Thursday, February 17, 2011

A little bit of cannibalism in pop culture!

So lately, both against and of my free will, I've been listening to the song "Cannibal" by Ke$ha.
I'm not a huge fan of autotuned pop, but I like Ke$ha.Her music is catchy and she's kinda adorable.

To be fair, I kind of despise the way she's marketed--hearing children singing "I brush my teeth with a bottle of jack," is disgusting. But I do respect her motivation, even though I don't always respect the outcome--like a  few other pop singers right now (Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, who, I must say, are my top two in this new trifecta of hot pop singers trying to be edgy, and whom I think are much more successful in their edginess,) she is trying really hard to break boundaries, push the envelope. To make inappropriate things appropriate. And I love that. I also love about these new edgy pop stars is that, for the most part, they know how ridiculous they are--though perhaps Ke$ha the least of the three--and therefore, are somewhat satirical. Especially Lady Gaga.

Regardless, this girls music is painfully catchy, and I can't help but enjoy it. And, like I said, she is young and cute and creative. Were I a pop star, I'd probably be Ke$ha.

That's a huge lie. I'd be Ke$ha, but I'd wear less make up and sing about knitting, ice cream, and stage managing instead of drinking, partying, and being a prostitute.

Because rehearsal-don't-start-till-I-walk-in
Also, I'd like to think I'd be Katy Perry, but that's very wishful thinking.

In any case, I think Ke$ha wrote this song to be edgy. What's more taboo than cannibalism? She even goes so far as to obliquely reference Hannibal Lector, (I want your liver on a platter...maybe?) and then even farther, referencing Jeffrey Dahmer. Are we over that yet, as a country? I'm not sure. To add to the edginess, she also refers to herself as a stalker, and says she drinks tea. Which isn't very trendy or alcoholic. 

But I am here to say, dear Ke$ha, that though you think you're being edgy, you are not alone in writing songs about cannibals. You, in fact, are just the most recent in a long tradition of writing songs about cannibals. 

And believe me...I listen to a lot of music about cannibalism. Here I am to share it with all of you. 

First, Voltaire--

Then there is, of course, a bit of Jonathan Coulton...this one is more about Zombies, but still...humans eating humans 

And Creature Feature...
(the kid who made this would be my friend if I knew him, I think)
Here's one by the lovely Tom Lehrer....a love song, no less! 

We, of course, can't forget this:

And this may be my personal favorite. (Ok. The previous video is really  my favorite but I love this one too.) This is Toto Coelo:
And with that, we are back to analysis of trashy pop! I don't really understand Toto Coelo, as much as I love them, but I have to think they were going for something along the lines of what Ke$ha is going for--catchy music about horrifying things, that will make her stand out. This song was the band's only hit, (besides Dracula's Tango) and it's probably because people thought it was so..well, funny. The music video is sexual, but in a kind of hilarious way. It's so over the top taboo that you can't help but find it laughable. 

And I suppose that is what Ke$ha is going for as well--but honey, these amazing old ladies beat you to it. 
But keep up the good work. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

If I had to pick my least favorite genre of film, or my five least favorites, one of them would definitely be the typecast-big-guy-comedian-low-life-has-identity-finding-adventure-with-cute-kids movie. Don't even get me started. Few things are so formulaic and based solely on bad, family friendly jokes and slapstick. Yucky. Boring. Suburban.

But School of Rock is a huge guilty pleasure.

EDIT: I'm using this post to sugar coat the fact that I've decided pretty arbitrarily to put ads on my blog. Only fifteen or so people read it, so that will do very little...but here is my rationale for doing this:

1-I'm going to school for film studies, journalism, and history...which means that, probably in the future, one of the best career choices for me will be...professional blogger! I decided I might as well get started and sell my soul to Google now, even though I plan to make maybe twenty cents in the next year from it.

2-I turned eighteen the other day!! Which means I can now legally use AdSense! So I'm just gonna!

3-Targeted ads are hilarious, and considering the things people search for to get to my blog ("amputeeplanet," "majorettes wearing girls," "knitting in pregnancy,") I think we should all get some laughs from what Google thinks we wants.

Really, no logical reason. If you have some massive problem with it, let me know...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Happy Valentines Day!--and the evils of the established relationship

As is normally the case with my seasonal blogs, I should absolutely not be writing this right now. I cannot even tell you how many anti establishment compositions I need to be working on right now. My little town is in crisis, and I also picked this week (for some reason?) to create major projects criticizing FIRST Robotics and CollegeBoard.

But you can't be an activist all the time...

I've been planning on writing this since November but saved it specially for today...

Ah well, here it goes!

I can watch slasher movie after slasher movie, watch group after stereotypical group of teenaged characters snuffed off in the prime of their lives, and never does it bother me emotionally. I am able enough, I suppose, to separate myself from them that I don't associate them with myself or my friends at all. It simply doesn't get to me, the characters are too fake and too annoying, the special effects in the deaths are just too interesting for me to be preoccupied with who is actually getting killed and how it will affect the plot.

But sit me down in front of a romantic comedy, and I'm a mess. I constantly vicariously fall for the quirky friend, the inevitable formulaic fight or break up always has me in tears. You can have the most stereotypical characters in the world; if that boyfriend dies, I'm sobbing and sending unnecessarily sappy text messages to my own. 

I've psychoanalyzed myself a lot over this one, because I think it's wicked stupid, but I can't figure it out--I'm in a wonderful relationship. Perhaps it is because relationships are like squirrels, and though I've only been in approximately one and a half relationships, I've basically been in all relationships, so I can't help relate to the characters in romantic movies....? No, that's nonsense. Maybe because I have so many guy friends, they cover all the archetypes, so any character I subconsciously relate to one of them, and their sadness makes me sad? Also stupid. 

Regardless, for this reason, I don't watch a ton of movies with a ton of romance. But I have noticed a serious trend. I could be wrong...but I'm not. No I'm not. 
(Name that anti-love song!)
The trend is, to be in a relationship, you must face each other and form a diagonal line across the screen from left to right.

The established relationship is never good. The established boyfriend, or girlfriend, is always, always the bad guy, whether they are bad or not.

Innumerable movies have used this trick. When Harry Met Sally is the prime example of this, with Harry's girlfriend being kind of trashy in the beginning, his wife (?) leaving him unfairly, Sally's fiancee leaving her...all very tragic. Enchanted is the second movie that comes to mind, since I watched it last week--Patrick Demsey's fiancee at the beginning of this movie is played as an antagonist throughout the film. Legally Blonde--same situation, or should I say "sitch," while I'm talking about painfully sororitorial (made up that word) movies. Reese Witherspoon's fiancee at the beginning of the movie is, again, played as a bad guy. The Exploding Girl (which I've only watched the first fifteen minutes of, the friends becoming romantically inclined situation was so overwhelming,) is based around it entirely. They use it in Over Her Dead Body, which, I have, shamefully watched. Life Without Dick, a fantastic comedy that I highly recommend, has the fiancĂ©e-to-be as a less moral character than the mobster who Sarah Jessica Parker falls in love with. Mean Girls does it. Last week I watched The Postman Always Rings Twice (bonus points to whoever can explain that movie to me,) where the husband is controlling and repressive, the only thing keeping the gorgouses Lara Turner and John Garfield apart. You Can Count On Me uses it as a sub plot. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World uses it. Even my very favorite movie besides Behind the Mask, But I'm a Cheerleader, uses it by having the main character's boyfriends be one of the things holding her back from discovering her sexuality (but that one's a little different.) Horror movies use it a lot, but mainly to different ends and lesser degrees: House of Wax, Grace, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010,) and, most notably, Scream. "There's always some stupid bullsh*t reason to kill your girlfriend."
The diagonal line can start at any point on the screen, as long as it moves down and to the right

Books do it too--last week I read The Great Gatsby, with the villian as the main girl's husband. They use it on TV, in horribly written and painfully acted sitcoms and soap operas  like Full House (DJ/Nelson/Viper love triangle,) Saved By the Bell (the costume party episode that I've only seen the last fifteen minutes of,) Secret Life of the American Teenager, (every season, every episode,) Greek, Eight Simple Rules, One Tree Hill, Family Matters, as well as fantastic, stand out shows like The Office, Gilmore Girls, Soap, Party Down, Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, Dexter, That 70's Show House, Scrubs...the list goes on. I haven't got around to watching every sitcom. There are probably, at the very least, over a hundred examples. There are also a lot of movies I haven't seen that I know use it--Leap Day, Sex and the City Two, Made of Honor, The Truth About Love....

It's pretty obvious as to why this is such a common formula. Change is sexy. Your life is boring. People are going to want to watch two people overcome a stifling relationship to get together than just get together. People don't want to see a happy couple stay happy, or overcome some challenges then get happy again. Boooooring. Stuff like that  happens in real life, why should we care if it happens in movies? It's not like fiction reflects life, or anything like that...
If the relationship is more light, you may stand a maximum of four feet apart, providing you still form the diagonal line
I think it's pretty detrimental to our society's perception of relationships in a lot of ways. First, look at the descriptions of those movies up there--and look at how many of them have the established significant other engaged to the main character. Engagement is no small potatoes. When you're engaged, it's not a good thing, it's not romantic to suddenly re-meet your high school fling or flirt with your co-workers to the point that you're madly in love with them instead. 
To make this acceptable, movies have to turn the established fiancee into a bad guy, usually by taking normal traits that come from a personality in a long term relationship and blowing them out of proportion or putting them in a negative light. They are practical and safe, (boring, unadventurous, dull,) they are protective (controlling, jealous, overprotective,) they are relaxed and comfortable in the relationship, (they no longer care enough to shave their legs or give constant compliments.) They are normal. You are used to them. They are easy and accessible--we only want what we can't have. And, of course, they're usually perfect for your best friend.
Alternatively, standing far apart could add more dramatic sexual tension
By doing this, I believe that movies and other media give people the idea that when they see these traits in their significant others, they are bad. I don't think that's true at all, even though I fall for their trickery myself all the time. I've recognized that it is, indeed, trickery, so I can see it coming and not fight with my boyfriend when he wants more attention from me than the random hot girl in one of my classes who I don't know, or he tries less hard to impress me than someone who I'm not dating who may think I'm cute. But do those of us who don't analyze the effects of media on society and societal expectations avoid this successfully? The world may never know. 
Unless it listens to me. I don't think they do. 

Not to mention, the time that movies usually aim at--the engagement--is, (source needed,) usually the most vulnerable part of a long term relationship, I'd imagine. People get doubts and cold feet, and it's kind of terrible for this plot formula to reinforce it. Heck, I'd be willing to say that people get doubts and cold feet at least in part because of stories like this. Romantic comedy says that by proposing, your boyfriend forced you into marriage before you were ready; they say the fact that your fiancee is a little neurotic about wedding planning means she's too up tight for you; they say that it is okay to kiss that guy in the coffee shop, because your evil fiancee exists to keep you away from his pretty eyes.
If the colors on opposite sides of the screen contrast, you get bonus points
That is the next way I think these movies negatively impact our perception of relationships--it emphasizes our societal expectation that men and women can't be friends. I'm not making this up, even--I just read an article from Psychology Today not an two hours ago saying that When Harry Met Sally was one of the major setbacks in the societal acceptance of cross-sex relationships in our society. Movies that use this formula really emphasize the fact that men and women can only have sexual relationships, and that is something I just don't agree with at all. Harry met Sally is obviously the most important example of this, (I think it's just the most important romantic comedy,) but almost everybody does it--Legally Blonde, Life Without Dick, You Can Count On Me, Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Office, Party Down, Parks and Recreation, Scrubs, House, and That 70's Show (Eric is in a long term relationship--Jackie Berkheart dates every single male main character by the end of the series. [yes I do watch that much 70's show don't judge me.]) In the movieverse, attractive men and attractive women must always have sex, always. Also in the movieverse, you cannot date someone, break up, and then "Just be friends." Which makes you wonder what happens after the movie ends--once the girl breaks things off with her husband-to-be and settles in to a relationship with new pretty eyes...does the original long term relationship just end entirely? Is a friendship that lasted, presumably, months or years simply over forever and ever? Or does the movie simply replay it self in reverse once pretty eyes starts leaving the cap off the toothpaste and original established relationship starts trying to woo again? 

These are some of my favorite movies and tv shows, but come on guys--really? Have you never had a friend of the opposite gender?
In rare situations, if you are in a clever indie movie, the girl may be on the higher end of the diagonal line

In my very limited relationship experience, which I don't entirely want to explain, I have proved and disproved many of these movieverse concepts.The fact that I know that says a lot about how much these formulas reflect our perceptions of relationship. As I mentioned, I often fall victim to seeing good, normal traits in my long-term boyfriend as negative traits. However, I also have a plethora of good looking and sensitive male friends who I have no desire to have any sort of romantic relationship with. 

On the other hand, my first boyfriend or...whatever was a close friend of mine who I swore, from as early as first grade (that is how far down in age these concepts permeate,) that I would never date or like like because not all girls and boys had to like like each other just to normally like each other. Just to prove another movieverse concept, in our short relationship I managed to coincidentally meet another guy who I started dating immediately after my first boyfriend or...whatever and I broke up. 

However, I have now managed to escape the wiliness of the romantic comedy concept. My friend and I have recovered from our small, weird stint as boyfriend and girlfriend, and now have a lovely, non awkward relationship that would probably make for a really terrible movie. My current boyfriend and I are celebrating our third valentines day together (except we don't ever celebrate valentines day because it's stupid, like formulaic plots,) and our only place in mass media would be as Donna and Eric on 70's Show. Except without pot and with more legos. But I do have to consciously avoid thinking I'm in a romantic comedy: no, just because that girl asked you for help on her math homework doesn't mean she likes you; no, your boyfriend is not preventing you from doing whatever you want to, you just made up that entire conversation; no, you are not falling in love at minute seven of the movie you aren't in just because that guy has some quirky thing in common with you.
If you REALLY want to be out there, the line may go THE OTHER DIRECTION!

 The screenwriter of some terrible romcom is in my brain, and if you're a seventeen-year-old eighteen-year-old girl who's been exposed to any pop culture, I bet there's one in your brain, too.

Gracious, with this and the Twilight principle, our generation is pretty ruined on relationships.....

Happy Valentines Day!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Disney does Communism

Ok, false. Don Bluth does communism. But it's almost Disney. People pretend that it's Disney a lot.

For those of you who aren't scholars of nineties animation ( or don't watch Nostalgia Chick obsessively,) I'm talking about Anastasia, a wonderful animated film. It is wonderful both in the sense that it's weird and hilarious, but also that it's really well done and touching at spots.

The concept of the setting is really interesting, and it makes me wonder--why does Disney and Bluth/Fox choose to take on these historical events that are not kid friendly, and make them into kids movies?

Pochahontas, for instance. The Europeans invading America was in no way something you want to portray to little kids--the real story of Pochahontas is even less kid friendly than say, the story of the pilgrims in New England. Everything was very violent, very nasty, and very unpleasant.

 Same with the Bolshevik Revolution. In kids movies, there has to be a good guy and a bad guy. In the Bolshevik Revolution, there was no good guy or bad guy, it totally depends on who you ask. Now, obviously, in America, we see the communists as bad guys, because of that whole Cold War thing that was the twentieth century. Therefore, portraying the revolutionaries as the good guys in a kids movie about the Russian revolution is out. However, the Romanov's were in no way the good guys either--just like Marie Antoinette wasn't the good guy in the French revolution.

In any case, they made the decision to portray the Romanov's as the good guys in this movie, mostly because they've got the princess, and princesses sell. The movie opens up with a nice little bit about how happy and luxurious it used to be, before all those silly poor people were starving to death in the snow and had to rebel...
The historically accurate shot to have after this would have been some children dead from malnutrition and hypothermia
And, I guess, to keep it more neutral and kid friendly, they didn't talk much about the communist party either. It is portrayed in a negative light, with images of the beautiful city of St. Petersburg full of unhappy people and pollution, and one of the main characters saying "That's what I hate about this government; everything's in red!" but it never says that the communists were responsible for all the Romanovs getting killed. 

Their solution is to sort of synthesis of all evil or communist things, or anything that motivated the Bolshevik revolution, into one superhuman villain. He's sort of a mixture of Faustus, the real Rasputin, and American views of Communists, all-in-one.

I believe it. 
Obviously the historical inaccuracy of this is off the wall. IRL, Rasputin was a crazy enough character--he was a healer and a monk, (it is mentioned that he used to be a man of god in the movie, before he went insane,) and was a close friend of the Romanovs because he fixed up their sons hemophilia. When they tried to kill him, he would not die, leading to his portrayal in this movie as a perpetual near-corpse that never actually dies, even though he should. (source)Cute, right? Hyperbolic interpretation for kids is fun!

Not cute. This movie is like weird propaganda for the Romanov family.  Just like they were actually pretty terrible to their subjects that rebelled against them and killed them, they were pretty terrible to Rasputin too, and killed him for a kind of arbitrary reason after he saved their sons life who knows how many times and became one of the Tsar's best buddies. You can spin a story any way you want, but really, the Romanovs were wrong in this situation. 

It's very strange that they made the Romanovs seem like such good guys in this movie, even though that is almost the opposite of historical truth. Obviously America is anti-communist, but does that make all of our media immediately pro-imperialism? Kids grow up--I grew up--with all this input that princesses, in any context, were good, and it was all fun and games to be royalty. Sure, there were evil step mothers, but they were pretty easy to deal with. Again, spinning this story in the other direction and having some romance between some revolutionaries is out of the question, since if Don Bluth did that HUAC would probably be reborn and they'd eat him right up, but when there's no good guy...why would you make a happy Disney style movie out of it? 

I guess they had to portray the Romanovs in a good light to lead into the rest of the film, which is also based on a true story, about what kind of really did happen. It's less of an inaccuracy at this point and more of a re-imagining of what would have happened if Anna Anderson (cruel, cruel parents,) was actually Anastasia Romanov. That's actually a totally ok thing to do, in literature. I'm cool with that. 

But come on, guys. Anti commuist propaganda? It's 1997, not the eighties. 

Another thing that's a little bit off about this movie is that it came out in a time where CGI existed, and wasn't terrible, but wasn't advanced enough to make a whole film out of for the kind of budget that Bluth must have had. The result? Random chunks of this movie are done in CGI. And its weird. 
Maybe if we put this shot right at the beginning, they'll be tricked into thinking the whole movie looked this real

Hey Anastasia! Welcome to the future! Too bad you're still animated like it's '96!

Wait, is that real fire in our animated world?

Yup, that's definitely real fire...
And as distracting as that is, they do do some really cool stuff visually. The movie doesn't pledge itself to realism, so besides the normal cartoon gags, there are some really cool surrealist scenes. Which is appropriate for the time it takes place in. For instance, Anastasia has some pretty hallucinations:

 And Rasputin lives in this nifty underground...planet...
And my favorite--they do an entire song about Paris around 1920 (do you know how much I want to live in Paris in the 1920's? Probably a ton.) and they do a lot of the backgrounds like Van Gogh's "Starry Night.
It's really a beautiful piece of animation, and it captures the spirit of the 20's really really well in a couple of shots (not that I was there...) Plus, a nod to Van Gogh? And there are other allusions to twenties culture, my favorite being "Where not even Freud knows the cure." Who watching this movie would understand those?

The person I originally saw this movie with, actually, my best friend's grandfather, probably would have understood it, but we left the theater halfway through. (We were four at the time.) Our leaving was a result of the fact that this movie is actually terrifying--as a result of these guys:

"AHHHH!!!"-any four year old who sees this movie
They're really conceptual things, but I guess they're sort of goonie demons that come from a little stick full of green fluid that Rasputin gets his power from (speaking of Freud...) In any case, they're horrifying, and they attack the train, and it's probably the scariest thing ever. 

"Ohh no puppy!! AHH!!"-four year old 

I was legitimately entertained by this movie, both back in the day and now, as an (almost) adult. The characters and relationships are quite fun and a little bit complex. Anastasia is suffering from some serious post-traumatic stress and repression (more Frued!) and throughout the film her memory returns, and as it does, Demitri, the con man bringing her to the dowager princess of Russia in the guise of the real princess, realizes as well that she may be the Anastasia he knew as a child working in the kitchen of the palace. The two of them have a Harry and Sally sort of relationship, (which is hilarious, because Meg Ryan is the voice of Anastasia,) and in the end Anastasia has to choose between being with him or taking her place as the new duchess of Russia (which is now under Communist control, so it's really just a title...) His being uncomfortable being in love with her once he realizes she is the princess, since he is a kitchen worker/con man, is the only time caste is mentioned in the movie. 

So, fun for its historical inaccuracy, fun for both it's weird and beautiful visuals, and fun for it's plot and plot holes. 

BUT WAIT! Something I reccomend even more is this, the Nostalgia Chick review of the movie. I watched this a long time ago, and honestly didn't remember that she said so much stuff that I said here. But! She says it even better and with more hilarity. Watch it.  Now.