Art vs Artist

I’ve been having some serious introspective sessions lately with my life choices, career path and general choices I’ve made since graduation. Consequently, I’ve found myself thinking more deeply about what kind of art I consume–specifically what kind of movies and television shows I watch.

I find myself in a conundrum: Many of the franchises/style of films I enjoy employ problematic actors to play out tropes that demean women or are unintentionally homophobic/transphobic or play into stereotypes that are harmful to the communities they aim to represent (re: bury your gays), so can I watch these films without feeling guilty for enjoying them? With the rash of celebrities recently caught up in the #MeToo movement, and the queer feminist perspective I maintain, I have yet to find some show or movie untarnished by the misdeeds of its artistic team or participants. So, can I separate the art from the artist?

the world is on fire meme
from @70ceeks on Twitter

Watching these films with a critical eye and bringing up what makes them problematic when I discuss them with others seems to be a compromise that works. Granted, not everyone I discuss these films with will share my views. But, calling out a problem and starting the discussion is an important part of changing the industry. So, the next time you watch the latest Marvel movie, enjoy it! But afterwards, consider the implications it has for the minorities or marginalized communities portrayed within it.

Need an example? Try Deadpool 2, one of my favorite movies by the way, which includes a lesbian couple but nearly erases Deadpool’s pansexual identity. Didn’t know that Deadpool is pan? That’s the point. This article discusses what’s included and what is left to be desired from the queer perspective in the movie (and does a really good job explaining things that may not be common knowledge too).

pan deadpool
Manip of Deadpool by David Seguin
Quick sidenote before I change the subject: here are a couple of resources I find really helpful in critically examining the films and tv shows I watch: 
https://www.glaad.org/sri/2014/vitorusso 
https://www.autostraddle.com/all-65-dead-lesbian-and-bisexual-characters-on-tv-and-how-they-died-312315/

So, how do we evaluate a film critically when it’s a problematic actor we have to be aware of? Well, the easiest way I’ve found is getting to know the actor through the use of the google machine, and using what you know about them to inform what you see them do on the screen. Wow that was a long sentence. Better way to say it: Learn what pitfalls the actor commonly has and watch out for them in movies they are in.

Example: Jared Leto. Sewer system of a human being. Not a great coworker. Sends dead pigs, used condoms and anal beads to fellow actors.  Okay, wait. Not a good example. I don’t really like his work at all anyway. But if you did like a movie he’s in, say, Dallas Buyers Club, there’s definite potential to separate Leto the actor from his character Rayon.

Leto fan art
Art by beneaththespinlight on deviantart.com

I realize this is another problematic movie since they cast Leto as a trans woman–speaking of which, good on you ScarJo for dropping the role of Dante “Tex” Gill albeit after significant backlash and an ill-advised public statement. But that’s part of the research I’m talking about to inform your watching of the film. Ask yourself: should Leto be playing a trans woman? What past experience and support for the queer community has he shown? What will inform his playing of the role? What is he like as an actor? What do his costars from the show say about him? Are his acting methods beneficial to the character? These are a few of the questions to use the internet or other resources to find the answers for.

I’d advise developing a few of your own questions to research as well for things you feel strongly about, like queer issues or race issues or the portrayal of characters with disabilities. Who am I to tell you what to care about? Anyway, just make sure when you watch a film or a show, you know what you’re getting into. If not the first time, do some research before you rewatch a film you really enjoyed and decide whether its something you want to support.

That’s all I have for today. Here’s a few little easter eggs from my research I thought you might enjoy:

This video isn’t as scary as the cover photo looks I promise.

There’s this cool article about feminist consumption of pop culture:

This article is a lengthy list of problematic actors.

A continuation of my distaste for Jared Leto and everything he stands for.

Also here is the link for the cover photo to this post.

A Finale, But Not the Final Word

As an avid viewer of Sense8, my excitement for the finale kept me up last night until I realized I had to work in the morning. So, I was forced to wait until this evening to watch the conclusion of the psychedelic, confusing, groundbreaking, condensed final chapter of the beloved Netflix original series. It’s probably a good thing I waited though considering the amount of screaming and clapping I did while watching…

this is the best gif

SO, obviously, if you haven’t had a chance to watch the finale yet and you plan to, be warned that there are spoilers ahead!

First things first: I’m upset the finale had to be pared down to a 151 minute feature-length film style piece. One of the best things about the series is the carefully constructed plots in the short term episodes and their eventual piecing together to create a seasonal story arc. While attention was still given in this manner, the shorter story arcs were forced to develop and resolve themselves in a much more condensed time frame. I’m certain many avenues would have been developed over the standard hour long episodes if that were an option.

gimme more

That being said, “Amor Vincit Omnia” managed to include the staples of the first 2 seasons: Sun’s daybreak tai chi sessions on the roof, flashbacks through the cluster’s pasts, international jumps, and the manifestation of remarkable shared skills and the accompanying body swapping. Oh, and how could I forget the ORGY???? Girl, buckle up, the finale sexy-time scene rivals season one’s “Demons.” And by rivals, I mean takes to a whole new level of taking standard Hollywood taboos and doing literally the opposite. It is. SO. GOOD.

More in the realm of what watchers expect to see: BPO attacks, double crossing, rooftop chases, plots and counter plots, and random video game style new skill acquisition. That sounds bad, like all they did was reuse old scenes from the past seasons (coughStarWarscough), but Lana Wachowski and her co-writers kept the action fresh and the characters grew throughout the….episode? Still not sure what to call it besides finale.

Wachowski

The queer-friendly scenes and boundary pushing logic (for standard Hollywood at least) did not disappoint either. That’s really what Sense8 is all about, how people relate to each other. And relationships abound in the latest installment; heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and polyamorous partners all make an appearance within the cluster. Some of them we already know, like Hernando and Lito or Amanita and Nomi, but others are new, like the (not-so) surprise twist in Kala’s love interests Wolfgang and Rajan. It’s so important to see non-heterosexual couples represented in mainstream media, and trans people too!

To the Sense8 team’s credit, they represent the queer community in a way that doesn’t add to the litany of ‘inclusive’ pieces that use the bury your gays trope over and over again. Remember the episode in season two, where Lito comes out in a big way at Sao Paulo Pride? Between the near death experiences with BPO, the show continues to impress with conversations like the ones in that episode among the cluster and their friends and family. They focus on accepting yourself as you are, and not being ashamed of what you want. Sense8’s quiet acceptance and inclusion of ‘alternative lifestyles’ juxtaposed to and folded into its radical (sexual) scenes is a step in the right direction and a model that other mainstream media outlets would do well to follow.

sense8 pride

The aural, visual and thematic plaudits given to the first two seasons of Sense8 remain applicable to the finale, perhaps even more so due to the shortened length. Best of all, “Amor Vincit Omnia” was released in Pride month and celebrates what it is all about: Love.

pride flag sense8

Disingenuous Critical Thinking

Let me start by saying I fully support liberal arts education, and I think discussion of other cultures in a university setting is important. Furthermore, I think our university educational system would be remiss if it did not make students critically consider problems in the world, not just our own country.

These things said, today I found myself in a classroom full of students discussing sex trafficking as it relates to cartels in Mexico. The class consists of privileged (mostly) white young students, myself included. Despite best intentions and usually productive conversation, somehow today we began equating the situation of drug lords and girls kidnapped by the cartels. Suddenly, I was snapped back to the reality that most of these people have no idea what they are talking about and simply want to say something so they get their participation points.

Don’t get me wrong, some comments were genuine–though I consider them misguided nonetheless. The situation of a kidnapped woman forced into sex work and a life she never wanted is not the same as a sicario who decided to join the system instead of fight it. But I digress, my focus in this editorial is misguided critical thinking within college classrooms. We often consider things we have no context for, after all most of us come from white middle-class Midwestern families, so that’s not the problem.

No, the problem is that often we don’t recognize our privilege and lack of knowledge. Then we consider heavy topics and pretend that we are the authorities on the ideas. We ask questions we don’t really care about the answers for. We give answers that are politically correct, and answers that we think others will agree with. No one wants to be wrong. In a different setting, one of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is, “Fail is not a bad word. Fail just means you try again.” This is what should be applied to academia, not the mentality that it currently abides.

It’s been a while

Hello readers. It’s been a while. Between classes with massive workloads and lots hours at work, I haven’t made time to write what’s been on my mind. But today, I’m making that time.

Like many others, what’s on my mind today is gun control. As I was perusing newspapers in Spain for a current events assignment, the Parkland, Florida school shooting kept appearing in these international publications. The most interesting thing about US affairs in international newspapers is the perspective.

From outside the US, there isn’t such a partisan divide between gun control advocates and gun owners. Reading the articles from El Pais on the Parkland incident, this lack of bias was instantly apparent. After this, the question that keeps rolling around my head is “When did weapons and children’s death become a partisan issue in the US?”

I was listening to a podcast yesterday, 538 Politics I believe, and they mentioned the NRA as a uniquely American phenomenon. Many claim the NRA is what drives some of our political representatives to victim blame, or return to the same tired and often untrue argument of mental instability of the perpetrator. This op-ed by Adam Winkler discusses the previous positions of the NRA, including advocacy for gun control.

After an avid discussion (or argument) on Facebook recently, I realized that opinions held on this particular topic aren’t always educated. They often consist of, “I like guns and I know a lot about them and the Constitution guarantees my rights to them so please don’t try to control me.” But what also needs to be considered is this: not everyone understands weapons, and the constitutional provision that allows citizens to have weapons is quite vague and CLEARLY from a different time. Furthermore, to echo the survivors of Parkland,

“Nobody needs an AR-15 to defend themselves.”

So I’m forced to conclude that partisanship on the gun control debate is a result of uneducated or willfully ignorant perspectives from US citizens. Or it could just be the phenomenon of US narcissism.

You can keep your guns, but seriously, do you need a semi-automatic rifle?

Photo Credit: Paul Tong / Tribune Media Services

Immigration Reform in an Immigrant Nation

The United States has long been considered a great country to move to for education and opportunity. People also come to the States as refugees, seeking asylum from religious, ethic, or cultural persecution or fleeing national disasters. Even those coming from countries with temporary protected status found a place to make their own. But, under the current administration, it seems these people will no longer be welcome.

Recently, Salvadorans have fallen under our “very stable genius” leader’s keen eye. They face a hotly debated issue: loss of temporary protected status (TPS). Removing El Salvador from this list is a highly controversial decision for two reasons. First, the earthquakes that originally prompted the designation may have been dealt with, but there are other issues that have affected many refugees’ choice to stay in the US. Despite this, according to the official Homeland Security website “…The Secretary determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.”

The second reason for controversy lies in the current issues in El Salvador, particularly gang violence, that can arguably be considered a direct result of US policy on deportation of criminally convicted refugees. MS-13 and Barrio 18 are among the most notorious gangs in the Americas, and they got their start right here in the US. Even before the loss of TPS, news outlets like NPR and the Associated Press were writing about the gang violence in El Salvador. Yet the current administration remains fixated on the “America First!” agenda.

On the back of this contemptible decision came the president’s infamous meeting with around 15 members of Congress to discussion DACA and immigration. Allegedly, President Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries.” Though he has denied this in a series of tweets, the President is now receiving international backlash for bigotry and racism. Whether or not he really said “shithole countries,” the comment has thrown previous statements like those about Charlottesville into even sharper relief.

Under the Trump administration, the US is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants. Unless, of course, they come from Aryan countries. This nation of immigrants is slowly devolving into a nation led by bigots, and I fear we will only delve deeper into international ire as time goes on.

Being Queer at Thanksgiving

We always go to my uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. My mom is one of the middle children in a group of eight, and he has a large house. It just makes sense. This year was a new experience for me though, considering I only recently came out to my parents and a few of my trusted aunts.

I didn’t know what to expect. My mom made it quite clear she doesn’t understand my “choice” to be queer, and that she didn’t support it. I actually wrestled with the idea of not going back to Omaha at all. Eventually I decided to drive the three hours on Thursday, and come back Friday morning. It ended up being relatively uneventful, but the awkwardness and discomfort still make me squirm three days later.

Though it’s profoundly more acceptable to be queer in 2017 than it was even a decade ago, my family is a little slow to catch up. With strong Catholic roots, and a politically and morally conservative mindset, I was prepared for my mother to be a bit thrown by my coming out. I wasn’t prepared for her to say, “I feel like there are things I can’t talk to you about anymore,” and “I feel like you aren’t who I raised you to be. You don’t hold any of my values.” I realized later, when I had stopped shock-crying, my mom had a very specific path she wanted me to take, and had no idea why I would choose anything else.

When I asked her to give me the space I needed to find myself and figure out my own way, she didn’t understand. When I came out to my aunt while explaining the whole situation, she clued me in. My mom never had a self-discovery period. She decided what she wanted to think, what she wanted to be, and how she wanted her life to be and never wavered. In some ways, I envy her for that. But mostly, I pity her closed minded approach to life and inability to appreciate things that don’t align with her narrow world view.

IMG_2229
A couple members of the Augie family thanksgiving.

So, with this in mind, Thanksgiving was hard for me. Most of the family doesn’t know I’m queer. My mother doesn’t accept that I am. The support I have can’t be used because I’m not ready to deal with the disapproval of the majority I’d face at the dinner table. I spent the night talking about anything but politics and avoiding confrontation. I knew any memories the people there had of me would instantly change should they discover I don’t just like men.

This mindset doesn’t make sense to me, but that won’t change the minds of those who hold it. So my goal becomes establishing myself as an adult in the minds of everyone present, and doing this solidly enough that it can’t be shaken. So when I come out to all of them, they understand I know myself and simply being queer doesn’t change my competency as a journalist, or even as a person. Being animated, happy, and a “good” person are things that don’t depend on my sexual orientation. I needed them to understand that I am all these things, so when they know I’m queer, they accept me.

Can you feel the panic and stress through these words? I spent the day meant for giving thanks terrified. I needed to be accepted, to be acceptable to these people who I knew would likely not understand me. I spent the day awkwardly pretending things were fine between my mother and I, keeping up appearances. When I returned to Sioux Falls, I was exhausted. And soon, I’ll have to do it again for Christmas. I’m still debating how long to spend in a place I’m not sure I can call home.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” Review

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies produces the expected reaction to a parody attempting to be a serious movie: confusion. As suggested by the title, director and screenwriter Burr Steers attempts to mash together the early 19th century Jane Austen classic and the popular apocalyptic genre of the present. Though there are some successful moments of combination, the bulk of the scenes exist as two separate storylines with occasional intersection to varying degrees of success.

The first few scenes in the film provide some surprises before the novelty of this new genre wears off. The warrior daughters are a particularly enjoyable development and a nod to the feminist culture of the time the movie was made. However, the history of the world this Bennet family lives in remains sadly underdeveloped and unexplained to the viewing audience. There are hints of a past; the references to Japanese versus Chinese training in passing conversation between the Bennet sisters alludes to a minor conflict of philosophy that is never fully developed.

ppz review
The sisters in P&P&Zombies

The perception and knowledge of zombies also stays underdeveloped throughout the film. Most zombie films at least give an origin story to the virus or outbreak. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies starts to give details of how the world got its current state, but quickly changes its mind and goes the route of alluding to past events and knowledge the audience does not understand. The film would benefit from stronger development on these fronts and in giving the audience background knowledge to better understand the film as a whole. A simple fix would be opening with a text crawl to give all of the background that is different from Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice.

Another memorable surprise early in the film comes from Mr. Darcy. His voice is grating, rather monotone and initially difficult to understand. This is a surprising character choice since the actor, Sam Riley, has been in other well-known films like Maleficent and Control and won awards for his performances. Granted, Mr. Darcy is written as an odd crossover between a gritty warrior and gentleman of the Georgian era, a combination that one would imagine is quite difficult to portray. The other characters have similarly difficult genre crossover that they must reconcile, but Darcy’s is the least successful on screen.

ppz review 2

The film itself felt disjointed and often as if there were two separate storylines playing out next to each other. The scenes without zombie conflict had an almost dreamlike quality to them, were brightly lit and often filled with pastel shades. These sequences in particular felt out of place next to the dark and bloody battles plaguing the rest of the film.

The battles that occupy the rest of the almost two hour film have their own problems. Many of the scenes involving battles with multiple main characters are done in slow motion and come off as tacky or overdone. However, the fight choreography is believable and well done despite the period clothing that could pose challenges. The novelty of seeing men and women in early 19th century garb go head to head with zombies also slightly offsets the overuse of the slow-motion battle sequences. Other complaints with the battles include implausible timelines, like traveling hundreds of miles in less than a day on horseback, inconsistencies in villain characteristics, and ambiguous locations that do not lend themselves to credible character interactions.

Between the strange jumps from early 19th century culture to apocalyptic doom, poorly constructed plot and background and disconnected stories, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does not give crossover genres a good name. It feels at times like a poorly done parody reminiscent of films like Vampires Suck. Perhaps a larger budget or a different approach would have done the film some good, though it is unclear whether the concept was ever a good one.

Echo? Part 1

At some point in life, everyone has been at that party or reception or graduation where they know about two people. Inevitably, awkward small talk occurs when you find yourself in an unfamiliar group. Sometimes the small talk goes well and you make new friends, other times not so much. The ‘not so much’ option usually happens when you hold extremely different views from the people you have been tossed in with. In public, in-person settings, it’s hard to avoid differing views than our own. But in our online lives, it’s much easier to hear and see only what we agree with. I’m writing this post because I want to talk about troubling trends I’ve been seeing on social media outlets like echo chambers and their effect.

Echo Chamber
From Christophe Bruchansky on LinkedIn

Echo Chambers

First I want to define an echo chamber in the way I think of it in an online setting. To me, an echo chamber is tweaking what comes across your news feed or to your inbox to be only things that you agree with, or hold a similar opinion to. While it’s fine to like pages that you agree with the message of and search for things that you appreciate, there’s a big difference between showing support and being closed-minded.

Just want to interrupt myself to clarify here, I’m not calling anyone close-minded. I’m also not trying to call people out. I just want to make people aware of what we are doing to ourselves on social media. 

We have a tendency to only want to hear what we agree with or like. Take it from Robert Cabrera, who wrote this article for The Odyssey called “Echo Chambers, Confirmation Bias And The Closing Of The American Mind”. Despite this tendency, in a climate of highly polarized issues and little to no middle ground, I have to wonder if we are making things harder for ourselves by neglecting to hear other perspectives. When I talk with someone about issues we disagree on, I find myself learning valid and factually backed arguments for their opinion. These facts may not change my mind, but the other person has educated me on another side of the issue. It has opened a door in the echo chamber. It’s as simple as following the President on Twitter, whether or not you support him, because you hear what he has to say. You don’t have to like what you read or hear, simple exposure to other ideas opens up your echo chamber.

echo part 1
From The Odyssey article “Echo Chambers, Confirmation Bias And The Closing Of The American Mind”

If you’re not convinced you want to hear other opinions, look at it this way: learning other sides to a debate is also educational, and often encourages you find further support for your opinion. Still need more to crack open that door? This post by Emily Webber focuses on the importance of diversity of ideas and how it helps businesses succeed. (I highly recommend reading her blog–very well done).

I have more to say on this topic than I anticipated! Check back soon for part 2 to this post about weird things I’ve noticed on social media–like “militant close-mindedness”.