Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Piling the Awesome and Not-Awesome (Or, Stop Invalidating the Experiences of People Who Self-Injure)

Trigger Warning: This will deal with the subjects of depression, emotional abuse, and self-injury, or SI.

I'm twenty-one years old and it's taken about a decade of this time for me to actually realize my life's balance between things that are awesome and things that are not-awesome.

At the moment, my life has a large amount of awesome. I mean, it's a pretty exciting point in time to be a person, in general. I saw The Avengers three times, without having to pay! I absolutely adored it! It's pretty much summertime, so college students are done with classes at this point and high schoolers are finishing up pretty soon, as well. Also, there is such thing as mint chocolate chip Klondike bars. I still can't figure out how to eat them like an adult, but they are delicious.

The thing is, my life has (and will probably always have) an undercurrent of not-awesome. Many of the things that are not-awesome in my life are things that I can't exactly control. I am prone to depressive episodes, intense anxiety, and self destructive tendencies. These experiences have obviously shaded my experiences as a human being. I have extremely low self esteem, I can't stand being in cars, and I have had a lengthy relationship with self-injury. All of these not-awesome behaviors take place while I am having pretty awesome experiences. So my life is mooching my way through the Avengers, even though I would like to just curl up and sleep forever, finishing classes for the semester, which means that I'm home alone a lot and typically getting anxious over it, and eating Klondike bars, which can be pretty productive sometimes, because it distracts my fingers from picking/scratching/cutting/whatever that can mangle my skin in some way.

My relationship with SI developed when I was twelve years old. My grandmother, who essentially raised me for a large part of my life, was dying from cancer. I have been emotionally abused my entire life by my family. I have struggled with sexuality and gender issues for as long as I can remember, as well. So many factors led up to this inevitable thought process that "OH HEY, YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD BE A GREAT IDEA? HURTING MYSELF, BECAUSE EVERYTHING ELSE HAS HURT ME." Was it a "good" decision? I mean, not exactly. There's nothing inherently wrong with changing your skin. I mean, scarification, tattoos, and other forms of body modification are examples of beautiful, positive alterations of skin. Inflicting pain on oneself is also an entirely valid expression, as well. There are many sexual kinks that are based around pain and utilize it for pleasure. But as a coping device, SI is not a great one, but sometimes all someone has to really come to terms with the anger, frustration, and depression that stems from losing loved ones, being abused emotionally and/or physically, or coming to terms with being a queer person in a home full of people who don't accept it.

The other issue that has to be factored in people's struggles with SI is that there are so many misconceptions associated with it, typically from, you know. Mostly everywhere. One of the most uncomfortable moments I ever had as a person who SIs was when I went to see Black Swan. As the audience watched the lead character fall apart, people decided to cackle and dismiss her actions as another example of a "bitch going crazy." The movie will forever be known by many people as "the movie that Natalie Portman went psycho and had sex with Mila Kunis." The markers of this behavior is her self abuse.

SI commonly gets dismissed as a symptom of bored teenagers in need of attention. Which, okay. Many people who SI probably need attention. But their need for attention is typically a pile up of the not-awesome in their life as opposed to the stereotypical association that teenagers crave attention that is connected to poor life decisions and the ability to purchase food for dates, cars, and clothes. The idea of teen angst is considered a temporary state that can be ignored constantly reoccurs in many adult interactions with them. It's why things like the It Gets Better Project become successful. They depend on waiting out the teenage years, as opposed to facilitating safe spaces for teenagers going through valid emotional distress.

The thing about SI, which isn't discussed, because it's apparently a thing that only happens in attention-seeking teenage years, is that it doesn't really go away. One of the only somewhat accurate depictions of SI I've seen articulated it in a way that I always reference to when I try to explain this to other people. Degrassi: The Next Generation (yes, the Canadian teen drama) had a character, Ellie, who cut herself. While she had an episode entirely about it, her need to SI reoccured in various episodes afterwards. She shows her cuts to a future boyfriend and finds herself surprised when he doesn't run away (which, let me tell you from experience: It is a scary, surreal, and liberating moment that I know not enough people get in their lifetime). She also references it in an important speech she makes to a friend, Craig, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The scene plays out like this: Craig is invited to attend a group therapy session, because of his bipolar disorder as well as his pretty shitty life situation. When he sees that Ellie is in the group, he becomes deterred from attending. Ellie approaches him about it, and explains quite simply that she needs to go, because she's a cutter and she will always be a cutter, even if she hasn't hurt herself in awhile.

Though a little convoluted, what I'm getting at is that people who SI will more likely than not always struggle with it. It's like the other things I go through in my life- the not-awesome that interferes with my awesome. I will always have it in the back of my head, even if I haven't done it in a long time. I live with markers all over my body about it. The fact that I need to be constantly told by the media and general opinion that my behavior is a part of the temporary state of teen angst hurts. A lot. And I guess the entire point of this post is to allow myself to vent about it and hopefully provide a perspective on a subject that is constantly mangled by outside forces.

Complementing this demand to reconfigure the present visualization of SI by the general public is the demand to establish spaces that are safe for people who SI. Dismissive use of words such as "crazy", "cutter", and "psycho" much be gotten rid of to better the treatment of people who SI/people recovering from SI and people who don't, but still struggle with mental disorders. People also need to understand that spaces must be created to make sure that people don't get triggered by things. I used a trigger warning at the beginning of the post. It's a rating system of sorts (except it's way more specific than most rating systems). It can either point out that content that can make someone anxious/want to relapse/be reminded of traumatizing experiences and tell them to avoid the post, or it can also prepare a person that the content will occur. It can make people's lives a lot better. This isn't censoring things. This is just making some people's lives more bearable or prevent them from performing a destructive behavior. Better discussion of the topic of SI can obviously make this easier to create warning or sensitivity to the subject, as well.

This post has been pretty much a therapeutic experiment of sorts for me. I don't know how much of this is actually compelling commentary. But if you have read it all, well. Thanks a lot! And I hope that we can, as readers, writers, and people, begin to have the not-awesome pile in people who SI's lives a little smaller.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why Marceline/Princess Bubblegum Would Have Been Cool

If you know me, you probably know that I am a pretty big fan of Adventure Time. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, it's a show on Cartoon Network about Finn, a human boy and his companion, Jake, a stretchy dog. They live in a world that is slightly post-humanity and full of various monarchies including Ice Kings, Vampire Queens, and princesses of bubblegum. As Finn fights random baddies (and I mean pretty damn random baddies) there is always a faint observance of the importance of friendship.

While this show does focus on two male characters helping female characters and saving the day, a lot of these princesses are interesting, unique, and strong. One of the main female characters, Princess Bubblegum, has even been known to save Finn and Jake from perils. There are, of course, a lot of princesses that are attracted to Finn, most likely because he came in to save the day for them, and a constant dialogue between Finn and other characters about his crush on Princess Bubblegum. Princess Bubblegum does not reciprocate these feelings, particularly because she is eighteen and he is thirteen.

Of course, not all the female characters in this story are princesses. One of the more frequent characters is Marceline the Vampire Queen, a bass slinging, mischievous girl that, after living for thousands of years, is emotionally volatile, but fiercely loyal to the people she cares about (as long as they don't eat her fries or try to take the memory of her childhood toy out of her head). Since the beginning of the series, she appears to have some kind of need to harass Princess Bubblegum. They are two entirely different types of people (creatures?)- Princess Bubblegum is very prim and proper and Marceline, well, is not.

The fandom in Adventure Time has run away with this dynamic. It hasn't helped that art (such as the one at the beginning of this post) by one of the animators for the show (Check out her art here: has displayed Marceline and PB in suggestive positions together. It should be noted that the artist herself does do random art for the fun of it. In fact, her initial genderbent art was just an experiment for herself to draw these characters differently. The actual genderswapped episode happened after the fact. Also, from an aesthetic perspective, Marceline's grey pallor and PB's pink hue compliment each other really well. But it did lead the fandom to wonder what it would be like if the show actually went forward with a Marceline/PB coupling involved.

So let's look at the latest episode that came out. It was entitled "What Was Missing." In the episode, Finn and Jake start chasing a strange door opening creature (named the Door Lord) that took things extremely important to them, such as a wad of PB's hair (Finn) and a blanket (Jake). As they go through the doors to follow the creature, they meet up with PB and Marceline, who are implied to have lost things as well. When they reach one door, they must break the lock by forming a genuine band and playing an awesome song. At the end of it all, it exemplifies how friendship is great and should always be appreciated, even when things get rough.

What made this episode particularly fascinating was that it gave the viewers more insight into Marceline and PB's dynamic in ways that can be riddled with subtext. For example, Marceline performs a song about it:

What is interesting about this song is that it's extremely raw. It also has lyrics that can go in multiple directions. The two main readings of the song is either that PB and Marceline don't like each other, because PB finds that Marceline is too unruly and vulgar or that Marceline is a very jilted lover that got dumped because, well, she was unruly and vulgar. Whatever it means, Marceline is pissed off.

It should also be noted that after the episode, we find out, well, what was missing. Marceline isn't missing anything, she is tagging along because she just likes going on adventures with them (once again, cue the importance of friendship). PB is missing a concert t-shirt that Marceline gave her at some point in the past. What makes it even more interesting is that PB says that she uses it as a pajama shirt, even though it clearly does not compliment her pink fashion sense. Much like the song, it can be read as either a friendship that went south or a romantic relationship that went south. There is no direct reading to the episode.

The response for the episode has been overall positive. In fact, the cesspool of Youtube comments has been strangely... not a cesspool. While some people still hold out that PB and Finn can find a way to make it work, there is a pretty enthused response to the thought that these two girls to get together. Plus, let's be real here: If any cartoon is going to have queer ladies, it would be Adventure Time, who just had a gender swap episode.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look very good for this prospective couple- a Youtube group that does recaps of the episode took down their recap (which included poking around at the possible gay subtext between PB and Marceline)-because Frederator, who produces AT, found that it was a little salacious to imply that Marceline could possibly worship the coochie shrine. Of course, because the internet is a terrible thing, people began chattering about the possibility of Cartoon Network pulling the episode from being reshown. The creators also said that they did not intend there to be any gay subtext. Marceline was just singing about draining PB's pretty face because she's a vampire and nothing more. I kind of call bullshit on this opinion, but for all intents and purposes, I will not go into a subject that I just don't have much confirmation on.

What is disappointing about this whole thing is, well, on a surface level, I shipped the shit out of this couple. I have an entire headcanon of Marceline flying PB around and letting her loosen up, while PB tries to refine her, with a constant plot of Marceline being wild as the problem in winning her over to the kingdom, not that they are in lesbians with each other. It's also disappointing that a production company, in this day and age, can be so fucking bothered by some people finding queer subtext in something. We've seen people ship Frodo and Sam, Spock and Kirk, and many other characters, but for some reason because some people wish to read a song that could totally be sang by a pissed off ex and have it fit perfectly, TAKE DOWN THE RECAPS AND STIFLE THE POSSIBILITY RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

This reaction has also shown how far we still have to go in media representation in queer characters. Many people after the fact argued that it's just as well that PB and Marceline do not end up together- children are too young to understand that queer people exist. Oh, all right, asshole. Have you seen Adventure Time's fanbase? The show itself is on at eight, a time that many younger children are getting ready for bed. Much of its fanbase is teenagers through college students, many of which have either met queer people or are queer people themselves. Even then, the implication that children don't know of queer people is insulting. Kids have two mommies or two daddies, or maybe they visit their two uncles in the city. Kids know queer people exist. And hey, maybe a lot of these kids are beginning to be aware that they are queer themselves. Maybe they don't have the "I'm gay" realization, but it could be possible that they are looking at their parents and they know they really don't want that. These children, especially as people begin to try and enforce tougher bullying laws, need to be given reassurance early on that you can be gay, straight, bi, asexual, whatever the fuck, IT'S OKAY.

There is also the argument that with the presence of queer couples comes the need to discuss sexual intercourse between queer couples. And while I tried to think of an academic response to this, especially considering I'm a well-to-do college student, I couldn't. I just laughed. If you look at many cartoons targeted at the same group as Adventure Time, you can see various instances of hetero coupling. A striking example is Avatar: The Last Airbender, where many of the main characters were intertwined in romantic, heterosexual, relationships. I've worked with a lot of eight year olds that loved this show and were aware that these romantic relationships were happening between the characters. I never felt the need to sit them down and explain to them that Aang and Katara really wanted to have sex, and the mechanics of it. In theory, a queer couple like PB and Marceline would not require some explanation of how to fingerbang, either- I think these eight year olds can cope with the fact that sometimes girls just really like each other and want to be with each other.

There are a lot of people that have accused the fandom of overreacting to this shutting out of the possibility of a relationship. While I understand that some people may be too invested in a pair of fictional couples, I do believe that a lot of these people have a reason to be pissed. This need to not even allow the subtext of these characters to exist shows the amount of progress needed in the media. It also shows how people underestimate the capacity that children have in reference toward learning acceptance and embracing people that are different, or possibly just like them. And, unfortunately, it shows how some people just really dislike the thought of two pretty cool ladies holding hands on a children's television show.

I'm going to the Adventure Time panel at Comic Con next month. I'm not fully sure how it's going to go down, but I do hope there is some kind of dialogue brought up about this subject. Obviously, if I get any deets, I will let you guys know. Other than that, I just want to reiterate how fucking badass a lovesong Marceline could sing to PB would be. And, of course, if you have any opinion on this subject, send it to the comments.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A World Without Rutgersfest

Well, it seems like another week, another news story about my university. This year has been pretty rough for us in the Rutgers community in terms of damage control, but like anything in Jersey, it will take a lot to get us down and out.

I have never been very supportive of Rutgersfest. While I am still a little sad that I didn't get to see Motion City Soundtrack the year before I started here (even though it was super rainy), I am just not a very party-oriented person. I have gone to parties, trust me. I've gone over that in an earlier blog post. I just don't feel like listening to okay music while being shoved up against tons of sweaty, drunk, possibly sixteen year olds.

An issue that has arose with Rutgersfest is the fact that it is a huge thing. Pitched as an end-of-the-semester celebration, Rutgersfest should be a day of hanging out with fellow students, listening to music, jumping on dorky inflatables, and partying with fellow students that have been able to survive the semester with you. However, the festival, which was held on a field at Busch campus, was extremely easy to enter (I literally crossed the street and boom! Rutgersfest!), and through social networking sites, has become way too easy for outsiders (mainly high schoolers/students from other colleges/enthusiasts of the bands) to access the festival and hopefully go to the many parties offered throughout the area in honor of the event.

In case you haven't read the zillions of articles about this event, these thousands of people-not Rutgers students-flooded our campus and the outside areas, drunk, ornery, and hoping, and in need to be at any and all of the parties. Because too many drunk people with too much alcohol is never a good thing, people got into fights. These fights were awful. While I was not out on the town during this night (even though I had planned to go to a house party, because I need to assert myself as not a party pooper while writing this post), I was told by people that there was a weird vibe in the air. People wanted to fight. Around three am one of my co-workers in a frat was disrupted at two/three am to gunshots. In total three different incidents with gunfire took place. Four victims were tallied up. Thankfully, no one died. None of the people in on this were Rutgers students. However, it scared a lot of Rutgers students in their residence halls that heard them and resulted in a lot of people in an on campus apartment complex getting their rooms searched by cops in hopes of finding one of the shooters. We got text messages basically saying College Ave was shut down. Most conflicts were done by the time the morning began to get rolling. Garbage was picked up, things were put back to place, and many opinions began to fly around about the future of Rutgersfest.

As of this afternoon, Rutgersfest has been cancelled. I can't say that I'm mad. Honestly, my initial reaction was good riddance. However, I do believe that we have a right, as students, to have an event. While I'm sure a lot of people are pissed, there are some positive things we can realize from all of this.

Student fees are being heavily debated in my area, due to the other headline-grabbing situation we had, which was Snooki making an appearance at our school. Both Rutgersfest and the Snooki visitation were organized by RUPA, our student-run group that arranges many of the events on campus. While I will defend Snooki til the end and I do not mind that my student fees went to her and her two sold out shows, especially because it was for students. While I was unable to attend the event, I know that many students went to it and had a blast. These student fees also went into Rutgersfest, which is much more expensive. I'm sure it's easy to rationalize the price of this event. It's a huge day full of okay bands and a lot of police officers, security guards, and amusement-related games needed to make the whole event run. But the reason you should be mad is the fact that all of this really expensive stuff is going toward a large population of people that aren't students of the university. In fact, a lot of it is students from other schools, teenagers from a few towns over, and other people that may not have even been invited by students. I feel like that's where I draw the lines on the budgeting of my student fees- I face the fact that I will not be interested in every single event RUPA runs at the school. We're a huge school, how can you appeal to everyone? I am not okay with the fact that non-students use our funds to get drunk, be assholes, and destroy our campuses in the process. I'm very okay with the fact that this money, I've read about $96,000 worth, has been able to be funneled into events that I may not be able to enjoy, but hopefully other students will be able to. Or maybe, gasp!, they'll reduce these fees because they won't have another costly event like Rutgersfest again!

This may also give RUPA, or any organization, the opportunity for them to begin to come up with a safer, more enjoyable event for the end of spring semester. Perhaps a concert at Rutgers football stadium? We can have students reserve space ahead of time and just do similar security that we do during football games. Eject people too drunk, require a student ID... it's not the end of the world. Parties can happen, like any other weekend, however, they are going to be less hectic because not as many people will be searching for parties as they did at Rutgersfest.

Basically, I am weirdly optimistic by the cancellation of Rutgersfest. I think that there is a lot of potential for great things to happen at this university. While this incident greatly depressed me and I never cared for the event, I do hate that some outsiders had to be responsible for us not being able to have nice things. I am, however, optimistic that we can learn from this and we can make Rutgers-related activities be super fun and and able to be enjoyed by students safely.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

When Fandom Goes Wrong

First off, I feel the need to announce that I am the proud owner of a vuvuzela:

Congrats to Spain, and Paul the Octopus for making their victory happen and all that. Time to ignore soccer for another four years!

Anyway, now for the actual post. In case you are one of the few people that aren't friends I met through fandom, well, I'm in it. It's silly, but it's always been an escape. Writing silly short stories, drawing pictures, and laughing at macros of animes when I was little, and bands when I got older, is my way of forgetting about the pressures of homelife, homework, and whatever bothers someone between the ages of 11 and 19. And while I have taken breaks from fandom and whatnot, I've supported it almost every step of the way. It's just fun, don't worry, I don't take it too seriously and neither should you, blah blah blah. But only now, eight years in, can I honestly see one of the largest issues in the system.

Fandom, at least in the fandoms I have actively been in, are based around male figures. And example of this would be my (embarrassing) first love, Yu Yu Hakusho:

A few people my age might remember staying up until God knows when to watch this show on Adult Swim back when Adult Swim was a slightly mature anime block on Cartoon Network. While it's a little low tech in terms of the art (it was made in 1990, so no computer graphics in this baby), it focused on a guy named Yusuke who died, but was able to come back to life provided that he investigated various supernatural cases. The show is an anime made for boys ("shounen", because for some reason my brain never let go of the lingo), and because of it,had a mostly male cast, even though the girls kicked major ass when they wanted to. While the show was not the most evenly distributed in terms of gender, whatever. When the fandom was active, it was definitely guy-focused. It was all about Hiei/Kurama, but at its core, there's nothing wrong with sexualizing two guys. However, there was a bit of a pattern within the fandom that I didn't really factor in at the time... the vilifying of the female characters on the show, without any reason other than the fact that they were getting in the way of the homoerotic joy. Most people didn't slash Yusuke all that much, and yet his girlfriend on the show was dismissed as a bitch and hated on. And, of course, when you're twelve and you don't really know all that much, you don't sit down and wonder what the hell is going on with this woman hating mentality.

Fandom behavior such as the one I interacted in with YYH way back when is alive and well in some areas. Female characters are in the way of "teh pr0nzzz!!!1" This applies to a lot of shows/TV/book fandoms. And while it's all fun and games for the most part, there's something particularly unnerving when you constantly hear women talk about how all the girls suck. No, girls don't have to like every single girl on a program. Boys don't have to like every single guy, either. But the vilification of the women in the fandom is depressing, and makes the people that do like the girls be a little awkward.

This actually liking the girls becomes problematic in slash-dominated fandoms. A lot of these fandoms (Okay, all of them if you factor in Rule 34) have fanfiction circles of some kind floating around. Which are pretty basic. People write stories based around characters and all that good stuff. While a lot of fanfiction writers would like to tell you they have as much integrity as a fanfiction writer can have, there is obvious playing the game in terms of the stories they write. Some communities will even outright say that heterosexual, most of the time canon, couplings are banned from communities. Uhm, ouch. What's worse is that femslash, or slash couplings of girls, is nearly impossible to find sometimes, only a viable option when the male characters become "gender bent", or have their sex changed for the duration of the story. And this is not to say that every single person you meet in fandom feels this way. Trust me, they don't. There's plenty of queer people that like girls as well and will write them in a positive light, or have them getting down and dirty with someone. However, they are the minority and will be the one that gets less readers and less reviews, which can depress fanfiction writers and make them reconsider writing girls into their stories.

Another issue that seems to arise in these slash-oriented fandoms is simply the lack of association with actually queer men. There is a general idea that these men are gay. That's it. The possibility of bisexuality is never discussed in most fics, and if the guy was in a relationship with a girl prior to meeting his "tru wuv!!11oneone", she was a cover up or what made the guy realize that he wasn't in love with not just her, but every woman that came before her. Because apparently every single guy that's ever boinked another guy has only liked guys.

There is also this stress of being a "top or a bottom." Which is all well and good. I've had this conversation with my guys-that-like-guys before. Whatever. But the projection of characterization based on top or bottom can hurtle out of control as well. Bottoms are feminine, wimpy, prone to being the victim of sexual assault, and tops are larger, more in control, and aggressive. There is no exceptions to this rule, unless it's specifically a kink to the fandom ("Oh, I'm feeling risky today... I want to read a story with the guy usually a bottom topping! Om nom nom ;)" People do prefer certain positions. But trust me, just because you want to take it doesn't make you a lily white guy that may be prone to being raped.

The final issue that arises in fandom is a problem that specifically arises in real person-related fandoms... sexism and homophobia. How can that be? you may ask. That's pretty understandable. How the hell can a fandom focused on the love between two dudes possibly have tendency of being offensive. But it does happen. While fanfiction should be about fantasy and fun, the wanting for real person situations to be, well, real, causes the fandom mentality to hurtle out of control. All the points that I made prior become particularly obvious. Let's take the dude on top of this paragraph for example. This is Kris Allen from American Idol. Yeah, sorry, more American Idol examples, sorry. It's the fandom I'm currently most involved in.

So Kris Allen is straight. He has a really cool friendship with openly gay Adam Lambert. However, fandom seems to be obsessed with this. What started off as very fun "OMFG THEY'RE SO ~MFEO", has become "HIS WIFE HAS DEPRESSION, HENCE SHE IS NOT A GOOD ENOUGH PARTNER FOR HIM... HENCE HE SHOULD FUCK ADAM." It singlehandedly exemplifies all the issues I have with fandoms in the past- vilification of women by means of having Katy, his wife, be a horrible partner based on the fact that she battled depression and has a vagina, any stories implying Kris is just friends with Adam get very few reviews and are viewed negatively, Kris is assumed to just be using Katy as a beard, because there's no fucking way that he likes girls in real life, and he definitely is a bottom, because he's small and clearly unable to be a top in any relationship whatsoever. What adds to all of this is that people collage images of him with a limp wrist, his hip jutted out, or repeatedly put up the gif of him snapping his fingers in a Z formation as "proof" that he likes men. Uhm. Okay. What started off as just a lulz here and a omfg there has become legit conspiracy theories. Which is just... sad. Yeah, I said it. It's sad. It's instilling stereotypes on gay men, which is upsetting when half the fandom is based around a gay guy that is trying to break into the music scene. It's reiterating that women are inferior and that men that are bottoms are inferior as well. And while a lot of people want to say that they're just joking around, at the end of the day, these fantasies do become a lot of the mentalities younger people (and older people) in fandom have.

At the end of these posts, I usually end with how the hell we can stop this. But to be honest, I don't fully know. I've decided to separate myself from fandom, keeping in touch with the friends that I made, but definitely not venturing too much farther. I guess you can say that it's a public resignation from my position as a fandom protector. Because there is a problem in the slash-focused fandoms and until people aren't afraid to say that there is something going on, it's not going to be fixed.

If you excuse me, I'm going to spend the rest of the day playing my vuvuzela and reading comments. Feel free to give me your input. Is fandom actually a problem? Should people care how the images of women and gay men are portrayed in these fandoms? Am I just a whiny sensitive kid that needs to toot her vuvuzela and get lost? Please, let me know.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ode to a Childhood Toy

So I was able to see Toy Story 3 at midnight Thursday night (or Friday morning?) and I'm so glad I did. I saw it next to a friend of mine I've known since second grade and promised that I would see the movie with them in high school. We did. It was absolutely amazing. In case you haven't read the bios on this blog, I'm 19 years old. I saw the first two in the movie theatre way back when, and I still revisit them on my VHS. When I was little, I convinced myself that while I was gone my Barbies, horse figurines, Power Rangers, dinosaurs, and the GI Joes I stole from my brother went on adventures together, much like Andy's motley crew of play things. As the third movie came to a close, I cried, like I do at most movies, but for different reasons.

I don't think there's many movie trilogies that literally grew up with its original audience. When the first movie came out, I was living a life similar to Andy. I was a little kid with a dog, a little sibling, and a bunch of toys playing out huge adventures in my head. As twelve years passed between the second movie and the third movie, I grew up. I was just in Andy's shoes last year, going off the college with a very old dog, a now-pubescent sibling, and a bunch of toys in storage, neglected in the corners of my room, or out on the curb. Sure, I kept the ones that had memories attached to them-a pink flamingo my dad bought me when he was stuck in a Florida airport on my birthday, Ugly Dolls because I still love them-but, I've been getting rid of the toys that are broken and sending anything that is still in one piece or has all its pieces together to various foundations or my attic.

There's something really bizarre about sitting in a movie theatre and seeing that the kid on screen that you identified with in a weird way was as grown up as you were by the end of the film. While I highly doubt that most of us would be able to be as selfless as Andy was at the end of the movie, us viewers that are 17-20something know very well what it's like to be in-between two versions of yourself- a high school senior and a college freshman-and be totally aware of it.

Like Andy, we all had That Toy. You know what I'm talking about. The one that is in every photo in your family's album. The one that your parents mention you toting around. The one your mom not only threw in some form of a washer on several occasions, but made sure to check the instructions so it wouldn't get damage. That toy was your best friend, especially when you really didn't know the word for it yet. For me, that was Brown Dog, a furry brown creature of no real breed with plastic brown eyes and suede paws. He was given to me via my mom at my baby shower, and I don't think he's left me since. He's endured millions of hugs, vacations across the eastern seaboard, and a few washings that resulted in his fur being matted and his stuffing isn't distributed properly. While Kimberly the Pink Ranger occasionally seemed as if she would replace him, she never did. He was the Woody to my Andy. Sure, he was low tech, kind of floppy, and legitimately older than me, but he was my Brown Dog.

When college ended up becoming more than just a fantasy of sorts, I initially decided that Brown Dog deserved a retirement. After serving 18 years as my best friend, he deserved to perch on my bed at home and not have to do anything for a long, long while.

I decided last second to bring Brown Dog. I thew him in a green cube with my posters and DVDs and brought him to Rutgers, where he lounged on my best, went on a free trip to Florida, and even got caught in a makeout session between me and my SO. But what's hilarious about the life of Brown Dog is that college gave him a comeback- people would go into my room and take him off his spot on my bed and on their head, or on their shoulder, or just gave him a hug. He's been tagged on Facebook and now has a fanpage which you should be a fan of. Brown Dog isn't exactly everyone's childhood toy, but he reminds them of that time.

The only thing I will never understand is how make believe, pretend, making up stories is so great and so cherished when you're little, and yet we can't play pretend unless we're doing kinky shit in the bedroom when we get older. Sure, it's probably not a good idea to jump around in your room and be like "I'm a fairy princess yayyy!", but that doesn't mean that you can't play pretend in your own way. Write something. Seriously, just write it. Put your pretend on paper. Hang on to your One Toy and hope to pass them down to someone, or just hang onto them. Be aware of your inner child, because if you take yourself too seriously, you're going to lose it. And that's what Toy Story 3 has taught me to embrace. Crazy, but true.

I'll write something more serious/commentary-based in a little bit. For now, just think about this. If you want, become a fan of Brown Dog on Facebook. Feel free to comment about your childhood friend :) Or even say what you think of the movie!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Donna Reviews Stuff: American Idiot

All right, so I was wondering if I should do reviews on this blog, and then I realized, fuck it: It's my blog. So I'm going to review something.

A friend of mine and I decided that we were going to see American Idiot. He's a Broadway kid, and I'm a fan of Broadway productions, but definitely a Green Day fan. A lot of people seem to need to disclaimer what kind of fan of Green Day they are at this point, but to be honest, I love Green Day. Dookie-era, Warning-era, American Idiot-era, I really don't care. I like the sound, I like their aesthetic, I like that they've grown up and while they sound hasn't necessarily, their content definitely has. I'm seeing them in August, and I'm super excited, along with AFI, which is my favorite band ever, and it's just exciting to be me right now, obviously.

Anyway, keep it in mind that this whole experience, when a Green Day fan, is ten times different from a kid that just wants to see a Broadway show and maybe knows a few Green Day songs.

American Idiot is playing at St. James Theatre. It's a very old school-looking theatre, but they made sure to add a punk rock feel to it. The walls in the entrance are covered in words and the doors are spray painted. The bar has ST. JIMMY written across it and when you look at the copious amounts of merch for Green Day being sold, you realize you're in a combination of a rock concert and a Broadway musical. Which is definitely what it is.

When the show starts, it's loud and abrasive. My friend winced, but I smiled. As "American Idiot" started, the cast was screaming the lyrics, while harmonizing at times. I loved it. These lyrics are not pretty. The music is arranged very similar to the original Green Day songs, and the band itself is mostly lead by a guitar, drum, and bass. There's occasional string instruments, but in terms of the music, it's definitely a rock show.

The story itself is very much like the album- a guy goes into the city trying to find something, he falls into the trap of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and eventually grows up to be like everyone else. However, they decided to split the lead into three roles of sorts- Johnny, who flees into the city and goes through the temptation of St. Jimmy, a very hot, androgynous embodiment of heroin addiction, Will, a guy that decides to stay home and falls into entire ennui with his girlfriend Heather, and Tunny, a guy that escapes into the city with Johnny only to enlist into the army. While it was sad, and very true to life, to see how these three options in life do lead you back home, and possibly a little broken, I do wonder if Will's storyline was needed. His relationship with Heather is constant throughout the story, but we honestly don't know anything about the two of them. Most of their scenes are pantomimed over the music and only really becomes relevant when Will sings "Nobody Likes You." Tunny's storyline is very similar to a Hair-type storyline of boy tries to be part of counterculture, boy ends up taking conventional route, boy ends up conflicted, however, it does remind the general audience of the constant war that is going on, even though it's not on the home turf. However, his relationship with The Extraordinary Girl and his dream sequence to the song that is her namesake is a total wtf moment with a princess Jazmine costume.

Seriously, costume designers, there ain't anything punk rock about this outfit.

Once again, for whatever reason, this storyline isn't explained very well, either, in terms of the relationship between the two characters. Why is she such an extraordinary girl, aside from the fact that she's in love with a soldier? What's the image she wants to sell to anyone willing to buy?

Johnny's storyline is naturally more thought out, and the lack of connection between him and Whatsername makes more sense. He's in a constant haze of heroin during most of the production, and does not realize how awesome she is until she's gone. But when a very sexy, willowy guy you're imagining named St. Jimmy is dancing around who can blame you? Uh, hello? I have never seen Tony Vincent in my life, but I will totally own up that I want to do indecent things to him with his asymmetrical hair and killer vocals. He hits an Adam Lambert glory note during it and just. Wow.

The rest of the class is very talented. Their vocals are great, and they definitely took a note from Green Day in the way they sang. The choreography is not great, but it's very headbang-y, and people throwing themselves into the music. There are some notes taken from Green Day when they perform, as well. When Johnny makes the sign of the cross during the lyrics of "To a hymn called faith and misery" during "Holiday" I smiled a little, remembering Billie Joe doing it multiple times before. Of course, because of these references, and notes in choreography, this is definitely not a show that you want to want to see unless you're a fan of Green Day circa American Idiot. The plot is not the greatest thing in the world. They definitely could have detailed certain things better, and maybe even considered adding more conversation, or taking away plot lines when writing it for stage. Of course, with being a fan of American Idiot with a runaway imagination, you may sit there and go "But I thought this song meant this D:!" But hey, it's totally worth it. Plus, with a lottery for tickets only 27 dollars, and then partial view seats for 37 dollars, it's very easy to see this show for cheap.

Overall, it's a decent show. If you like Green Day, you should check it out. If you're not, I'm not really sure you should get in on it. But hey, if you're ready for a punk rock show on Broadway, go for it. Just be ready for a rock show that's better than Tommy, with a lot of kids not afraid to use fuck.

Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go listen to Green Day and party like it's 2003. I'm seeing Adam Lambert on Saturday, so if people like me reviewing stuff, I may end up doing one for that show. Let me know what you think of this show if you've seen this, of course!

Friday, May 28, 2010

An open letter to Glee:

Dear Glee,

Hey, I see you're doing really, really well. Your ratings are crazy right now, and you're making yourself into a real brand. You've sold out concerts on your tour and you've been able to decimate the iTunes charts every week when you release new covers of various pop tunes that American Idol can only dream of getting the rights to- "Bad Romance?" Hells yeah. "Don't Stop Believing?" More like don't stop playing that song on my iPod. "Somebody to Love?" Way to prove me wrong with the whole "No one can cover Queen ever!" viewpoint.

Then why is it that half the time I'm watching you, I want to personally smack all the writers on the show? Why is it that every week I tune in, only to want to kick you in the mouth? Is it because Mercedes had an eating disorder for half an episode? Or maybe because the plotholes about Quinn's living situation were wider than her maternity clothes? Or maybe because Finn constantly teeters between decent human being, to airhead, to insensitive jackass, to guy strutting in Lady GaGa-esqueware over the course of one episode?

While these are all obviously issues with you as a show, I realized the real issue I have with you is a member of your cast, Kurt.

Sure, Kurt has his moments of epicosity, mostly featuring his dad. I was sniveling like a baby when his father not only gave Finn a verbal smackdown in the last episode, but remembered to compliment Kurt on his fabulous room designing skills. When Kurt sang his heart out with his name behind him in lights, I swooned. I even happy danced when I found out insider scoop about Kurt eventually acquiring a boyfriend sometime down the line, but there's something about Kurt that just pisses me off.

Maybe it's because you're falling into the Degrassi Trap. For people that don't know, Degrassi: The Next Generation is a Canadian import that was fall of awesome up until the characters graduated from high school and they tried to replace it with new kids that I can't stand. In its earlier seasons, it was pretty much amazing and handled serious topics- from self mutilation, to school shootings, to STDs-with a weird sense of realism and a little humor here and there.

It had a primary character that was gay, as well, named Marco. Marco was pretty all right for the most part. His storylines were interesting and epitomized a gay boy coming of age in high school. However, the issue with Marco was that all of his storylines went back to him being gay. Oh, Marco is trying to run for class president, but oh God! The girl that eventually ends up being a lesbian is threatening to out him! Marco likes a boy, but he's just recently realized he's gay, what should he do? Marco wants to come out to his family, but he's scared! Eventually, the plot lines petered out into nothing. Kurt's storylines are already beginning to have the gay undertones. Mercedes has a crush on Kurt, but Kurt comes out as gay! Kurt is harassed at school, because he's gay! Kurt has an issue with Finn, because Finn calls things faggy and Kurt is offended!

While Marco's storyline eventually crashed and burned, one thing that Degrassi seemed to do right was that Marco's sexuality was never confused with his gender. Marco liked guys. He was a guy. Sure, he was fashionable, but he was always a guy and referred to himself as such. He was able to be a great connector to the entire cast, hanging out and getting along with pretty much everyone, from my favorite goth girl Ellie, to queen bee Paige, to go-to guitar player Craig, however, no one doubted that he was a guy doing all this connecting. In you, Glee, there seems to be this constant flipping between Kurt being a resident girl or a gay- particularly when the show constantly needs to split the club into boys vs. girl competitions. For example, in the Madonna episode, Kurt proclaimed that he was the girl of the group when the guys were brainstorming ideas. However, in the GaGa episode, he joins the girls as an army of little monsters, which results in Schuester telling the boys to ~express themselves in their own way, by performing in Kiss makeup. Because, obviously, that's the way to counteract the GaGa infecting the Glee club. What gives, Glee? Kurt's a boy. If anything, shouldn't he be using his penis for the greater good and telling the boys to get over their fear of GaGa and embrace her kookiness? Maybe I just really, really wanted to see Puck wearing a thunderbolt over his eye or something, but I feel as though the need to have the girls and Kurt vs. the boys a little ridiculous.

Of course, we need to point out that you're not the second coming. You're a silly show that has a lot of elements of a fucking musical, for God's sake. However, it can't be denied that your fanbase is rampant. And while that's good for your ratings, it makes it nearly impossible for you to be dissected sometimes. No one is sitting down to wonder why Kurt is just not making sense sometimes, nor is anyone allowing other people to voice their opinion about it. And while I do understand that you're not supposed to be a showcase in queer theory, you have to realize that you have a lot of power over your fans and you can't make stupid plot decisions because of it.

How can you fix this? Well, how about you stop making every episode be guys vs. girls. While gender is obviously an important part of life, you really need to ease up on it most of the time. And how about you make Kurt be a guy. Hopefully, the fact you're giving him a boyfriend will help, provided you don't make him the "girl" of the relationship, whatever that means. Also, could you please, please, please not have all of Kurt's issues be related to being gay? He's a boy and he's going through awful high school things, he just so happens to be fashionable and like boys. He can obviously like men and state it, I'm not saying that's wrong, but I am saying that all his plots shouldn't focus on his sexuality. He's got so much potential, and it's obvious that it's being wasted on coming out plotlines/trying to be straight plot lines/Finn's "faggy blanket" incident. I won't say I have faith in you Glee, but I'd love to see if you could prove me wrong.

Some love,

PS: I'm totally watching you when you go up on Hulu. I will admit to that.

PPS: I'd love to hear your comments about Kurt, Glee, or about how season four of Degrassi: The Next Generation was the best thing everrr.