Agonizing Ads….

Just last week, I had the pleasure of flipping through an issue of the fashion magazine Marie Claire. According to their website, this publication is: “Your source for information on fashion, style, beauty, women’s issues, careers, health, and so much more. It is the fashion magazine with character, substance and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion and a sense of humor…If it matters to women, it’s in Marie Claire.”

Hmm, sounds promising so far.

Inside I found these two ads:

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What matters to women? Apparently Slimfast diets and breast implants. I particularly love the Slimfast image, with its bait and switch. Women want to lose weight to be more confident, it’s improving their self-image, right….? Oh wait, what they actually meant was women want to look better naked.

Two things:

1. Don’t tell me to diet.

2. I already look good naked.

Why do these ads make me happy? It’s not because I’m looking to drop pounds or get bodywork done.

It’s not even because they expose Marie Claire’s mission statement as blatant hypocrisy.

These ads make me smile because of what happened as I was looking at them. (Glaring in anger, really.) Because at that moment, two other women in the room with me became interested in what was causing my face to twist up. I quickly showed them the offending pages. And what happened next was brilliant. We started a dialogue.

In a very simple way, we deconstructed the hell out of those images. We talked through it. We voiced our different opinions. These stupid, frustrating pictures of faceless women turned into tools whereby we could talk about what it means to be a woman now. And that’s a seed of hope for this society. Women want to talk about what it means to be women. They just need the opportunity. And what is more fitting and more ironic than using  mass media as a diagram of exactly how we don’t want to be seen?

I may even write a little note to Marie Claire, to thank them for making their idea of womanhood so clear to me. It’s useful to know thine enemy.

-Nicole

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Media Review–“Accessory”

Jordyn Taylor

Confessions of a Shopaholic

2009

“Fashion defines women” is certainly not a new concept, but I was surprised to learn that by tracking fashion trends, you can track the modernization process of a society. To put this into practice, I’ll do my best to gain some sort of insight into our society by breaking down the messages in “Accessory.” I am indebted to Professor Susan Hiner for her excellent talk on fashion and modernity given at Tyler School of Art, which inspired and provided the background for this post.

Oh, our love affair with inanimate objects.

No, really, she is about to make out with that mannequin. Do woman (wealthy, white) have so much agency that they can afford to love their luxury accessories instead of- or more than- other people?  Clearly, pleasure is tied up in the acquisition and display of “brand name” objects. Now take a moment to appreciate this image.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the handbag did not always carry the meaning we assign to it today. In fact, circa 1801 handbags were seen as ridiculous alternatives to pockets, which were hidden underneath the dress. A handbag, in contrast to the secrecy of the pocket, was promiscuous. The women carrying a handbag openly was immediately “classed down”  as vulgar, letting it all hang out. Unless her bag was a sewing bag, because in that case it announced her prowess at home economics and thus potential wifely qualities. Needlework was acceptable, it showed a woman’s moral fiber. Virtuous needlework would keep a woman from the idle vanity of handbags.

Jump forward to the 1880s. Department stores have entered the scene, trampled small businesses underfoot. We can see all too clearly the developing gendered economy, reflected in the literature of the time. Women, as consumers, are idiots. They drive men to bankruptcy. And who is to blame for this trouble? The humble handbag. Because woman get irrational over them. In fact, it’s almost like your wife or fiancee is having an adulterous relationship with these huge stores full of fashion. Isn’t it? Check out 2:52 in the video again. Stores are seduction machines.

Well, the adultery never stopped. By the 1900s, women had moved into the public sphere of activities. Their defiant use of fashion accessories allowed them to transgress traditional  boundaries that associated women with privacy and the home. Where does that leave us today? The bigger the better! In the video, our girl dances in front of bags larger than she is. Designer bags are now symbols of wealth and status, to a much greater degree than they were in the past.

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See? We’ll even fight for them! How can we go out into the world without an accessory that proclaims our power and marks us as better than the competition?

“He’s my latest accessory. Was he on sale?”

We’re at the point now that we use relationships in the same way we use designer labels: to boost our status. To give us another reason to feel good about ourselves, in the public street and online, through photos and status updates, anywhere. It’s a kind of power trip to be able to claim someone as “your significant other.” “Accessory” is a bit interesting in that it is the women who are making this statement of power, quite blatantly listing men as objects in their collections. I would not call it empowering, however. It comes at the expensive of dehumanizing men, even to the point that men are bought and sold like the shoes and bags. That’s no kind of progress.

We tend to think that quantity makes up for quality. If we own a lot of bags, or boyfriends, our quality of life will increase. Are these things just tools, or are they some fundamental part of our egos? And at that rate,  I wonder at what point does ownership transfer? When do we stop owning our accessories, and they start to own us?

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~Nicole

Fatal Friday-Siete

As anyone who knows her can agree, Darragh is at home with spoken words. She has a way of expressing them, using her hands and face and whole body as much as her vocal cords. Listening to her, as I’ve discovered, requires the attention of my eyes as well as ears. Otherwise I don’t get the full meaning of the story. It always amazes me, how well her body language reflects the contours of her thoughts.

Friday’s discussion ranged from personal reservations about makeup, to scientific articles studying evolutionary psychology, to why women wear heels during sex, to the ubiquity of the “orgasm face” in advertising. So just a normal Friday night.

From there we ended up reminiscing, sharing moments from our teen years when we said/did/wrote something odd or or a little embarrassing. (One word: fandom).  If I had to give the entire thing a time frame, I’d say maybe four hours? (That’s longer than I talked to my parents this month.)

What I’m saying is that if there was an Olympic marathon for talkers, we’d make a gold team. Eventually, and with the help of delicious chocolate brownies, we attempted a homework coup. Prince and Sade were on the playlist (bet you didn’t see that coming) and then I turned up the nostalgia with The Tempts. Since I can’t listen to those voices quietly, I began singing along. To my intense surprise and happiness, Darragh joined me. Thoroughly interrupted from homework, I grabbed a sketchbook and began to make blind line drawings.

Around one AM, we had a visitor drop by. The only thing to do in such situations is to have a tea party. Which we did. By then, we were reaching muffin time, that magical time of night when the muffin joke evokes fits of laughter. When our visitor left us, we wandered into the wilds of the Internet. After a detour through AskMen.com, we stumbled into a swamp known to many as “Cosmo.” Bear in mind that this was about 5 in the morning. Mocking and booing and shuddering our way through “30 things to do with a naked man,” we did our best to study all aspects of its ridiculousness for both sexes. We also continued our grand tradition of looking at more boobs and butts than most of our guy friends. Occupational hazard, I suppose.

In the end, we didn’t get drunk, but we may have been a little intoxicated.  Would I have it any other way? Not on your life.

Media Review – The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville 

Directed by Sylvain Chomet

2003

Well, that was….unexpected. Almost understated, in the sense that no one makes a statement throughout the movie, barring the beginning and the very end. Being an American raised on Disney animation, I’m used to hearing my animated characters babbling a mile a minute. It took me a while to accept the non-verbal qualities of these characters, who are anything but silent. The soundtrack is brilliant, adding an individuality to both characters and locations. But beyond formalism, beyond its stunning good looks, what’s the heart of this very deliberate work?

I’m mostly stricken by the movie’s very passionate portrait of aged womanhood. Old women in this cinematic world are protectors, strong, indefatigable, entertaining and unique. They are vital, full of life, and that’s why I said I was stricken. The contrast between how I view age and how Grandmother Souza and the Triplets express their age…..it’s the difference between quiet, colorless institutional walls and the heat and sound of the club where the Triplets perform. Can any of us imagine our grandparents and great-grandparents performing in a sleazy club….?

How about hunting for their dinner every night? Throwing explosives? Biking uphill? Or the most impossible of all, enjoying every minute of everything?

Ebert says,”Most animated features have an almost grotesque desire to be loved. This one doesn’t seem to care. It creates a world of selfishness, cruelty, corruption and futility — but it’s not serious about this world and it doesn’t want to attack it or improve upon it. It simply wants to sweep us up in its dark comic vision.”

Did we watch the same movie? Of course the film doesn’t want to be loved; when you’re old, you get your priorities straight. And if it is nothing else, Triplets is aggressively old. It does the unthinkable: equates female age with vigor, and youthful manhood with passivity.
Champion, the grandson, cannot do anything for himself, ever. He has to wait to be rescued by Souza, his grandmamma. Poor, horse-faced boy.
The film indicates to us that her grandson is Souza’s prized possession, exactly like a pure-blooded racehorse. He has no agency of his own. In fact, the men in this world are either passive like Champion or violent like the mobster villain. Cynical, right, but perhaps that’s how age always views youth? The young need direction, or they’ll grow into petty thugs…
I do agree with Ebert on one thing; these women Chomet has created are ferocious. And I don’t want them any other way. Willfulness, determination, and energy….for every tooth lost, another cackle and another song! That’s one vision of aging, and it is beautiful.
(Time to break your faith in humanity. Who did this film lose the Academy Award to? Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Ufff! Thank you, and good night.)

Media Review–Hysteria

Hysteria

2011

Director: Tanya Wexler

Starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal

“That woman was hysterical.”

“Yes, very difficult case, that one.”

Symptoms: Erratic behavior, anxiety, depression, and physical aggression. Diagnosis? Overactive uterus. Cure? Hysterectomy. Makes you want to be a Victorian woman, doesn’t  it?

I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been attracted to this movie under false pretenses. The advertising campaign hyped the invention of the vibrator as the film’s main theme. I sat through an hour of Victorians dithering at each other with absolutely no vibrators present. Nada, not even an inkling. All there was by way of amusement were the “vulvar massages” given by the (painfully awkward) Dr. Mortimer in the name of some very flawed science. Volia.

So they hooked you with the vibrators, but what you actually get is just a banal romantic comedy. Honestly, the vibrators get much less screen time than they deserve. I know we’re all desensitized, I know that they wanted to keep the R rating, but something about the presentation of this film strikes me as miscalculated. You would think that the focus would be on women’s pleasure, women’s bodies, and women’s struggle to take back their bodies from men. You would expect sensuality. You would, gasp, expect to be turned on with the “patients” as they discovered the doctor’s invention.

Instead, the film can be summed up with this image:

That’s right. This is a film about men. Specifically, older doctors unwilling to change their ways in accordance with the findings of the younger professionals. This is a film about Dr. Mortimer realizing that his superiors are wrong, and that hysteria as it is defined does not exist. At the end of the day, the film centers around his decision to take the stand (literally) and proclaim that hysteria is merely an excuse to oppress women, to keep them fearful of insane asylums and hysterectomies.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Romantic Comedy may have not been the best genre to deal with these themes. The comedy succeeded brilliantly at parts. And I think that any film dealing with the invention of vibrators must have humor in it. But this film is relentlessly light-hearted, even when it’s trying to be serious.

Observe:

This is Charlotte, our feminist heroine. She is always positioned next to blown-out windows, covered in pale light so we understand that she’s a saint. And then suddenly three-quarters of the way through we’re presented with this Charlotte:

AND THAT RIGHT HOOK.

Bugger the police.

While I adored that moment, it also pushed me over the edge. The playful tone of the entire rest of the film, the bright cinematography, the acting…the conventions of the genre dictate that nothing bad could really happen. Because we know she’s going to end up with the good doctor, like we know Juliet is going to kill herself over Romeo. Some things, like Shakespeare, are inevitable.  Surprise, Charlotte’s uterus was safe the whole time.

And there’s the problem. This film is a romance, with a little bit about body politics, when it should be a drama about body politics with a little bit of romance.

In short, fiery Charlotte is not enough to prod this movie from moderately amusing to mind-blowing.

Ladies, if there are too many mediocre things in your life, Dr. Mortimer and I recommend this once a week.

If you say so, Doctor.