Archive for the 'Arts/Pop Culture/Misc.' Category

Pop Fashion Robot

So Lady Gaga is my favourite, I don’t care what anybody says. I love how she tries to sum up her whole persona in every video: this one’s weird and creepy and kind of sexy and also pretty funny all at once. She even wears my favourite outfit from the last Alexander McQueen show, with the crazy gold studs everywhere.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (Campbell?)

Mad_men_313_family

Oh, Mad Men! What a happy, satisfying, the-gang’s-all-back-together kind of an episode! I love how Trudy shows up with sandwiches for everyone, and there’s this warm familial sense that we’re all in this together etc etc. It was almost like watching a different show! Except for the part where Don of all people, who apparently has no self-awareness at all, or was just really angry and upset because his life was falling apart, I guess, called Betty a whore.

Is it weird that I feel weird about that? I have been thinking a lot about how people watch Mad Men lately, and I keep coming back to being surprised that a show like Mad Men — slow-moving, full of unlikable characters (the only exception being maybe Joan, and even then she is still kind of a bitch) whose unlikability you’re constantly being confronted with, about social issues and politics — is as popular and beloved as it is. I know people generally like things that are awesome, and if Mad Men is challenging it’s also compelling and funny and emotionally absorbing, but it still consistently surprises me that some people seem to love it despite apparently not having any idea what’s going on. (I.e. I don’t think the producers meant us to read Don molesting Bobbie Barrett as even a little bit of a proud moment, and I still read forum comments like “Woo! Don’s got his mojo back!” after that episode aired. Then I stopped reading forums about Mad Men.)

So, I watched, I laughed, I totally cheered “Joan!” along with everyone else in the room when Roger said “Let me make a call.” It was seriously satisfying to see Don tell Roger how much he meant to him, tell Pete how actually prescient he is, tell Peggy how much he values and understands her talent, to see Harry get the credit he deserves; but at the same time I feel weirdly guilty about it. I’m supposed to get this feeling from, like, Buffy, the show where love saves the world, not Mad Men, the show about how love is just something guys like Don invented to sell stockings. It’s not that I expect Mad Men to be real, even, it’s more like I expect it not to satisfy my cheeseball desires. I expect to be carefully constructed to totally break my heart. I know NY Mag thinks that it “somehow didn’t feel like some ridiculous holodeck of phony caper-ness,” 1 but I still feel kind of wrong about it. The whole gang just working out of this one hotel room, starting everything anew in some kind of Utopian American Dream blank slate thing — it just seems so much like they were trying to throw me a bone. It feels nefarious; it’s the kind of happy capitalist ending that makes me want to go all Frankfurt school on the whole thing.

Why can’t I just let TV make people happy? I am not usually this weird grad school person who is suspicious of entertainment products that give people good feelings!


  1. Also this has been bugging me, the article claims that Joan has “been with fewer men than Peggy, so far as we know.” I think this is false. We know Joan has been with Kinsey, Roger, that random old dude she picked up when she and Carol went out that one night after Carol told Joan to pretend she was a boy, and her husband; in the pilot she also implies that she boned that creepy birth control doctor she sent Peggy to. Based on what we know, Peggy has been with Pete, that college kid she picks up, and Duck. And that could very well be the entire list of men Peggy’s been with. 

Being a cave painting

So we finally caught up on Mad Men in time for the season finale — which we’re supposed to watch with friends tonight, hence the hurry — and I’m so excited because I’ve been badly avoiding plot twist news for weeks now (I basically knew about most of the major developments, but Mad Men isn’t really that kind of show, so it didn’t really miss out on the experience).

I still have a lot to digest before I do a real post about this season, but I’m excited I can finally read all the posts in my feed reader I have been saving up. If you’re not already reading it, I recommend the consistently rewarding Footnotes of Mad Men, both on the Awl and on Tumblr, which is going to be a book I will buy! It does a lot of work making connections and unpacking a lot of the historical context.

Also, Rachel pointed out this Pandagon post on Facebook, and it is probably the best thing I have read about Betty maybe ever:

The conservative reaction to the Draper marriage shows exactly how effective that storyline is in making its point. A lot of liberals, I’ve found, are bored with Betty for another reason entirely. They can’t understand why she doesn’t just pick up and leave already, if she’s so unhappy. We’re on the other side of it—so feminist that it’s hard to wrap our minds around the psychology of someone who isn’t. But conservatives flip the fuck out, get defensive and start scapegoating January Jones, going so far as to argue that her dull affect is evidence that she can’t act, when in fact it’s evidence that the actress is being fearless in her portrayal of someone whose entire personality has been flattened out by boredom. That isn’t easy for an actress, you know. Most actresses have an urge to be sparkling and charming in every role they play, even those that don’t call for it. It’s because Hollywood is run by men, and you can get a lot farther being eye-catching and charming and making men think that they want to be around you. That Jones, who is very beautiful, is willing to be off-putting onscreen is brave. That she spends a lot of time onscreen making you wish she was far away is the fucking point. She’s supposed to make you uncomfortable.

Betty’s always one of the most controversial characters because she’s so unpleasant to be around, and that’s because she is so, so mired in this world that’s almost completely foreign to viewers now. One of the most persistent critiques you read of Mad Men from people who don’t like it (who are pretty few and far between) is that it constantly reminds you you’re in the 1960s and that takes you out of the story. This is pretty obviously the point of the show, and Betty’s Exhibit A in this argument because as much as you feel for her (or not, as the case so frequently seems to be), it is really hard to put yourself in her place or to understand her. It’s frustrating because she’s speaking English and living in a pretty similar world to the one we are now, but she doesn’t really give you any points of common ground. Betty’s the one who makes it the most clear that the past is emotionally incomprehensible; we can see cave paintings and we can read what they represent, but we can’t really ever know what they meant to people.

“I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore” “Then don’t”

I want to talk a bit more about Twilight, and why I feel weird about. Twilight is, no matter how you look at it, a pretty terrible movie that turns vampires into unicorns, but it still, at least for me, captures something pretty real about teen girlhood. Which is probably why it’s so popular with teen girls and the women who used to be them.

When the LRB covers pop-cult stuff, they usually get it really wrong, but Jenny Turner’s piece on Twilight is pretty great:

In accordance with the adage about the rubbishy book making for the better movie, Twilight the film is great. The mise en scène luxuriates in the dinosaur-age greenery of the temperate rainforest, the ugly rainwear from Wal-Mart dampness of school and diner and Main Street, day after day after day. Eighteen-year-old Kristen Stewart, Adjani-pale and massy-haired, somehow makes perfect sense of Bella: she has a particularly fine way of squirming around in her skinny trousers, and perhaps got her chin-out speaking style from Jodie Foster, with whom she co-starred a few years ago as the diabetic daughter in Panic Room. And all the girls are squealing at Robert Pattinson – the noble Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films – as Edward: hair quiffed, face powder a shade or two too light, modelled, I thought, on Prince William on a night out at Boujis, laughing fondly down at Kate Middleton when she can’t help herself being middle-class. There’s a little bit of martial-arts-type leaping, some tiny vampire flashbacks done, wittily, like Nosferatu, but that apart, the film is gloriously lucid, without flicker or gloss or shadow. I went to a West End matinée on a Saturday, with girls on their eighth and eleventh viewings, and a few women closer to my age with bags from Debenhams and Primark. It was the first time I’d been to the cinema for ages and I bounced out full of beans.

Then afterwards I found myself feeling wretched, in a way I really haven’t for years and years and years. Why can’t I be freed of the need for food and sleep, why can’t I squirm exquisitely in skinny trousers, why can’t I be for ever beautiful and young? Awful memories were dislodged, of being young and full of longing – a really horrible feeling, a sickening excess of emotion with nowhere, quite, to put it. ‘I wish I could be a vampire,’ I actually said out loud at one point, though once I’d said it, I knew even that didn’t get to the heart of the problem. But the internet is great for discharging all this discontent and discomfort. I watched trailers and out-takes, I browsed on Twilight Moms, I read the interview with ‘Stephenie’ in the latest issue of American Vogue – she is ‘obsessed with the Greek salad’ in her local deli. I read somewhere some interviews with Kristen Stewart, who finds the Twilight craze ‘psychotic’.

For me, it went deeper than longing; watching Bella figure out to deal with her relatinoship with Edward, the vampire who’s constantly trying to “control” himself around her — I related to that, related to it like crazy. Now, watching it I may have been thinking about how the author is Mormon and that her Mormonism influenced the story in a lot of ways, but I feel like it most likely would have been potent for me anyway, in part because when I was Bella’s age, I dated a Mormon dude. I want to be careful writing about this because it was a private relationship that we had a long time ago — but suffice it to say that chastity was a big concern for him. This was okay with me, because I wasn’t really to go any further than we did, and I really cared for him a lot and wouldn’t really want him to do something he was ashamed of. But at the same time, I was a teen girl with hormones and feelings, and obviously I…wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, my high school boyfriend was nothing like Edward — he didn’t watch me sleep, and he was fun and interesting to be around.

Twilight is basically about that feeling — about wanting something you feel you shouldn’t want, about wanting someone to give into desires they really don’t want to, about how when you fall in love at 18 it basically seems like the most important thing in the world — and it does it really well. When Edward tells Bella how “dangerous” he is (main danger skill: overacting), she still pushes toward him. “I’m not afraid of you,” she says, kind of hoping he’ll “lose control” but mostly knowing he won’t.

When he appears (totally creepily) in her bedroom window one night, he tells her not to move. “I just want to try something.” They start kissing, and as soon as he’s opened the door, she goes for it — until he pushes her away. “I’m stronger than I thought I was,” he says. “I wish I could say the same,” she gasps back. I don’t know what the consensus is on Kristen Stewart’s performance, but I think she really takes the Bella on the page and gives her all the desire without really understanding what you’re desiring — the sense that there is something sublime if you could just cross over this one line (which for her is represented by these flashes of Edward biting her neck, which doesn’t really even seem to sublimate the sex thing all that much), but… you just can’t.

It’s sort of awful, because it’s so confusing and guilt-ridden, but at the same time there’s a kind of romance to it, a kind of bigness and stakes that nothing else will ever really have.

twilight-bella-edward-kiss

Oh, I don’t miss being a teenager at all.

Holding out for that teenage feeling

I’m sorry, I can’t even write anything contemporary or even coherent. I just finished watching Twilight.

Did you know vampires play baseball?

Vampire Baseball

“You’re my own personal brand of heroin”

Also, they sparkle?

sparklingedward090709

“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…”

Uh, and they take you to the prom and let you stand on their feet and dance?

twilight-prom

It’s just so potent, so much Pacific Northwest rainforest and bitten lips and feelings. And it ends with a vampire showdown in a ballet studio full of mirrors that they don’t even try to integrate into the story. It’s totally ludicrous and the things it has to say about women and sex are a bit horrifying, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

Dressed smart like a London bloke, before he speak his suit bespoke

So today is one of my days where I have Things To Do, that I’m not even really focusing on. Last night I had a dream that I was in London walking around taking pictures, so in honour, I am posting some of my favourite British lady music videos.

Lily Allen:

MIA:


M.I.A. – Boyz
Uploaded by OXYMORON. – Explore more music videos.

Estelle:

Amy Winehouse:

The September Issue

Anna and Grace

Making a movie about putting out a fashion magazine — even a fashion magazine as spectacular as Vogue’s epic September 2007 issue — obviously requires some shaping of the material. The makers of The September Issue found a wonderful story in the tension between editor Anna Wintour, “the most powerful woman in the United States,” and creative director Grace Coddington. The film starts out highlighting Coddington’s frustration as Wintour cuts her babies to make way for more shots of Sienna Miller running around Rome. (I actually thought Anna was right about losing the group shots!) As the movie goes on, Coddington emerges a hero, not just for her great creative instincts, which I think people have discussed elaborately elsewhere and go without saying, but her willingness to use the movie to totally fuck with Anna Wintour.

We see her in a meeting bugging Anna about the budget for her (totally stunning) couture shoot. Later, riding down somewhere in an elevator, she confesses that “I love talking to Anna about money in front of you” to the crew. It’s not a big moment, but it’s a way of acknowledging the crew that you don’t see Anna do outside interviews. (Though it’s hard to forget she’s being filmed; when we were headed home, both the work friends I saw it with noticed the intense, make-up free close-ups of Wintour, Coddington, and basically everyone else.) The camera crew clearly becomes part of Coddington’s world, enough that it becomes part of her work, as the camera man shows up in a last-minute shoot she’s assigned for the issue.

Jump!

Coddington actually puts the camera crew in the issue. I kind of love this, but I kind of love it more when — after hearing that Anna wants to airbrush out the cameraman’s gut — she makes a point of marching over to the nearest phone and calling the retouching department to leave Bob’s stomach alone, as the assistant manning the desk loses it in the background. She kind of knows she’s the hero by this point.

As for Anna? She’s not really a villain, you can’t really see her that way. She’s obviously really tough and really competent, and really an amazing mega-bitch (which I mean only as a compliment, I am all about reclaiming shit); but in the end the movie paints a picture of her as, not really weak or immature, but kind of lonely, I guess? The film starts with her talking about how people who don’t get fashion and who mock fashion — because it’s frivolous and expensive — seem scared of it, and are jealous of the cool kids (I think that was her atual line of dialogue). Later on in the movie, this line of questioning is picked when Wintour’s daughter is asked if she wants to go into fashion. She looks kind of horrified, and says she doesn’t want to knock it, but “there’s more important things to do with your life.” Toward the very end, the subject comes up again — in a talking-head presumably taken from the same interview — when Anna tells the crew about her serious British newspaper family, who are, she says “amused” by what she does. Wintour doesn’t seem wistful, doesn’t seem apologetic or regretful, I don’t want to suggest the tightness in her voice is hiding inner frailty, but it is a tightness.

Dancing vampires are still scarier than Twilight

So remember how I used to post regularly to my blog? And then I graduated grad school and basically stopped blogging, because having a full time job makes it hard to devote an hour or two a day to blogging and to keeping up with a full TV schedule? (And as I write I am weeks behind on Mad Men.) I do miss regular posting, but once you get out of the habit it’s hard to get back in. So I will be doing the National Blog Posting Month thing for November. I have some stuff going on this month, so I can’t promise that some of the posts won’t just be YouTube videos and exclamation points as opposed to thoughtful cultural critique, but I will do my best to make sure something goes up every day.

I hope everyone reading this had a good Halloween. I didn’t really do anything this year (which is lame, but I am Old and have been very Tired lately) except watch the Guy Maddin Dracula Ballet. It was pretty amazing, in that it was shot in classic silent film style (intertitles, coloured filters to set the mood, irises everywhere), but was also Guy Maddin so it was an adaptation that was subtly funny and self-aware in terms of the issues of scary foreigners and the threat of female sexuality in the original. (The ship arrives to intertitles saying “Immigrants!” “Others! From Other Lands!” I love Guy Maddin so hard.) Also, it had dancing.

Dracula ballet!

Mad Men Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 7-9

The latest irregularly paced update in the rewatch. This show just gets better the more you watch it. Continue Reading »

Weekly Movies, July 13-19

I am trying to bring it back, again. This week, the Holocaust, Hollywood, and the moon. Continue Reading »

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