Friday, May 8, 2015

So, what exactly does television have against strong women?

I'm seeing a bit of a trend in television lately. The trend is "Let's make this great female character that a certain group of people can really connect with...and then kill her off!". Admittedly, I watch too much tv. I prefer tv that is well written and thought provoking, but I also get caught up in crime dramas and the like, some of which many people would call "trash tv". I wouldn't. Trash tv, to me, is stuff like Springer...and anything involving a Kardashian. I don't have much use for reality tv. I do love my food shows, and I'll watch any Gordon Ramsay show, especially Hell's Kitchen. to the whole point of this post. Last week, NBC had a "crossover event" linking two shows I watch with one I don't. (I watch SVU and Chicago PD.) On the third part of the event (on SVU), one of my favorite characters on PD was murdered: Nadia DeCotis, played by Stella Maeve. Nadia was something of a reclamation project. She was a junkie and a prostitute that Det. Erin Lindsay (played by Sophia Bush) decided to help get on her feet. Through the course of two seasons, we watched Lindsay pick Nadia up when she fell off the wagon, dragged her to rehab, pushed her to better herself, moved her into her apartment. Nadia worked hard, had a goal to be CPD, took criminology classes. Essentially, she turned her life around. So, what do the writers do? Cast her aside as an afterthought...have her get abducted by a serial killer, brutally raped, tortured and beaten and left dead on a beach. So, are they essentially saying, "Why bother?" If you invest in a character the way they did with Nadia (who really was beautifully played by Maeve), why chuck it all to fit this story line? There are SEVEN male characters on Chicago PD that have had bigger story arcs. This leaves three women, with Nadia's death. Lindsay (who has the largest arc of the three), Kim Burgess (who is often shown making bad choices and showing bad judgment) and Sgt. Trudy Platt, played with great depth by Amy Morton, but on the screen far too little for my liking. Honestly, I can count at least three of those male characters that are entirely expendable, but instead they get rid of the compelling Nadia character. So, are women forever to play second fiddle to less compelling characters who only take up space as eye candy? I was glad that I was among a large portion of people who were touched by Nadia and Stella Maeve's portrayal of her, so much so that people flooded Chicago PD's Facebook page with feelings of complete dismay and utter horror at the description of her torture, rape and murder on SVU. It actually was quite graphically described.  

One of the biggest offenders of "let's kill off all of the women" is another show I've watched faithfully from the beginning, "Supernatural". Yes, the show IS essentially about Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester and the dynamic between the brothers, at its base. My gripe is that not one developed female character on that show EVER gets to survive. The latest casualty was one of the best female characters the show has had, and my favorite, Charlie Bradbury, played by the fantastic Felicia Day. I had a feeling that, in the last episode, she was going to die, and of course, my instincts were dead on. (Pun intended.) The thing wasn't necessary to the plot. Charlie didn't HAVE to die. The circumstances surrounding her demise made little sense. Plus...the fucking guy who killed her had ONE FUCKING ARM. Really?! On Charlie's worst day, she could have taken this guy. Charlie also was probably the most developed female character in the history of the show. She was entirely different: smart as hell, a hacker, a gamer, quirky and a lesbian. Many fans of the show will say that it's the curse of being considered "Winchester family" (by extension), but there are a lot of people HIGHLY PISSED that Charlie is dead. I am one of those people who yelled, "Fuck this show!" at his tv last night and, in a fit of anger, posted on my Facebook about it briefly...later chastised by my cousins and a few other people for blurting out a spoiler. I couldn't help myself, as usual. Will I continue to watch Supernatural? Yes. I will see it through to the end, but...after watching Nadia die on PD and then, a week later losing Charlie, I started to think deeper about what Hollywood is doing.

Women, despite every advancement in society and every foot forward made, are still marginalized as a whole. Oh, you doubt me? Have you read any headlines lately? Watched the news? Are you aware of the rape culture in America? Slut shaming? Why wouldn't Hollywood move on to the next face? Men are, more often than not, front and center in television, movies, music...the list goes on. It seems easy enough for the writers of a show to cast aside a strong female when a stronger or more dominant man wants to have his way. Expendable seems like the best word here. Female characters become expendable to whatever story line said show is going for. Off the top of my head, I can think of many others who became expendable on their respective shows: Claire Kincaid and Alex Borgia on Law & Order, Jo, Ellen and Mary on Supernatural, Fish Mooney on Gotham, Tara, Jenny, Anya, Joyce and Darla on Buffy, Cordelia on Angel...I could go on. Also, it seems the Sci-Fi and Horror realms are particularly harsh on heroines and super villains.

It's been mentioned to me that not enough women watch female led shows. That might be partially true. It's possible that networks aren't reaching the demographics they've intended to. It's also entirely possible that, to these networks, there isn't enough interest in seeing heroines from the general public. Movies are just as guilty. Joss Whedon has unfairly gotten a lot of crap over Black Widow, but...who else is presenting any films or shows with a female superhero as the lead? Why is it such a taboo to think that people would be interested in such a thing? The closest we've come to a female superhero in a film was Chloe Grace Moretz' portrayal of Hit Girl in Kick Ass. What exactly are we giving younger women to emulate right now? What are we telling them by making their lives expendable, even if it is just the small screen?

In the end, it's all about the money, and if studios can't cash in on a show, its merchandise, etc., they're not going to green light anything that will ultimately make them lose money. I hope that Supergirl turns out to be a hit when it makes it on the air this year. Someone has to stand up and give strong women a platform on television, otherwise, it's business as usual in this patriarchal country. Don't think that something as simple as a television show or a movie can't hold certain social mores. Women will ultimately continue to be an afterthought to a country run into the ground by its backward thinking. It's another link in a chain that holds back progress. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Album Review - Best Coast - "California Nights"

Let's get this out of the way first: Bethany Cosentino isn't exactly a lyrical genius. She's not known for her ruminations on the intricate web of relationships or the hows and whys of life. It doesn't mean that you can't relate to her, though. Best Coast, if you're not familiar, is a duo: singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Bethany Cosentino and lead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno. They are mostly known for their debut album, "Crazy For You", which is equal parts fun and heartbreakingly sad. They've made a lot of surf pop/dream pop type of indie music over the course of two albums and an ep. They've made music that has a sameness to it, which has been one of their biggest issues with critics, but their fan base is rabid and loyal. "California Nights" is a game changer. Why? It busts out big riffs from Bruno and branches out somewhat lyrically. On a sonic level, the landscape is very different. They swung for the fences and, for the most part, they've connected. The title track, with its reverb soaked guitars and vocals and shoegaze keyboard elements will be a shock to long time fans, but it's the best song on the album. Best Coast has made plenty of odes to The Golden State (their name basically tells you where they stand on the coast wars), but this is the only one on the album...but not really. "California nights make me feel so happy, I could die. But I try to stay alive, " shows a little conflict in Cosentino's feelings towards the state she loves so much. Then she follows a little later with "I take the way I've known, but have I really grown?" It's that little glint that she's done with the more petty and wistful, teen-like past of previous songs. She's 28 now, and while she's still writing about love, jealousy and ambivalence, she's also writing about insomnia, going off her meds and conflict. Like I said, Cosentino doesn't use big words or get too clever. She's straightforward lyrically and it's doubtful that this will change any time soon, but give the woman credit for taking a big leap forward and finding a vision for her band. Best Coast could have stayed muddled in surf pop forever, pining over the same guy over and over again for album after album, but they've gotten more ambitious musically and decided to not be afraid for sounding loud and crunching some guitars. Bruno's solos have really grown and are a nice surprise here. Think 90's alt-rock like Belly, or even "Eight Arms To Hold You"-era Veruca Salt. "Heaven Sent" could have come straight out of the 90's. They aren't revolutionizing anything here, but the gloss of Wally Gagel's production lends to a highly satisfying musical experience and Cosentino and Bruno still know how to make you feel good. It's a driving on the highway in a convertible with the top down with your arms pointed towards the sky wearing a pair of dark lensed sunglasses with a white frame kind of album. Don't think about it too much. Just listen and love it. 


Saturday, March 21, 2015

World Poetry Day

So I found out tonight that today was World Poetry Day. I had no idea, which is pretty strange for someone whose life basically revolves around poetry (and music and a few sports that I'm a fanatic about). Many have been sharing different poems or pointing people to relevant poets or events happening today. I've decided to highlight a poem from my favorite modern poet, Sierra DeMulder, who I had the honor of hearing live for the first time this week. Sierra is a fantastic poet and a kind and encouraging person. She can captivate a room within minutes. Trust me, I witnessed this. This poem is in her first book, The Bones Below, which is outstanding. As we witness the violence in the media that has been going on in schools across the country, imagine it from this perspective and you will see how very much kids are being let down by other kids, by adults, by their own parents. If you can, find this poem on YouTube. Sierra's performance of it is just...I'm not sure I have the words.

Static by Sierra DeMulder

Somehow, there is silence
People are running, their mute eyes panicking like deer, 
who have never seen the oncoming glare of judgment.
A single red flower blooms in the center of her shirt. 
She finally looks at you.

Rewind 1 week:
She sits in front of you in science and she smells like ice cream.
You wonder if she even knows your name -
Wonder if she would ever notice your thimble of existence. 
To them you are nothing but the skinned knees of the student body.
But they will read about you. 
(the ones who are lucky, who will see death and not meet it) 
how you walked like a god, 
unnoticed among them, 
planned a revolution for your fingers to pluck pulses like arrows from bows.

Rewind 1 week: A sharpie in the boys bathroom speaks hollow point prophesies.
It goes unnoticed. You go unnoticed in the hallways, stepped over like broken glass.
You count how many people make eye contact and don’t make it to your second hand.

Rewind 1 week: The whole world is sleeping.
You are wrapped in a straightjacket of alarm clocks and 
school bells; The only one conscious in a city built of zombies.

Rewind 1 week:
The guidance counselor asks if there is trouble at home,
"You never speak in class, you eat lunch alone" but how 
can he possibly relate to this Armageddon in your head, 
to the static collecting between your knuckles,
You stare at the picture of his perfect framed family,
imagine each of them crying. You tell him, and his photograph to go to hell.

Fast-forward four weeks:
This is hell.
3 bodies down,
6, 7.

Rewind 8 days: You wonder if heaven exists,
Or if it’s just a Santa Claus lie to make you sleep at night and be nice to others.

Fast-forward 7 days: She catches you staring.
Calls you a freak. You forget what it’s like to feel anything but fire.
The hallways laugh. The lockers punch back.

Fast-forward 1 day: You drag the weapon from your belt.
The hallways stop laughing. Their wax smiles start melting.
The sound of gunshots does not scare you, the satisfaction does.
You count shells in your head, fallen bodies out loud. 
This is their alarm clock. 
This is natural selection.
This is survival.

You rewind. The trigger pushes your finger forward.
The bullet comes spiraling back into the mouth of its barrel.
A single red flower wilts in the center of her shirt.

She finally looks at you.