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(I apologize in advance for any incoherence this article may contain thanks to my throbbing sinuses.)

“So this is what a real writer looks like,” was, I’m embarrassed to say, my first thought as I approached the Writer’s Dojo, a Portland writer’s resource center tucked away in north of the city. The woman who had caught my eye was wore an overcoat and carried a large Queen Bee Creations bag. I smiled, thinking of the Queen Bee bag slung over my own shoulder and feeling that perhaps I wouldn’t look entirely out of place despite the fact that I had gotten caught in a rainstorm on the way to the Dojo.

I’d like to excuse myself for these silly thoughts with such generalizations as “no one is immune to shallowness,” but that would be ignoring the truth of the matter, which is that I still feel as if I’m intruding on the Portland writer’s world instead of being a part of it. I pay attention to the way I dress because I feel as if maybe I can make myself look the part people won’t realize that I’m still an amateur. Perhaps it’s a symptom of my own mental transition from academic to writer.  Maybe it’s because I don’t have the mental energy these days to devote much time to fiction, which I would love to eventually have time to do (it just feels irresponsible to dream about the lives of others while I, myself, am mostly unemployed.) But I think the most likely reason of all is that I am not yet published (though this will change in a small capacity shortly. I’ve landed a small freelance gig, but I’ve hesitated to post about it here so that I don’t jinx anything.).

This muddle of thoughts is actually central to a lot of what I got out of attending the Writer’s Dojo panel discussion on publishing, community and social media. Featuring writers, small-press publishers, and the owners of literary social networking sites, the discussion panel answered questions and posed new ones about the future of publishing: What does it mean that with technologies such as Twitter and blogs, anyone can be their own publisher? Does blogging about your day smother the seeds of stories by forcing them out into the open air prematurely? Do people still read books? And what about the fact that a lot of people need solitude to write and don’t want to constantly be able to communicate?

Despite my nerves, the atmosphere was genial and open, becoming more of a giant conversation than a lecture, and I’m sorry to simplify what was an all-together fascinating panel into this small write-up, but this was what stuck with me. This is the second panel I’ve attended on this subject, and I’m more than a little surprised about the one commonality between this one and the one I attended at Wordstock: The panelists at both were very concerned about what “the kids” think about print media, and yet, “the kids,” for the most part, didn’t attend these discussions. I don’t know what to make of the latter point, but I’d like to speak a bit to the former. Being on the younger end of my twenties, I’m more or less on the upper edge of the age group in question and felt a little awkward hearing such joking comments as “Yeah, you want a 20-year-old to do your marketing!” It’s akin to hearing relatives discuss your life at a family function, referring to you in the third person while you stand right next to them, staring at your shoes.

As the conversation moved in fascinating directions such as the usefulness of paper media for annotation, and the fact that children still grow up with books (and children books are amongst the most beautiful printed), I often wanted to raise my hand and offer a recent college graduate’s perspective. (Unfortunately, I’m short, shy, and was sitting behind tall people, so by the time I got called on, the conversation had moved in such a direction that I mumbled something about the kinds of interactive fiction I’ve seen on Livejournal, primarily in fandom, where people are supposed to respond to journal entries as if the characters were real people, and came off as a not particularly serious sci-fi dork, but that sorry tale is neither here nor there).  What I had wanted to say though, is that the person who brought up children’s books hit the nail on the head: I don’t know anyone my age who sees books as obsolete. I heard of a  few people who hate reading, but not even my constantly plugged-in little brother is ready to give up books yet (granted, he doesn’t hate reading.).

This brings me back to the issue of publishing and the question of what makes a “real” writer: yes, anyone can be published these days through blogs or twitter. There are sites designed to help you archive web comics and sites which which you can use to print small runs of your work for family and friends. Before all this, zinesters were self-publishing their work armed only with a copier and a stapler. But even amongst people younger than me, I don’t know if anyone considers these self-publishing tools to be “real” yet. From what I can tell, and I admit that I’ve never truly been in an online writing scene (there’s more than one), writing on the net is still seen as a prelude to a book deal. Getting recognized by a publisher still has a kind of mystique. When a fanfic author such as Cassandra Clare, both infamous and famous in the Harry Potter fandom, gets a book deal, people see it as having moved on to the big leagues. At this point, I think it’s both the seal of quality publishers assure for readers and the affirmation they provide writers that keep self-publishing in this manner less mainstream. If these attitudes change, well, the sky’s the limit.

I write a lot of articles on this blog. People have commented both positively and negatively, and it’s a lot of fun. I feel like my voice is being heard. Nevertheless, I don’t think of it as publishing my thoughts. I don’t consider myself a journalist or a published writer at this point, which is why I still feel like I’m performing something I’m not when I go to events like this panel. I still list myself in the “aspiring” category, someone who’s still striving make her output match her ideas, and then, with a little luck, her output match her dreams of publication. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind. Maybe I’ll be published before I have to change my mind. Or maybe I’ll opt out of all of worry of when I can truly call myself a writer and join the publishing world (or try and make my way in both.) Until then, I’ll still worry that I’m out of place at writing events, checking out the aura of the authentic writers and wondering when I can walk among them with confidence. Even if our publishing media has democratized, I’m not sure our attitudes have. At least mine sure haven’t.

What? I’m writing the Snazz on Thursday this week like I said I was going to? Wow. Unfortunately, I don’t have much new to report on my front, but maybe you guys have more to say.

Reading

I’m still working on The Blind Assassin and loving it–it’s taking me a bit longer than I expected because I got distracted by the science book I’m reading:

Einstein’s Telescope by Evalyn Gates- So far this has proved to be wonderfully accessible and interesting (and has made me jokingly gripe at gravity all week for screwing up everyone’s predictions and theories). Part of me wishes she’d go more into the mechanics of how lenses work because I’ve forgotten, but I understand that she’s trying to keep it simple, and I can’t blame her for that. Also, she’s speaking at Powell’s in April, so maybe I’ll get to hear her comments on her own work.

Listening

It’s just been a Regina Spektor kind of week.

Seeing

The Importance of Being Earnest– Wilde’s plays are always good for a laugh, and Portland Center Stage’s production was rather nicely done. I think my favorite aspect of the staging/direction was the attention paid to class, from the way the city and the country servants behaved to the difference in mannerisms between Gwendolyn and Cecily. Granted, the only other production I’d seen of the play was entirely gender-focused: the play featured an all male cast, and was framed by a scene with Wilde drinking absinthe in Paris and hallucinating the handsome waiters into his own play.

Misc.

Rebeca Rubin- American Girl Dolls have certainly changed a lot since I was little. Okay, so they were always overpriced and toys for the (semi-)wealthy, yes, I know, but I got hours of enjoyment just reading the catalogs, books and fantasizing. Okay, I had a Samantha doll. I admit it. Still drooled over the catalog. In any case, to my surprise, I found out that they’re retiring Samantha to make way for a new Victorian-era girl: Rebeca Rubin. Why is this even remotely interesting? She’s a Russian Jewish immigrant on New York’s Lower-East Side, that’s why! This is exciting for me because it always really did bother me as a young girl that none of the dolls reflected my family’s experiences. I know that there are plenty of histories that get left out of the American Girls, but when you’re little, you don’t consider that. All you know is that none of the dolls are like you, and you feel left out.

I’m intrigued by their decision to retire Samantha, whom I always thought was really popular because of her overall pink and frilliness. Perhaps her story, which is largely about a wealthy Victorian girl coming to terms with her own privilege, came off either as condescending (which seems to clear to me now, that I’m embarrassed for my younger self), or maybe it just wasn’t as exciting as the lives of the likes of Addy,  an escaped slave forging a new life for her family and dealing with racism, or Felicity, who learned to stand up for her beliefs and had adventures in breeches. No matter. I’m excited that there finally is a Jewish doll. Now maybe they’ll diversify even more. The only doll they have to represent East-Asian Americans is in a side-kick role, which seems kind of unfair to me. And how about a South-east Asian? Blah blah blah time/money/concept design/is anyone going to still buy these dolls in the middle of a recession? But, hey, nifty nevertheless, right? (source, and no, I don’t usually look on doll collecting blogs. I found the link elsewhere.)

So what sort of snazz are you enjoying this week?

Would you believe anything this person says?

Would you believe anything this person says?

When we talk about the possibility of blogs replacing newspapers, we tend to pay a lot of attention to the anxieties surrounding the anonymity of bloggers. They just don’t seem to have the credentials that someone being backed by the New York Times has. There’s a lot to discuss in this issue, but I want to draw attention to one point that I don’t often see brought up (though I’m sure someone’s talking about it.). The thing that worries me almost more about the transition from print to digital media is the ability for people to comment on whatever they read. Though blogs have long been considered a dialogue, newspapers and magazines have started attaching comments feeds to their articles, allowing for instant discussion. But comment feeds rarely actually encourage discussion that does not degenerate into flame wars, name-calling, and the other weapons called upon in net drama.

As any net veteran will tell you, you cannot win an argument on the internet. But can you even have a discussion on the internet?

In her article “Lowest Comment Denominator,” freelance writer Laura Nathan encouraged feminists to abandon using the comments feeds on blog and news article as discussion forums in favor of email or even in person discussion of the articles with friends. This seemingly Luddite response comes from her rather astute observation that “commenting has been around for a decade now, and it still hasn’t advanced the conversation about feminism—or anything else for that matter” (pg. 45, Bitch Magazine: Fall 2008: “Loud”). As much as I hate to say it, she has an excellent point. I really love getting comments here on FtCM, and I love reading other blogs, but, for the most part, reading comments pages gives me headaches of epic proportions.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and I do feel a little guilty for making commenters who do think carefully about the comments they write out of this post for the most part.  Don’t worry–I know they exist.

If you’re at all interested in the discussion of the future of journalism, I would recommend checking out Nathan’s article, which addresses, albeit briefly, some of the common ways comment feeds degrade journalism, such as the way internet culture thrives on provoking others and the ability of commenters or even the bloggers themselves to create sock puppet accounts (fake accounts) in an attempt to make it seem like more people agree with them. But I’ve got another reason why comment feeds, particularly on news articles, don’t seem to help discussion any: comment feeds completely eliminate context.

One of the first things any writer considers before beginning a piece is their audience (and if they will accept the fact that I like using 3rd-person plural pronouns as a gender-neutral 3rd-person singular). I know this sounds banal and obvious, but it’s so taken-for-granted that we almost forget about it. Thinking about whom you write for means that you consider your audience’s context: their education (Is it specialized? Do they expect you to use certain jargon?), their background, their concerns. It shows consideration and respect for them, not to metion that having a sense of what your audience expects changes everything about how you write from your tone to what you discuss. It’s essential.

But you can’t do this properly on the internet. Its vastness erases context. Even though I do have some sense of which sorts of people read my blog, I constantly find out that websites like Stumbleupon, or random Google searches for such random terms as “castration” or “what happened to the Nostalgia chick?” bring people outside of my predicted audience to my site. I’m not complaining (I mean, thinking hard enough about it, I realize that the writers of centuries past didn’t consider us as their audience either,) but it does mean that people read me out of the context I’ve created on FtCM, and sometimes without me predicting them as part of my audience.

In the end, this does not really affect the way I blog; like any other writer, I eventually just have to pick an audience and stick with it. Published writers go through a similar context-erasing ordeal (they can’t predict who will pick up their books!), unless they’ve been published by a specialty press. I do still consider audience when I write and make an effort to account for the fact that not everyone reading this blog comes from the same background that I do. I like to think that most bloggers do this, and I know that a good journalist does too, whether their article goes in a paper or on the net.

Though we tend to think of commenting as being intimately tied up with blogging, it actually works in a different way. A quality blog or a news blog worth reading will have articles that are written with care, or at least some effort. Comments, on the other hand,  are often gut reactions, written without fully realizing the implications of their words nor with thought given to the types of people who may be reading the comment. When I comment on a feminist blog, I expect people to be familiar with certain concepts. If I go to a slightly larger blog, even one that considers itself progressive, I don’t know if its readers come from the same feminist context. I cannot expect them to be familiar with terms such as “rape culture” that are well-defined and easily understood within the context of the feminist community. If I write with the expectation that people already know the lingo or already accept certain precepts as true, I run the risk of alienating people who might otherwise be sympathetic to my ideas and causing others to make terrible assumptions about what I’m actually trying to say. Ignoring who my audience only serves to undermine my point and hinders discussion.

The other danger lies in the ability of commenters to erase their own context. This is less of an issue for bloggers because even if they are fairly tight-lipped with personal details, they create a context for themselves with their blogging history. Eventually, if a commenter comments at a blog long enough, they will gain a context of sorts, but in a vast sea of comments it’s difficult to keep track of an individual, unless they’re on a small blog that has created a community of regular commenters.

Writing outside of a context might mean that whatever you say can’t get traced back to you (which has been oft blamed for viciousness on the internet,) but it also means that readers do not have a context within which to judge your claims. Again, this is a simple point, but it can have a huge effect on the direction of discussion. For example, if I’m reading a book on physics, and the book tells me that its author works at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC,) I know that, at least in the realm of particle physics, she has some authority to speak on the subject. Therefore, if I am looking at the comments feed for a Scientific American blog article, and see a person make a claim that contradicts what I read in the book, I’m probably going to ignore the comment. It doesn’t matter if the comment I read was written by a physicist working within the same field who has found actual evidence to bring the theories of the author of the book into question. I don’t know that from a comments thread. And, beyond that, I have no reason to trust that information coming from a comments thread, even if the commenter were to reveal my identity.

Ultimately, everyone who writes on the internet now, bloggers and commenters alike, faces the obstacle of having internet culture as their context. Internet culture, as it stands, has an attitude rather similar to such characters as The Joker (ala The Dark Knight): Why so serious? (sorry, sorry. I couldn’t help it!)  Anyone who has ever gotten upset over a comment made on the internet will probably have received a slew of responses to the effect of, “Why are you taking this so seriously! It’s just the internet!” or “Why do you care what people you don’t even know think?” (If you play with the logic of that third statement long enough, you start to wonder why anyone has a conversation on the internet ever, if it’s just a bunch of people they don’t know spouting opinions.) The internet has gained the reputation of being a land of informational anarchy, of communication via macro, and of people venting their anger. It is a land of verbal vigilantes who thrive on “educating” people that they consider to be stupid of their own stupidity. If this is the base-line context we write in on the internet, then I do not blame anyone dubious of its usefulness as an informational or, almost more importantly, discussion forum.

I’m not sure I want to pronounce a death sentence on the internet’s possibilities for discussion on issues. The internet is a useful organizing tool, an equalizing tool, and often offers a public stage for people whose voices are often ignored by mainstream publications for reasons of gender, race, class, and sexuality.  And, again, I don’t want to forget the fact that there are people who comment thoughtfully, or at least make an effort to. I always hesitate to portray the internet as a wasteland, even if it sometimes feels that way. Nothing’s that simple.

But the fact remains that whenever we read, and particularly whenever we read anything on the internet, we cannot stop questioning. We cannot stop thinking critically about people’s motivations, backgrounds, and contexts for commenting.

And now, in a fit of paradoxical glee, I invite you to comment on this article. ;)

Anoukvandijk DC's Stau is the best thing ever.

Anoukvandijk DC's Stau is the best thing ever.

Oh my goodness, I’ve gone lax with my Snazz! Oh no! Well, allow me to make up for it, or try.

Reading:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood- This continues to be at once fun and interesting, and full of characters I love and love to hate. Plus, Atwood seems to be having fun. Perhaps, once I finish it, I’ll have something more concrete to say here, but, for now, suffice to say that I recommend it.

Einstein’s Telescope by Evalyn Gates- Physicists now believe that most of our universe is made up of a substance we cannot even detect, which, if we can even call it matter, defies everything we know about matter. This substance is called dark matter (I will resist the temptation to launch into the Andrew Bird song). This book explores how physicists are making use of Einstein’s theory of relativity to use the universe itself as a telescope hoping to detect and study dark matter, and its crazy friend, dark energy. What can I say? I miss science. Can’t wait to start reading about it again.

Epileptic by David B.- I have to say that this is one of the best graphic novels I have ever read. Story aside, it uses the medium to perfection, building themes both through text and his innovative artwork. The novel works both as a story in itself, and as an attempt for the author to make sense of the inexplicable as he follows his family’s struggle with his older brother’s incurable epilepsy. Growing up in France in the 1970’s, David B.’s family turns to not only to conventional medicines, but the occult, the esoteric, and the homeopathic. What really makes the comic special is the way he integrates his childhood imaginative view of the world into his illustrations, showing his family as being haunted by the bird-like spirit of his grandfather, his brother being attacked by a twisting serpent, and the various gurus who attempt to help (or swindle) his family as anthropomorphized creatures. This creates an impressive visual vocabulary that works in tandem with the text to make the story incredibly unique. David spares us the lens of adult understanding until the end, instead focusing on how he felt at the time: the strangeness, the inability to understand, the anger. However,  because of this, I feel obligated to warn that a child growing up in a homogeneous community in the 70’s does not necessarily get much exposure to diversity, and a child’s mind does not always make acceptable free-associations upon encountering it for the first time. This aspect me at first, but, in the end, I think David B. uses it not to endorse or excuse racism, but as an attempt to recreate precisely how he felt at the time. I understand if this turns you off the comic, but if you’re willing to give it a try, I think you’ll be in for a treat.

Soon to be reading Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Queenpin by Megan Abbott (yay femme noir!).

Surfing

Goodreads.com– A social networking site for readers. I had a Library Thing account back in the day, but quickly lost interest because of their bookshelf limit. Goodreads is more like the iread facebook app—more about your “currently reading” and “to read” lists than your bookshelf. It also puts a strong emphasis on reviewing the books you read. Not quite sure how I feel about it yet, but I’m futzing with it.

Fun With Shorts– Since I know you all need more hilarious ways to waste your time on the internet, I feel compelled to recommend “Fun With Shorts.” Inspired by MST3K (that’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 for those not in the know), Josh Way rips apart the most terrifying instructional videos from the late 40’s and 50’s. God, the post-war era was even more traumatizing than I thought. Plus, it’s a good reminder of how cultural values (and medical research) change: did you know that bread and butter was once considered a food group?

Seeing

Stau– As a dancer myself, it really bothers me that modern dance so often gets a bad rap. People assume that it’s pretentious, inscrutable, and irrelevant to life. It’s such a missed opportunity–at its best, contemporary dance can be playful, mind-bending, fun, and incredibly full of life. Our culture tends to be afraid of the human body, and dance gives us a medium of art that is entirely about the body: about touching, moving, bending, giving a whole new meaning to “body language.” Stau, by Anoukvandijk DC, is a perfect example of what dance should be. I don’t want to give too much away in cause you get the chance to see it (surprise and disorientation is a major part of the experience.), but now only is the movement breathtaking both in content and the incredible precision and control the dancers manifest, but they blur audience in a performer in a way that’s fun, challenging, and pushes your comfort zone in the best of ways (Please do sit in the front row unless you have a strong objection to people invading your personal space bubble. If you’re willing to be pushed at all, let yourself be pushed.). See it.

I know that was short, but, to be honest, I’ve been spending more time writing than… media absorbing lately. Plus, the March pollen influx has killed my brain. Curse you, Pollen! In any case, tune in next week, when I shall present the Snazz (hopefully) on time!

What’s been rocking your world lately?

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Combining innovative architecture and some of the best theater in the country in a hub of frat-boy manliness?

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis: Combining innovative architecture and some of the best theater in the country in a hub of frat-boy manliness?

Hello, everyone.  Just letting you know that I am still breathing, and, not only that, I intend to keep this blog breathing (or at least spewing out words). I’ve just been hunkering down and working on internship writing samples/searching for places that might be interested in taking me on as an intern. Life gets in the way of blogging sometimes, which is, I suppose, as it should be.

In any case, I figured I’d leave you this little snack (ha. ha. ha.) that I found via Shakesville. I think it not only serves to illustrate how marketers are trying to package manliness, but the danger of not asking where your information comes from.

Mars Brand Snack Foods, in order to promote their COMBOS® brand cheese-filled snack, did a pseudo-scientific ranking of the Manliest Cities in the US (See the article on Marketwatch.com). You see, a city’s “manliness” can apparently can be determined by its concentration of sports bars, professional sports teams, hardware stores, and BBQ restaurants. Perhaps the most telling criterion of a city’s manliness though, is “manly salty snacks consumption.” In other words, cities where more people eat cheesy Combos snacks (and watch NASCAR, which Combos sponsors), are skewed to be more manly.

Therefore, those men who live in such effeminite cities as Portland or San Francisco (#47 and 48, respectively, out of fifity. I feel a strange surge of pride here.), can save their masculinity by buying more Combos cheese pretzels:

“As the ultimate hearty snack, COMBOS(R) created the Ultimate Man Zone Sweepstakes to give guys the opportunities to improve their favorite hangouts,” said Craig Hall, general manager, Mars Snackfood US. “Through our COMBOS(R) ‘America’s Manliest Cities’ study, we want to let guys know where their hometowns stack up against their brethren coast-to-coast when it comes to manliest.”

While it’s too late for men to raise their city’s manliness ranking this year, men from every city still have the chance to raise the level of their man gear by entering the COMBOS(R) Ultimate Man Zone Sweepstakes at www.COMBOS.com. The entry deadline is May 31, 2009. (From the Marketwatch article linked at the top of the post)

Being just out of college, I feel disgusting quoting something without explaining what I’ve just showed, but, really, I can only offer this simple translation: Eat our cheese pretzels or be a woman!

Yet I’ve seen this “study” quoted various places (not just the ones that Shakesville lists, such as The Chicago Tribune), that do not qualify it with the fact that it is a marketing ploy. The whole thing is about marketing, not manliness.

I’m tempted to launch in to a discussion of the geographical bias, and possible “coastal effeminate urban intellectual” bashing implied in the study, but I promised I’d keep this short.

Also, as someone who went to school in Minnesota (one of the most underrated states in the nation, I must say,) I have to laugh that they rank Minneapolis as #18. They clearly didn’t take into account the city’s incredible theater scene (one of the best in the nation), modern dance scene (again, incredible.), famous art museums, and other such less-than-manly (by their definition) institutions such as The Mall of America (though I guess that’s technically outside the city. Not that I believe that these things are necessarily effeminate—I’m just going by their standards.

The moral of the story is that marketers seem to be clamping on to current anxieties surrounding masculinity. They are also getting sneakier with their viral marketing, in this case disguising it as social science. And when people claim to do demographic surveys, find out who conducted them, and what questions they asked. Please.

Aka- Not another Watchmen post!

Unsurprisingly, it seems like all the critics and blogs are talking about Watchmen. I have to admit that I was planning to refrain from comment because of this to avoid being repetitive, but, instead, I’m doing a slightly more brief post and focusing on slightly different issues. Watchmen, by nature of its cult following (meaning that the movie had a ton of hype), and the considerable violence and moral ambiguity present in its story line, inevitably has generated controversy and many questions. Is it still relevant? Is it filmable? Is it liberal? Is it conservative? Is it misogynistic? Is it homophobic? Should they have marketed it as a superhero movie (actually, I’m curious as to why people don’t talk about how movies are marketed, since this more-or-less helps us guess at whom they expect their target audience to be)? In a novel which chooses not to have a character acting as its moral center, preferring instead to imply judgment, there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Does this make it dangerous?

I’m actually not going to attempt to answer any of those questions, though all of them are interesting (What happens when you take a story by a most decidedly not homophobic writer and give it to a director who seems to have masculinity issues? Adrien Veidt has a folder marked “boys.”). Instead, I’m going to focus on one aspect of the media coverage. What boggles my mind almost as much as the fact that the director made scenes even more violent than they were in an already very gory graphic novel (and that does boggle my mind) is why everyone is so hyper-focused on the fact that in a few scenes you can see Dr. Manhattan’s penis. It’s not erect. It’s not even commented upon within the film. It’s just there, as if he were a male model in a figure drawing class.

It’s not even in the movie for shock value (unlike much of the amped-up violence)–it’s an important demonstration of how Dr. Manhattan has lost his humanity, and, along with that, shame in his nakedness (to be slightly Biblical about it). While, as the critical/public reaction to the penis has proved, we are incredibly uncomfortable with our “bits,” Dr. Manhattan sees the world on a molecular level, rendering such things fairly irrelevant. And while I can’t necessarily criticize individuals for being uncomfortable with seeing a penis, and possibly being made more uncomfortable by the fact that the film refuses to comment on it, I do have to wonder at why it’s getting so much attention considering the movie that it’s in.

In both the movie and the novel, Watchmen is a disturbing story of moral ambiguity, violence, rape, war, fear, and anger. It lacks a moral center amongst its main characters, which, by its nature, makes it difficult to read/watch. The movie had a brutal attempted rape scene (note- I understand that this was integral to the plot too–I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been in there.). It had a sex scene that was bizarrely pornified. In the midst of all of this, I cannot fathom why an exposed penis deserves the uproar it’s getting. Personal discomfort, sure, but public uproar?

Is it because there’s still a taboo about men looking at other men’s genitals? Is it because we have a difficult time detaching our bodies from sex? Is it because we portray sex as being at once glamorous and taboo, and this particular penis takes out that glamor? Is it because people are thinking of it as being Billy Crudup’s penis and not Dr. Manhattan’s? I’d do a cliché comparison with naked breasts in films, but, the fact is, I don’t think we’re even as comfortable with breasts when removed from sexual context as we claim to be (see: breastfeeding.)

Discuss: What’s with the ado over blue genitalia?

(For the record, I didn’t think it was a particularly good movie for various reasons that I’ve discussed ad-nausium all weekend, and therefore don’t feel like writing them up yet again. If you are brimming with curiosity over what I thought, email me about it. I do like the graphic novel, though. I’m not a rabid fan, but I like it.)

Sorry I’m late with the snazz; I ended up with a headache yesterday and didn’t get the chance to update again. In any case…

Take a strange journey to Outer Suburbia

Take a strange journey to Outer Suburbia

It’s just not March without daffodils, or, at least, that’s what I learned from going to school in MN. Fortunately, Portland agrees with me. The other interesting thing about having gone to school in MN is that apparently one of the contestants of “Make Me a Supermodel” is from my alma mater. Too bad the show is too painful to watch (definitely not snazz-worthy), or I’d root for him because  I, too, can’t help but fall into the illogical logic of “he goes to my school; therefore he’s awesome.” Well, despite that not being snazz, the following things are:

Books

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood- I’m about 200 pages in and totally hooked. It’s an odd juxtaposition of a woman talking about her life, snippets from a strange novel by her sister, and random newspaper clippings. I don’t know where it’s heading yet, but Atwood writes with a dexterity that inspires confidence, and so I’m not worried. Also, I’m enjoying the unusual point of view–the main character is a woman in her 90’s, and the combination of her spirited kvetching and her unease over the way people treat an aging woman (as if she’s made of glass) make her a fresh, entertaining voice to hear.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan- This book for “young adults” (hah! Says who?) is at once an illustrated collection of short stories and something of a graphic novel (in that the pictures tell an integral part of the stories), and so far is a treat to read. It’s really short, and so I’ve been rationing the stories–no more than one a night. So far it’s been a strange, thought-provoking journey into the realm of the bizarre, mixing the mundane with the extraordinary (and yet I don’t get a “randomly strange for the sake of strangeness” vibe from it, which I greatly appreciate.) Yum. I’m glad my library hold on this one came through so quickly.

My flatmate and I have both been on  graphic novel kicks, which is great because it means we swap what we take out from the library. Twice the books AND a discussion partner in one. Now that is snazz:

The Best American Comics 2008 edited by Lynda Barry- I was nervous when Lynda Barry noted “Family Circus” as been her favorite comic of all time (and also disappointed because I like Lynda Barry!), but as soon I turned to the first story, “Burden” by Graham Annable, all my fears were allayed. I was hooked. Though I didn’t like every single comic in the book, it’s overall an outstanding collection and display of talent. Plus, if you’re interested in the art of narrative, like I am, seeing all sorts of different ways to tell a story through pictures is a huge treat!

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan- I think I’m in the minority in this one, just taking a glance at the reviews, but I found Exit Wounds to be profoundly disappointing. Though I really enjoyed the artwork, Modan fell flat on the story telling by trying, almost self-consciously, to be subtle. The result is a graphic novel that just never felt finished to me. I was profoundly unconvinced by the relationships in the novel, and disappointed that a story that pretended to be revealing the complexities of relationships ended up just confirming the main character’s biases in the first place.  The most interesting thing that the novel does is hint at potential differences in political opinion along class lines in Israel, but because the main characters were not only stereotypes, but polar-opposites, I didn’t find them compelling.

And I just started Epileptic by David B.

Online Media

“Depression Era Cooking With Clara” (YouTube / Official Site)- This is really cool. A man named Christopher Cannucciari filmed a series of videos of his great grandmother Clara (age 93) cooking the type of food her family used to eat while she was growing up in New York during The Great Depression. As she cooks, she tells stories about her childhood and adds a personal context to the meals. It’s awesome to see these stories and recipes preserved and shared! Note- the creator himself uploaded the videos to YouTube, so you don’t have the feel like you’re cheating anyone out of their money or something by watching the episodes there. :)

Film

My flatmate studies African literature and has been attending the Cascade African Film Festival here in Portland. This week is “Women’s Week” and so he invited me to join him for this weeks showing, two feminism-centric documentaries.

A Love During the War – This was not the best made documentary in the world, but the story it told was so important that I think that it’s worth having seen. Love blends the story of the forced separation of a journalist named Aziza from her husband during the civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Aziza’s and other women’s work with the rape victims of the war. The stories didn’t mix well, but, frankly, I don’t care because if it makes people aware of what’s going on in the DRC, then good. I’d list details I picked up from the film, but, honestly, it’s enough to trigger anyone.

Awaiting for MenThis was the other documentary shown. It’s a film from Mauritania that showed three women who live in a strict Muslim community. The film makers asked them questions about their relationship with their husbands, the relationship between men and women, and sex. What was really great was that each woman had her own distinct views on the issue, which was extremely humanizing. However, I was really sensitive to the audience reaction, and I’m not quite sure they got it. One of my favorite parts was when, upon being asked who owns her body, one of the women turned right around and asked, “Who owns your body?” This got a few laughs from the audience, which saddens me because seriously, I think it’s a question all of us should think about. In our culture, who owns our bodies?

So tell me, what are you reading/watching/playing/seeing/enjoying?

Hey everyone, I’m afraid that I may or may not be able to include an actual article this week other than the Snazz because all my FtCM allotted time has been taken up with a secret surprise that I’ll hopefully get to unveil next week. This is what happens when you hang out with creative folk–they convince you to devote endless time and energy to creative projects. I’m also working pretty hardcore analyzing some fanfiction for an article I’m writing about the weakening of strong women in het romance fics (it’s actually quite disturbing).

Also, I’ve been thinking of doing a series on posts on  tv/radio/film/novel heroines (both classic and contemporary), taking a look at them in historical context (how they were portrayed by advertising, how did they relate to their cultural climate, etc.). Does anyone have a favorite they’d like me to research?

Welcome

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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