Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Television for the Female Palate

I have very exciting news: I was asked to participate in a radio show for KPFA Women’s Magazine! The segment discusses women on TV in various shows including The Mindy Project, Revenge, Nashville, Glee, Girls and more. 

The episode aired on Monday, November 26th and is now available online. The discussion on TV starts at the 30 minute mark. You can download the file or listen to the mp3.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We Call It a Right. But It's Also a Duty.

Sometimes it takes me long enough to write something that someone literally takes the words out of my mouth. Such is the case with this video number by the New York Times. As with every election, I sit back as a bystander and watch the country divide itself. As a permanent resident, I pay taxes, work full time, am married to an American, and have inevitably placed the future of my children in our nation’s hands. But I don’t get a say in anything. I am comforted by thoughts like: “in my state, my vote wouldn't make a difference” or “what’s the point after Florida.” Then it occurred to me that people who can vote may not because of these same thoughts. Surrounded mostly by responsible citizens, I nearly fell off my chair when a friend mentioned a conversation in which a fellow registered voter shared that he “would not be voting this year,” loosely based on the same reasons I mentioned. That was when the bubble burst, where I pretended things had changed since young people rallied to put Obama in office. I thought for sure things were different, after it became clear that a handful of people could have changed the state of the nation had they voted in 2004. And before that in 2000. Right?

At the very core of democracy is the opportunity for people to pay attention, participate, and speak up. What keeps me awake at night is knowing that the far right is very organized politically. Their youth is mobilized when it comes to issues on abortion and medical marijuana and they will be voting. Voting and probably carrying signage. Voter bystander apathy is too common, and I speculate that it comes from people whose views may not be reflected directly in either party, who prefer to stand back than choose the lesser of what they see as two evils. I hope this time around it is clear that there is a worse evil we could be stuck with if they don’t settle for the lesser. For anyone who is undecided, I highly recommend the excellent article from when the New Yorker endorsed Obama.

What I also hope people understand is that, while I don’t hide my views, I do believe any vote still counts. It may not feel as though it literally counts, thanks to the electoral college, but it does on many other levels. I for one would like to see where the popular vote lands. I think that number provides great validity to who is elected and provides an argument for a future without an electoral college (if only). In addition, while the absence of social issues in the debates was disappointing, you will find very intriguing measures at the state level. Depending on where you live, you may be asked to vote on legalizing medicinal marijuana, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, abolishing affirmative action (that’s right) and the labeling of genetically modified foods, now being fought off by $41 Million of Monsanto money (yes, they are also very organized).

So please, re-schedule your planned parenthood appointment, put down your medicinal marijuana, and bring your gay-rights-supporting friend to the polls on November 6. Why not make a lunch date out of it? Let’s make the rest of the world proud.

And since I can’t vote I’d be happy to join you for that lunch.   

Much Love,

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hope for the Living in The Walking Dead

This week’s Entertainment Weekly features the upcoming new season of The Walking Dead on the cover (or FOUR different covers to be exact). I am eagerly anticipating the premiere and have high hopes for what will happen in one of TV’s most surprising hit series. I am excited to see the plot develop, especially with the subtraction of chauvinistic Shane and the addition of a badass female character, Michonne.
Season 2 had a slow, slow, crawling pace, and focused on the group’s attempt at rebuilding a normal life on Hershel’s farm. Aside from a severe lack of zombie action, the more unsettling part of their colonization was the return of all too familiar gender roles. We all witnessed Lori hounding Andrea for not wanting to help out with household chores and her resentment upon Andrea’s decision to take a “male” role,  but can’t we all relate to a post-apocalyptic desire to do more than laundry?  When the group convened to make a democratic decision, a few female characters literally gave up their right to vote and deferred the decision to the men. And although their world may hold a higher stake at new human life, Lori was judged by many men around her for contemplating abortion.

Despite some faux pas in the gender role arena, there is lots of promise for The Walking Dead. The show is based on a comic book that has plenty of female characters with empowering traits. I am counting on Michonne’s TV appearance as an indication that the writers get that girls also like zombies and perhaps it’s time to bring in and develop those characters. The existing characters are also promising, and I particularly hope they spend more time on Maggie, the feisty farm girl who was the only one to admit that she wanted to have sex before the world ended. Other ladies who have been trapped in emotional spaces have also been given opportunities to move on: Lori from the dueling of Shane and Rick, Carol in the closure of what happened to Sophia, and Andrea will finally have a worthy female sidekick.

Season 3 premieres on AMC on Sunday 10/14 at 9/8c.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Breaking the Bad News

With the start of the latest season of AMC’s stellar series Breaking Bad, I continue to enjoy the meth producing adventures of Walt and Jesse. However, their male dominated business is getting more and more tiresome. So many of the great stories of ascending drug lords portrayed women as trophy wives, but they usually demonstrated a complexity, be it through complications of drug abuse or the moral dichotomy of a quick ascension to money and power. While they brush this surface in Breaking Bad, the women are even less complicated and interesting than the old stereotype of the mobster wife.
Skyler, Walt’s wife and main female character has always been tough to relate to. Since finding out what her husband does, Skyler takes on a role to protect the family, either by opening a business to launder money, by covering for Walt with stories of illegal gambling, and now by removing her kids from the home. While her guilt and disdain for the business has been evident, she has also displayed an obvious euphoria at the idea of being rich. When Walt won’t give her a divorce, she has an affair that ends poorly when she discovers he is being audited by the IRS. In season 5, all previous indications of strength and intelligence have settled. Skyler is now a suicidal chain smoker, choked by fear of her husband, and also incapable of defending herself or doing anything to remove herself from the situation. It sounds all too familiar like a classic story of domestic abuse to me.

The next female character with enough screen time to mention is Skyler’s sister Marie, for whom the writers have added superficial character layers. She supposedly works as a technician at Kleinman Radiology Center, but yet we have never seen her at work and she seems to have plenty of time in the middle of the day to appease her kleptomania at the mall. Marie is also always in purple, surrounded by purple objects, and sitting in purple chairs, but there doesn’t appear to be any greater meaning behind this.

In season 5 we meet a new female character, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, the first to be involved in the meth business. Instead of seizing the opportunity of introducing a strong female leader, her character development is limited to being described as neurotic by three different people, ordering hot water with lemon, and getting upset over accidentally wearing two different pairs of shoes. Eventually, under threat, she comes up with a flawless plan that ensures the success of Walt’s newest business venture, but instead of being praised for her resourcefulness, she is simply spared of being killed. Her character has since disappeared.

While I am a fan of Breaking Bad, I would love to see them passing the Bechdel test. Coined from a comic strip by Alison Bechdel in 1985, the test states that a narrative worth watching has: 1) at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than men. While mobster movies may not have excelled at female empowerment, the flatness of these characters makes me yearn for someone as crazy and complex as Sharon Jones in Casino or Penelope Cruz in Blow. Let’s hope Breaking Bad finds space for a female drug queen to take on Walt. Or maybe it’s time to send Walt to therapy, I hear Dr. Melfi is seeing patients again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tiffany Shlain Connects Us

Tiffany Shlain brings us full circle and back to human connections with her TedxWomen talk. She only speaks briefly for about 10 minutes before presenting her short film A Declaration of Interdependence.Conceptualized as a rewriting of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, A Declaration of Interdependence is a 4-minute global-participatory film that shows an exhilarating montage of user-generated videos and graphics. To the music of Moby, we get to experience a global mash-up of images, words, and languages, demonstrating the vast potential of creative collaboration in the 21st century.

Honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century,” Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards, and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. A celebrated thinker and catalyst, Tiffany is known for her ability to illuminate complex ideas in culture, science, technology and life through her unique films, dynamic talks, and innovative projects. Her last four films premiered at Sundance, including her 2011 acclaimed feature documentary, Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology, which The New York Times hailed as “Examining Everything From the Big Bang to Twitter,” and the US State Department just selected as one of the films to screen at embassies around the world in their 2012 American Film Showcase.

Alabama does Shake

Alabama Shakes has been creeping up on us for the last 6 months and the force behind their success is undoubtedly the vocal power of Brittany Howard. Their story begins in a high school psychology class in Athens, Alabama, where the first members of the band met. As the group formed, they worked together to find their identity. They spent most of their time on new material, but also tried to cover classics including James Brown, Otis Redding, and Led Zeppelin. To this, Howard says “We had to find music we could all agree on and figure out how to play together, and that had a lot of influence on how we play now.” Their first single, the hypnotic, show-stopping plea “Hold On,” grew out of an on-stage improvisation.

It was only in late 2011 that band members, overwhelmed with requests to open for major headliners, and play gigs themselves, were able to quit their day jobs. Since then they have released their first album and played sold out shows all over the country. Alabama Shakes has also landed gigs with major festivals this summer, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Eurockennes, and Outside Lands. I certainly hope to catch them at some point this year!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Inspired by a screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival, I am dedicating this month’s art section to Marina Abramovic. The Serbian-born artist made work in the 1970s concerning the limits and conceptions of the body that changed performance art. Still, she pushes at boundaries; check out what she did at last year’s L.A. MOCA gala, when centerpieces were replaced with rotating human heads and naked bodies (one guest was surprised when his centerpiece returned the napkin he had accidentally dropped on the floor).

Co-presented by SFMOMA, the film in question is Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, a documentary that takes us inside Marina’s world, following her as she prepares for what may be the most important moment of her life: a major retrospective of her work, taking place at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. As part of the exhibition, she presented a new piece, aptly named The Artist is Present. For three months, she spent every day sitting at a table in the museum's atrium, allowing visitors to join her, one at a time, at the opposite end of the table. There was no talking, no touching, and no overt communication of any kind. Her objective was to achieve a luminous state of being and then transmit it, engaging in what she calls "an energy dialogue." As always, her art creates intimacy with the viewer, and in our continued search for connections, lines winded around the block in New York to experience just that.