Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How 'The Help' solidifies a new summer tradition... pissing me off about film criticism.

From the LA Times
"For all the cliches about chick flicks, the form has actually taken some interesting turns in recent years. This weekend it took the latest, with the Viola Davis-starring "The Help" telling a story about friendship and loyalty against the backdrop of racism in the 1960s-era South.

Over the past few years, it's become practically a ritual that a star-driven movie about female-friendship and -empowerment  come out every summer, usually in August, and usually based on a book-club favorite. Last year it was "Eat, Pray, Love;" the summer before it was "Julie & Julia." "The Devil Wears Prada" (which was released over the July 4 weekend) served the genre in 2006.

Whatever these movies' differences in tone and subject matter, they have several important things in common. They all traffic in themes about female identity. And they're all solidly, sometimes even wildly, successful.

There are a lot of reasons why these movies have performed as well as they have, and Taylor Tate's "The Help," which has taken in a resounding $35.4 million since opening last Wednesday, is no different. The beloved book title gave it a running start,  and critics then fanned that enthusiasm with strong reviews. "The Help's" ability to tackle serious themes about changing the status quo in a familiar cinematic context about friendship and comedy provided that holy grail: slick entertainment that's also a little good for you (much like "Prada's look at post-college identity in the glittery fashion world)."
Wait, wait, wait, you might be asking yourself a film aimed at women was reasonably successful at the box office? GASP! Shock!  Apparently, we're still here, we're going to talk about this again.
The subject of women at the box office has been a hot one this summer, what with "Bridesmaids" and "Bad Teacher" putting women front-and-center in a potty-mouthed comedy. With those films, pundits said that Hollywood was serving or even creating a new audience: women who wanted their movies as bawdy and escapist as men. But with the release of a film that was comedic in a far gentler way, the most recent weekend proved that the old audience hasn't really gone anywhere.
Note: I haven't seen The Help yet. But I'm not really going to talk about The Help right now either. The implication here is that reporting on the success of these narratives (women in empowering stories of friendship in this case) is still anomalous to the entertainment industry. I mean really, Women in Empowering Stories of Friendship is a Blue Chip Narrative Stock in the entertainment industry, reliable, time-tested, and honestly, not the most expensive genre to invest in.

Fem blog Jezebel's commentary on this is as follows:
A more likely explanation: The female half of the population doesn't suddenly remember in early August that we like to watch films that reflect our own experiences, that's just when these movies happen to come out. According to the bestseller/strong ladies/A-list star criteria, The Blind Side should be on this list too (like The Help there's even that questionable "white lady saves poor black people" angle). However, the film came out around Thanksgiving and wasn't considered a "chick flick" because it's not humiliating for guys to watch a football movie.
I think the ladies at Jezebel would agree with me when I say, it's a bit insulting to hear again and again that it's surprising that us girls open up our pocketbooks and go see movies when they features themes and narratives that we can relate to. Even though I've never had my own maid, worked at Conde Nast or had a pair of magical traveling pants I've paid to see three movies about women who had.

The constant surprise that women go see movies is ludicrous and exhausting. Even moreso, the fact that a variety of movies that feature female stories being successful: raunchy comedy, sincere drama, light-hearted romance, sci-fi revolutionary epic (Come on Hunger Games!!!!).

  • Women go see movies.
  • Women have the money to pay to see movies they want to see. 
  • Women want to see movies that feature characters they can relate to.
  • Women will see movies that feature characters they can relate to in a variety of genres.
  • Women will pay to see movies that feature characters they can relate to in a variety of genres. 

    Given those facts, can we please eliminate the emotion of surprise 
    that movies that feature women characters don't immediately crash and burn? 

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Gloria Steinem Calls of Boycott of NBC's The Playboy Club

    From Jezebel:
    TV viewers may be confused because the Playboy Club seemed pretty glamourous when Don Draper was there (though keep in mind that the visit resulted in a horrific, racially-motivated cane attack). Thankfully, Steinem has given feminists the go-ahead to keep loving Mad Men, even if the club's brief appearance on the program showcased sexy costumes with no mention of the requirement that Bunnies undergo internal exams and STD tests (a rule the clubs were forced to drop thanks to her expose). Steinem says Mad Men is "a net plus, because it shows the world of the early 1960s with some realism." However, she expects that The Playboy Club, "will be a net minus and I hope people boycott it. It's just not telling the truth about the era."
    Steinem continues:
    "It normalizes a passive dominant idea of gender. So it normalizes prostitution and male dominance...I just know that over the years, women have called me and told me horror stories of what they experienced at the Playboy Club and at the Playboy Mansion."
    That doesn't sound all that empowering, but maybe Steinem just has her facts mixed up. She should be sure to watch Bra Burners, NBC's new 1970s historical drama about the ladies who got into pillow fights to protest society pressuring them to wear underwear.

    Pony Up Haters

    So, those of you who read my earlier post about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic know that the Brony is now, entirely, really a "thing".

    Example: The only smartphone app for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic currently in the offing is fan created and this is its description:
    "This is not for kids!! This app is designed for pony fans, usually males 18+, with huge online presence. If you are a parent wishing to get an app for your kid - DON'T DO IT. Thank you!"
    When the internet thinks something is inappropriate for kids, you should probably believe it.

    While there is some question as to whether the meme started on 4chan or Something Awful, this article does a great job of chronicling the rise of this fangroup, and seriously, as weird as it is, it totally proves my longstanding point that boys and men will enjoy well-done shows aimed at women or girls. 

    Epic Win to Lauren Faust.

    Brony, short for “bro pony,” refers to an unusual audience demographic of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, a cartoon that began airing on the new cable network the Hub in October of last year. The show, based on the seminal 1980s toy franchise, was created for Hasbro by Lauren Faust, a former writer and director on The Powerpuff Girls. While it is marketed to children, it has quickly amassed a legion of fanboys between the ages of 18 and 35 who obsess over characters with names like Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Pinkie Pie. Predictably, this has led to some confusion.
    “Everyone thought I was a girl,” said a mop-topped young man wearing a Friendship Is Magic T-shirt and a name tag that identified him as Strawberry Spice (Purple Tinker, the head of the Bronies’ New York chapter, calls these alter egos“pony-sonas”). Mr. Spice, 18, was at the Brony meetup partially to establish his gender in person, but also to hand out homemade stickers and pony-themed fruit snacks.