(Author’s Note: Another essay from my Sex on TV class. This time, we picked a television show and analyzed its presentation of gender and/or sexuality.)
“I’m never getting married. You want an absolute? Well there it is.” Whose voice is behind the narration from the opening shots of this already neon-drenched neo-noir? No, not Phillip Marlowe, nor Sam Spade. Actually, the precocious, balanced voice comes from one self-described Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), spinster, the titular character of Rob Thomas’ short lived teen mystery series. Giving his protagonist agency and a mind of her own is hardly the tipping point of what makes Veronica Mars such an excellent show. Thomas steeps his series in a world filled with economic discrepancy, gender inequality, and other button pushing aspects of life that make such a short lived television show so memorable. IN particular, Thomas brings two important things to the table: an incredibly smart protagonist who, nevertheless, is flawed and imperfect, making her all the more real, and a vilifying look at contemporary rape culture and the way it bleeds into how people treat sexuality and sexual assault. Veronica Mars remains one of the most fascinating shows for tackling these issues, even more so for being able to in the tiny window of time of three seasons.
Author’s Note: Because people asked to read some of my essays for class, this is the first one. This was originally submitted as a paper for my Sex on TV class, which is basically a gender/media studies class. The assignment was to pick two instances in which the FCC fined or received complaints from a certain program and to evaluate whether or not you, the writer, agreed with their decision. The second part of the essay is an in-depth analysis of three music videos and their presentation of gender and their underlying ideologies about gender roles.
People file into seats, their shoes sticking mildly to the soda drenched floor, and they sit down. The lights come down, and the emerald screen bathes the audience’s faces in the words “This preview has been approved for all audiences”. A collage of trailers and commercials that last nearly half the running time of the actual film plays before our eyes, and finally, when the film begins, the experience begins. Five minutes into the film, my mouth filled with popcorn with enough salt to rival the Dead Sea, I look to my right. Unsurprisingly, my father is there, his head arched back, his body relaxed, his mouth slightly agape, his eyelids fluttering, his snoring, at the moment, just light background noise masked by the Dolby Surround Sound of explosions and/or husbands and wives bickering. I’m not surprised by this image; as a matter of fact, I’m surprised it took this long. He was normally out by the second commercial. But seeing him asleep, there was something in that that was comforting. It was the kind of image I assumed I would always live with.
As far as formative experiences go, high school is one of the big ones. There is nothing like the stress of trying to fit in, one of those age old stories that effectively describes humanity cruelty to one another and to the Other. You could argue that, from high school on, everything is the same, just perhaps more brutal and more overt in this enormous seeming microcosm with deadly fluorescent lights. But no one is deadlier than Carrie White, whose special powers render others to be lifted up or to be thrown into deep peril. In Kimberly Pierce’s adaptation of Stephen King’s breakout novel Carrie, the director and screenwriters Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Lawrence D. Cohen update high school Hell to contemporary times, offering a middling depiction of the bitch of growing up and finding empowerment.
I am going to make a pre-emptive statement, perhaps a pre-mature one at that: Spring Breakers is as “definitive” of “my generation” as The Social Network is. Both of them are keyed into a group of people defined so by their social context that you could not tell the exact same story with the same characters elsewhere. They are defined by the technology that surrounds them, the people that populate where they stay, and popular culture that proliferates before their eyes.
The first and last time I went to Disney World was when I was six years old. While I probably enjoyed it, the connection I had with the park was more out of curiosity and fascination than anything more personal than that. I did not, unlike a majority of my peers and, I suppose, a majority of children in general, grow up on Disney films. I was not as exposed to the ubiquity of its ephemera until my mid teenaged years. By that time, I was able to understand what Disney was: not only iconoclastic in his determination to make dreams come true, but perhaps the biggest corporation one could ever imagine. That isn’t to say I don’t have any connection with Disney ilk at all: I am prone to nostalgia watching The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But what I understand about that film, and the other properties that the Walt Disney Corporation has either created, readapted, or bought, is that it’s as much of a powerful pop culture machine as one can fathom, the kind of machine that eat you up, chew you to pieces, and then spit you out. Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow explores how that industry, and the culture itself, affects our perceptions of the real world, in a debut feature film that’s ballsy, filled with morbid imagery, and an incredibly competent, nightmarish take on “Happiest Place on Earth”.
Here’s something I never thought I would ever say: a One Direction song is brilliant. Yes, brilliant. I have been a bit of a naysayer about the band, more against their rabid, over-zealous, cultish fans than the band itself, but I have no choice to admit that one of their songs is a brilliant example of self-reflexivity of public image. Which track am I talking about? Technically, it’s not one of their original songs; it’s their cover of “One Way or Another/Teenage Kicks”, the former originally by Blondie and the latter by The Undertones. Whether or not this was a PR move or their own sly smarts, choosing the former song in particular, what can be described as a Stalker Anthem of sorts, and blending it with the angst and sensuality of the latter track makes for one of the most interesting tracks I’ve ever heard. Did I mention that the cover is actually pretty damn great?