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There is a woman whom I have long considered my adopted younger sister–I use younger instead of little because she is taller than me and a Freshman in college, which hardly seems little anymore. Her older sister and I grew up together, making mud pies, pretending to be Smurfs, mermaids, Star Wars characters. Recently on facebook she posted a link to a really interesting slam poem by a Jewish woman. I will not post the link because the youtube comments (which delve into such non-topics as “Anti-Semitism no-longer exists” or “ISRAEL,” which has nothing to with the poem.) make me utterly nauseous, but I will quote from it (yes, I agree it’s problematic for a blogger to get so squicked out by youtube comments feeds. But I am.):

You’re Jewish? Wow, you don’t look Jewish, you don’t act Jewish.” And they say it in this tone that sounds like they’re complimenting me! Well this is what I say back: “What does Jewish look like to you? Should I fiddle on a fuckin’ roof for you? Should I humor you with ‘oy vays’ and refuse to pay!?” (Vanessa Hidary, “The Jewish Mamita”)

The poem made me smile, partially because of its content and because it’s always nice to see someone younger than you whom you care about so much find art that helps them be comfortable in their own skin and unapologetic. But it also gave me the courage to write this post, which I had hesitated writing because I thought it was too angry or too in my own head. It reminded me that these issues of identity are important to discuss or else we’ll keep rehashing them and comments like “You don’t look Jewish” will never get examined.

I recently saw a film called Two Lovers, directed by James Gray and starring Joaquin Phoenix. If you ask my flatmate (with all due respect to my flatmate who understands my point of view on the movie but is better able to distance himself from the subtext in it), it is a film about bipolar depression as it relates to a young man’s life and how he places these urges on two lovers. If you ask the majority of critics who reviewed the film, it is a struggle of a broken young man trying to decide whether to rebuild himself in the image of a safe bourgeois man or a fucked-up rebellious artist. I saw it as neither.

I had a very emotional reaction to the flick, which made me hesitate to write about it because I agree with my flatmate; the film works as an exploration of bipolarism (I disagree with the critics, who seem to be using bourgeois as an unconvincing synonym for “Jewish tradition.”).  The problem is that the film uses a narrative that I’ve heard too many times: Do I marry the “nice Jewish girl” my mom adores, or the alluring non-Jewish woman as a rejection of all the tradition my parents raised me with? In this narrative, both women get shafted, portrayal-wise (and keep in mind as I discuss this narrative, I do not intend to imply that any of these stereotypes are true about either type of woman because, really, neither type “exists” in a real, generalizable sort of way. Nevertheless, people do it anyhow, and so I must debunk it using their language.)

Because everyone seems to like this movie besides me, writing this has been simultaneously cathartic and isolating. I think it’s important to discuss how these subtle messages work, even if they’re something that most people watching the movie wouldn’t even understand. I felt as if the film was producing Morse code blips that only I could hear, reminding me exactly of “who I’m supposed to be.” And no one else heard. Also, before I really begin analysis, I’d like to note that for me liking or disliking stories is such a complicated thing: I can admire the way something is filmed, but hate its plot. I can love a plot but hate an ideology. And, in this case, I can appreciate what a film is trying to be and feel that it can’t be that (at least for me) because I absolutely abhor its methods. Too often, I think, when someone says that they’re uncomfortable with the racial/gender/etc. subtext of a story, the response from people who don’t really want to listen is, “So you want to ban it?!” or “What about this other story which is worse!?” or the ever-popular, “Freedom of speech!?” We forget that sometimes there’s quiet outrage, gray areas of emotion, and confusion as to how something that does some things so well can make you feel so rotten.

Two Lovers is about a man in his early 30’s named Leonard Kraditor, recently moved back in with his parents after a suicide attempt and a bipolar flair-up. He works at his father’s dry-cleaning business, which is about to be merged with the family dry-cleaning business of the wealthier Cohen family. Both sets of parents entertain the idea of their children marrying to seal the deal, a move that Sandra, the Cohen’s daughter, whole-heartedly embraces (and seems to before she even meets him), and Leonard seems too broken and aimless to resist. Or, at least, he would be, if he did not run into Michelle, the free-spirited but emotionally-damaged non-Jewish woman.

And this is where the film lost me because it started to mock me.

Most people have heard of the stereotype of the JAP, or Jewish American Princess. Not many people think of her counterpart, the “nice Jewish girl” as being a true and damaging stereotype. I don’t think I even fully realized she existed until fairly recently. She’s subtler and difficult to explain because, at first, it seems to be a complimentary stereotype. Nevertheless there is a sense that this girl somehow is not a real woman. As I said, difficult to explain, but let me try.

When Michelle first walks into Leonard’s family’s apartment, she acts as if she’s walking into an alien world. “Look at all these pictures!” she exclaims of the flat, which is the very model of a Jewish immigrant home: full of photos of relatives and ancestors, dusty books, and a prominently displayed menorah (I don’t get it either. The Reader did this too, and I didn’t get it then either. I think it’s the universal movie symbol for “a Jew lives here”). “Oh! Is that Yiddish?” she asks, pointing to Hebrew writing. She doesn’t even know what a dreidel is. A dreidel. Yes, this woman lives in Brooklyn. Yes, this film takes place in 2008, though it really doesn’t feel like it, most of the time. This moment of othering is vital to setting up Michelle’s character as everything that Sandra is not. It sets the foundation for Michelle’s allure: by showing Leonard as being somewhat exotic (but not in a sexy way, because film rarely portrays stereotypical Jewish masculinity as such [CF- Woody Allen]) it emphasizes how exotic she is to him.

Michelle is blond. She invites Leonard to go clubbing with her. She has expensive tastes. She, herself, is damaged, and according to the narrative, seems to require a man to take care of her, to save her from her occasional drug binges: a manly man (more on this later). From the very moment she walked on screen, a song I hate started echoing in my head, an obnoxious song from Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway hit, The Last Five Years. The song is called “Shiksa Goddess” (On a side note, I hate Brown’s work. My dislike for it grows whenever I try and convince myself that so many intelligent fans can’t be wrong. But I’ve yet to be convinced that his lyrics truly speak to the human experience in the way all his fans insist to me that they do.) The song goes like so:

If you had a tattoo, that wouldn’t matter.
If you had a shaved head, that would be cool.
If you came from Spain or Japan
Or the back of a van–
Just as long as you’re not from Hebrew school–
I’d say “Now I’m getting somewhere!
I’m finally breaking through!”
I’d say “Hey! Hey! Shiksa goddess!
I’ve been waiting for someone like you.”

Why yes, this is supposed to be a funny song. Why no, the lyrics don’t make sense. They raise many important questions such as: Why would coming from Japan and Spain be equated with the back of a van? What’s wrong with coming from Spain or Japan anyhow? Why do these lyrics scream “I wanted to rhyme something with ‘van’ so I chose ‘Japan’?” (This, aside from the other, more serious problems that I’ll get to in a second, is one of the primary reasons why I dislike Brown’s work.)? The shaved head, I admit, is not traditionally feminine, and considering that he’s listing a tattoo as being such a big deal, I suppose it makes sense that this would typically be a deal breaker for him.

But I digress. The bothersome gist of this song can be summed up in the phrase, “Now I’m getting somewhere.” The next verse goes on to list the boring girls he’s dated with nice Jewish last names who brought him to Shabbat dinner at their houses. These women are boring, attached to their families. Dating them is not “getting somewhere.” There is something so unsexy about it that at one point the singer portrays this string of “Nice Jewish Girls” to “wandering in the desert.” And in a line that I’m sure is supposed to feel at once kinky and oh-so-clever because it references Passover, he proclaims that he wants to be her, “Hebrew slave.” Nothing kinky about Shabbat dinner, I’m afraid.

I know the song seems to have nothing to do with the movie, but the two seem to have the exact same attitude; they believe in the same false dichotomy of their female dating options. The allure of the non-Jewish woman is so universal throughout Two Lovers that every single Jewish male in the film gives Michelle the once-over. Michelle is the mistress of a banker, revealed through subtle cues (his mother lives in the same neighborhood as Leonard’s parents, to the last name Blatt), to be Jewish, who uses her as a substitute for his (presumably) Jewish wife and family. When Leonard’s father first sees Michelle, his eyes bug out. Yes, the film also portrays Michelle as being troubled, slightly ditzy, and occasionally a drug addict, but she’s somehow the more authentic woman. She’s the embodiment of freedom.

Contrast this with Sandra. Sandra is an extension of her family. She first becomes interested in Leonard because she saw him dancing with his mother around the dry-cleaners and thought it was sweet. Almost every outing they plan together somehow involves her family.  Although she invites him out for a drink once, she has to cancel because of her father’s birthday party. She instead invites him to the party and suggests that maybe afterward they can get a drink. While Michelle urges Leonard to be an artist, Sandra urges Leonard to be the “artsy” photographer for her brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

But the unattractiveness of Sandra goes beyond this: while Michelle needs a manly man to take care of her,  Sandra’s kind of love promises to be maternal, stultifying, allowing him to continue to wallow in his childishness. When she buys him a gift for his birthday, she gets him gloves, because she noticed that he didn’t have any and didn’t want his hands to freeze. “I want to take care of you,” she tells him, “I feel like I understand you.” She feels like she understands him because Leonard, himself, is a stereotype of the emotionally stunted, childish, depressed Jewish man. She is willing to mother him and his children.

So in the context of these differences to me, which were so blatant, so obvious, and so painful to hear (One gets tired of hearing that she is a mere extension of her family and unsexy for it, you know?), I was flabbergasted that the only review I could find that hinted at the Jewish cultural subtext in the film was the The New York Times. I bristled when The Boston Globe remarked of Sandra, “The casting of Shaw renders Sandra, a mother-figure with need issues of her own, simply too attractive, too confidently sexy, to represent the bourgeois compromise Leonard is afraid he might have to make with his future.” While it seemed to recognize the stereotype (too sexy, indeed!), it didn’t seem to understand the real implications behind it. Bourgeois has nothing (or very little) to do with it.

But the NYT review didn’t help my restless mind at all.  Critic A.O. Scott simply mentions that Leonard’s story follows the American Jewish male predicament: “He struggles with the conflicting demands of filial duty and the longing to strike out on his own. He wants to be a good son, but he also wants to live a life of danger, freedom and impulse. Does he stick with his own kind and risk suffocation, or does he risk rootlessness in pursuit of liberation?” Ignoring the fact that Scott misses that Jewish women face this question too, there is just something utterly problematic and hurtful in embodying this choice in two rather unflattering depictions of women.

Though critics feel that the characters are solid, and perhaps in the case of Michelle and Leonard, they are, but Sandra has nothing beyond her family and mothering instinct. At one point in the film, she mentions, “I understand if you don’t like me in that way. A lot of men don’t.” (a statement which is later contradicted by her father, who mentions, rather anachronistically, that she had many suitors. I almost wanted to break out into “Matchmaker!” I wonder why this bizarre marriage-exchange aspect of the film went largely unnoticed by critics because I certainly didn’t get it.) My heart was further broken by the post-coital conversation they had, Sandra offering to leave before Leonard’s parents come home and realize what was happening, and Leonard’s quip that they would probably be overjoyed (I think it was something about picking out baby names or wedding invitations, but I can’t remember so I don’t want to quote). Marrying the “Nice Jewish Girl” is part of your duty to your family. She is someone you settle for.

In some ways, the depiction is almost more angering than that of the JAP. To me, the JAP is at least vaguely ridiculous, but then again, I say this as someone who grew up without knowing what a JAP was until I was about 14 and panicked when I heard my east coast cousins ranting about them because I thought they were racist and hated Japanese people. The Nice Jewish Girl damages me more because she is believable and can eat my self-esteem. As I sat there in the theater, I wanted to scream, “I get it!” at the top of my lungs. As Leonard blew off Sandra to meet up with Michelle and her adulterous lover (awkward!) at a very fancy restaurant and walked by the Christmas tree not very subtly plopped in the background, I wanted to shout, “Okay! Okay! I get it!” You’re trying to tell me that I am not sexy; I am motherly. I am not exciting; I am safe. I am not an individual; I am an extension of my family.

This is where people will accuse me of overreacting, and so I will say, “No, I understand that the film did not literally mean that all Jewish women are like Sandra.” But when a narrative about Jewish family life and tradition gets played again and again, it’s easy to get tired of it. When no one “like you” is ever portrayed as the pretty, sexy woman, it’s easy to get tired of it. I wouldn’t say Two Lovers was obnoxious, over-the-top, or excessively offensive in its use of an old narrative, but it did make me wonder when filmmakers who want to talk about Jewish identity as a facet of their film will find a new way to talk about the dilema that does not reduce their people to ideologies, stereotypes, and not-women/men.

Can we excuse reducing people to theme? The NYT ignores this tired portrayal of Jewish femininity because it’s “a classic dilemma.” And yes, it is a classic dilemma for any minority to figure out how to balance individuality, tradition, and being a product of two cultures. I understand, believe me, that the “marry/date a nice Jewish (blank)” is a refrain that so many Jewish youth hear, and so it is so easy to place all your identity issues into the question of marriage, as ridiculous as it may seem when you step back and realize what you’re doing. But there are causalities in the process. Perhaps if I could be convinced that Sandra Cohen was ever meant to be a real character, I would change my mind with Two Lovers‘s handling of these problems.

So when my best friend’s little sister posted the video link, quoted it proudly, I felt a sense of relief. It was, in a sense, our own personal (by which I mean, my friend’s and my) equivalent of “This is want a feminist” looks like campaign. My friend’s little sister is what a Jewish woman looks like. My best friend is what a Jewish woman looks like. I am what a Jewish woman looks like. We are part of a tradition, but we are not merely extensions of it. We are complicated too, thank you very much.

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Candy Matson, a forgotten heroine of the airwaves

Candy Matson, a forgotten heroine of the airwaves

(See the post below to catch up on what Femicon is.)

I’m embarrassed to say that I’m kicking off Femicon by breaking one of my own rules for it. I intended this series to be about female characters who are both iconic of their times and remain in our cultural imagination. Candy Matson enjoyed a short period of regional fame (her radio show only aired on the west coast of the United States) and then faded into obscurity. Still, I think she’s a fantastic example of how fiction both plays into and challenges the norms of its era,  and, plus, classic radio shows are underrated. I had originally intended to include a segment in this post on Margo Lane, Lamont Cranston (The Shadow)’s savvy sidekick and love interest, but I found that she suffers from the good old “Every character on this show besides The Shadow is boring”-itus, and I discovered that I had way too much to say about Candy.

You see, I have a not-so-secret, not-quite-fully-explored love of old-time radio dramas. When I was twelve, my friend Lisa and I loved to listen to recordings of the classic 1930’s radio show, The Shadow, during sleepovers. Orson Welles’s haunting laugh would echo through the darkened room, where we huddled in her bunk bed, conflating the sounds of movement from the cassette tape, already out of date by then, with the nocturnal sounds of her cats running and the house settling. In many ways, I think  The Shadow was my gateway drug to Noir.

When we think of the golden age of radio stories, many of us think of mysteries. The hard boiled detectives of Hammett’s novels and the popular “Films Noirs” (not that they were called that at the time. <–crazy trivia) also thrilled audiences every week on the radio, solving crimes, smoking cigars, and trying not to be too swayed by the charms of those ever-alluring femmes fatales. But not every woman in the crime-fighting genre was a damsel in distress or a deadly vixen: lost our cultural memory of the era is the archetype of the female detective.

Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209 enjoyed a short but illustrious run on the San Francisco radio airwaves in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. By the time the last episode aired in 1951, it had been voted the most popular radio show in the city in a San Francisco Examiner poll (as announced on the episode “The Symphony of Death.” Also, for those of you who are familiar with SF newspapers, the Examiner, not the Chronicle was the paper du jour,) and several radio history websites I’ve encountered have called her the finest of the female detectives of radio’s golden age.

These same websites emphasize Matson’s resourcefulness, toughness, and her ability to speak with the same dry wit that we’ve come to expect from a hard boiled detective. She usually solves the case before her love interest, Lt. Mallard of the SF police, puts together the pieces, and rarely needs to be rescued. These, combined with the recommendation from a dear friend of mine who occasionally does research on old-time radio, prompted me to download a few episodes (they are fairly widely available on the net,) and have a listen. To my surprise, the framing of Candy’s first adventure didn’t reflect any of these qualities at all. In fact, I came close to completely dismissing her when I heard the announcer’s introduction to her first case:

“Do you have a little unsolved murder in your home? Got some blackmail you want to unload? Are you the victim of some vulgar extortionist? I know a girl you should meet. She may not be the greatest private eye in the world, and so what if it does cost you three or four hundred dollars; she sure is sweet.” (from “The Cable Car Case”)

Hearing that, I expected some sort of insufferable, incapable  weakling. A girl (not woman) whom we should coddle and pretend does well at her job because she’s so sweet? What kind of adventures could she possible have that would be worth listening to? I thought maybe there was a reason why she retreated back into relative obscurity. Fortunately for me, Candy soon took the microphone and began to speak for herself. Though the beginning of her speech ostensibly confirmed my low expectations, as she continued, I was surprised to hear her slowly subvert her packaging.

“I get into the craziest routines. You see I used to be a model. I’d been told I had the proper displacement for such a career. But I found there wasn’t enough money in it, and a girl has to eat doesn’t she? And she has to maintain a nice apartment on Telegraph Hill [a nice San Francisco neighborhood], and buy enough clothes to highlight the displacement I mentioned, right? Sure. So I turned private eye. You meet a better class of people… mostly named rigor or mortis.” (from “The Cable Car Case”)

Candy herself does nothing explicitly to subvert the announcer’s portrayal of her, but she hints that there’s more to her than meets the eye. Her voice actress, Natalie Masters, speaks with confidence and a slight edge; she’s always completely on top of what she’s saying. While the introduction prepared us for a “sweet,” perhaps stereotypically ditzy woman, we find that Candy has brains and sass. Her comment about “rigor or mortis” gives us our first taste of her wit. And, though this may be my inability to suspend belief to make way for radio-show logic, I find it dubious that being a private eye would pay more than modeling. In any case, when you listen to Matson’s adventures, that you get the sense that she knows what you must think of her, and she’s not going to tell you out-right that you’re wrong, but she’ll use your underestimation to her advantage. She’s the femme fatale of justice.

Ah yes, that phrase “femme fatale.” I keep using it. Does it mean what I think it means?

Before I talk more about Matson and her role in American culture, let me talk a bit about the femme fatale, and women in the Noir genre.  In her essay “Women in Film Noir,” lecturer and scholar Janey Place notes of the femme fatale, “independence is her goal, but her nature is fundamentally and irredeemably sexual” (Place in Women in Film Noir pg. 57). I’m probably attributing too much to this quote, but for those of you who A) haven’t read the essay and B) don’t have a secret love for the B movies of the 40’s and 50’s, what this essentially means is that the femme fatale uses her sexuality to maintain Independence (and power) in a male-dominated world. This being the Post-WWII era, this was not a good thing. The femme fatale inevitably lures the hero (be he detective, insurance salesman, or otherwise) into danger. In The Maltese Falcon, Brigid O’Shaughnessy gets Detective Sam Spade involved in a hunt for a legendary object that many would kill for (and gets his business partner killed in the process.). In Double Indemnity, Phyllis Dietrichson convinces salesman Walter Neff to kill her husband for insurance money (and sexual favors.).

Some films (DI, for example) gave the femme fatale a “good girl” counterpart who often served as a love interest for the main character at the end of the story (this doesn’t happen in DI, but I think it does in Murder, My Sweet. But I’m going off on a tangent.). This woman was usually dependent on the men in her life, be it her boyfriend or her father. She did not seek independence. She was not dangerous. And, well, to break my impartial façade, she’s boring in that 40’s, 50’s “perfect” woman sort of way.

Though the Post-WWII Era certainly did not invent the archetype of the dangerous spider woman, it did give us a series of visual cues and mannerisms to define her that still linger in our imagination. Cultural critics also tie the femme fatale so strongly to the Post-War Era because she represents anxieties that surfaced with changing culture. During the war, women took over the jobs of men who had left for the battle fields. Thus, upon their return, men found themselves displaced; women had more freedom and independence than ever before. The femme fatale is frightening precisely because she uses men to maintain her independence but never needs them. She aggressively maneuvers her way through the public sphere.

These cultural tropes are important to keep in mind when we think about why Candy Matson is such an interesting figure within her time period. For the remarkable thing about Candy is that even though she’s working within the Hard Boiled genre, she’s far more femme fatale than she is Noir “heroine.” On an obvious level, she uses her sensuality to her advantage. She’s not afraid to flirt to get what she wants. As she says in her personal introduction, she’s well aware of her “displacements” and is not afraid to use them.

But her ties to the femme fatale go beyond the sexual. As Payne points out, the femme fatale uses her sexuality not because she’s so interested in having sex (which perhaps would have left the hapless hero off easy) but because she wants independence. Candy herself says that she uses her detective gig to maintain her penthouse on Telegraph Hill (a rather fashionable SF neighborhood) and buy herself fancy clothes. Materialistic? Perhaps. But what’s interesting is that she doesn’t need Mallard to have them, and it’s never portrayed as being a negative. She has all the independence of the femme fatale but none of the malice

Furthermore, she doesn’t need Mallard to solve the case, or even to protect her from danger. In “The Movie Company,” she chases a suspect out onto the high ledges of a high-rise hotel building. In “The Valley of the Moon,” she hunts for evidence into a restricted area where she knows she’s liable to be shot at. For all Mallard’s panic over her safety, danger never seems to be too much of a match for her.

So if Candy acts like a femme fatale, how is it that her independence is celebrated instead of “punished?”

I think it’s important to consider Mallard’s relationship with Candy. Though they’re by no means portrayed to be on as equal footing as, say, Emma Peel and John Steed, they do have a similarly bantering, give-and-take kind of relationship. Candy’s not afraid to use her sexual power over him, such as in “The Movie Company,” where she encourages his jealousy when she runs into an old boyfriend because she thinks he’s being childish, she never uses it against him. At the end of the episode, after teasing him profusely, she offers him tickets to go and see his favorite cowboy movie with her. Other times she hides the fact that she’s working on the same case that he is (so that he won’t try to dissuade her from putting herself in danger,) but if they run into a clue when they’re out on a date, as in “Jack Frost” (it’s a radio detective story. It’s supposed to be improbable and illogical,) she’s willing to work with him to crack it. She may not need Mallard, but she enjoys his company. She looks to him as a partner, both in their personal and working relationships. Therefore, her independence isn’t threatening to Mallard, and when it is she’s quick to make nice and stroke his ego a bit.

Unfortunately, this sense of partnership gets undone in “Candy’s Last Case,” which ends with Mallard’s proposal to Matson. She accepts, and he proudly declares that she’ll never have to work as a detective again. In this sense, Matson’s independence is portrayed as a temporary thing, something that she enjoys as she waits for marriage. As soon as she has the opportunity to have someone else provide those needs, she relinquishes her independence (at least financially.). Do we really think Candy’s going to be able to stop sleuthing? Well, judging from her character, I’d think  not, but the writers leave that up to our imaginations.

To me, Candy Matson represents an attempt to make peace with the so-called new woman. I think it’s telling that when we think about the women of the Noir/hard boiled genre/style, we remember the femme fatales instead of the heroines (and even at the time, the more famous actresses played the fatales.); they command the screen and our attentions. It makes sense (to me, at least) that writers would try and imagine a case where this same fantasy woman wouldn’t have to be destructive; because let’s face it, she’s really fun. I also love the fact that the series creator Monty Masters, created the role of Candy for his wife, Natalie Masters. I admittedly know nothing about either of them, so for all I know their marriage could have ended in a catastrophic divorce, but, at least at first glance, creating such an awesome role for his wife is a wonderful, romantic gesture.

So it’s a little odd that most people, myself included, had no idea that female hard boiled detectives even existed during the age of Noir. We tend to think of these years as being fairly backwards in terms of gender roles with the exception of radicals.  I wouldn’t necessarily call Candy Matson a progressive show–its portrayal of ethnic minorities is certainly less than enlightened, and Candy’s best friend, Rembrandt Watson, a photographer, and perhaps the weakest (in terms of strength and courage) character of the series, likely was meant to be read as gay (that he was included is pretty cool. His job to whine, get called “Ducky” by Candy, and be comic relief for his effeminacy is less so.). Still, it’s neat to see that there were in fact cases in which gender roles were more fluid, where strong women were not portrayed as menaces to themselves and society. Candy Matson, in fact, benefits society, helping strangers and friends alike.

If you want to learn more about Candy or listen to some of her cases, check out these sites:

info page @ Thrilling Detective.com

info page @ Old Time Radio Catalog

Listen to episodes @ the OTR network

Download episodes from Archive.org

As I’ve been trying to feel out what sort of content I want this blog to focus on, I thought it might be fun to try doing some pieces on iconic fictional characters. You’re probably wondering why it’s worth looking at fiction when there’s so many incredible, real feminist icons out there to talk about. You’d be right, of course, that reality is perhaps more powerful and inspiring, but I’m still interested in the fiction.

This is approximately my 23rd time trying to write this paragraph, so let’s see if I can explain this without lapsing into academic-ese or turning my prose into pudding. In the conventional wisdom of cultural/media studies, the characters who capture our imagination do so because they speak to deeply held cultural beliefs.  They reflect our struggles, our ideals, our challenge to find a place within these ideals, and/or the fantasies of breaking or embodying these ideals. Looking at fictional characters can’t, of course, tell us how people really lived in any given time period, but it can give us an idea of how people imagined themselves.

This series of posts will include female characters (primarily American with a dash of British because, well, I am but one woman with one brain. I only feel comfortable working within the context of the culture that I know well [or reasonably well. Believe me, I know that Britain and American are more different than one might think]. I would like to add more diversity though, and if anyone has ideas, suggestions, or would like to do a guest post, I’d be happy to oblige.) from a variety of media who were somehow iconic in their eras. Granted, when I talk about “eras,” I sound like I’m limiting this to the past. I’m not. Dana Scully, will certainly make an appearance. Perhaps Xena will too. Maybe I’ll even jump way ahead and talk about a current TV show (President Roslin? I guess I’ll have to finish watching “Battle Star Galactica first.) We’ll see. My question is not “were these women feminist,” which is so incredibly arbitrary (also, if a character is popular, most of the time she usually somehow works within or around the gender norms of her society.), and I’ll probably even look at a few characters whom no one would even think of considering feminist. The fun is in seeing how different eras imagine women differently and what kinds of messages we can find in popular media.

If you have suggestions or would like to do a guest post, please comment or email me and let me know. :)

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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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