April 13, 2011

Ashton Kutcher, are you just really inappropriately trying to punk me?

Have you seen Ashton Kutcher's new anti-sex trafficking ads? They are ridiculous.

Do they really think that a potential buyer of sex slaves will see these ads and think, "Nope, you're right. I should just make a grilled cheese sandwich with an iron now.." Celebrity vanity projects where they make PSAs ABOUT a problem that in no way SOLVE a problem, and here, just MAKE A MOCKERY OF A PROBLEM, are the one of the most exhausting elements of pop culture.

Okay Jessica Biel, just because you have been in movies, why do you think you need to try to solve problems you don't seem to know much about, or else you wouldn't BE in such ads? Are you doing this to suck up to your ex-boyfriend? Were you guys still together at the time you both made your respective PSAs and you were trying to stay in his good books so he wouldn't leave you for that piece Olivia Wilde?

And you know what, part of the problem with trafficking of women is that we live in a our world where women are still often treated as objects. IF you didn't want to treat a woman like an object, why would you BUY her? So, being the sexy girl who purrs out to be a "real man" at the end of a PSA about a women's issue where the boys get to be the stars, well, aren't you just feeding the objectifying gaze? You're not FIGHTING the attitudes towards women that perpetuate sexual slavery of women. You are confirming some men's disgusting belief that women are just there to look hot and service men...

March 11, 2011

Angelina Jolie is too old to be a bombshell at 35?

Instead of making a third Tomb Raider movie with Angelia Jolie, who originated the character on film, the powers that be have decided to recast the role. Apparently, at 35, Ms. Jolie is now too old to be a bombshell. Nope, can't work with her - have to replace her. This, to me, is evidence of EXTREME sexism in hollywood. Think about it, Harrison Ford was 39 when he STARTED playing Indiana Jones, and got to play him twice more in his 40s, and once more again in his 60s. Robert Downey Junior got to start two major franchises (Iron Man AND Sherlock Holmes) in his 40s, and Daniel Craig was no 20-something when he took over from Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

The doublestandard is obvious - men in hollywood gets some of their BEST opportunities AFTER 35, whereas women - even beautiful women like Ms. Jolie - are replaced by someone ten years their junior while still very much in their prime. By today's average lifespan in North America, 35 isn't even yet middle-aged, and yet apparently Ms. Jolie is past bombshell age. Next stop, "Driving Miss Daisy!"

It's not just rich movie stars like Angelina who suffer when they themselves cease to be relevant in their mid-thirties, it's the average woman too! If women can't play sexy at past the age of 33, we start to question whether it is indeed possible to BE sexy past our twenties. We wonder if we stop being relevant the minute the first blush of youth is past.

When we don't see women our age on screen being sexy (even fantasy women with great lighting and makeup artists at their disposal), it makes us feel a little worse about ourselves as we age. When they replace Angelina with someone like Megan Fox for Tomb Raider, the injustice of it all will just be f-ing annoying. Not to mention the fact that it creates worse and less believable movies.

I'm sick of seeing romantic comedies that start girls in their 20s who are too young to get the trials or tribulations of love the way a 35-year old Kate Winslet. The entire time I was watching last year's "Letters to Juliet," I was all like why can't this star Reese Whetherspoon? Because yes, I do like Amanda Seyfried, but at 24 she was just too young for me to care whether or not she found love. I was all like, you have time! What's the rush? Where's the urgency? Date around! IT was about as compelling as the love story between high schoolers VAnessa Hudgens and Zach Efron in those tv movies I've totally never watched and which shall remain nameless.

Yep, I'd like to see some real leading LADIES, not leading GIRLS

March 4, 2011

Dear Natalie Portman, This Is Why You Annoy Me...

Natalie Portman annoys me. She has for a while too. I'm not part of the recent backlash. I've always disliked her. Why? Because she annoys me.

To be fair, Portman is pretty. I have never denied that. She has a lovely face. I am not going to deny that. But really, does this make you someone who deserves to be seen as a role-model or an Oscar wining actress? Does this even make you deserve to be a celebrity?

First off, Portman is arrogant. She's always talking about how cultured she is and how she went to Harvard, but it's like she's not self-aware enough to know what GOT her these opportunities. Celebrities have been getting into the Ivy League to give these schools publicity for decades and will continue to do so for decades more (I'm assuming James Franco will get at least a few more fake PhD's before he's through). Connected people, from movie stars to royalty, have long gotten preferential treatment when it comes to getting into prestigious unis, and judging by Portman's current behaviour, I'm starting to thing she was one of them. Because honestly, after watching her lately, she doesn't seem that smart.

My irrational hatred for Ms. Portman became much more justified when she got pregnant and declared that she would like to stay inside all throughout her pregnancy because she didn't want to go outside while looking like a "whale." That's a lovely comment that surely makes all women who are bigger than Ms. Portman's prepregnant body (that's most women who have gone through puberty) feel like shit. It's also an offensive comment to pregnant women by implying they're all so unattractive they should hide until they pop. It harkens back to the days when pregnancy made people so uncomfortable back in Victorian Great Britain that doctors recommended "confinement" to women when they started to show. For someone who claims to be so feminist-identified, you'd think Portman would show greater concern for the feelings of pregnant and larger women. After all, her comments weren't made to a random friend at a coffee shop, but to an international magazine. With great privilege comes great responsibility, and I'm not sure Portman lives up to hers there.

I don't just have a problem with Portman the personality, but I also have a problem now with Portman the artist, with her movies. So, Portman has recently made it known she wants to make romantic comedies that are empowering to women. This would be an admirable goal, if Portman knew how to do that. Having just seen "No Strings Attached", I think Portman really fails to do that and doesn't seem to understand.

"No Strings Attached" features Portman playing a doctor who appears to be on the autism spectrum. She's awkward to the point of asking someone she barely knows to go to her father's funeral with her as her date without actually specifying that it IS in fact a funeral. Because of this, Ashton Kutcher's character unwittingly shows up clad in an orange hoodie. Rather than being funny, to me the scene where Ashton stands by as others grieve for a man he's never met and didn't even know was dead twenty minutes before was just hard to watch. It was disturbing, but for some reason, it's MEANT to be funny.

As the film progresses, Portman shows herself as a jealous character who wants to have casual sex with Kutcher but also doesn't want him to see other women. In short, she wants to have her cake and eat it too. She's portrayed as a ridiculous hypocrite and not a sympathetic character at all.

Kutcher and Portman finally do end up together, but Kutcher isn't part of the reason they are kept apart. He is portrayed as a standup guy who's emotionally mature enough to have a real relationship, but Portman is the problem. She can't be in a relationship. She is jealous of her competition and yet refuses to be exclusive, and so, Kutcher ad Portman must go separate ways because Portman is inconsistent, crazy and broken. Never fear, however! Because Portman's sister and mother give her advice. They tell her that she's broken for not wanting a relationship rather than simply giving her a lecture on the problems with hypocrisy.

Portman learns her lesson and goes to find Kutcher. They live happily ever after in the end, because the broken girl got fixed, but I left the movie thinking, "Fuck, she wasn't broken because she wasn't into committed relationships, she was broken because she was too immature to get over her jealousy in order to have the type of casual relationships she wanted to have!" Portman's character gives a rousing defense of light relationships. She's right - she wants an impressive career, and it's hard to do both and she's not very good at relationships, either, so she rationally decides not to have them. It all makes sense. All decisions have upsides and downsides, and sure, jealousy is one side effect of choosing against monogamy, but that's why you TRY not to be jealous. That's why we're supposed to work on our flaws. Every decision has a cost and involves sacrifices, and the fact that Portman's character doesn't get that isn't empowering to me as a woman.

Sure, in the end Portman decides to try to make things work with her former lover, but one wonders how long that will last? Portman isn't even sensitive enough to warn her date he's attending a funeral beforehand, so one wonders how well she'll be able to look after another person's needs in a longterm relationship? Not being good at relationships does not make you a failure as a woman. Wanting to focus on things that you're good at, like your career instead is a legitimate choice. There's nothing wrong with making that. I wish the film wouldn't moralize and tell us Portman was broken before, but just needed the love of a good man (Kutcher) and some sage advice from "proper women" who like both marriage and babies to fix herself.

So, in conclusion, I don't like Portman. I don't like her public persona and I really don't like her latest film. So, congrats on winning your Oscar, Nat! I wish you well, but please find a way to be less annoying...

March 1, 2011

Ageism and the Oscars: Why The Young People Just Annoyed Me

The Oscars this year represent a victory against ageism. To be sure, they started out as an endorsement of it. They chose two young people with no hosting experience to present despite their lack of credentials thinking that a young audience would inevitably tune in for young hosts because, like young people have an innate preference for other young people as Oscar hosts? Even when those young people show up stoned and can't open their eyes to see the teleprompter and just squint through the whole show?

Like, seriously, James Franco could NOT be bothered to open his eyes. AT ALL. Not even to look at Anne Hathaway, who was cooing and hanging off him like a syncophant. Now, I don't hate Miss Hathaway. I like her a lot, in fact, but her reaction to having a slacking co-worker was to indulge his ego! Why did she need to say he was doing a super awesome job hosting when he was letting her do all the work? Then, he wouldn't even look at her while thanking her for that compliment. How fucked up?

Despite Hathaway and Franco sucking as a duo where one was on coke and the other was on pot (you know which was which), there were some nice moments; however, these nice moments came from older people. When Billy Chrystal came out and told a few jokes, my viewing companions and I were enchanted (and we were all under 25). David's Seidler's speech, where he called himself a "late bloomer" for winning the Oscar at 73 also served to show that older people can be and are relevant. "The King's Speech" was a smashit with every generation, and it was the product of an old man's childhood memories. Here, his age was an asset and gave him an emotional connection to a story that provided the foundations for a movie masterpiece.

When Ms. Portman, who is about the same age as Franco and Hathaway, got up to accept her Oscar, her speech lacked the class and wisdom of Colin Firth's. She almost seemed bored with the award. When they called her name, she didn't look delighted or surprised - she looked entitled. The fact that Colin Firth, who has been a fine actor since Portman was a little girl, seemed more in awe of the award than a 29-year-old was bizarre (especially when a lot of people thought Annette Benning, who is REALLY DUE, might beat her). If anyone in Hollywood has paid his dues, it's Firth. He is an actor with impeccable training who has spent years doing a mix of art films and commercial blockbusters. He is a cult icon who got type-cast as "Mr. Darcy" and managed to overcome that Oscar simply by showing his talent and versatility. After all that work, after all those years, Mr. Firth was still honoured to be given Hollywood's greatest award. He didn't feel due for it, and even though he was OVERWHELMINGLY the odds-on favourite, he still seemed happy and surprised to have won.

By contrast, Portman's blase attitude of entitlement at only 29 was offensive. My favourite part was when she thanked her fiance for impregnating her and then referred to her upcoming motherhood as "the most important role of my life." As in, fuck you academy. I don't care about everything you represent. You will never be as cool as me or the fruit of my womb, which will definitely be super awesome. So suck it! So honey, you might have gone to Harvard, but apparently that doesn't make you smart.

Franco, Hathaway and Portman all showed that youthful exuberance isn't better than wisdom and the humility that goes along with it. Firth made me feel that grace comes with age and made me actually look forward to 50.

So Oscars, given that the older people were the best part of your show this year, next year can we please have some grown up hosts?

February 5, 2011

humour and complacency

This is like, Gender Studies 101, but I need revisit some age-old questions and get this rant off my chest. So, I'm sitting with some friends last night - all guys. They start making make-me-a-sandwich jokes, trying to get a rise out of me.

It. fucking. worked.

To sit, surrounded by men, being barraged by offensively sexist jokes is infuriating. But what was even more infuriating is that I found myself paralyzed, unable to say anything. Maybe it was because they are longtime friends, maybe it was because I knew that they had no idea how offensive what they were saying was, maybe it was because these comments were intended as 'jokes', or maybe it was because I've been conditioned to be quiet, passive, and non-opinionated for 25 years.

But what do you say to 'jokes' like this? How do you avoid being dismissed as uptight and hyperbolic? Or should you even care what they think at all?

Trying to fall asleep later that night, I starting thinking about how gendered oppression exists on a spectrum. On the one end: make-me-a-sandwich jokes. On the opposite end: rape. All rest on the assumption that women ought to be passive objects existing primarily to satiate male desire. I don't mean to equate victims of rape with victims of jokes in bad taste, as their experiences are clearly incomparable. However, we see the same excuses offered up for sexist comments as we do for rape: 'she's overreacting;' 'he didn't know it would be unwelcome;' 'she was enjoying it.'

My friends are intelligent people, but appear never to have bothered asking women about why these jokes are offensive, nor have they critically considered the jokes on their own. If they did, they might see that it was indeed venomous to degrade and humiliate me like that. But more importantly, they might consider their own role in gendered oppression broadly - the assumptions they make, the jokes they laugh at, the comments they excuse.

After last night, and having been out of a feminist-friendly environment for almost three years, I certainly need to recognize my complacency in gendered oppression. I'm making assumptions I shouldn't, laughing at jokes I shouldn't, and excusing comments I shouldn't.