Archive | Visual and Performing Artists RSS feed for this section


14 Oct

So, there’s this fairly popular TV show called Nip/Tuck. As near as I can gather without having to watch an episode or do any research (in other words, my expert opinion is based on advertisements I saw 3-4 years ago with much less feminist theory informing my media consumption), it’s about a bunch of male plastic surgeons and the shallow, sex-driven women who are the surgeons’ patients.

This understanding of the show does not in any way clash with the following advertisement, seen on Youtube as I was looking up links of David Tennant-y goodness.


For those who may not be able to see the image, it is a picture of a mostly naked woman in a highly sexualized pose. She is wearing tight white underpants, and corset piercings running down from the nape of her neck to the top of her underwear. The string lacing is tied in a bow at her iliac, and the remainder of the thread wraps around her hand in a loosely immobilizing position while a man in semi-recumbent pose pulls it, as if controlling her by using reins. Both he and another man are staring at the woman in what strikes me to be a somewhat predatory fashion. It’s also worth noting that all three are white and conventionally attractive.

This is fairly classic male gaze operation (obligatory link to Dinosaur Comics). The men, both dressed in business attire (slacks and jacket) are ogling the woman, mostly nude and in a position suggestive of performance for the male gaze – right hand behind head, which widens the chest and shoulders, lifting the breasts and making them more prominent (while we the viewer don’t see the woman’s breasts, the shot makes it clear that the men in the picture do, so the movement breasts undergo in this position is significant), upper left arm held close to the body while the forearm stretches towards the semi-recumbent man, hips tilted at an angle uncomfortable to maintain for long periods of time, yet often used in what I’ve seen of mainstream porn photoshoots. The mens’ clothing indicates a certain social stature – rich, powerful, able to objectify and control women.

In certain ways, the ad reminds me of Le dejeuner sur l’herbes, a 19th century Manet (a precursor to impressionism) painting (description by Emile Zola at the Wikipedia article cited above).

The woman is nude among well-dressed men. It is worth noting that the woman is not sexualized, just naked. While there is, in this society, an automatic sexualization of nudity, Manet does not further objectify the woman. The men are also not staring at the woman in the skeevy, predatory way of the Nip/Tuck advertisement – instead, the woman is staring at the viewer (rare in compositions: usually, subjects of the composition are shown from a slight angle, so that the viewer is allowed to be a passive observer, rather than treated as an active participant (which is why it’s so jarring when actors look directly into the camera)).

There are also sharp contrasts to the famous Yoko Ono/John Lennon photo by Annie Liebovitz, where Lennon appears naked, cuddled around a fully clothed Ono.

Both John and Yoko look so vulnerable, so tender here that it’s quite touching. I don’t feel that the photo would be as powerful if Yoko weren’t dressed – the photo feels so intimate, like we’ve been allowed a gentle glimpse into the lives of two who loved each other so deeply it’s almost surreal, and as thought this love allows for a form of sexuality. It’s so drastically different from the sexuality of the Nip/Tuck ad – Nip/Tuck allows only for sexual enjoyment of the female form, while Liebovitz’ piece shows that nudity needn’t be about the male gaze, that it can give the viewer a powerfully intimate image of a couple where the woman is not treated as an object.


A Letter to BBC Radio News

6 Oct

To Whom It May Concern:

I found the BBC Radio News reporting on Roman Polanski’s arrest rather unsatisfactory. The reporter stated that Polanski was under arrest for “having sex with” a thirteen-year old girl. I find this report inaccurate, as Polanski raped a thirteen-year old girl. Having sex with a person is not the same thing as raping this person, and conflating the two contributes to a misunderstanding of rape and sex. This misunderstanding, in turn, increases the difficulty of convicting rapists, as the seriousness of the crime is undervalued by being understood as consensual sex, rather than the forced crime of rape.

I would appreciate it if, in the future, BBC Radio News would refrain from perpetuating the idea that sex and rape can be used interchangably.

Thank you,

[niemaodpowiedzi’s government name]

I haven’t sent it yet. Anything else I should add?

For more on the concept of “It’s not sex. It’s rape!” see Hoyden About Town.

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.

Humorless Feminist at the Movies

30 Sep

From the director of Something’s Gotta Give, the 1998 Lindsay Lohan Parent Trap, Father of the Bride I, II and the atrocious Mel Gibson film What Women Want, comes a new romantic comedy starring one of my favorite actors, Meryl Streep. Streep stars opposite Alec Baldwin (the ex-husband) and Steve Martin (random architect – the trailer indicates we don’t need to care about this loser character – he’s just there as a plot device, showing how sad and lonely Meryl Streep’s character is without a man), both of whose characters are vying for the affections of Jane, Streep’s character.

Here’s a link to the trailer for It’s Complicated, which I can’t embed. That’s okay, I’ll just discuss the parts I find relevant.

“Jo, you are so lucky Jerry is dead. You don’t have to bump into him!” – Jane

So, there’s no such thing as a congenial breakup. Either you’re sickeningly in love (as Jane is shown falling for Jake, Baldwin’s character in the trailer), or you can’t stand the sight of each other (the initial reaction Jane shows to Jake). This polarity is totally realistic, and I have no qualms whatsoever endorsing this dualistic point of view. None. Got it? </sarcasm>

And now, a scene with the architect, Adam:

“One tiny note: no ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ things.” – Jane

“And you don’t think in the future, you might want a ‘His?'” – Adam

“Oh my god, now we’re talking code about my life!” – Jane

Great stuff, folks. I mean, without this dialogue, how else would we know how empty Jane’s life is without a…a…man? Remember this now, readers with girly-parts (hoo-has and other accessories, or whatever): your lives don’t amount to a hill of beans in this fucking world if there isn’t a man in your life, using your spare sink and the second towel-rack.

*cut to Jane and Adam laughing, Jake staring in window stalker-like and mock-laughing with them*

Stalking is not sexy. It’s not funny or hot, and it doesn’t lead to perfect romance stories. It’s fucking creepy, and glorifying it in a romantic comedy screws up social notions about acceptable behavior even more. Stalking is an unacceptable behavior, that makes the culture in which we live even more viable for abusers and rapists (as if they need help), and playing it up for teh LOLs is repre-fucking-hensible. Well, now that I’ve got that off my chest, shall we continue unloading the bullshit from this trailer?

“OMG, I thought he’d never leave.” Jake, to Jane, about Adam

Alec Baldwin just used the Internet colloquialism “OMG” like a real word. I’m going to go cry now. (Okay, so that’s not a real objection. I’m just feeling ranty.)

“I’ve never really known how to live without you.” Jake, to Jane.

Warning! Warning! Unhealthy relationship patterns at twelve o’clock! Mayday!

But seriously though, that level of dependency is not something that should happen in healthy romantic relationships. It shows a lack of maturity and self-sufficiency that is highly dangerous to both parties, and reflects the character of Jane as a mother-figure to Jake, rather than a romantic figure. And considering that he’s pursuing her as a romantic figure, the mother-child dynamic that Jake’s neediness brings into the relationship is pretty squicky.

“I’m having an affair…with…a married man.” Jane, to female friends

“You’re not saying?!” Female friend

“Yes, I am!” Jane

*exhuberant, elated screaming from group of friends*

“Turns out, I’m a bit of a slut!” Jane

This part of the trailer leaves a bad taste in my mouth (not to imply that the rest of the trailer doesn’t). Having sex makes you dirty? I do wish someone had told me, because I’ve been having pretty regular sex lately and I’m sure I’m just covered in the sex-filth now. *goes, scours skin* Okay, I’m back. Don’t know if I got it all off me, but that’s the best I can do for now. Anyway, having sex with a married man (Jake left her for the cliched younger woman) is slutty. Because “stealing a man” from someone else is super-evil. It’s, like, being Yoko Ono evil (so evil, you work for peace. Muahaha, my evil plan that we all stop killing each other is succeeding!). Because he was hers first. A person is not fucking property. You shouldn’t own them, sell them, manipulate them like puppets. If a person wants to have sex, it’s not fucking deviant! Sex is not deviant, and placing it as deviant turns sex and romance and all that shit into a fucking game, turns love into a catfight (see also Melissa McEwan). Which is bullshit. The biggest problem I have with the scenario of Jane having sex with Jake is that Jake’s wife probably doesn’t know and could get hurt (but the audience isn’t supposed to care about her, because Jake’s wife is flatter than Adam (Steve Martin’s character, since I haven’t mentioned him in half a post)). So, yeah. Jane is such a slut. For being female. And daring to have sex.

“What about the fact that I’m now the other woman? I’m the one we hate!” – Jane

“He was yours first.” – Jane’s female friend, consolingly

Same shit as above, different candy coating.

Ugh. If I watch this trailer any more, my head might explode, so I’ll wrap up here. Women who have sex are slutty, men who stalk are hawt, architects are nerdy losers, men are the most important things (there’s that word again) in a woman’s girl’s life, and if you don’t buy a ticket to this movie you’re going to die alone with a nonillion cats. And they lived happily ever after! *swoon*

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).

Womyn Artist: Alix Olson

17 Mar

A lot of the blogs I follow do regular “this feminist/womanist is awesome and I want to bring her to your attention” posts, and I thought I’d follow their examples. :)

Stop the Stinky War

I love this picture to itty bitty bits, and smile wide when I see it.

I became aware of Alix Olson because of my involvement with Livejournal. More specifically, with the Livejournal community Fuck Shaving. At some point in late 2007, I got tired of buying razors and fighting my body’s tendency to, you know, grow hair, and I sought out like-minded people through the mystical powers of the Internet. Somebody posted about this “OMGWTFBBQ awsum slam poet” (approximate quote) doing a song about armpit hair. And from that point on, I was hooked (and much as I enjoy mocking LJ, it certainly had an impact on my becoming more receptive to the idea that sexism was pervasive and that feminism was necessary, which has become so much of my identity today, so it isn’t just a place for bad grammar, shitty fanfic and dramatic oversharing).

There were no seats on the subway
so I had to grab a strap
As I lifted up my arm I heard a scream “what’s that?”
I took a look around,
I thought “there must be something scary”.
Like a lion or a tiger or the Virgin Mary?
But then, I noticed they were looking at me.
I heard “oh my gawd! They’re hairy!”

Here’s part of it on Youtube, including a small number of women flashing their underarms at the camera (sorry for the incompleteness and the poor sound quality).

And here she is talking about feminism on A Passion For Justice: 21st Century Feminism.

[partial transcript] You know, the minute that we’re told we’re too loud and too angry and that we have enough, we kind of have this tendency to say ‘Okay [puts up hands in stop gesture], okay, we must [stop],’ you know.  And it’s important to remember who’s telling us that. [links added to transcript – niema]

The paper called me a warrior.
a bad girl. a bad example.
The paper said I smile big,
but I curse too much.
and it’s true. I do
Feel like a warrior just for making it through the day, sometimes
I feel like a fighter.

I choose to use words as my form of activism because, to me that says ‘I choose to speak and I am making a decision to utilize this powerful toolbox of language.’ And I think throughout herstory there have been a lot of artists who have been afraid to be targeted as, you know, a feminist artist or lesbian artist. And I think for me, that’s an essential part of who I am and what I believe in and my value system.

It’s so much of that fear that motivates me. The fear that I’ll be dismissed, either by the mainstream “Eh, she’s just one of those wingnut feminists with hairy legs – who cares if she (spoken with contempt no text can convey) feels marginalized?” or by the feminist movement “Grow up, sunshine – you’re just another fauxgressive ostrich with your head in the sand, and we don’t want you.” That fear paralyzes me – that possibility that nobody cares what I think. So I keep going – I have to, in a way, to preserve my own sanity. But always, in the back of my mind, there are these two diametrically opposed forces, and I worry that I’m not enough like either one, especially the one I aspire to, to make it in this world. And before I spun off into “sleep-deprived niema bares her soul” territory, I was going to say that I very much get where Olson is coming from with why she is so upfront and in your face about her feminist, lesbian identity politics, and I get the feeling she understands why the herstorical artists felt they couldn’t be. It’d be fucking hard to be openly lesbian and feminist in this world without knowing how much easier it can be to hide in a closet – to not be deeply and intimately acquainted with the reasons the closet is such a ubiquitous metaphor in this society.

Olson’s pretty popular – she’s been in magazines and on AfterEllen, and has performed at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival* several times. But I still think she’s pretty damn cool and insightful. Give her stuff a listen!

*I wish I could go this year (I’ve never been), but my finances make it unlikely that I’ll be able to. *deep, heaving sigh* Anybody who’s going wanna be my emissary?