The Sketchy Feminist

Staring down the male gaze, or: Looking at looking at women in popular culture

Tag: men in popular culture

Some Thoughts on Supernatural, Season 9, Episode 10, “Road Trip”

I very much doubt I am going to get the next 13 of these things up before SPN Season 10 kicks off on the 7th, but here’s another “Some Thoughts” on Supernatural, anyway. With even more random “thoughts” than usual. It will probably be pretty confusing if you haven’t watched the episode recently. (It also might be confusing if you have watched it recently.)

“Road Trip” was written by Andrew Dabb and directed by Robert Singer.

WARNING: SPOILERS.

The Title

I got nothin’.

The Premise

Dean is guilt tripping over Kevin’s death in classic self-flagellating “Global warming: that’s on me” fashion. To be fair, Kevin’s death is partially his fault. As is global warming! (Baby’s not exactly environmentally friendly.) Re-Graced Castiel comes back to the bunker and Dean tells him all about how he let not-Ezekiel possess Sam to save Sam’s life. They decide they have to find not-Ezekiel and communicate with possessed!Sam so that Sam can cast not-Ezekiel out. They enlist the captive Crowley to help them, and they all head off in Castiel’s pimpmobile car.

CROWLEY: Really? What are you, a pimp?

CASTIEL: I like it.

Dean makes Crowley and Castiel sit in the back together, and away they go.

Further “random thoughts” under the cut:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Some Thoughts on Supernatural, Season 9, Episode 7, “Bad Boys”

I think of “Bad Boys” as a kind of back-to-basics episode for Season 9 of Supernatural, a throwback to the first three seasons of the series, when everything felt like Dean and Sam against the world.

And that’s not a bad thing.

I critique Supernatural a lot (or complain about it, depending on how generous a spin one wants to put on my SPN blogging commentary) but I really do love it. If I didn’t love it, I would probably not spend nearly so much time watching it, thinking about it and writing about it. And one of the reasons I love it is that the emotional center of the show is the relationship between two brothers.

And Supernatural has been aware since the get-go that this “bond between two brothers” does not begin and end with the brothers themselves, but is instead inextricably linked to the brothers’ relationships with other people. The shadows (and sometimes, quite literally, the shades) of Mary and John Winchester stretch throughout all nine of the Supernatural seasons, and the tension which arises between the brothers’ “neurotically codependent” relationship and the romantic bonds they try to form is a recurrent theme throughout the series. And I actually find it quite riveting that this bond (or “bromance”) that forms the heart of the show is in many ways an unhealthy one, and the series never shies away from exploring that.

Because complicated relationships are interesting. (And simple relationships are unrealistic.)

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Bad Boys,” Season 9, Episode 7.

“Bad Boys” was written by Adam Glass and directed by Kevin Parks.

The Title

I have very little to say about the episode title. I am just very grateful that the theme song to COPS never comes up.

The Premise

“Sonny’s Home For Boys” is being haunted. Sonny calls Dean to ask for help. Sonny knows Dean because Dean once stayed at his “home for boys,” back when Dean was a boy. The (grown up) Winchester brothers investigate. And that’s about it. This is a oneshot, Monster-of-the-Week type of episode here, people.

Tween!Dean

OK, so 16-year-old Dean in the flashbacks is probably too old to be called tween, but he’s older than wee!Dean (think “A Very Supernatural Christmas”) and he looks younger than teen!Dean (think “After School Special”), so I’m going with “tween.”

I like tween!Dean. Actually, I like all of the actors who play Dean. Especially “old” Dean, from “The Curious Case of Dean Winchester.” Man, that guy was awesome. I want the showrunners to shoehorn in a reason for him to come back. I like all of the non-Jensen Ackles actors who play Dean because they seem to have actually studied Ackles’s performance and to be taking it into account in their own performances. And that’s nice. It gives a real sense of continuity to the character. (It’s always bothered me a little that actors who play the same demon or angel character [Ruby, Meg, Gadreel] don’t really seem to try to take their cue from that character’s previous “hosts.” I guess demons and angels just borrow mannerisms from whichever body they’re in?) Anyway, this show is eerily good at finding other actors who look like Dean might have at various ages, even if tween!Dean and teen!Dean (who was what, one year older?) look nothing like each other. I guess Dean hit a real heck of a growth spurt.

What happens in the episode

The Winchesters investigate the haunting. People die, but in the end the mystery is solved and everyone not yet dead is saved. As it turns out, the ghost is the mother of one of the home’s resident “boys,” and she can’t tell the difference between actual, deadly threats to her son and people her son just finds threatening (bullies and authority figures). Apparently, saving her own son from the car crash that killed her has left her a wee bit overprotective. Makes sense.

The Winbros convince the kid to convince his mom that he’ll be fine without her, and the ghost does whatever ghosts do in this universe when they decide to stop haunting.

The Brother Feels

But that’s just the plot, and it’s neither terribly original nor terribly important to this episode. I mean, it’s fine, it’s just not the point.

Because this episode is all about the brother feels (link goes to “feels” Urban Dictionary entry). “Feels” is one of those terms that comes up a lot in fandoms and fanfiction, and generally refers to the strong emotions that fans feel about the things they are fans of. The Urban Dictionary entries for “feels” seem pretty apt, so go check those out. An appropriate use of “feels” in a sentence would be, “When such-and-such spoiler happened in such-and-such fandom, then I had ALL THE FEELS.” Putting “all the feels” in all caps is, of course, optional.

What this particular episode of Supernatural provides is a wealth of that subcategory of “feels” called “brother feels,” which is not as popular a term, but which does come up sometimes in discussions of fandoms–especially if one of those fandoms is Supernatural. “Brother feels” refers to those touching and/or heartbreaking moments between characters who are brothers, or who act like brothers. “Brother feels” in the Supernatural fandom does not refer to the romantic or sexual pairing of Sam/Dean known as “Wincest,” though Wincest stories can include “brother feels.” “Brother feels” generally does not have a sexual implication at all; however, “brother feels” and Wincest are not mutually exclusive terms. The more you know, right?

So, while the Winbros investigate the haunting, Sam’s having an investigation of his own. He finds traces of tween!Dean in Sonny’s Home for Boys: a piece of masking tape with “Dean W.” written on it on Dean’s old bed, Dean’s wresting certificate, Dean’s old girlfriend, etc. Sam slowly comes to realize that the months Dean spent in this place constituted the most stable (and, from Sam’s way of thinking, “best”) time of Dean’s young life. Sam also seems to realize that the reason Dean gave this nice, stable life up was so that he could take care of Sam. And, while Sam is learning all of this new info about how Dean almost escaped “the life”, we are privy to Dean’s flashbacks–and yep, that’s pretty much how it went down.

In one of Dean’s flashbacks, John shows up to retrieve tween!Dean on the night Dean’s about to go to the “school dance” with his sweetheart. Sonny offers to fight to try to keep Dean in a stable environment away from a negligent father who leave his oldest son in situations where he has to steal food for his younger brother, and then, when that son gets caught, leaves him to the local authorities as an object lesson about getting caught (WTF, John?). However, when Sonny makes Dean this offer, he also delivers John’s message: “He just said to tell you you* had a job, said you’d know what that means.” And as we all know from Season Two, Dean has always had “one job”: taking care of his little brother.

Teary-eyed-but-stoic tween!Dean hears the honk of the Impala’s horn, and looks out of the window to see his brother playing with a toy jet. He huffs out a fond laugh, politely thanks Sonny for everything, and gives the man who’s been looking out for Dean’s own welfare for the last two months a firm goodbye handshake. Like the responsible young man he is. Which is just … ugh. Remember, kids, the expression is ALL THE FEELS. Right when Dean lets a single tear fall, Sonny pulls Dean in for a–still manly–goodbye hug. And we get a close up on Sonny’s worried expression. Apparently, Sonny thinks that parents who abandon their kinds for months at a time as punishment don’t provide the most supportive and loving home lives. For some strange reason.

This moment really gives you the impression that Dean’s job isn’t just to protect Sam from the things that go bump in the night, but to serve as a buffer between him and their hard, emotionally distant father. If Dean steps back into the adult role of John Winchester’s “good little soldier,” that will give Sam time and space to be a kid–playing with toy jets–just a little bit longer. Remember this little speech from Season 2?:

DEAN: You know, when we were little–and you couldn’t been more than five–you just started asking questions. How come we didn’t have a mom? Why do we always have to move around? Where’d Dad go when he’d take off for days at a time? I remember I begged you, “Quit asking, Sammy. Man, you don’t want to know.”

I just wanted you to be a kid … Just for a little while longer. I always tried to protect you … Keep you safe … Dad didn’t even have to tell me. It was just always my responsibility, you know? It’s like I had one job … I had one job …

— “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2”

And as if all that wasn’t enough to outright flatten the audience members who have any emotional investment in the brothers’ bond (which is pretty much all of them–er, us), back in the present, Sam thanks Dean for “always being there”:

SAM: Dean … Thank you.

DEAN: For what?

SAM: For always being there, for having my back. Look, I know it always hasn’t been easy …

DEAN: I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

Say it with me now: ALL THE FEELS.

The Women

Not many womenfolk this episode! Which I’m fine with. I mean, most of it is set at “Sonny’s Home For Boys,” so there’s actually a, you know, reason for this episode present a rather male-centered world.

However! We still have three female characters! Let’s see. First there’s the overprotective mommy ghost whose life literally revolves around her son’s–because she is haunting him.

Then there’s the older, devout, rosary-wielding Ruth, who serves as a caretaker for the boy’s at Sonny’s Home, and who is offed by the overprotective mommy ghost.

So, of the three female characters, one dies in the course of the episode and one is dead before the episode begins. Hmm. Ratio-wise, things aren’t looking so great for the ladies.

Lastly, we have Robin, who just so happens to have been Dean’s very first kiss. She’s still hanging around, giving boys guitar lessons at Sonny’s Home. Surprisingly, Robin survives, despite being Dean’s very first ever girlfriend! She should get some kind of special award for that, because that is impressive. Of course, we will probably never see Robin again. Which is for the best, really, because if we ever do see her again, then the odds will not be good for her survival.

robin_sketch4

Behold: the unicorn who survives the episode.

Final Thoughts

The plot’s neither particularly innovative nor particularly interesting, but all in all, this is a solid, emotionally resonant episode that reminds us why the Winchesters are so easy to love.

* * *

* The transcript at the Supernatural Wikia says “he” here. However, I first heard this line as “you had a job,” and after listening to it a few times, I still read it this way.

Shakira’s “Can’t Remember to Forget You” featuring Rihanna and Music-to-Music-Video Dissonace

My friend and I have this game we like to play.

We take a music video. Then we do one of the two following things:

1) We pair the song from that music video with a different music video’s video.
2) We pair the video from that music video with a different music video’s song.

It’s easy to accomplish. First, we let both MVs buffer in YouTube, muting the one we want to watch. Then we play the one we want to listen to. Then–and this is important–we hit play on the “video” video as quickly as we can.

OK, so it’s not much of a game. But it occasionally leads to interesting and/or hilarious results.

One of my favorites? Setting the video for Adam Lambert’s “Better Than I Know Myself” to Bruno Mars’s “Grenade.” Lambert is emoting almost as hard with his physical performance as Mars is with his crooning, over-the-top vocals, and the whole thing just works–and is much more visually interesting (to me, anyway) than Bruno Mars dragging a piano around. (It also helps that the two videos are roughly the same length.)

One of my very first posts on this blog was on P!nk’s music video for “Try,” and I think one of the reasons that that video got to me so much was because of the cognitive dissonance it created in the space between its visuals and its lyrics.

All of that being said, I am not sure what to make of this new music video, to Shakira-featuring-Rihanna’s new single, “Can’t Remember to Forget You.” Because … well.

::Cough:: Male gaze, anybody?

So, “Can’t Remember to Forget You” is about some boy[friend] that Shakira and/or Rihanna remember fondly even though she/they know(s) he is bad for her/them. The problem, as both singers put it, is “selective memory.” Shakira says, “I keep forgetting I should let you go / But when you look at me, the only memory, is us kissing in the moonlight.” Her/their love for this unnamed “you” in the song is so intense and destructive that it plays out like an addiction. Most clearly in Rihanna’s verse: “I go back again / Fall off the train / Land in his bed / Repeat yesterday’s mistakes.”

Then things get even more disturbing in the bridge:

I rob and I kill to keep him with me
I do anything for that boy
I’d give my last dime to hold him tonight
I do anything for that boy

Yeah, both women sing that.

To be honest, I don’t really have any problem with the song itself. Being so emotionally dependent upon someone that you feel like you would do anything for them–or just to stay with them, even though you know you should stay away? And realizing that the very fact that you know that about yourself is only further proof that you should stay away? That seems like a decent portrayal of how some people experience some toxic relationships.

And, let’s face it, the song is pretty entertaining. There’s an energy to it, Shakira utilizes that cool catch in her voice, and all of those “Ohohohoh”s are super fun to sing along with.

Nope, my problem is with the video.

Now, my problem with the video isn’t exactly that it pairs a song about a toxic, addiction-like relationship with two conventionally attractive women in revealing outfits, dancing “provocatively,” with much shaking of their hips and bottoms. (Though I’m not head-over-heels about it either.)

My problem with the video also isn’t exactly that it plays with the idea of a faux lesbianism clearly intended for the titillation of a presumed straight male gaze. (Not that cuddly Shakira and Rihanna on a bed together wouldn’t necessarily appeal to other kinds of audience; I just don’t think that lesbians, bisexuals, and the bicurious are the target audience in this case.)

My problem with the video is that it’s pretending so hard that this is a brush-off song. Because Shakira and Rihanna don’t need that toxic “you” character, see? They have each other. And they have cigars! Manly, phallic, implied-to-be post-coital cigars. They are clearly satisfied without “you,” you toxic man-thing.

Except that all the lyrics they sing imply that they clearly are not. Which means that everything else they do in the video–gyrate, wear revealing outfits, caress each other, smoke phallic cigars–seems like it is done in the service of the gaze of this toxic “boy.” Shakira and Rihanna aren’t moving on; they want him back. And what better way to entice your man than with faux lesbian performance with another hot woman? After all, as Steve on Coupling reminds us, we womenfolk love ensnaring men with the implied promise of threesome:

Three-stage strategy indeed.

So, I could go into more detail about the video, and why/how/if I find it offensive, but I think instead what I would like to do is try a little thought experiment. I am going to try to find some arbitrary number–let’s say three–of music video videos that I think work better with “Can’t Remember To Forget You” than its official video does. Because sometimes showing is more fun than telling. If you feel so inclined, you can set up the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” audio and play along at home.

Remember, play the audio only for “Can’t Remember To Forget You” and the visuals only (mute the audio!) for these other videos. Also, the closer you can sync the videos, the better the results will be.

Contender #3: P!nk’s “Try” Video

I’ll be honest: this one is hard for me to watch. In their original incarnations, the positive message of the song “Try” softens the intensity of P!nk’s video (even if that very disconnect is problematic in and of itself), while the playfulness of the video for “Can’t Remember to Forget You” takes the edge off of that song. In this hybrid form, however, the aggressive tone of “Can’t Remember To Forget You” matches the violence of P!nk’s video, and the end result is something kind of brutal, which highlights the darker aspects of both projects. This means that the pairing works really well, in a way, but it makes for a really heavy-handed, dark mash-up. Also, “Try” is a good half minute longer than “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” which means that the song cuts out before the video is over. It does end on P!nk about to throw that chair, though. Which kind of works.

Warning: May make the viewer profoundly uncomfortable.

Contender #2: Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me

OK, so I like to pick on Adam Lambert’s music videos a little. I don’t know what the motivations were behind the production of the videos for both “Whataya Want From Me” and “Better Than I Know Myself,” but I’ve wondered ever since I saw them the first time if they were made with the intent of creating ‘love stories’ starring the out gay celebrity Adam Lambert that would neither deny his homosexuality nor include actual same-sex romance. I haven’t researched this at all, but these two objects really make me wonder if the producers were hedging their bets, just a little. And the videos sure don’t give us gay romance. Oh, no. What we get instead is time-traveling Lambert clonecest (“Whataya Want From Me”) and interdimensional Lambert dopplegängercest (“Better Than I Know Myself”).

Or contemplative musings about Lambert’s relationship to his own fame. Pshaw. My version’s funnier.

Anyway, this mash-up is subtler than the last one I mentioned, but something about Lambert’s restrained, muted visuals contrasts interestingly with the aggressive sound of Shakira and Rihanna’s song. And of course, there’s nothing restrained about Lambert’s performance itself, so all those “Ohohohohoh”s fit right in. Unfortunately, this video’s still a little too long, but we can’t have everything.

Bonus: “I never met someone so different” is a moderately hilarious line when all the cuts are Lambert-to-Lambert.

Contender #1: Beyonce and Shakira’s “Beautiful Liar

On the surface, this might seem like an odd choice, as these two videos already have a lot of overlap. The are structured similarly, both focus on two women dancing in skin-exposing outfits, both have lesbian (or at least homosocial) overtones, both have Shakira, et cetera.

And yet–for lack of a better word–the “Beautiful Liar” video is so much less pornographic than the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” video. Now, let me be perfectly clear: neither video is porn, and both have some interesting, artistic things going on with them, visually. But there is something about the way in which “Can’t Remember To Forget You” is shot and staged that just evokes the idea of pornography. A lot of it has to do with the framing. “Can’t Remember to Forget You” includes a lot of dance moves in which the performers shake their hips and buttocks. Same for “Beautiful Liar” (though, to be fair, “Beautiful Liar” is much more aware of the waist than the other video is). However, in “Beautiful Liar,” the women are shown in full shots (with all of their body in the frame) or medium long shots (head to knee) during such moves–with only a few, short, non-lingering exceptions; in “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” the women are cut off, as the camera centers their lower bodies in the frame (waist to hip). Beyonce and Shakira’s laughing, breathless performance “Beautiful Liar” reminds the audience that this kind of dancing–which uses tightly controlled, small movements–is taxing, difficult work; “Can’t Remember to Forget You” makes similar dance moves look like foreplay.

There is also something about the way the two singers face off in the “Beautiful Liar” video that is not matched in the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” video. When you set “Can’t Remember To Forget You” as the soundtrack to “Beautiful Liar,” the result starts to seem like a legit lesbian breakup song (in spite of all those references to “that boy”), rather than a titillating performance of ‘lesbianism’ for a male audience.

The women in “Beautiful Liar” look both seductive and strong. The women in “Can’t Remember to Forget You” just look seductive. And flirtatious, I guess. And a little desperate. For myself, I like “Can’t Remember to Forget You” set to the video for “Beautiful Liar” more than I like either video on its own. But I freely admit that that’s just a personal preference.

Anyway, I think it’s interesting how two similar videos can each lend the same song such a different vibe.

It might also help that the costumes in this one look a little bit less like lingerie. Or at least like less frilly lingerie. Or less like figure skating costumes that are also lingerie. Something.

Conclusions?

I think I’ve more-or-less covered wanted to say about the Shakira/Rihanna video at this point. Also, after writing this post and hunting for videos to match up with the song, I’m getting pretty sick of listening to it.

Most people probably won’t respond to either the “Can’t Remember to Forget You” video or these video mash-ups exactly the same way I do. And of course, there are a lot of other things going on in the “Beautiful Liar” video (both visually and musically) that I did not go into here, as it was not the focus of this post.

Right now, however, that’s where my thoughts are on the music video for “Can’t Remember to Forget You.” Make of this post what you will.

That song really is catchy.

Some Thoughts on Supernatural, Season 9, Episode 6, “Heaven Can’t Wait”

Wow, I haven’t posted a Supernatural response in a long time. So here’s one. Considering Episode 12 just aired, this is not exactly timely. But what can I say? I’m playing catch up.

I started drafting this response right after “Heaven Can’t Wait” aired (before putting it on a virtual shelf and allowing it to accumulate virtual dust), so the bulk of it was written without any knowledge of what comes to pass in the subsequent episodes.

“Heaven Can’t Wait” was directed by Rob Spera and written by Robert Berens.

Season 9. Episode 6 of Supernatural has four speaking roles played by women in it. Five if you count the disembodied voice on the suicide hotline. And six if you count the wailing infant. (All playing human or human-like parts, and not just voicing non-human animals.) Actually, I think this is a female-representation record for the season! [E/N: Until “Rock and a Hard Place,” anyway. I will share my … opinions … on that episode later.] Confetti and cookies for all!

Are they all roles that in some way feed into stereotypes about women? Yes, yes they are. Except for the infant. But infants get a pass for being dependent and vulnerable. What the hey, I’m still pleased. Because women! They exist!

Castiel’s New Job

Much like “I’m No Angel,” this is really Castiel’s episode.

When Cas first shows up, he is doing the most humiliating thing the showrunners could think of: working at the Gas N’ Sip. (Cue lightning and dissonant chords played on a pipe organ.) I wonder how many fans of this show work at gas stations, and how many of them threw things at the screen when this episode aired.

And this is … a pretty idealized version of working retail, actually. I mean, Castiel’s boss seems appreciative (at first anyway), the delivery guy is polite and we don’t see Cas encounter any whiny, invasive or verbally abusive customers. And the place is very clean. (Though that may just be because Cas himself is so good at cleaning it.) A customer service job without annoying customers? I don’t think any other “sales associate” in the world has experienced that.

Dean’s Reaction to Castiel’s New Job

As it turns out, Dean is kind of an elitist, which is weird considering how self-conscious he’s always been about his own relative lack of education (compared to Sam). When Dean first sees Cas at his new job, he’s all, “You’re too good for this.” Shut up, Dean. Some people work for a living. Also, for most of your life, your finances have come from pool hustling and credit card fraud. And since we never saw you set Cas up with sweet, sweet fake IDs or fraudulent credit cards or cash or even a short-term loan, I’d say he’s doing pretty well for a homeless dude with no ID, money, references or personal history. Just saying.

Also–in this episode and in earlier ones in the season–Sam keeps asking Dean about how Cas is doing (and I love that Sam is thoughtful like that), but he never brings up the money angle. Right now, I’m assuming that Sam is assuming that Dean has already thought of how Cas will need money to survive now that he’s human.

Yeah, Sam really should know better.

No, Wait, It’s Actually Babysitting That is the Most Humiliating Thing the Showrunners Can Think Of

While on the job, Castiel thinks he is being asked out by his attractive supervisor, Nora. Apparently, however, she just wants him to come to her house and babysit her small child, while she goes out bowling with someone else. The whole sequence–and most of the episode, really–seems intended to embarrass Cas, or to make us feel embarrassed for Cas, and Cas ending up having to care for a baby when he thought he was going to get sex (or at least stuff that would lead up to sex) is just oh-so-emasculating that we must all feel sorry for Cas and Cas’s sexual frustration. And I do feel sorry for Cas. Mostly because his boss is clearly taking advantage of him.

I’m a little annoyed with how the episode handles the miscommunication between Nora and Castiel. It would have been really easy to have Cas misunderstand Nora’s intentions simply because he’s still only newly human and he has a hard time picking up on social cues. Castiel’s boss could have asked him to babysit in such a way that the audience would understand what she meant, but Cas would not. Instead, Nora “delicately” phrases her request as follows:

NORA: I’ve been afraid to ask. I don’t wanna take advantage of you as my employee, and I certainly don’t wanna jeopardize our working relationship. But as a working, single mom, it’s hard enough to get a date, let alone meet a really great guy, and–Tomorrow’s my night off, and I know you’re off, too, and I was just wondering if there’s any chance you’re free tomorrow night?

CASTIEL: Um … yes? Yes.

NORA: [kisses him] You’re the best.

Yeah, the thing missing from this request for babysitting services is the actual request itself.

This means that it really, really seems like she’s asking Cas out. Which, in turn, makes it seem like she’s leading him on. And even though she doesn’t seem to realize that she’s leading Cas on, the whole thing still reads like a bait-and-switch in which Nora lures Castiel to her home with her feminine wiles, only to drop the (horribly emasculating) chore of babysitting in his lap.

Cas himself certainly seems to think babysitting is emasculating. When he learns of his night’s true occupation, he sighs out the word “babysitting” with an air of utter resignation. As if he associates some stigma with the task of caring for another person’s child. Where would he have even picked up on that? Did the topic of babysitting come up a lot in his garrison?

It just kind of irks me that the thing the show tells us is even more humiliating than the (presumed to be humiliating) occupation of customer service is the female-coded occupation of caring for a child.

And to add insult to, well, insult, Castiel’s supervisor never offers to pay him for his night of babysitting, even though, as his boss, she surely has some idea of how much he needs the money. Babysitting can be very difficult work, and even when it is not exceptionally difficult, it can still be stressful. It is something you ask family and maybe close friends to do for free. In the right circumstances. Everybody else, you reimburse for their time.

Also, getting your employees to do stuff for you, for free, outside of working hours? Yeah, that’s just tacky.

And the rest of the post is under the cut:

Read the rest of this entry »

Some thoughts on the Supernatural Season 9 Premiere, “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here”

First off: SPOILERS EVERYWHERE, for everything in Supernatural up to and including this episode. Proceed at your own risk.

The Road So Far

The recap kicks off with the Impala zooming down a road and Charlie’s disembodied voice saying, “There’s pretty much nothing the Winchesters can’t do if they work together.” This is a sweet sentiment. Inaccurate, but sweet. The Winchesters have failed plenty of times and that’s why I love them.

After a few seconds, the music picks up. Oh, hells yeah.

It sounds like this “Road So Far” is set to the George Thorogood & the Destroyers cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.” Because I am an English major and not a rock star, it will forever bother me that the song does not go “whom do you love,” but I can’t have everything. And also, that would sound terrible.

Anyway, the song is good, and consistent with the tone of the show. The refrain of “Who do you love?” serves to remind us of how much the central characters have sacrificed, or at least tried to sacrifice, for their loved ones. There are also several moments when the line “Who do you love?” comes right before a cut from Dean to Castiel or a cut from Dean to Sam, which surely makes for excellent fodder for those dedicated Destiel and Wincest fans out there. There’s less grist for the Sastiel and Moosely mills, but slash fans can’t have everything, either.*

The song also makes incorporating Crowley’s big “I deserve to be loved” moment into the recap really easy. It’s like a call/response thing. The song asks, “Who do you love?” and Crowley screams, “I deserve to be loved!” Piece of cake. And you just know that this was a priority for the producers. If you have seen a single Supernatural interview between last season’s finale and this season’s premiere, you know that the showrunners, cast and crew cannot get over how awesome they think the Sam/Crowley church scene was. They pretty much went fanboy for themselves, really.

And hey, it’s not like they were wrong. It is a good scene, and it’s nice to see it here.

The Title

Fun fact: “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here” is a song from the musical Annie. (There’s also this version with Audra McDonald.) This continues the long tradition of Supernatural naming its episodes after song titles. This episode name, of course, brings with it the added bonus of referencing a Broadway show tune sung by (and to) Little Orphan Annie.

My sketch of Death in Supernatural's Season 9 premier episode, "I Think I'm Gonna Like it Here"

Does that make Death Daddy Warbucks?

Also, like most of the SPN episode titles, this one has a nicely layered meaning, working as a potential reference for both Sam in Limbo, contemplating the afterlife, and Castiel–and his fallen brethren–trying to deal with being stuck on Earth. (This is especially appropriate for Castiel’s arc, considering his initial optimism regarding his siblings’ potential for assimilation.) But two layers doesn’t make for much of a layer cake, so of course the title also applies to Ezekiel taking up residence in Sam’s body.

Sadly, I cannot stretch the title’s meaning to apply to Crowley, who spends the episode in the trunk of Dean’s car.

And the rest of my reaction is under the cut:

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Men. Men in Cages.

It’s time. The Supernatural Season 9 premiere is upon us at long last. I would like to take a moment, in these last hours before the season begins, to look back on one of the more recent Season 9 promotions and my reaction to it.

At the end of September, this happened:

My sketch of Dean in his Supernatural Season 9 Character Promotional Poster.

Dean in a cage. Staring at you.

The Powers That Be over at the CW decided to give us a series of posters featuring the leading men of Supernatural–in other words, Dean, Sam, Castiel and Crowley–in cages.

There are bars. There are chains. Nobody is in the chains, and the posters don’t show the cage doors, so … it’s not at all clear how locked these cages are, or how easy and/or difficult they would be to escape.

But still: cages. Men in cages.

In 1999, Susan Bordo wrote The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and Private. In that book, in the much-excerpted chapter “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body,” Bordo describes her reaction upon finding a particularly evocative Calvin Klein underwear ad in her New York Times Magazine:

[…] I had my first real taste of what it’s like to inhabit this visual culture as a man. It was the first time in my experience that I had encountered a commercial representation of a male body that seemed to deliberately invite me to linger over it. Let me make that stronger–that seemed to reach out to me, interrupting my mundane but peaceful Sunday morning, and provoke me into erotic consciousness, whether or not I wanted it.

[–Excerpt taken from page 131 of David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky’s 2008 anthology, Ways of Reading*]

What was evocative, for Bordo, was not the model’s mostly nude state (though she certainly did not mind it), but the way that the model was posed: head down and eyes averted, sinuously muscled body held in a gentle S-curve. The model was enticing in a submissive way that bucked the trend of hard, cold, hyper-masculine male models that were the go-to standard of advertising at the time. This ad was different, and it spoke to Bordo in a way that other mainstream advertisements displaying male bodies–advertisements painstakingly designed so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of a heterosexual male gaze–did not.

Right now, I feel kind of like Bordo in the spring of ’95 (when she first saw the ad, and knocked over her coffee).

Because, for me, with my own particular erotic inclinations, these promotional posters for Supernatural come as a similar shock. These posters are jarring for me–an interruption, though a welcome and enticing one. And they certainly “provoke me into erotic consciousness.”

Yeah. These posters kind of do it for me. And not in a way that I encounter in popular culture on a daily basis, except on those days when I embark on deliberate searches for such stimuli. I can certainly find this kind of thing when I go looking for it; it is just that it does not usually find me.

These are, by far, the most evocative, and most provocative, Supernatural posters (or DVD covers, or photo stills, or what have you) that I have yet encountered. Because they appeal to me, to my taste. They seem almost as if they were designed with me in mind. As if I am, for once, the target audience, and not just someone who happens to enjoy a product that was aimed at somebody else.

In the first place, these posters of the leading SPN men present them in poses and attitudes that actually look, well, in-character. Appropriately enough. And that can sometimes be hard to find.

For example, my parents once bought me a Spike-themed Buffy the Vampire Slayer wall calendar. As Buffy was a show I just about lived for then, and I had a huge, open crush on Spike, this was a very thoughtful and appropriate gift. (And yes, I do realize now why crushing on Spike is so very problematic, but that is not the point at the moment.) I loved the character and I appreciated the calendar. However, there was something dissatisfying about the calendar’s monthly images.

They were mostly just . . . pictures of Spike. Which, I know, I know, is what I signed up for, yes, but these pictures were all so static. Spike standing around. Spike showing some fang. Spike looking cool. The thing is, what had made me fall in love with the character in the first place was his vulnerability. The way he had of always getting in his own way. The wounded look he would get when someone hurt his feelings. How he wanted to be the Big Bad, but still yearned to submit to someone else’s authority. The trademark James Marsters head tilt, indicating absolute bewilderment. I liked Spike because of all of those moments in the show when he wasn’t calm, cool and collected.

And this calendar didn’t include any of those. In fact, some (if not most) of the pictures in it seemed like they weren’t of Spike at all, but of James Marsters in his Spike costume, at a studio shoot somewhere, being told where to stand by the photographer. Which still made for images that were pretty easy on the eyes. They just weren’t what I wanted.

I tried. I tried to look at these studio-polished stills and reawaken the erotic charge that I had felt during the last five minutes of “Fool For Love” (Season 5), or during all of “Intervention” (Season 5), or while singing along with Spike’s solo in “Once More With Feeling” (Season 6). And it worked, to an extent, but it was an exercise of recall, not an appreciation of the calendar’s images in their own right.

In the second place–Hey, remember that there was a “first place” before I went off on that huge Spike tangent?–the CW has a nasty habit of releasing promotional images that are Photoshopped so obviously and so awkwardly, they end up grotesque. (I’m looking at you, Vampire Diaries.) And while I’m sure Photoshop (or some similar piece of software) was involved in the making of these posters, these posters nonetheless do not look grotesque. They look good. The men in them look pretty good, too.

Furthermore, I just like looking at pictures of men in cages. (Disclaimer: when and only when those pictures represent fictional scenarios.) Because BDSM is fun.

My one-poster-at-a-time take (Analysis! Sketches! Also probably some SPOILERS for Supernatural!) on each of the four cage-themed promotional images is below the cut:

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Recommended Viewing: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

Of all time, people. It is, hands-down, my favorite animated series produced in English, and it has some of the best plotting and characterization that I have ever seen on TV.

Yeah. A Nickelodeon show. Who knew? (OK, a lot of people knew. It has a large and devoted fan-base.)

I’m not going to bother summarizing the basic plot and premise, because the opening sequence of the show has already done that for us. Tidily.

The opening sequence:

KATARA’S VOICE: Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world. [Transcript taken from the Avatar wiki, here.]

The above narration plays over the opening animation of just about every episode, reiterating the series’ premise. I assume that this narration is primarily for the benefit of new viewers, so that people catching it out-of-order on air still have a chance to understand what’s going on. However, it also serves to remind regular viewers of the core premise of the series. Basically, everything in the show somehow connects with or boils down to the quest outlined above.

The thing about Avatar is: all its characters are good. (As in well-written.) Not just “It has sympathetic villains” or “Its heroes are good role models” or “It has strong female leads,” but all of that. It’s one of those shows where I can’t pick my favorite character because they are. All. So. Good. And so well-developed. Pretty much everyone in the central cast has at least one character arc in which they change and grow over time. Most of them have more than one.

Now, I’m not going to argue that every single episode is gold-pressed latinum, or anything. It has its hits and misses. But even the episodes I found difficult to get through the first time (due to cheese or silliness or what-have-you) still have something going for them. And the show’s retrospective episode–in which the characters watch a staged play of their own adventures–is the single best retrospective episode I have ever seen of anything. Seriously. Do not skip the retrospective.

The thing I find most compelling about Avatar as a series is its setting. And I don’t mean the fantasy universe with Inuit-inspired ice villages and East-Asia-inspired city designs. (Though that’s cool too, and it makes a nice change-up from kids’ shows which assume that “fantasy” means “it has a European castle somewhere.” Not that I have anything against European castles. Honestly, I’d like to see more children’s fantasy TV of every stripe.) The thing that really resonates with me in Avatar, and which is vital to the series from the first episode on, is that it takes place in a world ravaged by war. “Everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked,” remember?

Here is one of my favorite lines from the first episode:

KATARA: Aang, this is the entire village. [Gestures to entire village.] Entire village, Aang.

And I find this line so significant–significant enough that I put it all by itself in a block quote–because the “entire village” consists of nine women and ten children. And one dog. Twelve children if you add Katara and Sokka, whom Aang has already met.

This moment is played as cute and funny–a kind of “Katara’s village is so small that …” joke–but it delivers important information. There are no men in Katara’s village. There are no men because the men are at war.

Also from the first episode:

SOKKA: Now men, it’s important that you show no fear when you face a firebender. In the Water Tribe, we fight to the last man standing. For without courage, how can we call ourselves men?
[Cut to an audience of six wide-eyed little boys]
Boy: [raises hand] I gotta pee!
SOKKA: Listen! Until your fathers return from the war, they’re counting on you to be the men of this tribe. And that means no potty breaks.
Boy: But I really gotta go.
SOKKA: [sighs] OK. Who else has to go?
[They all raise their hands.]

Sokka, the oldest male human left in the village, is trying to take on a more adult role by training the village’s next generation of “warriors”–who are at this point all still little kids. This is another moment played for laughs, and yet it brings home the trauma that is integral to the entire series.

I really like this central conceit–of the world of a children’s show being at war–from a narrative standpoint, because it provides a reason for the world’s heroes to be children. The adults are busy–either fighting battles or recovering from their aftermaths. So it’s time for a team of kids to step up and save the world.

Over the course of the series, it is established that most of its main characters (almost all children) are haunted by trauma of one kind or another, much of it either a direct or indirect result of the war that it takes the three seasons of Avatar to resolve. I won’t give you the backstories now, however, because many of them are revealed gradually, and that would be some major spoilage.

More review, some minor SPOILERS and a brief discussion of The Legend of Korra under the cut:

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Star Trek: Into Darkness vs. Wrath of Khan

Here there be SPOILERS.

A while back, the Boyfriend and I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness because we both love Star Trek and I love Benedict Cumberbatch’s uncanny ability to get punched in the face . . . with style. (Yes, I am one of those Sherlock fangirls that Trekkies seem to resent for moving onto their turf upon the movie’s release–and yet I, too, am a Star Trek fan! What strange manner of hybrid is this?*)

Anyway, we were watching Into Darkness, and the whole time I was thinking, “I can tell that they’re riffing on Wrath of Khan, but I don’t remember that movie well enough to discern how much of this movie is homage and how much is straight-up ripoff. I want to watch Wrath of Khan.” while the Boyfriend was thinking, “The Wrath of Khan is my favorite Star Trek movie and is much better than what I am currently watching, which is, by the way, shamelessly ripping off my favorite Star Trek movie. I want to watch Wrath of Khan.”

So we went home and watched Wrath of Khan.

And since I watched both movies in the same twelve-hour period, I figure it is only right and proper to commence a side-by-side comparison: Into Darkness vs. Wrath of Khan.**

Comparison (with sketches and MANY, MANY SPOILERS) under the cut:

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In Which I Join a Growing Number of People who Care about Underwear in Star Trek

Pencil sketch of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in cut shower scene from Star Trek: Into Darkness

My sketch of Khan in the deleted shower scene from Star Trek: Into Darkness. Apparently, this is what an apology for sexism looks like.

I’m currently working on a significantly longer post comparing the new, 2013 movie Star Trek: Into Darkness with the older, 1982 movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

But in the meantime, there’s this.

“This” being a youtube video of a clip from Conan, in which J.J. Abrams discusses his decision to show Dr. Carol Marcus (played by Alice Eve) in her underwear in one Into Darkness scene that is developing some notoriety, while cutting a scene that shows Khan (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) taking a shower “of evil.”

I have no problem in general with nude or partially-nude scenes of actors of any gender (or race, or appearance or able-bodiedness or whatever) in the movies. Movies are about people and people sometimes get naked. But I confess that I did not like the Carol-Marcus-strips-to-her-underwear-and-Kirk-takes-a-peek scene. This is not so much due to delicate sensibilities on my part.

I just thought it was pointless.

I prefer that scenes which show a bit of skin serve some purpose beyond showing skin. I prefer that most scenes in movies serve a larger storytelling purpose. Your characters are naked? Fine. What’s the reason? Your characters are fully dressed? Fine. What’s the reason? Now, technically, you can argue that Carol Marcus has a reason to strip to her underwear in the scene under debate. After all, her character is getting changed. That happens, right?

But she’s getting changed on a shuttlecraft en route to a different location, with Kirk right there in the room with her. This is already starting to look a little less natural and a little more forced. But close quarters, right? These things happen.

And normally, one expects that she would change on the ship and then get into the shuttle, but I guess she was in an all-fired hurry, so . . . okay. It still feels like the universe is conspiring–in an artificial, rather arbitrary way–to give us a scene of the good scientist in her underwear.

Also . . . and I’m not sure about this one because I cannot, for the life of me, remember exactly which scene this changing-room moment is leading up to, but . . . isn’t she going planetside with Bones/Dr. McCoy to show him how to disarm a torpedo? Didn’t he have to get changed too? And isn’t it a bit telling that I can’t clearly remember the reason the movie offered for this scene? (When I asked the Boyfriend, he couldn’t remember either. This is our best guess, though, as the torpedo-disarming scene is the only scene we remember her wearing a spacesuit in. And we saw this movie in theaters only a few days ago.)

So if she is going planetside to disarm advanced weaponry with Bones . . . where is Bones?

If we absolutely have to have a changing-room moment, wouldn’t it make more sense to have Dr. McCoy and Dr. Marcus changing together, all business-like, scrambling to get out of their Fleet uniforms and into their spacesuits as quickly as possible? And if you want to keep the camera on Carol more-or-less exclusively for a scene like that, fine. At least that scene has a reason to exist.

And if you really must shoehorn in a scene in which Kirk pervs on Carol because “Kirk will be Kirk” or whatnot, okay. But can it at least go somewhere? It’s not like Kirk and Dr. Marcus build a romantic relationship from this point on, or anything. She eventually signs on as a permanent member of the crew, but somehow I don’t think that Kirk’s spying on her when she told him not to turn around was really a selling point.

And we already had “Kirk will be Kirk” moments in the movie. When Carol first shows up and Spock finds her somewhat suspicious, Kirk is all “Documentation? Pshaw. Pretty women get on my boat no questions asked.” And then of course there’s that earlier scene in which he’s in bed with two beautiful women (twins? sisters? the same actress digitally doubled?) with CGI tails.

Yeah, none of these examples are the best “Kirk will be Kirk” moments. Wrath of Khan, can you show us a more subtle and humorous way to point out that Kirk is a womanizer?

McCOY: Did she change her hairstyle?
KIRK: I hadn’t noticed.
McCOY: Wonderful stuff, that Romulan ale.

And that’s how it’s done. McCoy calls Kirk on his appreciation for a female crew member and Kirk coyly denies it–but we can tell from his tone that he’s protesting too much. And Lieutenant Saavik, the woman under discussion? She stays fully clothed for the entirety of Wrath of Khan, but because she has changed her hairstyle and manner of dress for this one scene, McCoy and Kirk find her physique, hair, etc. more noticeable. Into Darkness, however, lacks the subtlety and delicacy that Wrath of Khan uses in its portrayal of female sexual desirability and male sexual desire. Wow, that was a weird sentence to write. (Sadly, female sexual desire is not terribly important to either movie.)

Anyway, to return to my earlier point: I don’t mind nudity or partial nudity in the movies as long as there’s a good reason for it.

I couldn’t discern a “good reason” for Dr. Marcus’s underwear scene in Into Darkness, so let’s examine the reasoning J.J. Abrams offers on Conan.

ABRAMS: I don’t think I quite edited the scene in the right way.

I agree. Her pose and position in the frame make her look less like a Star Fleet officer in a life-or-death situation and more like a lingerie model showing off the new Winter line.

ABRAMS (cont’d): But, y’know, look, she–look, to me it was a sort of balance. There’s a scene earlier where he [Kirk] is not dressed either. So it felt like it was a sort of, y’know, a trade off. But some people did feel like it was, uh, y’know, exploiting her and while she is lovely I can also see their point of view.

Oh, you’re not. You can’t be. Are you referring to the scene when Kirk is in bed with the two CGI-tailed women? Because that’s the only scene I remember Kirk being naked in, and if that’s the scene you mean, your definition of the word “balance” may need some recalibrating.

O’BRIEN: Okay, well there is, I think we should explore this more. This is the photo still of her in the scene–very beautiful. [Still of Alice Eve in her underwear goes up and audience cheers.] And you have defended this–you can take it away–our director wanted to keep it up.
ABRAMS: I’m not defending it. [Audience laughs.] But, but, but, but, but–there’s a–I think we have a picture of Kirk who’s also. . . . [Still of Chris Pine in bed goes up and audience cheers.] He’s in bed with a couple girls.

Wow. You really did mean the scene with the CGI-tailed alien women. You meant the characters who maybe had a line and a half between them, and whose sole purpose in the movie was to show that Kirk was having sexy fun times with them. Are you seriously arguing that you made up for a scene that objectifies women with a different scene that objectifies women?

ABRAMS: Actually, we had a scene–this is, this is true–we had a shot of the villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch. We had a scene with him where we saw him actually taking a shower. And I actually brought a piece of the clip.
O’BRIEN: This didn’t make it, it did not–
ABRAMS: It’s not in the movie! But we had this and this is one of those things that we ended up cutting. So we can show it.
O’BRIEN: Let’s take a look at this.
[Clip of Khan, shown from the waist up, showering to dramatic music.]

Are you really making this argument? Really? It’s so wonderful I can barely contain myself. Oh, it’s like snarky feminist Christmas.

First of all, showing a man from the waist up is a very different kind of ‘exploitation’ than showing a woman in a bra and panties from the hips up. Because, for one reason or another, our culture does not recognize that men’s pectorals can be erogenous zones just as women’s breasts can be, and therefore a man’s chest is not usually considered taboo. If this particular shower scene showed Khan from his hipbones, or showed his buttocks or even the small of his back, I could see a different argument being made.

Second of all–and this is what really gets me–Abrams appears to be arguing that one of the things that makes the infamous underwear moment more acceptable is that the movie, at one point, “had” this shower scene–which was then cut from the movie.

No, Abrams, you do not get ‘equal opportunity exploitation’ points for a scene that you cut from the movie.

The movie is in theaters. This scene is not in it. This scene is not a part of the movie. Therefore, it in no way mitigates whatever degree of outrage, disappointment, dissatisfaction or disapproval I may have regarding the other scene.

The idea that you think you would get any cookies for either:

  1. Showing Kirk in bed with hot, CGI-tailed alien women post sexual romp, or
  2. Having at one point made a shower scene with Khan that was then cut from the movie

is quite frankly laughable.

Now that this scene has gotten some critical attention, people (including me) seem to be crawling out of the woodwork to debate the heck out of it.

A lot of the conversation seems to surround writer Damon Lindelof’s “apologetic” tweets on the subject. Here is a link to a HuffPost article (in Women’s Issues, natch) that discusses said tweets: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/21/damon-lindelof-alice-eve-underwear-scene-star-trek_n_3314471.html

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t actually see an apology in there. “We should have done a better job,” “something that some construe as misogynistic,” “will be more mindful in the future”–yeah, none of that is exactly an “I’m sorry.”

Which is fine. It’s not like I was looking for an apology. And since Lindelof is a Hollywood writer who is still writing for Hollywood, I actually vastly prefer a promise to do better over an apology for something already done.

But a lot of the coverage surrounding these tweets is calling them an apology. Which is interesting all on its own. Because to me they look more like the “I don’t agree with you but I understand that you’re upset and I’ll try not to upset you in the future” kind of thing that I would want to call a “nonpology” if it had ever aspired to be an apology in the first place.

And note that Lindelof, just like Abrams, is trying to get away with the “but Kirk was disrobed too” argument–which seriously misses the point.

So I’m glad that both Abrams and Lindelof acknowledged that this scene upset people. I’m glad that Lindelof announced that he would try to do better.

But this reiteration from both parties that Kirk was shirtless too suggests to me that both Abrams and Lindelof might be a little fuzzy as to what ‘doing better’ might actually entail.

Because complaining about gratuitous female nudity in movies–which comes out of a long history of women being sexually objectified and exploited in the media–is not the same as a call for more male nudity. And showing a woman in her underwear on display for a male character (Dr. Marcus being watched by Kirk) is not just the gender-reversed equivalent of showing that male character in his underwear, enjoying women sexually (Kirk playing with his alien bedmates).

Because it’s not gender-reversed. Because those two scenes? They have basically the same problem. They position Kirk as the one who enjoys and the women as the ones who are being enjoyed.

But hey, if you want to take my objection to a cinematic trope that reflects and perpetuates the sexual objectification of women as a call to show me more scenes of naked men in movies, then by all means, show me more scenes of naked men in movies. We’ll call it a consolation prize.

Just make sure those scenes make the final cut.