On Representation – “Ghostbusters”

 

Ghostbusters
ghostbusters.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about representation in the media lately. As I get older, and as I witness the increasingly terrible things happening by the hour in our country and around the planet, I have begun to open my eyes a bit more and think more critically about what’s being presented to me in the media every day. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve just questioned things in general (“But why?” was my favorite question), but witnessing such dramatic changes in the world recently has gotten my wheels turning even more. So I’ve felt compelled to write a couple of posts about representation in popular culture, specifically in the movies and TV I’ve been watching recently.

This past Friday, I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie. I was pretty excited about seeing it, since I was really enamored with the original two films when I was little. I have adored Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (and Paul Feig) for a long time, and was pumped to see an all-female cast reinvent a classic movie I love. And my excitement didn’t wane at all during or after the movie – it was absolutely great. My favorite character was Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a constant source of comic relief who was given to frequent bursts of genius and bouts of odd behavior. She just spoke to the bizarre weirdo in me, and her unabashed strangeness was refreshing; it’s nice to see a character who is so comfortable with herself from beginning to end. In general, the movie was funny, had well-rounded characters, was filled with impressive special effects (which I normally don’t care about), included cameos by all of the previous cast – minus the lovely and much-missed Harold Ramis, of course – and managed to honor the original storyline while building something fun and new. Five stars out of five, would see it again, for sure.

Now, unless you’re totally disconnected from all media, you know that there has been a lot of hullabaloo about this movie. There have been a lot of misogynistic, ignorant, and frankly stupid things said and written about these Ghostbusters all being women, not to mention the barrage of hatred and racism that Leslie Jones has been dealing with, and it’s all so incredibly frustrating. So the Ghostbusters are women instead of men – boo hoo. It truly makes no difference, and I am over the whole “women aren’t funny” nonsense – it’s so early ’90s. These chicks are damn good at what they do, a lot of which is being funny. Each character is nuanced, each has her own interesting backstory. This isn’t the treatment that women have historically gotten in movies, including the original Ghostbusters, where women were largely just props or love interests. We so rarely get to see four women who are the stars of a major motion picture, let alone women who are allowed to be flawed yet unequivocally brilliant. These ladies aren’t concerned with finding the right outfit to wear, and oh my god, it’s so nice to see women who aren’t obsessed with falling in love or finding the right man. Those things are not even a fraction of what I worry about in life, nor are they the things the women around me spend their time fretting over, so it’s nice to see reality actually reflected on the screen.

And as far as Leslie Jones goes, what exactly is so wrong or different about her? There are women of color all over this country. Some have – gasp – even been in movies before! Why the attacks? What do these trolls find so threatening about her? I don’t get it. Her portrayal of Patty Tolan is fantastic – a tough, opinionated, smart woman whose intense working knowledge of the city’s layout is integral to the film. The character holds her own, supports her friends, and has great comic timing, just like her three counterparts. She did a great job. This hatefulness is upsetting, and yet another unfortunate reminder that racism is alive and well, as if we needed another reminder – but that’s a conversation for another day. I’m just flabbergasted by all of the negative nonsense I’m reading, and I’m not going to spend any more time trying to suss it out or bestow more attention on it than is deserved. There was so much hateful bile being spewed before this thing even came out, I doubt a lot of naysayers will even see far enough past their own noses to appreciate the movie for what it is. The film has been made, it is what it is, and if spending my hard-earned money to see it was a political statement, then  I’m happy to have done so.

Before I saw the movie, I came across a photo taken by a guy named Zach Heltzel in this Buzzfeed article that really spoke to me. In the picture, there are two little girls dressed as Ghostbusters (they were apparently part of a red carpet performance) who are meeting Kristen Wiig, and the adoration on their faces is palpable. They are seeing themselves in her, that they can also be the badass heroes of the story. That it isn’t about winning the boy or besting your rival, but about really smart ladies working together to kick butt and save New York on their own. It’s a touching photo. We all consume so much media these days, it’s important for kids to see adult versions of themselves sometimes, to see that they have the option to be models and movie stars but to also be scientists and bosses in control of their own lives.

Ghostbuster Girls
@zachheltzel

As a little girl, I wanted to be a Ghostbuster, despite being very afraid of ghosts. My sister and cousin and I would jump around on my cousin’s bed and listen to the soundtrack on repeat. We would beg our Granddad to play “Cleanin’ Up the Town” on the piano while we danced around and pretended to bust ghosts. We were three little girls who didn’t care that the Ghostbusters were boys, because we were fortunate enough to grow up in a family that assured us we could do and be anything we wanted, not in spite of, but because we were girls. But that mentality was not one that the general public has ever really shared, and it’s important for everyone to know that they can be ones making change for the greater good. And it still would’ve been nice to see a lady who was actually fighting the good fight with them back then, not just Annie Potts managing their calls from behind a desk or the love interest Sigourney Weaver, who was strong but also a secondary character susceptible to possession (in more than one sense). 

Watching the reboot this past Friday, it was exhilarating to see these four intelligent, tenacious, imperfect, hilarious women doing cool stuff. I felt a bit like the adorable little girl staring up at Kristen Wiig in Zach Heltzel’s picture, honestly. Because now, as an adult, I actually get to see myself in the Ghostbusters too, and it’s pretty cool.

Book Review – “Beautiful Darkness” by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet

Beautiful DarknessWell, Beautiful Darkness most certainly lives up to its name. This short graphic novel has beautiful artwork by Kerascoet entwined with some truly dark subject matter written by Fabien Vehlmann. I got a sense of the story from the cover of the book, which shows a tiny blonde girl peeking around a gigantic grey hand that appears – accurately – to belong to a dead person. However, I didn’t anticipate it being as raw and dark as it is. When I finished this short book, I was left thoughtful and, frankly, pretty bummed out.

The story begins with three squeaky clean, charming little people living a fairy tale life, when they are suddenly hit with a deluge of pinkish fluid that forces them out of their habitat. Chaos ensues, and we see more of these little people fighting their way to safety. The facts of the story are not completely spelled out, but in just the first five or six pages, we see these people crawling out of the orifices of what is revealed to be a dead schoolgirl lying in the forest.

We immediately begin to see these hordes of tiny people rebuilding their lives outside of the dead child’s body. They construct homes with her school supplies, eat her crackers to survive, and start breaking off into different factions. Subsequently, the best and worst facets of human nature are explored through the lives of these factions of small people, and through our speculations about the horrors that this young girl has clearly experienced. We can only infer what terrible things have happened to the little girl as we get further into the story, but we visually witness the equally horrifying ways in which these little people begin to behave. Death is commonplace, murder is just a fact of life, executed with little thought and no remorse, and only the most cunning survive.

As the story progresses, we witness the young girl’s body transform and decay while simultaneously watching the main character, Aurora (also the name of the dead little girl), change from a kind, youthful, hopeful girl into a hardened, disillusioned survivalist. And as a result, the ways in which the reader comprehends the story begins to change too. Because the landscape is mostly painted from the small people’s point of view, it’s only once we’ve acclimated to the darkness of the story that we begin to realize that things are not immediately what they seem. I had to go back and really study the artwork to get that the pink fluid forcing the little people out was actually blood filling the dead schoolgirl’s nose, and that the little fishing pond they find is not filled with tadpoles but is actually made of semen. Yikes.

This book is so complex and intentionally vague that it is completely open to interpretation. I couldn’t decide if these little people living inside of the girl are different aspects of her personality, or different aspects of human nature in general. Or both. For example, the little Aurora is loving and helpful, seeming to represent the best in people, while her larger and equally beautiful counterpart Zelie is cruel and conniving, representing the worst. Jane, the only small character who is an adult, is sad, resourceful, wise, and knowing. I took her to be the lost adulthood of the murdered schoolgirl, which is heartbreaking. But I could be totally wrong – and that is part of what’s so intriguing about this book. It can be interpreted in so many different ways, and leaves several unanswered questions that we are left to puzzle over long after the book has ended.

My interpretation is that Beautiful Darkness is basically the human experience writ tiny. It manages to realistically detail the best and worst aspects of human nature in all of their beautiful and gruesome glory. This is a deeply affecting story that is definitely not for the faint of heart, but is a short and absolutely worthy read.

Recommended For:

Adults who will appreciate striking, lovely artwork juxtaposed with weighty subject matter.

5 Books That Changed My Life

I just got back from a little summer vacation in the tiny, sleepy, hot-as-hell, artistic town of Marfa, TX. The trip afforded me lots of free time, especially because the WiFi in the casita where my beau and I were staying was not the best (which was decidedly for the best). Almost everything in Marfa closes at around 8pm, so there was plenty of time to sit back and catch up on some books I’ve been needing to finish. I even had time to delve into a new, weird “children’s” book that I’m not totally certain is actually for children.

There was also a lot of quiet time for me to chill out and contemplate my life – specifically where mine is going at this very moment. I quit my 8 year, steady job about 8 months ago, and I’m trying to decide exactly what I want to do now. This break from steady work brings up a lot of things that I never really had time to think about when I was working my butt off every day, and I’m trying to decide in what direction I’d like my life to go. I’ve been freelancing and thinking about the things and creative pursuits I love the most, and attempting to decide how to make them into careers. In these ruminations, I’ve realized that if I know one thing, it’s that I love books. They have made an enormous impact on my life, so much that I might even venture to say that books are basically my life. So this thought pattern led me to evaluate which individual books have changed the course of my life over the years (maybe in the hopes that I’ll stumble across another one that will knock me onto the correct path).

It’s undeniable that every book I’ve ever read has changed me in one way or another, but there are really only a handful of books that I can say have truly changed the trajectory of my life. Today I thought I’d share these books as a way to sort of commemorate where I’ve been. Though I wouldn’t say that these are my all-time favorite books or anything, they have absolutely each altered my world at some point in my life.

I’ve listed these books in my own personal chronological order, from the first I discovered to the latest ones to affect me.

1) One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer

 One Monster After AnotherThis is the first book I learned to read by myself. I was very close to my grandmother, and she was a voracious reader who passed her love of literature on to me. She spent her retirement watching me, my sister, and my two cousins while our parents were at work, and it was in this time that she taught 3- or 4-year-old me (obviously can’t remember the exact age) to read. I remember sitting on Grandmother’s lap and making her read One Monster After Another to me over and over while I turned the pages and memorized all of the words. I read this story about one letter’s fantastical, roundabout journey until I made the connection between letters and words, and could read the book on my own. As you can see, my copy of this book has been read to death, and I imagine it will only get worse if I ever have children. I don’t care. I’m keeping it forever. It jump started my life’s passion.

 

2) The Baby-Sitters Club Series by Ann M. Martin 

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/54772-scholastic-releases-baby-sitters-club-e-books-with-classic-covers.html
publishersweekly.com

Yes, this is a series and not an individual book. As a kid, I was absolutely OBSESSED with the Baby-Sitters Club books. It’s the first book series that I ever started collecting, and it was at this point that I distinctly remember starting to carry a book (usually more than one) with me at all times to read. Reading this series also helped me acquire the skill of being able to keep story lines separate and read more than one book at a time. But what was the most revelatory for me about this series is that it definitely shaped my views on girls and on female friendship. The main characters in these books are strong, diverse, enterprising girls who know what they want and work for it. They are cool, creative, and smart, and I wanted to be all of them (except Mallory, who I suspected was unfortunately the most similar to me). They also drove home that women and girls should support one another instead of tearing each other down, the latter of which is unfortunately what we too often see on TV, in magazines, online, and subsequently in our own relationships. These strong female role models with their ideal, yet still realistic friendships have definitely stuck with and shaped me. (Also, fun fact, I’m not really a fan of Kirsten Dunst, but I think it’s worth mentioning that she was the model for the little girl on “Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls” cover.)

 

3) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 Pride and PrejudiceI was deep into the Baby-Sitters Club books when my sister introduced me to the wonders of Jane Austen. I was at an age when everything I did started to feel stupid and baby-ish, and felt like I needed to be reading things other than kids’ books (oh, budding adolescence). My sister had read Pride and Prejudice in one of her English classes and, promising I would like it, basically forced me to drop what I was reading one summer and pick it up. And I am so glad she ripped the BSC book out of my hands (speaking in hyperbole here), because reading Pride and Prejudice changed my world. It basically introduced me to the vast world of classic literature, and to the notion that there were a multitude of well-written, mature books in existence that I had no idea could be so readable and just so . . . good. I remember putting down the BSC books and never picking them up again (somewhat sadly, because I still think I developmentally should have continued reading them, but c’est la vie). Though Jane Austen is undeniably one of the best, the Bronte sisters speak a little more to my soul; however, I never would have had the pleasure of discovering this about myself had it not been for Jane Austen’s most acclaimed novel. I literally shudder to think of what I might be filling my head with now if I had never read Pride and Prejudice.

 

4) Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet

This is arguably the most important book on this list to me. I am generally a pretty *quiet* person, but I absolutely love to talk to people about Quiet. I can honestly say that I am a completely different person after reading it. In 2013, at the tender age of 28, I finally stopped apologizing for who I am, and it is thanks to this book. To those who are closest to me, it’s old news that I’m shy and an introvert (the two are not synonymous), but this is usually at least a little surprising to people I’ve worked with or interacted with in social settings. I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding my true nature, mostly because I’ve spent my whole life (see: 27 years) exhausting myself, trying hard not to be shy and withdrawn in basically every school and social setting. In reading Quiet, I found out that I’m an HSP (highly sensitive person), innately shy, and an introverted introvert (there are indeed other combinations of extroversion and introversion, I’m just the furthest to the introvert side). And I no longer apologize for any of it, because I’m convinced that it’s how I was born. Though my parents thankfully never asked me to be anything other than myself, our extrovert-idealizing society did and still does demand other patterns of behavior from me. It was such a sad revelation to see that I had basically spent my life apologizing for who I am, and such a relief to accept that I didn’t need to do it anymore. I bet that almost any true introvert can relate to the feeling of shame that goes along with not wanting to go out with friends sometimes (or almost ever), or fearing working in an open office plan, or avoiding public speaking at all costs. The sort of self-acceptance I have experience is beyond measure. I’ve often said that I should be a spokesperson for this book, because it quite literally changed everything about my life. After many, many years, Quiet has helped me learn that there is nothing wrong with me, and I have finally made peace with the very core of myself

 

5) The Vegetarian by Han Kang

 VegetarianOkay, so the book itself is amazing, enough so that it inspired me to write a “professional-sounding” review that I’ve shared here on this blog. But on its own, the book would not necessarily have made this list (although it’s fantastic and probably the first piece of truly frightening literature that I’ve enjoyed as an adult). What is so personally important about The Vegetarian is that the review I wrote for it recently landed me my dream freelancing gig, which is reviewing books for a major publication. If finding out that your creative pursuits can get you work isn’t life-changing for an artist, I don’t know what is! Reading, writing, and getting paid to do both has been my dream for a very long time. My first review hasn’t been published yet, so I don’t necessarily want to say which publication I’m contributing to, but I’ll definitely share it here when I’m officially published. Needless to say, this book has changed my life and will always remain dear to me.

 

So those are my five life-changing books! I do, however, have to mention somewhere in this post . . . the Harry Potter series. Of course. I didn’t include it because I feel like EVERYONE talks about how it changed their lives, and I wanted to offer something different. For the record, though, Harry Potter is such an important series to me, for many reasons that would take far too long to list. Suffice it to say that growing up with this series has changed how I read, write, think about the world, and view others. It offers solace when I need it, and is always a joy to return to. It’s amazing that reading words on a page can make me feel like I’m going home, no matter where I am or how many times I revisit the story. What’s more life-changing than that?