Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bette Davis and Womanhood, Big and Little (Core Post #1)

“I think men have got to change an awful lot. I think somehow they still prefer the little woman. They're just staying way, way behind and so as a rule I think millions of women are very happy to be by themselves, they're so bored with the whole business of trying to be the little woman, when no such thing really exists anymore. It just simply doesn't.” 

In a 1963 interview with Shirley Eder, Bette Davis pronounced the end of "the little woman" & the failure of male desire to acclimate to women being bored "with the whole of business of trying to be the little woman." "Little woman" has clearly been carved out as a performance here, something that women must continually commit to becoming. Bette Davis herself was in the business of being a "big woman." Laplace's essay on "Producing and Consuming the Woman's Film" deals precisely with the various permutations of agency & desire that Bette Davis embodied, this perplexing role of "femaleness" that she existed both within and without. 

   I liked Now, Voyager only after reading Laplace's various explications of it. It was then that I understood how Bette Davis posits herself within a dialectic of female emancipation and consumerism, and how this constant negotiation allows her to lay claim to being a "big woman" while promoting a politics of the body & a delimitation of gender that insists on little womanhood. Davis exploits this very gap, orienting the female imagination to the number of possibilities liberation offers her only to arrive at eventual containment -- buy this lipstick and be free! 

"...the survival tactic of allurement became their most conspicuous form of self-definition" (Ewen, p 172). As the demands of the social self permeate the affective interior, women become obliged to become public goods; women consume beauty, but it's also what makes them consumable. Bette Davis streamlined such spending decisions by following a logic of feigned disengagement while simultaneously profiting from an erotic capital. These discourses on beauty mirror the discourses on stardom: both are predicated on the fantasy of upward social mobility, the American dream. It is available to all but obtained only by a few. By pretending to exist outside of it, the star persona of Bette Davis was able to market a freedom that you could arrive at only if you weren't ugly anymore--Bette Davis was the Big Woman in the body of a Little Woman. 

Here's the interview!

SAG Awards Stalking

This past Saturday, a friend and I decided to go watch the red carpet arrivals at the Shrine Auditorium for the 22nd annual Screen Actor's Guild Awards.  I had done this two years ago and had the memorable experience of making it on CNN (see video at bottom) when Julia Roberts came to say hi to us and some eager people next to me toppled the barricade, nearly knocking out the A-Lister.  But that's another story.  This experience was just as memorable, but for a different reason.

We staked out our position across from the carpet at about 2:15 pm.  The arrivals began at 3:00 pm. This year, I was there not to fawn over my favorite celebrities and scream their names, but rather because this was a world I would like to someday be a part of as a filmmaker and with it happening right across the street, I could not pass up the opportunity.  In fact, I did not take a single picture and did not yell a single name (although I did return a wave from Leonardo Di Caprio because how could you not?).  It soon became loud, and I mean very loud, and clear that some people were there for a reason that had nothing to do with seeing stars.  Standing behind us were two men holding giant signs that said "ASK ME WHY YOU DESERVE HELL" and other variations.  These are the people you usually see outside the Coliseum on game days.  They began yelling at both the spectators and the arrivals, telling us we were all going to hell for worshiping celebrities instead of God.  My friend and I stood by, extremely and increasingly uncomfortable because we are Christians, but don't believe in scaring people into following God.  It pained us to see this false image of God being screamed at people.  Do they really think their yelling is an effective way of getting people to convert?

Then I began feeling a little guilty for being there.  Was I participating in the worshiping of celebrities who afterall, are only human like the rest of us?  Why do we put these people up on a pedestal and what does it say about our culture that we praise celebrities more than people like Malala Yousafzai who are fearless heroes who stand up to evil and preach love?  As an observer and admittedly sometimes participant in this phenomenon, attending red carpet events such as the SAG Awards reminds me of the power both celebrities and the medium of film and television has to influence people. That is why I want to work in this industry; to use the spotlight celebrities and films are placed in to inspire, uplift, and give hope.  There is nothing wrong with admiring celebrities for their talent and many of them use their positions in the spotlight for good.  However, as that barrier collapsed between myself and Julia Roberts two years ago, I am reminded that the barriers we construct between ourselves and celebrities are just that, human or societal constructions.  We should not strive to be like the Julia Roberts and Margo Channings of the world, but rather like the Malalas (whose story makes for quite an entertaining film).

Core Reading Post #2

The concept of stars, image and consumption of them has become increasingly interesting to me especially in the past 2-3 years because of the queer rights movement. With a higher acceptance of gay marriage and a *somewhat* opened acceptance of other queer identities, I think we’re beginning to see a larger percentage of that reflected in widespread culture. Different societal expectations like domesticity, monogamy and heterosexuality are getting broken down on a mass scale. Though we’re nowhere near portraying an accurate reflection of the queer experience (if there even is one unified queer experience), we’re seeing now, more than ever, a higher representation of different identities that aren’t constricted to the traditional western form. 

Something that stood out to me in the Dyer reading was when he referred to the ‘Independent Woman’ archetype. Given the book was written in 1979, it’s evident that SO much has changed regarding our expectations of females in larger society. But even if he’d written this in 2010, the transformation of the female identity would still be explosively huge, as so much has changed. He mentions how society clings to different characteristics tied to genders - and how ‘for whatever historical-cultural reasons, certain characteristics are associated with one gender rather than the other…[and] attempts to alter this...both frees people from the constructions of gender-roles and yet does not utterly damage their self-identities’ (55). Dyer mentions stars like Joan Crawford (who has broad shoulders), Katharine Hepburn (who is uniquely ‘tall’ for a woman), Barbara Stanwych (who has a ‘tough face’) and Bette Davis (who has a ‘strutting walk’), and it got me thinking how constraining these structures are. So by western belief systems, Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn, even though they were born female, still weren’t considered traditionally desired because of their bone structure? With so much conversation and evolution of our perceptions of sexuality and gender changing today, I think our perception of “classic” beauty is broadly changing. Ruby Rose is one of the big names/images that stands out to me because she’s still considered a sex symbol, but not for the classic long hair / clean look. She really embraces her androgynous energy and is killing it! Same goes for other queer celebrities who don’t fit into the standard mold but are still considered beautiful - ex.: Laverne Cox, Samira Wiley, and so many others...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bette Davis in Now, Voyager (1942), All About Eve (1950)

Blog Post #1

Until we started this class, I had heard of Bette Davis but hadn’t seen any of her films. I’m happy to report that I can now confidently put the name to the face. Yay me.

After watching the creepy and bizarre All About Eve (1950) followed by Davis’s previous film Now, Voyager (1942), I noticed a few things about Davis as an actress. Disclaimer: I’ve only seen two films. The character plots that Davis was involved in seemed to follow a similar pattern: a headstrong older woman who encounters some sort of mid-life crisis, then the end of the film is resolved by some sort of unpredictable event that the audience would have not been able to predict — oh and there is a love interest, but he’s not a huge thing in the plot line because Bette’s stardom seems to get in the way of that. I think it is safe to say that Bette knew what roles she liked and she made sure that she maintained a certain status by only performing in roles like those. She was most definitely the original Hollywood diva — she earned the reputation to be difficult to work with — but she paved the way for other women on screen, so go her!

Another thing that I noticed was her acting style. I realize that this is something that we are going to cover in class soon, but I thought I would touch upon a facial feature that stood out to me the most — her eyes. In every scene that she was in during both movies that we screened, her eyes gave everything away — her anger, exhaustion, her fear, her sadness. In addition, as I read on some random blog, she even had an acting technique called “leading with your eyes” named after her because of the way that she used her eyes in her films.

Anyway, I decided to look her up and did some self-taught learning of my own (see what I did there, Professor McPherson?) and looked up her website. Long story short, if you were like me where you were not as familiar with Bette Davis, The First Lady of American Screen as much as others in the class, do not fret. I read her website and now you can too:

Monday, January 25, 2016

How does this happen?!

Okay, this happened about a month back but it's definitely a glimpse into the "double edged sword" term used when describing fame...

The fact that this man got through all security guards THAT easily is pretty scary.

Supplemental Response #2: The Sheik, Twilight and praised unhealthy relationships

I don't think many, if any of us, would disagree that The Sheik was quite ridiculous in terms of race and sex. From the Sheik being revealed as the son of Europeans - because God forbid the pretty young English woman fall in love with someone who's not white, says the 1920s - to Lady Diana eventually falling in love with her attractive captor in an odd Stockholm Syndrome sort of way while the unattractive, actually non-European captor becomes The True Villain, the film has multiple ideas that made the class giggle and which just wouldn't sell in the 21st century.
But, really, wouldn't it? While watching the film, as horrified as I was with the rest of the class, I realized that this is the sort of thing I would've loved when I was younger. Around the 8th grade, when I was about 14, all of my friends and I became enamored with Twilight, where a previously completely independent young girl wants to give up her whole life, including family, friends and freedom, to remain forever by the side of a vampire boyfriend who became progressively more controlling and abusive throughout the film series. But none of us cared - the vampire sounded pretty, and sparkly.
When the Twilight films came out they were an immediate hit, regardless of being total garbage. Robert Pattinson became a heartthrob for many women all over the world, even if the character he played, Edward Cullen, would go so far as to cut the cables of Bella Swan's car to make sure she wouldn't go see her werewolf best friend. Yet Bella was torn between her love for Edward and Jacob, the aforementioned werewolf, both of whom thought they knew what was best for her. At the heart of The Sheik, this is also somewhat the same message. It doesn't matter that Diana is independent, that she loves to travel, and that she wishes to go back home. The Sheik knows what's 'best' for her, which is to stay with him and become his wife in the middle of the desert. These narratives tell us that men must save women from themselves, since the women don't "really know" what they want or need. It's astonishing that they've actually changed very little within the last hundred years.
And of course, there's little reason for them to change. Young girls everywhere are indoctrinated into this mindset from a very young age. Beauty and the Beast is an equally similar narrative - it does not matter that the male lead is originally a monster attempting to contain the female lead, in the end they fall in love, she realizes just how pretty he is and they live happily ever after. And in adult films, we indulge this story with which we've been brainwashed while looking on at stars like Rudolph Valentino or Robert Pattinson. The pill becomes much easier to swallow when it's been coated with a pretty face, as women give up everything but the man while men only gain out of these situations. Sometimes, the narrative even encroaches 'scandalous' territory with more 'liberated' approaches, like 50 Shades of Grey. But in the end, you still have a trapped woman, a controlling man and an unhealthy relationship we're told from our youth to revere as pictures of true love. Bella may have a motorcycle, Belle may have her books and Anastasia Steele may have her blindfolds, but at the heart of each and every one of these modern stories, they're all equally as helpless and outdated as The Sheik's Diana Mayo.

Monday, January 18, 2016

All About Eve: Eve is from evil, Adam is from stupid

Hi! Here's something I wrote after watching All About Eve last Tuesday. I actually really liked the movie-- well, it was all about Bette Davis for me-- but I was struck by the gender role stuff going on in the film. The more I think about it, maybe they were subtly trying to challenge all the things I complain about below? -- Allison Wolfe

The Academy Award-winning 1950 classic All About Eve is as much about keeping women in their place as it is an indictment of the cutthroat path to celebrity. In fact, it uses women to embody a celebrity-obsessed society gone wrong. This cautionary tale set in the New York theater scene warns bossy women to reel it in and curb their ambition. Don’t forget your femininity, your nurturing role as a woman, and your ultimate goal of fulfillment as a man’s wife. Eve Harrington, a young, na├»ve super fan manipulates her way into an aging Broadway star’s life, only to Single White Female her mentor ruthlessly to the top, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. Eve’s false humility masks insatiable ambition and reveals a heart-sized hole in her heart, while the jealous, older actress Margo Channing proves paranoid and hysterical in response. The women are pitted against each other with the ultimate message being that there’s not enough room for the both of them.

Although Bette Davis acts the hell out of sassy, salty stage star Margo, skillfully skewering the double standards women face in the industry and society in general, this black-and-white drama leaves one with a sick feeling of gendered defeat. No doubt the strong women in the film are the protagonists, but their real power and agency stem from evil intentions or at best, too-big-mouthiness. They scheme and connive their way through each other’s lives, while the men-- save unscrupulous theater critic Addison DeWitt-- feign ignorance, watching the cat fight from the sidelines and shaking their heads. It is no mistake that Anne Baxter’s character has been named after the original woman of original sin, and you better believe she brings trouble to paradise. The dapper men appear as pawns in the women’s petty games and fall too easily from innocence into Eve’s traps.

But not so fast. The “nice guys” in the film really just want Margo to be taken down a notch, exclaiming she needs “a boot in the rear.” They warn her to shut up and accept her fate, and by the end, she kind of happily does, admitting that she needs to work on the role of being a woman-- as if being a true woman and an actor are mutually exclusive-- and needs a man to help define her: “I wish someone would tell me about me.” Margo eventually caves in to the sexist, ageist industry, exchanging her career for the real thing, marriage, saying she “finally got a life to live.” The men in the film also facilitate and cultivate Eve’s shameless rise to the top and then shun her for going too far. By the time Eve’s partner in crime Addison DeWitt puts her in check by blackmailing and slapping her, the audience is meant to be cheering. DeWitt speaks of their relationship as “killer to killer,” so the domestic violence must be okay.

Though carried by superb acting and diaglog, All About Eve ultimately perpetuates the idea that women must scheme, finagle and sleep their way up the ladder while the men are, well, just being men and naturally deserve the positions they’re already in. When these lucky, crazy ladies get too out of control, the men step in to remind them who’s boss. The award ceremony that opens the film and brings it full circle in the end feels more like a funeral for women’s opportunities on Broadway and in Hollywood. The final scene with Eve behaving cynically like Margo toward her own young stalker-replacement (spinning in a narcissism of mirrors) really drives the final nail in the coffin of narrow roles for women. A quick study of All About Eve would lead you to the conclusion that the women are kind of evil, or at least suspect, while the men are stupid. I don’t know which is better, evil or stupid, but both achieve the same thing. After all is said and done, fought and won (or lost), everyone returns to the same gender roles they were always confined to.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Supplemental Response #1: YouTube Generation

Hello everyone!

I've been particularly interested in the YouTube star phenomenon recently, so I was intrigued to read the article that Lauren posted to the blog. In the past few years, I've been trying to get rid of social media for the sake of 'detoxing' my life - Tumblr, Facebook & Snapchat mostly, since I never did quite get into Instagram or Twitter. However, one that I always kept coming back to was YouTube, since I found the videos entertaining and informative. I began watching "Youtubers" way back when Charlie McDonnell was counting candy, or when John and Hank Green used it as a way to communicate while doing other cool, educational things. YouTube was a platform to chat and discover, and it felt really stripped bare and raw. For quite a while I wondered whether I'd like to make videos myself, going back and forth until I decided that the content on YouTube had recently begun feeling less and less authentic and more commercial, not to mention that the loss of privacy would not be worth it in the first place.
One of the first things I thought of when I began reading the article was Essena O'Neill, an Instagram and Tumblr famous "thinspiration" guru of sorts, which the article later mentioned. I had seen Essena on my Tumblr dashboard many times, with her clean eating lifestyle and inspirational story of weight loss. After I stopped going on Tumblr I stopped seeing Essena, until a few months ago when even CNN covered a video she posted where she denounced Social Media in general as being fake and depression-inducing. Essena then decided instead to start up a new platform for "game changers", accepted donations from others in order to support her new website and content, and recently took down her entire website which now just states that she is writing a book, with none of the promised content created in the first place. It was, quite frankly, a mess of a situation.
I agreed with most of what she originally said, to be honest. I got sick of social media because I felt like everything people posted were for the sake of crafting a persona rather than sharing with their friends. I also hated the idea of people that 'famous for being famous'. Shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians make my skin crawl, and the fact that people who start out like that end up capitalizing on video games, apps and anything else with their name and face attached makes it even worse. Shows and songs and films keep passing up on talent to hire big names that will mean greater revenue. People aren't "brands" - people are people. The easier it is for people to become famous, the more we are growing up with bad role models, and the more we are learning to praise fame above much else. The article talks about how fans believe famous social media influencers should be rich, and are shocked when they have regular jobs, but I think we should step back and ask ourselves *why* we think these people should be rich. How long ago did people begin to automatically associate fame with instant wealth? Maybe it's wrong of society to think fame should equal money/that people deserve money for being in the public eye.
Furthermore, fewer and fewer of these 'social media stars' are creating content that is worthy of praise, attention and monetary compensation. How much is entertainment worth? Is mindless entertainment worth the same as engaging, quality entertainment? Sometimes I find myself spending hours on YouTube, having gained nothing from the experience. I began being so critical because I began being so critical of myself. At one point it felt as though I were wasting my life away, constantly checking my apps for updates or YouTube for pointless ways to pass the time. I knew I had better things to do.
It is also interesting how the author describes the situation of these famous social media stars and how blind we are to it, including about sponsored videos and branding. I'll admit, I'm one of the people who gets quite angry to see too many sponsored videos, and even angrier when I think something has been sponsored but the content creator doesn't say it is. I also used to be an avid blog reader, but in the blogs I read, I never used to get so vehemently disappointed when a blogger would write a purse or scarf was "c/o" or "courtesy of" a brand. It was simple, clean and appropriately placed so we knew, without it being thrown in our face. Now, I watch YouTubers make videos about how brand deals include contractual obligations to how early in a video something must be mentioned, how many times it must be mentioned, or like the author stated, how a photo might even need to be up on social media for an entire year to fulfill contractual obligations. It just seems insane. Maybe it's because vlogs resemble television ads more closely due to being filmed media, or maybe companies have gotten more intense with pushing their products since fewer people are watching actual television in lieu of ad-free streaming, but it seems a bit disheartening sometimes.

I *love* some of the content I find online. How can we improve the current system so quality content can be made while content creators afford to live without degrading themselves for advertised goods?

Core Reading Response: The Star Phenomenon

What caught my interest most about this week’s reading was the power of celebrity through the lens of film production. Studios have traditionally played it safe (for the most part) with the stories that are told and the people who star in them as a means of financial safety. A studio takes a large risk with any major release, thus I can understand why they would play it safe with the talent they attach: and when it boils down to it, studios are in it for the money. Hollywood, especially, is a business. Dyer mentions the use of stars in studios as a means of investment and of brand, and I’d absolutely agree. In a risk-averse atmosphere, studios rely on well-known and well-liked names to drive box office success. For example: two films I’ve seen recently: Sex Tape (2014) and Pixels (2015), in my opinion, were successful solely because of the people who starred in them (Cameron Diaz and Ryan Reynolds in Sex Tape, Adam Sandler in Pixels, among others) versus for the content of the story itself. At the same time, though, I believe the idea of ‘playing it safe’ with talent & cast is beneficial mostly to studios from a financial standpoint and not necessarily from a moral standpoint. As the debate of diversity and inclusion becomes more and more relevant, especially with a VERY present lack of diversity in the Oscar nominees, (#OscarsSoWhite is happening for the second year in a row, and has been...for all of time, basically), I believe the conversation and the desire for fresh, diverse talent is absolutely present. With a larger breadth of content/platforms (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime) and a vastly different social climate (racial tension, an evolving queer rights movement, etc.), commercial desire and consumption is shifting; in turn, affecting how much ‘star power’ plays a role in the creation & consumption of media. While a few decades ago, certainly in the Golden Age of Hollywood, audiences were attracted to a certain star’s name or image on the marquee or big screen, today, there is so much MORE content - and that content is so much more accessible. In addition, as audiences are becoming more selective with content, I believe Hollywood’s old business practices are undergoing a major shift. While moviegoers may be somewhat attracted to watching a movie solely for its stars, this is becoming less and less a necessity.