Thursday, June 25, 2009


otherwise known as where I'll be August 14.

I love Miyazaki, not just because he's a true auteur of fine films, but because female characters are so prominent in his films.


The plot is loosely based on The Little Mermaid, but Ponyo looks nothing like the Disney version. Most of Miyazaki's films feature female protagonists, but romance is usually not the main focus in his films. In her essay on the director's heroines, Freda Freiberg writes that they are:

"endowed with the characteristics of the conventional masculine hero: they are active, assertive, adventurous and courageous. Some... are crusading heroines, fighting the evils of environmental destruction, capitalism and militarism, supporting the victims of aggression and confronting the perpetrators."

Miyazaki once said in an interview that while his films are known for featuring strong female characters,

I don't logically plan it that way. When we compare a man in action and a girl in action, I feel girls are more gallant. If a boy is walking with a long stride, I don't think anything particular, but if a girl is walking gallantly, I feel "that's cool." Maybe that's because I'm a man, and women may think it's cool when they see a young man striding. At first, I thought "this is no longer the era of men..." But after ten years, I grew tired of saying that. I just say "cause I like women." That has more reality.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pirates in Romance Novels

Welcome to my first Pirateologist General/ Mystery of Girls Media cross-post! what's it about, Pirates and Romance Novels! Prompted by People Magazine's hottest bachelors spread (one such pictured above).

Two serious cash cows for the entertainment industry. Why do they fit together like Peanut Butter and Jelly? Because they both embody an idealized noble savage, a man who is both wild, independent and rustic, but also, domesticatable and able to maintain hunkiness after months at sea being made leathery, amazingly gross and maintaining his heterosexuality in the face of well, months at sea, saving himself (in a lusty fashion) for an idealized woman who happens upon his path. While he may be a brute he secretly desires both feminine companionship, but also, feminine domination.

Now here's the rub,


Reality: Ok, so also fictional and from a movie, but don't try to google an image of "dirty pirate" it just doesn't find an image that helps my point.

The romance of the pirate in the romance novel is an abduction fantasy, where the brutish lustful pirate takes the noble lady (often in spirit and lineage) and then takes the noble lady. In the process, often revealing his inner turmoil and desire for a more meaningful relationship with her, in which she makes many decisions for him, he reads her mind and while still humping like amazingly endowed bunnies, build a life for themselves in an idealized future where they fill in the blanks of one another's lives. As fantasy, excellent, wish fulfilling and fulfilling all the way to the bank.

While historically questionable, and until holding one's escapist fantasies to strict standards of historical accuracy is en vogue, it's not going to change any time soon. But! that doesn't mean that there isn't much to be done with the formula to make it new again. While there are some classic governor's daughter romances with randy swashbucklers being remade, the true test of the genre is the megalithic Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Look at that! you have two heartthrobs one dirty and hunky, one clean and hunky! they have a seriously tempestuous love triangle with a Governor's Daughter who is obsessed with the romantic notion of pirates, who eventually becomes Pirate King herself. Nice. Covers every base, and plays with the genre, satirizing it at points without abandoning its conventions.

Why does Pirates of the Caribbean fit the romantic pirate fantasy and say... Cutthroat Island, fail so miserably? Well, aside from the cleverness of the writing in general, the problem in Cutthroat Island is primarily one of the power dynamic.

In Pirates of the Caribbean, the protagonist, Elizabeth Swann, is a real match for the men around her while being able to handily maneuver through social currents of polite society and impolite society. This factor is an important aspect of the modern lady's aspirations. She is an equal member of the pirate crews and the shifts in power did not make her too weak or put any male in a position over her that she had no hand in creating. This creates an air of choice and real validation of her as a character and a person, rather than a waif or a harpy.

Cutthroat Island's protagonist, Morgan Adams, is a bit of a shrew. She's caustic and constantly coming at people from a position of inferiority because of her gender that undermines her aspirational qualities. Her crew doubts her and undermines her, but she's also a captain without having risen through the ranks, there is a sense that she hasn't earned the post. Where Elizabeth tends to defer to other people's knowledge but stand up for what she knows to be true and right, giving her a greater sense of legitimacy than Morgan, who tries to bulldoze her way through most problems.

What does this have to do with Romance Novels? a lot. Romance novels are all about the fantasy, who you want to be, who your idealized mate might be, and how that might come together in a volcano of fiery passion. They are a strong example of aspirational driving, the desire to be beautiful, desired, noble, and powerful in the face of other powerful people (even if that only manifests as making a man a slave to his lust), but also the desire for a man to be strong, a leader of others, to be passionate and to have something going on underneath his ruggedly handsome exterior.

So, what have we learned from Romance Novels and Pirates that can be applied to franchises for women in general? 1) Aspirational Fantasy Sells, 2) A man who can be hunky while caked in gross dirt is REALLY hot, 3) when considering power dynamics, gender equality trumps female supremacy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A life according to chick flicks

Yes, I'm linking things from Jezebel a lot, you wanna fight about it?

This is a rather, entertaining, terrifying, (enterrifying?) article written to a newborn baby girl about what chick flicks say life has in store for her. While they do make loads of cash, the article points out how limiting the formula makes womanhood seem.

"The Girl's Guide to Comic Con"

This article on Jezebel caught my eye: "The Girl's Guide to Comic Con: Headdesk Powers Activate!" the title sums it up pretty nicely.

Responding to the LA Times' preview of the hunks that may or may not be attending the San Diego Comic Con this year in order to entice the fairer sex to the legendary nexus of scifi, comics and fantasy.
"Women will be rushing the stage, offering to do star Jake Gyllenhaal's laundry on those washboard abs that he acquired for the film, since he spends much of it fighting, shirtless or both. Jake, we don't want to know how to quit you."
Now, disclaimer, I've attended a few Comic Cons, I work with people of all stripes who avidly go to, exhibit in, network at, and generally are already familiar with what's going to be going down in the fantastic universe of geekery that is the SDCC. So I'm not the target audience of this article, the person who is only considering going because they might catch a glimpse of Jake, Brad, or Johnny.

I also know plenty of girls who go to cons regularly and love, Love, LOVE comics and scifi. It's not as uncommon as it once was for girls to be loud and proud about their fandom of these properties and those who assume women won't be interested in them on their own merits do so at their own peril. These girls are not just uber-nerds, they're the hot girl at the bar, and the lawyer, doctor or mom down the street. While being a geeky fangirl is still an aesthetic outsiders badge of honor, it's gotten fairly mainstream, and it's not just Twilight.

While they give lip service (in picture 23, the last picture and the only splice of multiple shows) to girl power, the central image is still Tahmoh Penniket (male and dreamy). Angelina Jolie "could" attend and the Witches of Eastwick is the only featured series with female characters as leads.

Only 5 of the 23 pictures feature women in the foreground (don't think I didn't see you though, blond extra in the background of picture 21).

Now, I do want to point out that objectifying people is a historic tradition of Comic Con, witness Booth Babes!!! and it shouldn't be surprising that as booth babes, Tricia Helfer, Summer Glau and Lucy Lawless might draw the same sort of crowd it seems a little frustrating to my sensibilities.

As a nexus for fan culture, Comic Con provides an opportunity to see NEW hunks, ones less familiar than Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt. To celebrate fandom of all sorts of properties, while they hit Robert Pattinson, where are New Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Sylar-Spock (Zachary Quinto) ? They're plenty hot right now. Dare I even suggest it... Sam Worthington?

Admittedly, the big money at Comic Con is in previewing upcoming releases, but even if they don't have much to premiere the smart franchise will make its presence clear and its hunks available because San Diego Comic Con is about FANS. The people who will live their entire lives around your property, who will stay with it for years and buy your dvd re-releases when they're AARP members.

I would rather see "The Girl's Guide to Comic Con" suggest more female driven franchises, I mean, take Dollhouse, you can comment on on how badass Eliza Dushku is while simultaneously describing Tahmoh (the director correctly realizes that he should be shirtless as much as is practicable) as eye candy, just a thought. It would work, you accomplish the same thing, suggesting that Tahmoh is hot enough to go to SDCC to see, but also add the additional fun of there being more than just that reason to check out the show, which at the end of the day is why the Comic Con exists, to market to fan culture.

Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series, Joss Whedon, not the old movie or the new movie), David Boreanaz was not the only reason people tuned in, Sarah Michelle Geller was a draw to women and men both and David Boreanaz's character was compelling to them because of the relationship between Buffy and Angel. While Angel went on to be a highly successful spin off, the story is what distinguished David Boreanaz as man-candy different from a slew of other, equally attractive male actors.

I'm not suggesting that a mob of feminists burn down the LA Times for objectifying men with the same shallowness that has been used to market to them for ages (example). But I do suggest looking at this LA Times article as an object lesson in how that oversimplified objectification looks when directed at women.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Really, Milk?

*Forehead-Desk* I like how she doesn't even have to joke in this one.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Perception. One of the biggest stumbling blocks to Franchises that focus on girls and women are the perception of them as frivolous, stereotypical, painted pink, coated in glitter and marabou feathers, and as the above video suggests, unrealistic or focused on the therapeutic. Or as overwhelmingly deep and introspective into the world of women and family.

Frankly, the first time I heard the term "Chick Lit" as an intern I thought it was a sexist slur, rather than a widely used publishing term. So, when you think about what's geared towards women, it's not really surprising that one comes up with Sex and the City, Romance Novels, and family stories specifically. You would likely get a similar cross section of strange stereotypes if you asked people what "men's fiction" meant, I suspect you'd hear cars, spies and adventure.

In part, by being asked to define it, it becomes a commentary on the old stereotypes, and it seems like the genre is hard to nail down in part because of an old standard assumption "women and girls will be interested in items that are geared towards men and boys, but not vice-versa."

The dialogue of entertainment for girls and women is full of very loaded terms. Trying to determine what fits into what container is very difficult because of different motivations and perceptions. The utility of these genres even and especially those of "Girl's" and "Women's" have a tendency to be used dismissively, and it makes one wonder if a property that transcends its gendering can exist under that kind of labelling.

Emily the Strange: follow up

As Emily the Strange continues her legal battle, I ran across this article in the Wall Street Journal, and well, it sheds some insight (not terribly surprising), that Emily the Strange is trying to go transmedia. The article itself is about a novel being written that will represent the first foray into Emily as a character, being published by HarperCollins.

Written in a diary format with Jessica Gruner, “Emily the Strange: The Lost Days,” opens with Emily attempting to recover her memory and regain her sense of style. Mr. Reger says the book maps new territory inside the mind of his popular character. “In the past, it’s been us describing her,” he says. “This is the first time anybody gets to hear how she talks to herself and her cats.”

Emily has struck a cord with many young girls. “She’s a very strong, distinct character and she’s about not trying to fit,” says Anne Hoppe, executive editor of HarperCollins children’s imprint. “There’s not a lot out there commercially for kids that really says to be yourself.”

Um... ok Anne. Soundbite accomplished, and certainly, "be yourself" is an important part of the property, while perhaps "be yourself as far away from me as possible" would be more true to Emily's vernacular. I do wonder that regaining Emily's sense of style is considered as important as recovering her memories, and hope that it is treated as the truly healing endeavor that developing the external self can be as one attempts to develop the internal self, a very poignant message for teenagers of all stripes.

It's a brand though, and the goal of this novel is in many ways to sell Emily merchandise as it is to help an audience, to make it a worthwhile proposition that will help launch the wider transmedia endeavors (a movie through Dark Horse Comics is mentioned in the WSJ article) it will have to interest its audience in Emily as a character in her own right, rather than a witty design they can express themselves by donning. They must transcend being as aesthetic symbol that anyone can project meaning onto or into, and find what is going to unite all of those who feel ownership of the character and make sure that she can embody it. It's not as easy as it sounds.
Here's an excerpt from the novel: it's written in diary format, SPOILER: they've captured the teenage girl's use and love and obsession with numbered lists.