NOT COOL–Sexy Disney Campaign

“The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. There was a real moment of silence, because these characters don’t change. I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,’ and they agreed.” –Dennis Freedman, creative director

So, what he’s saying is that a chubby, furry, cartoon animal doesn’t look good in a dress designed for a human? Who would have thought. 

There are levels of weird in this project that I’m almost afraid to descend to. Essentially, this department store is preparing a campaign that involves taking popular children’s animated animals and trying to make them into runway models. Apparently the best way to do this is to plop cartoon heads on elongated, stick-thin humanoid bodies. As I look at the Daisy Duck image, I wonder: how do those legs support that big bow? Without snapping like toothpicks.

Why was this ever a good idea? Better yet, who the hell is the target consumer here? Adults who watch the Disney Channel? Or the little kids that read Vogue? 

But the aspect that I truly object to more than anything is the sexualization of a children’s character. Freedman doesn’t even attempt to hide it. Minnie doesn’t look skinny enough, so we took some “creative freedoms” with her body image.

If I were a child, I would be deeply confused when I saw a familiar face on these pictures. I would assume that Minnie and Daisy had been kidnapped by aliens with crazy E.T.-long limbs.

That makes more sense than the truth, which is that these relatively innocent Disney females have been turned into sexual objects for the camera and the male/consumer gaze.

And let’s not forget Goofy.

Dear Gods. He was always out of proportion, but this is just awkward. His waist is TINY. And his legs are a wee bit more plausible, but not really considering the size of his head and shoulders. The scarf plus his disdainful expression really seals the deal. That’s what Freedman thinks women like to see? Oh, sir. Where’s the butt? The rippling pectorals? Not even one manly chest hair?

These images, instead of being sexy selling points, are confusing, anatomically impossible hybrids, grotesque enough that even Steven King would shudder to dream them up.

The best part? They’re making a short film, too!

I can’t wait.

Media Review – “Saturday Night Fever”

“Saturday Night Fever”

1977

Director: John Badham

Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER is the ultimate male pornographic fantasy film.  It has a central character that is young, handsome, and worshipped by his friends.  He has a cocky and suave bravado and oozes cool charisma wherever he goes.  Most importantly, when he struts into a dance nightclub, he is transformed into a swinging, hip shaking,  prancing god.  Men want to be like him and women simply want him.  During a time of hedonism gone wild and of rapid, consequence-free promiscuity in a pre-Aids America, it’s no wonder that the “hero” of FEVER was so easily idolized.

FEVER does a great job balancing comedy and drama.  Re-watching it now the one aspect of it that still is fresh is its frank and brutal honesty at times.  Tony is likeable, but he is undeniably a crude racist (he flaunts ethnic slurs around with his buddies to unseemly levels).  His treatment of women is equally appalling, and a later scene where he fails at making a half-hearted attempt at raping Stephanie is revolting.  Then there is another very difficult scene to digest where Tony’s friends, one by one, proceed to rape the drunken Annette.  Tony does not partake in the sexual abuse, but when his friends are done he puts salt on Annette’s wounds by asking her if she’s finally satisfied with herself.  Oddly enough, it is the unsavory material in FEVER that separates itself away from other films of teen angst.  The time period and culture is different, but it still feels current.” – Craig J. Koban, CraigersCinemaCorner.com

 

“Saturday Night Fever.” It’s got the moves. It’s got the disco. It’s got the rape that NOBODY told me about.

Maybe it’s just me and the people I talk to, but whenever I ask about the classic cult film, “Saturday Night Fever,” the first few things mentioned are John Travolta and his skin-tight pants, that the movie was a voice of a “generation,” and often I also hear that the film has a very special place in the pop culture hall of fame. Why is it though that no one seems to remember / care about the two, count ’em, two(!) rape scenes in “SNF?!” Are we desensitized? Are we embarrassed? Are we turned on? Are we dismissive? I don’t know, but I’m going to try to figure it out.

I like to study editing. Film editing. Editing theory. Non-linear. Compositing. Short-form. Sync-point. If you don’t know what these words mean, don’t worry about it. If you do, congratulations, we have something in common. Long story short, I was always told to watch “SNF” for how it was cut together. Plus, I love disco music (it should never have died…). So one night, after my mother and I get home from work and are ready to pass out exhausted, I find “SNF” listed on cable and in my sleepy stupor decide to finally get around to seeing it. The credits roll and the famous take of Travolta walking down the street with his paint-can swinging to the beat comes up. Nothing too exciting yet. Twenty more minutes in, there’s a conflict; uh-oh, who will he dance with in the contest?! Well, that’s just great. I can’t help but think that everyone who loves this movie must be seeing something I’m not, because it’s really not that fantastic.

And then, BAM! Close to the end of the movie and out of (almost) nowhere, Annette, one of the main characters, gets gang-raped when she’s drunk. She’s literally pinned down in the back of a car while Tony’s buddies take turns. She’s saying “no” in a muffled and pained voice and then Travolta’s character even has the guts to call her a “pig.” WHAT?! WHAAAATTTT!?? Did no one else notice this scene?! Nobody?! Really?! ARE YOU ALL BLIND?! No, we can’t write it off as “boys will be boys.” No, she was not “asking for it.” No, I’m not crazy, I’m angry. And disturbed. I even had to turn off the film to cry for a little bit after that scene. The other rape is an attempted violation when Travolta’s character tries to force sex on his dancing partner after they win. Yeah, that’s how I’d celebrate too, buddy. After he’s been trying to court her throughout the whole film, Tony has an angry moment and pushes her down into the backseat of a car and tries to get his rocks off. She fights and he lets go (wow, ain’t he a good guy?) and they end up becoming friends at the end. Oh, I’m sorry if I ruined the movie for you.

So, back to my original questions….

Are we desensitized?

There is such a thing as rape culture and it’s spreading. Rape culture is the commercialization and perpetuated approval of sexual abuse and violation that is running rampant in our society. Certain types of media encourage it, i.e. some rap music videos and lyrics, some video-games, etc. Certain people and groups encourage it, i.e. bro-culture, etc. And certain mindsets encourage it as well, i.e. “women are objects,” “men must be hyper-masculine and hyper-sexual to have worth,” etc. This is all detrimental to our world and to ourselves. Thoughts of self-sexulization, chauvinism and worse, the acceptance of both, destroys more intellectual ways of valuing each other.

The very fact that no one remembers this scene seems, to me, to really answer this question by itself.

Are we embarrassed?

No, I really do not think we are. “We,” being audiences that absorb content as well as creators that generator the content that the audience absorbs. I think “commercialized sexiness” has become so banal that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t have commodified sexuality fed to us all the time. That being said, we live in a world where rape can actually be sold as “sexy” since it’s still sex and, say it with me, sex sells. Seriously, check out half of Dolce & Gabbana’s ads. I think American culture accepts rape as a fact of life without actually examining the consequences.

Are we turned on?

Maybe. The idea of power is a staple in Western culture and patriarchal reality in the East. In “SNF” power extends from showmanship on the dance floor, popularity on the street and talents in the bedroom – all pretty sophomoric if you ask me. So wherein this caste system of status does rape fall? The ability to dominate another seems to be a point of pride or at least a way to release some stress from a long night shaking your tail-feathers, but it’s more than that, it’s the sole fact that the Tony’s friends rape because they can. Because it’s acceptable, because it’s the 70’s, because it’s in the slums of Brooklyn, because no body was saying “no.” (The woman’s “no” doesn’t count, duh.) What kind of a world do we live in where you can take for granted the fact that you can have sex anytime you want it simply because you want it, with or without consent?

What also worries me is the idea of “scripts.” No, not film or play scripts, but dialogues created by cultural phenomenons in the media. Basically, “scripts” are repeated themes shown over and over again in TV shows, in movies, in lyrics, etc. and once they become ingrained, they become reality, sometimes without media consumers realizing it. This is particularly frightening when young people start seeing patterns like when to be sexy, how to be sexy and with whom to be sexy. Behaviors start to be commodified instead of being authentic and this leads to regret, confusion and the need for approval from others participating in such “scripts.” You can read more about “script” research here.

Are we dismissive?

Um…YES. And yet, it’s a movie, it’s not real life! She knew better than to get into their car! It was a different time period! At least women aren’t being raped as much anymore! She could have stopped them if she wanted to! They thought that she wanted it! Kids are young and stupid! ….and, your point? That you’re a dumb-ass? Oh, I got that.

I’ve heard each of those phrases at one point or another and they don’t cut it. I don’t give a flying you-know-what, because the justification of abuse is the beginning to an end of turning your head the other way. It’s seemingly the by-stander affect and that is a miserable excuse…for anything! Open your eyes to what you let slip between your fingers and what’s in front of your nose.

No one has to like every movie (or piece of “art”) ever made. Even I can tolerate most media I don’t like when it is used to start a dialogue on ethics, reality and stereotypes. Not everything is sunshine and fuzzy bunnies, but when there is a slap-in-the-face moment of truth in a work of commerical art, it needs to be used to discuss those realities, in reality. It CANNOT be written off. So in the end, a rape scene shouldn’t ruin “SNF” for me, but it does. And I think it does, because the rape is never used to start the conversation about not raping. The rape is not a plot or character conflict, but more of a tell-tale sign of who the characters are and how they view the world and themselves in it.

Marge Piercy–Feminist Author

Barbie Doll

This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.

She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.

She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.

In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.

Marge Piercy

To Be of Use, 1973.

I discovered Marge Piercy through her poetry, almost by chance picking The Moon is Always Female off a shelf. Her voice was strong and the lines stayed within me, in fact they haven’t left me yet. I’ve since learned that besides being a poet, Marge is a novelist, activist, and feminist. She has an impressive body of writing and shows no signs of stopping her publication output.

The poem above differs from her work in The Moon is Always Female. Moon is mystical, thoughtful, crammed with ideas and images…and much longer. “Barbie Doll” shows a sharper, sarcastic side of her personality. To be perfect, just give up everything that makes you unique. Of course. You can be happy knowing you’re accepted, and you’re just like every other doll in her box. Right?

In case someone out there is in doubt, a world full of Barbies is a nightmare of uniformity and impossible anatomy, not a dream come true. Thank you, Marge!

Media Review–Story of O

Story of O

By Pauline Réage

Translation by John Paul Hand

1954

Influences: The Marquis de Sade

 

We had no idea that this book would have such an affect on us. In reflection, we are disturbed, intrigued, confused and frustrated. Story of O was suggested to us by a co-worker who said that he knew of a writing that “surpassed” Fifty Shades of Grey. Curious, we each read it and tears of anger flowed from our eyes. Binge eating, hugging and raving rants were all we could do to fill the void of unpleasantry that Story of O ripped in our hearts (and frontal lobes). Before we officially sat down to write this review, we did “research” for several hours which included watching several Rihanna music videos, listening to the lyrics of “E.T.” by Katy Perry and “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-z, Kanye West and Frank Ocean and, finally, reading the testimonies and self-help blog of an actual submissive / BDSM slave. It was a fun time.

And now, because we simply cannot handle this book or take it seriously, for a limited time only, we have chosen to re-write the beginning of Story of O, almost word for word, with our own context, setting and sense of humor. You’re welcome.

One day Nicole and Darragh go to a section of the Internet where they never go — the scary part. After they have taken a stroll through Youtube and have scanned the higher numbered pages of Google search, sitting together in the dank lighting of the Office, they notice, on one link of Wikipedia, on an interface where there are never any good articles, a page which, because of its title, invites them to click.

“What is this?” Darragh says.

She opens the page. It is Summer, but they have been inside all day. They are dressed as they always are: beat-up Converse sneakers, ripped sweaters, black-framed glasses, and no hat. But long hair which gets caught as they huddle close over the keyboard, and in their dirty book-bags they have their dirty books and feminist theory articles.

The page loads slowly, Nicole still not having said a word in response. But she pulls out a notepad from her bag and her eyes scroll down the window. She takes off her glasses, thinking Darragh wants to talk about what they’ve just read. But instead Darragh says:

“I think I threw up a little.” Nicole hands her a napkin in humorous response. Darragh takes it distractedly, puts it on the table and adds:

“There are just too many things wrong with this. I don’t know where to start. Can you please hold me?”

By now the Internet connection, which is less than trustworthy, has decided to freeze the screen, and Nicole has some trouble closing the window; she’s also afraid that Darragh may actually vomit. Finally, though, the window is at least minimized, but they’re not the least bit embarrassed to be reading NSFW articles at their job. Besides, it the same office in which they started this blog anyway.

“Fasten your seatbelt,” Nicole says, “and hold onto your panties, because I think we need to review this on FF.”

That’s easy enough, all they have to do is read one of the most infamous BDSM “erotic” novels ever written in less than two weeks and retain their sanity. And it’s written by a French woman. Nicole looks over at Darragh and says:

“You shouldn’t stay curled up in a ball in the corner. You’ll only start rocking back and forth.”

The floor is littered with burger wrappers, crumpled pages, broken audio cables and pens left empty and lonely. It’s quite a disgusting sensation to wade through it to get to the computer. Then Nicole says:

“Oh God, there’s a movie version and it’s on Netflix.”

The Internet connection is no longer frozen and is streaming a disturbing clip from the 1975 trailer, and Darragh doesn’t dare ask why Nicole just sits there without moving or saying another word, nor can Darragh guess what all this means to her – having Nicole there motionless, silent, so sad and exposed, so thoroughly glued, to a story going God knows where. Darragh doesn’t need to tell Nicole what she thinks or how she feels, since it’s obvious, but she’s afraid to un-bunch her legs and come close to the screen. She sits with out-stretched arms braced on either side of the wall.

“Well that was…..yeah,” Nicole says suddenly. Here they are: on the Internet, beneath fluorescent lights – they are annoying lights – inside of some sort of institution which can be seen nestled between North Philadelphia and Center City, the type of huge collegiate dwelling where one finds students asleep on sofas at any time of the day or night and wandering aimlessly through the halls along Broad Street. The real world is some distance away, and it is always a little unsettling anytime anyone leaves. Outside it is raining.

Yeah, we did that. And now here’s our actual review:

Enter the world of the woman called O, and give up any thought of mercy. This is no coy rip-off, couched in the supernatural realm of fantasy. Here there are no excuses, and absolutely no safe words. This is a testament to the power of conditioning on the human brain. Also, it’s torture porn.

We have many thoughts about O and her story. The plot is minimal, summed up and spoiled by the blurb on the back cover. O is kidnapped, conditioned to be a submissive sex slave, and given to two men. Both tire of her and discard her at the novel’s end. The last sentence? “O, seeing that Sir Stephen was on the verge of leaving her, preferred to die. Sir Stephen gave his consent.” She needs his permission to die. O has nothing to call her own.

Why do we resent this book? Why does it anger us? Dehumanization, for one.  Previous readers have already commented that “O” might as well be an abbreviation for object. Indeed, the novel follows O’s transformation from a human into a living sex toy. The book glorifies the most generic role-playing of master and servant. There’s no individuality in the characters. They are not defined by anything other than their extravagant sexual acts. They are animals that happen to have extreme mating rituals. We can’t speak for anyone else, but watching dogs and cats have sex is not arousing to us. That’s how detached we felt while reading….as if we were watching several stray cats do it. O isn’t a person, she’s a sex-bot.

[Added Paragraph] But then there is the idea that O may very well be the perfect woman. She is thin, beautiful  and submissive. She lives to be loved in whatever form “love” many take. She is simple and un-materialistic and low maintenance. She doesn’t mind if you beat her, brand her or betray her, as long as you don’t leave her. Because then she’ll want to die. O is so perfect, she’s living, breathing clay for any Pygmalion that comes along to sculpt. She is so devoted to her idea of acceptance that she does whatever she can to find it and receive it, including, but not limited to: being raped by several strangers one after the other, being flogged and whipped until she bears permanent scars, getting a leash attached to her genitals and proclaiming slave status to appease her Master. And what really makes O the perfect woman is that one may assume she does not have a menstrual cycle nor can get pregnant. There are no consequences for her Masters to be concerned about. They have nothing they need to apologize for because their actions only seem to ripple to O, who is literally an “o,” an orfice, a sex doll. O cannot possibly be the ideal woman because she seemingly does not live the lived experience of what it is to be a woman, biologically or gender-chosen.

We are struggling in a conflict between accepting O’s submissiveness, because she accepts it and being overwhelmingly frustrated by her awareness of oppression. At the end of the day though, we just are trying to wrap our brains around understanding how anyone could live an authentic BDSM lifestyle. We’d like to think that Story of O is perhaps an ironical take on patriarchy and a hyperbolized tale of gender roles and politics. Maybe that is myopic, but it is the only way we can consume  its passages in good conscience while hoping, praying and at least pretending it is commentary on the ills of society and institutional brutality against women. From this perspective, it’s as if Pauline, the author, is mocking cultural standards by writing a satirical subversion that says, “Of course women want to be abused! They cannot think for themselves! Yes, violence is the answer! Oh, and men are insane, sex-crazed lunatics without an ounce of compassion. Yes, that’s it; women are merely walking, talking (if they’re allowed) holes for self-centered dicks to put their dicks into!”

Analyzing Story of O in this way lets us compare it to the graphic movies of South Korea’s “extreme cinema” genre. Ki-duk Kim, a director who has created several films that fall into this category, is often called a misogynist for his violent and profuse use of rape, prostitution, gang brutality and sickening sub-cultural realities. His defense for such accusations? Well, he says that his movies are actually more like commentary on society, forcing audiences to see what they ignore in their communities everyday. He believes, like other “extreme” artists, that the “slap-in-your-face” method is disturbing enough that it actually does raise awareness about social issues. We would like to think that this is what Pauline had intended for her book to do; the idea that Story of O is not criticizing the BDSM community, but is highlighting the larger problem of gender-typing and manipulation.

This also settles into the “reality” of “desensitization.” Just look to any one of the music videos listed below as examples of the male gaze, of self-sexualization and of the “pornification” of the mainstream:

Dirty Talk” – Wynter Gordon

S&M” – Rihanna

Disturbia” – Rihanna

Alejandro” – Lady Gaga

Dirrty” – Christina Aguilera

Lady Marmalade” – Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink (there’s a riding crop in this one!)

You can read the novel (if you’re a little crazy or a little curious) here, although we do not take blame for any emotional distress caused.

*Two young feminists were scarred in the reading of this book. No animals were injured. Lots of sweet potato fries were consumed though.

NOT COOL

WHAT?!?!?!?!

#!@%!^@*!^@#!$!@%@#$!

We’re so confused/frustrated/appalled that we don’t even know what word those symbols stand for!!!!

We are not ragging on Christians, chaste lifestyles or those who believe in the sanctity of marriage. We are angry about the GENDER-TYPING!!!!!!!!

This a website by Christian speaker/author/marriage counselor/uber opinionated Sheila Wray Gregoire. In her own words, “her passion in this life is to help strengthen families–to equip women to be the best wives and mothers they can be…”

Gulp. I’m trapped in a vacuum cleaner and I can’t get out! It smells like the 1950’s in here!

Media Review – “Ninja Babes from Space”

IMDB

2007

directed by Dan Lantz

starring Trish Cleveland, Adam Danoff, Katy O’Leary

NBS is a webisode series made in 2007 by Dan Lantz, a Philadelphian film-maker and cameraman. I recently worked for him as a freelance production assistant and while on set he told me about his previous projects, including NBS. Although it’s in his past, NBS is still a point of pride for him so my deconstruction has a little bit of a political and personal edge to it.

NBS is a bite of bitter sweet reality when it comes to “empowered women,” as understood by pop culture and, honestly, most pop sub-cultures as well. Albeit a joke, a facade or a just another “film” with sexy “actresses” who can barely act, NBS is nothing more than an indulgent way to glorify stereotypes and sexualize women.

Let’s start off first with the idea of the “fighting fuck toy,” a term coined by Dr. Caroline Heldman, of Occidental College. Her idea is that the character of the hyper-sexualized woman that can kill, maim and dominate is not actually empowered, but instead “her very existence serves the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In short, the FFT takes female agency, weds it to normalized male violence, and appropriates it for the male gaze,” as summarized by Gyan Alexander. Every Ninja Babe fits this category. They wield swords, guns and bombs and don stilettos, push-up leather bras and hot pants, but are required to match their male counter-parts with the same caliber. At one point in one of the six webisodes the male characters even sit back and watch with wet pallets as the women do all the fighting, but their fight is not one of might, strength or cunning, instead it is in slow motion with wide shots of exposed thighs and cleavage.

Second, my own personal pet peeve; the logo of the NBS. It is a variation of the familiar female symbol, but in the context of this narrative is now associated with the “fighting fuck toy.” This symbol is to unite and give pride, here it means nothing more than intergalactic self-sexualization.

TaraArmor.jpg

Throughout the webisodes, as it would seem obvious by the pictures posted, there is a throwback to erotic sci-fi and comic book dramatization. Where some may find this humorous or even nostalgic, it is outdated and sexist. The characters, male and female, are stereotypes used over and over with very little creative liberties taken as far as I can observe. There are constant airs of superficiality, including the crash in the final webisode when additional Babes are called in and one is too distracted by doing her make up to pay attention to steering her spaceship. Another example is the “Hair” button in the cockpit of one of the main character’s ships. She presses it to style her hair after a risky and bumpy maneuver. And I can keep going with examples…

GalleryAboveFight.jpg

Where these ideas and themes are funny, and I can take a joke, they are also degrading and a bit insulting. Yes women can be sexy, tough, clever and feminine…ALL AT THE SAME TIME…but reducing them to heels and hair flips while dueling space monkeys doesn’t scream role model, or even on a less serious note, great character development, to me.

This piece, like all creative works, must be taken with a grain of salt. It can certainly be viewed as entertainment, but we’re here to deconstruct and NBS is so laden with deep-seeded themes, it’s almost hard to even rationalize breaking it down.