“The Revolution Will Be Designed”

That catchy title is not my own and instead is a comment on our changing culture. Everyday, especially with accessible technology, do we both perpetuate and watch society’s standards, regionally and globally, as they shift and merge.  This is why it is so incredibly important to remember that what we build, break and blog today will have a different type of significance tomorrow.

I began doing informal research on the topics of Gender and Design and how they could possibly intersect on the whole. Design, as a principle of advertising, innovation, architecture and so many other fields is often connected through its partnership with Functionality. Where Design is not always functional, it is itself a dialogue on beauty or aesthetic and, as it seems to go, often consumerism as well.

Considering how Gender is a “function” of society; a convenient way to categorize and communicate cultural roles, I only now thought of it in terms of Design. When it comes to marketing, Gender is crucial for economy and trendsetting.  In relation to inventions and new technology, Gender comes into play largely in ratios behind the scenes, but also in how we see ourselves reflected back by identity politics online. And in terms of architecture, in this case the many levels that overlap to make a society work, we notice Gender as part of the institutionalization of different populations and groups.

Remembering that Gender is a construct that we are socialized into is a key factor towards building a better, more egalitarian culture and future. Notions about how men and women (and every person who identifies in between) are supposed to act and behave is designed. Every part of one’s gender identity is packaged as a way to move in and out of social situations and how to process purpose and place when living a moment is just not enough.

We have to be open to the constant movement of trends, of language and of how we occupy physical and emotional spaces. When we chose to design, or in some cases, redesign, such decisions come with consequences we may or may not be able to determine prior to the switch. By analyzing the worlds in which we live we take the “risk” of become subversive, of going against a grain which seemingly works. What many overlook though is that when someone openly questions such functions, like Gender, they begin to realize that there are others that too are less happy than they could be. Remembering also that functionality is relative is important too if just simply to remind oneself to be an aware participant in the Design process. Because a Design works for one, or many, does not mean that it works the way it could, that it works the best it can or that it is even still relevant.

More to learn, More to grow

-Darragh

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Fatal Friday – June 28

Sometimes, you find yourself mid-conversation with an intensely charged and intelligent woman in a space full of erotic toys and fetish gear. At least you do if you’re ever invited to a sex educators mixer. The event took place in the Sexploratorium, recently re-located to 317 South Street. We took our usual walking detour to get there, [not lost at all, ahem] toyed with the thought of hopping a wall into a churchyard, and finally wound up at the shop around 8pm.

Five hours earlier, we were sitting in a kitchen discussing our respective research for our Fulbright grant applications over custom gorditas and chocolate milkshakes. The conversation transitioned to past loves and romances, horrendous kissing techniques and bad dates. Eventually we stood up and got mint iced tea, finally deciding to make the sacrifice…. to actually put pants on. [Yes, it’s hot out there.] It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper Fatal Friday, you see. But hopefully we’re not out of practice.

Now, back to the Sexploratorium. Once inside, we did a whirlwind tour of the first and second floors, which were dripping with leather restraints, BDSM How-To books, gags, corsets and whips. Eventually we made it to the third level where we found a lovely setup of deep red, carpeted floors, chairs, and baked goods. The space was occupied by a varied and beautifully passionate group of fellow educators. Soon we were absorbed in conversation with two of these women, Susana Mayer, Ph.D and the Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale. Throughout the course of the evening, Nicole took a Sex and the Bible quiz, after which she learned that she was not erudite enough to be a Sexy Bible Scholar. While the Reverend Beverly Dale spoke with Nicole about the intersection of sexual and spiritual, Darragh spoke to Dr. Mayer regarding rape culture both here and internationally, touching upon the topic of ‘safe sex’ versus “responsible sex.” At some point, the conversations organically merged together and everyone ate homemade snicker-doodle cookies and exchanged business cards.

Before, the Reverend had observed to Nicole that part of spirituality is in righteous living. Speaking to us both, she elaborated on the beauty of a religion founded on incarnation–a God entering into human flesh–explaining that, for her, Christian faith should be the most loving, most sex-positive expression possible. Needless to say, we were blown away by the experiences and insight of these outspoken educators. We are seriously considering presenting a class ourselves, and most certainly attending some events that the program Passion 101 offers. We left with a giddy high from good conversations and the offer of a potential chance to put together a panel series.

However, our night was far from over. Making our way back to Broad Street, we devoured some vegetarian fare at Govindas, but we quickly rushed away to make it to The Venture Inn. There, we had a birthday to attend, or rather two birthdays, and we didn’t want to be late. We had a very festive drag show to get to.

Miss Scarlett Bleu, second from the left, performed two numbers on her birthday. She sang live to the whole place, and absolutely rocked it! Darragh screamed in delight as Miss Scarlett hit baritone lows and cooed of true love, the eve after DOMA had been knocked off its rocker. The night was particularly important, as Scarlett’s parents had shown up for the first time to see her perform in full queen regalia. At the end of her second number, she went over to where her mom was sitting and dropped down into her lap, at which point we both nearly cried. So touching, so supportive, so fun!

A successful Fatal Friday we think! 

-FF

Back to Basics…

This Spring has been a roller-coaster of feminist studies in and out of the classroom. Between two women’s studies courses and a lot of relevant experiences outside of school, I have really powered through the past few months by trying to lace a continuous theme of advocacy in to all my projects. Because of all my running around, writing posts on Fatal Femmes has gone to the back burner, but now that finals are almost over, I can begin to get back to the swing of things. Let this post be a summation of my feminism this semester as well as the jumpstart to a Summer of analysis and media critique!

First, January 16th was the last feminist dinner party I was invited to by my friend and the activist artist, Phoebe Bachman. This dinner marked the end of a multi-meal performance piece that Phoebe was hosting for the long-term research project, “Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces,” that she had been conducting for months on feminist creators. I was so thrilled and honored to be included in her work as both a documented subject and as a participant. I guess I was a little surprised that I was picked because although I am very open about my feminist politics, I never count myself as an artist. I write and paint, film and edit, but I never seem to consider myself as a creator. I have begun to rethink the idea in recent weeks.

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Following up with her work, Phoebe officially presented her art and research on February 4th at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. I silently joined a “tour” of spectators that she was walking through her exhibit the night of the opening. Although I had been aware of her methodology and work throughout the process of watching her plan everything for almost a year, I was thoroughly impressed by the final execution. She knowingly glanced up and caught my eye and asked me to speak out about the experience of being a participant. I was so content to speak on her behalf. It was wonderful to be a part of someone else’s work. She inspires me.

In February, Temple University’s branch of HerCampus, run by my friend Jaimee Swift, asked me to sit on two informational panels. The first was titled “Young Women in the Media.” Like Phoebe’s dinners, I felt that I held a unique place being the only self-identified academic (or budding academic) in the group. Regardless, I still have a few documentaries under my belt and have picked up an interest in band photography and headshots so I was still counted as media maker. As usual, I was impressed by the women I that I was being associated with and thrilled to sit with them. The other panel was silly as it was about Valentine’s Day and Romance. I tried to be serious at parts when asked to discuss safe sex and consent, with added knowledge about sex toys and why it’s important to communicate partner-to-partner. I was excited to bring two of my friends, Karley Cohen and Tom Diaogistino, onto the panel last minute. They had completely different perspectives and experiences that completely added to the discussion.

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Also in February was the Women’s Way tenth annual Women and Influence Conference at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. I went with two fellow feminists, Melissa Fabello and Nuala Cabral. It was exciting to see accomplished women acknowledged and celebrated, but Melissa and I had a few comments about how to improve the event as a whole. Firstly, we noticed that although Women’s Way did a great job coordinating the conference, many of the workshop sessions lacked interactivity. The topics seemed stiff and centered around business and entrepreneurship, less about the “issues of importance to women, girls, and their families in our region” that the program highlighted. Throughout the day there was great debate as to whether or not women could truly have it all. I hope to attend next year.

I spent quite a bit of time preparing for my first workshop this semester in early March. I was asked by Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania to host a media literacy session for their Pot of Gold, or bi-annual adult volunteer day. More than happy to accept, I included in my proposal that Nicole should join me to speak. As my collaborator, she deserves to share in the sharing of knowledge. I was particularly proud of her the day that we presented because not only had we created the workshop together, but it was also her first ever public speaking engagement outside of classroom presentations and our first ever as a team. The workshop was great and the feedback we received was amazing. Comments ranged from “It was thought provoking and on point for what’s going on with tween and teen girls today” to “This workshop invoked a lot of great conversation. It really could have benefited if it was given more time!” 9 out of 10 guests recommended the workshop for future audiences. It was the first time I had ever really worked with adults without children being present. This allowed for flexibility of material, faster teaching and discussion, more examples of current events and, of course, a wide range of debate. After the two sessions we hosted, Nicole and I took time to reflect on being what we called “novice masters,” a term we use to explain the odd relationship we have to our highly specific studies and those outside the field. Being students, particularly undergraduates, we are learning all the time, but to give back by breaking down what we absorb we are the closest thing to “masters” or “experts” that those unfamiliar with such schools of thought may interact with at the time. If anything, it’s a responsibility that we do not take lightly.

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Next was another workshop, later in March, for the GirlTalk Summit hosted by the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, PA. I was asked to do a presentation on media’s glorification of teen pregnancy, a controversial, but incredibly important topic. I suffered through research by making myself watch “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and a few other shows that I really could care less about as a viewer, but as a budding media scholar I do understand that their impact is intense and widespread. I ran three sessions with about two-dozen teenage girls aged 15-19. Some of these young women were already mothers, many watched the shows I discussed and all were identified as “high-risk.” Being from the intercity placed them into a special category that sociologists, educators, politicians and paperwork like to use. I was just excited to interact with young people close to my age that had ideas about how to start talking about what they cared about. I found that when presenting, I must learn to sum up lofty ideas with more examples. Nonetheless, I am happy to have participated. The experience was very important to me.

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The tail end of April was all over the place. Out of the blue I received an email from a former professor from a few semesters back who asked if I was interested in teaching one of my favorite articles from his class to his current students. I was ecstatic. The writing, “Fraternity Gang Rape,” started with a brief summary of America’s sexual history and eventually discusses present-day rape culture. The day I was to teach, I was surprised to find out that my mentor chose not to assist or comment and left both of his classes up to me. I excitedly spoke as I moved around the classroom. Students, my own peers, followed up with me via email and gave me wonderful feedback. It was an amazing time and really gave me a better idea of how much I think I would enjoy teaching.

During the last weekend in April I was ask to present yet another workshop! This time, I occupied the upstairs lobby of the Warner Hotel in downtown West Chester, PA during the ninth annual West Chester Film Festival. The experience was special because I was also a nominated director. My documentary “The Voices of Time Before They Are Silenced: The Holocaust” was up for Best Pennsylvania Director. During the workshop, titled “Lights, Camera, Action: Women’s Sexuality In and On Film,” I found myself very comfortable with the material I had arranged. I think it was a touchstone of confidence in understanding that I know what I’m talking about. Pretty cool if you ask me! A great discussion was peaked post-speech and carried on for about half-an-hour with yours truly as moderator.

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As of May 7th, I can also say that I may add state lobbying to my feminist activism this semester. Just earlier this week, I went with a few fellow feminists to the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA with Women’s Way. The organization was supporting the efforts of the Polaris Project to advocate for stronger human trafficking laws in the state. According to Polaris, Pennsylvania is at the bottom of the scale when it comes to safety for “victims” or survivors of slavery and does very little to fully prosecute pimps and other traders. Lobbying was really interesting. It was much like a performance of suits and ties and smiles and handshakes. I credit Women’s Way and Polaris and all the other activist group present, but there was something sad about having to dress up to talk about real issues, problems outside the marble and stained glass of the Capitol Building.

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At the Capitol talking to a Senate Rep

While all this was going on outside of school, I was also a student in two women’s studies courses, as aforementioned. One was a foundations course treated as a history class on women’s rights and activism in America and the other was an upper level topics called “Male Perspectives of Women’s Studies.” New to Temple, Dr. Edward Onaci taught both. As the semester eased on, he became more flexible with the format in which he chose to teach. Eventually, both classes came to rely and appreciate a circle approach to roundtable discussion. No raising of hands, just commentary and dialogue. No yelling or fighting, just debate and civil conversation. It reminded me of the circular education paradigm that Gloria Steinem spoke of during a speech I witnessed in November 2012. She emphasized the importance of shared knowledge passed through or across teachers to students and from generation to generation. This approach opposes our current academic institutions’ way where education is treated as another form of class that oppresses those who seemingly do not have access. In “Male Perspectives” I found great frustration in reading the works of men like Rousseau, men who believe women’s place in under them, in society and in the every other context. I have realized that, as Lynda Lange explains in “Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” if nothing else, perhaps reading the works of a man as sexist as Rousseau, who is “the very embodiment of misogyny,” will encourage feminists “to read and view more works by women.”

Lastly, my future endeavors. Besides giving Fatal Femmes a make-over, which Nicole and I both agree that it needs, I have a lot of other projects going on that need time and love ASAP. These include, but are not limited to another workshop for Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania coming up Fall 2013, possibly photographing LadyFest in Philadelphia in July, learning how to be a peer health and sexuality educator for Temple University in Fall through the HEART Wellness Resources Center on campus, becoming a Women’s Way media intern this Summer, traveling to Los Angeles to volunteer as a student scholar for NAMLE (the National Association of Media Literacy Education), animating an abstract documentary about gender literacy and word structures titled “WoŸman,” and trying to kick as much as butt as possible on the side.

-Darragh Dandurand Friedman

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (media review)

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2001

Directors: Gary TrousdaleKirk Wise

A Look a Gender in Children’s Cinema

            Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Disney, 2001, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise) is not original by Disney’s standards, race and gender cartoon archetypes or many of the other characteristics that indicate the typical genre conventions of children’s cinema. Instead, it shows its uniqueness by not falling prey to the whole formula used by other directors to produce a moneymaking movie that kids nag their parents to see and that adults plop their kids in front of as a baby-sitter. Atlantis is not the break-through, progressive movie that questions industry habits or societal norms, but it does put race relations, semi-non-traditional protagonists and the importance of education and cultural preservation at the forefront of its storyline.

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge the elements that make Atlantis an average film in the genre. Like a laundry list, certain aspects also seen in numerous other kids’ movies can be checked off: the film explores the demise of a royal family, the female lead is a princess, the female lead is hetero-sexual, almost all the female characters are hyper-sexualized, the male protagonist must save the royal family and its people after being begged by the female lead, the female lead’s mother disappears/dies when she is a little girl (thus she has never had a ‘proper’ role model), the male protagonist lost both his parents at an early age, the male protagonist is white and hetero-sexual, the male protagonist is more knowledgeable than the female lead (about her own culture, she is illiterate and only he can translate the written word of her people), the female lead is gawked at openly by several male characters (with and without her knowledge), the male protagonist’s goal is to fulfill a dream of his grandfather’s (i.e. patriarchal pride, almost all of the characters are trying to fulfill a dream of their fathers’), there is a clearly defined bad guy (who is a “foreigner” – with a twist), there is a fight / violent scene in which the male protagonist must save the female lead who is in danger and cannot help herself and, last, but not least,  the male protagonist and the female lead wind up together by the end of the movie. For most of Disney’s films and other producers and distributors of children’s cinema, it can practically be assumed that this list is handed off to the scriptwriter prior to the completion of the story in order to fill the standard format. Even with the fields of gender studies and children’s psychology consistently publishing work on the topic, few things have changed.

As for the aspects of the film that are atypical, there are many, but perhaps not enough to clean the slate and wipe away the stereotypes it is also laden with. Nonetheless, these differences need to be discussed for their importance in making Atlantis one of Disney’s more “conscious” movies. To start off, characters of multiple ethnicities, nationalities and backgrounds are featured in speaking roles (including Hispanic, French, Italian, African-American, Southern-American and, of course, Atlantian – each has a special talent or skill that makes them invaluable to the plot), both of the supporting female characters are more technologically advanced than rest of the male characters, one of supporting female characters holds military rank and is addressed with her title throughout (and the film is set in 1914) and there is an appreciation for a foreign culture, not just a foreign love interest.

from julvett.deviantart.com

from julvett.deviantart.com

Although several gender-related observations have been already pointed out, these dynamics are more influential with the context of the whole film. While watching, I could not help but to question the choices of the “binary” and wonder why the film-makers did not choose to perhaps explore an alternate caste for the Atlantians, maybe one with no gender or at least with more than two. Additionally, even though Atlantis is described as being far below sea level in a secret “cave,” the women are clothed in tight dresses and bikini tops as if they were influenced by Summer Sale commercials in the modern-day West. Apparently practicality was lost on this lost civilization, at least according to Disney.

As explored in the course article, “Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-rated Films” (Martin and Kazyak), hetero-romance plays a role in uniting the main characters, but, thankfully, is not the goal of the movie. It plays a minor part post-climax as closure to the audience to assure the future of Atlantis (and to suggest a sequel). To further the affair, the female lead has to flaunt her wears and the male protagonist has to prove his worth through intellect. The classic innocent vixen trope is displayed when the female lead undresses to go swimming and the male protagonist’s eyes bulge slightly as he trips over his words. “Do you swim?” she says. “Uh, pretty girl, uh, uh, I meant, pretty good,” he replies. This odd idea of the woman being aware and unaware of her appeal at the same time is tricky and sometimes hard to recognize. It is an elusive look or a flirtatious action, often followed by a sincere comment to diffuse her sexual awareness, but increase his, which is acceptable.

Examining the male protagonist more closely, we notice that he does not fit the bill of the normal, masculine hero. He is scrawny and academic and made fun of for both traits. “You are a scholar, no less?” the female lead inquires. “With your diminished physique and large forehead you are suited for nothing else!” He is not set on finding a maiden or damsel in distress, instead he is hopeful in his hunt for history and heritage. His adventure is one of identity. His tools are education, dedication and empathy. Nonetheless, while his uniqueness begins the adventure, it is brute force, fast action and violent combat that saves the day. One moment he doubts his ability to lead and the next he is leading makeshift troops into a fiery battle to save the female lead, who, by this point in the story, is literally an object.

As the climax begins to ramp up, the female lead, for one reason or another, transforms into a holy statue, a glowing figurine frozen by a mystical crystal that binds her community. She is not a woman, definitely not a person, but a representation of the female form. The “bad guys” kidnap her in this state to bring her back to the modern world to sell her as an artifact. In other words, her autonomy is lost when she sacrifices herself and identity for her culture. She cannot have it all.

from tk-the-tiger on tumblr

from tk-the-tiger on tumblr

Caricatures in certain cases, when used in clever ways, can explain a cultural identity, understanding or phenomena that only parody can. By utilizing a stereotype to prove an idea about how such a generalization came to being so widely accepted, a lesson is learned and a comedy is often played out. On the other end, when a formula of tropes is repeated over and over without active commentary, such as in children’s movies where the target audience is obviously not media, politically or gender literate, lessons are learned lacking realistic dialogue to balance the digested material. This is the weary consequence of reusing the same story and characters in a loop with no responsibility for the messages being created, interpreted and internalized.

-Darragh

“Django Unchained” – Media Review

* Review contains plot spoilers and/or details.

2012

Director, Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio

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“The idea isn’t just “slavery was bad.” The overarching point is that old ideas of inferiority linger despite the fact that we all think we know better.” – Stephanie Zacharek, NPR

This is a not a nice movie and it is certainly not for your entertainment. You cannot walk away feeling accomplished or redeemed after watching it. No one “wins.” No one is free because we are still locked in a world that cannot deconstruct or discuss social justice. This movie scratches the surface of human rights issues that have been left to be edited by text-books, storytellers, memories and Hollywood. At least the dialogue is not as repressed as it used to be.

Like many, I’ve been hearing about the the controversy surrounding Django Unchained from before it even hit theaters. Although it opened on Christmas Day, I finally saw it last night. To some extent, I knew what I was in for. Friends had told me it was a “white guilt” movie, made to make Caucasians cringe in their seats and hang their heads low. Others said it was a “black redemption” film for all the African-Americans and blacks that really wanted to see the innards of white people fly high in the sky. I hate the idea of white guilt, as I hate any stereotype that negatively portrays or affects a group of people. Just because I am white does not mean I have to answer for crimes against humanity performed and encouraged by people who share my same skin color. Conversely, if someone had been aware enough to tell me that Django is a political allegory (and a damn good one at that) and a discussion of social privilege, I would have been less cynical of my peers who had previously seen the film.

I had really hoped that the audiences of Django would be able to see past Quentin Tarantino’s name and Jamie Foxx’s fame and especially all the gory action, but alas, even the friends I went to see the movie with did little more than yawn as we left the theater. Sadly, I think Django is lost on many because of the glamor surrounding its making and release, let alone the…um…lack of education American students receive about slavery, race relations and critical media consumption.

___________

Women as Accessible Accessory

The women in this movie are merely objects. Whether black or white, the men of Django move around “their” women and, apparently, in and out of them as well. They are either sexualized props or supporting aids who are so domesticated that they are simply there to make the lives of men easier. None of these women are aggressive players in their own story, because they do not have one.

Women are currency for trade (literally and figuratively), physical manifestations of male ego or trophies to be won, if nothing else. Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), Django’s long-lost, slave-traded and German-speaking wife, is a perfect example. The character has almost no lines, never defends herself from the grasp or gaze of men and is simply a token of a job well done. Although Washington explains that the role “allows the black woman to embrace a fantasy that historically wasn’t available to her,” it still caters to the unfortunate ideal of a damsel in distress. “I know it’s not the most feminist idea to be a woman in a tower wanting to be rescued, but for a woman of color in this country, we’ve never been afforded that fairy tale because of how the black family was ripped apart [during slavery],” Washington said. “I really saw the value of having a story that empowers the African American man to do something chivalrous for the African American woman, because that hasn’t been an idea that has held women back in the culture — it’s something we’ve never been allowed to dream about” (Nicole Sperling, LA Times).

Django’s (Jamie Foxx) actions may be chivalrous, but they also highlight that our social gender structure still isolates and negates many other types of story-telling or stories that are otherwise considered to be sub-cultural narratives. What if Django was a woman trying to save her man? Or her woman? It would make the movie even more unbelievable than it already is, relational to historical context. And more so, why do we only understand romantic relationships as hetero-normative and possessive?

Even in death, women are not treated equals to men in Django. The pretty, ignorant, white sister of Calvin Candie, the slave master who owns Django’s wife, is picked off by Django in the final battle after Calvin has died. Django tells her maids to say goodbye to her as he shots the woman in the chest sending her flying out of the frame, which causes an obvious uproar of laughter from the audience. Maybe this moment serves to lighten the mood before Django blows up the plantation’s estate, but I think it represents that women are not the owners of their own glory, nor are deserving of it in a man’s world. The sister does not die like the other men killed throughout the film. As least they die screaming and fighting, whether or not they deserve to live. The only way that a woman seems to carry honor is if she is being protected by a man, such as Broomhilda, and since Calvin’s sister no longer has a brother to look after her, her honor is stripped and she can be used as a slap-stick prop.

Additionally, what does it say about our backward culture that Jamie Foxx speaks our about racism, but not sexism? How can he embody a character like Django and then participate in collaborating with Kayne West on “Gold Digger?” These contradictions infuriate me. In this capacity, Jamie need not worry about any of the other “-isms” because he has male privilege and therefore does not have to care about insensitivity regarding women. Although he is black, he is still a man and a man still has more leverage if he so chooses to use it.

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Violence as a Foundational Catalyst for Racial Sensitivity

“Amid real violence, ‘Django’ premiere cancelled” – Examiner

After seeing the film, one of my friends and I drove to a 24/7 diner and searched the menu desperately for comfort food. I was in between the feeling of nausea at seeing so much death on screen for over two and a half hours and the need to block out the memory with pancakes. I suspect he was just really hungry at 11:30 pm. We sat in silence for a little while, uncommon for the two of us, while I scribbled down notes about how I was feeling and thoughts for this analysis on napkins. When I finally looked up to see his impatient expression, waiting for me to order, I in turn asked how he felt about the movie. Since I was so overwhelmed, I was surprised to hear that all he really had to say was that “there was too much unnecessary violence.” “Anything else?” I replied. “Nah, except that I felt a little awkward seeing it.” Trying to pull thoughts out of him, I asked if that was maybe because he was white. He agreed that was part of his discomfort.

Here we see two levels of sensitivity and non-critical consumption at play: violence and race. Apparently my friend felt something of “white guilt” or close to it. Was it the mass murdering of white folks throughout the flick that did it or the mere mention of race-based discussion? And the other point is forked: how Tarantino’s brand violence perhaps hides  the issue while at the same time reduces the audience to a quivering pool of sensitive viewers that are now emotionally invested and therefore open to receiving the political barrage that is Django. By this I mean, maybe Tarantino cleverly uses obscene brutality as a foundational catalyst for the sensitive topics of gender, race and class that are poked, prodded and pondered over the course of the movie to sway emotions over the edge.

My friend went on to comment that he was used to the bloody, almost comical scenes where the hero confronts a whole slue of bad guys at once. We’ve seen this so many times in so many of Tarantino’s films such as Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2, Inglorious Bastards, Sin City and, now, in the closing scene of Django. My buddy added though that the scene where a slave is torn to pieces by dogs on screen, with careful editing, was too much for him and that it was perhaps unnecessary. I quickly argued that this was not the case and that that moment in the film was of terrific importance since it was one of the most realistic. While Django looks cool twirling pistols and picking off his slimy foils, what Tarantino seems to be mocking is just a show of might and power and the idea that redemption is the purpose of freedom.

The whole film is a parody of our understanding of our own history, of how we lack the lens to understand our past and therefore realize how we create and live our present. The movie is a mirror held up to society, saying that the only way we can relive our own bloody holocaust is to treat it as a Vaudevillian circus. With its thin facade, it really does seem to be another one of Tarantino’s formulaic flicks, but its political necessity is so much deeper. Django symbolizes our dismissal of our past and the shame of slavery. Merely seeing the film represents how skewed our understanding of race relations still is — this topic is not entertaining and should not be.

We are still scared to talk openly about race, gender and class relations, but we can sit through two hours of gore and blood and absolute terror without blinking an eye. What does this say about our emotional sensitivities. What does this say about our media consumption habits?

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Masculinity as a Translatable Narrative

The idea of conquering and claiming, a masculine fantasy indeed, is present not only in the narrative of Django’s journey, but in the retelling and revitalization of the past. With both humor and seriousness, I refer to this as story-telling masturbation; a trend that been popular since the beginning of Hollywood’s desensitized culture.

Someone once told me that every American tale is about a boy and his story. Understanding Django’s is so easy with this paradigm. He is the hero every man wants to be and the “1 in 10,000 nigger” that makes his fictional slave story so sad. The story serves the purpose of glorifying the power and intensity of a man with a plan. Django, although nontraditional by standard action movie characterization, still applies in that he “is a male’s ideal. …the quintessential modern action heroes are men who speak to the problems, insecurities and longings of men. …[It is the fantasy of wanting] to go into a theater for an hour and a half and get a vicarious thrill out of seeing someone who can talk back to authority, who makes his own rules, who lives by his own code of conduct and ethics, because the real world will seldom give anyone the opportunity to do that” (p. 140, Blood, Guns and Testosterone, Barna William Donovan).

Using masculinity and the identifiable American masculine agenda, Tarantino has a narrative pre-structured that he can build off of without diverging far from the standard “hero.” In this way, he can translate a sense on empathy onto men, particularly those that are masculine, whether or not they are black, a slave or in desperate need of a better wardrobe. Additionally, Tarantino had the option of using this manly man character to dismiss the need for further characterization so that he could focus on race relations.

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“Hipster-Racism” and Black Caricature

“A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism'” – Jezebel

I’ll let Lindy West of Jezebel define “Hipster Racism (and Sexism)” real quick: “There’s been a lot of talk these last couple of weeks about “hipster racism” or “ironic racism”—or, as I like to call it, racism. It’s, you know, introducing your black friend as “my black friend”—as a joke!!!—to show everybody how totally not preoccupied you are with your black friend’s blackness. It’s the gentler, more clueless, and more insidious cousin of a hick in a hood; the domain of educated, middle-class white people (like me—to be clear, I am one of those) who believe that not wanting to be racist makes it okay for them to be totally racist. “But I went to college — I can’t be racist!” Turns out, you can.”

Great, now we’re on the same page about that hipster -ism business. What concerns me about Django is that lots of white people will go to and see the film and feel better about themselves because they sat through the whole movie and still rooted for the black guy to shoot ’em up. In this way, they may think that they are better people or maybe that because this film was released by a major distributor, made by a major director and stars major stars that we are finally a post-racist society since a slavery movie is now a 21st Century block-buster. No, that is not how that works.

On top of all that, Django is not a character we often see – a quiet, naturally smart, independent and patience black man ready to save the love of his life by possibly sacrificing the life he never had. While he may be the brooding, calculated and courageous hero we glorify him to be, his base is partially that of one of the infamous black caricatures. Django is, at least somewhat, based off the “Nat,” a caricature that “portrays African and African American males as angry, crazed, revengeful brutes with a bloodthirsty hatred for whites” (Jim Crow Museum, Ferris State University). We do not encounter the “Nat” regularly because white people are still afraid of angry black people, because, wait for it….the world is still racist even though we like to pretend it’s not by watching movies about minorities seeking redemption (how’s that for a new genre?!)

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The movie is neither a rite nor reason. It is not the final word on slavery nor is it the most revolutionary to date. It is a shocking and sensitive portrayal of a reality we’ve long forgotten in the public eye.

*For the record, I really, really liked this movie. You should go see it (and be critical of it too!).

design by Federico Mancosu

Fatal Friday (actually Tuesday) Diez – Tiny Post!

I have just missed Nicole so much

For weeks we have been out of touch

I’m in need of a hug

And the sight of her mug

Made my heart do flips, twirls and such!

_

I’ve been dying from a cold

I feel like I’m 50 years old

It’s a sad thing to see

There’s not much left of me

But I’m still here, or so I’ve been told

We spent our time together

On the web, for worse or better

Finding articles and art

And other sites world’s apart

Some that will be shit forever: http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/Evils%20in%20America/Feminism/feminism_is_evil.htm

My limerick could be brighter

My rhymes could be tighter

But this will have to do

And we still love you

This is all you’re getting out of this writer.

 

….for tonight.