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We are one week away from the very first major motion picture starring Wonder Woman. It "only" took 75 years to get her up there...

Why?

Wonder Woman, despite her status as the world's most famous superheroine, has always been a complicated bundle of contradictions to unpack. She was created by psychologist William Moulton Marston in 1941 as an antidote to the testosterone-fueled antics of Superman and Batman, who (some critics said) were a little too close to the fascistic ubermenschen we were fighting at the time.

Marston, in a sense, had been building up to Wonder Woman his entire life. He was a remarkable character on his own: as a researcher, he spearheaded the theory that you could tell if a person was lying by monitoring changes in physiological responses--yes, the basic principle of the lie detector.

As an undergraduate at Harvard in the early 1900s, Marston immersed himself in the myriad aspects of American feminism: the political writings of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margaret Sanger, the all-female sci-fi utopias of authors like Charlotte Perkins Gilman ("HerLand"), and the growing power of the suffragette movement, which would culminate in 1920 with women earning the right to vote.

Marston firmly believed that women, in many ways, were the superior sex, and it was only male repression that kept them in chains. Chains and bondage, in fact, were a major theme in Marston's writing--and his personal life.

It is not widely known that Marston was a polygamist, living with both a wife and a mistress (two children with each) in a blended household that was (apparently) a happy environment for all. (Olive Byrne, Marston's mistress, was the niece of Margaret Sanger herself.) And if you've ever idly wondered if Wonder Woman's golden lasso of truth was some kind of kinky bondage toy, let me put your mind at rest--it absolutely was a kinky bondage toy.

I could go on and on here, but if you want to know more, just read Jill Lepore's "The Secret History of Wonder Woman" -- a fascinating study of Marston and his creation, and a sort of odd-angle history of American feminism.

*********

Marston took a mandate from publisher M.C. Gaines and filled the character of Wonder Woman with every personal theory about the superiority of women (and his personal psychosexual kinks) that he could squeeze into a kid's comic book. But when Marston died in 1947, his idiosyncratic feminist vision died with him. The character drifted, her message of empowerment lost in the sexism of the comics industry.

(In the 1970s, DC tried to "update" Diana by stripping her of her powers, putting her in a white pant suit, and having her learn kung fu from a wizened Chinese martial arts master. Did not go over well. Writer Denny O'Neil--a former teacher of mine!--pretty much admitted, "Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking there.")

The Wonder Woman TV series of the late 1970s boosted WW's profile considerably--but it also embodied the contradictions inherent in the character. On the one hand, the stupid plots and the general campiness of the series worked against taking her seriously as a superhero...

But on the other hand, Lynda Carter just plain embodied the part. No matter how dumb the writing, no matter if the costume looked kind of ridiculous, Carter projected dignity, compassion, and strength. (And if you tuned into this week's Supergirl, Lynda Carter is still a beautiful woman projecting dignity, compassion, and strength as the President of the United States.)

This has been the problem all along: Wonder Woman was created to be a feminist icon, but she was created by a man who reflected decades of feminist theory through his own peculiar lens. And when her creator died, she was handed over to men who had no clue about the ideals that were part of her creation in the first place. Before now, Wonder Woman hasn't had the opportunity to truly fulfill her seemingly limitless potential as an inspiration to both men and women.

But maybe that's changing. WW's 75th anniversary last year produced some excellent, thought-provoking comics (printed and on the web); she's on TV as part of the Justice League Action cartoon; and on June 2, Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins look like they're ready to kick ass and take names.

**************

I want the movie to be great. I almost need it to be great. The big protest march aside, this has been an awful year for women around the world. Women's rights are under assault, and they're in danger of being rolled back to a frightening degree. I see fear in certain men--fear of women's dreams, women's desires, women's power, fear manifesting in repression, hatred... violence.

I know a movie isn't going to change anything in the real world; but symbolically, Diana needs to leave Paradise and come to Man's World to show us all what a powerful woman can do.
cjlasky7: (Default)
What is Fargo?

Is it a crime drama? A character study? A philosophical musing on the absurdity of existence? Or just the audience laughing at a bunch of funny-sounding white people wandering around in the snow?

Maybe all of these things. But after carefully considering categorizations, I'm absolutely sure what Fargo isn't: noir.

Noir operates in the shadows, a realm of corruption and amorality apart from the light of ordinary society. A noir protagonist (not usually a "hero") might have a personal moral code, but he's often fatally compromised by this environment and has to struggle even to survive. "Winning" is probably not on the table; "virtue triumphant" is something for fairy tales.

But that's not Fargo. Yes, there's all kinds of evil and brutality and killing going on, dontcha know, but Fargo has real heroes, men and women who are honor-bound to stop the madness, protect the innocent and safeguard the community: Marge Gunderson in the movie; Molly Solverson in S1; Lou Solverson and Hank Larsson in S2. (Haven't started S3 yet. Gimme a week, I'll catch up.)

Now, whether these heroes are effective at stopping the madness is another story.

Even though the world of Fargo does have clear moral and ethical boundaries, our heroes are often caught in a maelstrom of tragic events triggered by human greed, sadism or weakness, misunderstandings, and just plain freak random occurrences that swirl together into a shitstorm of death and destruction. Try as they might to stop the carnage of the war between the Gerhardts and the Kansas City mob--and they tried their damnedest--Lou and Hank, for the most part, could only watch as the bodies of mobsters and innocents alike piled up around the Midwest.

(Lou and Hank thought they left the chaos behind in the jungles of the Pacific and Southeast Asia--but eventually, it followed them home to stain the pristine beauty of their community. The iconic image of blood on virgin snow is disturbing and powerful, another way the setting works to the series' benefit.)

One of the most engrossing parts of Fargo S2 was watching Hank and Lou struggle against the chaos, knowing they were helpless, but pushing forward out of a sense of duty and common decency--pushing that rock up the hill no matter how futile it might seem. (After awhile, you forgot about "stopping the bad guys"--you just wanted them to get out alive and get home to Betsy.)

The myth of Sisyphus and Albert Camus were name checked often in S2, and Camus' existentialism is at the heart of the philosophical dilemmas in Fargo. If there is no God (or if his designs are unknowable), no higher order, if everything you know can be snatched away in an instant, then what is the point of life?

You can look at the Solverson/Larsson clan together and smile and say, "Well, there it is right there." But "family" and "love" and a "sense of purpose" don't always work either:

The Gerhardts were about as tight-knit a family as you can get, but they were a toxic stew of pride, greed and sadism, and they were rotting from the inside. (Simone said it best before she died: "This family belongs in the ground.")

Ed Blomquist did everything for Peggy, even after his personal dreams went up in smoke--but in the end, he knew that his marriage was just another dream that never really came true.

Mike Milligan was probably the one man in the series who enjoyed his work and did it with style--and he was rewarded with a cubicle designed to kill his spirit.

There are no easy answers. We are insignificant beings in a vast universe (watch the skies!), struggling to understand our lives with our limited words and ideas. Peggy, drowning herself and everyone around her in psychobabble, trying to describe needs and desires that she cannot adequately define or express; Hank, Minnesota's answer to Ludwig Wittgenstein(!), assembling a representational language that bypasses the verbal centers entirely; and Betsy, staring at the pill on her table...

Is it the real pill? Or just a representation of the pill? We never really know, do we?

****************

This was an outstanding season of television. Great acting all around, especially from Kirsten Dunst, who somehow made Peggy both exasperating and sympathetic at the same time.

(Favorite moment of the season: Peggy rambling on to Hank about self actualization, and Ted Danson starts to lean over, his mouth opening wider and wider in amazement, until Hank finally blurts out: "You're a little touched, aren't ya?")

I could have watched an entire miniseries centered around Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart).

That said, not everything worked. I don't think we needed that much Ronald Reagan (even though I'm always glad to see Bruce Campbell). Yes, Reagan won the White House a year later, but his connection to the season's themes was tangential at best. I couldn't quite buy that the Blomquists made it to the last episode intact, especially after Dodd escaped, and I thought the Peggy/Dodd comedy routine diluted Dodd's psycho-ness.

I found Hanzee (as a character) to be... problematic.

But those were minor complaints. With this and Legion, Noah Hawley is on a major winning streak.

On to season 3!
cjlasky7: (Default)
How well do you know me?

Here are nine concerts I've attended and one I wish I did. Which one is the fake?

1. Sarah Vaughan at the Blue Note
2. Allan Ginsburg (singing William Blake's "Songs of Innocence") at Brooklyn College
3. The Who at Shea Stadium
4. George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic at Central Park
5. Frank Zappa at Pier 84
6. Aretha Franklin at the Beacon Theater
7. The Neville Brothers at Tiptina's
8. Al Green at B.B. King's
9. David Bowie at MSG
10. Sonny Rollins at Damrosch Park
cjlasky7: (Default)
I.

My mother will be 89 years old in July. My father passed away about ten years ago and her best friend died a few years after that. My sister and I visit and call (not often enough), she goes out to see her grandchildren, and she talks to her family in Germany...

But, for the most part, she's alone.

Recently, I've noticed that my conversations with my mother revolve around her childhood in Bavaria, with a great deal more detail than I've heard in previous stories. (I know what you're thinking; but mentally, she's still sharp as glass. She isn't blanking on the present and
sinking into reveries about the past.)

It's as if the time alone has given her the chance to reflect on the people and events that shaped her life. It's always enthralling to hear stories about my grandfather, his family and their influence in the region--but it's also sad; because, as my mother says, that world is gone now. After Hitler, after the war, they had to build it back up from scratch. What would it have been like to grow up in that world--between the wars and before the Reich?

II.

Fritz Lang's "M" is (at least) a partial window into that world. Most people know "M" as Peter Lorre's breakthrough performance as the child killer (and for ruining "In the Hall of the Mountain King" for the rest of the century). But the movie is so much greater than that.

"M" is the first movie detailing a police hunt for a seral killer, a procedural thriller decades before CSI, Seven, and the like. It's 1931 in Berlin and there's handwriting analysis, behavioral analysis, conflicting witness reports, and how a massive manhunt affects police shifts, department morale and public perception of the department.

Lang lovingly shows the take from a police raid, scanning across rows and rows of meticulously catalogued cash and weapons; he does the same with the bounty gathered by the city's highly organized beggars--huge stretches of food, money and bricabrac.

Through all these details and many more, he paints a picture of post-Weimar Germany: he shows us the hausfraus, the businessmen, the bootleggers, the whores, the school children and the politicians. We see how the police and the criminal underground work in parallel, with similar organizational structures, and--in the hunt for Lorre's Beckert--even similar goals.

It is a masterpiece of world building, maybe even better than the future he built for "Metropolis."

III.

Even though that world is gone now, I see a lot of Lang's Berlin in our modern city. Lang presents the city's underbelly matter-of-factly, without judgment, even implying that a city needs its dark side as an outlet for human passions that the "light" side can't provide.

But, on the other hand, Lang maintains that the rule of law must hold off the passions of the mob. In the Brechtian mock trial that closes the movie, Lang unequivocally states that even Beckert has rights under the law if he's too sick to stop himself.

Basic human rights, the everyday reminder of everyone's common humanity, are necessary to keep society in balance. Unfortunately, Lang's Germany lost that balance the very next year-- and the world has been constantly forgetting and relearning that painful lesson ever since.
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What's gotten into Steven Moffat?

After five seasons of brain-twisting plotlines filled with temporal loops and paradoxes, DW Season 10 has kicked off in a style that could almost be described as... minimalist.

New companion (hi, Bill!) and she's not a big, cosmic mystery for the Doctor to suss out, she doesn't have a crush on the old bugger (yay!) and Time hasn't edited her family from existence. She's just the Doctor's student, asking all sorts of neat questions about the weirdness of the Doctor's universe, questions any veteran Whovian would love to ask.

Pearl Mackie gives Bill a warm, friendly presence and an appealing curiousity that just makes you smile when she's on screen. She's not a drama queen like Rose, brittle like Amy, LOUD like Donna, moony like Martha, or intense like Clara. She's her own thing, mostly free of baggage. It's refreshing.

The Doctor, too, has stripped down to a simpler lifestyle. Considering Four's declaration at the start of Tom Baker's run that "I am a citizen of the universe!", it's remarkable that he's stayed on Earth and in one spot for so long. What could possibly be in that vault to warrant such a radical curbing of his wanderlust? Who means so much to him that he would keep his promise to stay put for 50 years? (River? Clara? Susan? Mommy? Your guess is as good as mine...)

I like this mystery much better than Moffat's other attempts at a season-long mystery... because it's simple. "What's in the vault?" Boom. Almost none of his previous attempts, all too clever by half (e.g., The Hybrid, The Impossible Girl) have worked out to my satisfaction, but this seems virtually foolproof. (I know: famous last words.)

You'll note that I haven't mentioned the plots of the first two episodes, mainly because there wasn't much plot to speak of. The wafer-thin premises of 10.1 & 10.2 were mainly there to get Bill and the Doctor together and have them exchange highly entertaining banter. (Probable moment of inspiration: Moffat was on his way to the studio one morning and stepped in a puddle. "Eureka! I have my season premier!")

But if the banter stays this witty, and the chemistry between Mackie and Capaldi stays this good, I'm okay with it for now. Moffat can short-circuit our brains later on in the season...
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Well, I've finally done it. I've switched over (completely) to dreamwidth. (I brought my puppet avatar along with me!) If you're one of my old friends from LJ, give me a buzz, so I can "friend" you...

Looking forward to a long and creative run over here...

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