Be the food you wish to see in the world.

I’ve never spoken about this publicly before.

After a month of feeling ambivalent towards my health, my work, and whether or not it would actually be preferable for the crash of civilisation to just hurry up and happen so whoever was left could start again, I read something that made me feel a bit better. I wrote the writer a letter because maybe someone else’s writing could make her feel sane, too.

PS: while we’re on food, we really need to sort out the food and agricultural industries. Have you seen them?! They’re completely fucked. If anyone works out how, please email me. No wonder I find it so hard to eat properly, when they make it so difficult. – Ed.

———————-

Caroline –

I just read your article on Adios Barbie. You might have just saved me from a long road back, or at least helped nudge my tunnel vision off track.

I have had various, and almost constant, eating disorders since I was twelve, and they came to a head about three years ago. At that point, I sought therapy and at the same time went to the library to read up – I found a book called ‘When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies‘, which was a mouthful to keep repeating to my Mum when I frequently enthused about it, and which outlined the ideas of both emotional and intuitive eating (which I’d never heard of before.) It helped me to dedicate myself to the beautifully messy art of eating whatever I needed and whenever I wanted, and I even became a sometimes happy and joyful person in the process (which you should be impressed by, because I’m a neurotic, middle-class anxious person by nature, down to having glasses very similar to Woody Allen’s [I was prescribed those, they aren’t natural.])

My weight subsequently levelled out by itself, a few times – in the latest of these level-ings last month, I didn’t even notice. I’ve just fallen quickly into a new relationship with a man I might well love forever, and to discuss all the fear that comes with being happy because someone else temporarily exists, I went to see an old friend I needed to catch up with. She quickly noted my recent weight loss (she is one of the few who I told of my eating disorder when it got really bad, and is often attentive to changes in my appearance [not always helpful – though, of course, well-intentioned]) and almost immediately I was thrown into a hyper-vigilant state of weighing myself ‘just to check’ and ‘out of curiosity’, privately adamant I would not put anything back on because ‘this is how much I weigh now’, accompanied by the physical sensation of sugar coursing through my veins any time I ate anything wheat-based.

The most perverse part of this turn in the last few weeks has been the genuine belief that eating small amounts of very healthy food (the bare minimum I need to stop my heart from palpitating and my mood spiralling, of course) will protect me from freaking out about putting on weight, and having to fully restrict.

I’m dieting to ‘protect’ myself from having to diet.

One half of my brain watches all this pain unravel from the luxury box seats in my psyche, knowing it’s all bullshit, feeling superior, facilitating it all the while; the other really desperately wants to feel ok again, and doesn’t understand why that feeling suddenly left me, and craves sugar, and uses my eyes to stare at the mirror while using my hands to hide remaining body fat to see what I could look like if I ate and exercised ‘properly’, and knows I’m not emotionally exhausted I’m just lazy, and craves sugar, and so bakes loads but then can’t bring itself to allow any eating of the cake. God I crave sugar. Maybe I WILL have a cake or five. And maybe then, in desperation, get rid of the four of them my stomach hasn’t digested yet.

Then I read your article, and remembered some things I’d forgotten.

I’ve just completed my first feature film (zero-budget, quite an achievement), I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been physically and mentally, I’ve just fallen in love, and I’m doing some really important work right now both personally and professionally. All of this potential for massive failure (sorry, I mean, really good things happening to me THAT ARE COMPLETELY OUT OF MY CONTROL, *breathes*) is terrifying, and each day it’s uncertain whether my confidence is going to drive me at speed to exactly where I need to go, or crash around my face in that far-too-real and embarrassingly visible way it does.

I love the Cherokee tale of the two wolves, the lesson being ‘the one that wins will be the one you feed.’ Guess I’m going to have to feed myself if I want to win.

(That sentence looks as though it’s written with resignation. I feel it needs an addendum:)

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Victoria sponge cakeEgg and pastaRoast dinner Thank you. Good luck. Elizabeth

REVIEW: The Congress

the-congress-movieThe only thing I’m sure about post-my viewing of chick flick woman’s film film-about-women-and-their-lives The Congress at my local arthouse cinema was that The Lady From Shanghai looks like a damned travesty. Not only is it one of those old, slow, black and white jobs I resented studying during my undergraduate, in which Orson Welles walks around being portly and grumpy while earning more than the majority of surgeons, but as this trailer ran and I waited for the definitely-awesome-feminist-epic The Congress to start, the eponymous and conspicuously caucasian Lady in question, Rita Hayworth, said literally nothing, AND was slapped three times.

 

Three! And they’re all at once, so one was a backhand. It was really gross. Old, conventional films suck. Yay for the breaking of new barriers in genre, narrative and equality!

 

Focusing on my sweary outburst at the Watershed following the Lady From Shanghai trailer allows me to ignore my ambivalence and disappointment regarding The Congress, about whose representation of the success of women in the film industry I am far more unsure. I was totally promised an aging-woman-is-unacceptable-so-they-clone-and-utilise-her-to-make-money-i.e.-LITERAL-OBJECTIFICATION-and-subsequent-feminist-win narrative, but was given only the first half of it.

 

As you can tell from my serene, offhand use of punctuation, The Congress had seemed a feminist and neoclassic industrial critique; deeply layered, achingly painful and consistently toeing the line between real and surreal, the first act was a near perfect imagining of the ever-changing yet ever-thus entertainment industries, the people who populate them, and their possible futures, through the eyes of the human, mother, and actress Robin Wright (played by actual human, mother and actress Robin Wright, who is far better respected and hopefully happier than the film’s Robin Wright, who is consistently referred to as ‘Robin Wright’, being that she is a thing rather than a person, of course.) The pain of Robin Wright’s difficult parenthood and exploitation by her agent perfectly balances the very overt satire of the film’s own industry, and sets up a story which could, at this point, potentially either excel or eat itself.

 

The film has incredible, rich and relevant themes. Pathways I couldn’t wait to travel to find out how Robin Wright (and her various manifestations) would reach their end point on The Journey. Unfortunately those many substantial themes (industrial oppression and exploitation, human agency, parenthood, the duplicity and fragility of relationships, woman as object, man as villain, etc.) become in-credible, and almost redundant in the second act amongst the gurning flying-fish, horizon-spanning rainbow-streaked roads, and butler-robots that constitute ‘The Animated Zone.’ There seems to be no fathomable purpose for the film’s ‘animated zone’, other than director Ari Folman’s notoriety for expert use of animation in his previous genre-mixing documentary Waltz With Bashir, and the fact that it allows for experimentation with reality and meaning, and the audience’s expectations (and their time.)

 

Look, I appreciate genre-bending cultural hybridity as much as the next quasi-intellectual former arts student who reviews films in their spare time (read: lonesome hipster wannabe), if only for the fact that they provide refreshment and, hopefully, challenging stories and ideas. But 45 minutes in, as an intertitle informs us that it’s ’20 Years Later’ and Robin Wright literally drives down the road from the ‘old world’ into the ‘new’ one, the sudden diversion from dystopian thriller to indecipherable blend of Mario Kart and The Justin Bieber Show is, rather than the very awesome product it ought to be, kinda distracting.

 

Once in the inexplicable land known as both the Animated Zone and Abrahamia (and act two), the narrative is only loosely relevant, now an ambiguous stream-of-consciousness venture relying on random phrases and (undeniably beautiful) animation to create connections and meaning. The only lynchpin holding this together is Wright, who we’ve become attached to, but who is then bumped from the position of protagonist to femme fatale, rendering a film about protagonist Robin Wright being cloned and owned into a confused literal manifestation of that with little reprieve.

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So. Wright goes to Abrahamia to see Jeff, the executive who organised her cloning and who is now a police officer, in the big hotel-ship Miramount (the future manifestation of Miramount Studios and now a corporation, Miramount Nagasaki, which bottles small vials of chemicals allowing people’s likenesses in to be consumed.) Wright addresses an audience of Miramount Nagasaki workers who have come to see her speak, and shouts that she is their “prophet of doom.” An assassin initially guns for her but kills the emcee of the proceedings, then blows up the building. Dylan, the love interest, appears and becomes the agent of the story, dragging Wright around to show us the trippy scenery, and partially explaining his life to us, but not really what’s going on or why we should care. Then Wright travels about in time to little purpose, then they have sex in front of a massive fireball, and then, thankfully, Dylan gives her the means to get out of the Animated Zone. The barriers to a clear narrative purpose distract us from any of the original themes – which by then are only felt via snapshots of thematic coherence in phrases:

 

“Everything is in our mind. If you see the dark, then you chose the dark.”

“Don’t give up. Don’t fall asleep…”

“I’ll sign! Just stop fucking with my head…”

 

And with these resonances, I’m wondering whether, in fact, the film is a piece of Lynchian genius, from which we are actually poorly prepared for by the traditional setup of act one… It made me think of Mulholland Drive – you never really know what’s going on, though you are kept fascinated by the drip of tiny, frustrating clues. One of the biggest keys came in the form of Dylan’s animated-bull-man sequence. Miramount Nagasaki’s chemical substance allows you to create yourself in whatever animated likeness you want – Dylan imagines himself as a bull; he is shown stampeding a young girl, whom he throws onto his back and then up into the stars, where she evaporates. What seems to be a referral to aggressive but ultimately benign masculinity ends with the phrase “it’s about feeling…” If The Congress is about simply feeling the feels of this strange potential virtual world of ‘the future’ in which little makes sense, and we are so detached from ‘reality’ that we can’t even work ourselves out, then it could be argued that it is going someway to a radical reflection of the current status and trajectory of the dynamics of western public and private life.

 

Particular phrases and archetypal characters did resonate with some very general concepts about love, pain, agency etc., but without the robust story within which to fully brew those themes, they remained as abstract as they are. I felt them, but they did not make any more sense to me than they do at work in my own life, only in my own life I tend not to wonder why Tom Cruise has just appeared or Michael Jackson is serving me dinner. Octopuses also do not talk, in the main.

 

Ultimately, The Congress seems to be two films; the long-ish first act containing the power play between Robin Wright and the industry was fantastic, and felt frustratingly unfinished. As soon as it became an addled exploration into the psyche of someone under the influence of an unknown drug, in an uncertain and abstract representation of a place, with unrecognisable characters, it lost me. I spent more time trying to decipher what and why than feeling and understanding them. But I still felt enough of it that I wanted it to work.

 

Saying all this, I did see the film on a day I was feeling particularly lonely, and I dashed out of the cinema, and straight into the loos for a right old cry – the catharsis was far greater than that of any other film I have seen lately, as I had expected. For its lack of grip on a narrative, its pinballing themes and creation of meaning was only frustrating in the shadow of how fascinating I feel it should have been considering the rich emotion and desperation that were consistently. If the message of the film is to pay more attention to ourselves, our lives, and what is ‘real’ for us – our relationships, our values, our agency – all of that meaning was there, we just need to work harder (or less hard?) to make sense of it. I just don’t think that the Yellow SubmaTitanic was the ship to float these ideas on; it would have worked better had it been a predictable Hero’s Journey, minus all the rainbows and flying and maypole dancing and poppers that turned people into White Jesus and British Ronald Reagan (even B-Ro could not redeem this for me.)

 

The film made me feel weaker rather than stronger in my understanding of its consciousness about consciousness, in refusing to shape its transmission of meaning and values. As Kermode has noted (most famously regarding Blue Velvet, of which a repeat watching transformed his cynical experience to one of being “vibrantly thrilled”) sometimes you need to watch a film twice or more to fully absorb and ‘get’ it. I will likely do this – but I wouldn’t pay to see it again. The Congress made me feel, but what it made me feel was a bit angry, confused, and sad.

NB: All of this bit was, as the nuclear warhead confirms, BADASS.

NB: All of this bit was, as the nuclear warhead confirms, BADASS.

REVIEW: Joe

Joe joe_us_posterhas been described as a ‘return to form’ for Nicolas Cage. Though most critics are praising his acting chops, it can also be understood as an acknowledgement of his ability to ‘do crazy’ terrifyingly well. Cage’s latest foray into crazy is certainly one of substance, and, luckily, every one of the leading performances here follows suit. With equally skilled direction, much of this unique and rattling picture hits the mark dead on; perhaps, then, it’s the basis of the novel that predated it that stunts this otherwise complex story of masculinity in crisis.

 

The film can confidently claim its success as a mainstream picture, carefully toeing a line between box-office thriller and arthouse meditation, allowing for widely appreciable receipt which I don’t doubt it will get. It is more complex than its trailer betrays; though its the spine that allows for wider exploration, at its centre it is not about Joe being a father figure to an abused boy (Gary, played by an exceptional Tye Sheridan,) and/or very occasionally shot at, which is what lured most people in. The essence of the film is an examination of whether vices and violence preclude one from being a ‘good person’. Joe’s tendency to violence is the focus of this conflict between good-or-not, and his vices facilitate both his restraint and his violence. The foregrounding of prostitution, alcoholism and smoking, however, present ambiguous messages to the audience, and a series of morality-chicken-and-morality-egg considerations.

 

The big question at its heart is one of good, evil and human nature; how and why, and indeed, is Joe a good man? Will Gary be?

 

I’m assuming it was purposeful that the eponymous character was constantly in conflict with the audience; Joe’s behaviour bounces between repulsive, parental and adolescent. Without any comic relief it was difficult to feel identification with someone so inconsistent; though, of course, it rang true. The parallel between Joe and Gary was made explicit initially, but generally left alone throughout to allow for an assumed connection between them, and a comment on neglect, abuse and the cause and effect of both in adulthood. The ties to class here were interesting; the film is centered entirely on working and under-class characters, and very much focused on the ravages of alcoholism and poverty within their lives. The characters who did not drink (at least on-screen) were happy and friendly in the main, with a great sense of camaraderie, compassion and connection as a community. These were incredibly interesting characters, who could certainly have given the film even more depth. Unfortunately, there was no attempt at a wider comment on the economic situation or history of anyone; this was not a radically-minded film, but one which, as usual, seemed to leave most of the characters’ traits, behaviours and habitats to be assumed as an innate part of their ‘bad’ character.

 

Ultimately, the film is about what it means to ‘be a man’, and it’s as layered, frustrating and contradictory as that sounds. Thematically, Joe is intriguing; an archetypal story of good and evil, implicitly reflecting on class and identity and surreptitiously providing insight into the human self and our beliefs about those selves. Though, once again, an essentialist ideology about ‘being a man’ pervades this work; Joe does not challenge prevailing stereotypes about masculinity, but rather resigns itself to them. It provides more insight into the chronic clichés of classical characterization than it does into humanity or our potential to challenge the failures of those clichés.

 

For all the complexity and nuance, stereotypes of masculinity are glaringly present. Though the connection between them is implied, it is unclear whether we are supposed to understand Joe as having an abusive upbringing similar to Gary’s. Without allusion to it, Joe’s obsession with violence and protection of the innocent (which, naturally, includes women, as long as they will have sex with him) appears to come from his oh-so-manliness; one so tied to his base desires as a human that in order not to kill someone a brothel pit-stop, facilitated by his dog killing their guard dog so he can get in for a quick blow-job, is necessary, before he can finally soothe his roaring male-ness under the weight of a tank of whiskey and a few beers.

 

He then proceeds to let a first-time-drunk Gary drive him around. Granted, there is a mild comedy and a deep tenderness to the boys’ road trip to find Joe’s dog (who, incidentally, is female…) and in the context of their connection as damaged children, it works. The derailment of Joe as a father figure is successfully implied, and in addition he loses his endearing nature and it almost signals his end; not only in the narrative but also as a champion-able protagonist.

 

This also provides insight into whether or not the film really provides a critical edge when it comes to power relations that aren’t between men. The exploration of masculine violence is constant, but reads as more of a fascination than a critical examination of how violence is used. Desperate attempts at retaining unequal power imbalance, an unstable ego, and a facilitation of greed at others’ expense are all present in the film; all complex portrayals of the roots of violence. These subtle hints at the nature of violent relationships are commendable, and remain foregrounded throughout, but the focus of the narrative, and thus its power, remains with the enacters of violence, and not those abused. There is no unease in Joe’s visits to the brothel and the general use of prostitutes, and his relationship with Connie, while illuminating both his gentleness and his rejection of intimacy, results in a pretty flat plot strand. There were numerous females present throughout, though none were developed and all were passive (except the wonderful woman whose birthday it was – we never found out if anyone made her a cake.) All of these gender dynamics could have allowed for a greater determination of what exactly is meant and felt by ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, and the power relations between the two. The opportunities having been lost, they left only underwritten female characters in their wake and yet another cinematic foregrounding of woman-as-commodity.

 

The character of Gary was a blank slate, and rightly so; lost but full and played perfectly by Sheridan, his rescue of his sister was a triumphant and satisfying end to his arc, but not hers. It was yet another conflict in message, mired in imbalances that were perhaps lost in favour of the exciting climax shootout. For a film that was so tender, well-played and -directed, the shortcomings of Joe in its themes about masculinity, class and violence were frustrating. Joe’s final showdown with his nemesis could perhaps be read as a comment on the futility of violence, and that if ‘good’ men succumb to it, they will be destroyed, but it also provided a conveniently quick and neat ending. As a comment on masculinity, Joe is not a radically transformative one, and while insightful in many ways regarding the expectations and pressures on young boys to be stereotypically (destructively) masculine, it speaks more about vice and its relationship with violence.

 

As a meditation on abuse and an exploration of what it means to be a good person, especially what it means to misunderstand and abuse oneself whilst attempting to heal, it is full of contradictory but fascinating messages. And ultimately, these contradictions may ring true as a reflection of the complexity involved in human desire, and the lottery of life. The last line of the film is “Joe was a good man…”. People are not as simple as good and evil, and I hope that audience will come away understanding that; I have faith that this was Joe’s aim.

The Abuse of Power in Narrative (aka Game of Thrones and Strong Female Characters)

Representation, not only of particular characters and social groups, but also of events and their significance, seems widely misunderstood, and Game of Thrones is a great example of this. Representation is often considered at surface level only: as what, instead of how. 

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The Game of Thrones Debate

I initially decided not to watch Game of Thrones because, in general, anything resembling Lord Of The Rings and me doesn’t mix, and I didn’t want to eat into any time that could be spent elsewhere, valuably slagging off fantasy fiction. Many friends of mine with great taste assure me of how well it’s written, how many breathtaking pixel amalgamations there are, and how many Strong Female Characters rise to power to rule over the land of their teeny dragon mates and their wooly and metallically clothed, Stoke-accented subjects.

Yet after unavoidable glimpses of clips, trailers, recaps and reviews, I couldn’t help but notice how naked and raped the women kept getting. Tedious.

Danielle Henderson agrees. After posting her much-circulated article in the Guardian (GoT: Too much racism and sexism – so I stopped watching) to my social media, I sparked one of those long debates where everyone gets offended and disagrees forever.

You might not find the sexual violence in GoT tedious, you might find it mesmerizing, titillating, or entertaining – my hope is that at the very least, viewers find it disturbing. I assure you it is intended to be all of these things; the vast majority of all entertainment media is. If the gruesome events in GoT were simply disturbing, people would not watch it en masse (weekly screening of Irréversible, anyone?) If they were simply a demonstration of the realities of sexual exploitation, it would not have necessitated the coining of the word ‘sexposition’.

I choose not to watch it because the continual sexual violence and exploitation displayed in GoT feels both disturbing and tedious to me, considering the paradoxical nature of women’s roles in GoT in particular, and the abuse of rape and sexual violence as a narrative device in the entertainment industry as a whole. If I can remove myself from being exposed to it (which, actually, I can’t until everyone pipes down) why does it matter? If there are plenty of rich female characters in Game of Thrones or any other media, how can it be ‘sexist’?

Representation

One rape scene may be different than another. One Asian character might be a racist representation and another not. It’s not that we need to simply put more women, people with disabilities and people of colour in films, or censor certain events from being broadcast at all, necessarily (except for A Serbian Film. Seriously, fuck those guys.) Rather, we need to understand the process by which ideas of normality and magnitude are created and perpetuated, and how these are delineated through existing discourses of power and visibility.

The gratuitous use of female nudity and rape in Game of Thrones is a pertinent example of this. The representation of any kind of power inequality is problematic when it is not heavily examined and critiqued from the point of view of the oppressed party. Having characters who are oppressed grow to seize power is not an act of redemption which ‘corrects’ the wrong of rape and renders everything just, it is simply using rape (a very real, and very frequent event that too many of us experience) as a tool in their narrative. The event itself is not usually critiqued in any more depth than ‘That Was Bad.’ That the oppressed characters in the script might be ‘strong’ (usually in the very shallow sense of being magic, or using weapons) is not the same as actually discussing and critiquing rape and its reality, those who rape, and the processes by which this is normalized by societies, real or fictional.

For example, why are there numerous rapes of women, but not numerous rapes of men? (Trolls, NB: I am not advocating raping men, or that raping men is ok, or necessary for equality, or anything else that you could employ to dismiss all my other sentences.) Unfortunately we are increasingly aware of how many more males experience sexual violence than was originally known, so if we are going to be die-hard about its realism, is it realistic that zero men are raped? Why aren’t there consistent gratuitous scenes of naked men? Do they bathe clothed? The opportunity to exploit anyone is there, though which opportunities a creator chooses is significant.

Further, in the words of Kevin Smith, it’s all bullshit. GoT has fantastic elements throughout (dragons, skeleton zombies….other magic shit), why not create a really interesting and new topsy-turvy world where non-white people hold any sort of power and have lines of dialogue, no one is sexually subordinate to anyone, and ready-made sandwiches grow in bushes? THIS IS A FANTASY WORLD. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. YOU ALREADY HAVE PEOPLE WHO CAN POSSESS ANIMALS, WARGS, AND THE FACE-CHANGING GUY. This absolute need for ‘realism’ (as opposed to drama) as a nonchalant defense of continued exploitation of women in narrative does not hold up without explicit critique of that exploitation.

In any show, or film, it would feel too extreme to see (when they appear at all) men being raped over and over again; men always having to overcome abuse and being violently downtrodden by women, often accepting this and being shown to masochistically enjoy it; having men constantly get their balls out while the camera lingers over their soft scrotal skin, giggling and making their pecs dance for paying customers; and feeding their female superiors an endless supply of ready-grown sandwiches.

Why is it not too extreme to see this constantly, consistently, of women in the name of realism? (I have no beef with the sandwich bushes.)

A: Because we consider it ‘real’, and thus ‘normal’. Acceptable, or understandable, even if we express distaste for it.

I expect better from creative people. And then, this is hardly a jaw-dropping update.

Years and years of ‘normal’ life.

GoT aside, this is industry-, and indeed, world-wide. Women are under- and mis-represented in the vast majority of positions of power throughout globalised society. It is not that the representation of women in media is more important than in, say, politics; they are simply different symptoms of the same long-standing power imbalance that runs deeply through the landscapes of our beliefs. But media is particularly significant; not only because it saturates our lives to such an extent, but also because as a visual medium it informs our imaginations which in turn forms our actions and creations. It is culturally and mythically creative; the way in which we communicate, understand, and learn about ourselves. We (and by we, I mean those in power) are telling symbolic stories to each other, and ourselves, about ourselves, and each other. Beliefs, not laws or physical actions, about humanity are created via narratives, and beliefs determine how we behave, what we fight for and against. These beliefs come from the meanings conveyed; you will* (*may) not believe that dragons are real after watching Game of Thrones, but you will believe that strength in numbers and companionship are important (and that CGI is getting awesome.) You may also, then, understand rape and domination as something that happens to women because men want to have sex with them, and that is normal, and something that they must overcome to become advanced characters in life. And in the same vein, that whoever has bare crossbow skills (agility/precision/adaptability) and uses them for ‘good’ (benevolence/conscientiousness) will (or should) defeat those who are evil and have big hammers or maces, or swords (might is right.) These are all subconscious processes, which inculcate us before we began watching GoT, or any other adult media.

The above meaning-creation process in the way rape is often used in narrative is not an original creation of these narratives, merely reinforcements to the way that rape, prostitution and other forms of exploitation are often understood in society. That they are found frequently in narratives in which the non-white/straight/male/able-bodied characters have actually been given some depth is not surprising. We have legislated away the official and explicit prejudice that we could not openly defend; yet those beliefs, still replicated, persist. It’s only been a little while; we do have to give ourselves a bit of time. But we can’t do that if we don’t understand the mechanisms by which these beliefs are reproduced subtly, once explicit prejudices are ‘gone’. (Covered up.)

The Defense

The defense of GoT (and often other stories containing storylines of graphic violence) is often centred around that realism issue. George R. R. Martin, writer of the original novels on which the show is based, recently told the NYTimes that

“Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day […] To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.”

This is true, and I believe that Martin and many viewers will understand them as such. That he states explicitly that there is a negative judgment value put upon the sexual violence in his books is encouraging, and surely sincere. Novels also benefit from allowing much more of the characters’ thoughts and feelings to be directly communicated. However HBO’s version has been widely criticized for emphasizing and changing certain aspects of the sexual violence (specifically Jaime’s rape of Cercei, which, in the books, was consensual sex.) Whether the TV show has had to condense more of the story yet has kept all of the sexually violent material for drama, or whether they are relatively true to the books, I don’t feel a need to know. Why would I want to watch depictions of ‘happy hookers’ and rape that are, as noted by comic book writer Mariah Huehner, treated “cavalierly”? Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, echoes this: “The best depictions don’t just leave it at the dramatic device of the rape itself, they use it to tell a deeper story about recovery and what effect it has on that person.” I would add that they should also centre around the abuse of power and the structures by which that power and violence came to be imbalanced in the first place.

Another frequent dismissal states that there’s nothing wrong with the show’s continued use of rape showboating, because it also showboats the murder of a young boy’s parents in front of him, infanticide, torture etc. This argument comes up also in defense of rape jokes, which again misrepresents the issue. Rape does not need to be specifically cloaked where everything else should be fair game; rather, the treatment and understanding of rape in society, its epidemic nature, and the tone of its portrayal in jokes (or its ‘cavalier’ portrayal in screen media) renders it an abused topic. Not one which needs scrapping from view entirely because it’s icky, but one which gets bandied around in the wrong way by people who do not understand it. Lindy West has notoriously and beautifully set the standard for discourse on understanding why most comedians get it wrong:

“The reason that “rape jokes” become such a contentious issue as opposed to, say, “cancer jokes” or “dead baby jokes” (yawn) is because rape is different from other horrors in some very specific ways.

Say you knew for a fact that in any given audience there was at least one person who had been mangled in an industrial threshing accident—JUST STICK WITH ME HERE—and that we lived in a culture where industrial threshing victims were routinely blamed/shamed for their own death and/or disfigurement because they wore the “wrong” overalls, and people were afraid to report threshing accidents because the police department just employs a bunch of threshing machines in badges and little hats anyway (and everyone knows threshing machines protect their own), and historically humans were sold into marriages with threshing machines where they could just be tossed in there and chopped up willy-nilly. Oh, and also 90% of the comics in the show (yourself included) are threshing machines too, but since you’re this young, liberal brand of threshing machine with newfangled safety guards and you fervently don’t believe in mangling humans, you think it’s fair game for you to make “jokes” about idiot humans getting their faces and limbs shredded by those more sinister other threshing machines. But do you really think that isn’t going to traumatize the fuck out of some humans? Even if you’re “joking”?”

This is just one paragraph from a much larger (and less fantastically metaphorical) article that, if you’re interested at all in this debate, from whichever side of the fence, you just have to read in full. It’s a fantastic demonstration of why any topic IS fair game –in the same way, there is a difference between jokes about race, and racist jokes. We don’t have a parents-getting-killed-in-front-of-their-children problem (currently in Britain, at least) of epidemic proportions – and if we did, would it frequently be played for laughs by numerous comedians as standard, and provoke a fetishisation and trivialization of the experience of orphans by those who have parents? (I’m not going to make a joke about rape victims being the Batmen of society.)

This type of reliance on shock value and cynical titillation is learned behaviour. The more extreme a show is (and the better its writing and characters, as is the case with GoT, clearly) the higher the drama; the more people will talk about it and create desire for it. The underestimation of the significance of the events being shown, also, comes from an inexperience with and misunderstanding of that structural power which exists in society. Is it a coincidence that power is held largely by white men who have grown up in a white-male-dominated society, and that most protagonists (and thus those whose stories are presumed to be most valuable, most relatable, the default for ‘human’) are white men, at the expense of other demographics? We must understand the difference between blaming someone for having utterly failed, and critiquing groups of people and society at large for patterns of misunderstanding. Representation needs to be critiqued by those who are not in positions of power, for the health of future work.

I Heart…

The phenomenon of fandom is one that creates in us huge amounts of love, wonder and joy. Of course nobody wants to hear criticisms of their favourite creations. I love Breaking Bad more than I love my own family (I find my parents marginally more tolerable now they’ve finished Season 5) and I have a hell of a time even trying to critique Breaking Bad but, a couple more great examples of shows with representation/ideology issues are early-sixties race comedy bungle The Help and, I have to admit, Breaking Bad.

Both are brilliantly written narratives with engaging, mostly rich characters, and exemplary formal execution. And, it is also important to understand the structurally racist and sexist ideology imbued in them. Considering the depth, goodwill and skill that have gone into them, their reflections of the industry’s chronic prejudices remain so slight that they go almost unnoticed. When they are noted, people wont hear it out of frustration, and/or protectiveness. Again, critique does not render something all bad, unwatchable, or unenjoyable.

The Help is a powerful film, with sharp performances all round. Viola Davis, rightly, gets the majority of the attention from critics for her warm and devastating performance, and Emma Stone renders her slightly bland protagonist likeable, as ever. Many critics agree that the narrative and form was largely faultless, if a little broad and formulaic (hence why it “works.”) But to what extent should we really defend a film about racism, and specifically highlighting the stories of black people in a white dominated society, whose protagonist is a beautiful, successful rich white girl? While Aibileen plays a vital role, it is a supporting one. The storyline focuses on Skeeter’s coming of age arc (exemplified by the absolutely redundant romantic subplot), and the redemption of individual ‘good white people’ by indirectly reprimanding the individual ‘bad white people’. The triumphant air-punch comes when Minny is told by her benevolent white employers that she is to continue being their servant for life, if she so chooses. This is genuinely the resolution of the film.

Hallelujah.

Breaking Bad’s gender and racial roles are hugely conservative, also. All of the Latino cartel members are without redemption (except maybe Hector Salamanca) – the only variation in their character-type is the choice between calculated or passive evil. There is certainly a comment on the ignorance of the US middle classes, but not a huge amount of humanity given to anyone else. The female characters (the white ones, that is) are all given depth, and plenty of screen time, and in contrast to what many have expressed, I found Skylar to be a hugely sympathetic character played expertly by Anna Gunn. However, her role remained as wife to the protagonist, mother, and supporter of the actions of her husband. There were few subplots involving Skylar, Marie or Lydia which involved them acting rather than reacting to male-driven deeds, except Marie’s short-lived kleptomania/therapy subplot which, in hindsight, appears to be an interesting but shoehorned method of giving her depth.

Again. Both fantastic stories, fantastic narratives which I relished – and both going some way to being progressive mainstream representations of important issues and fuller characters. And both remained within a prescribed framework of whose stories and values are foregrounded according to the ‘human nature’ of traditional roles and supposed ‘audience preference.’

These pervasive ideologies need to be debated; disagree, or be undecided, but don’t shut debate down because you, personally, find remaining structural inequalities to be a-ok. It’s not about whether or not intentions are good, or about historical accuracy, or an all-or-nothing bash at the value or watchability of one particular show, but the ever-changing relationships between people and their representation, perpetuation of stereotyping and what is considered ‘normal’.

Culture is both reflection and instruction. You can’t argue that we’re shown rape because it’s true to life, and then that it doesn’t matter because it’s fiction.

Feminism: Connection & Progression (aka What’s Next?)

the-futureIn the twenty first century, what, and where, is Feminism? There are close to 4 billion women in the world now, and the personal is ever political; that’s a buttload of politics. Are we still solid, guys? Would addressing you as ‘girls’ instead be patronizing, or more feminist? (I have many more questions, the masses. Please do not flame me yet. [P.S. How many readers constitute a ‘mass’?])

Aren’t we due another wave? There’s only been a few, and feminism’s totally internet-famous now. Today, internet culture has revolutionized life for everyone, not least those engaged in the gender equality movement which is at once exciting, thriving, and relentlessly, miserably co-opted. Just this week, the #nomakeupselfie campaign, for example, while raising money for a good cause, has simultaneously unleashed the ‘bravery’ of women who briefly don’t wear make-up as a defiant act in the name of freedom and peace and charity or something.* (The date is 21st March 2014. #Progress! [Have you looked at any rape statistics recently? Maybe 2014 could be the year we engage with that via hashtag!] )

Where can we possibly go from here? Is the concept of ‘post-feminism’ still a joke? Do I ignore or denounce Bill Maher’s pseudo-liberal sexism? How feminist is spending all day on social media sharing videos about advancing equality, of which none encourage spending vast chunks of my short life on the internet sharing videos?

As a distraction from the nervous determination for answers and clarity, and the accompanied sweating, I shall conduct some research. This shall be a defiant, strident act in the name of my own autonomy, and of using the internet productively. And of imaginary feminine freshness.**

The To-Do List (?)

In The Factuary’s “What Do Feminists Have Left?”, comedian Guy Braunum concurs that women of America (and of the rest of the world, FYI) have come a long way, baby. This video has a lot to tell us about the mainstream approach to feminism. Not only because of the US-centric, humour-imbued, internet-hosted habitus of contemporary feminism, but also because of its specification, categorization, and foregrounding of particular issues over others. And of white media personalities dropping sardonic lines.

(Typed to the accusatory reflection in my computer screen…)

[‘Media Personality’? Please. – Ed.]

Acknowledgment of equal pay, rape culture, reproductive health, micro-aggressions and media representation is right on. It’s good to have a challenge or five, but really? Five fronts on which ‘feminism’ has to continue to fight? Were we to eliminate these struggles tomorrow, would that be gender inequality checked off the list of Worldsuck? Can any one entity express a finite list or end point for feminism? How many more questions do I need to ask before I get to the point?

To boil it down to one question (oppressive kitchen-centric terminology – Ed.): with ‘internet feminism’ clearly alive and kicking, which ‘wave’ are we in now, and is there an end goal (or five) to that wave – how and who is feminism, what or where should it be, and be doing? *Sweats*

PSYCH! I hid, like, 3 whole questions in there! (So… so many…)

Waves (aka The Officially Recognised Stages of Western Feminism)

First-wave feminism tackled (certain) inequalities in law: we know these baby – wave-makers, broadly speaking, as the suffragettes. They achieved representation, statues outside Parliament, and songs in Mary Poppins; all of which they bloody deserved. They were willing to trade eating, breathing and not being trampled to death for the sake of being recognised as actual human beings with totally normal brains, capable of putting a cross in a box because of some reasons. It was easy to define an end point at which they’d succeed, because what they wanted to change was already written down, listed and numbered: the First-wave feminism to-do list already existed in the laws of Parliament; Pankhurst, Davidson et al would just put their thing down, flip it and reverse it. But this extended, at first at least, only to women over thirty and of a certain economic status. #successfail

Second-wave feminism, in which women rejected de facto inequalities that remained, spanned the 60s and 70s. Between first- and second-wave, everyone was too distracted by some pretty serious international breakdowns in relations to pay attention to the intra-relations of the nation (save for Vera Lynn, who released her much-ignored feminist reggae album Intra-Relations of the Nation in 1943.) The grudge held after women got some legally-mandated equality lasted ages, until… like, right now. Simone de Beauvoir, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan & later bell hooks, amongst others, were the anti-Smurfette Principled Justice League of battling non-legal structural issues, such as unequal family and workplace frameworks, designated and prescribed sexual behaviours, and ensuring women’s reproductive freedom. All they wanted was a holistic recognition of woman’s human being-ness in attitude and belief rather than just mandated lip-service. But society (some ladies included) was all like “…Ew.” #onelovefail

Third-wave feminism (c.1992-?)… is harder to define. One, because it’s not necessarily ‘over’, and therefore lacks a hermetic historiographical place from which to examine it; and two, because its basis is in opening the understanding of feminism to its own far-more-diverse-than-allowed-to-be-acknowledged history and culture, and the nature of gender itself. But is this broadening of discourse and increasing intersectionality succeeding on the ground? And what constitutes success?

The myriad voices and definitions that have created, and continue to form, third-wave, are a testament to its recognition that previously the experience of women of relatively affluent white culture was made paramount, and the infrastructure of binary gender identity had been taken as-seen, ignoring and excluding the continuing struggles of women of colour, transgendered people and those of the working- and under-classes. #seeingpastowneyelidsfail

 Fighting and factioning

Prejudice from within and without feminism persists (often irretrievably embedded in the unconscious); the disparity between those foregrounded and those marginalized rages on in feminism as it does in society. ‘Feminism’ is not necessarily a monolith of progressive energy that women are either in or out of, for or against (and depending on your utopia, if you have one, may or may not need to be); feminism is its own Venn diagram within society’s. We disagree on as much as we agree on – our definition of what makes women’s lives better will never be able to be singular once we specify outside of simply: ‘respect’.

The womanist movement, beginning in the 1960s, throws into relief the long-standing failures of mainstream feminism to fully represent the needs and rights of all women, in a context not simply of gender but of class- and race-based oppression. Womanism is an umbrella under which ‘feminism’ is simply one element, alongside spirituality, and restructuring all relationship dynamics; a clear demonstration of intersectionality and social activism. Womanists delineated this expansion of understanding decades before any activists or bloggers would band together in its name under the label of feminism.

While social movements such as these can be understood as linear processes, insomuch as they exist within linear experience of time, ‘feminism’ is not necessarily a series of ever-successful stages with beginnings and ends. There have been recognized waves of activity, but these constructions aren’t exhaustive and completely omit particular people, struggles and groups. To this day, we still fight for what the suffragettes originally fought for: a recognition of all people as intrinsically equal beings, rejection of oppressive hierarchy and confines, and ensuring our ability to collectively remove the godawful from power. And at no point did those fighting for gender equality stop for decades at a time for rest, or victory laps around Donald Trump and all his acquisitions.

Cyberspace

Are we succeeding at our new, supposedly diverse and inclusive feminisms en masse? Generally, female-centered culture is still viciously twisted and shoved through the funnel of mainstream culture, which has willfully ignored undercurrents of progression in favour of trivializing debate and flogging globally-waning self-worth.

But, the internet! YES! And, unfortunately, sometimes, still no.

The internet is a two-sided, defaced coin in feminism’s utility belt. It’s afforded women huge gains in their ability to communicate, connect and organize. It has provided everyone with self-publishing and distribution platforms, broadcasting previously ignored and suppressed voices and experiences. It is the Room of Everyone’s Own. And thus, the room is also used by the defensive, the ignorant and the sexist; the asshats of the world still have dented egos when logged on and they’re looking to use them. They are packing Angry. It’s the same perilous tundra as the real world, with equally ambiguous intimacy.

ORGANISE

Feminism, womanism, gender equality et al cannot but be foregrounded in, and driven by, intersectionality. It won’t work unless it acknowledges and understands the personal, political and partitioned world that we inherit, and undermines the oppressive structures of individualism, economics and education (cultural as well as academic). Otherwise, we’re gonna have to Van Gogh it. Once dissected and posthumously appreciated, we can move on with the best bits. All collective, anti-oppressive movements by definition need to transcend ego, and require hard graft, structurally and personally. And pithy names, like Intersectionalists Against Kyriarchy or All of Us Hating Ignorance & Violence Together Forever. (HighFiveFreezeFrame!)

Having the cyber-tools to share and debate productively at the touch of a button relies on us actively and consciously doing so. Mainstream culture funnels us to certain places; it operates smoothly on decades of carefully formatted infrastructure and the (morally bankrupt) economic freedom to do so. Solidarity is paramount. Anti-feminist haters, while painful, can be easily debunked, but feminists fighting over feminism is some shit, and particularly tiresome shit to wade through. Fair in-criticism must be embraced and accepted, however difficult; and there’s a fine line between criticism and fighting. I don’t remember the last time someone was called out (calmly) and they just acknowledged it and apologized. Heaven forbid we might learn something from one another.

Can we balance consumption with production? Slacktivism with activism? Challenging with acceptance? All extended hands and discussion, incorporating each others’ needs. (Extend a hand to an MRA sometime, you might surprise him.)

This is how we avoid being defeated by violence, and having to resort to violence ourselves.

* I have no beef with anyone who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. Some of my best friends are people who participated in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. I jest to make a point about perspectives and trends in mainstream culture.

**(On your behalf, Dove approves this message, the whole article, and all of Feminism.)

Connect with:

Feministing – a feminist blog with a diverse staff who write on intersectional feminism, and provide us with the busy-life-friendly Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet.

@feministing/feministing.com

 

KrissyChula – the funniest woman on YouTube.

@krissychula/www.youtube.com/user/krissychula

 

Hartbeat – the other funniest woman on YouTube.

@HARTgotBEATs/www.youtube.com/user/hartbeat

 

LaciGreen – the sexiest and most positive sex-positive person I’ve ever had the pleasure of sensing.

@gogreen18/www.youtube.com/user/lacigreen

 

Paris Lees – journalist, presenter & trans activist and all round sweet and considerate person (it seems like.)

@ParisLees/lastofthecleanbohemians.wordpress.com

 

Writers of Colour – tireless online organisation promoting work by people of colour; very active on Twitter.

@WritersofColour/mediadiversified.org

 

Jay Smooth – video blogger & Hip-Hop radio guru who vlogs on politics, race & culture.

@illdoc/illdoctrine.com

 

New Statesman – British mainstream leftist magazine. Politics, pop culture & several feminist columnists & editors.

@NewStatesman/newstatesman.com

 

Jackson Katz – educator in gender, specifically the construction of masculinity. The first man in the US to have taken Women’s Studies. Check out his amazing TED talk.

@jacksontkatz/jacksonkatz.com

 

ADDENDUM: On posting this article online, one reader pointed out that while she agreed with a lot of the points, the article still read as ‘white-washed’, containing little alternative history to that which I was critiquing. She suggested this reading; ‘Whose Feminism, Whose History?’ by Sherna Berger Gluck, Maylei Blackwell, Sharon Cotrel & Karen S. Harper (which you can read here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_HfOnXTgYJoWENoTnpITlM1Ymc/edit?pli=1)

It provides an engaging, complex and well-woven history of some of the womens movements in LA over a number of decades. My article scratches the surface of the problem of mainstream history, whereas this provides a deeper account of many women’s marginalised, intersectional struggles.