetic policies driving the implementation of George Miller’s bizarre vision.
While film lovers like myself typically complain about Hollywood’s addiction to financially safe franchises, Mad Max should remind us of the deep pleasures of engaging in a long-term relationship with a truly cinematic story. Lots of people like to say that the best storytelling these days is for small screens, and I would heartily agree. But I think Mad Max demonstrates what a big blockbuster movie franchise should be able to offer its fans – we shouldn’t necessarily expect the psychologically nuanced investigations of social mores that get in spades on TV these days. Mad Max doesn’t provide that pleasure, but what it does offer – at approximately 11 on the dial – is a distinctive audio-visual experience, with a mysterious internal logic that feels simultaneously ridiculous and inevitable.
The final credits of Fury Road are a testament to the tremendous craftsmanship necessary to bring this peculiar world alive. I suspected that many of these people would consider themselves hackers and it occurred to me that that might be the engine driving this noisy road-ragey enterprise. As we marvel at the countless clever hacks in all four movies – my primary source of pleasure in this franchise – we also feel the dull dread of a ruined world and the insidious power structures that have emerged from it. We see the re-inscription of tyranny at every turn and I’m reminded of another one of Bruce Sterling’s insights: “The problem with the hack is that it doesn’t seize the means of production.” By the end of Fury Road, we see Imperator Furiosa (a steely Charlize Theron) grasping the means of production after initially running away from it. Is this the feminist heroine we’ve all been waiting for or another tyrant in the making? Guess we gotta wait for Mad Max: Wasteland to find out.
One of the highlights of a recent trip to New York was attending a Mad Men Remix party hosted by Pop Culture Pirate Elisa Kreisinger. I’m a big fan of the show and so it was great fun to watch the season finale from last year with a group of knowledgable viewers, and then to see Kreisinger’s provocative remixes of the show.
Her Internet-ready Mad Men: Set Me Free is a clever remix of the women of Mad Men singing the Motown standard “You Keep Me Hanging On.” Devised to be spreadable on social media sites, I suspect this video – which was co-created with Mark Faletti – will quickly communicate to a broad audience the painful gender issues explored in the show.
And that kind of commentary is pretty desperately needed. I recently attended a screening of Missrepresentation, a thoroughly laudable documentary about problematic representations of women in film and TV. I was dismayed to see clips from Mad Men woven into its visual tapestry of media misogyny. I had believed that most viewers of the show recognized that it was quite critical of 60s sexism, depicting it as an appalling problem and creating sympathy for the women who suffered from it (including our own mothers and grandmothers). But just a few days later I found myself having exactly this conversation with a male friend who felt guilty about loving the show because it was so sexist. He said he felt terrible for the plight of women in the show, but it never occurred to him that his response might be the one the show was hoping to elicit.
All too often, I’m afraid, people equate the representation of something with its endorsement. I often used the TV show Married With Children in my pop culture classes to address exactly this issue: the selfish and reprehensible Al Bundy was not depicted as a role model for viewers – instead we laughed at him for being a bad father, and for bringing into stark relief what a “good” dad ought to do. In many ways, Married With Children was as effective at endorsing ideals about the nuclear family as The Cosby Show was.
Pop culture remixers like Kreisinger have a tricky task on their hands, remapping cultural memes in order to draw attention to things we might not have noticed in the slickly produced pop culture objects that make up our media landscape. It is their task to shake us by the shoulders and say “What if?” Such is the case (in spades) with Kreisinger’s QueerMen: Don Loves Roger remix. Whether you believe that the remix reveals a “subconscious” sub-plot of the show or not, it gives viewers the opportunity to imagine it. This has long been the strength of fan fiction, which has been taken to entirely new and enticing levels due to ever-expanding access to bandwidth and the rise of robust social media platforms.
One troubling side effect of remixes is that the original can seem a bit less itself after viewing them: or, at least, that was my experience watching the much-anticipated season five premiere of Mad Men last night. Where were the subtle psychological insights we’ve come to expect? Maybe we have to wait for a remix to reveal them.
Perhaps my favorite talk at TEDWomen was the one by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I was prepared to give a talk on social media and when I found out she was in the line-up, and basically providing a keynote for the conference, I was worried that my presentation would feel like stale news by the time I hit the stage during the last session of the last day.
I was relieved when it became clear that Sandberg wasn’t going to talk social media at all: instead, she took the harder road – explaining to a group of successful, driven women why women were still underachieving in global politics and business. The video of her talk has caught on like wildfire and now the venerable New Yorker has published a thoughtful profile of her by Ken Auletta that provides some great food for thought about Sandberg and the future of social media. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week was punctuated by a delightfully hilarious new development: yours truly was named one of the 15 hottest female intellectuals by SuperScholars.org, a site that promises much more than just college admission advice:
…SuperScholar isn’t just here to match you with a degree program. We are also here to help you get the most out of your educational experience.
Including, apparently, hot teachers!!
The site overflows with remarkably diverse top 10-style lists including my favorite, 7 Sinister Crypts Hidden Underneath the World’s Greatest Universities. But I can’t for the life of me find the Fifeen Hottest Male Intellecuals . . .
There were several reasons I was happy to be invited to speak at the Fashion140 event last week: first, it was in the brand spanking new Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center (wow!), and second, it gave me an opportunity to talk about two things that I think quite a lot about these days: fashion and social media.
I’ve given a TED talk on each of these topics – one was about the lack of copyright protection in the fashion industry and the reasons that that might be very good for business and for the artistic craft. (The response I received to this argument from working designers at Fashion140 was exclusively positive.) My more recent TED talk, which I gave in December, was about social media and the transformative impact that I believe it will have on traditional media industries and global popular culture, including the representations we see in magazines, TV, film, games, toys … you name it.
At the Norman Lear Center, which is based at the University of Southern California, I’ve been doing a great deal of research on social media and its impact on the television industry, in particular. As I was combing through data, I kept stumbling across articles about women’s dominance of various social media platforms, including Flickr and Facebook, and Twitter, where 57 % of users are women according to the most recent data from Ignite. I wondered if I could find some global stats and lo and behold comScore put together a very nice report in June of last year called Women on the Web: How Women are Shaping the Internet. In it, they demonstrated that women outnumber men on social media in every region around the world, and they spend a LOT more time on these sites than men do: women spend 5.5 hours per month on social media sites compared to 3.9 hours for men.
It didn’t surprise me that women were flocking to social media sites – there’s quite a lot of academic research that explores why it is that women tend to be more social than men. But I must say I was shocked that this trend wasn’t just appearing in rich, first world nations, but in every region around the world, where, I had thought, women’s access to the Internet, and the hardware and software that they need to participate in social media, might be pretty limited.