Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Going Viral--Not Just for Sick People Anymore!

by Stacey Fearheiley

This week Eric and I talked about the whole "viral" community of the early 21st century.  We discussed how Youtube, Facebook live, etc are the new "Star Makers".  People are becoming celebrities never leaving their house.  We talked pros and cons, we talked the good and bad, we talked what we liked and disliked.  This week's blog is basically a list of places you might want to visit.

Eric loves:
Tired Old Queen at the Movies
Louisa Wendorff
Megan MacKay

Stacey loves:
Randy Rainbow
Mamrie Hart
Post Modern Jukebox

Other fun places:
Philip DeFranco
Hannah Hart - My Drunk Kitchen
Viral Video Film School
Foil Hogg & Arms --- They're British
Todrick Hall
SuperFruit - 2 of the singers from Pentatonix

Randy Rainbow's NY Times Article
The Nasty Ass Honeybadger - as suggested by Eric

Here's my bottom line--if you have never checked out YouTubers, give it a try.  You may hate the whole concept or you may find some fun entertainment that you've never been exposed to before.  I don't suggest that anyone become addicted to anything that promotes anti-social behavior, but keeping up with the 21st century isn't a bad idea.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Can't We Just Be Friends?

by Eric Peterson

I had a great time recording our "Guilty Displeasures" episode with Stacey. While we generally focus on things that we like, it was cathartic to vent a little bit about things that we didn't like, and freeing to do so about movies and shows that so many in our orbit seem to love.

But listening to the episode again, I was struck by a common refrain -- the insistence of friends who happen to love The Big Bang Theory, American Horror Story: Coven, Moulin Rouge, or Game of Thrones -- that because they love these movies and shows, that we should too.

And it's not as though I don't do this as well. If a friend tells me that they're just not that into my favorite actors, directors, plays, movies, or television shows, I find that I do my best to talk them into my way of thinking. And it gets worse if they can't give me a good reason why they don't like what I hold dear. Fair warning: if we're ever discussing one of my favorite things, and you say something like "I don't know; it just didn't do anything for me," I might be tempted to talk your ear off about all the wonderful things that you obviously didn't see in this thing that has captured my imagination and turned me into a raging fanboy.

So what's going on here? Why can't I just like what I like and allow you to like what you like, or not if that's what makes you happy? It turns out that the answer might lie in some of our most primitive impulses.

Back in 2013, a Yale researcher named Karen Wynn did some psychological experiments with infants and toddlers between the ages of nine and 14 months. They offered these babies a choice between two snacks: graham crackers and green beans. After the kids made their choice, they were presented with two stuffed lambs, one of whom was seen bobbing up and dowln over the bowl of graham crackers, and the other over the bowl of beans. The infants were then presented with the stuffed toys. Wynn discovered that the babies who preferred green beans were certifiably insane; c'mon, what little kid is going to choose green beans over yummy graham crackers? tended to prefer the lamb who also liked green beans. The same went for the comparatively more well-adjusted kids who preferred the graham crackers. They even liked it when a dog puppet attacked the puppet who preferred the snack they didn't choose.

The implications of this research are clear. First, it's obvious that babies are not as sweet and cuddly as their parents would have you believe. Second, it's apparent that human beings are deeply tribal in their thinking -- from our earliest days, we are possessed of an "Us vs. Them" way of looking at the world. What's more, that part of what defines who belongs to "Us" and not "Them" goes beyond contentious issues like race and gender; this can also be determined by relatively benign things such as tastes and preferences. After all, whether or not a stuffed lamb prefers graham crackers over green beans isn't that much more substantial than whether or not a friend of mine likes or dislikes Scandal or South Park or Schindler's List.

Perhaps what's going on here is that we use common cultural experiences like movies or TV shows to help define our social circles, and that the risk of not challenging your friends and loved ones who can't stand your favorite show is a sneaking feeling that the friendship isn't nearly as strong as you once believed.

Maybe we should all lighten up a little bit. So, okay -- I promise that I won't talk your ear off about all the wonderful things that you obviously didn't see in my favorite summer movie if it just didn't ring your bells ... if you'll promise to let me hate the things that I hate.

That is, until next December rolls around, and a certain "holiday classic" (yes, those air quotes are sarcastic) once again captures the romantic yearnings of half my friends and causes me to doubt their sanity as well as their taste. I can't promise that I'll be able to hold back at that point.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

When Favorites Aren't in Favor Any More

by Stacey Fearheiley

I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time when I was 12 years old, growing up in Tennessee.  I was dragged there by one of my best friends. She had read the book and it was being shown on the big screen for the first time in years.  So we went.  And I fell in love.

From that moment until the last 15-20 years, any time I was asked my favorite movie, Gone With the Wind was the answer. Unreservedly.

After I saw the movie and crushed HARD on Clark Gable, I read the book ten times, at least.  I bought everything I could that had to do with Gone With the Wind  Gable, the search for Scarlett, Atlanta....anything at all.  I fan-girled hard!  But why?

I don't think there was just one reason.  I think it was the perfect storm of puberty + beautiful alpha male + smart, sassy heroine who always gets what she goes for...eventually + gorgeous production values + soap opera story line = 1970's teenage white girl from the South dream!

In this week's podcast, Eric and I talk about 1939 and the plethora of really classic films that came out that year.  We talk about Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and The Women, specifically.  I mentioned why I hadn't made my daughters watch Gone With the Wind, even though I do still consider it a classic (hint: misogyny and racism).  What I don't really go into is how I got to that decision.  I will admit ... it was painful.

So what happened in the years since my adolescence to change my enthusiasm for this movie for which I had been obsessed?  I guess I'd call it evolution.  My life evolved.  My point of view evolved. My world of acquaintances and experiences evolved.  My thinking evolved.  And there I was, educated past the point where I could truly accept and enjoy as entertainment this bit of a monument to the Old South.

Do I still love bits and pieces of the movie and story?  I do.  But my white privilege lets me.  Now, I'm going to try to not get too political here.  It is not about politics or right and left for me.  It is about who I've become in the intervening decades.  Let me explain.

I grew up in the late 1960's and 70's.  In the afternoons I'd watch Gilligan's Island, Scooby Doo, Bewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie (I will always love you, Larry Hagman!).  This was in the days of 3 networks + PBS on TV.  In high school, cable channels became more abundant and accessible. More options and the 1950's and 60's TV "classics" were no longer shown.  I went to college. I went to work. I traveled. And suddenly it's the late 20th Century, and there is a classic television show network showing I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver along w/my childhood faves.

So, as a 30 something year old, I sit down to watch ... to feel that same way again that I did as a kid; To laugh at Jeannie making a mess of Tony's life; To giggle when Samantha had to get Uncle Arthur out of a jam.  So I watched.  I didn't giggle.  I didn't laugh.  I certainly didn't feel that fun, free way I had as a child when watching Sam stifle her magic for Darren or Jeannie call Colonel Nelson "Master".  It made my stomach hurt.

Now, I realize this is a long way to get to a point about Gone With the Wind.  But that stomach churning/turning feeling was even more pronounced when I sat down to watch Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara on the big screen, when it came touring in our area in the 1990's.  I no longer felt comfortable saying that it was my favorite movie ... certainly not around my African-American friends.

Because as beautiful as the dresses, cinematography, directing and acting are ... the story is painful. It's painful in its brushstrokes of misinformation.  I cringe at the accents the black actors have to put on. I wince every time the "n" word and "d" word ("darkie") are dropped.  And I get downright nauseous during the KKK scene where its very existence is rationalized as being only for the "safety" of the womenfolk.

But, Gone With the Wind is still a classic.  It is, technically, film making at its very best.  It lives in the time period in which it was created.  I can accept that.  I can respect that.  But as a woman in 2017, "loving" this movie is now beyond me.  I'm not sad, because I like where I am philosophically and how I think now.  But I do miss the innocent feeling.  You can't go home again.  Wow ... sometimes evolution sucks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Kids are Better Than Alright

by Eric Peterson

This week's episode was all about child stars, the dangers of being world famous at a very young age, and the number of entertainers who began working professionally as children and have, either despite or because of that experience (and probably, in most cases, a mixture of the two), achieved success as adults.

Entertainment is one of the few professions where children are still employable; stories about people naturally involve children, and audiences would never accept an adult playing the role of a young child -- teenagers, maybe (see: Grease), but kids in the business are a necessity.

But are they any good?

Some of them certainly are. We discussed Shirley Temple on the show, who was -- at the height of her career -- was a four or five year old child, and simultaneously the biggest box office draw in the world. In 1935, she won an Oscar in special recognition of her contribution to film the year before -- a year in which she made eight films.

There are a lot of problems with using the Academy Awards as a barometer of quality; they're so incredibly political -- literally the result of campaigns waged by the nominees, and besides, who's to say among five performances as five different characters is the "best"? But in the absence of any other metric, there are some performances by kids that the industry has chosen to nominate for one of its highest honors.

There used to be special categories for "Juvenile" performances (Judy Garland won the same award as Shirley in 1940, the year after The Wizard of Oz), but they eventually went away, and the only way for the Oscars to recognize child actors was to nominate them along with the adults.

Tatum O'Neal was 10 years old in 1974 when she won the Best Supporting Actress Award for her work in Paper Moon, beating out her co-star Madeline Kahn and fellow child star Linda Blair (The Exorcist). Tatum played the accomplice of a Depression-era con man (played by her father, Ryan O'Neal, who was not nominated for an Oscar for his work - just saying), and there's a decent argument to be made that she belonged in the Lead Actress category. There's little argument that she's terrific in the film, moving from vulnerability to precociousness in the blink of an eye sometimes.

In 1994, three women won Oscars for The Piano: director/screenwriter Jane Campion (nominated for directing, but a winner for her screenplay), Holly Hunter, and Anna Paquin in the Supporting Actress category -- Anna was 11 years old. As I mentioned on the show, as much as I admire Paquin's later work, I didn't really care for her performance in The Piano. As I recall, she was often grating in the film, and I wonder if she was supposed to be at some level. Mostly, I remember that I believed that Rosie Perez should have won instead, for her performance in Fearless (if you haven't seen it, don't judge; Rosie was amazing).

Six years later, Haley Joel Osment was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work in The Sixth Sense. He didn't win; that award went (deservedly, I think) to Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules. But again, there's a real argument to be made that he belonged in the lead category as the little boy who "sees dead people." The film is really all about him, and there's good reason to believe that the producers of The Sixth Sense ran him in the supporting category because he had a better chance to win there, as Tatum and Anna had done before him. If you've seen The Sixth Sense, you know how good Haley is in this film -- because of the plot, he's asked to do things that weren't imminently relatable to his young experience, and the surprise ending aside, Haley's understated nature of his performance is ultimately what made that film a worldwide hit (sorry, Bruce).

More recently, in 2013, Quvenzhané Wallis was nine years old when she was nominated as Best Actress in a Leading Role for Beasts of the Southern Wild (a movie she had auditioned for when she was only five). She is still, to this day, the youngest performer ever to be nominated for an Academy Award in a lead category (before Quvenzhané, the youngest nominee was Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was 13 when she was nominated for Whale Rider). I really wanted Quvenzhané to win in 2013 (the Oscar ended up going to Jennifer Lawrence for her work in The Silver Linings Playbook). Yes, she was really young, but she was fantastic. I heard people say that as a child, she wasn't really acting, but probably just playing, and wasn't doing the work that her fellow adult nominees were doing. I didn't care, really; all I knew was that she leapt off the screen in that movie, and affected me much more deeply than the other nominated performances I'd seen that year. I was sad, but not surprised, when the Academy did not send a 9-year old home with an Oscar.

And perhaps the critics had a point. Of the five young Oscar nominees discussed here, only Paquin has been doing work as an adult that I've seen (and yet, another young Oscar nominee -- Jodie Foster -- later went on to win two Academy Awards as an adult, so it's not always a fluke). Quvenzhané is still a kid, but her follow-up effort, as the lead in Annie, didn't show the same promise that she exhibited in Beasts.

So are amazing performances by children just luck? Do they have an advantage, in that they don't edit their emotions in the way that most adults have learned to do? Do they really understand, when immersed in a set and a story, that they're pretending? I guess for me, the most important question is: does it really matter -- so long as they're telling a story in such a way that it takes the audience with them, at least for a time.

If I missed your favorite performance by a young child here, leave us a comment below. And, as always, thanks for listening.

Friday, May 5, 2017

An "Unfairest of Them All" Bloglet

This is going to be short and sweet, but ... in our sixth episode, The Unfairest of Them All, we talked a lot about a report from the Women's Media Center and promised a link to it.

So, here you go: click here to access the full report. There's so much amazing stuff here, including:
The only film in the top-grossing
2,500 movies of all time with
100% female dialogue
  • How men dominate news coverage
  • How more men than women write and direct for TV and film
  • How women are sexualized on screen, as compared to men
  • How this "female hypersexuality" can be broken down by race/ethnicity
  • The percentages of executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers who are female (hint: it's a low number)
Also that breakdown of the top 2,500 movies of all time by how many lines are spoken by women and by men can be found here. In addition to that data, this report includes:

  • How often women play lead roles
  • Percentage of dialogue according to age (for both men and women)
  • An analysis of over 30 Disney screenplays, broken down by gender
If you're a feminist, a data nerd, or just a fan of pop culture, this all makes for some fascinating reading. Enjoy - and thanks for listening! A new episode drops every Tuesday, wherever you stream or download your podcasts.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

For Some Tests, There's No Easy A

by Stacey Fearheiley

If you listened to this week's POPeration! podcast you know that Eric and I talked about women in pop culture and in media in particular.  The unfairness monetarily and in role availability specifically.  We talked about how there were so many fewer female roles than male and that the quality of those roles was often insulting.  Eric brought up the Bechdel test.

The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women or girls who talk to each other about something other than a man or boy.  (Thank you, Wikipedia.)  

What we didn't talk about were variations to that "test". In one variation, a comic book writer stated that her "sexy lamp test" was if a sexy lamp could take the place of your female character and the plots still worked, you should probably do another draft. Thus create a better female character. This intrigued me. Can these tests be used in real life; everyday living; in every day situations?

Do I leave a conversation with a girl friend if we're just talking about her husband or boyfriend?   Can I have a discussion with my female HR rep about my male boss and thus fail?  Do I give that colleague who contributes to my brainstorming meeting as much as a chair to the Salvation Army?

As a feminist, I want to be all gung ho about keeping the world as fair and safe for women as it is for men.  I want equality.  The Bechdel "tests" and its derivations, while evolving from the idea helping to that end,  are not perfect.  Indeed they weren't really meant to be.  They were and are created to just hold a mirror up and say, "look where and who we are.  Do we want to change?  Is this ok?  How can we improve?"

But they are being used in a more weighted way.  Critics are right in that "passing" any of these "tests" does not prove quality, or art.  It doesn't quantify a good story or characters.
As a writer and artist, the idea that I must create characters who are equal to each other, in any way, feels stifling.  I resent it.  I should be able to create characters who have the traits and values I want them to have...they may be male, female, gay, straight, black, white, good or bad.  And therein lies the battle.

Now, clearly no one is making film makers or writers put female characters in their pieces...there are too many male/male buddy movies for that to be a thing.  But maybe we do need to let those who DO write female characters have more opportunities.  Thereby more choices for characters to talk about more than men and more plot lines than those driven by men.

Eric and I mentioned Thelma and Louise, from 1991.  But there have been more recent examples. They include the Ghostbusters (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Table 19 (2017), Bad Moms (2016) and The Girl on the Train (2016).  

This is by no means an extensive list...there are MANY more, but these were hits and/or bigger budget gigs.  These had marketing money spent on them.  And all were clearly female in brand.

These are facts that make me feel better. The wins, if you will...not the losses.

If the Bechdel test, and those like it, do anything, it is to keep us thinking and aware of the inequalities still out there.  Awareness is key.  Admitting there is a problem is the first step.