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Quick Hit: Roman Polanski

30 Sep

Agree or disagree: getting a thirteen-year old girl high and violating her multiple times, in spite of her dissent, is the same thing as being arrested for stealing a loaf of bread in 19th century France.

There is a correct answer. You will be judged based on your response. (via Feministe)

Edited because blogger was so angry about the comparison between Polanski and Jean Valjean she forgot to include the hyperlink to said comparison.

A Modest Critique of Shallow Waters

28 Apr

I maintain a Google Alert in my RSS feed (which I’ve been neglecting, thanks to school and my demanding home life – I’ll read all your fantabulous posts later) for Les Miserables. This has led to an uptick in my subscription in recent weeks, as the kick-ass Susan Boyle sweeps the internet. So, in an effort to reduce my unread counts, I skimmed through the Les Mis posts, and found something infuriating.

The University of Texas’ online newspaper ran a piece recently entitled, “A modest defense of shallowness.” I had hopes on reading that title – perhaps the article is satire, and the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to one of my favorite satirists? Very quickly, my hopes were dashed to the floor by Friedenthal’s piece.

“[Her] looks are more akin to your friend’s aging mother (and not the neighborhood MILF, either) and certainly are not up to the exacting standards that we rightfully set for our celebrities…Were Susan Boyle a man, the standards we would hold him or her to would not be nearly as extreme, and a homely appearance would be much more acceptable to us. However, for a woman with a beautiful voice to not have an equally beautiful body seems to be a malicious quirk of fate, a bit of cognitive dissonance that we, the American public, more so than the British public, cannot seem to get around.

Inherent in the “mom I’d like to fuck” concept is the idea that the body (specifically, the female body) is designed to fall under the male gaze, and be lusted for by men. This seems to be the framework Friedenthal is using, as zie puts forth the argument that this gaze is desirable for celebrities.  Celebrities, famous people, those with beautiful voices, they all have an obligation to remain fuckable and sexyhawt. That seems like a problem to me, because if you can’t be beautiful all the time, what happens? If beauty is the standard for value, aren’t we just saying that people women are Pygmalion’s ivory? It becomes a malicious twist of fate to allow into our worldview a woman who can do shit – and do it well – without also being conventionally physically attractive. Women are, after all, purely put on this earth to look nice so teh menz can take care of everything else. *head meets desk in an epic battle. desk wins.*

The rest of the article is a pseudo-scientific justification of the status quo, where the “creeping danger” of Susan Boyle’s lack of conventional beauty is a stab in the eyes to all who believe merit is useless, citing Annie Hall and Casablanca as evidence of the pure worth of appearance. I haven’t seen Annie Hall, but the understanding I gleaned from a nonillion viewings of Casablanca is that Ilsa leaves Rick for reasons other than his lack of beauty, so I’m not even sure how that supports Friedenthal’s arguments for the cultural valuation of attractiveness.

Okay, that’s enough blogging for today. I’m going to go hide in an obscure corner of the internet again!

Struck to the Bone

3 Apr

Had you been there tonight
You might know how it feels
To be struck to the bone
In a moment of breathless delight!

So, if you’re one of the lucky few following me on Twitter, you may be aware that last night, I had a ticket to see Les Miserables, the musical, at Houston’s Hobby Center. And it was fucking fantastic. Never have I been so utterly fascinated with a theatrical performance* (and I am privileged enough to go to the theatre relatively frequently). My back was sore by the end (approximately a 3 hr. show) from leaning forward in my seat almost the entire time. From the opening notes of “Look Down” through the finale, I was completely drawn into this retelling of the story I have loved for a year and a half (given that I am only twenty, this is a long time even if it doesn’t sound like it). This was the first time I had been to a show where I was as intimately familiar with the source material for the play/musical as I was last night. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I saw last summer, came close but usually, when I see a performance I don’t know the original as well as I know Les Mis, if I know it at all. That was interesting in the way it played out – Gavroche’s death scene had me wincing about 3 minutes before the rest of the audience was. I’ve also never been to the theatre alone – I usually go with my dad or a group, so I did some hardcore people-watching, and it was interesting seeing how the dynamics changed because I was by myself. There may be a post coming on gender norms and theatre attendance, because that was screaming out at me (M. Thenardier’s line in “Beggars at the Feast,” “this one’s a queer, but what can you do?” got one of the biggest laughs of the night from the audience).

I’ve had the soundtrack from the original London cast (OLC) for a while, so it’s always interesting to hear how things are reinterpreted as the musical develops. One of the things that I noticed most was the way the British accent factored in to my knowledge of the music – there were several times when the American pronunciation threw me off because I was expecting British pronunciation. And another thing – my roommate’s been telling me for ages that the OLC recording’s Fantine is kinda ‘meh,’ but until last night, I didn’t believe her. Andrea Rivette (who played Fantine last night) had me in tears because of the sheer power of her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream,” which has never seemed so profound as it did yesterday. I hadn’t even noticed how Fantine’s struggles with the abandonment of Tholomyes mirrored those of Eponine’s struggle with her unrequited love for Marius (The line, “And still I dream he’ll come to me,/That we will live the years together…” is quite similar in concept to “On My Own.”). Any Foxtrotters know of a recording with a good casting of Fantine? Valjean, played by Rob Evan last night, was also quite good. His voice didn’t sound quite capable of hitting the notes at the end of  “Bring Him Home,” but it worked. The strain translated well as emotive rather than painful to listen to, which I was a little worried might happen. And I had no idea “Stars” was sung by Javert – for some reason, I had gotten the impression that Valjean was singing it – similar vocal ranges, maybe?

The staging was also very cool. The scenic designer’s note in the Playbill was fascinating. Apparently, the show traditionally has a revolving barricade, but Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), the production company for this performance, wasn’t allowed to use it. So Matthew Kinley (the scenic designer) had some quite creative solutions. First, the barricade was stationary – there was one scene where seeing the other side of the barricade was necessary, the aforementioned scene of Gavroche’s death (which is fairly true to the book IIRC – for the most part, the barricade scene is written from the view of the students’ group). Also, Kinley worked with projecting some of Hugo’s own drawings (which are absolutely dumbfoundingly amazing – his use of media!) to set the scene to spectacular effect. I’m not sure how well the sewer scene translated for the people that didn’t know what was going on. It may not have been entirely clear that Valjean was going through the sewers of Paris to wind up on the banks of the Seine, which Javert picked up on by finding a trail of Valjean’s blood, but maybe it seemed like it might confuse people because I’m used to Hugo’s windy explanations of absolutely everything that could maybe sort-of be a little confusing to a small subset of the population perhaps. But Javert’s suicide translated well, I thought. I was wondering how they would show the “jumps into river and drowns” thing without, you know, actually having a river, but they did it quite nicely through the use of the projections of Hugo’s artwork I mentioned earlier.

Which I guess brings me to the acting. Very good all around, with a few performances that stuck out – Javert (played by Jeremy Hays) was phenomenal. A well-played Javert can change my entire perception of a rendition of Les Miserables (Geoffrey Rush’s Javert is the only reason I ever recommend this film), so even if I hadn’t already been in love with the play by Fantine’s death-scene, Hays’ performance of Javert would have caught my attention as improving the entire show exponentially. As I said above, Andrea Rivette’s Fantine was also quite good. Enjolras, played by Edward Watts, was pretty powerful as a sort of father figure to Marius, though his time on stage was fairly brief. The child playing Gavroche (Sam Linda) was fairly impressive as well – pretty serious acting chops for an eleven-year old. Eponine, played by Sarah Shahinian, didn’t quite speak to me the way I expected her to. I think it has to do with the fact that I have ridiculous high ideals for the character, because I identify so much with her in the book and in the OLC performance – “On My Own” was listed as a highlight in the Houston Chronicle’s review of the show, while in my head it was almost imperceptibly a disappointment. It was still a good performance – just not up to my impossibly high standards for Eponine.

And because I am so intimately familiar with the book Les Miserables, you will have to forgive me a small rant. I’m one of those people that hates when things are changed or taken out of the original for no apparent reason – I was upset for a week after I saw the first Harry Potter film and Harry had referred to Malfoy by first name, “Draco.” I didn’t mind so much that Azelma was removed – she doesn’t do much even in the book, but the rearranging of the action at M.-sur-M. so that Javert doesn’t suspect M. Madeleine’s true identity until long after his confrontation concerning Fantine’s arrest seemed pointless. Javert’s recognition after the Fauchelevant incident seemed comical – “You must be Valjean, but you can’t be because Valjean’s been arrested, and I would never have thought anything of it, but jeepers mister, you’re very strong” and Valjean’s subsequent reclaiming of the label “24,601” seemed almost too quick – in translating to stage, you lose so much of the anguish that Hugo embues in his characters – that “Tempest in a Skull” is reduced to almost farcical decision-making. M. Thenardier’s characterization seemed a bit off – in the book he’s described as fairly quiet and unexpectedly intelligent (and even more dangerous because of it), yet in the play he’s a drunken, boisterous thief but ultimately mostly harmless.

But overall, it was an amazing performance, and it cemented my appreciation for an audio/visual interpretation of the book.

*Marius Pontmercy had me in thrall (if you got that joke, we seriously need to geek out over British literature together).

Why Is Les Miserables Important? Part 2

19 Mar

I’ll admit, I was being somewhat facetious with that last post. I fully expected that nobody would actually click any of the links (and according to WordPress’ site monitor, nobody has). So why did I do it? Why did I spend the time I did, finding 100-some-odd posts on oppression and oppressed people in recent months (almost all of those links were published at some point in the first three months of 2009) and hyperlinking them to the preface to Les Miserables?

It’s because I could, quite honestly. Because there is still so much oppression existing in this world, because so many people suffer daily from people exercising unjustifiable privilege over them, because I could have found twice the amount of examples I did if I had spent another half-hour on that post. It’s because I can’t understand how people can be aware of that much suffering and oppression, and not be progressives. And not be feminists. And not be fully opposed to the power structure that makes that much unnecessary anguish not only possible, but standard operating procedure.

That’s why I care about the message of Les Miserables. Hugo’s oeuvre undermines the Social Darwinistic narrative our culture gives us every fucking day – that some people are “other than” and “less than,” and don’t matter as long as I come out on top. That’s why I’m writing the Les Miserables Blogging Project of Unusual Size. It’s because I see it as a form of activism – a way of pushing back against the culture that screams at me to shut the fuck up because I’m young, queer, in need of antidepressants and female, that tells others to back off because of their race or ethnicity, their disabilities, because they are trans, and 42 other reasons, give or take. Hugo’s characters and themes point toward the underlying structures that dehumanize us and take away our voices, and give hope that things can and will improve. Hugo’s writing presents an unquashable sense of optimism – the idea that where our society is (and has been for centuries) is not where it must stay. Hugo’s book is a fucking teaspoon, and it’s my hope (there’s that word again) that this series of analysis, and ultimately this blog, become teaspoons as well.

Why Les Miserables is Still Significant – Linkspam edition*

19 Mar

The preface to Les Miserables:

So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the centurythe degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of lightare unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use.

HAUTEVILLE HOUSE, 1862.

*Why, yes, every single word is a disturbingly appropriate hyperlink. *sob*

**If you want a slightly less link-intensive explanation of why the narrative of Les Miserables is necessary and meaningful in contemporary discussion, this post is pretty good.

***EDIT: A follow-up to this post here.

On Unabridged Literature

6 Mar

So, yesterday, I went to my school’s library and picked up an unabridged copy of Les Miserables so I can reread it for L.M.B.P.U.S. I know it’s unabridged because it says “unabridged” on the front cover in big, bold letters.

Unabridged means that it has not been “abridged or shortened,” according to some authorities. And this was the definition I was working from, so imagine my surprise when I opened the book and found a page that stated quite clearly that the book had been shortened, that parts of the book had been deemed irrelevant. I looked to see how many pages it had been truncated by. The book I picked up is less than 600 pages long – the original text is over 1200. They cut out more than half the book, y’all. How is this not abridged? And they cut out the bit describing the Bishop of D____, who I had planned to write about in LMBPUS. I guess I can use the Project Gutenberg copy for that part, but the reason I checked out a copy from the library was so I didn’t have to rely on using a digital copy, because of my current computer situation. *sigh*

In general, I don’t approve of abridging literature. I think it screws up authorial intent, which is something that shouldn’t be touched without the author’s permission. When I was a kid, I had a copy of Little Women, which was abridged. This was something, I learned later, that Alcott had done. She wrote the book in multiple parts for publication, but after the second half was published, both parts were most frequently published together. So I’m of the opinion that it ought not be published in two parts. But this is different even from that. These aren’t cuts that Hugo approved, nor do I believe he would have approved most of them. I’ve read a bit more since I wrote the above paragraphs, and the editor cut out parts that are important to the plot – the events leading up to the impregnation of Fantine, Fantine’s job-loss and further fall into prostitution and hair/teeth-selling, the description of Waterloo, and my favorite chapter are all gone. The sections cut give so much to the overall theme of the book – all the minor characters are foils to Valjean, and to take any of their story away is damn insulting to the humanity Victor Hugo gave to his characters, and to the masterful writing it took to provide that humanity.

ETA: Just found this post waxing poetic on the parts that are missing from this “unabridged” copy. The writer rather eloquently points out why these parts are necessary for the fuller picture of the story, and why it disrupts the integrity of the book to omit them.

Part 2 of my Princess Bride analysis is coming, hopefully posted within the next 24-36 hours.

Metapost – woo shiny new wordpress account!

2 Mar

I’m not entirely sure what I want to do with this account, so I’m going to make a list. I like lists. I’m like my mother that way.

I would like to make a series of posts on Les Miserables, examining various characters and their motivations through a lens critical of kyriarchy. Inspired by the comments section of this post on my LiveJournal.

  • Eponine
  • Cosette
  • Marius
  • Javert
  • Fantine
  • Cardinal whose name I’ve forgotten (EDIT: Bishop of  D___)
  • Valjean
  • possibly some more bit characters

I don’t really plan to keep a regular posting schedule, as I’m currently computerless (a painful tale of woe, cats and a bowl of soup), but I’ll update when I can.