Weird Humans: Not actually the Internet’s fault

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If you’re in the habit of second hand shopping for books at the Mitchell Dump you end up with a rather strange collection on your reading pile. One of my finds is a falling-apart Penguin paperback (it’ll probably last one more read and that’s it) first published 1952. It’s called The Shocking History Of Advertising and it’s written by E.S. Turner.

I imagine it’s something Peggy Olsen would’ve read, if Peggy Olsen existed and wasn’t just a character on Mad Men. I imagine such a character would have read everything about advertising that she could have laid her hands on. In which case, the antics in the SC&P Office probably wouldn’t have shocked her all that much.

Here is my favourite passage from the book:

Almost every social foible was reflected sooner or later in the advertising columns. At the end of the [eighteenth] century a country gentleman in Lancashire was advertising for a recluse to sit permanently underground in his hermitage, for 50 pounds a year. The successful candidate had to be willing to let his hair and nails grow as long as possible.

The main thing I got out of this book is the answer to a question I’ve wondered since starting to poke about on this newfandangled thing called The Internet: Are humans really as strange as cyberspace would suggest, or is the medium the message, so to speak, making humans seem weirder simply because we’ve found each other online?

Using the above as evidence, weird humans have always attempted to find partners in weird, and though they may have been unsuccessful in their unions, humans have always been weird.

The Wire Ruined Me For Other TV (For A Little While)

 

  1. The Wire Is NOT Like Dickens from Salon
  2. A poster with all the main characters from The Wire on it, from co.Design
  3. What Stringer Bell Can Teach Us About Gangs, from The Society Pages
  4. An interview on Radio New Zealand with writer Dennis Lehane, who has written for The Wire.
  5. An Oral History Of The Wire by Aaron Cohen
  6. Why ‘The Wire’ Worked So Well, at Blue Milk
  7. The Visual Style Of The Wire, Kottke
  8. There is a Wire Reddit. Of course there is.
  9. Then there’s The Wire Wiki.
  10. David Simon, who wrote “The Wire”, said this [about writing female characters]. He couldn’t figure out how to do it, so he just wrote his women as though they were men, he said, and left it up to the actresses to perform their roles in ways that would make up for his inability to write for female characters. (from the comments section; no primary source link provided). While I suspect this lack of confidence on Simon’s part meant that there might have been more female characters, or at least more female characters interacting with female characters, maybe he’s onto something there. Maybe writers should just realise that women are actually the same species as men, and construct them accordingly. See: Men And Women May Be The Same Species After All.
  11. Louis Theroux’s documentary Law And Order In Philadelphia is kind of like the real life The Wire, set not far from where The Wire is set.
  12. Another real-life story from The Wire territory is the excellent and moving documentary The Boys Of Baraka, which follows the lives of a group of 13 year old boys who have been chosen to attend a school in Kenya. Part One is here
  13. The Gals In Blue — Bitch Media asks whether real female police officers are as well represented and respected as their fictional representations. SPOILER: No.
  14. Anthropology By The Wire website
  15. The Wire Lives On from Here and Now
  16. The Wire And Rational Choice Theory from The Sociological Cinema
  17. Rewriting The Wire So It Includes Female Characters from the late Kat Muscat

Crap I’ve Been Watching On Netflix

There’s this study where people are asked which movies off a list they want to watch. People pick the movie equivalent of Literature, the good films they think they should watch in order to be cultured. Then they’re asked, ‘And which film do you feel like watching right now?’ The responses are completely different and run to no-brainers, rom-coms and action flicks. Which explains exactly why these things exist.

The same thing happened when we subscribed to Netflix, and I suspect it’s common when anyone subscribes to any of these on-demand servies like Stan or whatever. (What’s with Australia’s new ‘Stan’ service? All I think of when I hear ‘Stan’ is a seventy-year-old man called Stanley, complaining to no one in particular about everything.)

You’d be quite impressed to see all the wonderful cinema that’s in my Netflix queue right now. I’d show it to you if I could, because it’s quite impressive. However, this is what I’ve actually been watching, instead of blogging, obv.

Crappiest of the crap things: Dance Moms Collection

Dance Moms Collection

I started this one just to confirm how rubbish it was, and before I knew it I’d watched the entire first season, slightly disappointed that that’s all there is available on Netflix. IT ENDED ON A CLIFFHANGER.

Abby Lee Miller is the perfect baddie. Then you realise that the real baddies are the fat-shaming, toxically competitive dance mothers she has to work around. As despicable as Abby Lee is, the interesting thing about any narrative is that a terrible character seems wonderful if you place her alongside even worse ones. Think of Jessie Pinkman in Breaking Bad, who ends up smelling of roses, because we compare him to the more exaggerated evil of Walter White, who is in turn quite moderate alongside the likes of Tuco.

I’m not the slightest bit interested in dancing per se, but watching this show I learnt to admire the skill of these young girls who perform amazing tricks and display eye-watering flexibility, but even more impressively, are able to memorise new routines very quickly — a new one each week.

As the season progresses we learn a little more about Abby herself: She has a dog (spoiler alert: it dies and she gets it stuffed) and the main person in her life is her meek mother, Mrs Miller. There’s a wonderful shot of Abby asleep unselfconsciously on a coach, with her mouth wide open and snoring. When one of her little dancers puts something into her gaping maw as a joke, that’s when my sympathies turned and I started to see Abby’s ever-so-slightly human side.

Abby’s nemesis is the hilarious woman who runs Candy Apples dance studio. I honestly can’t believe these women are the slightest bit real, but I don’t care. It’s a great script.

NAIL-BITING FAKE DANGER: MOUNTAIN MEN

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In this reality series, the camera crew follows various old white men in who have decided to live off-grid, in Alaska and places like that. They hunt, they fish, they build their own log cabins. One of them lives off his extensive land but can’t afford to pay his rates, so the local government is threatening to take a portion of his land away from him as back payment. This leads to drama since he has no way of making a living without all his land. He hosts other hapless men who are finding life a bit much. These men do stupid things like leave his chainsaws out in the rain to rust. This pisses him off and creates extra drama.

Another fellow is a trapper up in Alaska, flying a rickety old plane through snowy skies, then riding on a snowmobile to his remotely placed traps. The snowmobile is always breaking down, and he is consistently on the verge of death. Of course, the unseen camera crew are probably not on the verge of death. They probably have far more reliable equipment than he has, and could give him a ride back to civilisation if it weren’t for the attractive near death experiences he is supposed to endure.

Knowing there’s an unseen crew on the scene turn these near-death experiences into quite good comedy.

A HORRIFYING GLIMPSE INTO PURITY CULTURE: PREACHERS’ DAUGHTERS

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The camera follows three or four preacher families in various parts of America. Each preacher has a daughter who is pushing against the limits set by his church. We have the loveable Tayla who wants to be a singer/dancer in music videos and loves to hang out with boys. Another easily-led (sheltered) young woman took some drugs and got pregnant at 18. Another is the fourth daughter in a long line of oppressed girls, and both of her parents are equally crazy. When she made friends with a lovely boy from school, her father threatened violence and her mother went through an extensive checklist including invasive questions about his attitude towards sex.

This show is disturbing because although it’s set in a particular milieu that feels quite foreign, on the other hand we see more subtle policing of teenage girls’ bodies right here in Australia, with many parents just as scared of their girls’ burgeoning adulthood as any parents anywhere. Watching Preachers’ Daughters is like watching all of these anxieties everyone seems to have about teenage girls in harrowing technicolour.

THE ONLY COOKING SHOW I’VE EVER WATCHED AN ENTIRE SEASON OF, TWICE: THE PIONEER WOMAN

Pioneer Woman

I’d never heard of Ree Drummond until I read a think piece about someone’s six-year-old daughter who was watching a whole lot of Pioneer Woman episodes. The writer assumed her daughter loved country-style cooking, so bought her aprons and baking equipment for her birthday. But the gift fell flat, because it turns out the six-year-old was really in love with Ree Drummond herself, the ‘accidental country girl’ whose cooking and photography blog took off and resulted in a show on the Food Network, among other things. From what I can gather, there are now at least nine seasons, and the first season is available on Netflix. I happen to know most of the rest is available at lower res on YouTube, because I have watched them.

To be clear: I don’t like cooking any more than that six year old likes cooking. For one thing, we eat a Paleo diet, and Ree Drummond is pretty fucking far from paleo. Perhaps, three years on, I’ve been missing the nuisance of baking. I used to bake every week, and after some initial disasters in my early twenties (too much baking soda, no sugar, forms one memorable occasion), was getting quite good at cakes by the end of my twenties. Perhaps my fascination with the Pioneer Woman is to do with nostalgia. Perhaps it’s because our view of hills and a rolling plain is currently being developed into a suburb and I can no longer pretend we live in the country. Perhaps it’s because my house is constantly in need of some TLC, whereas TV houses have unseen cleaners toiling away. Ree has a great kitchen, with prettily coloured appliances and a fridge freezer that looks like a cupboard, not a big white metal thing. Wow. Or perhaps it’s because I also have a brother called Tim, who is also married to a woman called Missy. Parallel universes, man. I AM THE MURRUMBATEMAN PIONEER WOMAN.

Most of all, my own seven year old is totally in love with Ree Drummond. She’s not in love with any other cooking show, so I must conclude, as the woman in the think piece did, that my daughter is actually in love with Ree.

Ree is always smiling, always has a positive attitude, always looks forward to simple things like family gatherings and eating soup in front of the TV, and tells us with a wink and a nudge that if we ‘cheat’ by using processed ingredients or drop some mixture on the floor, she’s ‘not gonna judge’.

She has homeschooled four children who help their father on the ranch (when they’re not playing sport together outside or having riding lessons). This life is a veritable Pinterest life — one with no real worries other than if a cake is going to fall out of its pan without breaking (and if it doesn’t, well, you can always cover it in cream. I won’t judge ya.)

I’ve had to turn away a few times because those ice cream cookies looked really delicious. But skipping forward to season nine on YouTube, Pioneer Woman is on a self-described ‘health kick’, assembling more salads and eating fewer carbs. I believe she even goes gluten free at one point. Her children are grown now, presumably with lives of their own, and we hardly see them anymore. I realise it’s the family I’m most interested in. (The girls look exactly the same these days. And by the way, doesn’t Ree’s mother look UNCANNILY LIKE GERMAINE GREER??)

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I suspect other similarities aren’t many…

This is the most bizarre thing, because I really don’t care about someone else’s marketing of family. Of course none of it’s real. The only glimpse I’ve seen ‘behind the curtain’ is when Ree is helping herd cattle, then tells her family that she’ll have to go inside to start on some dish she’s preparing for everyone. Ladd the husband snidely says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do your work,’ thereby fracturing the mood just for a moment, enough for me to think that maybe he is one of those grumpy men who always seem to end up with over-the-top accommodating women. What does he really think about his wife’s celebrity enterprise? Did she find herself an ‘accidental celebrity’, or is she a shrewd business woman, ruthless off-camera? Is she bringing in more money than his cattle are, these days? Has Ree’s little hobby become just a little too intrusive?

This I’ll never know, and I don’t want to know, because in the words of my seven-year-old daughter, ‘Ree has such a nice life.’

RETRO CREEPY: THE INCREDIBLE HULK

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I think I had nightmares when I watched this as a kid back in the eighties. I have recollections of it screening on TV in NZ on Sunday afternoons or something like that, because I can see our whole family sitting round watching it. I’m sitting near the door. It screened before or after another equally rotten show called ‘That’s Incredible’.

I have a seven-year-old who still likes superheroes, and this one fits the bill. It’s still just as attractively creepy for the kid as it was for me, but I think it’s pretty hilarious these days, because I am thinking how different it would be if done with CGI. CGI has a lot to answer for, come to think of it.

There you have it, my trashiest TV fixes of the first half of 2015. I’ve also watched some resonant, thought-provoking shows recently, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Why are those girls even friends?

Helen Garner writes of the real life friendship between Anu Singh and Madhavi Rao in her book Joe Cinque’s Consolation:

Perhaps they are most flagrant in adolescence: one girl is wild, bossy, selfish, flaring with hormones, crackling with sexual drive and careless of risk, but still dependent on the ballast provided by her companion, who is prim and cautious, not yet at the mercy of her body, one foot still planted in the self-containment of girlhood. They need each other. The well-meaning ‘supportive’ one trails along in the wake of her narcissistic friend, half aware that she is being used — as a cover against parental suspicions, a second fiddle, a handmaid, a foil. But she also feeds off the wrecker’s high-voltage energy.

The tendency to form such partnerships doesn’t end with youth. Every woman I have asked about this knew immediately what I meant and could provide examples. Many a woman has shifted, as different stages of her life brought forth different needs, the paring most poignantly when it inspires comedy: Dame Edna and her drab bridesmaid Madge; Kim and her browbeaten best friend Sharon Strzlecki in Kath and Kim. Even as we laugh, the spectacle disturbs us: we wait breathlessly for the worm to turn. And yet it is a relationship that benefits both partners. It would be hard to say, at its height, whose power is the greater.

Edna and Madge

Kim and Sharon

To Helen Garner’s examples, I might add the following fictional friendships:

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were another real-life couple whose friendship was depicted as toxically imbalanced in Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures, though to what extent can one girl influence another? That’s the interesting question.

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Orange Is The New Black arguably has a number of such partnerships. The most extreme and disturbing of those is between Crazy Eyes and Vee, because Vee knows exactly what the relationship is, and how she’s using another person for her own gain.

Crazy Eyes and Vee

The friendship between Alex Vause and Piper Chapman might be a better example, at least in the prequel years leading up to their time in prison.

Piper and Alex

Most television series with a wide cast of characters, and which also happen to pass the Bechdel Test, have at least one relationship that fits this description. In Mad Men there was Joan Holloway’s friend and room mate Carol.

Joan_s-roommate

In Six Feet Under it was Claire Fisher and Edie. It seems writers (and audiences) find such friendships especially interesting when one has lesbian interest in the other. But I haven’t seen exactly the same dynamics become so common in fictional male friendships, unless I’m missing something.

Claire and Edie

Mena Suvari was cast as a very similar sort of girl by Alan Ball in American Beauty, using Thora Birch’s character as her supporting role. Of course, the plot subverts audience expectations about how this friendship really works, therefore relying on the audience’s implicit understanding of how these friendships tend to work before the reveal is at all surprising.

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In Freaks and Geeks, the relationship between Lindsay Weir and Kim Kelly is difficult to understand unless you understand this particular power dynamic. The writers did a bit of lampshading in order to explain the relationship, making Kim’s interest in Lindsay very obvious: Kim was trying to show her parents that she had turned a new leaf in order to keep her car. Befriending the study nerd was part of her plan.

Lyndsay Weir and Kim Kelly

In Gilmore girls we have Paris as a comically A-type personality who needs a cast of supporting characters in order for her to feel competitive and worthy. Paris only has ‘frenemies’. Though her relationship with Rory gradually becomes more like a friendship as the seasons progress.

Paris and her supporting cast

Can you think of any others?

Diary of a Goth Girl (free iBook)

If you have an iPad and/or a Mac and an offbeat sense of humour you may be interested in downloading Diary of a Goth Girl, an illustrated short story for YA.

Dairy of a Goth Girl--Cover

I wrote it in 2009, it was published in 2010 by a small British publisher, went out of print pretty much as soon as it went in, I asked for the rights back, and finally in 2015, here it is. Illustrated with doodles and with the setting changed from an inner-city English area to outback Australia, because let’s face it, Australian goths are even more ironic than English goths, with their garb and our climate.

In the meantime, Chris Riddell published the first of his wildly successful Goth Girl series in 2013, won the Kate Greenaway award, the Costa Book Award and was recently named children’s laureate, and no I’m not jealous in the slightest!

Haha. Well done Mr Riddell, you are my hero.

Helpful Unhelpful Tips For Women

A guy walks into a bar, slips a pill into a woman’s drink. But it’s okay you see, because he’s set up cameras. Surprise! This is a public service announcement. “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you,” he tells the women when their gaze reorientates to their drinks. “I just slipped a pill into your beverage. I’m doing this to show how easy it is to get date raped.”

The women are sobered. This guy offers to buy them another drink. The first woman feels so bad about leaving her drink unattended that she says he doesn’t have to.

What would you do if a guy performed this trick on you in a bar? Would  you feel bad? Guilty? Like you’d only just avoided disaster? For averting your eyes for a moment, or for trusting that your male companion is going to keep an eye on your drink for you?

I am so sick of this kind of public service announcement. Another recent example is Australian women being told to keep out of public parks. I kind of don’t even want to share this video, because the main thing it does is reassure potential and existing drink spikers how easy it is to do.

What is the take home message? That women should keep our eyes on our drinks the entire time? If this video is at all useful, it’s because it shows just how impossible it is to foil a person with terrible intentions. This little experiment also shows that:

  • Women are prone to feeling guilty no matter what a random guy in a bar does to them.
  • Women are still being told to ‘take responsibility’, once again, for avoiding their own rapes.

If one person wants to spike another person’s drink, the drinker might well keep their gaze on their sip-hole all evening, staring at it like a madperson, or they might not drink at all, or they might not go to bars, ever, because we all know how much less likely it is to get raped (and murdered) in one’s own home.

If that guy had slipped a pill into my drink to illustrate a point, I like to think I would have told him to fuck the fuck off.

Where are the public service announcements by young men encouraging basic human empathy in their potential rapists? A video outlining what it’s like to suffer from PTSD, or from unwanted pregnancy, for instance?

References to New Zealand in Fiction

Now, I am not generally given over to excitement, but Neutral Milk Hotel sort of changed my life. They released this absolutely fantastic album called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998 and haven’t been heard from since, purportedly because their lead singer lives in a cave in New Zealand.

– from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

How is your country generally depicted in fiction, by writers outside your country?

New Zealand, not surprisingly, is the stock country for ‘a place really, really far away.’ Most recently I noticed in Last Tango In Halifax, a relative who came from New Zealand to England had made a REALLY big effort to be at a wedding celebration, and therefore his very presence was amazing.

New Zealand sometimes even gets a mention in American fiction. Even in Breaking Bad! In this case, New Zealand is the stock country that ‘no one knows anything about’:

Jane Margolis: Do you know what this is? [refers to a bag full of money]
Jesse Pinkman: It’s a whole lot of cheddar.
Jane Margolis: This is freedom. This is saying, “I can go anywhere I want. I can be anybody.” What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? South America? Europe? Australia?
Jesse Pinkman: Is New Zealand part of Australia?
Jane Margolis: New Zealand is New Zealand.
Jesse Pinkman: Right on. New Zealand. That’s where they made “Lord of the Rings”. I say we just move there, yo. I mean, you can do your art. Right? Like, you can paint the local castles and shit. And I can be a bush pilot.

– from Breaking Bad, penultimate episode of season 2

Ask an Australian and they will tell you that New Zealand is nothing but sheep. Sort of like Tasmania, but a different country. New Zealanders are also good at rugby, but not cricket.

Lord of the Rings allowed marketers of tourism to sell New Zealand as a really beautiful place, almost other-worldly. The Hobbit has probably turned it into ‘takes really long to get there and is actually pretty boring.’

What is New Zealand really like?

Here’s an article from a European whose version of New Zealand — from books introduced by his Kiwi girlfriend– turned out to be quite different from the New Zealand he met when he eventually visited the country.

Feminist Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Movie Poster

HOW DOES THIS FILM RATE FOR INCLUSIVENESS?

As I was watching my thoughts were more about race. This story is set in the near future, when current children are about 60 years old. In that real world scenario, I am expecting the world to look a lot less white than this movie does. Sure, there is a black guy on the space ship but I’m pretty sure he gets way fewer lines of dialogue than the white characters. The odd Asian face pops up here and there. My own imagination has never stretched to a future in which white Americans will save the world. There is simply so much brain power outside America now, and other countries have more successful education systems.

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel test was never really intended to be used as a barometer for a good feminist film and I’ve recently been noticing that many stories do pass the test but are still not all that great in regards to portrayal of women.

For the record, this film does pass the Bechdel test — two women do eventually talk to each other. Given that this is about 3 hours long, a couple of brief scenes doesn’t count for much. One of those was about a man. The other depicts two women who don’t like each other. So although Interstellar passes the Bechdel Test, some have made an amendment that ideally there are two women talking who don’t hate each other. Because everyone knows how ‘women are their own worst enemies’, right?

As for the gender breakdown:

There are 15 first-billed characters (counting as single the characters played by multiple actors). One of those characters is a robot and has a male voice, but I’ll take that number down to 13. Of those 13, 2 characters are female (played by two actresses each). So when you look at the raw numbers, this film is typical for Hollywood in its gender balance.

I’m not sure whether this is good news or not (I might just be used to the imbalance), but this cast felt like quite a balanced ensemble as I was watching. This is partly because the two main female characters have agency. Both are super smart and dedicated to their jobs and we don’t have any bullshit backstory in which they’re torn between their jobs and their families — in fact, that particular dilemma is reserved for the main male character, and that’s refreshing. In contrast, Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity had a backstory which involved her family, I guess because it was thought a female astronaut without a sob story would not be sufficiently relatable for audiences who are used to women as caregivers. The women in this story do not have children that define them. This felt great.

That said, I am detecting that we’re in the age of The Hermione Trope, in which girl characters work behind the scenes as ‘secret protagonists’, working out complex problems for the male characters who get their hands dirty on the fictional battlefield, whatever form that might take. I’d thought it applied mainly to family movies but I may have to revise that.

The frustrating thing is that we’re still not seeing many movies in which the female is the plain ole ‘protagonist’. Don’t forget that this film could just as easily have been about a woman cast in McConaughey’s role, with the young swots being male. That’s just not a story Hollywood is prepared to gamble on yet. From Peggy Olsen, Claire Underwood and Kima Greggs to the girls in Paranorman and Monster House, significant female characters are still not the main characters even when they have the brains. Perhaps this smart under-dog dynamic is thought to be more interesting. Perhaps such relationships do appeal most to female viewers, for whom it’s a certain kind of satisfying to see a woman under-appreciated and then triumph, despite the patriarchal world in which she lives. I’m still waiting for more stories in which fictional worlds of the future depict a social milieu in which women have achieved full agency, not that which comes out of the shadows, behind that of a man.

AND IS IT ANY GOOD?

Pretty fantastic! This was one of those films which stays with you for several days. High concept stories are hard to pull off 100% but all loose ends were tied up. Viewers would benefit from seeing it more than once. Part of the ending did run to cheese in my opinion. Interstallar reminds me of Contact only it is more complex, more frightening, more exciting. I wasn’t bored at any stage, despite the length of 169 minutes.

I’m looking forward to watching this with my daughter when she’s old enough to understand what’s going on. Commonsense Media recommends the film for ages 12 and up.

Pair with the book The Never-ending Days of Being Dead by Marcus Chown for some mind-bending astro stuff presented in readable fashion.

Women and Sport

I have recently found myself in the most unlikely position: On the board of a local sports association. Anyone who knows my former real life glasses-wearing book-reading self would be surprised at the disconnect.

So I have come to sports late, in a sense. I had almost forgotten my child self, the child who did well in marathons but never actually won, who made it to inter-school athletics and the first eleven girls’ soccer team in high school and who consistently surprised P.E. teachers with both my negative attitude towards P.E. class and the ease at which I picked up certain sports.

Then I turned 14 and gave up sport for 20 years.

Giving up sport is pretty typical for teenage girls.

Instead of an amazing burst of power at adolescence, we start bleeding from our nether regions and any increase in strength is offset by the addition of several layers of fat in preparation for the creation of human life. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason why lots of teenage girls give up sport. Suddenly I could no longer do chin-ups. My lithe high-jumping pre-adolescent body would have looked ridiculous to onlookers, throwing itself over a pole, lying prostrate and disconcertingly vulnerable on a vinyl-covered mattress.

WE TREAT GIRL ATHLETES DIFFERENTLY AND MOSTLY DON’T EVEN NOTICE WE’RE DOING IT

About a month ago I was learning how to serve a tennis ball alongside a bunch of adolescent players — all boys apart from a girl — when the coach started the session by ‘teaching’ us how not to throw a ball:

“First thing to remember is, don’t throw like a girl.” (Points at a little boy.) “Now X, you throw like a girl. You’ve got to stop that.”

Seething on the inside, I pulled the coach up on his sexism. He then explained (mansplained) to me that boys and girls do indeed throw differently, because boys go out and climb trees and exercise their upper bodies, whereas girls sit inside and do crafts, and need to be taught how to throw.

This is otherwise an excellent local coach, who does a lot for the sporting community. But I have been unable to get through to him that despite his nurture over nature logic, teaching kids that girls throw badly is a classic case of sexism. Nor does he realise that he routinely calls the girls ‘Sweetheart’ and the boys ‘Champ’ or ‘Champion’. How nice it would be, to just once be called a champion! I had a primary school teacher who called me ‘Shortcake’ and I hated it. My mother had given him shortcake as a Christmas gift. I’m sure he wouldn’t have adopted the name of a pastry for me if I’d been of the male persuasion.

In this way:

GIRLS LEARN THAT WE’RE NOT QUITE AS WELCOME IN THE SPORTING ARENA

Yesterday I helped out at the tennis club open day. Throughout the morning, parents and their children dropped in to have a few hits of the ball with a variety of tennis rackets we hung on the fence to entice them in. “Look!” the little boys said to their parents, tugging at their sleeves. The little boys dashed onto the court, threw the ball, hit it badly, had fun anyway. So did the toddler girls. The older girls I played with stood at the gate and waited to be invited onto the court. (I actively solicited business.) I placed racquets in the girls’ hands and told several of them that girls tend to give up sport at adolescence, but promise me you won’t do the same. “Sorry!” they said, hitting the ball to me badly, but no more badly than the boys. And I remembered my own self, just a year ago, coming back to tennis as an adult, having to be gently reminded by the male president that I don’t actually have to say sorry for hitting the ball badly. Hell, I’ve since played with women who apologise for hitting it well.

Media Coverage

In New Zealand where I grew up, media coverage and general interest in sport is very high for men’s sport, but women’s sport hardly gets a look in. NZ is of course completely typical in the disparity. It’s possible that coverage of women’s sport is even decreasing in relation to men’s despite feminism:

There are so many ways in which the UCI could support the sport for women, but instead they have acted, regardless of their intent, in a way that has caused the sport to lose events. Gone are the women’s Milan San Remo, the Amstel Gold Race, Tour de L’Aude, Tour Midi Pyrenees, and Tour Castel de Leon. No HP tour in America. No Tours in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Instead of a 2 week Tour de France we have nothing. Today, in January, the major race in the women’s calendar this year, the one from which I have the pink tee-shirt, has no organizer and no route.

– from Nicole Cooke’s retirement statement (cycling)

In Australia, there is more coverage of horse racing than of women’s sport.

In NZ and Australia there is too much media coverage of sport in general. I’m arguing for less coverage of male sport rather than more coverage of women’s. The percentage of air time is disproportionate to how important sport actually is. (It’s not very important.) But as long as we’re all gawking at groin injuries, our eyes are averted from bigger social justice issues that Australia is facing right now. If we all directed as much attention to the asylum seekers as we do to sport, I’m sure enough voters would be horrified enough to do something about it.

Nevertheless:

sport is undeniably a significant part of Western culture

Sport is one of the major means by which values and attitudes are shaped in Western culture. Governments spend large amounts of money in the pursuit of national sporting success, successful sportsmen are idolized and imitated, and televised sport is avidly watched by millions. Those sporting activities which arouse the most passion are constructed as ritual re-enactments of the myth: ‘our’ team, or ‘our’ Olympic representatives go forth to do symbolic battle with their opponents. They are expected to be strong, brave and dedicated to the cause. They are expected to win. If they succeed they are awarded a glittering trophy and we welcome them home as national heroes. Significantly most of the sport which is widely promoted through the media is male sport. In a paper delivered at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 1995 Gay Mason argued that sport, in general, plays a central role in the development of masculinity and that ‘sporting discourse offers a prime site for the construction of ‘maleness’. According to Mason the images of male bodies engaged in sporting activities constitute one of the main ways in which the superiority of men becomes ‘naturalised’, and the media, in their reporting of sport, ‘conspire in naturalising hegemonic masculinity’. The notions of male physical strength, force, potency and skill constructed by sport are translated into social concepts of masculine authority and power.

Deconstructing The Hero, Marjery Hourihan

We can’t be what we can’t see

“You know what, Dad? I’ll just become an umpire. There. I’ve figured it out!” He laughed, wished me good luck, and said “I’m not sure how well that would be received by a lot of the people who watch the games, Caitlin.”

– from Why aren’t there more women officials in sport? from Persephone.

AND WHEN WE DO SEE OURSELVES IN SPORT, IT’S NOT OUR SPORTING SKILLS THAT ARE THE MAIN INTEREST

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

Note the headless female body, even on the cover of a feminist novel by a feminist author

60% of girls have quit a sport because of the way they look, from Policy Mic. (How many have never started?)

Eugenie Bouchard Asked To Twirl by [Australian] Male Reporter from SBS

Sports Illustrated Loves Models. Female Athletes? Not So Much. From Jezebel

SPORT FOR GIRLS IS MORE HEAVILY SEXUALISED

…here in Sydney: a portrait photographer submits a range of photos for an exhibition about women’s sport. Her folio includes – among others – portraits of a surfer, a footballer, a basketball player, and a pole dancer, but the gallery decides to reject one of the portraits. [The pole dancing one.]

What do you think? Is pole-dancing a sport? Is it a ‘women’s sport’?

Is pole dancing a ‘women’s sport’? from Daily Life

Yes, pole-dancing is a sport in that it requires much physical prowess and fitness and dedication. But I note with interest that straight men are not taking it up in droves. Why not? Because pole dancing is for women, or because being sexually objectified is for women?

How do women and girls feel when they see sexualised or sporty images of female athletes? from BPS

LFL is Not a Sport! It Is Glorified Sexuality (I would amend that title to ‘Sporty-Fetish Porn’

The truth is, audiences are happy to watch girls playing sport. But audiences are not so happy to watch women playing sport. Teams of unaccessorised, sweaty women playing games at the top level is harder to market.

No, Female Athletes Don’t Have To Be Girly, Thank you, from GOOD

FURTHER LINKS

ESPN Cricket News, about India’s female elite cricketers

This is also from Jezebel, so take the title with a dose of irony

Sexism, LBGT and Sport from FTB

Is Women Playing in Men’s Leagues a step forward? from Daily Life See also: Girls and Sport by Chris Scanlon

The ugly truth is rules are different for girls in sport from The Age

President Obama Is A Big Fan Of Girls’ Sports, from Jezebel. (Notice they didn’t say ‘women’s sports’.)

One! Two! Three Strikes, You’re Outdating Yourselves With Your Views on Women and Sports! from Persephone Mag

The Ladies’ Guide To Football Promises To Tell You Dumb Broads What All The Man-Fuss is About from Jezebel

Women in Sports Week: Because Being Girly Doesn’t Mean Being Weak: ‘Bring It On from Bitch Flicks

Sexism and blogging in the hockey media: Puck Daddy roundtable debate

 

The Inspector Gadget Remake Summarises How Children’s Media Has Changed

Inspector Gadget 2015

In which girl character and dog character have equal billing

 

Interestingly, Esquire calls this ‘the digital era’, under the idea that the use of computers has an integral impact on narrative. The medium is the message, and all that.

1. FASTER PACE

Steven DeNure, president and COO of DHX Media, was thrilled to acquire the rights to Gadget in 2012. But he worried the old Gadget wouldn’t appeal to its target audience of young children.

For starters, the pacing was painfully slow. Kids today are used to fast-moving commercials, quick cuts, and a thing called the Internet.

2. FEMALE CHARACTERS ARE STILL DEALING WITH A WORLD IN WHICH THEY’RE SO OFTEN RELEGATED TO SECONDARY ROLES UNDER BUMBLING MALE PROTAGONISTS

Gadget remains as clueless as ever, and Penny remains just as brainy.

This is related to what I call The Hermione Trope. We see it in movies such as Monster House, too, and ParaNorman, in which the bossy brainy girl saves the day, but completely behind the scenes. 35 years later, girls are still swots, boys are still adventurous etc. Boys see that they don’t need to be such swots to get on in the world — they’ll be the stars of the story because of their gender.

3. CHILD CHARACTERS ARE MORE FREQUENTLY SEXUALISED

“What we wanted to do was make Penny a little older,” says Chalopin, who estimates she was between 10 and 12 before and is now in her mid-teens. She also has a new love interest: Dr. Claw’s spiky-haired nephew, Talon. “He’s more of a kid of today,” Chalopin says.

4. ‘GOOD LOOKS’ ARE EVER MORE IMPORTANT, FOR BOTH BOY AND GIRL CHARACTERS

[Talon] makes a great counterpart to Penny with his good looks and his charm.

5. CHILD CHARACTERS MAKE USE OF MOBILE PHONES AND OTHER TECHNOLOGIES, WHICH CHANGES THE STORY

“Penny had a smartphone way before it existed,” Chalopin says, so that wouldn’t impress children today. To get around the problem, he created “holographic protection” for Brain and a computer that appears out of thin air when Penny needs it.

6. FOR FINANCIAL REASONS, CHILDREN’S CONTENT CAN’T JUST BE FOR CHILDREN

Financing remains an uphill battle. Much of what’s selected today, at least for content streaming services like Netflix, must not only reach a broad group of viewers but transcend countries and age groups as well. As Erik Barmack, Netflix’s vice president of global independent content, says, “The things we look for in general is if the shows transcend countries, have a new story to be told, or a new way of reimagining characters.” Gadget, he says, ticks off all three criteria.

This explains the increasingly sexualised teen characters over a pre-adolescent girl character.

– How Inspector Gadget Was Remade For A New Generation from Esquire