Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Remember, This is OUR Country, Not Your's; Got That??

Car commercials are interesting to me I guess. So here goes another discussion on car commercials. Never one to be unsupportive of American jobs and businesses (except Walmart and my passionate love for VW), but the Chevrolet commercials struck a cord with me.

It must be kept in mind that the song repeats "this is our country" over and over while showing classic images of Americanism. The bulk of the images that show up: white rural men. Interesting to note: the only black people in the video were Martin Luther King Jr., some random guy standing next to his chevy truck in New Orleans, Muhammad Ali and a Rosa Parks-like image. I'm sure she'd drive a Chevy truck after the stand she made on the bus (because deep down, she's a white rural man). I made that last parenthetical comment because, really, what do Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. have to do with trucks? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I understand that Chevrolet is attempting to show that such classic moments in American history are what make America, for example, Richard Nixon, the 9/11 memorial, the hippie movement, and also Chevy trucks. I get that. But something that I think is also interesting, while they threw in arguably the three most famous black people in American history, they also failed to show any other minorities. How about Latino/a people and their illegal migration each year that contributes to cheap crops? Or Asian Americans...oh wait, we can't show them because the commercial is supposed to encourage Americans to buy American trucks, not Honda or Toyota trucks. Of course they did manage to sneak in the helicoptor landing in Vietnam during the war ( see this is what we're fighting against, people! Why are you supporting the people we were at war with??) It makes me cringe. I understand that the possible majority of people who would drive Chevy trucks are white rural American men. However, it's a little offensive to include images of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and MLK when they aren't really associated with Chevy trucks except for the fact that they're all American, and really, Chevy trucks themselves probably did not directly have any overall influence on these events and people.

I guess I would have felt more comfortable if they had made a commercial about the west/midwest and rural white men, or the modern cowboy, and left it at that, appealing to their target audience. But no, they had to bring in a broad, sweeping generalization of American culture and history. The images of war, 9/11 and MLK were bordering on offensive because it creates a sense of exclusion against outsiders that are not considered "American" enough. For example, when I saw the 9/11 memorial images, it almost screamd "look what those foreigners did to us!" The same goes for the Vietnam War images, completely ignoring the fact that those very same races are attempting to create just as American of a lifestyle as you and I. It almost seems to appeal to the inner racist by implying "this is our country" and they attacked us; men died because of them. Therefore support American-made Chevy trucks, regardless of exactly who attacked us. Which makes about as much sense as assuming Rosa Parks is a white rural man. The parody clip says it all really.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Godfather, Played by Frankenstein

I must admit I am just about the biggest Gothic novel fan ever. I took a class on it in my undergrad and loved it. My instructor told me two things that will stick with me:

1) "No, this not just dirty professor David Luke talking; other people have written papers about this too."
2) "After taking a class on the Gothic novel, you will never look at any kind of literature, novel or film the same way again."

While I'm not sure sure about the first one, the second is definitely true. It's incredible how much "Gothicism" (I may have just invented a new word) is present within seemingly innocent works. For example, I no longer can watch romantic comedies with that soft, happy feeling unless I try really hard to block the image of Dracula, or worse, necrophilia, from my brain. And Romeo and Juliet? GROSS! I don't even want to think about the perversion that Shakespeare must have embodied to come up with that.

The whole point of Gothicism is an overarching theme of obsession with the erotic horror is present within all forms of romance and other stories. The erotic horror roughly means that we as humans are indirectly attracted to mortality to the point of sexual intimacy. Everything we live and breathe for is an attempt at bringing us further away from death. Their best example: why women are so idealistically youthful, and babies are adoreable--youth and babies are about as far away from death as possible, which is what makes them so attractive. So there is this whole idea of seduction to mortality and death.

The basic set up of a Gothic story is a "light" heavenly character, that attempts to bring the Byronic hero (or for women, the "femme fatale") out of his sinful, nearly "monstrous" earthly ways. The "dark" earthly character is symbolic of the fall of man in Genesis and is surrounded by moral ambiguity and always ends up dragging the heavenly character to earth with him, killing them, or symbolically killing them by basically destroying their life. I guess the best way I can describe a Gothic "lens" is by telling you to imagine Romeo as Dracula. Run through the whole play with Dracula (the attractive, seductive Dracula) attracted to Juliet and that is the Gothic ideal in a nutshell. And, I would argue there is some truth to this set up for the most part.

Another part of the erotic horror is this issue of necrophilia; I'll try not to go too deep into this one. So we have this indirect attraction to death. And characters, usually the "dark" characters, are somehow desiring necrophilia. Now, the key here is that it doesn't have to be graphic fantasy of body-on-corpse action, it's more just like an allusion to the act. So going back to Romeo and Juliet, it could be argued that the only time that the two can actually be together is in death, hence a desire (although they may not have been aware of it) to be romantically involved with their dead partner. This would be considered a Gothic take on necrophilia and the erotic horror. Have I grossed you out enough yet?

So, with the gangster genre of movies, I think it's pretty easy to see how Gothic themes are laced within the plot. See what you can piece together from these clips. Pay special attention to the song in the second one and see if you can decide which characters are which.

So it's pretty obvious we have Vito and Michael as the earthly characters, and Kay as the heavenly character. Michael is an interesting character because at the beginning he could be viewed as a heavenly character. However, that changes when his father is shot. I don't think it could be said that he is dragged down by the earthly characters because his family doesn't want him part of the business at first and his father expresses great disappointment when he finds out that Michael has joined. It is better and easier to keep these ideas in your head while you watch the movie, rather than me attempt to explain this in a blog, I promise.

Okay, so we have Apollonia, who is described as being "more dangerous than guns" (you guessed it: the femme fatale). Also, her death is something that Michael never truly overcomes. In each movie he is brought back to her and thinks about her (you guessed it again: necrophilia). Vito and Michael's "profession" is nothing but moral ambiguity. This could be a 10 page paper if I got into details. Now think about other gangster themes: Goodfellas, The Sopranos, almost any Robert DiNero movie really. They all have the same morally ambiguous justification for their life. They all have that woman who attempts to save them but is eventually brought down to earth and is basically destroyed.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Although I was unable to actually go to my husbands "meeting," and that is what I call it, I was able to interview him on how he and his friends interact and how the game is set up...barely. I do have some familiarity with the game, but have never played it. An ex-boyfriend also played it (I'm basically a nerd magnet) and his mother used to talk about how she always had to be the dungeon master.

The initial conversation I had with my husband went as follows:

Me: "So tell me about Dungeons and Dragons."

Mike: "Why do you want to know about that? What are you going to do? Who says I play Dungeons and Dragons? You can't prove anything!!"

Me: "Hey, man, I was just trying to be interested in your life."

Mike: "Yeah, well you'll never find my 12-sided dice. EVER!"

Me: "Jesus, sorry I asked."

Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little. But it was pretty close to that. The first thing I realized was that Dungeons and Dragons is an extremely secretive and guilty pleasure that was very difficult to talk about. My husband rarely, if ever talks about playing it, or even the people he plays with for that matter. I sometimes think he would rather I assume he just disappeared to an unknown world for six hours and mysteriously returns home around 11 that night...which is basically what he does anyway.

There definitely seems to be a social class within the game itself. The DM (or, dungeon master, for all of us non-dungeon master's guide holders), has all the supplies and has been sending objects like oddly shaped dice and booklets home with my husband. He has charts and white boards and all sorts of other things that Mike has used to assess his worth to the group. I found this out when I asked if he wanted to host D & D night at our house. His absolutely shocked face clearly stated we did not measure up to the luxury requirements of D & D.

Another thing that is most irritating to him is if he has to miss a meeting. Apparently this is extremely important to him as a "character," because missing meetings causes him to lose bonus points, or skill points. When I raised an eyebrow to show he was being melodramatic about "bonus points," he quickly yelled, "you don't understand! The more skill points I get, the more powerful I get, and the more things I can do (insert Napoleon Dynamite-like 'gosh' or 'idiot' here)!"

Although he won't admit it, I have tried to tell him that maybe his obsession for getting more points was getting in the way of a happy marriage or other important things, like reality, he shakes his head and informs me that I just don't know anything about D & D.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Iconic Lucy

I always thought that the show I Love Lucy was really quite unique to all the other Leave it to Beavers and Father Knows Bests. Why? Because the show was about Lucy! It wasn't about Ricky or the husband or the father or the man. It was about a woman!

The feminist theory can look at Lucy in two ways. The first is that Lucy is a concoction of a male led media world in which a woman must be clumsy and funny in order to have her own show. The common phrase that sums up about every episode is "Lucy gets into a mess." Her scheming womanly ways always get the best of her and her plan is always a disaster ("she should have left it to a man"). She fills the same female character that appears in every TV show at that time: a housewife that does her best to run the family and lets the husband have the last word. In this first clip, Ricky's boss even states it's expected that he "wears the trousers."

But, a more optimistic and, I think, appealing look at Lucy, and her show, is that Lucy plays the revolutionary woman humorously and with class. I say this because deep down I wish I was Lucy. I wish I had the courage to make my way through a man's world of television and have the guts to have a sense of humor about what it meant to be a woman at that time. I think Lucy is very progressive because of this. Lucy takes those everyday "roles" of being the housewife and mother by creating more real and human-nature filled situations (even taking it so far as to appear pregnant on the show--a big no-no at the time). I specifically like these two clips because I think they are very common to a family and also because they can be symbolic of the way women are treated, even today. For example, in the first clip, Lucy is forced to go on a schedule that Ricky created for her to follow. I think it's worth noting that he devises this not because Lucy needs to be put in her womanly place, but because he wants to impress his boss with this new plan he thought up for work. However, Ricky exploits the control and scheduling of Lucy's time. But Lucy actually fights back and puts him in his own place. Another thing that I thought was interesting was that Lucy also got Ethel and the boss' wife in on the vengeful plot. The second clip, although hilarious, can really be looked at as a metaphor for how women should be concerned with self image; Lucy presents this in an extremely witty manner. Lucy goes on a diet and is satirically given a single celery rib for dinner while the men eat a hearty meal of steak and potatoes. Ethel even snatches a potato from Lucy's fork, showing how women (not just men) have standards for other women to abide by. In the end, Lucy ends up replacing the dog under the table, licking the hand of the master, as an attempt to get food. It almost seems like she has sunk as low as the dog to gain approval for what and how much she eats. I thought it was an extremely sobering take on self image, especially since Lucy is wearing pants (something rarely seen on TV at the time) in that clip and it seems like Lucille Ball goes out of her way to pretty herself down by styling her hair and make-up in a somewhat chaotic manner throughout the run of the show.

Something else key to the show is a postcolonial look at Ricky. Desi Arnaz is Cuban and I always think it's interesting how "American" he is depicted, despite the obvious heavy accent. Rarely is his culture brought into the show. There are no Cuban-looking props or sets on the show and it really doesn't give much breathing room for ethnicity and cultural pride. But something to note is that the show still had a male character who was portrayed just as American and strong as Dick Van Dyke and Andy Griffith in the show. In fact, I think the show is incredibly progressive because it has a strong female character paired with an equally strong Cuban character. After all, they didn't have to have Desi Arnaz. They could have chosen a character without an accent to make him more American seeming. But what I think can be looked at as a glimmering moment of hope for American culture is how millions of people love the show without even a thought in regards to the accent, the obviously Spanish last name "Ricardo," as well as the even more obvious "mixed" marriage.