The Easiest Time Of Your Life

Our six year old gets on the bus at the end of our street, along with a number of other kids from the village.

One of the fathers is off work this week due to rain, and said to his daughters as he ushered them onto the coach yesterday, “See you, girls. And remember, this is the easiest time of your life!”

I shook my  head and said, partly under my breath, “No, it isn’t.” But he said exactly the same thing to them again this morning. It’s just something he says. He glanced at me, perhaps expecting another disagreement this morning, but I can’t be bothered. You see, it’s a long story, and no one wants to hang around windy bus stops at the time of year.

Thing is, that throwaway line reminded me of something my own father often said to us when we were kids: “Childhood is the best time of your life.” He explained that childhood is the only true freedom, that everything gets worse once you endure the responsibility of adulthood, that I should make the most of every day of sunny childhood before the depths of despair known as the rest of my entire life.

My mother did a slightly different thing. Whenever an adult asked me if I liked school I would answer with a fairly lacklustre response, and my mother would always correct me. She’d inform me, and the adult, that in fact I loved school. I’m pretty sure she convinced me, too. If the uninspired structure and discipline of primary school was something I ‘loved’, then I wasn’t to hope for anything more.

It was a great surprise to me, therefore, that my life grew immeasurably better almost immediately after leaving school. Turns out, childhood wasn’t the best/easiest/sunniest time of my life. I happen to be one of those fortunate people who enjoy the freedoms along with the responsibilities of adulthood.

Telling our kids that life is only going to get worse is a damn shitty thing to teach them, don’t you think? Everyone’s life pans out differently and no doubt for some, those few years of childhood are in fact the only decent ones. Then there’s this thing called rose tinted glasses, or amelioration in hindsight, or perhaps it’s just looking at the lives of your own kids, thinking how nice it would be to not have the worry of bills and bosses. But kids have different worries. They have canteen lines and teachers and school rules and they spend all day alongside other partially formed individuals who say thoughtless things.

When I had a pregnant belly, and later when I had a newborn and a toddler, strangers would often tell me that these are the best years and although they feel lengthy, they go by so quickly, so I was urged to make the most of them. This, to me, was another version of pointless regret for time passed. Sure, it’s true. You only get one chance at those early years, but the fact is, you only get one chance at every single day.

Besides, does anyone really know how to make the most of every single moment? What exactly does it mean I should be doing?

In the meantime, I’ll do my best in the moment, remember times past with fondness where possible and look forward to the future.

I’m Not Sure Which Is Worse

The gender essentialism or the lack of apostrophes?

Big W Toy Sale

Big W Toy Sale

Or maybe it’s that in order to get the odd ten dollar discount at Woolworths Australia I have to get these emails every second day, and then ‘activate’ my offers.

Every now and then the checkout operator says, after scanning my Everyday Rewards card, ‘Oh wow, that’s wonderful. You just saved ten dollars!’ and I say something along the lines of, ‘No, your company just paid me ten dollars for the private details of my shopping habits.’

But then I am a glass half empty sort of consumer.

New Gumboots

I recently splashed out and bought myself a new pair of gumboots for my birthday. I’m over all this chicken poo being tramped through the house. I also got a new schmick new Apple Mac and a pair of actual lace up winter boots for my  birthday this year, but I don’t want to be a cliche and wax lyrical about migration from PC to Mac because I’m sure you’ve heard all that before. However, I think the gumboots are worth blogging about.

This is them:

women's gumboots

There was surprisingly little choice at Big W considering it’s the middle of winter. It was black, black or black.

They cost $25.

The rest of the crew also needed new gumboots. The six year old found pink shiny ones (which she hasn’t taken off since, except for a mandatory few hours of school athletics, for which she begrudgingly wore trainers) and the girls’ gumboots were only $10. This seems about right, because there is less overall gumboot required for such tiny feet.

My husband also needed gumboots. The men’s gumboots were on the shelf above the women’s gumboots.

men's gumboots

As you can see, the men’s gumboots are pretty similar to the women’s gumboots, except women’s gumboots have a dinky little strap on the side. I’m not sure what this is for, because if I want to feel pretty, I’m generally not in the mood for wearing gumboots (though I did just wear my gumboots to the supermarket which is a new low of slovenly country living, even for me.)

As you may also note, there is more overall ‘gum’ in a man’s gumboot owing to their larger feet.

So I ask you, why were the men’s black gumboots $10 while the women’s black gumboots $25?

You may then wonder why I bought the women’s gumboots and not the men’s, because what the hey. Except even the smallest of the men’s gumboots were still too wide for my feet, so it wasn’t really an option.

This experience takes me back to the start of the month, when Aldi had their annual sale of ski gear. I don’t actually ski, but snow wear comes in handy around here. I bought a bunch of woollen socks (irrelevant to this discussion) and also two zip up jacket type things. One is for men and the other is for women. They were exactly the same price. Five cents short of forty dollars, if I remember correctly.

It wasn’t until my husband put his on that I realised the ‘men’s’ version has an extra zip up pocket on the chest. The women’s jacket is identical in every other way, except for the more ‘feminine colours’ (yes, pink). If a man wanted to buy a man’s jacket in pink he was fresh out of luck.

I’m going to feel more sorry for myself than for pink-loving men, however, because I find pockets with zips on them very handy. They’re good for keeping an iPod in, or a bit of change, or a receipt.

One might argue that women don’t really suit breast pockets owing to the fact that we have breasts. This is one argument, and I’m pretty sure the designer would argue that way, but if the man’s version was going to come with an extra pocket, I would have expected it to cost an extra few dollars, to account for the cost of the zipper. But no. These jackets are exactly the same price, and you know what that means in effect? It means that when women buy clothes, we are subsidising the men, who get more overall value for less money.

I’m not yet sure what I can do about this state of affairs. In the meantime, when my  husband and I are out in public, in our (almost) matching black gumboots and our (almost) matching zip-up cardies from Aldi, then I will ask him to hold the little annoying shit that tends to accumulate on outings. He has an extra pocket, after all.

 

Ah, Boggle

I’m going to stop playing you. I keep saying this, and then I keep playing.

You allow the word ‘tit’ (presumably because it’s a bird) but not ‘tits’ (because two birds would be offensive).

You don’t allow the word ‘queer’, because (obviously!) being gay is offensive. Double sorry, Peter and Paul.

However, you do allow ‘altar’.

boggle-screenshot

Feminist Film Review: Frozen

Frozen

The thing about all things for kids: We think a lot more about whether it’s good for them. We don’t tend to think so much about the merits of pop movies for adults. We just let them be. By writing posts such as this, I’m another one of the handwringers. I’d be more inclined to give animated films like this one little thought and webspace if films such as Tangled weren’t so consistently held up as examples of feminist films, simply for featuring a female protagonist. In fact, the animated films which are more frequently held up as examples of feminist ideology are no such thing.

A film with female protagonists is not necessarily feminist. Whatever else is said about Frozen, it’s still a Disney Princess movie.

WILL THIS FILM ANNOY A FEMINIST?

There is at least one line of dialogue that annoys me in almost every animated film I watch, but I genuinely thought this one was not going to do that. I mean, they surely weren’t going to put in any ‘girl stuff is dumb” jokes in it, were they?

No, they didn’t. This film has an active feminist message in the sense that two (very obvious) fairytale tropes were subverted:

1. Love at first sight is bullshit

2. A validating type of love doesn’t have to come from a male love interest such as a prince, but can come equally from a significant female in your life; in this case, your sister.

Here are my issues with the film in bulletpoint form, because I’m sure this has been discussed at length elsewhere:

  • A lot of people have pointed out the ridiculousness of anatomy: That the young women’s eyes are bigger than their wrists. To those who argue that these are stylised characters that should not be taken literally — that is true — but the real-human template from which these stylised versions are modelled are obviously slim and white. So a stylised version or not, this is the same old Western Beauty Standard we’re working with here. One thing I hadn’t seen before were freckled shoulders (on Anna, not on Elsa. Freckles are more in keeping with Anna’s less-perfect quirky personality.) I wonder if the character developers thought that freckled shoulders were somehow transgressive, though? I really do wonder that.
  • Quick, quick, what are the things that Women Like? Answer: Shoes, handbags and chocolate. There were several references to chocolate — one in a song and the other in decontextualised dialogue between the sisters — which seemed completely random in this film, and I’m guessing they existed to convey the message that girls are allowed to eat chocolate and enjoy food too, you know. This is just more of that Maybelline type of idea (which I wrote about in my review of Gilmore girls) that you can be pretty and skinny and eat a heap of sugar at the same time… if you’re special enough and live inside a Pinterest board. I find it irritating that Women Like sweet things like Chocolate (and men like manly things like chargrilled meat). I mean, I like chocolate but I don’t regard eating it as some sort of feminist statement. It is what it is. And in this film the out-of-context references to chocolate were nothing short of bizarre.
  • There is a paucity of stories about female friendships, in film as well as in books. (Ooh, found one!) Frozen could have been a story about two sisters, but it wasn’t. (Stephen Metcalf at Slate’s Culture Gabfest also thought that more could’ve been made of the sister relationship. He has daughters, and the relationship didn’t ring true for him.There was very little dialogue between the young women. For an animated film which really does explore the relationship between two sisters, see Lilo and Stitch, another of my daughter’s favourites. (That film is also notable for having a female baddie.)
  • One exchange stood out to me for being annoying, though. The sisters compliment each other on their looks (because, ya know, that’s the most effective way to brighten a gal’s day), and Anna tells her older sister that she may look beautiful but the older sister looks ‘beautifuller’. Realising that this is not a word, she self-corrects and says, ‘Oh I don’t mean fuller‘. Except she’s not really correcting her grammar, is she. She’s worried that she just called her sister a semi-euphemistic version of ‘fat’ — and along with the wrists-being-bigger-than-the-eyes visual cues, little girls learn once again that being a version of large — taking up your due space in this world — is one of the worst things you could possibly be. There’s a dumb joke just like that in one of those crappy Ice Age movies. About a female mammoth having a big butt, and taking it as a compliment, which is meant to be hilarious, because (white) women in real life don’t tend to take that as a compliment.
  • Anna is a klutz, in the Zooey Deschenel kind of way. A goofy, klutzy character with Freudian slips — a character whom adult audiences, at least, will have seen many times before. I must remind myself that this film is for kids. What this main character is not: Poised, self-assured and forward-thinking. This is a particular brand of femininity which little girls are perhaps seeing too much of.. at the expense of the other kind.
  • The Mary Sue didn’t like Frozen all that much. I felt the same way about it.

In short, long-time feminists may go meh about Frozen. Though people completely new to feminism may see this film as a triumph in its own way. I like to think that this film signals a change in the Disney Princess culture, but honestly, it’s just as likely that every single animated film that comes out over the next year is right-wing, conservative and poorly done in respect to girls. Folk at the Onion obviously think this too.

DOES IT PASS THE BECHDEL TEST?

Someone on a podcast made the tongue-in-cheek comment that she wondered if this film was going to even pass the Bechdel test if the sisters were going to spend the entire film singing about a snowman.

It did strike me, too, that all of the promotional material features the male characters (posters, trailers) to a disproportionate degree given that this is a film about young women, and that the first characters we see are male ice-cutters, and that the first line of dialogue goes to a little boy who is either not seen ever again or is otherwise so unmemorable that I don’t remember seeing him again.

Although this film does pass the Bechdel test, as mentioned above, ONLY JUST, ACTUALLY, and it passes the test partly because the girls are complimenting each other on their looks.

Ironically, in order to subvert the tropes of princess stories, the story must be largely about the relationships between the young women and the men who come into their lives, which involves much conversation across genders, and therefore little between the sisters. This film has an active feminist ideology which sets out to quash a few ancient ideas about womanhood, but if it set out to make a story about a relationship between two sisters, it fails; one film can’t do everything. This film is one step forward in the Disney Princess Story evolution, but I am still waiting for a story like Frankenweenie or Paranorman which just happens to star a girl rather than shit all over them. I’m waiting for that big-budget animated box office feature film that stars a girl without starring a girl because it has an active feminist ideology. The white-skinned, middle-class boy protagonists of Frankenweenie and Paranorman were on no such bandwagon. Hayao Miyazaki has demonstrated that girls can star in animated movies without the story being ‘about girl stuff’. But the West is not there yet.

AND IS IT ANY GOOD?

My six-year-old daughter really loves Frozen, and is particularly engaged by the slapstick comedy and the Olaf the snowman. I enjoyed the snowman and the wacky dance by the old man from Weasletown as well. The scene of a reindeer giving back the snowman’s carrot nose is especially adorable.

Will my six-year-old understand that this film subverts tropes? I’m not expecting her to know the word ‘subvert’ or even to understand the concept. I mean, Will she get that a when she watches nothing but girl-films about princesses, that being a beautiful princess isn’t the be-all and end-all? That Anna’s relationship with Kristoff isn’t the actual point? (I mean, they did get together romantically at the end. They didn’t have to have that one extra romantic kiss. They could have left it at a friendly peck, thereby demonstrating that young men and women can actually be friends.)

For all its feminist agenda — so damn obvious and didactic to a thinking adult audience — I’m not so sure that this story will work as we hope it will. This film relies on a background of fairytales, in order to understand that these tropes exist in the first place. More and more modern princess stories are not actually of the folkloric kind: a modern six-year-old may well have been brought up with the Babette Cole Princess Smartypants form of princess — the grubby-kneed version.

In all honesty, that, my daughter probably gets, despite my reluctance to read Rapunzel too many times. She may not realise, however, that the first third of the film, in which Anna looks set to fulfill the typical princess dream of finding a handsome prince and settling down, is completely ironic, including the lyrics to the songs. The lyrics to Fixer Upper are a case in point. Disney songs have a habit of being sung outside the movies (*shiver*) in which case we’d better hope the little kids singing along have seen the film and understand the song’s context.

The Mary Sue article (linked above) said: “I’ve been noticing a lot of films lately just meandering along. Not really concerned about a beginning, middle, and end, or at least what should happen in between all of those.” I think I know what is meant by this. Like the random chocolate references (the rule of Chekhov’s Gun applies — if chocolate ain’t gonna ‘go off’, don’t include it), and the extra characters, some of whom didn’t really need to be there (the little boy at the beginning, who followed a rather Moby Dick like fate, in which the character we see first disappears forever), and the romantic kiss at the end, when everything about Anna and Kristoff’s relationship suggested they were going to be just friends for now… The plot was actually a bit of a mess, especially considering how much these big budget films follow a template. An interesting question to ask ourselves: Is this sense of ‘looseness’ to do with the fact that the story doesn’t follow the trajectory we expect? This is a question worth asking of any film which subverts our expectations, but I think my examples are specific enough that there really was a bit of loose, random dialogue and characterisation.

In short, this is a big-budget story which will appeal to little kids, and it has the visual appeal we’ve come to expect of modern animation, but as an example of magnificent storytelling, not so much. As a film to hold up as an example of feminist storytelling, not at all, really. For that, look to the less self-conscious films. The ones no one would ever accuse of being ‘empowering’. If you hear someone use the phrase ‘girl power’ in relation to a film or book, you know it’s probably not.

RELATED BUT NOT NECESSARILY WORTH CLICKING ON

Frozen Turned My Son Gay (oh boy, the headline is enough for me. People think these things.)

Pro Gay? Disney is pro-being yourself from Film School Rejects is a response. Because apparently more than one person somewhere said that Frozen has a gay agenda. All of this just goes to show how much these normative traditional stories need to be challenged.

Why ‘Frozen’ Is Also the Perfect Movie for Overprotective Fathers, at Pajiba creeps me out

Honest Films Trailer of Frozen

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour thought it was okay, but they liked Tangled, too (I didn’t.) Their discussion made me want to watch Wreck-It Ralph.

Frozen has a score of 7.9 at IMDb. I’ve noticed across the web that fans of Frozen really are huge fans.

Hyperrealism And Different Drawing Workflows

Hyperrealistic drawings fascinate me, mainly because I can’t achieve that level of realism even if I try. Although I’m tempted to ask, ‘Why not just take a photo?’ I have learnt to appreciate the value and the different aesthetic of hyperrealistic drawings, because there is something fascinating about the idea that someone has laboured over a work. I’m reminded of artfully scattered rubbish in modern art galleries: the very fact that someone has put it there makes it interesting (or not).

One master of hyperrealistic drawing is Diego Fazo.

I find not only the hyperrealism interesting, but these photos show something of his workflow: Almost all artists I have seen in action (whether in real life or in process tutorials) work first to cover the canvas, building up detail evenly across the space. But Fazo below shows that he instead works to perfect each detail before moving across the page.

This suggest to me that the brain of this hyperrealistic artist is working differently. I simply cannot imagine working across the page like this. And this makes me wonder if the work of hyperrealistic artists is generally like this, or if there is no correlation between level of realism and workflow.

From Oddity Central

 

Dissecting Humour

Humor can be either very dependent on an escapist mindset or the very opposite. Laughter is a diversion, much like fantasy, though it also often requires an understanding of what is actually going on. For instance, for slapstick and other comedy involving bodily harm, the awareness that the pain is fake makes it funny rather than tragic.

Film School Rejects

RELATED

Jerry Seinfeld explains how to write a joke.

How To Be Funny: The Six Essential Ingredients To Humor from Bakadesuyo

What are we allowed to laugh at? by Ben Pobije

Andy Borowitz’s list of ’50 Funniest’ writers.