V.C. Andrews Tribute–and Petals on the Wind Review!

Not even half of my VCA collection. Judge me all you want.

I may not be a 90s kid, but the V.C. Andrews fever didn’t escape me (V.C. = Virginia Cleo; yes it was a woman behind a man’s name).  After flipping through Tarnished Gold on the library bookshelf in ninth grade, the scandalous behavior depicted (somehow) fascinated me. I ended up borrowing Flowers in the Attic and managed to finish it within a night. While it seemed as if I was the only one in my school reading them (incest and family drama did not appeal to my friends–though interestingly enough many of them are Game of Thrones fans right now).   One Amazon review described the books as “a bag of potato chips” and I have to agree.  The books weren’t the best writing I’ve read—not to mention the dialogue had me cringing sometimes.  Yet, the family dynamics and the emotions conveyed were so compelling that I couldn’t help but binge-read them all and recap them on my old blog.  As of today, I’ve read the following V.C. Andrews books:

Dollanganger Saga:

  1. Flowers in the Attic
  2. Petals on the Wind
  3. If There Be Thorns
  4. Seeds of Yesterday
  5. Garden of Shadows
Stand Alone:
  1. My Sweet Audrina
Casteel Saga:
  1. Heaven
  2. Dark Angel <–hands down my favorite VCA novel
  3. Fallen Hearts
  4. Gates of Paradise
  5. Web of Dreams
Cutler Saga:
  1. Dawn 
  2. Secrets of the Morning
  3. Twilight’s Child
  4. Midnight Whispers
  5. Darkest Hour
Landry Saga:
  1. Ruby
  2. Pearl in the Mist
  3. All that Glitters
  4. Hidden Jewel
  5. Tarnished Gold
Logan Saga:
  1. Melody
Notice how all of these (for the most part) are in publication order–and how a few of them are published after V.C. Andrews died. When V.C. Andrews died in 1989, the Andrews estate employed Andrew Neiderman to write stories under Andrews’s name and continue her “storytelling genius”. Flowers in the Attic, Petals on the Wind, If There be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, My Sweet Audrina, Heaven, and Dark Angel are all Virginia’s works. According to several sources, Garden of Shadows, a prequel to the Dollanganger Saga, was incomplete at the time of Andrew’s death and was completed by Neiderman prior to publication. 
And initially–at least in my opinion–Neiderman managed to preserve some of Andrews more brilliant storytelling techniques. While fans might not agree with me on this, I quite enjoyed Garden of Shadows and felt it was necessary in the Dollanganger Saga; I’ll never be able to pinpoint where Neiderman picked up the novel after Andrews died. Twists in family trees and betrayals formed the backbone of the Cutler series. While the Landry series marginalized character development and chose to rely on archetypes, the research Neiderman dedicated toward capturing such a captivating setting made it one of my favorite series. However, after reading Melody, I realized I had read this story before; story lines were repeating themselves, only this time with one-dimensional characters who were not particularly likable.  I decided to fast-forward a bit and tried reading The Heavenstone Secrets (2009)–only to stop midway; the whole innocent vs sinister sister plot–I had read that already in Ruby. The main character getting pregnant after rape? Web of Dreams, Darkest Hour, and Tarnished Gold. The villain dying after getting pushed down the stairs? My Sweet Audrina. None of the newer books presented new ideas–or titles for the matter:
Oh wait…

Awks.

At some point, the originality of the ghostwriter novels had died with Andrews. One possibility could be V.C.A. only written so many outlines; once those were out, the ghostwriter went off original ideas while trying to include V.C.A. elements. Also supporting this is an interview with Neiderman that indicated that the Cutler series were mostly from Andrews’ notes. To add insult to the injury, close to the release of Lifetime’s Flowers in the Attic adaptation, Neiderman announced the release of a two-parter companion novel to the Dollanganger Saga titled Christopher’s Diary; the novels narrate the events of Flowers in the Attic through Christopher Dollanganger’s point of view
I could delve into literature-based arguments and how another point-of-view should only be used if there are additional details necessary for the storyline, but that’s beside the point. Why is it acceptable for authors to start profiting by writing fan fiction off another author’s work? Why does publishing have to be so desperate to sell instead of write? I really don’t think this book is necessary, and to a certain degree, I feel its offensive to V.C.A’s original work. Thank goodness George R.R. Martin has forbidden a ghostwriter from picking up A Song of Ice and Fire in the event of his death. But anyways…

The Movies!

Yeah it was only a matter of time I could go without discussing these. I was actually glad Lifetime decided to follow through with this project; after seeing both movies trend on Twitter, I realized how huge and long-lived the V.C. Andrews fandom was.  Given the 1987 disaster, I actually enjoyed the Lifetime adaptation and its faithfulness to the book. That being said, my reservations about this movie were depicted in my brother’s take: besides hiding in his blanket during the incestuous scenes, his reaction read “what’s the big deal?”  Most of the horror and character development wasn’t translated on-screen.  Major characters, such as the twins, were virtually non-existent.  I was hoping some of these issues would be remedied in the sequel film Petals on the Wind.

Well, turns out hope is a b!tch.

On the positive side, the performances were stronger than ever. Despite a cheesy, unrealistic script (even by V.C. Andrews standards), Rose McIver (Cathy) was able to flesh out a multifaceted character. The star of the movie, however, was hands down Bailey Buntain (Carrie) who managed to depict a lost girl’s suicidal path with more than just tears. I had mixed feelings about Heather Graham’s (Corrine) child-like approach to her character in the first film; her descent into madness, however, was so powerfully done—even if it only took five minutes.

However, ultimately, flaws from the first film–and new ones to boot–brought this film down.  There simply wasn’t enough time to summarize a book that covers approximately fifteen years of twisted family history.  This reflected in the choppy direction, with characters and story lines going nowhere until the last fifteen minutes. While the omission of characters such as Paul Sheffield was understandable, given the time constraint, certain additional characters such as Sarah (Christopher’s girlfriend, not mentioned in the book to my recollection) were unnecessary and just wasted screen time.  Corrine’s point-of-view wasn’t needed either; yes, I get that Heather Graham is an amazing actress, but it just detracted from the film as a whole. The Christmas ball scene at the end was so anti-climatic in comparison with the book; it was years of betrayal and revenge coming to a confrontation–and yet it felt so diminished in the film.  Part of this has to do with Cathy’s character being silenced, with her fierceness and passion barely depicted. While the performances were great, the script and direction took away from what could’ve been a redeeming ending to 90 minutes of boredom.

But as they say, between movie and book, pick book (unless it’s Lord of the Rings–then pick either). Oh and as a #TBT (whatever that stands for), here’s a graphic from one of my old Flowers in the Attic blog posts!

Cringing at the editing, but more or less the book in a picture.

Isla Vista: Do Something Edition


This isn’t my usual thing–I save my political rants for Facebook. Unfortunately, having seen too many ignorant comments about this today, I figured this ramble deserved (and needed) a much larger audience. Many of these arguments are floating all over the Internet, and I had reservations about repeating them; that being said, I felt it was necessary given that this issue is often avoided.  Expect many images in this post–usually when confronted about issues regarding gender inequality, people expect evidence. Well, here’s as much evidence I could find.


QUICK RECAP: Seven individuals, including three UCSB students, were killed on Friday, May 23 near a sorority house in Isla Vista (near UC Santa Barbara) and thirteen were injured.  Police suspect the gunman who opened fire was 22-year old Elliot Rodger, a student at Santa Barbara City College.  Rodger’s body was found in his BMW; whether it was a suicide or not is still unclear.


Okay, so everyone’s caught up. Rodger explained his motivations behind this in a six-minute video posted on Youtube titled “Elliot Rodger’s retribution”.  He also elaborates on some of the points made during the video in a 141-page document titled “My Twisted World” available on Scribd.


Let’s break this down one at a time.


THE VIDEO:

Transcript available here:


The video is essentially Rodger stating that he never had sexual experience, and the blame for that falls upon women because they “weren’t attracted to [him]”.  He describes himself as the “perfect guy” and vows to “punish all of [them] for it”. Rodger proceeds to explain his murder plans targeting “popular kids” and “girls who rejected [him]”, specifically “every single spoiled, stuck-up, blonde slut”, saying they “forced me to suffer all my life.”


Before breaking this apart, let’s hear from the comments on the video shall we?








All of these comments reflect the source of the problem in the first place: hyper-masculinity and resulting misogyny.


Sex would not have stopped Rodger from killing a girl for saying no. Sex would not have saved lives last night. But teaching men about consent? Teaching men about respecting women and not objectifying them? Probably.


While laws regarding women’s rights might have shifted in the past century, ideas regarding masculinity certainly haven’t. Men are often credited based on hyper-masculine standards, i.e. that a man can’t be weak and display emotion “like a girl”, that he should display strength by “getting a girl”, having sex with her, and controlling her. When rejection occurs, terms like “friend-zoned” are tossed around with the woman blamed.

Rodger also expressed similar emotions in his document “My Twisted World”.  In addition to hyper-masculine ideals, he described his longing for sex, specifically with a girl who was “blonde” and “skinny”.

Yet never did he describe approaching a girl and getting rejected. Nor did he describe being denied happiness because of something a girl did.  Rather he felt he was entitled to love and sex because he was “white”; he recalls feeling angry that a black man was able to “get” a blonde girl, whereas he was not (also presents the issue of racism).

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.11.46 PM.png


Additionally, many of the qualities he described in a girl he wanted were purely physical, not personality-based:
Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.10.01 PM.png


Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.38.27 PM.png


Throughout the narration, he was driven by the idea that he was undeserving of rejection.
Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.10.39 PM.png
(Rodger, “My Twisted World”)

When witnessing another couple or feeling alone, Rodger often reacted with violence, once even pouring coffee down on a man’s head because he had a blonde girlfriend and later to girls who didn’t “deign to smile back [at him]”.      


Here are some of the terms mentioned and implied by Rodger’s videos & manifesto and why they’re toxic–even without malicious intent.

HARMFUL TERMS:


FRIENDZONE:

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 9.02.19 PM.png


Definition: ”What you attain after you fail to impress a woman you’re attracted to. Usually initiated by the woman saying, ‘You’re such a good friend.’”

Why it’s harmful: Yes, rejection sucks. It feels awful, it can ruin friendships, it can make situations ten-times more awkward.  But what this essentially does is blames the female for rejecting a guy’s advances. Even more interesting, why can guys reject girls under the basis that “she’s a crazy b!tch” but why can’t girls reject guys with “he’s just a friend” reasoning? Why does a girl have to be gentle when rejecting a guy–and still get criticism for it?

SLUT-SHAMING:

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 9.09.35 PM.png


Definition:  “An unfortunate phenomenon in which people degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity… However, since most people would rather women be MORE sexually active than less, slut shaming is counterproductive to the aims of most men and quite a few ladies.”


Why it’s harmful: Labelling a woman as a slut and drawing the conclusion that she “wants it” based on what she’s wearing essentially rationalizes harming her and having sex with her (even against her will), because it’s no big deal…she’s a slut after all?! 

And THAT is how rape happens. The worst part is, this form of hate occurs within girls as well (for a tangible example of this see Jenna Marbles Things I Don’t Understand About Girls Part 2: Slut Edition and Laci Green’s response)
 
NICE GUY SYNDROME:
Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.15.24 PM.png
Definition: “A annoying mental condition in which a heterosexual man concocts oversimplified ideas why women aren’t flocking to him in droves. Typically this male will whine and complain about how women never want to date them because he is “too nice” or that he is average in appearance. “


Why it’s harmful: Similar to “friendzoning”, the idea that when rejection occurs, the girl is to blame. Furthermore, this perpetuates an ideal of hypermasculinity—that a guy must be controlling and a “bad boy” in order to get a girl.  Being in a relationship is in no way, a merit system.


All right. So this guy might’ve did some awful things and had some sexist thoughts before he went on a killing spree. Surely he was messed up in his head!!!


Well…

MENTAL ILLNESS: 


With every mass shooting, mental illness is a topic of discussion.  



And to some extent, in the case of violence, it is inevitable–why else would humans want to kill each other so badly?  But from all the evidence presented so far, this isn’t another Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Sandy Hook. This isn’t a case of a student suffering from depression. This is a hate crime. This is an act of violence targeted at women. All of Rodger’s quotations and videos echo Nice Guy Syndrome and resemble the rationalization behind harming women for rejecting men.


Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.14.16 PM.png
(Rodger, “My Twisted World”)


No shooting is black and white–and I don’t pretend to a psychiatrist. However, to dismiss Isla Vista as purely the result of a mental illness a) belittles mental health discussion and b) alleviates much of the blame from the perpetrator. A violent act does not equate to a mental illness; According to the Institute of Medicine (2006):


Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population.”


The myth of mental illness and violence as a package deal only heightens the myth that mentally ill people are violent–thus stigmatizing mental health. There are individuals with Asperger’s and depression who did not kill six people.  Regardless of whether Rodger suffered from a mental illness, based on his video and manifesto one thing is clear; the Isla Vista shooting was a result of internalized misogyny and an attitude regarding entitlement.


Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.07.04 PM.png
(Rodger, “My Twisted World”)
It’s also interesting why individuals are doubting Rodger’s state of mind when one in four women report experiencing physical violence from a male partner during her life.  The idea of male dominance and punishing women is commonly accepted, among individuals and social systems–why else do 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail?


But the worst part is, it took a shooting at a public university for a discussion regarding misogyny to be taken seriously. It took one shooting and not 230,000+ sexual assaults that occur annually for sexism to be called out—and not even by mainstream media. CNN included opinions that Rodger was “mentally disturbed” while NBC included comments from law enforcement stating that the shooting was the work of a “madman”.  Even though major news outlets haven’t framed the shooting as a misogynistic-fueled incident, social media networks have been active in calling out violence against women, with the hashtag #YesAllWomen trending for hours in the United States. Yet, even with that, sexist tweets still resulted:


Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 2.03.33 AM.png


For those who consider this post “anti-men”, think of this:


Every 90 seconds a girl in the USA is sexually assaulted, one out of five girls have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, eighty-three percent of TEENAGE GIRLS experience sexual harassment in public schools, and one-third of female murder victims (ages 12 and above) are killed by an intimate partner.


Defending women is not hating on men, the same way fighting for food stamps is not hating on the rich.


But Rodger’s viewpoint is in no way unique. We see this attitude everywhere. This is why eighty-percent of girls face street harassment.  This is why the first question a rape victim is asked is “what were you wearing?”.  This is why two-thirds of rape survivors KNOW their rapist–and why the widely-held idea of acquaintance rape being a leading cause is so misleading.


But what can you do? As a man, as a woman, as any gender, you can speak out. Point out sexist comments when you hear them (as Emma Stone so tactfully did). Call out your friend who rates a girl as she walks by. Tell your female friends to stop calling a girl a slut because of her Halloween costume.  Remind a stranger who’s harassing a woman on the street that what he’s doing is not okay.


And keep on pushing for change. Because despite what anyone says–whether it be mainstream media or figures of authority–we’re not there yet.
         


It’s been a while…

Wow

It’s been a while…like a few…..months D:

Luckily I have a summer to finish Fifty Shades. That’s not to say I haven’t been reading–I’ve actually been spoiled by great reads lately.

But here’s a snapshot of my latest hobby!

Yup–I’ve been overworking my camera! The result of taking graduation photos for everyone…

But anyways, book catchup!

Books

Legend by Marie Lu

Final thoughts: I have a stigma against dystopian novels ever since they seem to be on every bookshelf after The Hunger Games was published.  Needless to say, my standards for this book were quite high. I was quite taken by the setting Lu created and how class differences and biological warfare were both addressed.  Both the main characters (June and Day) were compelling and their viewpoints distinct.  This series definitely has potential–though the forced romance nearly ruined it for me (two characters who barely know each other make out within a week of seeing each other—really?). But overall the series dodges many dystopian cliches, so who knows maybe the sequels might change my mind!

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Final thoughts: I highly recommend this book to anyone who can read or listen to an audiobook. This book explores vulnerability and how overcoming fear of it can yield other benefits. This book is one of the few I’ve stumbled upon that addresses the modern celebrity complex and identifies the flaws in today’s thinking. Overall, it’s a must-read for anyone.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Final thoughts: Renaming this book Catcher in the Rye: Modern Edition wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate, but Theo’s compelling narration and descriptions of basic human sentiment, ranging from void to absolute loneliness, hold the book together.  This book nailed the stages of grieving so well, while bringing in some Darwinian elements to boot. Highly recommended.

A Sword of Storms by George R.R. Martin

Final thoughts: Valar morghulis. But hands down the best book in the series–worth the 1000 pages and the squinting due to the smaller-than-usual font.

Currently reading:
Fifty Shades of Grey
Guns, Germs, and Steel
A Feast for Crows

Need to start:
Outlander (I’ve heard GREAT things about this book–I hope they’re true!)

TV Shows

Sherlock Season 3, Episodes 2 &3 :


Final thoughts: 
Yays:
This season did an excellent job humanizing Sherlock as a character, rather than dismissing him as an intelligent yet arrogant prick. 
Mehs:
I love Moriarty, but when is the man going to stay dead?
The pacing of the episodes seemed slower than usual. One aspect I love about Sherlock is the thrill of the ride; I understood why that wasn’t possible in the second episode (the setting didn’t allow it), but the third episode could’ve changed that

Once Upon a Time Season 3B:
Recap for this coming soon!

A Thousand Years…of Pics

I was flipping through my cellphone today and looking at photos. Half of the photos on my phone involved selfies/photos with others and the other half were assignments or things on the board the professor was skipping over. Since there were some exceptions, I figured the top nineteen deserved some place other than my phone.

I didn’t see any werewolves that night unfortunately
Our school on Valentine’s Day. Clear skies are rare.

Best way to start a day

I never knew college food as great as this existed.

The mountain near my home..never really appreciated it till now.

The Hidden Places in my school of awesomeness

Not technically “hidden” but the sky looked pretty…

And the college food pics…

The city during holiday season:

And of course some people losing it during finals week:

Dubai: 

A Winter’s Tale:Week #2–Kings, Sherlock, and Queer-baiting

Books

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin <–COMPLETE!
Final thoughts: Compared to A Game of Thrones, the pacing of the book felt different, given that the majority of characters weren’t at King’s Landing anymore. But different isn’t necessarily bad, and in this case it certainly wasn’t.  The second installment in A Song of Ice and Fire was as compelling as the first, even though it felt like one of those “transition” books, setting up the battles and conflicts for the third book. Given that when I went into the bookstore to purchase Book #3 (A Storm of Swords) only to be told that I’d have to purchase TWO books because it was that long (J.K. Rowling, I forgive you for the eleven year old back damage resulting from your books in my backpack), I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be writing about Book #3 for a while… 

Character verdicts:
  • Sansa: You clever, intelligent girl.  Keep this up and maybe you’ll be sitting on the throne yourself.
  • Arya: Love you too but..what on earth are you doing right now?
  • Jon: You’re hot, but I really don’t care what happens at the Wall. Sorry.
  • Daenerys: You were barely in this book. Me=not happy.
  • Theon: Jerkface. You have your moments where I almost feel like feeling sorry for you..but then you ruin it with your whining.
  • Catelyn: BAMF. I can forgive you for stepping all over poor Jon.
  • Tyrion: It’s impossible to hate this guy. His scenes with Cersei were the best.
  • Bran: You showed that jerkface Greyjoy right. Hopefully I’ll be seeing more of you in Book 3.
  • Davos: Couldn’t we just have Melisandre do the narration instead? She’s so much more interesting and badass. 
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins <–COMPLETE!

Final thoughts: There’s more of this book coming in another post, but I want to dish out the main thoughts here. I nearly swore off young-adult after my disastrous experience with Allegiant. However, after reading some classics for fun, I was desperate for contemporary English. This book changed my mind–it was everything a YA adult novel should be: optimistic, promising, and sassy at the same time.

Still Reading

Guns, Germs, and Steel
Fifty Shades of Grey

Going to start:
Legend by Marie Lu
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

TV Shows:

Sherlock Season 3, Episode 1

(Warning: Spoilers up ahead!)


I had been waiting for this episode for over a year…needless to say I was quite anxious. The Sherlockian fandom had high expectations for this episode, but many were satisfied–including me (the series premiere reminded me again why Mark Gatiss is my favorite Sherlock writer).

Favorite Moments:
  • John punches Sherlock’s face…twice
  • John getting rid of that mustache..thank goodness.
  • Sherlock’s epic troll in the train–I cried tears from laughter and based on posts pouring in from tumblr, I doubt I was the only one.
  • The Sherlock/Molly kiss: I don’t watch Sherlock for ships and frankly don’t really care for who ends up with who, but man…those two had some amazing chemistry. And of course..
  • Mary! Sherlock’s not big on its female characters, so having a woman in the mix who’s defined as intelligent and kind was encouraging. She grew on me pretty fast.  Amanda Abbington playing her too also helped 😉
  • Anderson: Seeing Anderson’s face of shock made the episode for me.
Ugh moments:
The queer-baiting in Sherlock sadly hasn’t disappeared…all the references to Sherlock as John’s boyfriend were as prominent as ever (Watson’s scene denying he’s gay to Mrs. Hudson for instance, the Sherlock/Moriarty imaginary kiss).

Let’s rewind a bit…

What is queer-baiting? To quote this definition, which I believe covers it quite well:

Queer-baiting is what happens when a series wants to attract a queer audience without alienating their homophobic/transphobic audience. They introduce a character that queer people can relate to. They use the details and feelings common to queer people’s lives to make it very obvious to anyone who is queer, that the character is also queer. They know that because there is very little queer representation in media, queer people are going to latch onto this character, and therefore latch onto the series. However, they never let the character actually come out. When the homophobic/transphobic part of the audience starts to realize that the character is queer, the writers add something to reassure them that no, of course the character is straight. 

Wait, when did that happen? Quite a few times actually…

  • Series 1, Episode 1:
    • JOHN: You don’t have a girlfriend, then? 
      SHERLOCK: Girlfriend? No, not really my area. 
      JOHN: Mm. JOHN: Oh, right. D’you have a boyfriend?
      JOHN: Which is fine, by the way. 
      SHERLOCK: I know it’s fine.
      JOHN: So you’ve got a boyfriend then? 
      SHERLOCK: No.
      JOHN: Right. Okay. You’re unattached. Like me. Good. 
      SHERLOCK: John, um … I think you should know that I consider myself married to my work, and while I’m flattered by your interest, I’m really not looking for any … 
      JOHN (interrupting): No. No, I’m not asking. No. 
      —- 
      ANGELO: On the house, for you and for your date. 
      SHERLOCK (to John): Do you want to eat? 
      JOHN (to Angelo): I’m not his date. 
      ANGELO (to John): I’ll get a candle for the table. It’s more romantic. 
      JOHN (indignantly, as Angelo walks away): I’m not his date!
      ——
      The repeated references to Sherlock and John as a couple in the first episode of the show immediately appeals to those who wish to see a gay couple on TV.
  • Series 2, Episode 1:
    • JOHN (quietly): Who … who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes, but – for the record – if anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay. 
      IRENE: Well, I am. Look at us both.
      —–
      Note that after this, a love story between her and Sherlock begins to develop. The dismissal of a queer-character’s sexuality is also an issue.
  • Series 3, Episode 1:
    • JOHN: We’re getting married–well I’m going to ask anyways. 
      MRS. HUDSON:  So soon after Sherlock? 
      JOHN: Well yes. 
      MRS. HUDSON: What’s his name? 
      JOHN: It’s a woman. 
      MRS. HUDSON : A woman! 
      JOHN: Yes of course it’s a woman
      MRS. HUDSON: You really have moved on have you? 
      JOHN: Mrs. Hudson, how many times..Sherlock was not my boyfriend. 
      —–
      The fact that this issue is still being brought up is beyond humor–rather it’s doing the exact same thing as Series 1, Episode 1.
It’s just a joke, lighten up. The number of regular LGBTQ characters on television is 3.3%, [1] down from 2012. Pretending to have characters on television that identify as such, but in reality are not just to garner an audience from the LGBTQ community, is not cool.

Pshh..Mark Gatiss and Andrew Scott are both gay, why would the show do this? Entertainment is a business. Given that 10% of the USA and 1.5% of the UK identify as LGBTQ, the show needs to appeal to this audience in order to boost ratings.

Traitor! You complain, but then watch the show? I don’t think watching the show is necessarily supporting its problematic themes. I enjoy Sherlock for its plot, excellent acting, and thrilling mysteries; however, I am not so happy about its poor portrayal of women, persons-of-color, and its queer-baiting.  I think most if not every film/television production is problematic in terms of racism, sexism, etc (see Racebending for some excellent explanations on this). It’s important to keep these things in mind when experiencing entertainment, especially given their real-life significance.  Idealizing a show just because it’s entertaining is never a good idea.

Historical Accuracy: Liberty or Responsibility?

Reign: More like Gossip Girl, 1500s edition

Don’t judge a TV show by its preview. Or so I thought.

This review of the Reign pilot comes from a die-hard Tudor fan who knew the birth dates of Henry VIII’s wives, while at the same time, managed to swallow the historical inaccuracies of The Tudors and pursued the series (despite being caught watching it multiple times by conservative parents) to enjoy the dramatic moments and brilliant performances. After hearing that a TV adaptation of Mary Stuart was coming out, I was ecstatic. Then I heard the tragic two letters: CW.

And then come the weaknesses of cable television. All the violence, all the sex, all the gore that are typically used to dramatize the sixteenth century is legally off-limits. Despite my earlier resolve not to watch anything CW-related ever again (my reasons for that coming up in another post), I decided to take a shot of what could potentially be a reason to skip class on Thursday evenings.

I’m not one of those individuals who curses out television producers because their costumes are Elizabethan rather than French (even though white wedding gowns only appeared during the Victorian Era); if that were the case, I’d be left with little to no historical dramas to watch. Nor will I blast individuals for not looking the part unless it significantly affects the show.

But this..let’s just say Showtime won this round:

  • Historical inaccuracies: Let’s get this out of the way. As a self-proclaimed Anglophile, seeing Mary, Queen of Scots dancing barefoot under Catherine de Medici’s nose to Twin Forks music made me want to scream at the TV. If all the historical inaccuracies for the Pilot episode of Reign were listed here, this post would be beyond any individual’s attention span. To make a long story short, Mary was raised in the French palaces all her life alongside Francis–there were no recorded assassination attempts targeting her in France (at least from the two books I read cited at the end of this post). The engagement was a result of Scotland needing military assistance from France, and even if the dauphin had second thoughts about the engagement, he would have had little to no control over it. The inaccuracies become problematic when they indirectly result in sexism.  Catherine de Medici, a woman considered headstrong and independent at the time, is instantly vilified.  While it’s somewhat relieving to know that Reign is not being marketed as a historical adaptation by the cast (Anna Popplewell compared it to “fantasy history”[1], it still begs the question: are all of the changes necessary to produce a great TV show?
  • The over-sexualization of characters: Yes, The Tudors did this too. However, given Torrance Coombs is sufficient eye-candy for one season, it was surprising to see a historical figure described as “stunted and sickly” portrayed as this:

    I was hoping that the CW could at least overcome the typical femme fatale trope, but those hopes were shattered after Natalia (i.e. Francis’s mistress) made her entrance naked. And speaking of tropes…

  • The love triangle:  Hey CW, we have The Vampire Diaries. Is a love triangle for a show really necessary? Is it possible for a female character to have a storyline other than romance and still exist on TV? (Please note the extreme sarcasm, otherwise we wouldn’t have Emma Swan or Daenerys Targaryen). An epic love story–if that’s what Reign wants to create–does not need two men and a woman; obstacles other than people do exist.

That being said, there are some promising elements in the Pilot that might have me reading recaps for future episodes. Catherine de Medici is still the headstrong monarch as she was five-hundred years ago (though she was most likely intelligent enough not to harm a monarch and create a war between two kingdoms). The four handmaidens–a reference to the four Maries who served Mary Stuart–were a charming touch. Adelaide Kane is remarkably talented and seems to be capable of carrying the show through a full season, and the chemistry between her and Toby Regbo is electric.

For those who have no interest in history whatsoever, Reign is an enjoyable guilty pleasure. But the same can be said for The Other Boleyn Girl and The Kennedys, which brings up the next question: do historically-based works have the responsibility to tell the story as it is?

I remember reading The Other Boleyn Girl years ago. It was everything a work of fiction should be: compelling, gripping, and heart-breaking at the right moments. Yet at the same time, I kept on thinking something was off with the portrayal of Anne Boleyn; it was hard to believe that a woman known to donate large amounts of money to the poor [2]  would be so spiteful toward everyone she knew. After reading Claire Ridgeway’s post on the inaccuracies of both the book and movie, I started noticing comments like these under Youtube clips of the film:

Suffice it to say, I became increasingly convinced that historical-based work should be required to have a disclaimer. Maybe not to that extreme, but given that Philippa Gregory (author of The Other Boleyn Girlidentifies herself as a historian, despite the multiple inaccuracies in her work, the importance of separating history from fiction seemed more necessary than ever.

Why does it matter though? Why not let people who are interested in history explore it themselves and the others simply enjoy? Well given all the nastiness regarding Anne Boleyn, it crosses the line when these comments become misogyny. Two of the three comments above describe Anne as a “whore” (slut shaming at its finest).  These comments might have been acceptable in the sixteenth century, but now they’re just alarming and harmful.  When books and TV-shows alike omit historical details and fail to make women people, they can end up placing women into categories as “virgins” or “”whores”.  When individuals don’t know the full story, the story that mediums of entertainment don’t tell them, it can result in misconceptions, insignificant and harmful alike.

Adelaide Kane, in response to Reign’s historical inaccuracies, responded, “It’s entertainment – it’s not the History Channel.”[3] . While it’s reassuring to know that Reign identifies itself as anything but history, it is quite worrying that history is perceived as boring. Given today’s recession and the similar economic patterns shared with the Great Depression (Robert Reich explains that quite well here), knowledge of history is becoming more important than ever.  But how can we stimulate interest in history in the first place with the limitations the state standards set on learning the subject? Speaking from my experience, until the last year of high school, history meant copying vocabulary words and definitions for homework.  If it weren’t for the civics program during my senior year in which discussion of history and government was emphasized, I would probably not even be writing this post.

Overall, historical fiction can be fun–and it should be. But viewers and readers should try to get that historical insight on the characters that the fiction doesn’t offer them before making judgments.

For those of you more interested in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots try these sources:

  • Elizabethfiles.com: Has some posts on Mary Stuart which are well-supported and insightful.
  • Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
  • The Royal Stuarts: A History of the Family that Shaped Britain by Allan Massie

A Winter’s Tale: Week #1!

Cartoon by A.K. Renganathan

Books:

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Thoughts: Theon is a jerk. Tyrion is awesome-sauce. And Catelyn Stark, you are my new favorite character.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Thoughts: I’m glad Diamond chose to focus on an evolutionary perspective before diving down into historical details. Looking forward to reading the rest.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart<–COMPLETED!
Final thoughts: After reading Jaycee Dugard’s autobiography, I was looking forward to read Elizabeth Smart’s account of her kidnapping and recovery. Despite the occasional dryness in between chapters, I wasn’t disappointed. Smart’s book emphasized how she managed to stay intact during her kidnapping and not lose herself. Compared to Dugard’s account which focused on her captivity and experience, Smart emphasized the importance of family and divine belief. While Smart chose not to focus on the legal circumstances of the case, her story was nonetheless both moving and inspiring.

Verdict: If you want an account of the Smart case and how Elizabeth was found, this book doesn’t dish on that. But a survivor’s tale? Most definitely.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth <–COMPLETED!
Final thoughts: Oh dear where do I begin. I remember walking away from Mockingjay feeling depressed, betrayed, hurt, yet satisfied, knowing the trilogy ended the best way it could. As I wrapped up the last pages of Allegiant, I double checked the title page to make sure I was reading Veronica Roth’s work.  (Read more…)

TV Shows:

Elementary Season 1 Episode 21, 22, 23, 24


SPOILER WARNING for above episodes

Thoughts: Every time I mention the series to friends, I get a blank look or a “Sherlock-traitor”  response. I love Sherlock, don’t get me wrong, but for all you Sherlockians out there, in terms of modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptations Elementary is a close second. The season finale didn’t disappoint and neither did the series as a whole. I remember initially being peeved about the series; Watson was a woman, the series was in New York instead of London, and Lestrade was absent. It felt like the world was ending–no exaggeration intended. But since I’m all for crazy ideas, I decided to give the pilot a shot and ended up watching till the end of season one without any moments of hesitation.

Here’s why:

  1. A man and a woman can be friends: The one concept which TV-shows fail to get is that a man and a woman can have a completely platonic relationship (CW I’m looking at you). Elementary distinguishes itself that way, and while Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have some amazing chemistry, the idea of friendship makes their banter and more intimate scenes even more touching.
  2. The female characters: Finally a show with a female character whose storyline doesn’t revolve around a love story. Joan Watson, well-educated, respected, and unwilling to put up with Sherlock’s occasional B.S. is both heroic and flawed. And she’s portrayed by Lucy Liu–need I add more? Moriarty, a foil to Watson, is charming yet unpredictable at the same time. I thought no one could top Andrew Scott, but Natalie Dormer might best that in future episodes (according to promotional videos, Moriarty will return next year!).
  3. The mysteries: One of the downsides of BBC’s Sherlock is the overplay of Moriarty. Don’t get me wrong–I love opportunities to give Andrew Scott more screen time.  But given the number of Arthur Conan Doyle works featuring Moriarty in comparison with five out of the six Sherlock episodes focusing on Moriarty-related scenarios, it was hard to believe that only one character could be responsible for the majority of London’s police crises. Moriarty is more of a subtle figure in Elementary, allowing her to make the major entrance the character deserved. 
  4. Watson: Watson was never a character who accompanied Holmes for the sake of company–he was a true partner in Holmes’s cases, making observations and taking accounts when needed (The Hound of the Baskervilles if you don’t believe me). That’s what Elementary gets right–Joan is instrumental toward solving several of the cases, even outsmarting Moriarty in the season finale.
Verdict: Season 2 here we go!

Allegiant: Why I’m facepalming

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

*SPOILERS, LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT*

Oh dear where do I begin.

I remember walking away from Mockingjay feeling depressed, betrayed, hurt, yet satisfied, knowing the trilogy ended the best way it could. As I wrapped up the last pages of Allegiant, I double checked the title page to make sure I was reading Veronica Roth’s work. Given how compelling both Divergent and Insurgent were, I knew my expectations to the final installment of the trilogy were quite high. However, Allegiant failed to meet the “worthy of a reread” mark.

Let’s start with the dual perspectives. I found myself incredibly annoyed that every couple of pages I had to flip back to check whether I was in Tobias’s head or Tris’s. There was no differentiation in tone, no indication of who was speaking. At some point I wondered why Stephenie Meyer could pull off different points of view (yes I hated Breaking Dawn but I will give Meyer this–Jacob’s voice was distinct from Bella’s), but Veronica Roth, who wrote two satisfactory novels, couldn’t.  The only purpose of the dual perspectives was to explain the ending–which didn’t help with redeeming the book overall.

In light of all the scientific plot holes involving evolution (isolating populations won’t result in reversal to a less deleterious trait i.e. divergence–the founder effect doesn’t work that way) and the baseless relationship conflict that had Tobias and Tris barking at each other for a hundred pages, I was hoping that the ending would somehow redeem the truckload of a mess I had just pulled myself through.

Before I address the conclusion that has fans sending Veronica Roth quite strongly-worded tweets, I admit it–I cheated. Like any other overly-excited fan, I scrolled through Tumblr until I hit the spoiler tag. Yes, I cursed in different languages. I face-palmed. I screamed. But in the end, I realized its potential. After all, the Divergent trilogy are all war-based stories. The idea of the narrator and main character of the series dying was both realistic and fitting, and I knew that it could be well written and suiting for the conclusion at the same time.

Then I read the book.

It was interesting how there was no Plan B suggested for the suicide mission; when trying to overpower a political system, minimizing losses is essential. So why does no one propose an alternative plan that could potentially evade death? Besides that loophole, the main problem stems from the timing of Tris’s death. When a character dies, it usually means one of two things: a) He/she died a tragic figure or b) He/she completed his/her journey and died in the process or as part of achieving a goal. Veronica Roth, when asked about Tris’s death, said that her journey was complete as she had acted in the ultimate act of selflessness.

Sorry, but…since when is going on a suicide mission and leaving everyone you love selfless? Since when is acting on recklessness and mindless self-sacrifice (a flaw repeatedly pointed out by Tobias) rather than overcoming it character development? Completion of a character arc doesn’t necessarily call for death, and in this case, the arc was both incomplete and the death unnecessary as it didn’t accomplish anything.

Sydney Carton died to relieve a life of shame. Jim Casy died for Tom to initiate his journey (and for Steinbeck to call out the political system during the Great Depression). Aslan died to save Edmund and to save Narnia. Tris died to save Caleb (who–by the way–didn’t get his redemption arc) while not completing her journey.

The last book of every series is extra-susceptible to criticism due to anticipation and the fact that all story arcs are at a close. But given the poor plotting and character development, I think it’s safe to say the Allegiant criticism is quite valid.

Verdict: For such a promising series, the final installment was a disappointment. 

Fat is not the f-word

Like everyone with the Internet, I love Jennifer Lawrence. I watch her movies, laugh over her interviews, and cheer whenever she slams Hollywood for its ridiculous beauty standards and sexism. I love that girls can finally watch a movie watch without starving themselves to look like the lead.

But I admit, after surfing through tumblr, I was taken aback by what she recently said in an interview with Barbara Walters:

But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect it has on our younger generation, on these girls who are watching these television shows, and picking up how to talk and how to be cool. So then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress … and the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV.  

If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect they have on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat? 

Lawrence wasn’t the only one with this mindset. Tyra Banks chimed in on this as well:

There are so many women — actually 93 percent of us — that do Fat Talk, that look in the mirror and say they’re not good enough and really attack their bodies. Then you have them speaking to their friends about it and doing it in front of their daughters, and their daughters going, ‘Wow, mommy is saying that she’s fat and she’s disgusting, and I have a body that’s kind of like mommy’s,’ so I want to put a stop to that and use this time right now to tell women to change the conversation. We can be better. “There are so many ways we can be better. You can say, ‘I’m not going to do Fat Talk, I’ll try to improve my body, I’ll try to eat healthier, I’ll try to work out.’

This Is Thin Privilege (an excellent, well-written tumblr blog which I highly recommend) explained the problem behind this quite well. I think all of what needs to be said can be summed up as follows:

Fat isn’t bad. Fat isn’t unhealthy. Fat isn’t ugly.

Our method of determining an individual’s healthy weight is designed for population studies (not even individuals!) and extremely flawed–we don’t even have an accurate scientific definition for determining if a person is “fat.” The only definition of fat we have is the standards Hollywood happily sets up for us. If a girl’s build doesn’t match the Victoria Secret model’s then she’s fat.  If a girl can’t fit into a size 10 then she’s fat. If anyone can’t fit into an airplane seat (which are getting smaller), then he/she is fat.

But is fat such a bad word?

In my upbringing and at the university I attend, the general culture is this: if there’s a problem, don’t talk about it and all will be well. Not. Acting like the word “fat” is bad, defining it as an insult meant to degrade someone, assuming it’s the worst thing a person could be called—all of that contributes toward fat phobia. As Dumbledore said, “Fear of a name only increases fear itself.” Rather than not using the word fat, we need to accept that it’s not a bad quality.  The idea that a fat individual is automatically unhealthy is absurd–individuals can have more fat cells but still maintain a healthy metabolic rate. According to TIME Magazine:

Compared with obese people who had at least two of the above markers of poor health, those who were obese but metabolically healthy had a 38% lower risk of early death from any cause. In fact, those who were fat but fit had no higher death risk than metabolically healthy normal weight participants. The finding runs counter to the prevailing wisdom that weight is in and of itself a marker of health; rather, it suggests that a person’s level of physical fitness, in addition to his or her weight, matters too. 

Contrary to what J-Law said, censoring the word “fat” on TV isn’t going to eliminate fat-phobia; if anything, it will make the word “fat” more insulting than it is already. While physical exercise is a definite must, being fat does not automatically enroll you for a 24-hour gym regime–sorry Tyra Banks.As Ellen DeGeneres said in her famous takedown of Abercrombie and Fitch, “[Beauty] is not a number.” It’s about time we ladies stop using comments about each other’s build to bash each other. Let’s value each other for intellect and character–not for the force resulting from our gravity and mass.

Edit: I just want to clarify this–I love J-Law, and I’m glad she’s voicing her opinions about Hollywood’s ridiculous body ideals and causing girls to accept themselves. I just felt this was a general point that needed to be addressed–it’s not tailored toward her.