Fighting with the Sky

Archive for the ‘Pop Culture’ Category

So my really exciting New Year’s Eve involved watching Easy A with a friend.  The movie was definitely entertaining and witty.  And surprisingly, I thought it did have some feminist undertones mixed in.  Warning: some spoilers.

The basic storyline of Easy A follows Olive, an invisible high school student, through her imaginary sexual exploits.  It all started when she lied to her friend about having sex with a guy that she had made up.  This rumor spread throughout the school and everyone was calling her a slut.  So in this, her closeted gay friend Brandon came up with the idea that they could fake have sex so that the other guys at school would stop picking on him.  That plan worked, but then all of the outcast guys wanted Olive’s help to make them cool by fake having sex with them.  All of the guys became cool but Olive became an outcast and labeled as a whore.  She started dressing, as she described, like a slut, because everyone already thought she was one.  But ultimately she realizes that what she has been doing is wrong and works to correct it.  In the end, we find out that the guy that she has a crush on really does like her and they end up happily ever after.  Don’t worry, some other stuff happens in there too 🙂

While there were some definite sexist and stereotypical things that happened in the movie (it is a high school, pop movie after all), I did appreciate that there were some feminist ideas that were spread throughout the movie.  The most prominent one was questioning why Olive became labeled as a “slut” and “whore” after one sexual encounter (and the subsequent ones) and all of the guys were seen as cool.  For example, Brandon and Olive fake have sex at a party so that everyone can witness it.  When they come out of the room, everyone is congratulating Brandon but they end up making fun of Olive.  I appreciated that the movie really highlighted this double standard.

The movie overall had a lot of great one-liners.  One of my favorites was (when Olive was in a bookstore): “Where is the Bible?” “Oh, that’s in bestsellers, next to Twilight.”  I also really liked Olive’s parents.  They were quirky and funny while being really supportive of their daughter.

I would recommend this movie if you like this genre of movie.  It definitely is one of those high school, light comedies.  But it does have some funny/witty parts as well as some undertones of feminism.  I wouldn’t call the movie overall feminist, but there were some of the undertones throughout.

It’s amazing that I keep reading Rick Riordan books for multiple reasons.  1) They are children’s books.  2) They are all the same!

I do end up reading a lot of young adult books because they are easy reads and most of the time entertaining.  I do like how Rick Riordan incorporates mythology into his story lines and I often find them informative.  I read his entire Percy Jackson series and then he had The Red Pyramid (which was about Egyptian mythology.  There was only one book in that series before he went back to Green/Roman mythology with The Lost Hero.

The Lost Hero is kind of a continuation of the Percy Jackson series.  It’s about a new group of demi-gods that come to Camp Half-Blood, face a new prophecy that threatens the safety of the gods and the world.  Jason, along with his friends Leo and Piper, have to set off to save Hera who has been kidnapped and Piper’s movie star father who has also been kidnapped.  They don’t know who their enemy is but they keep being told that it is the most dangerous enemy ever.  The only problem is: Jason has no memory, strange tattoos, and refers to all of the gods by their Roman names instead of their Greek names.  Oh, and Percy Jackson is missing so Annabeth has to go look for him (not that that really has much to do with the storyline, but they like to randomly remind the audience of it throughout the book).

In The Lost Hero, much like the Percy Jackson books, there are three demigods that are off to save the world.  Jason is the son of Zeus/Jupiter, Piper is the daughter of Aphrodite, and Leo is the son of Hephaestus.  Jason is the leader of the pack, even though he doesn’t have his memory, and often surprises himself with what he is capable of.  Leo can harness fire and build almost anything.  And Piper can convince people to do things that they don’t want to with charmspeak.

One thing that I liked about the Percy Jackson books was that Annabeth was actually a hero in her own right.  Yes, she followed Percy around, but she was often the brains of the operation and could hold her own in battle.  But in The Lost Hero, Piper is often in need of being rescued and her “power” is that of talking people into things.  How stereotypical is that?  The girl is the one that has the power of talking men into doing things.

All throughout the book, all of the characters are saying how important Piper is to the journey.  And yes, she does play an important role in the end.  But it bothered me that for most of the book, she needed rescuing or she was swooning over Jason.

In the Percy Jackson books, Annabeth was her own character.  But in The Lost Hero, Piper was usually only talked about in her relation to men, whether it be Jason or her movie star father.

The book was entertaining for what is was.  It’s a quick read and has some good information about Greek and Roman mythology.  It’s rather predictable, but I usually expect children’s books to be.

I normally don’t participate in the Facebook trends, such as changing your status to your bra color to raise awareness about breast cancer research.  I don’t see the connection or the point to it.  But this newest trend really bothers me.

It has become popular to change your profile picture to a picture of your favorite cartoon from childhood in order to end child abuse.  Why?  What does this do?  Yes, child abuse is horrible and it’s a big problem.  But changing your profile picture is going to do absolutely nothing about it.  I feel like a lot of people who do this just want to be cool and just want to be able to say, “yeah, I care about child abuse, look, I changed my profile picture.”

If you really care about ending child abuse, or any kind of abuse for that matter, there are more proactive things that you could do that could actually have an effect on someone’s life and work towards ending child abuse.  Report any abuse that you see.  Even if you think, “oh, it’s just a one time thing” or “it’s not my place to get involved.”  This child’s life could be in danger and if you see the abuse and do nothing, you are letting it happen.  Get involved at a local shelter.  Many domestic violence shelters also offer children’s programming.  You can volunteer with these programs and help children escape from the cycle of violence and begin to heal.

There are so many things that you could do that could actually work towards ending child abuse.  Changing your profile picture on Facebook is going to do absolutely nothing.  So I will not participate in this Facebook trend.

I don’t know how to feel about this song.  I would normally have an aversion to it just because it’s Eminem.  But is it trying to bring awareness to domestic violence or glorifying it?  And what about the fact that Rihanna, who was part of a largely publicized domestic violence assault, is the featured artist?  Or that Megan Fox donated her fee for appearing in the video to a domestic violence shelter?

Thoughts?

As a purely personal side note, when I was really disappointed in my dear, lovely Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) when I first heard that he was appearing in an Eminem video, and that was before I even had heard the song.  Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox both actually did a good job in just acting the video, no matter what my conflicted thoughts on the subject matter are.

I’ve recently finished reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (the first in a series, next is Catching Fire and Mockingjay comes out at the end of August).  I was surprisingly impressed by the book.  I had heard really good things about it, but I had no idea that it focused on a strong, self-sufficient 16-year-old girl.

The Hunger Games takes place in a the future in the continent of North America, but the country is now referred to as Panem.  Panem is made up of 12 districts surrounding the Capitol (which, from the sounds of it, seems to be around the Denver area).  Katniss is from the 12th district, the poorest of them all and she comes the poor part of district 12.  She has to provide for both her mother and her little sister.  She does this by hunting illegally in the woods around the district — she can shoot an arrow through the eye of any animal (because then it doesn’t waste any meat.  Every year, the Capitol hosts the Hunger Games as a way to remind the districts of their control over them.  A boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each district to participate and fight each other to the death to declare themselves the victors of the Hunger Games.

Katniss’ sister, Prim, is originally selected as the female sacrifice tribute for her district, but Katniss volunteers herself, not wanting to see her 12-year-old sister put through that.  Katniss and her fellow district 12 tribute, Peeta, have to learn how to fight within the arena.  It’s as much of a competition of survival as it is of fighting.  But it becomes very obvious from the beginning that the Capitol and the Gamemakers like to exert their control over the tributes as a way of making sure that all the districts stay in line.  Katniss is well aware of this so she is able to outsmart and out-maneuver them.  You’ll have to read the book if you want to find out more about what happens specifically.

I liked this book on multiple levels.  First of all, it was a science fiction/futuristic teen book that did not revolve around vampires.  It had an original storyline that kept me interested.  It was not just a book about these Hunger Games, but about government control and living in a society with little personal freedom.

Secondly, I loved that the main character was a teenage girl.  Katniss is a girl that doesn’t trust many people because she has had to fend for herself for most of her life.  Her trust doesn’t come easy.  She can take care of her family by hunting, which is traditionally something that we see men doing in pop culture (just so you know, her hunting companion is male).  It becomes clear right from the beginning, and even more so once the Hunger Games begin, that Katniss is smart, strong, loyal, and yet compassionate.

One thing that I did not like about the storyline was that Katniss and Peeta’s mentor thrust them into a “fake” romantic relationship in order to gain public support within the Games.  I thought that it kept the storyline interesting and romantic relationships are something that a lot of teens will be interested in seeing int he books that they read.  It was important for Katniss’ character development for her to be able to trust Peeta with her life as well as admit that she needed help.  But I didn’t really like that Katniss needed Peeta in order to survive.  Towards to the end, it became very apparent that it was actually Peeta that needed Katniss.  However, their relationship just kind of felt wrong because I felt like it was bringing Katniss down from her full potential.  As with most storylines, there are negatives and positives though.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see that The Hunger Games was all about a teenage girl.  I have to admit that I didn’t really know a whole lot about the book before I started reading it.  I didn’t even know that it centered on a teenage girl.  I think that this would be a great book for teenage girls as opposed to something like Twilight, where the main girl is so emotionally as well as physically dependent on a guy.

I have really like a lot of USA Networks original series.  I’m a big fan of Psych, Burn Notice, White Collar, and Royal Pains.  But all of these shows focus around male leads and only have female sidekicks that are really only there to support their man/male lead.

So I was really excited to see their new show this summer, Cover Affairs.  From the previews of the show, it seemed to focus on a kick ass female CIA agent.  Granted, the previews didn’t really reveal much about the show, but at least it was a show that had a female lead.

So far, I have seen the first two episodes of Covert Affairs.  The show focuses on Annie (Piper Perabo), a new CIA agent who is thrown into the Domestic Protection Division because her language skills are needed.  She always seems to face new threats on her missions, which her boss claims is rare.  Her “guide” through her transition into the department is Auggie, a blind technician for the DPD.  Annie always seems to get herself out of the trouble that she digs herself into throughout the episode, with the help of Auggie and the occasional other CIA agent.  Annie, not surprisingly, also has a pretty flawed social and love life.

So, sounds great…a show that centers around a kick ass female CIA agent.  But as we learn at the end of the first episode, Annie was really only brought into the DPD because her past relationship with Ben Mercer.  She met Ben when she was on vacation and they spent three great weeks together before he mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night.  Joan, the head of the DPD, and her husband Arthur, the Director of National Clandestine Services in the CIA, seem to have an invested interest in Ben Mercer.  Ben seems to have gone off the grid, and not just in Annie’s life.  Annie was only brought into the DPD in the hopes that it would bring Ben out of hiding.

I also thought it was great that there was a female director of the DPD.  Joan is a powerful woman who won’t take any crap from the people around her.  And while Joan is all of those things, she is also obsessed with the thought that her husband Arthur might be cheating on her.  She uses CIA resources to track his every move and monitor his phone calls.

I thought this was going to be a great show that focused on powerful women.  It kind of is.  But it mainly focuses on these women in terms of their relationships with men.  Annie is valuable not because of her skills, but because her relationship with Ben.  Joan is part of a CIA power couple, but focuses more on her relationship with Arthur than on the missions.

I’d love to see more story lines about how Annie acquired all of her skills than about her relationship with Ben.  And I’d like to see more of why Joan came to be the director of DPD and why she is so good at her job, than focusing on her relationship with Arthur.

I have recently started reading the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson.  I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo probably about a week and a half ago now and became absolutely enthralled by it.  And now I’ve finished the second in the series, The Girl Who Played With Fire.  I can’t wait to see how the trilogy ends in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.  I was really impressed with the second book of this series…for a number of reasons.

Warning: minor spoilers for the first two books of the series (and please don’t leave spoilers for the third in the comments).  I will not reveal any of the major revelations of the books, but I will discuss some of the aspects of the plot and character development.

When I first started The Girl Who Played With Fire I wasn’t sure how I felt about the character developments of Lisbeth Salander, the female protagonist (I don’t know if ‘protagonist’ is the right word for Salander).  In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Salander came across as this incredibly brilliant, yet socially awkward woman, who didn’t take crap from anyone.  At the beginning of Fire, we learn that Salander used a (small) portion of the money that she obtained in Dragon Tattoo to get a boob job.  She spends the first 100 (or more, can’t remember) pages or so being self-conscious about not only her new breasts but her small body as well.  I don’t know if this was some sort of development to make her more relate-able because, yes, everyone has body image issues.  But all I saw was Salander going from this kick-ass woman to this whiny girl.  I didn’t really care for it.  Once we got past that part of the book, the “old” Salander seemed to come back with all her computer hacking and investigative glory.  As she is described at some points throughout the book, Salander is a woman who hates men who hate women (a play on the Swedish title of Dragon TattooThe Men Who Hate Women).

While it did take a while a long while for the murders of this murder mystery to happen (about 200 pages or so), which we knew were going to happen based on reading the back of the book, I did find the lead up to the murders interesting (even though I was frustrated that they hadn’t happened yet — is it a bad sign when you are asking yourself when murders are finally going to happen, even if it is in a book?).  The lead up to the murders dealt a lot with an expose of the sex trafficking industry in Sweden.  I thought it was a very interesting approach in that it’s something that most people generally don’t want to think about (on a whole, even though it’s a really important issue).  And I liked that they did focus on the victims of the sex trafficking industry, but they also looked at the financials of it and what pimps and johns gained from it.

I also thought that Fire provided an interesting look at mental illness.  Salander was in and out of mental institutions in her teens and was uncooperative with authorities, so she had numerous reports of something being “wrong” with her, that she was unstable, and that she was a psychopath with violent tendencies (which, yes, she does tend to have violent tendencies, but only when provoked).  During the police investigation into Salander, all they had access to were these reports, so they drew a picture of her being this crazy killer woman.  It didn’t help that she didn’t have that many friends.  But all of the people that they interviewed about her gave a completely different account of what she was actually like.  Despite the interviews from her friends, the police were insistent for a good part that Salander was responsible for the murders because she has a history of mental illness and violence.

It was interesting to see this story line play out.  As an audience, we have know that Salander had been in a mental hospital and that she was declared incompetent.  But we also saw her as being able to handle herself, as a genius, albeit, socially awkward.  We were just meant to believe that Salander had fallen to some bad situations that ended with her being in a mental institution (which doesn’t necessarily mean she has a mental illness — but there is talk in this book about the possibility of her having Asperger’s, but she has never been officially diagnosed).  But in Fire, we see the character of Salander that we have grown accustomed to challenged by her medical reports and the police being insistent that there is something “wrong” with her.  It also says a lot about the difference between reading reports of people (which are made through other people’s perceptions and biases — which plays a large role in Salander’s case) and actually getting to know the person, whether talking to them yourself or talking to the people that know her well (in the case of the book).

Overall, I thought that this was a great book.  I can’t decide if I liked Fire better or Dragon Tattoo, because they have significantly different story lines despite having the same characters.  In Fire, Salander and Blomkvist (the main characters) are never together except for the last page, so you don’t get too much of the interaction between them that you got in the first.  And the investigations in each book are significantly different in nature — both murder investigations, but under completely different circumstances.

I will make a note at the end here though, that there are some major trigger warnings for both books.  There are graphic descriptions of rape, violent scenes, domestic violence, and sex trafficking throughout both books.  I thought that Dragon Tattoo was a little more graphic in its descriptions, but there are still some major trigger warnings for Fire.

That being said, I would highly recommend this trilogy to anyone, just be aware of these trigger warnings as I was not when I first started reading Dragon Tattoo.