Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Good God, y'all. I don't want to get into a big political debate over this, but I had to point out something funny about this description:

About 600 people were holed up in the long, concrete tunnel that leads to the Israeli side of the crossing. About 100 people belonged to Fatah security forces, but the rest were civilians, seeking a better life in the West Bank, which is separated from Gaza by Israel.

Isn't it bizarre to say they're fleeing Gaza for a better life in the West Bank? Isn't that admitting that being occupied by Israel is preferable to self-government and independence? Obviously, most of these people are ordinary guys who're caught in the crossfire of a tremendous power vacuum, and I am not unsympathetic to their situation. However, instead of saying these Palestinians are seeking refuge from a tumultuous situation, CNN has worded this in such a way that it sounds like the Palestinians are actively asking the Israels to re-occupy them because it's the only way for them to secure this "better life." If you think about it, it's kind of hilarious.

I enjoy anything which makes CNN look foolish.

Monday, June 18, 2007

הזמנה לחתונה. I seem to have a bad habit of hearing about events well after they've happened; I'm not good with breaking news. I enjoy bands after they've already broken up, and I have no idea how to work an RSS feed.

If you're like me and you missed it, you should check out last week's outstanding exploration of American Mass Wedding Hysteria in Slate. Dear Prudence's take on acquired situational narcissism and this article discussing film's fiancee-as-castration motif are particularly trenchant.

Even though I feel I am too young to confront this situation, I know a fair number of people my age who have already tied the knot. I have heard it all, and the suggestions they read on The Knot for choosing bride's maid gifts and usher boutonnieres left me feeling mostly insane. Isn't the whole point of getting married to, you know, get married? People act like the goal is the wedding. As Meghan O'Rourke points out, "Today's marriage ceremony is indeed a statement of love: the love of buying things, and, more particularly, buying things that have been personalized to express one's taste and, so the industry tells us, the essence of who one is....The wedding becomes an exercise in magical thinking: If my teeth are white and my linens match my napkins, he and I will stay in love forever." Well, considering how high the divorce rate is, maybe it's more important to have some photos where you look fantastic than to actually count on the marriage itself working out. I mean, if you're going to have to argue over who gets the gravy boat eventually, you might as well register for the most expensive one out there, right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

She's a maniac, that's for sure. When I heard about Nathaniel R's Action Heroine Blog-a-thon, the first thing that popped into my head was Kim Basinger in Batman. Batman irritated the hell out of me because Kim Basinger spent the entire film screaming her head off. For a photo-journalist, a profession which requires a certain level of moxie, she certainly couldn't handle the criminal underbelly she was so desperately trying to chronicle. Except for Catwoman, you could argue that no Batman heroine has ever been especially daring or self-sufficient, but at least Katie Holmes saved that little boy from the psycho-gas. Look at Kim in this promo picture; she look like she's thinking, "Don't ask me, I'm just a girl!" So much for being a heroine.

I had a very long post planned about how all action heroines are, in essence, Kim Basinger in Batman. I was of the opinion that Hollywood cannot in good conscience create an action film heroine completely divorced from traditional sex roles. It's just too threatening. As a result, almost every action heroine has a characteristic that specifically identifies them as feminine and, consequently, non-threatening. Lara Croft had the gigantic breasts and skin-tight outfits so that, even though she was cold and crafty, she was still basically a sex symbol. The Charlie's Angels agents may have been slick kung fu artists, but at the end of the day they sat around in bikinis painting their toenails and gossiping about boys. Traditional gender roles even play into the motivations of the remarkably non-traditional heroine The Bride as she seeks revenge over the death of her child.

I thought that, no matter how many guns they wield or men they kill, action heroines are fundamentally feminine. Even the action heroines I liked were still imbued with gendered markers absent in their male counterparts. Selene has the pleather unitard and a lovey-dovey subplot. Leeloo wears the decidedly-awesome yet still-skimpy bandage dress and can't save the world without the love of a good man. Strong-willed and brave Princess Leia is quite bouncy running around the Death Star in A New Hope because Carrie Fisher was not allowed to wear a bra during filming. Even my favorite action heroine Trinity, who I adore mostly because of this, has the requisite skin-tight catsuit and the my-man-is-my-destiny motivation.

I'm not necessarily advocating that action heroines be portrayed as cold-blooded psychopathic killers, but why do they always have to be so darn gendered? The typical action hero doesn't need a clear-cut motivation to be accepted as strong, brave or heroic, and no one seems to have a problem with that. I mean, Batman's motivations were kind of sketchy: He was fighting for redemption, right? Or was he seeking revenge for the death of his parents? Or was he after justice? Or did he simply suffer from rich man's guilt? No one seems to question whether James Bond deserved to be designated a hero, and what was his motivation? Preservation of freedom? Securing the safety of the British people? Sleeping with lots of hot babes? Hollywood doesn't need to saddle action heroes with weighty back stories which explain why they should be admired, yet their female counterparts require considerable explanation or lots of cleavage. Why do Lara Croft, Selene, Leeloo and Trinity--all of whom are fighting for decidedly noble causes--need to run around in those skintight outfits?

However, a friend read the above rant and proceeded to prove me wrong. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Angelina Jolie, of all people, in Mr. and Mrs. Smith proved to be the heroine for whom I have always wished. Her character is a professional, ambitious, fearless assassin who leads an all-female team, while her male counterpart Brad Pitt has the always-bumbling Vince Vaughn and that grandma-secretary. Her operation is more professional and state-of-the-art than Brad Pitt's, and she is consistently shown to be smarter, faster, and all-around better than her husband. The best example of this is the scene in the minivan where Angelina has taken over driving duties while Brad hesitates in taking the shot that will eliminate the henchmen they are trying to escape. Tired of his lack of confidence, Angelina whirls the minivan around and finishes the job herself while Brad looks on in amazement. Let's see Kim Basinger do something like that!

Mrs. Smith is just as slick, crafty and strong as any James Bond-type hero, and she does not have a well-developed back story--or any back story whatsoever--to justify her profession. Furthermore, she is thankfully free of skin-tight catsuits (except for one scene where she must dress up as a dominatrix to infiltrate a secure area). The only distinctively-feminine touch is that she fights most of her battles wearing diamond earrings, but that's more for the sake of character-consistency than to dumb her down or soften her image.

So there you have it. There is a new type of heroine afoot, one whose strength does not need to be justified or curtailed by increasing her femininity or squeezing her cleavage. Here is a heroine that would probably shake Kim Basinger and tell her to get a hold of herself. A Jennifer Bond, if you will. I am heartily impressed.