Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bring it, X-Men 3! (Please.)

So I LOVED the first X-Men film, and I'm one of those tormented neurotic people who gets all I.B.S. when a new incarnation of something I already love appears on the horizon, meaning I spent the entire month prior to the X2 release torturing my colon with my fear that it would suck. But then, for the love of god and two-ply, it didn't suck at all! In fact, it ruled! Crisis averted.

But oh, have mercy, here comes X-Men 3. Just typing that made me colicky, like someone twisted a bread tie around a segment of intestine, because this time I have a legitimate reason to worry: no Brian Singer. I'm sure you know by now that Singer, the ditching, traitorous bastard, left the X-Men franchise to make a new Superman movie, condemning me and my excretory system to months of twitchy hell. Curse you, Brian Singer. Curse you, sir.

Sure, the trailer (linked above) looks hot. I thought the trailer for Hidalgo looked hot, too, though, and note how that turned out. You can't judge a movie by its trailer, is all I'm saying, and any moron should be able to crank out a couple of minutes of decent footage, especially with a cast of ridiculously hot people in badass costumes. Too easy.

You know, here I go again, but X-Men is another film I present sometimes in classes to exemplify common archetypes. I think it's important to show young people that all of this crap is applicable to the world they know; it's not just an Old Thing. Regarding the mutants, for example, we discuss the gendered nature of certain mutations, taking into account the fact that mutants tend to exhibit their first "symptoms" at puberty, the same time at which they first exhibit secondary sex characteristics. Some of the more intriguing ideas that have been picked at during these sessions:

Rogue = castrating female/femme fatale. Her first scene involves nearly killing her boyfriend by kissing him, literally draining his life force with her desire. It doesn't matter that it's unintentional--Sister's a maneater all the same.

Logan/Wolverine = a Jungian persona with a serious shadow problem. He has an animal side, and a lot of the time he's content to let himself be that animal. Xavier is trying to help him by making him more comfortable with his humanity. This is what's so compelling about the bed scene between Rogue and Logan, by the way--watch it again with all this in mind and you'll see a girl we know to be virginal (underscored by her demure flowy "lead me to the sacrifice" nightgown) leaning over a violent shirtless man who's thrashing around in bed, who suddenly lurches up and penetrates her with a primal roar. We see blood seep into her virgin's gown. Then she almost kills him by draining his healing power to save herself.

Storm = archetypal association of the feminine with the natural and elements of nature (Mother Nature, Earth Mother, etc.)

Jean = association of the feminine with nurturing (doctoring) and intuition/empathy (telepathy)

Cyclops = another penetrative power

Mystique = another mankiller, for sure, with her la belle dame sans merci powers of deception and her slinky seductiveness

Xavier = gender neutral? He's powerful, yes, but he's also emasculated by paralysis. Interesting. . .

Magneto = awesome, first and foremost, and elemental, which denotes a manlier association with nature, I think

Anyway. Please don't let X-Men 3 suck. There aren't enough antacids in the world.

Monday, January 30, 2006

It's almost soccer time again

Yeah, the photography sucks; I'm the most incompetent picture taker ever. But much more than a staged studio shot could, this photo reveals the utter glorious chaos that is youth soccer: players more interested in their post-game snacks (here apparently those wretched Fruit Roll-Ups) than Vaughn's dork mother's photo request; parents and siblings milling about, banging into each other with their slung-over-the-shoulder camp chairs; the sun descending on our last game of the season while we linger.

My husband got blackmailed into coaching the team like a month after we moved to town in 2003. I'm not even being melodramatic about that--I stand behind my accusation. Mike called the local soccer club to get our son Vaughn (second from left) signed up for the fall league, and the director hemmed and hawed, all faux sympathy, "Weeeeell, we don't so much have an opening on a team right now. In fact, we have several other devastated children in the same tragic circumstances. If we could only find SOMEONE to start another team. . ." Uh huh. Bottom line: Coach a team or listen to your kid cry about not getting to play. Your call. . . coach.

The thing is, he's really good at it, and the kids adore him, which is wonderful to watch. I love my husband a lot anyway, but my heart trip-trips when I see those little boys gathered around him, their faces turned up like blossoms to the sun. He draws on a whiteboard with soccer field lines painted on it, and they crowd up to look, taking opportunities here and there to aim a jovial kick or push at each other, a litter of puppies gamboling around the world's most patient obedience instructor.

Compare Mike's benevolence to my game-day position-of-choice--parked in my camp chair talking smack about the opposing team's parents--and we have a clear champion of the moral high ground. But, hey, married people are supposed to complement each other, right?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sometimes I wonder: Is Bryant Gumbel Still an Ass?

Remember when Bryant Gumbel was on television? And an ass? Is he still either or both of those things?

I'm sure a quick google would provide the answer, but it's easier and more fun to speculate. I'm going to go with. . . yeah, still an ass. I'm not sure recovery from his level of assitude is even possible.

We live in a privileged time. In 2006, I can simply gorge on reality shows like American Idol and The Apprentice when I feel the Faustian urge for overstimualtion, particularly of the areas of my brain dedicated to hating others. In 1997, however, finding objects of loathing on television was still somewhat hit or miss. And then, in October of that year, John Denver died, and in my grief I did something I had never done before: I got up in the morning and turned on the Today show.

Please understand that I was not seeking a hatee that day. (But don't the best ones tend to find you?) I tuned in because I had heard that some guy named Gumbel ("Isn't he a sportscaster?" I thought) would be interviewing Annie Denver, John's ex-wife and subject of the lovely "Annie's Song."

Appallingly, it wasn't so much an interview as a confrontation. I never saw such a bully in my life. Annie Denver was on remote camera, not in the studio, which is probably the only reason Gumbel is still out there somewhere assing up the world, because by the time it was over her hatred of him was even more of an elephant in the room than his roaring ego, and I have no doubt she could've taken him. In fact, the positive flip side of the lip-curling disgust I developed for Gumbel is the awed respect Annie inspired in me. Beneath the cocoon of dignity she had spun around her you could see she was shattered; upon Gumbel's first question, "How are you doing?" her lips quivered and her eyes welled as she answered with raw honesty: "It's been real hard."

I think she had Gumbel's number, though, and knew something of what she was in for. I watched through my own tears as, after that brief tremble of weakness, she snapped her shell back into place and faced her enemy. Then things got weird. Gumbel, enmeshed in some bizarre delusion, took it upon himself to rewrite the particulars of Annie's life as if he knew more about it than she. And he did it all with a giant smirk on his face. He's interviewing someone who just had to tell her children their father was not only dead but in several pieces, and he's smirking.

Annie Denver 2, Bryant Gumbel 0

Here are the two most egregious acts of assness in the interview:

1) Gumbel--who clearly believed himself in possession of an adoring public that tuned in to hear his hot gas instead of, oh, the interviewee?--declared with absolute conviction that Annie Denver and John Denver had remained "the best of friends" after their divorce. She interrupted (causing a twitch of the smirk) to correct him: "Well, people get divorced for a reason, Bryant. We had our problems, but he was a good man." Good for her, but where the hell does he get off twisting her tragedy into his narrative in the first place? "They were the best of friends" brings more drama, I guess, and he obviously didn't expect her to have the will to confront his fictionalizing. Ugh.

2) Even more laughable, Gumbel, smirk turned up to eleven, played "Annie's Song" and told her that of course it was her favorite John Denver song. Told her it was her favorite song. She, cementing her position in my hall of fame, didn't let THAT go either, but said firmly, "NO, it's actually NOT," and told him which of her own ex-husband's songs she herself did, in fact, like the best, while he smirked some more and acted all "OK, sure," like he was going to be a nice guy and let it go even though he knew he was totally right. So patronizing. So ass.

When he finally stopped yapping at her my sigh of relief echoed hers. Wherever she is now, I hope she's happy, because wow do I admire her for sticking up for herself against that insufferable know-it-all, especially considering she was doing it with a busted heart. It would've been so easy to just play along and let the baby have his way. As for him. . . actually, I don't give a damn about him.

[below, "Call me Assmael."]

Friday, January 27, 2006

Most of my students can say "penis" out loud without fainting now

So I dragged my juniors through Freudian literary criticism last week. Bless them. As soon as I start throwing "penis" around they go to blushing and giggling and staring down at their desks. When I was in 4th grade some other idiot 4th grader traumatized me by swearing that in junior high they totally make you have sex, like, for class. That's how my students look when I say "penis," like they think if they make eye contact with me I'll make them come to the front and touch one for a grade. [at right, "You know you envy my cigar"]

Eventually, though, almost all of them get bolder and start feeling empowered by their ability to say "penis" without whimpering. They also really enjoy my treatise on the function of gender imagery in The Lord of the Rings, which I am pleased to set into print for the first time here:

On the surface, Tolkien's trilogy appears very phallocentric. Sure, Galadriel exhibits some gauzy power, and Eowyn strikes her blow for the First Wave, and Arwen. . . gets married or something, but you can't ignore the fact that there are no women in the Fellowship. Characters like the River Daughter and the missing entwives are mentioned at times, but for the most part the narrative looks like a storm of phalluses ("hallelujah, it's raining swords, bows, axes, staffs, and towers") with maybe a vague suggestion that every now and then the winds shift and people get born with vaginas instead.

Typical fantasy fare, right? Testosterone everywhere and chicks only when someone needs a wife, mother, or lay. Except. . . back away from the literal and check out what happens. Setting aside the paucity of actual females in the text, there sure is a lot of symbolic femininity.

The most obvious example is the hobbits. Must we be reminded every time a hobbit draws his sword that said sword is laughably stumpy compared to those of Men? Perhaps there's an agenda there? Also, of course, there's the hobbits' passive domesticity. The Shire is like a cushy multiplexed womb, all verdant rolling hills and snug hobbit holes, and hobbits don't leave to go to wars. Who would care for their flower beds while they were gone?

Additionally, consider the hobbits' advanced emotional intelligence. Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin--these guys adore each other, and they have no homophobic self-consciousness about showing it. When hobbits love? They emote. Right out in your face.

It's no coincidence that Eowyn and Merry end up in the same situation, told by the patriarch that they're too weak to go to the big boys' war, they'll just get in the way and have to get their little selves rescued by someone with more important things to do. But as it turns out, being wee enough to sneak up behind a ringwraith and stab him in the back of the knee isn't such a bad thing, and the fatal error that ringwraith makes can only be capitalized upon if Eowyn is there to take his arrogant ass out. Peter Jackson, PRAISE HIM, directs Eowyn's scene of triumph perfectly. She's terrified, cradling a broken arm, but that bastard will not touch her uncle. After separating the phallic neck of the wraith king's steed from its body, she stands her ground against the embodiment of every male person who ever snubbed her. When he says no man can kill him, Miranda Otto's disgusted expression is very "oh my god not THIS shit again," because the guy has completely ignored the fact that other folk live on the earth besides men. He really believes that if a man can't kill him he's destined to ponce around and wreak havoc with impunity forever. And why would Tolkien have Eowyn scoff that line out loud anyway if not to emphasize the gender politics of the situation?

[above, "Get that thing out of my face"]

Which brings us to the ring, a feminine symbol itself. Hovering over these phallic power struggles, the towers and swords and wizard's staffs, the ring's immense power remains impervious to manly forms of disempowerment. Slice off orc heads 'til the entwives come home, but that won't defeat Sauron. It doesn't even annoy him that much--they're disposable orcs anyway. So what does beat him? A girl takes out his first officer and some wussy hobbits pass right beneath his giant single eye and burn up his pretty.

But let's not forget that Frodo drops the game-winning pass at the goal line. The ultimate message? No one can combat evil alone. When he goes power mad and acts like Isildur--like a man--he's lost. Sam and Gollum (the latter of whom, we must recall, only survived to that point because of mercy shown by Bilbo and then Frodo, mercy being a virtue associated more with a feminine value system than a male one) have to drag Frodo back from the abyss. If they aren't there, Middle Earth is toast.

So we learn: Don't be so arrogant as to think phallic power is enough; in fact, it's particularly vulnerable to temptation that seems to promise more power, like that of the ring. Middle Earth needs a balance of femininity and masculinity to combat Sauron's singleminded, self-interested quest for power.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

God, I love Judge Judy

Seriously. Check out what I have to look forward to when I get home from work today:

Case #1: Three Rottweillers allegedly invade a woman’s home, destroy property and attack her terrier.

Case #2: Parents dispute responsibility for damages after a party where their minors were allegedly served alcohol.

Home Rottweiller Invasion! Minors in Possession! And that's just the first half hour! A second dose of awesome is delivered immediately thereafter!

The best analogy I can think of: A week after my son was born I woke from one of those 2-hour lapses in consciousness that constititute the closest approximation of "sleep" available to a new parent. I knew immediately that Something Was Wrong. A new Something, a Something that had not been Wrong before. Within the hour I was calling my OB's office from the bathroom because my life's blood was in such a rush to exit through my ravaged birth canal that I couldn't get up from the toilet without leaving a trail of gore to foil even the mightiest Swiffer. My husband gathered up our son and drove me to the emergency room, into which I staggered looking like an extra from Law & Order: SVU, bleeding through my industrial-strength postpartum maxi pad, my pants, AND the bath towel I was clutching to my crotch. I made such a ghastly sight that a woman in the waiting room gasped and said, "Oh, honey, you're having a miscarriage!"

Damned rude of her, in retrospect. The old busybody.

ANYway, my OB eventually showed up and scraped me out and then checked me into the hospital for the night with a technological advance rivaled in fabulousness only by TiVo: the morphine pump. All through that glorious night, whenever the pain of my traumatized womb began to stalk me, my defender, my Lancelot, my dearest Morphine could be summoned to slap down a Temporary Restraining Order with only a touch of the button cradled in my grateful hand.

That's what it's like to have Judge Judy twice a day every day, like I get to keep pushing some button of awesome. I love that moment after watching the first episode when I get to revel in the fact that I'm only half done. There's just something so perfect about that show, like it's this pocket parallel universe, this special place where over and over you get the rush of witnessing people getting exactly what they deserve.

Maybe not so much with the "unnatural acts"

I just adore Horatio, though, and since I quoted Hamlet's "words" line in my title I needed something from his BFF as a complement. If I had a fantasy BFF? Horatio. I appreciate Hamlet's complexity, particularly his delicious facility with language, but Horatio's steadfast loyalty never fails to move me. I mean, do you have any friends who would try to drink poison because you died? I'm pretty sure I don't.

Gods love Kenneth Branagh for directing Nick Farrell so brilliantly in his Hamlet movie--and Farrell himself for his subtle performance. Hey! Maybe he would consent to becoming my BFF, providing me a kind of six degrees of separation connection to the problematically fictional Horatio.

Nick! Call me!

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