Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kvetch Up

1. Saw 'Misfits' on Channel 4 OD. When TV is good, it's good plus you can watch it in a sedentary position surrounded by lots of food.  The programme revolves around a bunch of mismatched youths made to do community service for relatively minor misdemeanours, who somehow develop superhero powers in a freak storm. In each episode, it becomes more clear that the whole fictitious town has been affected. 'Misfits' is basically a post-watershed urban 'Eerie Indiana' with ASBOs and a super-cool soundtrack. 

The writing is mostly impeccable - all the characters have superpowers that somehow compensate for their weaknesses. For example, Simon the requisite geek has the power of invisibility. Curtis develops the power to see in the future as if to compensate for his lack of foresight in screwing up his running career. Most brilliantly, the obnoxious mouthy lead character Nathan is the only one who seems to have not gained a superpower, much to his annoyance.

The series' excellent mix of film pastiche, uncritical depiction of teenage life (drugs, etc), and adventurous storylines (in the context of tv) make it seem really modern...the only thing that makes all this almost meaningless is the absolute misogyny in the depiction of the female characters. Even the minor female characters are similarly afflicted.

Alisha, a good-time party girl, with a penchant for lewd miming (can't believe this isn't an art form) pre-storm, suddenly develops the power of being raped. Or rather, making men on accidental contact so excited they immediately want to have her. Cue lots of bizarre scenes of her being attacked by men, who aren't exactly assailants in that as soon as she manages to fight them off, they lose all memory of having tried it on. Strangely, her new demure self allows her to have a relationship with Curtis.

The depiction of Kelly the 'chav' character is far more interesting, in that she develops the power of mind-reading, which can at least be utilised in a regular super-hero type way. However, her realisation means that she is soon aware of herself as an object of simultaneous lust and disgust, and spends much of the first episode contending with the lustful thoughts of the male characters (rather than doing anything cool with her new abilities). Alisha is possibly one of the few superheroes ever to have a disempowering power, though if you include minor female characters in the series...

There is Alopecia woman who can make people's hair fall out (because hers fell out once) and a pensioner woman who is briefly young again mainly for the purposes of shagging the lead character who rejects her in disgust when her power fades in the middle of the act. Hopefully, all of this will be rectified in the second series, though I'm not sure what use Alisha's power would possibly be, as it seems to have served its purpose as a corrective lesson already.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Take Care of Yourself

Sophie Calle

I caught her exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery last week. Felt like I had read the equivalent of a novella by the time I left - so much text, part of the art, but not actually written by her. In fact, got overwhelmed with reading and will return to read/see(?) the remaining project. The main piece downstairs was 'Take Care of Yourself', Calle's attempt to exhaust every last possible drop of meaning in a break-up letter which ends with the project title. In order to do this, she instructs 107 professional women - among them, a Latinist, a judge, a criminologist - to interpret the letter in line with their professional knowledge. On a superficial level, reminded me of some great chorus of women going 'He's a bastard!' but on the other hand the more removed the letter became from the original, the less emotional power it seemed to have. I guess the different interpretations are the 'objects' in the exhibition, literally in the form of letters to Calle - a multiplication of the letter dispells its uniqueness and its power to injure? Also, perhaps the emotional labour of interpreting such letters is counterbalanced by the actual 'labour' that the women do in their respective professions every day? So it kind of reverses the gender power-relations inherent in the original break-up letter, where the man professes he can't have a sexual relationship with Calle without turning her into one of 'the others', the fourth girlfriend.

Calle seems to have a talismanic relationship to objects in her work - in one of her works (not exhibited) she exhibited display cabinets of birthday gifts given to her by guests at her annual birthday party, where she invites as many guests as her age - with an additional stranger, to mark the unknown year ahead. Most of the projects shown centre on an object and how people use those objects to understand other people- a found diary, the break-up letter, and a bed.

Anyway, I really liked the work, even though I don't really know where I would place Sophie Calle in what little I know about art. She reminded me of Miranda July but darker for her obsessive nature.

2. Jennifer's Body

Can't decide whether this was good or bad, but Diablo Cody really needs to learn something about feminism if she thinks this is a "feminist" film. The message seemed to be if you have sex and accidentally get mistaken for a potential sacrificial virgin, you will invoke the powers of hell and turn into a vampire. Therefore, don't do the sex. If you do the sex, make sure it is with your boyfriend that you're going 'steady' with, though if you watch this film, ignore the visual link between sex, and instant death. Otherwise, it was entertaining, at least for its comment on the weird friendship between the two female central characters, which didn't really get explored, apart from providing - unexpectedly - some of the solution for the film's end.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cryin' Air? Queasyjet? Essay-what?

I really wouldn't mind going onto do research about tourism in the context of globalisation after I finish studying for this degree. It's always been really interesting, what the value of travelling is for the average person (from the Grand Tour to the gap year, that hasn't changed), and what places have traditionally attracted particular groups of people, and how some places thrive on attracting transients, and how 'locals', indigenous populations experience tourism. This post reminded me about Paris Syndrome, which has afflicted over 6 million people. I can't quite believe it,  even though it's been documented by actual serious academics, mostly because it sounds like the most postmodern illness ever: "This place doesn't look anything like on the internet, or in the guidebooks, or in films! Where's Amelie? It's failed my expectations by being nothing like I imagined it to be purely on the basis of representations of it in the media!"

The other cultural things are interesting, about the  'shocking' difference in body language, and formality, but then it seems a bit suspect that tourists would have no expectations of how people would behave in another country in a different continent (though confusingly they have failed expectations of how the place should look!) Hmmm. Sounds like a counter-intuitive Paris tourist board campaign: 'Paris is not really ossified and boring! It's so gritty you'll turn mental!'

Anyway, I'm guessing most people take their mental disorders with them on holiday, especially those who like a bit o' grief tourism (known variously as Thanatourism, after the Greek personificaton of death, or just dark tourism). This site got updated recently-ish, with this entry about the Drancy detention center set up by Vichy government. According to this entry, very little remains of the building that housed 4,000 Jews, only four miles from the Paris city centre. I found reading the description pretty horrific, though I don't think wanting to see this kind of thing, the remaining buildings  is that weird. Last time, I was in Paris I went to see the Catacombs, and Pere Lachaise (like all the kids). The other things on the site are far weirder, not sure whether I would really want to see monks' corpses ripped apart by vultures or the festering debris of Hurricane Katrina (though that was a tourist place, so to not visit it out of a sense of propriety is almost like wiping it off the map, surely).

The experiences of death tell you as much about a place as do big anniversaries, and it seems weird that the experience of travelling should be circumscribed by mostly 'happy' emotions. The permanent exhibition in Berlin's Jewish Museum still makes me feel pretty ill, which is the intention. There are hundreds of cast iron faces, resembling giant locks almost, covering the floor of a room that is slanted so it gets narrower and narrower with a single very thin shaft of light coming through a single skylight at the end of it. When you walk across the faces, as you are encouraged to do, it makes a horrendous clanking noise, which is unbearable. I didn't want to see Auschwitz and felt much safer in the clean educational confines of the museum, but it doesn't seem pathological that people would be interested in other actual sites of death that are less culturally prominent but still significant given that people died on them. Maybe it's a substitute for exploration travel, which only a few ever did anyway. Get your own survival tale, survival in the Trisha sense, by vicariously living through someone else's pain.

... I've started writing my first essay for my penultimate course. It's so painful, I really feel like my brain is freeze-dried coffee granules, and I'm painstakingly shaking and pouring the last bits almost congealed at the bottom of the jar, knowing full well that I will have a properly depressing cup of something that looks like dirty water at the end of it. Errrm.  This isn't because it's especially difficult or anything, it's mostly because sociology essays are incredibly boring. I wish I was studying poetry, identifying zeugmas, and meters, and well, nice things like that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I just read Nick Griffin will appear on the Question Time on October 22. Given the recent interview on Radio 1 with 'two party supporters' (one of them only being the BNP's publicity director Mark Collett), I wonder if the BBC has instituted guidelines unique to interviewing the BNP. For example, not questioning anything representatives of the party say, not even factual corrections (the interviewer failed to say Ashley Cole's from London. Maybe she didn't know, but it was enough of a likelihood he was born here, making their argument of race/nationality dubious). I really hate the stance of 'give them enough rope to hang themselves'.

In accepting that the BNP have representation in European parliament, and allowing them a platform, the media (or just the BBC) paradoxically refuse to acknowledge the BNP were controversial in the first place. It doesn't treat them like any other mainstream party in probing their policies, despite trying to signal that all parties that have won seats fair and square are entitled to screen-time, even a relative minnow like the BNP. Okay, it was only a Radio 1 interview, but there was no 'what do you mean' even when Collett and his friend were making typically stupid surrealist racist arguments about 'endangered species' and 'sparrows' and 'crows'. Ick. Maybe if the programme had revealed who were interviewing, they wouldn't justifiably have been able to pretend that Collett is someone whose views could or should ever be taken seriously ('AIDS is a friendly disease because it affects blacks, gays and drug users'). Also, the three main parties wouldn't have had their publicity director interviewed anonymously, as a 'party supporter'!

There seem to be periodic flare-ups on the issue of race, where people seem to get into some kind of collective flurry, and it just comes around over and over. There are also the periodic apologies from one-time racist tv stars, which always seem half-hearted and the best way of wringing out more celebrity juice for viewers. And then people go to either extreme of 'it's only entertainment!', as though racism was just a case of getting the timing right, or 'get the person sacked', as though it's not possible to be ignorant. It's really tedious.

I really liked the Guardian article that I can't find now written by a woman who questioned the attitudes of men around her - she showed how dealing with injustices isn't just about the bigger life situations, but about everyday interaction, and tackling the unspoken assumptions underlying power dynamics in male-female relationships. And there are such assumptions, which are harder to shift because how do you not cause communication to break down all together? I sometimes think this about 'race', not on a macro-scale, but on the scale of everyday interactions with people.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sullivan's Travels

Miz Zeffie: He seems very strong. Did you notice his torso?
Ursula: I noticed that you noticed it.
Miz Zeffie: Don't be vindictive, dear. Some people are just naturally more sensitive to some things in life than some people. Some are blind to beauty, while others... Even as a little girl you were more the acid type, dear, while I, if you remember...
Ursula: I remember better than you do.
Miz Zeffie: Well forget it. And furthermore I have never done anything that I was ashamed of, Ursula.
Ursula: Neither have I.
Miz Zeffie: Yes, dear, but nobody ever asked you to.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Some vaguely feminist ramblings AND Olay say (Don't) Love the Skin You're In

1. The current craft obsession. Recently, I've thought about attempting dress-making. Though anything I make will probably resemble an Oxfam reject, it seems a sensible economic measure given that I like dresses and the dresses I like are pretty basic. Aside from that, my most crafty interest in baking. I've had a passing thing for cross-stitch (album covers, never gonna happen) and a more than passing thing with fanzines.

Given my interests, I've noticed the huge number of craft events kicking about. Frankly, they look terrifying. I was recently disturbed by seeing some pictures of a craft evening sent to me where fully-grown adult women were sitting around stitching sock monkeys. It reminded me of the art events organised by the Crisis shelter I worked at last Christmas - except these were on the whole (I imagine) non-traumatised adults who set up/took part in the sock monkey evening.

Perhaps I am inordinately angry, and as someone who quite often relaxes with a game of Zombie Hooker Nightmare, I have no right to question the feminist credentials of craft and sock monkeys. But I will anyway. The whole craft movement, especially when it is couched in feminist rhetoric seems to be another way of placing more pressure on women to be A CERTAIN WAY. However, the things we are expected to be good at now aren't particularly important in the course of life. Will baking a cake really improve my earning abilities? Will stitching a piece of aida fabric with 'FUCK YOU' help me understand global warming? I wanted to join the Shoreditch Sisters WI, but only one of the several meetings they emailed me about involved actually discussing feminist concerns. I'd honestly rather get the chance to discuss and learn about current issues than faff around for an hour making a piece of jewellery which I wouldn't even pay for if someone else made it.

Okay, I know that feminists have been reclaiming embroidery, knitting etc for several years and it's been a trope used by female poets (Don't put up my Thread and Needle --I'll begin to Sew--When the Birds begin to whistle --Better Stitches -- so --....) but I think NOW, in 2009, it seems slightly regressive to celebrate it for its feminist credentials.

2. Body image in India


Reading a lot about the latest goings-on in Bollywood, I feel fully qualified to make very broad and uninformed statements on the relationship between Western images of beauty and the body images of young women in India. I 'wrote' something about Katrina Kaif promoting a skin-whitening range of Olay products called White Radiance (that's exactly what I wrote, no more, no less, such a creative job). The Indian newspaper article that I sourced the story from was completely uncritical of Kaif. For some reason, though it shouldn't make a difference, I find it slightly appalling that Kaif grew up in England and is publicising these products abroad, when she would absolutely refuse to be associated with them over here.

I don't know what the campaign will be like, but I found this Pond's White Beauty advert from last year. It centres on how Priyanka Chopra (hot news in Bollywood) decides to change her skin colour to get the attentions of a fairly averagely brown dude played by Saif Ali Khan. Though skin whitening products are bought by a fair percentage of men in India, the onus here is on the 'darker' woman to change. Beauty, skin colour, attractiveness, and relationship prospects are pretty inextricably linked. Having a quick look on the internet has led me to sites like this and this. What they seem to have in common is a real emphasis on how SAFE their products are, as though making it possible to rationalise using something to change your very skin colour. Some might argue, why not? How different is it from experimenting with other looks? But when there's such a clear cultural preference for paler skin, and far more positive connotations of 'pale/wheatish' etc, then I'm not sure that it can be an issue of neutral personal choice.

From my personal experience, I know skin tone is fairly important to some South Asian people. On the Shaadi dot com marriage website, they give you several options with which to describe skin ('wheatish', 'fair', blah blah). I have an aunt that didn't get married for several years ostensibly because she was dark-skinned (though she was a complete weirdo as well).

I don't really know where this cultural hangover comes from - initially I assumed it was a throwback to attitudes that also existed over here during Victorian times. Dark skin was associated with manual outdoors labour. Pale skin was a sign of refinement, and being at leisure. I guess that these reasons could still persist in countries where inequalities are far more marked and fateful than over here in England. An article in the Independent last year (on which I saw the video last year) quoted an Indian professor who believes the obsession with lighter skin stems from a history of colonisation, which entrenched the idea that Aryan people are superior to the indigenous Dravidian people.

The weirdest thing about this video is that Chopra is considered 'dusky' when she's actually probably lighter than average. Such fine gradations in skin tone. I also see that Pond's is a Unilever product (Some comment, Youtube, 2008) - puts a different slant on the Dove compaign for 'real women' then.

2a. The size zero range by Kareena Kapoor

Okay, she's a massive twat, so I'm not sure this is even worth ranting about. But apparently, she's launching a range of clothing based on how popular she and her size zero measurements are with young Indian women. Given that only she and one designer are quoted in the article, it's probably not indicative of en masse eating disorders. It's just the lack of criticism in the source article that bothered me, and the unquestioned belief that there can be an ideal body type (in this instance, skinny, no tits even though the person who suggests this is also paradoxically aware that body shapes go out of fashion too - from the original article: 'Sridevi was famed for her thunder thighs').

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

I know this is meant to be a comic novel, but I felt rather sad reading it. The Brodie set are effectively an implicated chorus, and we're removed from Miss Brodie. Spark has a very mocking tone and it's not clear how we are supposed to feel towards Brodie, aside from a certain suspicion about her motivation for keeping the set of young girls in thrall to her rather strange beliefs. It was written in 1961, and seems to capture a kind of cusp of female experience, in that the Brodie set - most of them - will go on to have the kinds of choices that aren't open to their mentor herself. It's set pre-war, but the novel has a loop-like structure - Spark freely uses prolepsis to embody stylistically her theme of fatefulness. Yet, Miss Brodie's plans for the girls never come to fruition. They reject her, and she is finally betrayed by the 'best' of her set for her 'teaching' of fascism - though it is more obviously Miss Brodie's Calvinist-like approach to life that cause her rejection.

Though the religious interpretation is hard to avoid, I don't particularly like it. I think this is why I don't enjoy later T.S.Eliot and have avoided a few Graham Greene novels...But anyway, the writing is wonderful - despite the constant flash-forwards, there's this growing sense of tension as to Brodie's intentions, and the girls' own attitudes towards her. I love her use of personification( 'reflective smoke')- and the lurching forwards, where paragraphs, alternately about the past or future, will be connected by an image or a phrase. The dialogue and the characterisations are so economic, yet revealing.

James Woods on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: "Her brilliantly reduced style, of "never apologise, never explain", seems a deliberate provocation: we feel compelled to turn the mere crescents of her characters into round discs.

"But while some of her refusal to wax explanatory or sentimental may have been temperamental, it was also moral. Spark was intensely interested in how much we can know about anyone and in how much a novelist, who most pretends to such knowledge, can know about her characters."