You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

I really hate to sully this blog with this, but, as many of you know, I’m currently included in the rather large Portland demographic of “recent college graduates who can’t find a job,” and the economy is not helping my situation. In light of this, I’ve decided to start up an academic and admissions essay editing service: Commas, Ink.

Please check it out, and if you know anyone who’s looking for a friendly, writing-obsessed editor, please let them know. I used to edit jr. high papers, and so I’m really good at adjusting my editing to grade-level. Thanks so much! I promise I’ll get back to your regularly scheduled blogging shortly. I’ve been working on this project all week, and then Powell’s foiled my plan to talk about “handbooks for straight women” by only carrying the books I was planning to dissect in their warehouses. I suppose that this probably says something about Portland: either no one or everyone buys these books (In the case of The Bunny Book: How to Walk, Talk, Tease, and Please Like a Playboy Bunny, I’m seriously hoping no one.).

Enjoy your Saturdays!

Happy 127th, Ginny!

Happy 127th, Ginny!

(I really hate that I have to rush this post)

Oddly enough, so many people who (have) play(ed) an important roll in my life were born in January. Therefore, it was a serendipitous discovery, but not a huge surprise when I discovered that Virginia Woolf’s birthday was yesterday, January 25th. With its writer posthumously reaching the ripe old age of 127 (if my basic arithmatic serves me correctly), her work still is fresh, radical, and moving, and that is truly something to celebrate.

I admit that sometimes I feel a little embarassed about loving Virginia Woolf simply because whenever I say that I do I get a fairly irrational fear that people are writing me off as a walking cliché. I wrote my senior thesis on the relationship between gender and creativity in three of her novels. Telling people my topic usually resulted a bit in “Oh. Of course. What else there is to write about her?” (Captain Subtext translates this as: Oh great: here’s another woman writing about Woolf. Get the cheese to go with the whine.)

So now that I’m writing this mini-tribute, I have to figure out what to say. Believe me, I could go on and on (and on) about her novels. When read my first book by Woolf, To the Lighthouse, as a freshman in college, I was shocked by its power, its ability to change me. Literally– after reading a chapter, it would take a good half an hour to get me to stop myself from thinking in long, detailed monologues. But as this is a cultural criticism blog, I think the only fitting tribute for her right now would be to talk about her as a cultural critic.

If I now write as a cultural critic, it’s thanks to Virginia Woolf. I had always known cultural criticism was important. I had always known cultural criticism was interesting. But Woolf showed me. From the moment I read A Room of One’s Own, which I still think is one of the best and most relevant essays ever, I saw the kind of writer I wanted to be. Room, you see, is an essay about cultural privilege. It’s about how society crafts the idea of who can write. It’s also about Woolf poking fun at ridiculous the ridiculous assumptions men make about women–many people don’t realize that she had a marvelous sense of humor. What she realized is than in a society that spends all its time worrying about what differentiates a MAN from a WOMAN (all-caps to emphasize the silly binary thinking), a woman could be a woman writer, but she couldn’t be a writer. Her conclusion, that a woman needs space and an income to be able to craft fiction, seems shockingly materialistic, especially in contrast to the poetic meditations on where creativity comes from that you hear from most writers. But Woolf recognized the cultural climate. She recognized privilege. She recognized that woman’s education, though it existed, was so low on her culture’s priority list that even the food women’s schools served was inferior. Her conclusion is practical, but that’s what makes it radical. Spiritual, lyrical rhapsodies about the soul of art are irrelevant in an environment that is not condusive to creation in the first place. She taught me that understanding culture was vital to changing it.

But beyond her skilled writing, I will never cease to be impressed with how much bravery she had to have to write at all. How to explain? Well, let me tell you a strange story: The summer before I wrote my thesis, I spent a lot of time in the British Isles, volunteering on organic farms, and reading all the Woolf I possibly could. As I spent my days digging weeds and shoveling compost, I hoped that the spirit of place would help add some compost to the little seeds of my thesis that I was cultivating in my own brain. It did–but not in the way I was expecting.

In Surrey, my friends and I stayed with Emma and Peter (names have been changed to protect the British), helping out in their small organic garden. The day we arrived coincided with their annual village barbecue, and they offered to bring us along as cultural enrichment. I quickly learned that a British barbecue is not an American barbecue. Each family brought their own card table and rocking chairs; not to mention that the table cloths were neither plastic nor red-checked, and the plates and glasses were most definitely breakable. There was no barbecue grill. A band clad in red and white pinstriped suits and straw hats piped a selection of 1920’s-style jazz. As my friends and I sat with our hosts, drinking wine (a white entitled “Pisse D’oie,” which, yes, does in fact mean goose piss.) that had been brought back from a jaunt across the channel to France (thank you, Chunnel), we began to learn that village life in Southern England often has a very… novelistic feel to it. Well, novelistic is the word if we’re talking P.G. Wodehouse.

Attempting to write the reactions of our hosts’ friends to our motley barely-showered trio makes me feel like I’m oversimplifying the matter. I don’t believe anyone can be a walking stereotype, no matter how much of one a person may appear to be . I don’t and have never believed that British people actually were a part of a magical race with gorgeous accents who walked around with Burberry umbrellas, drinking tea, chatting about cricket scores, and worrying about class above all. Therefore, it was a bit of a shock when our hosts and their friends started telling us the precise age of every building in the vicinity (The vulgar “new” buildings being a mere century old) and insisting that Britain had never wanted India anyhow. History apparently just dropped an entire nation in their lap (And, you know, one must take up the “white man’s burden” and all that.). I felt as if I had stepped into a farce, or at least an episode of “Keeping Up Appearances.”

When they asked us about ourselves, I mentioned that I was reading for my thesis on Woolf. Our hosts and their friends laughed amongst themselves remarking, “Ah! She would love to write about a party just like this one!”

I couldn’t tell how they meant it: if they were laughing at her, me, or themselves. I don’t know if they understood the depth of their remark, or if they just knew that Mrs. Dalloway was about a party. And I’ll never know.

What I do know is that their simple remark gained new significance when the gossip turned to the new village of the vicar who was, scandalously, a “lady vicar.” Her husband had moved to follow her job and was seeking employment in the area.

“Who ever heard of a husband moving for his wife’s job?” an older man remakred.

As if understanding that this did not seem particularly shocking to their guests, Emma was quick to explain, “It’s not that we don’t like it; it’s just so new.” She continued to explain this change in their community: “You just don’t get a proper British vicar these days; in fact, you never know what you’re going to get. You can get a lady vicar, or a black vicar, or… what’s the other one?”

“A gay vicar?” offered my friend Tom.

“Yes! That’s it! A gay vicar! Or all three–you just never know.”

Suddenly, everything Woolf had been up against, with her depression, her refusal to be herteronormative (her sexuality was tremendously complicated.), her strength, and her unapologetic radicalism, all of that became clearer to me. Though I do not use this strange moment of culture shock as a mental model for the gendered climate of all of England, the fact that this kind of attitude still exists there makes me truly understand just how amazing and shocking she was. She was truly awesome, both in the slang sense and the “awe” sense.

Woolf had her faults. I don’t believe in perfect heros. But nevertheless, I love her. I love her because she dared to be a cultural critic. I love her for her frankness. I love her for her sense of humor. And I love her for her excellent writing.

Happy Birthday, Ginny! We still love you!

I’ve been holding off posting this week just because it feels weird to post non-inauguration-related things on  or around inauguration day. If you really want to know my thoughts, well, I’m really excited to see what Obama’s going to do. I’ve got no illusions of perfection, but it’s a relief to have a president who values intelligence, cares about women’s issues, and is not afraid of science. But, for Cracked Mirror purposes, I figure the more news-centric blogs have all the election stuff covered. Instead, I’m going to talk about media.

For those of you wondering how an unemployed feminist blogger spends her suddenly free time (aside from desperately searching for jobs), the answer is: we volunteer for our local feminist magazine! (Or, at least, that’s what I’m doing.) I had a fantastic time this morning at Bitch‘s funky Portland office (It’s a wonderland of posters, awesome books, and puppies, let me tell you. I can’t wait to go back.) and  doing research on feminist organizations (bookstores, community organizations, publishers, sex toy shops) they could contact for mutual advertising purposes. This was an oddly satisfying endevor, and not just because I was helping out one of my favorite magazines. As I dutifully searched, clicked links, sighed in frustration at finding stores that had closed (feminism isn’t necessarily a great money-maker), I discovered something odd: I barely needed to use Google.

Yes, I’m afraid that when it comes to looking for feminist places, Google only was of limited help despite my pretty decent google-fu. What actually was a huge help were the feminist bookstores themselves. Those with websites tended to link to fantastic organizations, stores, festivals, etc. in their community, providing me with endless links to savor, both for Bitch’s and my own purposes. Just through links provided  feminist bookstores alone, I found enough feminist media/community/culture outlets to fuel a fantastic feminist-centered roadtrip, and that doesn’t even include the bookstores (and, believe me, I’d visit those too)! I’d love to listen to the spoken word artists of Fierce Words Tender in San Jose, CA, check out the programming put on by Charis in Atlanta, GA,  and then have a great vegetarian meal at Bloodroot in Bridgeport, CT. Maybe I’d talk to some people at the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press in DC or visit Ladyslipper Music in Durham, NC.  On the way I’d probably hit up a concert put on by Indie Grrl.

This is why feminist media and feminist media outlets can stay alive, even in difficult times; I think, on a whole, we’ve (I say we, but I’m not really a feminist media outlet… yet) recognized the value of community. We’ve recognized that even if you want to call us a niche market, we’re a strong powerful niche if we support each other and get the word out to each other. I think what saved Bitch and In Other Words when it looked like closure was imminent was their intigration into the community (both Portland and Feminist community): We care about each other. How cool is that? I just wish there were even more link databases that were even easier to find on Google. The one slightly depressing part of the whole experience was noticing that the databases I found (not so much the link pages off of feminist bookstores/orgs./publishers) were often either way out-of-date, neglected, or really poorly organized. It’s a shame because the internet is a great way to create a community of feminists who will support feminist media (outlets)/orgs/etc. Let’s use it!

A typical day in the land of Idiocracy.

A typical day in the land of Idiocracy.

Though prevented from having a wide theatrical release, the 2006 movie Idiocracy apparently has become something of a cult hit. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a sort of devolution horror story. Since natural selection no longer seems to effect humans, the genes that get passed on are from people who have the most kids. According to the movie, it’s not the intelligent people who are breeding, but the idiots. In time, the intelligence of the gene pool drops significantly until the year 2505, when Joe Bauers, an army corporal remarkable only for his extreme averageness, and Rita, a prostitute, wake up after being frozen in a 2005 army experiment gone awry. They awake to a world of devolved vocabulary, extreme consumption of junk (Everything, from hospitals to government offices, is sponsored by Carl’s Jr.), and where their once average intelligence is suddenly considered effete intellectual snobbery (or, at least, it would be, except in 2505-speak the word is “faggy.”)

Idiocracy offers us a bizarre glimpse into a world of glorified stupidity, something that I found at times more terrifying than funny. Though there are no truly “graphic” moments, I did spend about a quarter of the movie burying my head in the nearest pillow; the culture of the future America presented in the film was just too painful to watch.

But “stupidity” is only half of it (and sometimes I’m not even sure the movie itself realizes that.). One of the most profoundly disturbing aspects of the film is that the world resulting from evolution gone-awry caters almost exclusively to stereotypically straight men. The most popular TV show is “Ow My Balls,” on the Violence Channel. Also popular is the masturbation channel, which, following stereotype, caters to (you guessed it) men. Starbucks offers lap dances (with extra foam.) and deadly monster-truck rallies are the new “rehabilitation.”  A former wrestler (who didn’t even bother to change his name to “the mind.” Oh, Minnesota joke.) is president of the United States. All lawyers and doctors (if you can call them that) are men–the female receptionist at the hospital doesn’t even have to open her mouth thanks to prerecorded welcome messages. When Rita gets arrested for tricking a man out of his money, she is not arrested for fraud, but for “refusing to put out.” When Joe halts the arrest, the president’s guards offer to make sure that she “puts out” for him, and is at one point asked if he minds if they go “family style” on her (New-found, scary terminology aside, they ask him.). The one prominent woman amongst the 2505-ers is the Attorney General, portrayed as having more tits than brains.

Of course, this is a satire. The film’s message speaks out against this kind of culture, but I think part of the reason why I just can’t laugh at it full and long is that the roots of it are already here in our own pop culture (and, actually, in the film itself, but I’m pretty sure no one wants to read an analysis of a three-year-old film no one’s seen.). The so-called “idiocracy” government portrayed in the film lies upon a foundation of loud, obnoxious men and silenced, over-sexed women. It exists on the ideal of the over-consumption useless products that make things (to borrow a phrase from Daft Punk) “harder, better, faster, stronger.” And both of these tenants in turn exist upon the glorification of frat-boy-style masculinity as an antidote to or as being anti all things effeminate or feminine (I was tempted to count the amount of time people used the word “faggy” in the film, but never got around to it). But these products, this marketing are already here: from the new Burger King marketing technique that involves completely excluding women from the audience to Axe’s detailer shower tool (link to Youtube. It’s just a glorified body sponge, people!), whose commercial involves women cleaning a man as if he were a car in a car wash.

Maddox's Alphabet of Manliness

Maddox's Alphabet of Manliness

Whenever I’ve asked people about these products, their response is usually confusion at my annoyance: “It’s just a joke!” “They’re trying to be funny! And, to be fair, most of these products are marketed as humor. Take, for example, the book (which you will find in the humor section) Maddox’s Alphabet of Manliness:

What’s more awesome than a lumberjack punching Santa in the face? A) Nothing, or B) All the above. I gave this quiz to my friend’s wife, and she got the wrong answer. She kept asking questions like “what’s so cool about Santa getting punched in the face? That’s not cool, that’s mean. ” Wrong answer, bitch. The reason she doesn’t “get it” is the same reason all women don’t get it: Men invented ass kicking along with chainsaws, beef jerky, and happiness. (pg. 1)

(… I guess this would be a bad time to admit that one of my favorite cures for a bad mood is watching Emma Peel or Dana Scully kick the ass of someone who underestimates them.) It’s over-the-top, and obviously not “serious,” in that I’m pretty sure the guy writing it doesn’t actually mean it. Nevertheless, humor is still a reflection of our culture, and this simple humor book reflects a trend in our culture of trying to define man in terms of woman in an exaggerated, extreme fashion (No, it’s not a new trend, but I think it’s been re-emerging in a big way lately). There’s a now a whole obsession with proving that you’re a manly man. And I’m not so sure the consequences are that healthy for anyone.

Frank Miller, when asked about his recent comic book film flop, The Spirit, said, “I wanted to recapture some of the glory of manlihood that I feel the world has lost.” I perhaps shouldn’t be allowed to comment, as The Spirit just didn’t happen to make my “must see” movie list last month, but from what I’ve heard, it was pretty much the typical male fantasy film: brainless babes (a character who was a scientist in the comic books was actually demoted to secretary), epic battles–nothing unusual.

But Miller does raise a point worth looking at: what exactly is the glory of “manlihood” (and why must we use a word that doesn’t exist to name it?)?

Taken from Sociological Images

Taken from Sociological Images

And has it really been lost? In reading an article on the film on the Bitch Magazine blog, I noticed most of the commenters expressing disbelief at the idea that anyone would think masculinity was being threatened (believe me, I understand the incredulity.). But if men don’t feel threatened, why is it that unisex products are becoming few and far between, that the desire to define masculinity as being anti-woman, and, for that matter, anti-sissy/gay,  has become even stronger than ever? The results of a recent “manliest man” contest put out by Old Spice (see this blog post from Feministing) came up with a man against not only women working, but women voting (Oh, please, your sexism is so 1920!).  To the right is a full page Nike ad from a recent issue of CMKY magazine, which encourages parents to “raise a champ” (son) because “the only thing worse than going to the ballet is going to the ballet to see your son.” I’m sure the many well-adjusted, really awesome male dancers (gay, straight, bi, etc.) out there are feeling the love.

In addition to the ads, useless Man!Products litter our department store shelves. Kleenex in the UK has come out with special tissues for men, that are “mansize” and “manstrong” because men’s noses run fundamentally differently from women’s (and before anyone mentions that other, man-only use for tissues, I have to wonder what special manliness ingredient man!tissues could have that would make them better-suited to the purpose.) Dial, which I’m certain used to be unisex, now has special Dial for Men bodywash that has special 3D cleaning action (? as opposed to…) and offers a website that assaults your browser with the song: “Dial for men! We’re manly, manly men! I’m a man! Yes I am!”

In the din of all of this, I hear Virginia Woof’s shock at the  astounding gender self-consciousness of her era. She was writing in Modernist England, one of the goldmines for gender-studies loving literature PHDs. Astute as always, Woolf blamed not only an emasculating war (WWI), but also the new freedoms women had gained for the resulting man panic of her contemporaries: “[Suffrage] must have roused in men an extraordinary desire for self assertion; it must have made them lay an emphasis on their own sex and its characteristics which they would not have troubled to think about had they not been challenged” (“A Room of One’s Own” pg. 99).

Is this crazy Man!culture really to be attributed to self-consciousness? Perhaps, because when I see these products, I see an attempt at self-definition. I hear, “I’m different than you! I’m a man!” In some cases, I’m sure men realize how ridiculous the whole thing looks, but, as with the winner of the Old Spice competition, even funny things can have serious consequences.

And I have to wonder how this is good for anyone. Even as men celebrate their masculinity, this kind of masculinity, as shown in Idiocracy, is glorified ignorance and stupidity. It’s the overconsumption of food and resources. It’s relegating caring and sensitivity to women, and dismissing treating women with respect as only for sissy boys, existing within the female imagination, or as a joking tactic to get into women’s pants. It’s based upon exclusion. And, honestly, I’m confused as to why anyone would want to use this stereotype as a celebration of all things male, even as a joke.

I can only conclude that a lot of media-producers are utterly confused. And why not? The market’s changing, and I’m not just talking the recession. Roadrunner Records seems to think that Amanda Palmer is impossible to market (see my post: Beyond Amanda Palmer’s Belly,) the TV show Firefly, which Fox so quickly canceled, has a giant internet cult following. The more that people claim that the world is becoming hands-off, the larger DIY communities like Etsy, Ravelry, and Craftster grow. Print media’s dying, but the zine scene in Portland is thriving. Feminism, according to most, doesn’t sell, but when Bitch Magazine needed $40,000 by the end of a month in order to survive, they surpassed their goal within three days, in the middle of a recession no less. I remember hearing a trend-spotter for Hallmark speak at my college back when I was a freshman. Her presentation overall was unremarkable, but one thing she said that really stuck with me was this: “For every trend there is a counter-trend.” Since you can’t much more mainstream than Hallmark, and I’m assuming this wasn’t super-secret information, I’m starting to wonder why publishers and producers don’t seem to be taking their own advice.

Indie and handmade: they’re not just for hipsters and hippies. They’re growing, and sometimes even breaking into the mainstream (I’m not always sure about making money, but it is surviving). Etsy is perhaps my favorite example. For those of you not in the know, Etsy is a website where crafters and sellers of vintage products can set up an online shop for their wares for really reasonable prices. Beyond this, Etsy fosters community through its blog, newsletter, and workshops around the world. It may be digital, but in many ways it’s the antithesis of everything the word conjures up: it’s a hands-on revolution, an online porthole for offline work;  it combines both individual and community achievement; it encourages real-life communication through craft bazaars, meet-ups, and classes. In other words, it’s everything the mainstream markets tell us won’t sell anymore. And yet, Etsy’s everywhere: in Lucky Magazine, on Project Runway (last season’s winner, Leanne Marshall, had a thriving Etsy shop. Before going on the show, she was making something of a living sewing all her garments by hand, trying to keep up with the orders!).

I don’t want to sound overly optimistic. Wired magazine’s been claiming the “death of brands” and the rise of niche markets for the past five years, and the mainstream media still hasn’t quite taken the hint. I know that small presses struggle, that indie designers work hard just to pay their rent. I’m sure more people have been lost to the World of Warcraft than have gotten off their chairs and down to a printing workshop at Portland’s Independent Publisher’s Resource Center. More people read Elle than Bitch. That’s just how it goes. But don’t dismiss the handmade revolution: creative people are powerful. Creative people are flexible. And, with the internet connecting more people to more resources, creative people can find a market.

“Tina Fey has never dated a bad boy. She didn’t even let boys she dated do anything bad.”

Tina Fey on the cover of Vanity Fair

Tina Fey on the cover of Vanity Fair

So begins Maureen Dowd’s recent article in Vanity Fair, “What Tina Wants” (accompanied by the blurb on the cover “A New American Sweetheart”). Reading this sentence, I can almost hear my eighth grade writing teacher announcing to the class in her rich Scottish accent, “Your intro paragraph always must begin with an attention grabber!” Clearly, Dowd intends it to be one–considering its usage, it could practically be in the dictionary under “attention grabber.” So this all just makes one wonder: why does it grab our attention? The fact itself isn’t completely shocking; I’m sure plenty of women have never dated bad boys (not to mention that if Fey admitted that she had let the boys she dated do “bad” things, she’d probably find herself on the other side of the virgin/whore dichotomy, but that’s another story). Right from the start, we’re confronted with Dowd trying to spin something not particularly odd into something completely unusual. I think part of it is that Fey successfully flouts her expectations. Unphased, throughout the article Dowd digs as hard as she can to find some way in which Fey’s personality echoes the image she has conjured of her.

During cocktails at her apartment, I ask Fey, What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?

“Nothing,” she replies blithely. (page 2)

But there are no affairs to find, just the time when Fey’s husband “got in trouble” for joking that they should go to a strip club. There’s no scandalous tales gossiped from co-workers, just the assertion that Fey is a world-class observer, one of the secrets to any sort of good writing, comedic or otherwise. For that matter, she’s not anyone’s puppet (“’Tina is not clay’ says Lorne Michaels, the impresario of Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls, and 30 Rock, when I ask him how he helped shape her career” [page 1].). And, unable to find these tropes to center her article, Dowd tries another tactic, one we’re probably all familiar with. My mom saw it in the 60’s, my friends and I saw it as teenagers in the 90’s. It’s the romantic comedy narrative standard of the just-remove-glasses and stir ugly ducking.

From an objective writerly perspective, I’m unsure of what Dowd is trying to accomplish in this article–it meanders in circles. As I said before, I almost get the sense that she approached it with a certain set of expectations, didn’t have them met, and was reduced to trying to fit what she did find out into some semblance of structure. But stranger still, and more interesting, is Fey’s relative silence throughout the article. Dowd has elected to tell the trajectory of Fey’s career almost entirely from the perspective of the men in her life. Feminist objections aside, there’s just something jarring about not hearing from someone who’s known for her comedy, her writing, her voice in a piece about her life. I can only conclude that Dowd, in her desire to fit Tina Fey into the “glamor-puss” role she (or Vanity Fair) created, had to tone down Fey’s “activeness.” She attempts to shove a kind of “American Dream” tale (woman who does hard work gets rewarded) into a Cinderella makeover story, resulting in a textual and subtextual mess.

Steve Higgins, an S.N.L. producer, observes, ‘When she got here she was kind of goofy-looking, but everyone had a crush on her because she was so funny and bitingly mean. How did she go from ugly duckling into swan? It’s the Leni Riefenstahl in her. She has such a German work ethic even though she’s half Greek. It’s superhuman, the German thing of ‘This will happen and I am going to make this happen.’ It’s just sheer force of will. (page 1)

As I mentioned before, the rhetoric here is half American Dream, half Stacy and Clinton’s “What Not to Wear” celebrity super special edition (I don’t know if that actually exists). Perhaps fitting into the New York image allowed Fey to appear on TV, but it was her comedic sensibility that got her that far in the first place. If we want to reduce people’s lives to narratives, why does Dowd have to explicitly use Cinderella (and, for that matter, Sex and the City): ” She got her own slipper, writing and willing herself into the role, and the shoe wasn’t glass. It was a silver Manolo Blahnik.”? Is a makeover really the female equivalent of the American Dream?

The slipper just doesn’t fit, even as Dowd slices the story. Her tone doesn’t match the details. I think my favorite example of this is Dowd’s apparent shock that back when Fey was doing Second City gigs in Chicago “She used to wear crazy boots…knee-length frumpy dresses with thrift-store sweaters.” In other words, she dressed like a college student. As I myself, was, up until very recently, a college student, I just don’t have it in me to drudge up the shock. Living in the Pacific Northwest probably doesn’t help either, but I guess that’s not the point. I know that if you want to get into the entertainment industry, especially in a place like New York, you have to look the part. You have to be a sophisticate. Despite Dowd’s attempt to shroud it in mystique, when I read Fey’s story I see not a cosmetic miracle, but the story of a woman who realized that she had to dress the part to be taken seriously. She was already writing for SNL; they just wouldn’t let her on TV. She had the talent, the drive; all that was missing was the image. Call it a feminist defeat; call it just the way things are–I don’t care. Right or wrong, it was just another step along the difficult road of becoming a self-made woman in a world where women need both brains and beauty to get noticed. Seinfeld didn’t need to be a hunk and could dress down grungy, but Tina Fey’s gotta wear those pumps. It’s sick that the world works like that, yes, and it’s even more sick that Dowd chose to center her tale of Fey’s career around what was perhaps the smallest aspect of her success.

The quotes from the article chosen to accompany the lovely Annie Leibovitz photography are even more puzzling. Next to an image of Fey dancing

Tina Fey, as photographed by Annie Leibovitz

Tina Fey, as photographed by Annie Leibovitz

around, smiling and carefree is the blurb, “I like to look goofy, but I also don’t want to get canceled because of my big old butt.” While I find the actualand image counteracts how free Fey looks while dancing. It feels like a textual punishment: you can’t really be this joyful because you have a butt. I have yet to truly understand what exactly made this such an important quotation as to be excerpted from the article. As it is, it adds yet another contradictory message to the tangled subtext: She’s a brain. No, she’s a brain-turned-glamour puss-who-somehow-retained-the-brain. But, don’t worry, other women: she’s still a butt despite it all.

Regardless of how pretty Tina Fey may be I’ve never actually met anyone who would talk about her looks before her comedy. But Dowd’s article–though it does veers into the Palin sketches (“Did she ever use the Sarah Palin voice to entice her own First Dude?” Dowd asks [pg. 2].) and 30 Rock (“30 Rock features many shots of Liz Lemon’s younger life, when she looks like a nerd in goofy clothes and frizzy hair. ‘I really wasn’t heavy in high school,’ Fey recalls over lunch one afternoon at Café Luxembourg, where she dutifully switches her order from a B.L.T. to a salad” [pg. 2].)–has body on the brain.

Whether she did it just to sell magazines or if she’s acting on her own prejudices, Dowd has done everything in her power to tease out the body and bawdy from this career, but no matter if you want to package her as America’s Sweetheart or as just a very talented comedic writer/producer who worked her butt off, in the end, Fey just comes across as smart and driven. Plain and simple. I, for one, like that; I’m not sure why Dowd doesn’t.

(You can read the full article here or in the January 2009 issue of Vanity Fair, starting on page 66.)

*Apologies to the writers of Frost/Nixon for stealing their title. The movie, while fairly unrelated to anything having to do with this article, is actually fantastic.

Welcome to 2009, everyone!

Last night, as the clock struck twelve, my friends and I banged pots and pans together to greet the new year. It had been a difficult year for all of us, and we were glad to see it go. Then, we heard a bang, and, a hush came over us. From the kitchen window, we could see the fireworks set off over the waterfront. We watched them in relative silence, with only the crackles of the explosions and the music we had been listening to playing in the background.

Finally, someone said, “I feel like we’re in the credits of a movie.”

Another agreed: “The opening credits.”

It did feel like a beginning.

So here’s to new beginnings! I hope you had a great evening whether you spent it in, out, or not caring that a digit on the calendar was about to change.


From the Cracked Mirror is a blog about culture, both high and low, including art, literature, film, food, and advertising from a progressive and feminist perspective. I’m here to critique, elucidate, wonder, and gush...

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