Archive for the 'Journal' Category

New Website

I have started a new website. It is called Pop Culture and Feelings.

So far I’ve written about Glee, the classic M-G-M musical The Pirate, and Taylor Swift.

I don’t like to pick favourites, but The Pirate one is totally my favourite so far:

The song is pretty forgettable as these kinds of songs go, but the scene itself is luscious. Their faces are so close to each other and the camera is so close to them and the overwhelming sense is one of proximity, which is something I didn’t have, and so, so badly wanted. When I think of that scene, I don’t remember the song very well, but I do remember the sound of Judy’s voice, and the way the camera held close to both of them. I leaned forward on the couch unconsciously, straining to be closer to them. I wanted to reach out and touch them, to touch that. I understood instinctively that I was on the outside of something, that the camera was pressing as close as it could but could never really get there, and all I wanted was to get inside.

If you are interested in reading my thoughts about pop culture and feelings, it will be the place to do it!

In terms of Moot Point – the archives will stay up as long as Alex wants to keep hosting them – and thanks to everyone who’s read and linked and commented here. The reason for the move was that a) I wanted my own space and b) wanted to start blogging with a clean slate.

On not being perfect

I. In Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music, Marisa Metzer spends a bit of time talking about the pressure girls feel to be perfect. I liked the book a lot, but this sentence had bells going off for me all over the place: “The desire to be perfect, while not unique to girls, is a persistent hurdle that often stops girls from feeling like they could be legitimate performers.” I’m not a musician and really have no musical aptitude, but this kind of thing doesn’t limit itself to women in music. You start feeling like you could never be perfect, so you don’t even want to try. Metzer cites a study done at Duke University that found that “its own undergraduate women felt the need to be ‘effortlessly perfect,’ combining beauty, intellect, success, style, and a slender body without looking like they were even trying.” She also quotes The Blow’s Khaela Maricich talking about how scary it is to put yourself out there: “My experience of being a girl is that you don’t want to show off in front of people unless you really know what you’re doing. [...] There’s a huge dividing line between girls and boys. Guys just do it without thinking. They’re so balls out, they just keep throwing their shit out there.”

I mean, yeah. This is definitely a dynamic I’ve read about before, but now, maybe because I’m in full-on quarter-life crisis mode, I really feel like this tendency – to not want to put it out there until it’s perfect, and you can never totally be perfect, because no one’s perfect – actually probably affected some of my life decisions. There are a lot of reasons I never really tried to be a writer despite doing the campus paper thing and the having a blog for, like, 8 years now thing, most of them stemming from the fact that I really think the kind of writing I want to do is better suited to grad school than to being a freelancer, but certainly the fear of failure was a big factor.

I’m not saying that my failures to live up to all my childhood ambitions are sexism’s fault, or anything like that, but I do feel like the fear of failing publicly is something that women feel a lot more strongly than men, partly because women are not given a lot of room to have flaws or be wrong in public.1 I don’t know for sure why it is, but I have definitely found that my male peers (in academia) are by and large more comfortable about putting themselves forward for things or advancing risky arguments or generally promoting themselves than the women. I’m not talking sexist dudes here, or dudes who are trying to take space away from worthy ladies, or even dudes who have less than total respect for the intellectual capacities of ladies, just dudes who feel more comfortable taking risks and being ambitious than the ladies do. I think there may be social factors behind that. Maybe it’s just me, and other ladies don’t feel the same discomfort about asking for stuff they deserve and promoting themselves, but it’s not just lack of confidence, it’s also that ladies actually get more shit for putting themselves forward and generally promoting themselves.

How is this something we learn to overcome? Metzer takes heart from the DIY ethos of riot grrrl. The riot grrrls built their own network of girl-togetherness and revolution. Even though it was short-lived, it’s left a powerful stamp. I was too young for riot grrrl in the 90s (though not too young for Lilith Fair!), but I still have Bikini Kill albums and I did get a chance to see Sleater-Kinney in concert before they split up.

II. Emily Gould’s book came out recently. Apparently a lot of the reviews have not been good? I haven’t read the book, but I do want to because I like Gould’s writing and I’ve always been a fan. Her book, and she, relates to the above in that she is about my age but has been in the public internet eye for some time, and she has made some mistakes in public. That’s actually part of why I’m a fan. As much as now she appears to be maintaining an internet presence without blurring lines of appropriateness in a Heartbreak Soup kind of way. But here’s the thing. I used to write vaguely “personal” blog-type-stuff on the the internet. Those posts aren’t on the internet anymore (as much as anything is ever not on the internet anymore) because I stopped being 19 and I was pretty embarrassed by some of the more revealing stuff I’d written. I don’t think Gould isn’t embarrassed about some of the stuff she wrote – she says as much – but she left it all up there.

I like that she’s owning these ugly vulnerable moments. Leaving it up where people can see it says “This happened, I own it, it was a part of my life, and it’s still there.” I really admire that she did that, and I am suggesting that part of the reason she gets the negative attention she does is that she is a woman who has allowed herself to be flawed in public.

III. Everyone sure did freak out about Miley Cyrus’s new video! It’s…not very good, but that’s not why people got freaked out. They were freaking out because Miley is “cage-dancing”! A seventeen-year-old girl is being vaguely sexual! Stop everything. Tiger Beatdown already explained this, so I’m not going to re-explain:

SADY: Yeah. And Thinking Of The Children often seems to involve… not a lot of thinking about how The Children actually tend to behave? Like: My shameful secret is that I actually ENJOY THE HELL out of this video. Not because it’s “empowering,” or because I take ANY of its messages at face value, but because — like Miley herself — it’s so goofy and embarrassing in precisely the ways that 17-year-old-girl rebellion is goofy and embarrassing. [...] SADY: Right! I mean: We talk about growing up in public. But Miley Cyrus, despite (DON’T READ THIS PART, MILEY CYRUS) having released some of my least favorite songs EVER, actually seems to be, like… growing up. In public. With all the associated awkwardness. But that’s the thing, about Thinking About the Children: We have this very idealized normative concept of how a “good” teen behaves and it’s just not in line with these realities. At all! And honestly it is, as you said, just about shoving aside what makes us uncomfortable.

AMANDA: Yeah, and why the fuck are we acting like all our insecurities can be resolved by Miley Cyrus not doing some weird shit in a music video? I’ll also add that Miley’s actually doing pretty fucking awesome at navigating all this stuff. In February, she said this: “My job isn’t to tell your kids how to act or how not to act because I’m still figuring that out for myself. To take that away from me is a bit selfish . . . Your kids are going to make mistakes whether I do or not. That’s just life.” Coming from someone who was EVISCERATED for appearing in a magazine with her back visible, that point is well-taken.

I feel like Miley’s an interesting case of being vulnerable in public, because she doesn’t seem to draw the same kinds of lines between controlled public performances and her “real” emotional life as previous teen idols. My favourite instance of Miley-ness is still the “7 Things” video:

It’s a great video, with Miley and a chorus of teddy-bear-hugging tweens trying to be sassy in the face of heartbreak and crying into the camera. But the real thing in it – she’s wearing Nick Jonas’s dog tags. She flashes a real picture of her and Nick Jonas (with Nick’s face scratched out) at the camera. There’s something so painfully earnest about that, the ultimate teen girl moment. I’m not saying that Miley is just being real with no thought to how she’s perceived here – I am sure that the reason that she did use her real stuff was because the director of the video thought it would endear her to her fellow teenage girls – but nonetheless, she is being real, and in a way that will probably make her cringe in a couple of years.

IV. At some point in writing this, “being flawed” somehow morphed into “being confessional” but I don’t think that’s a coincidence. You don’t have to confess things to take risks, but “confessing” is definitely allowing yourself to be flawed in public. I feel like I’m starting to head towards the part where I conclude that being confessional is brave and “raw”, so this has to be the part where I point out that confessing is always also a performance, even if it’s true. (But what isn’t? Am I right?)

I do think the way we live now, on the web, with the blogs and the facebook and whatnot, has really changed our senses of public and private. It’s easy in the heat of the moment to put stuff up online that you wouldn’t want certain people to see and reason with yourself that they probably won’t see it. (Odds are, when you do this, they probably will.) Everyone has to make their own rules about how much they write about online. I have a lot of them. I never write about work, even on my non-public facebook page, like beyond the fact that I have a job. I don’t write anything that I wouldn’t mind saying to anyone publicly. Because once you put something online, you lose control of it and it is very, very easy for people to see it. You’re exposed. I tend to hold things back until the last minute – not showing anyone drafts until I turn them in, totally isolating my ideas until I’m completely confident with them. Now that I’ve fallen out of practice, I work things over, even blog posts, for weeks until I think they are remotely good enough, I’m so cautious about what I’m doing. One answer would be to just write my ideas down in private, but I don’t think isolating myself is really a solution. Obviously earnest pop culture criticism will never really shake people up like playing punk rock with “slut” written on my stomach – though I do think it’s important. I still think we could all use a little bit of riot grrrl in our lives.

  1. And I feel this way as a woman in the liberal arts! Where women are not even a minority in any way! And the field is replete with successful female and feminist role models! And I have never actually experienced any kind of sexism (though I am sure it happens). 

Cherry Bombs

Besides both being movies I saw this weekend, Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) and The Runaways (Floria Sigismondi, 2010) have in common that they both open with scenes of a teen girl getting her first period. Carrie is from 1976. That first scene in The Runaways — which actually opens with a shot of blood falling on pavement — is set in 1975. Both of them are about different ways the power of womanhood runs away with the main characters. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sigismondi chose to start The Runaways with that image, also.

In Carrie, and this has I’m sure been discussed ad nauseum by all the people who’ve seen it in the past 35 years, Carrie’s telekinetic powers first start to manifest when she gets her period. In the beginning, this seems like a good thing. Carrie asserts her own power, telling her mom it’s not the devil, it’s her, and decides to make a cute dress and go to the prom and be happy for a minute without worrying about sin. But of course — this totally backfires. When Carrie gets upset by a cruel high school prank, she loses control and burns down her school gym with everyone in it. Then she kills John Travolta by crashing his car and crucifies her own mom. (Granted, her mom had already stabbed her, but Carrie’s “fling every pointed object in the kitchen into her mom’s torso” method seems excessive.) The takeaway is that menstruation and therefore the female body are scary and monstrous.

Things are different in The Runaways: it’s not a horror movie, it’s a rock n’ roll biopic. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it starts with De Palma’s image of female grotesque-ness. In the hands of a lady filmmaker making a movie about lady culture, the period is no longer a source of supernatural horror. It’s just a pain in the ass. But it sets the scene for the story that follows, which is about Cherie Currie having her own form of power – the ability to make herself, to perform, to be fierce, to be Bardot and Bowie – packaged and sold as something she can’t really control. It’s not a coincidence that Cherie’s song is “Cherry Bomb”: “Hello Daddy, hello mom/ I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb/ Hello world, I’m your wild girl/ I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb.” She’s offering herself up to you in all her jailbait sexiness, but it is clear that she will blow right up in your face. In the movie, a lot is made of the way Kim Fowley tries to commodify her self-made image and claim it as his own. This is the main source of conflict between her and the other heroine, Joan Jett. Selling yourself like Cherie does is (as countless contemporary female celebrities can tell you) a hard road to walk: it doesn’t take much for things to blow up in Cherie’s face, and she’s left alone, working a menial job in a store.

Cherie’s story is not that much of a different message about teen female sexuality from Carrie’s. But the difference is that The Runaways has two girls in it. Joan Jett’s going through the ups and downs of fame right along with Cherie — but for her it’s never about anything but the music. It’s not a simple good girl/bad girl story: Joan’s complicity in turning Cherie into a Cherry Bomb is pretty clear. She’s seen contributing to the song (and the narrative); her relationship with Cherie is also complicated by lust. Where Cherie (at least in the movie, I know things were different in real life) gets lost, Joan’s able to symbolically cleanse herself through songwriting and emerge with a badass solo album (that she released herself after every label ever turned her down, though we don’t learn that until the end credits). I didn’t love everything about the movie — the bathtub scene where New Joan emerges cleansed of her corporate past was lame, and I wish the rest of the band got more to do since they also seemed interesting — but the core story about Joan and Cherie was really well-done and kind of amazing for a mainstream film.

That said, I’ve been reading Adorno lately, and I think it’s worth pointing out that the “power” that Cherie and even Joan have are limited to their abilities to enter into a male-dominated and corporate-owned milieu. This isn’t women’s lib, it’s selling some records. It’s women being powerful, but they are getting power by imitating culturally provided ways of being powerful and masculine.

That’s a pretty standard “pop culture makes us all zombies” argument — which doesn’t make it not kind of true — but at the same time, what else are girls supposed to do? If we’re stuck in the system, the least we can do is win on its own terms. And maybe blow things up a little.

My Greenberg Letter

Dear Noah Baumbach,

My original plan was to write a standard review of your new movie Greenberg responding to some of the other things I’d read about it. But I can’t really be critical and objective about your movies. It’s not so much that I love them so hard; it’s more like I relate to them so hard. It’s not so much that I find myself in situations like Greenberg and Florence’s (though being in a similar age and situation except not single, I found Florence very easy to identify with). When I walked out of Greenberg, I felt suddenly self-conscious, imagining what my life would look like if it were a movie. Walking down the street, picturing how the camera would frame me. Part of Granville Street was closed so a TV show could film some kind of police car thing. It was very cinematic. Hearing movie speech rhythms in the way my boyfriend and I bantered. We were weirdly on that night.

I’m not always sure how to deal with the way I relate to your movies. Lines like “We call each other ‘man,’ but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people” are clearly inviting me to judge Greenberg, and maybe people who don’t do stuff like this will judge Greenberg, but don’t most people do stuff like this? I sure do; I’ll start saying stuff “ironically” and then before long it’s just part of my vocabulary. That’s the thing about Greenberg — the details and the throwaways are really the bits that convince me such a cartoonishly awful person lives in my world (that, and the fact that we have all lived with facets of his cartoonish awfulness). Details like the recycled POM-brand iced tea glass Greenberg’s drinking out of when he writes his letters: they don’t even sell POM tea in those glasses anymore, and haven’t for a while, so I’m pretty sure some art director had to find that and choose it for the scene. I have one of those at my house! Also, Florence’s holographic dinosaur ruler. I had that exact ruler! It’s a cutesy way of showing that she still lives like a kid (and I don’t still have my dino ruler) but that moment of recognition really did work. We all know movies are captured images of things that really happened — though CGI means that that direct relationship is always in doubt now — but the things they capture so often feel fake, removed from our everyday life.

I feel uncomfortable about the precise way I like your movies, because I like them because they feel real. I know this is why a lot of people like a lot of stuff, but I, being a Greenbergian asshole, feel like that’s a really naive way to like things. I tend to pride myself on liking things that are self-consciously artificial, either in the art film way or in the genre way. “Realism” is a totally bourgeois notion, right? I don’t know, I think people like having things they relate to in movies? But I’m still pretty sure it’s somehow like I’m totally “buying into” an emotional experience. My laughs are coming from a place of (occasionally uncomfortable) recognition, which I totally think was your intention; but it was still a place that I paid money to be in, and a place that’s just as “artificial” as the self-conscious camp that I love.

I realize the device of writing a letter about these feelings to you, which is similar to the way Greenberg wrote letters to Starbucks and Hollywood Pet Taxi, is a trite literary device.

But your movies make me feel trite.

Sincerely, Brenda

Gimme Sympathy

I have long gotten over any conflict between my image of myself as a woman of culture with two degrees and the fact that I am also a woman who watches American Idol on purpose. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone from being all Frankfurt school about the “culture industry” to seeing value in the mainstream; it doesn’t need to be subversive to be pleasurable. Not all fun is ideologically suspect. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a lot less concerned about what’s good, to the point that I always find myself mentally composing defenses of Taylor Swift against her detractors whenever I read feminist blogs about all the (totally present) virgin-whore issues in “You Belong With Me.”

So I watch American Idol. For me, it is partly about fun, not going to lie. It’s also partly about getting a lot of stuff about America, and also for reminding me, a Canadian, that America is a whole other country. I tend to think I “get” American culture because Canadian pop culture is so suffused with American products and American forms, but then I watch American Idol and I remember that the red states are real places where people live and love and are loved, not just Daily Show punchlines. It’s easy to forget that America isn’t just like a bigger Canada in a lot of really deep important ways.

But I just couldn’t handle Rolling Stones night last week.

It’s weird that of all the serious artists who’ve had their music karaoke’d on Idol — the Beatles, MJ, Leonard Cohen, Marvin Gaye, Dolly Parton — it’s the Rolling Stones that I just couldn’t hear covered. I actually thought Rolling Stones night would be good for Idol, since they write great blues-rock songs, and the vocals rely as much on personality as ability. I am not even that big a Stones fan — I like their music, but I would not ever list them as my favourite band. I think it’s because my dad does. I grew up listening to this music. I know the songs automatically; they’re part of my musical landscape, and a piece of my vocabulary of what rock n roll is. I can’t tell you what album every song is from, but I know the words and the melodies instinctively. This was the soundtrack of my childhood to the point that every now and then I’m shocked by the goodness of these songs, just because I heard them so much growing up that they are just there. It’s in my bones.

I started losing it when Andrew — who did that great version of “Straight Up” early in the season — sang “Gimme Shelter.” I don’t know how you can sing “War, children, it’s just a shot away” without conveying that you understand any of those words, but he manages. I wondered why I watch this show again.

Then pageant teen Katie came out and sang “Wild Horses,” which she interpreted as being about her dream of being on American Idol. Then I remembered that this show is produced by people who think the Susan Boyle version of “Wild Horses” was a good idea.

But here’s where I experienced a break. My AI feelings went from kind of amused affection and a fun investment to detached hate in five minutes. Tim Urban, coming up with “Under My Thumb”. Oh no he is not! Yes, yes he is. He is singing a totally earnest reggae guitarbro Jason Mraz “The Mellow Show” version of “Under My Thumb”, the nadir of rock misogyny.

Well, you can watch:

I don’t remember the last time I was just quivering with “what” at the TV. Everyone was like “Hey, it’s a fun song.” But it’s not a fun song, it’s a jam, sure, but it’s not a fun song. The only way to do that song nowadays is to go the Tina Turner feminist détournement route. In the posted clip, you can see the judges’ reactions. Obviously this kid is too stupid to understand what’s wrong with the words he was singing; but I kept waiting for everyone else to just kind of stare at him open-mouthed and then for Ellen to be like “Hey bud, maybe if you don’t want to alienate people as a potential ’sensitive’ pop musician, you shouldn’t sing songs about how you’ve ground your lady’s independence down so now she just does as she’s told?”

How is it not beyond the pale to go on TV in front of millions of women and sing “It’s down to me/ the way she talks when she’s spoken to”?

Ugh, I know this a post about how American Idol is really shallow and isn’t about art. Also, did you know that many of the lyrics to Rolling Stones songs are in fact somewhat sexist? I am blowing the lid off pop culture right here on my internet blog.

I have been on this intellectual trajectory where I’m all about analysis over evaluation; but maybe to the point where I felt weird about making distinctions and everything blurred into this sort of bland field where everything is “interesting” but nothing rocks my world (except Lady Gaga). Maybe this is part of why I’ve been posting less: I feel like everything’s kind of dissolved into pop culture soup.

Eventually you fall into this murk where like, Hannah Montana is just “interesting” even though it’s seriously the worst TV show ever made. And the worst part is, I haven’t even been writing all that much! Thinking everything is interesting is, at a certain point, not all that interesting at all. It is just as snobby in its own way as just straight-up hating Hannah Montana; it’s hard to do without being condescending or pretending disinterest that you just can’t have if you want to actually do any kind of cultural criticism.

I still stand by the idea that analysis is more important than evaluation, and I still don’t think our experiences of “high art” and “low art” are all that different. My experiences of lots of “bad” stuff isn’t really all that different in terms of reactions or pleasure — I still don’t know for sure if The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was good or bad, but I sure loved it, and I loved it not all that different a way that I loved, say, Hiroshima, Mon Amour. I’ve always felt like this is kind of an “enlightened” point of view, a sense of being “above” discussions of “quality”; not because it can’t be measured, but more because there are more interesting things to talk about. This is somewhat true, but at the same time — some things are better than other things. I want to get good things back. I want to be able to care about those things more than other things. You don’t need to be a snob to do that.

Three Weeks of Movies (January 11-31)

So I have had some stuff to do that I don’t want to jinx by posting about until I have more information. But, movies!

  1. An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009): So my feeling on this is that Carey Mulligan is delightful, and I walked out with a smile on my face and a skip in my step, since it’s a happy story about Learning Life Lessons and Growing while wearing fabulous 1960s clothes, but it seems a little insubstantial? I guess it didn’t really blow my mind that a teenager having an affair with a much older man who literally picked her up in the street turned out to be not such a great life choice for our hero. I don’t think it’s bad that she emerges more or less unscathed instead of as a ruined woman or whatever, but that combined with the whole glamorous fun times of having a guy take you to Paris and having your first sexual experience be all French cigarettes and Chanel no 5 makes the whole thing seem really awesome and less scarring than it probably should? It’s not so much that I need didactic storytelling here, so much as I think this movie was maybe too light-hearted. I liked the story of a girl, bored and stultified by the pressures of accomplishment and school and normalness, self-consciously making a mistake because it’s more fun and because the Times They Are A’ Changing, but like, pretending that you’re free when you’re letting yourself pretty much be bought, it is not really free. Jenny learns that, and Carey Mulligan’s so full of life that she covers up a lot of the films’ flaws, but it’s all a bit obvious with the life lessons and the Oxford and the so forth.
  2. DiG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004): This is a documentary about relationship (friendship turned to rivalry) between the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, which basically means that I have no idea why I put this on my rental queue, since I don’t really care about either of these bands. But! It turned out to be really interesting. Because the filmmakers spent years filming these guys, you have all this footage of the real stuff that happened. On the one hand you have the well-adjusted Dandy Warhols, who started out indie but signed with a big label and, being moderately talented, eventually found a place for themselves with moderate success. (They never really got big in North America but they’re apparently pretty huge in Europe.) On the other, you’ve got the totally fucked-up BJM, a ’60s revival-type band with like a zillion rotating members, most of whom seemed to be on really a lot of drugs at all times, but who are headed by visionary and asshole Anton Newcombe. It’s totally amazing: you get footage of the two bands partying and performing together in the good old days, and of Anton Newcombe kind of stalking them to try to drum up a kind of rivalry, and of the BJM beating each other up and spoiling their big shot at an industry showcase, and of Anton Newcombe fully kicking an audience member in the head. It’s more or less from the point of view of Courtney Taylor, who narrates the film, and apparently some of the BJM were upset at the way they were portrayed. But I felt like a lot of the choices TImoner makes undermines Taylor. You come away with the sense that the Dandies did kind of sell out, they get really slick and still try to kind of have the Brian Jonestown coolness rub off on them, but you can’t really have it both ways. On the other hand, Anton Newcombe kicked a guy in the head. At some point you have to compromise something to exist in the world. (I was heartened to read on Wikipedia that a lot of the members who left the BJM in the movie had come back after the release, and that they actually played a couple of songs with the Dandy Warhols at Lollapalooza in 2005, so that’s nice.)
  3. Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945): So I decided to watch this after reading this lame, hateful list of “overrated directors”. One of the directors he lists is David Lean, whose movies are supposedly overlong, and apparently none of his movies are really masterpieces. Brief Encounter is one hour and twenty minutes of perfect. They meet in a train station, they fall in love, it can never be, he touches her shoulder. The narrator describes falling in love by saying “I never knew such violent things could happen to ordinary people.” The just-too-overwrought piano of the score. Celia Johnson’s breathless voiceover. Absolutely fucking perfect.
  4. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009): Wow. We saw this Saturday, and I don’t have a lot to say other than complaints about the people down the row from me who couldn’t make even the simplest plot connections without discussing them. Some movies you can maybe murmur to your seatmate without distracting people. The White Ribbon is not one of them, it’s so quiet it’s almost painful. One thing that surprised me, for such a hard, hard movie to watch, is how much people were laughing at the “light” moments (like a father tying up his adolescent son to keep him from masturbating LOL). It’s not that I blame them — it’s not the way I felt uncomfortable watching Inglorious Basterds, which deals with the spectre of Nazis in a completely different way — it’s more that everyone was kind of grasping for any kind of release, the whole thing was so tense. It starts out in black, black silence and then slowly dissolves to an almost impossibly bright white. It almost hurts to look at for a minute. It’s set in a German village in 1913, and it’s basically about this town suffused by cruelty. Mysterious, awful things start to happen. We don’t really get an answer to who’s doing those things, but I think we mostly know the answer from the beginning, no matter how much we try to deny it. It is actually much nicer than any of the other Haneke movies I’ve seen.


Sorry, internet, I totally dropped the ball on NaBloPoMo this year and then completely disappeared. I have an excuse that involved my energy needing to be elsewhere, but I’m not going to go into it. I’m not going to lie, I had some amazing stuff happen in 2009 (I went to London and Spain and Seattle and I made some cool friends and I learned how to make pizza dough), but I also feel like I’m in a bit of a rut. This is the absolute longest I’ve ever had a full-time job and it’s kind of made me complacent. There’s nothing really wrong with my job, but I’ve used it as an excuse for a lot of stuff. I am all, I work hard all day, I deserve to come home and watch TV and not really do much of anything. Not that there’s anything wrong with TV — it’s more that there’s something wrong with never “having time” to do stuff I actually like. Obviously this is a gross first-world problem — but I have nonetheless been in a funk. I don’t like talking about my feelings on the internet, but I have been having them, and they have mostly been frustrated with myself.

Where's my book deal?

But is a new year, so it’s a good time to make changes. Positive changes. I have generally not been a believer in resolutions because I think they’re cheesy and they generally set you up for failure, but I could use some resolve this year, so I am making them anyway! Here are my changes of positivity:

  1. Read more: Books, specifically. I read a lot of the New Yorker and the internet, so I’m not setting a number goal here, it’s really just about making time for all the stuff on my shelves.
  2. Cook more: Try out at least 2 new recipes a month. I am a halfway decent cook, when I actually put in the effort and let myself be adventurous; also it is fun and happy making to come home and turn stuff into stuff you can eat and then eat the stuff.
  3. Work out more: I bought a gym membership last year, and when I was going regularly I really noticed a difference. Not so much in losing weight, but in terms of muscle tone and energy and strength and stuff. It sort of fell apart when things got busy in September, but I need to get back on it. I’ve started saying that I’ll go whenever I don’t have something else going on after work; I’m shooting for at least twice a week, which seems sustainable.
  4. Take more photos: I have an amazing camera that I don’t use nearly enough.
  5. See more movies: Especially in the theatre. This year was not a big cinema attendance year for me. I used to see everything.
  6. Write more: Um, update my blog. Maybe weekly? Maybe start doing the strict writing about every movie I see thing? I liked that thing.

“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.


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

Only One Englishman Per Gala

I was planning to write a longer thing about Twilight and my adolescence and the relations between the two tonight, but I was busy with other things! High culture things.

I maybe somehow went to an Opera gala concert tonight?1 Culture! Opera’s one of those things that you would think I would like, since I like pretentious stuff and when people sing things they would normally say (or that are their heart’s unspoken desires) and also melodrama, but I really know very little about it.

(Stuff like this is weird for me because I’m a big enough fan of all the aforementioned to enjoy the performing of dramatic songs without a lot of foreknowledge. But I obviously spend a lot of time with “low” culture, but I honestly can’t see that big a distinction between opera and like, a soap opera, besides oldness and the fact that one is performed in a foreign language. They both really are these sensationalist, stylized dramatic forms with ridiculous stories and overwrought emotions expressed through song and other totally artificial behaviours. Though opera does have the whole vocal virtuouso thing. Which is to say, the more I think about it, the more I think opera is probably awesome and is just waiting for me to discover it.)

Then Pamela Martin (of local CTV news fame) came out and said “May all your news be good news.” Then we ate our free cake and tried to have a drink at the Cascade on the way home, but there was a 25-minute wait, so we just bought some IPA since we’re trying to catch up on Mad Men before the season finale Sunday.

…I only wish I had talked Alex into wearing his bow tie.

  1. Just the concert part, not the $650/plate dinner part. They had people holding candles lining the sidewalk on Granville — to shield elderly concertgoers from the drunk kids coming out of the clubs — between the concert venue and the dinner venue. Culture! 

Blair would befriend a call girl named Brandeis

So I’ve been thinking about the deal with Gossip Girl this year. It’s not really suffering from the “high school show goes to college” Veronica Mars-type problems, more from “the first couple of episodes of every season feel a little off, until some Secrets have time to Build Up and cause Tension that needs to be Resolved.” For me it hit its stride around Rufus and Lily’s wedding, with the reappearance of Scott, and his big revelation leading to the reaffirmation of love at the centre of the show. And Sonic Youth.

Since then, the stakes are getting weirdly higher. The theme of this week was basically “we’re not in high school anymore,” at least in the A-story. The B-story centred around Dan and Olivia’s one-month anniversary, which is actually one of the most charmingly eighteen-year-old things that ever happened on Gossip Girl and still managed to feature Jimmy Fallon.1 But I can think of at least three different characters who pulled the “this isn’t high school anymore” line: Vanessa, to Nate when he asks her to sit on potentially damaging video of his cousin who is running for public office because of their “friendship”; Chuck, to Serena, in explaining why she had to suck it up because she couldn’t just take Blair (or anyone) for granted now; and Blair, to Serena again (because Serena really needed it, I guess), about how Blair is trying to “make a life for herself” while S is just kind of treading water, alienating people over her stupid PR job, and fake dating Robert Pattinson, and that’s not really someone Blair Waldorf needs in her life.

The point is: the high school code isn’t working anymore, which is a problem, since for Gossip Girl, high school is supposed to be a sort of mini-life, where you learn to deal with being a public person when that’s something you can’t really control the boundaries of anymore. But the “real world” isn’t so tight or so easily controlled.


My spiel has always been that Gossip Girl’s about letting go, about realizing that “privacy” was out over and has been replaced with this new gossip-surveillance-world. But that this is okay, and that this configuration allows for its own various pleasures and games. You see it in the way that Blair’s liberation started with a public striptease; in the way Serena uses the paparazzi for her own gain, in the way Nate and Chuck and everyone instinctively manage public perception. But that’s easy when it’s as schematic as it is within the high school setup, where Gossip Girl basically stands for the media. It gets messier when the knowledge and power isn’t so centralized; it’ll be interesting to see how Gossip Girl deals with all this.

  1. Which, with 30 Rock, makes two of my favouite shows he appeared on within a week. He knows his demo, and his demo is me. Well, it would be if I didn’t have a real job that makes it impossible for me to actually watch late night TV. 

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