Sunday, December 13, 2009

I call foul

It is 3 AM in New York, and I am wide awake. As usual. So, to fill the endless hours of not-sleeping goodness, I decided to catch up on my Glee, which was 3 weeks behind. If you are not caught up, you might want to stop reading now. I'll leave a nice big space so you have time to avert your eyes.

OK, all good? Here's the thing. I have had problems with the show in the past, particularly with its treatment of disability. But I was willing to overlook them because of the good things it was doing, like casting actually disabled actors to play disabled people. No, not Artie. I mean Becky, the cheerleader with Downs, and Sue's sister with Downs; both actresses actually do have Downs Syndrome. Kudos to Ryan Murphy for that.

But the last few episodes got into heavily misogynist territory that I suppose was foreshadowed by the total lack of positive portrayals of adult women, and I'm just not sure I can go back to it. I mean, of course I will--I study musicals for a living--but with more reservations than I had and with far less enthusiasm. Let me give a brief rundown for those who missed it:

1. Terri Schuester was featured prominently. Never a good thing, as she is a one-dimensional character who consists solely of all of the negative stereotypes about well-off white women rolled into one unbelievable irritant. The existence of characters like Terri in popular media (at least two of my students wrote about Glee on their final exams) is what leads directly to several of my female students asserting confidently that one characteristic of being a woman is being manipulative and "deceiving."

2. Sue Sylvester got suspended from work. Not really a bad thing, as the character is a horrendous influence on her students, but the way in which it happened involved Principal Figgins smirking at the camera, having finally gotten the better of her. The scene made it crystal clear that he had felt "emasculated" by her authority and had now "put her in her place." Ugh.

3. Britney the cheerleader finally had some lines. At least she's maybe a lesbian; that would make her marginally interesting. The rest of her character is patently useless and reminiscent of that stupid Barbie that said math was hard. Toss in some offensive lines about seizures and you have a particularly poisonous cocktail.

4. Emma Pillsbury tries to make life decisions on her own. Clearly they are fatally flawed decisions until she lets a man make them for her. I don't even want to begin to explore this one.

5. The most troubling for last. The scene in which Will finds out that Terri isn't pregnant was horrifying. Flat out terrifying. It drew upon countless scenes (both filmed and, presumably, real) of husbands confronting their wives with evidence of "misbehavior" of some kind, scenes that usually end with acts of horrendous violence against women. This one didn't, but for me it triggered almost the same feelings in anticipation. When he demanded that she lift up her shirt, ostensibly to reveal her pregnancy pad, it was with enough anger and venom in his voice that it could have been the prelude to a rape scene. Especially since they had already introduced the "Will wants to have sex but Terri won't let him see her naked" theme earlier. Watching him demand his marital right to see Terri's body, and physically grabbing her wrist to do it, was nauseating, off-putting, and just completely beyond the pale.

Compare the episode in question to this post on Shakesville featuring Patrick Stewart campaigning in a gut-wrenchingly personal way to end violence against women. Clearly, powerful white men in "the industry" have no compelling need to be misogynist assholes. It's a deliberate choice, and an indefensible one. I will be writing a letter to the producers to let them know, as soon as I can figure out how/where.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What are they watching?

As my students have turned in another paper, and as I have finally finished grading that paper and have some time to kill during the final exam, I herein present to you the list of full-length films/musicals/operas/video games from which they have each selected one specific song, also listed below, as their objects of analysis. Note that not all of these topics actually fit that rubric; that was merely the assignment, not what they actually turned in. How boring to read papers that actually answer the question!

Chicago, "We Both Reached for the Gun"
A Chorus Line, "Montage" (all the performances on YouTube are awful; you choose)
Grease, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do"
Gypsy, pretty much all of the songs, but more "Rose's Turn" than anything else
Hercules, "I Won't Say I'm In Love"
High School Musical, "Get'cha Head in the Game"
Phantom of the Opera, "The Point of No Return" and "All I Ask of You"
The Producers, "Springtime for Hitler"
Victor/Victoria, "The Shady Dame from Seville"
West Side Story, "America"
Mulan, "I'll Make a Man Out of You"
Mulan, "I'll Make a Man Out of You"
Mulan, "Reflection"
Rent, "Today 4 U"
Rent, "Light My Candle" and "La Vie Boheme"
Rent, "La Vie Boheme"
Rent, "La Vie Boheme"

American Psycho, "Simply Irresistible"
Do the Right Thing, "Fight the Power"
Frida, "Burn it Blue"
Garden State, "Let Go"
Party Monster, "Go!"
Pretty Woman, "Pretty Woman"
Spice World, "Spice Up Your Life"
Vanity Fair, "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal"
White Chicks, "A Thousand Miles"

Soulcalibur (video game), Talim's entrance music (no recording exists on YouTube, at least not that I can find without knowing the name of the piece)
Bessie Smith, "Empty Bed Blues"
Nightwish, "Phantom of the Opera" (A Finnish heavy metal cover of the song, not actually taken from the film or the musical)
Beyonce (ft. Lady Gaga), "Video Phone"
Beyonce (ft. Lady Gaga), "Video Phone"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Onward and Upward

It has been brought to my attention that the Blag is both out of date and horribly depressing at the moment. Since I've managed to avoid blagging World AIDS Day and the NY State Senate marriage debate, I should be able to find some happy to post! Or at least bittersweet, if not totally happy.

There will soon be the now-standard post of "Music my students have chosen to write about," but I am too lazy at the moment to actually pick up and leaf through the stack of papers, so I will put that off until next week. For today, instead, I want to talk about two things: Ruth Hassell-Thompson and my upcoming life change.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson is a state senator from Mount Vernon, NY. She is an elderly Black woman, one of ten children of her preacher mother, including a sister who became her mother's successor. And including a brother who was gay, and who had to spend his life in France because New York was not a safe place for him to be a gay Black man, and his family of ministers certainly wasn't welcoming. Senator Hassell-Thompson outed her brother on the floor of the NY Senate, in one of the most moving speeches I've heard on the topic of marriage equality, linked above.

Let me explain why this is moving to me, if I can. It's not just that I always cry when I hear straight people express unconditional support for my right to exist, though that is true. It's not just that I expected the NY Senate to be devoid of any honesty, emotion, or human dignity, though that is also true. And it's not just that it was another story of an LGBT person who tragically lost his family to bigotry, though that, if you see the pattern, is also true.

What moved me even more about Senator Hassell-Thompson's speech was the little details. 50% of her constituency, she says, called her and asked her to support marriage equality. Her district is mostly Black, with some Puerto Rican areas, and includes some very, very poor parts of the Bronx. People who would make racialized claims about who supports rights for gay people would do well to look long and hard at Senator Hassell-Thompson's district and at the state of Maine.

Senator Hassell-Thompson's eldest brother was gay, but she had never acknowledged that in public before speaking in the Senate on Wednesday. For an elderly, Black, religious woman to speak about a gay relative in a non-condemning way is still far too rare. I have had many conversations with religious Black women here in LA about marriage for gay and lesbian couples, and the results are often disheartening. This is not to undercut my previous point, but simply to acknowledge that churches of all stripes (or rather, most stripes; thanks, Unitarians!) have played a huge role in drumming up homophobia wherever they can, and that in heavily religious communities we often do extremely poorly.

"There have been very few decisions that I've had to make in my life that I've spent as much time contemplating as this particular issue." That's how the good senator opens her speech, and it's crucial. Rational thought and human emotion are our allies in our ongoing struggle, and we need more people to spend time contemplating, like Hassell-Thomspon. If everyone thought about it, and if everyone saw the emotions of those in their lives who are suffering, we would win instantly.

But enough about her speech. Go watch it; it's at that link in her name. Cry a little. Remember that after that speech, 38 of her colleagues in that room voted against her. Get them out of jobs and looking for work. Now, on to my promised second topic.

I will be moving to New York within the year. I am hoping to move gradually in June-September 2010, but it may happen more suddenly or more quickly, depending on circumstances. While the circumstances are shitty in the extreme, I am doing a not-so-depressing post and won't talk about them. The good thing is that I will end up in The City! I am so very excited to finally get to live there, as I have wanted for most of my life. Subways that go places! Buildings with multiple stories! Taxis that exist solely for the purpose of terrorizing pedestrians! Jaywalking!

I could go on about the things that make NY exciting to me, but the more I write the greater the chance that nobody will finish reading this entry, so I think I will cut it off here. Get ready, Empire State! I'm a-comin'.