Almost two months ago there was a two-week period of nothing; just metaphorically dotting & crossing the last marks in an afterword, and closing a back cover. Then, spreading open new, aspirin-white pages, watching everything remaining rush to arrange and take places, like a show about to start. One last thought of gratitude, and then surveying across the clear new, and nebulous.
That very quiet period was a strangely still pocket, not totally unlike just after H- was born, when feeding 5-6 times per day and through the middle of the night left me with a lot of time of just having to sit, and be. During that time I cranked through a ton of viewing and this time, albeit a smaller window, was the following…Read More »
Netflix, Stranger Things.
UPDATE: Oh man, it’s all just “Frankenstein,” isn’t it?? Which means it’s 4th season Buffy. Nooooooooo… I don’t have time to write this. And thanks for all of the thoughtful comments to this over on FB, but dudes… if I’m ever to gain traction for this poor blog and embed it in a website, comments here will help a bunch! ♥
Early, primary notes on Stranger Things, post first pass. By no means do I think these are concretely “right” thoughts, just early ones utilizing a few schools of theory focusing on a little bit of race, a little bit of psychoanalytics, and a whole lot of gender.
And, you can’t talk about female characters with super powers without talking about Buffy. Of course.
Spoilers. So many spoilers.
This article* states critically: “Eleven is often treated like a liability—a major character relegated to the corners of the story unless it’s time to save the day…”. Yes. But because that’s how women and girls are generally treated in our culture (see above where Hopper prioritizes Will over Eleven).
The same article goes on to say: “Eleven is clearly the token girl of the group—recalling the “Smurfette Principle” trope that pervaded children’s TV during that decade—but the show doesn’t display much self-awareness on this point.” Absolutely. Spot fucking on, BUT, Stranger Things also displays the Buffy Principal (I just made that up) which is a female character that fantastically depicts the depth and ability women have and contain (hello… Potentials!?), but generally learn to minimize or atrophy, outright deny, or temper because our society cannot integrate or tolerate it. Buffy, and in Stranger Things El during a few scenes, try/tries repeatedly to be “normal” only to realize that they have to be who they are, and utilize all that they are to save the situation. They can try to be what society wishes and wants, but they can’t do it for very long and certainly not well, an experience many, many young women have. In Stranger Things, we have El, curious about what she looks like in a dress and wig, and clearly admiring of Will’s older sister, who has a perpetual application of fresh Bonne Bell or Kissing Potion on. But we see El rip off the wig after a few scenes in it, knowing she can never be that. And in Buffy, we have Buffy out patrolling in a cemetery with a crossbow in her beloved prom dress, or showing up to the Bronze for one of her first dates with Angel, makeup smeared and grass in her hair.
And finally the article finishes with: “Stranger Things is unwittingly guilty of this mistake, overwhelmingly privileging the happiness, desires, words, and lives of El’s friends over hers.” I see why this is said, but can’t agree. Too much in the show points to the fact that the show’s writers and producers know exactly what they are doing, and to what end. Whether they are successful is for viewers to decide.
Following is the first portion of a paper I wrote for a class called “The Aesthetics of Hunger.” I will post the other sections in coming days. This was a consideration of Betty Draper up through season 5. Seasons 5 & 6 give me reason to want to revisit these ideas, especially as Betty is back to her “fighting weight” (as Tom and Lorenzo put it on their blog), and Sally is more strongly exhibiting characteristics that are often found in people with eating disorders.
“As a feminist protest, the obsession with slenderness is hopelessly counterproductive.” – Susan Bordo
Betty Draper. What a villain, right? Everyone loves to hate Betty… the cold mothering, the simmering rage, always ruining the fun. She’s so troublesome and needy, but why? In early seasons she has a maid who cares for the children and cleans the home. She doesn’t have to work. She is beautiful, her husband is wealthy, and she lives in his beautiful house (which he reminds her of). So why can’t she just shut up and be nice already?
Compared to good-time-gal Joan on Mad Men, who knows exactly where, and what, her sex appeal will get her and how to keep the rampant misogyny to a manageable tone (well, sort of), and tomboy Peggy who can hit from the whiskey bottle shot for shot with the fellas, Betty’s such a drag. But it takes a commitment to selective memory to maintain this popular stance. Early on Joan is driven to achieve marriage to a successful man, “viewed as a way out, the key to an enviable existence” (Newman, 103). Joan’s goal is to achieve what Betty has by finding, and entering a gilded cage as it were, and she is willing to pursue it so far as to marry a man that rapes her.
Similarly, Peggy is often praised for being driven, fearless, and masculine in her pursuit for success. But while Betty is disparaged for being a distant and cold mother, Peggy has given her only child up to her sister and plays virtually no role in his life. Not only is there a double standard for the women depicted on Mad Men, there is a double standard by viewers towards Betty.
A Google search result for “Hate Betty Draper” returns an avalanche of bizarrely fierce vitriol aimed at the character, most of it authored by women. A similar search for “Hate Don Draper,” is far less dramatic. Dislike of his lying and misogyny only sometimes pops up; mostly the results are about how he would likely disdain modern advertising or how a viewer wants the “old Don” back, versus the new, more balanced one being seen in season 5.
Why do women particularly hate Betty? And why, when Betty gained weight in season 5, have viewers relished in it, devoting hundreds if not thousands of tumblr pages, memes, and forum posts to her weight gain, especially since Betty has gone for 4 seasons being a functioning Anorexic?
The search term “Betty Draper anorexic,” results in very little, just a few forum posts calling her mildly anorexic and wondering if the show is hinting at her having an eating disorder. But even passing attention to the construct of her character yields a fairly shocking portrayal of a woman with severely disordered eating who is consuming herself from the inside, in an attempt to digest her feelings of rage, unfulfillment, isolation, and loneliness. One online commenter states, “According to Tumblr, now that Betty (Draper) Francis has gained weight she is no longer a valid or interesting character. It turns out fans were only willing to tolerate her when she was mildly anorexic. Nice.”
The public dislike for Betty as a character elucidates the ongoing impossible standard for women in our culture, one often perpetuated by women towards other women. It also outlines the discomfort women experience when looking at the history of gender dynamics. While women like to think they would be a marginally empowered Joan or androgynous, power-seeking Peggy, by numbers the vast majority of women were having Betty’s experience: living in some sort of version of the gilded cage as well, raised by their family to simply get married. While women today believe they are standing on the shoulders of the Joan and Peggy-types of previous generations, it can’t be ignored that both feet are equally, firmly planted on the hem of Betty’s shirtwaist dress. What viewers are hating when they hate Betty Draper is rarely extended to the rest of the characters when they make similar choices, and is a painful reminder of women’s issues, past and present.
1. Newman, Stephanie. Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of the Men and Women of the Hit Tv Show. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2012. Print.
2. honeytallsocks. “Betty Draper | Tumblr.” Betty Draper | Tumblr. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2012. .
I am fortunate, compared to so many that have fallen deeply down into Buffyverse post original airing, that I mostly watched the series as it unfolded. I had a friend during undergrad in the late 90’s who was very important to me. His mother had MS and was bed-ridden. He insisted I sit down, join in their weekly ritual, and watch Buffy on Tuesday nights with himself and his mother. I had seen one episode prior, S2E4’s “Inca Mummy Girl,” which I have talked about before here. It didn’t stick, and if you watch it now and out of context, you can see why.
Thus, the first episode I saw on original air date aside from “Inca Mummy Girl,” was S3E8’s “Lover’s Walk.” And in the scope of Buffyverse, it’s a huge episode. Spike returns to Sunnydale and kidnaps Willow, Xander and Willow’s affair is found out by a shattered Oz and Cordelia, Buffy, Spike, and Angel all fight together forecasting things to come, and Cordy (very shockingly) gets impaled. Needless to say I was addicted, and saw every episode in real time from then on.
To that end, I have personal context in my own life for Buffy. I generally know what was happening in my life “when.” As in, the experience of Buffy somewhat framed my life for that period of time… when I graduated, when I got married to my first husband (and subsequently got divorced, not long after Angel left Sunnydale), when I started working in wine (Buffy started college), when I had certain love affairs, when I moved into apartments that would become important to my history, when my Dad died (“Into the Woods”), when I, when I, when I…
This of course gives Buffy a deep level of resonance for me, but the nostalgia is not what keeps me fascinated or returning to it. At all. The work itself continues to gain credibility as time passes. Buffy not only stands up in all schools of critical theory, it reveals new commentary pertaining to those schools regularly, in a way that few works of art, and especially few TV shows, have been able to. In a very real way the craftsmanship and depth written into Buffy paved the path for shows like, The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. Until that time, psychologically aging characters had only been half-heartedly accomplished among any TV series. And no show has so successfully used heavy plot-metaphor and myth to boldly elucidate the universal pains of maturation and living.
As I sit here, ten years since the last episode, newly graduated with an MFA, miscarrying my third pregnancy in a year, watching the Stanley Cup playoffs (go Pens), and listening to my husband outside mowing the lawn — the doors thrown open and early summer air clouding in, Buffy feels more relevant than ever. I think of things like: the quality of light that meets Buffy’s traumatized expression when she opens the back door in, “The Body” (those windchimes and the sounds of her neighborhood). Or the way the wooden box holding the syringe hits the wall to the right above Giles’ head in “Helpless”…
What Joss Whedon understands better than anyone else working in TV (and arguably film) and what he portrays, is what’s most important in our experiences: the moments in between; in between finding the body and the arrival of the EMTs. The moment before having to ruthlessly end a friendship (Faith), or maturely and painfully realizing that life has a greater purpose than hedonism (Angel and Buffy and Buffy and Spike). The decisions that are made because we *let* the head or heart win out, and alternately the blinding fear that accompanies trusting our instincts and parenting ourselves.
Whedon’s characters fail time and again in their execution of most decisons, especially where relationships and their own best interests are concerned. They doubt themselves and let their desires win, or worse, let their wishes guide their actions; wishing things were different than they really are and acting as if that were true until they can no longer lie to themselves.
Ten years ago it was Tuesday, of course. And when the final episode of Buffy ended (“Chosen”), Angel started; the season finale for Angel season 3 “Tomorrow,” where Cordelia is whisked into a divine region and Angel is dropped to the bottom of the ocean.
For me, every Tuesday, and indeed nearly every day for many years consisted of a harrowing, humbling, selfish, and indulgent life, of: waking, writing, working, returning home, yoga, dinner, watching movies/Buffy/Angel, and going out dancing. I knew at the time those were rare, valuable days. They were also extremely hard days of working relentlessly on myself, forcing change and growth, developing disciplines, cornering and conquering fears, and generally using all of my time to craft a larger vision of life. And also to begin to heal, and tell my truth. I often think of those years as one huge panic attack, fueled by PTSD and panic/anxiety disorder.
While the skills I sought and gained in that time I did not learn from Buffy, I watched it happen for the characters of Buffy, and during the most personally-productive and alienated years of my life, I really was in the best company and that is: the company of very great art, art which retains and compounds its relevance, and facets more deeply with each passing year.
So this is pretty much how it feels… Thesis: done. Oral Defense: done. You may call me Master.
That about sums it up. Thesis turned in. It was supposed to be around 50 pages; mine was 84. IDK. I tried to cut 10 pages and my advisor wouldn’t let me.
I feel like I cut out an organ and gave it to the world and now it’s out there, being my organ, but roaming around in the world, getting dirty, drinking in slummy bars, wearing bad clothes…. Probably I’m also losing my mind.
How many times have I wondered if Whedon was trying to tell us this was actually the reality…? Often. Keep the cell warm, Buff. I’ll be there very soon.