Friday, April 30, 2010

My Super First Day: I write fiction, Beware!!!!








This is my entry for the massive distributed storytelling effort My Super First Day:
"Remember that day, one year ago, when you woke up and discovered you had a superpower? We do, too! This is an exercise in massively collaborative storytelling. Contributors from the farthest-flung reaches of the interwebs have come together to tell us about that wonderful (or horrible!) day when their lives suddenly became supercharged."
Please forgive me this break from our regularly scheduled punditry and try to get through...

Tacky Clothes make even Tackier Bedfellows…
Caitlin Burns’ Super First Day

It was a dark and stormy… completely sunny 88 degree afternoon in Phoenix with literally no clouds and I was lying on my back on a plasticized picnic table in my high school’s parking lot. My friend, Therese, was splayed out atop an inflatable alligator that was shimmering atop the burning hot concrete in its own ineffable manner, its plastic smile creased by the weight of her physics textbook. Jim was attempting a handstand on the nearby grass, his juvenile gymnastic prowess diminished by his adolescent chunkiness.

Therese was trying to explain to me precisely why physics would be applicable to me in my daily life, other than getting into college and moving about in space are concerned. Of course, I assumed that the calculus involved was something that would make sense eventually, probably on my deathbed I would care more about functions and infinite sums but at that point I simply could not be bothered and the standard issue Arizona heat was not helping.

Jim spotted a maroon Subaru turning the corner into the parking lot, which was a full block and literally a quarter mile from where we were lazing about. It was 4:45 and Jim’s mom was here to pick him up along with Therese. They lived in the area closer to Camelback Mountain, the dromedary-like fixture that poked above the smog layer and loomed like a cigarette warning above my childhood.

I bid my friends farewell and unlocked the door of my ’89 Honda Civic stepping aside as I opened the door to the backseat so that the blast of heat wouldn’t hit me in the face. I proceeded to shove in the inflatable Alligator, threw my book bag on the passenger seat and, pulling my sleeves over my hands, gingerly gripped the burning hot wheel and turned the key. Nothing happened, I checked the break, Nothing Happened, I got out and checked the radiator fluid, nothing strange but also, the car wouldn’t turn on. I sighed, grabbed by bag, locked the car and rummaged through it for a caramel apple pop setting off across the parking lot and across the running track to the entrance to the labyrinthine alleys that would take me home to where my more mechanically inclined father would be waiting.

I lived three-quarters of a mile in the other direction from the mountain, in a comfortable Middle-Class buffer area that insulated the ritzy Arcadia Suburb from the lower-class area across 40th, demarcated as such things often are, by a decrepit house with aluminum foil over the windows that was occasionally busted as a Meth Lab. Ironically, that street may has well have been the Pacific Ocean for all it affected the neighborhood next to it and I had no concerns walking home.

As I meandered down the rows of Oleanders and more quickly past one particular yard that usually contained a barking Rottweiler, Shirley Manson vamping out of my Discman, I heard a loud whistle. I stopped, turned around, and there was no one there. I assumed that it was someone in a back yard, despite the fact that nearly no one other than teenagers walking around in alleys ever ventured into their own back yards at this time of day.

I started walking again and about 10 feet down the alley I heard the wolf whistle again. This time I pulled the Carmel Apple Pop from my mouth and, yelled,
“Hello?”

No answer but the cicadas and the chattering of a Blue Jay on a power line above me.
Only after I’d yelled did I realize how much a horror-movie clich√© that is, and feeling like an ass I turned back towards my goal, rolled back my shoulders and stepped forward.
“Hey Baby, TwoooT!” loudly squawked the bird above my head.
I nearly choked on my lolly pop, instead it caught on my tongue stud and in my efforts to disentangle myself I managed to get caught in my headphone wires, get my arms stuck in the strap of my book bag and, long story short, ended up on my butt in the dirt as the Jay laughed uproariously at my expense.
“Nice job,” the feathered jerk mocked– if birds had tear ducts he would be weeping with laughter at this point. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but your shoe is untied too, also your shoes are ungodly ugly.”

“I thought birds liked shiny things?” I said wrestling with the lace of my aqua, glittery high-heeled Sketchers.

“Even people who like shiny things have SOME standards,” the Jay retorted, at which point he opened his wings and flew away.
Well, that was it, I could talk to birds… you would be surprised how many of them are assholes.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Heroine's Journey: Women and Myth, Technology and Storytelling

Joseph Campbell's Monomyth (seen above, click to enlarge) is an attempt to describe the Hero's Journey present across time and culture in mythology and storytelling.

Since I began writing this blog, I've been trying to find a gender-neutral illustration of this concept and finally, here it is.

In my search I was able to find "female hero's journeys" which are helpful (here & here) but I just couldn't bring myself to write about them and here's why:
While there are some differences between a hero's and a heroine's journey the core of the journey's progress is the same.
Sure, the differences are important to each specific story; but they are just as different from hero to hero as from hero to heroine. A narrative is not male or female, nor is a method of storytelling.

I've talked about this before, and frankly I think it's what I end up talking to people about the most: stories are not inherently gendered, the characters within them have genders. Girls in stories can kick ass and it be enjoyable for men and women to watch and not unnatural to the state of being a girl: fairies can be male or female: and creating a property for boys definitely doesn't mean that a female character will send your audience running for the hills.

I am a Transmedia Producer and have worked for 6 years at Starlight Runner Entertainment; often when approached by people new to the concept of Transmedia Storytelling I find myself answering questions about whether or not Transmedia Storytelling can be applied to girls' properties. This is a little like being asked if spoons can be used for lunch as well as dinner. The answer is a jubilant YES! if your franchise has a story it can tall that story across many platforms.

That story can have a male lead, female lead, be based on reality, be total fiction, be a documentary, be about humans, aliens or meerkats and if it is rich enough in story and setting to tell a few related tales you can have a successful Transmedia Franchise. There are obviously some intervening steps but that's the truth.

The innate barriers to creating franchises, films, games, etc... for women and girls are the same as creating franchises, films, games, etc... for men and boys: a compelling concept, a well-considered narrative, a rich story universe and the means to execute it.

I hear similar gripes from friends and colleagues in the Entertainment Industry (which to me includes video games, toys, online works...) and especially in younger industries like video games where there haven't been amazingly epic franchises built for women, or that really celebrated a more nuanced female character than Lara Croft, there is a perception that because there haven't been any really legendary projects for girls or women, for some reason there can't be.

So here is the take away: there is no greater reason that there shouldn't be more franchises for Girls and Women, ones that have different more interesting stories. The only reason there aren't more girls franchises out there, is because you and I haven't made them yet.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Glee-Cap: Madonna & "What it feels like for a Girl"

So, Glee this week took on the female perspective, for a summary of the episode check out this one, I'm not going into detail, but it may help if you haven't seen the episode.

The Episode is entertaining, but if I were in Junior High or High School I would be all over this.
"They Sing Like a Virgin... Then for one commercial break you're left to consider the possibility that in the "female empowerment" episode we'll actually see a high school girl make the decision that she's ready for sex, then do so without getting pregnant (there isn't room for two pregnant teens) or dying a bloody death in the next scene. "
Okay Glee, you threw me a bone after my last post and made the girls and women have feelings and some of them be honest about their feelings and make decisions and some of those had consequences, or at least will in subsequent episodes... I hope. The most honest characters however, are still the strait-up-evil Cheerleaders who seem to be either sadists or stupid sadists. Stay tuned dear readers, because I will still be watching and I expect more female-centered storylines Glee, or I will mention it on a BLOG!!!! (I know, so damning.)

What I will comment on today is that Wow, Madonna is a powerful Zeitgeist Deity. More so than even the performer herself, the IDEA of Madonna pervaded this episode of Glee.
"[Madonna is] the most powerful woman ever to walk the face of the earth."

"As Madonna once said, I'm tough, I'm ambitious and if that makes me a bitch, that's what I am. Pretty sure she stole that line from Sue Sylvester. No, really. I said it first."

"You don't deserve the power of Madonna. you have none of her self confidence, her power over her body or her sexual magnetism. Simply put, you have all the sensuality of those pandas down at the zoo who refuse to mate. "
Now invoking Madonna as a Goddess is hardly without precedent. Frankly, Madonna did it herself, The Madonna, The Virgin Mary, she took these archetypal strong images of female power and ran with it for fun and profit. She's a fantastic example of how taking an established theme and archetype that resonates with your personality and the personal narrative you wish to embody in fiction or non-fiction.

With 30 years of music and pop culture supremacy under her belt, invoking Madonna has a potency that internationally speaks to feminine power, and if she's not a full fledged Saint of the Zeitgeist yet, she's certainly beatified.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blog for Fair Pay Day

Check Out this article at Beautyschooled:

I just spent 20 minutes trying to figure out the gender wage gap for salon workers, and the best I can find is a Bureau of Labor Statistics chart that says 268,000 female “hairdressers, hair stylists and cosmetologists” earned a median income of $413 per week (just under $22,000 per year) in 2009, but that data was not recorded for their male counterparts because there are less than 50,000 male hair stylists in the country (and BLS doesn’t track data on occupation segments that small). This fact does not surprise me because there is not one male student currently enrolled in all of Beauty U...

...And there’s another, more insidious and more widespread way that the beauty industry contributes to the wage gap: What Naomi Wolf calls “the professional beauty qualification” or PBQ, where all manner of jobs require women to look and dress a certain way in order to maintain their employment.

From The Beauty Myth, pages 52-53:

Urban professional women are devoting up to a third of their income to “beauty maintenance” and considering it a necessary investment. [...] The few women who are finally earning as much as men are forced, through the PBQ, to pay themselves significantly less than their male counterparts take home. It has engineered do-it-yourself income discrimination.

Help strengthen regulations to prevent discriminatory pay practices and discrimination of all types:
Support the Paycheck Fairness Act!

H.R. 12, S. 182 (111th Congress)

The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced in both the House (H.R. 12) and the Senate (S. 182) and passed by the House on Jan. 9, 2009, would update and strengthen the Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963. The Act would deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the EPA and barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages. The bill also allows women to receive the same remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subject to discrimination based on race and national origin.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Glee?

Glee began it's second installment of it's first season last week, and I feel the desire to weigh in on this show a bit. There's plenty of controversy about the show, if you haven't watched it or heard the music or been in a flash mob:

A high-school Spanish teacher becomes the director of the school's Glee club, hoping to restore it to its former glory. It's all a seemingly happy-go-lucky melange of high school stereotypes acting and interacting and singing songs that get your feet tapping and hearts melting,

but there's more...

Sue Silvester-
The evil cheerleading coach tries to undermine the glee club at every turn with blackmail and constant evil scheming;

Mrs. Scheuster-
the glee club sponsor's wife becomes hysterically pregnant and then spends the entire first season lying and manipulating the poor teacher to avoid telling him the truth, egged on by her sister;

Miss. Pillsbury-
the sweet obsessive compulsive guidance counsellor is in love with the glee club sponsor but instead of telling him, she accepts the gym coach's offer of marriage and lies to him about her feelings for the glee club sponsor for many episodes until she jilts him;

Quinn-
the head cheerleader (and president of the celibacy club) cheats on her boyfriend, the glee club's lead tenor and the football team's quarterback, with the ne'er-do-well rogue and becomes pregnant, and instead of owning up tells the quarterback that it must have happened when they were making out in a hot tub... then concocts a plan with the glee club sponsor's wife to have her secretly adopt the cheerleader's baby and lie to both the quarterback and glee club sponsor;

Tina-
the Asian girl fakes a stutter for her entire life and then admits it to her disabled friend in a wheelchair assuming that he'd understand because he's disable why she's lied about herself for attention;

Rachel-
the annoying drama queen nerd lead soprano is in love with the quarterback/lead tenor but doesn't say anything about it, instead, choosing a campaign of white lies and makeovers that keep either person from realizing that the other actually likes them;

Mercedes-
and oh, the African-American Diva shoplifts under the watchful eyes of an aging glee club star (April) who comes in to help coach the club for an episode, and instead of telling the quarterback when she finds out that the cheerleader's baby isn't his, tells everyone but him;

Now, I enjoy this show, it's really entertaining and has one of the sweetest portrayals of a young homosexual man and his father on TV. I've seen every episode, but... why is every woman in it portrayed as a liar?

The only one who takes responsibility for her behavior is the Quinn who decides to raise the baby herself, after all other options fall apart because of the web of lies. Though that seems at the moment to mostly means she's constantly chasing women away from the ne'er-do-well baby-daddy.

I want the rest of the season to show consequences but I'm not terribly optimistic about it based on how mendacity is an innate quality of women in Glee so far... and so far the Rachel and Ms. Pillsbury got the guys (temporarily) there were no visible consequences of Tina's or Mercedes' plots, and Mrs. Schuester is trying to lie and manipulate Mr Schuester's life through Ms. Pillsbury.

The male characters are pretty scrupulously honest and tend to come off as victims most of the time, despite their involvement in schemes.

Sue is even rewarded for her lying and scheming, actually, at least twice per episode up to this point, but I suspect that's because she's honest with herself about being a liar.

Am I the only one who has noticed this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rise of the Female Nerds

A fantastic article by
"Female nerds have traditionally had few options when seeking characters onscreen to relate to. Female nerds fade into the background of TV and movies, and when they do have speaking lines, they're not really characters at all -- they are stereotypes. Or they're on a trajectory that ends with whipping off the glasses and getting the guy. Even the 1980s-era classic Revenge of the Nerds portrayed female nerds as nothing but a booby prize, something to be shoved aside the second the male nerds proved themselves and were awarded the attentions of the hot girls. "

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Forbes Fictional 15

Only two ladies? Bah. But fascinating, from Forbes:

"It's a great time to be imaginary.

Global markets are rapidly recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, and so are the fortunes of the fictitious. There are six new characters on the 2010 edition of Fictional 15, our annual ranking of fiction's richest, with an average net worth of $7.3 billion. In aggregate, the nine returning members are worth $79.8 billion, up 9% since we last checked in on them."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dont Fear the Reaper- Hit Girl and Schoolgirl Complexes

Posted to Women & Hollywood this week, Melissa Silverstein commented on Hit Girl, a brutally violent young assassin who features in the movie "Kick Ass".

Hit Girl is a character that I have never seen on screen before. She is an 11 year old girl assassin. This girl played amazingly by Chloe Grace Moretz is a walking destruction machine. She shoots, she stabs, she bayonets. She does things on screen that literally left my mouth agape. FYI- no studio would touch this movie. They loved it but said you gotta take out Hit Girl. No one would finance a film with an 11 year old girl killer. Those movies are just not made in Hollywood.

The thing about Hit Girl is not just that she is a brutal and ruthless killer. She enjoys it. Way. Too. Much.

Now, I have not yet seen Kick Ass (I have an infant son, who is keeping me from theaters) but I will, and at the risk of having to come back and re-write this entire post once I have, I'm going to soldier on and tell you why I am a little surprised that Hit Girl comes as a shock to many, and why it shocks me that they are shocked.

The core of the shock comes from seeing a school-aged girl- a preteen, tween, 9-12 year old female- who is acting violently and with ninja-style competence in an action setting, versus a "school girl" -a stereotype of innocent femininity often sexualized and usually two-dimensional in narrative exploration.

When I was a teenager, I loved Anime and Manga and those genres are full of violent, ass-kicking preteen girls. From the fairly girly Sailor Moon to the more complex characters in Nausicaä or Magic Knight Rayearth, adolescent girls have been brutally violent in these genres for decades. One can also look to live action movies like Battle Royale show literal preteen characters killing one another in really stomach churning ways. Similar to western comic books, violence as a whole is more common in these stories than

Also, school girls, adolescent and often-uniformed, are a common theme in hentai (animated pornography). Clearly, Japan has a different relationship to school girls, their sexualization and their capacity for violence than us here in the west, right...


... okay not entirely.

Western school girl characters are rarely explicitly violent in film or television, instead are insidiously manipulative and highly sexualized, like those in Cruel Intentions and Gossip Girl.

What is different between the portrayals of East and West is that the Eastern Schoolgirl has many more varied narrative iterations, from entirely sexualized to inertly non-sexual, whereas wearing a school uniform on film in America connotes a primarily sexual meaning, regardless of age, and this association re-enforces the stereotype by only allowing women of legal age to portray many of these characters.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Gogo,

In Kill Bill vol. 1, the American viewing public was introduced to a school girl assassin. Now, while Gogo exemplifies everything about the violent school girl stereotype we've seen thus far, she's a girl who appears of legal age dressing in the garb of a school girl, and her violence is underscored by a number of cute (kawaii) affectations.

Much more controversially, Kill Bill vol. 1 also included O-Ren Ishii's fist kill (NSFW) was shown in an animated segment as a tween who kills and relishes the violence she undertakes. So Tarantino gives a new layer to the film portrayal of the schoolgirl stereotype, one of anti-heroic revenge seeker.
Tarantino's choice to portray young O-Ren as a killer is controversial, visceral and powerful, as the established conception of tween girl in the West is one that does not allow for outward aggression or that kind of complex competence.

What O-Ren and Hit Girl both show is that aggression and violence are not absent from the mind of an adolescent girl. I think Melissa Silverstein sums up perfectly why these portrayals are groundbreaking.
We would never be having this whole conversation about Hit Girl if the character would have been Hit Boy. No one would care in the same if a 11-year-old boy said the c-word. I'd probably just dismiss it as another sexist movie and character and move on.
So, Hit Girl is in our consciousness, and she and her father (who trains her to be an assassin) have a good relationship rather than the deeply traumatizing events that led O-Ren Ishii to the career of assassin. The conversation about the violent tendencies of young girls is not a new one, though it is more often than not seen sublimated from direct physical violence into psychological torture- as is suggested in the case of Phoebie Price' tormentors now on trial for her murder, and suggested by studies about correlations between competitive sports and more clear self-images among young girls.

Young boys are not penalized for wanting to emulate Batman or Darth Vader, despite the extremes to which those emulations can be taken. My gut tells me that even if Hit Girl is an imperfect heroine, the more strong girls one sees onscreen, the more girls will feel empowered to be the heroes of their own adventures. Hit Girl is kicking down the door for more competent, powerful female heroines and anti-heroines in the future.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gender Stereotypes: An Analysis of Popular Films and TV













The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media recently released a major research study on the representation of genders in G-Rated entertainment. Read the full Study here

Some of their recommendations:
  1. G-rated movies and certain TV categories need more females as main characters, minor characters, narrators, and in crowds.
  2. G-rated movies and certain TV categories need more characters of color, especially female characters of color as main characters, minor characters, narrators, and in crowds.
  3. G-rated movies need to create more female characters with aspirations beyond romance.
  4. G-rated movies need to create more women and girl characters that are valued for their inner character, too.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media works with
entertainment creators and companies, educates the next
generation of content-creators, and informs the public
about the need to increase the number of girls and women
in media aimed at kids and to reduce stereotyping of both
males and females.