Posts Tagged ‘feminist’

Penelope: A Nose by Any Other Name

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 by

I’m tickled pink (pun so intended!) to present POP!’s very first guest post, a vegan-feminist look at the 2006 romantic comedy Penelope from Shannon Davis, aka Vegan Burnout. Based on a Marilyn Kaye novel of the same name, the film stars a (be-snouted) Christina Ricci as the titular Penelope, a young woman seemingly born into wealth and privilege – save for her “unfortunate” porcine nose. Would it trouble the reader to know that, as a child, I longed for a cat tail, à la Catra? Beauty conventions and species boundaries, who needs ’em!? – Kelly G.
 

Cover artwork for the novel PENELOPE

Caution: Spoilers ahead!

Sexism and speciesism go together like, well, movies and popcorn. Carol J. Adams wrote the book on this nasty little tag-team, and I for one am a smarter consumer of pop culture for it. I also love movies and popcorn, so imagine my surprise when, one snowy afternoon, I watched Penelope and found my vegan-feminist Spidey Sense a-tingle.

Penelope stars Christina Ricci as an otherwise gorgeous girl born with a pig’s nose as the result of an old family curse. (Women! pigs! obvious! parallel!) The curse, of course, can only be broken by the love of “one of her own kind”—unanimously interpreted to mean that of another aristocrat. Already, we have all the elements of a fairy tale—the perfect lens for examining cultural notions of beauty and self-love.

Penelope’s parents are a study in contrasts: her father, Franklin (Richard E. Grant), guiltily accepts responsibility for Penelope’s “disfigurement,” as his side of the family bears the curse; her mother, Jessica (Catherine O’Hara), is so terrified of what people will say that she fakes baby Penelope’s death to deter snooping reporters. She is so obsessed by her daughter’s nose that she bans anything pig-related, scolding Jake the butler when he plays “This Little Piggy” with the baby’s toes and forbidding her husband to eat bacon. Any notion of her daughter as animal is anathema to her—we’re meant to understand that she means well, but her fixation reveals far more about her than it does about Penelope.

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Sweeney Todd, a Caged Bird and the Devil’s Wife

Thursday, January 28th, 2010 by

Sweeney Todd movie poster 07

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Caution: spoilers ahead!

Normally, I’m not one for musicals (Little Shop of Horrors and Grease notwithstanding!). That said, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street struck my fancy right away. Now, I could attribute this to the film’s macabre, Gothic Victorian setting, or to the dynamic star/director duo of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton; and, while these are both ginormous positives, I’d be lying if I said that either of these is what compelled me to dabble in a genre I tend to pass up. Nope, as much as I love a Goth Depp/Burton vehicle, Sweeney Todd reeled this vegan misanthrope in with promises of cannibalism. Cannibalism is the shit.

Sweeney Todd opens with the titular character’s arrival in London. “Return to London,” actually: in a former life, Sweeney Todd was one Benjamin Barker (also a barber). But we’ll get to Barker’s story in a moment.

We first meet Sweeney Todd as he and a young sailor dock in a London port. Whereas Todd’s traveling companion, Anthony, marvels at the beauty of London, Sweeney will have none of it. His gloomy, sullen mood sets the tone for the rest of the film: shades of black, gray and blue, colored only by the red crimson of blood spilt.

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Stephen’s Sound Advice: “Invest in Gold, Women and Sheep.” Also: A wet pork contest!

Sunday, December 20th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Oh, how the writers at The Colbert Report continue to warm my heathen vegan feminist cockles! (Dear mystery vegetarian/vegan on Stephen’s staff: Call me, mkay?)

Tuesday’s episode of The Colbert Report featured this hilarious send-up of Glenn Beck & Co.’s recent gold investment advertising-slash-infomercial media blitz. While the entire six-minute segment is amusing, gold obviously isn’t our primary focus here; no, the trenchant-as-hell bit starts at 4:15:
 

 
For those who aren’t card-carrying members of The Colbert Nation, allow me to set the bit up for you. “Prescott Financial” is a spinoff of “Prescott Pharmaceuticals,” a spoof company that “sponsors” a long-running segment on TCR, “Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen Colbert, DFA.” In “Cheating Death,” Stephen reports on actual medical stories, which are then used to promote medical breakthrough products offered by Prescott Pharmaceuticals. Ridiculously fake medical breakthrough products, with equally ridiculous and fake side effects, that is.

Likewise, in this fake ad from Prescott Financial, spokesperson John Slattery recommends investing in gold as a safeguard against the coming apocalypse. While gold’s appeal may be “elemental” (A! U!), even this most precious metal’s value is limited. For example, you can’t eat gold. Thus, Slattery recommends rounding out your portfolio with women and sheep as well as gold doubloons and bricks.

Here’s a transcript of the “commercial,” for those who can’t view the video. (But if you can, you must!)

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Parks & Recreation: Because no camel is complete without an attractive lady with a hamburger for a head.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Caution: Minor spoilers after the jump!

As y’all have probably surmised, I watch no small amount of television. (More than I should, one might argue.) In particular, I’m always on the lookout for shows with progressive, pro-animal, pro-woman, pro-GLBTQ (etc.) themes – and Parks and Recreation is fast becoming one of my all-time favorites.

Like Bitch’s Kelsey Wallace, I’m tickled (not-pink!) by the feminist turn the show’s taken in Season 2. Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is looking less and less like a womanly Michael Scott (read: a racist, sexist douchebag with a dwindling pool of redeeming qualities) and more like a goofy, less intellectually endowed version of Hillary Clinton. The walls of Ms. Knope’s office are decorated with framed snapshots of woman politicians (Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Madeline Albright – hey, what are political parties against the bond of sisterhood?); when judging a beauty pageant, she weighted the contestant’s brains above all else; and her accidental marriage of two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo (I know, zoos, ugh!) scored her a gig as a guest DJ at the local gay club (though the penguins were sadly split up at episode’s end).

Season 2’s episode 9, “The Camel” – which aired the Thursday before last – was especially awesome. I’ve embedded the entire episode below, but the most awesomest of the awesomeness is all of 30 seconds long. Since the video will only be available on Hulu for a limited time, I’ve also taken screenshots so you latecomers can follow along.

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Green Porno 3.0: Compassion is sexy!

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

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Back in June, I raved about Green Porno, a subversive (and delightfully cheesy!) documentary series starring Isabella Rossellini (whom I’ve had a massive girl-crush on ever since her turn as Katya Derevko in Alias). Green Porno examines the sex lives of nonhuman animals – which, oftentimes, are far from “conventional.” To this end, the show has great potential to change how humans view “others”: women, homosexuals, transgendered persons, gender nonconformists – and even nonhuman animals.

To this, I’d like to add that, in addition to their anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-anti-sex thrust (pun most definitely intended), these shows are anti-speciesist as well.

While [the] disavowal of animal homosexuality and sexual variety serves to justify and reinforce “isms” directed at humans (homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, etc.), it at also functions at another level. In denying non-human animals the full range of their behavioral, emotional and sexual expression, we rob them of their complexity, their personality – for lack of a better term, their humanity.

Like us, non-human animals can be complicated creatures, driven by a range of goals and desires. Animals, humans included, aren’t just about reproduction; our sole purpose in life isn’t simply to spread our DNA and produce as much offspring as possible. Sometimes we have sex, mate and form bonds because it’s fulfilling in other ways. Nor do we only nurture and protect our own genetic material: sometimes we act with altruism and compassion rather than selfishness and narcissism.

By insisting that animals only copulate in order to introduce sperm to egg, we simplify trillions of sentient beings, taking from them characteristics which make them seem that much more human.

Ironically, in so doing, we also reduce the human species to a caricature, a boring, two-dimensional model which scarcely resembles h. spaiens, in all its diverse, eccentric, animalistic magnificence.

Watching animal sex play out amidst kindergarten construction paper cutouts and human-sized bodysuits, the viewer (hopefully) comes to see nonhumans as the unique individuals they really are. When one ceases to regard a group of beings as a single, undifferentiated mass of “stuff,” othering them – based on species, sex, sexuality, race, breed or whatnot – becomes a difficult, twisted task indeed.

Season 1 focused on bugs (spiders, flies, earthworms), Season 2 on ocean dwellers (barnacles, whales, starfish). Both Wiki and I had thought Season 3 would shift focus to farmed animals such as pigs and cows, but it looks Season 3 will continue to examine marine animals. In a subtle shift from Season 2, however, Rossellini’s attention turns to ocean dwellers whom we commonly kill and eat (and oftentimes “farm” as well).

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Why this vegan feminist is red hot for Green Porno.

Saturday, June 6th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

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I’ve heard mention of Isabella Rossellini’s latest project, Green Porno, here and there – ecorazzi, The Colbert Report, CNN even – but never bothered to follow up, seeing as I don’t get the Sundance Channel and all. But an article in Bitch magazine’s Spring ’09 issue (No. 43, appropriately titled “the buzz issue”) made me take a second look.

In “Wings of Desire: Bug sex as a gender revolution,” Katura Reynolds examines the subversive nature of Green Porno (as well as British evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson’s alter ego, Dr. Tatiana): by depicting (non-human) animal sex in all its kinky, decidedly non-vanilla glory, these projects challenge our traditional views of what “natural” sexuality and gender expression look like in the animal kingdom.

“Bug sex” is so much more then heterosexual, missionary style pairings: bugs may be male, female, or hermaphrodites; heterosexual, homosexual or asexual; reproduce through sexual activity, parthenogenesis, or an alternative combination thereof; etc. (Some, like the preying mantis, even engage in sexual cannibalism, consuming their partners during coitus.) The same holds true for many animal species, humans included; for example, in his 1999 book, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (which I highly recommend, by the way), Bruce Bagemihl reviewed existing evidence which points to observed homosexual behavior in nearly 1500 animal species.

Green Porno, which is currently in its second season and airs on the Sundance Channel Tuesdays at 9 PM ET, is a bit cheesier and cheekier than its British cousin, – which is so raunchy that it’s not even available on Region 1 DVDs, let alone running on U.S. television. (You can, however, view a few clips of the show on You Tube.)

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Writes Reynolds,

The eight short films in [season 1 of] Green Porno were written by Rossellini and codirected with Jody Shapiro. They feature Rossellini acting out the sex lives of flies, praying mantises, earthworms, dragonflies, gees, fireflies, snails and spiders. The films are simultaneously hilarious, scientifically accurate, unrepentantly corny, compellingly sexy, and completely bizarre. […]

Rossellini strives for a simple, childlike atmosphere in the films. She starts each in a bodysuit, saying, “If I were a [type of bug],” and then her costumes gradually build as the film progresses: extra arms, compound eyes, snail shells, you name it. The props and supporting characters are made from giant cut-paper sculptures, like she’s wandered into a kindergarten classroom plastered in giant paper flowers.

The schoolroom setting is chosen very deliberately – it’s a foil for overtly sexual content. Rossellini gets it on with huge paper models of flies, mantises, and bees; she gasps and moans in orgasmic ecstasy as a firefly and a snail; she runs around waving hands covered in paper cutouts of sperm as a spider. As stated in the press release, “If human, these acts would not be allowed to air on television. [Indeed, Dr. Tatiana’s human reenactments and live non-human animal footage is not.] They would be considered filthy and obscene.” But the silly costumes and absurd props distract audiences from the flagrantly, graphically sexual content. Comedy often serves as a harbor for the unspeakable. By laughing at the silliness of it all, we can disarm the taboo.

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From animal liberator to animal hunter: Life and death in the Dollhouse.

Friday, April 10th, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

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Caution: Spoilers ahead! (More specifically, after the blockquote.)

Firstly, I’m extremely happy to report that, as promised by Ms. Dushku, Dollhouse has improved by leaps and bounds since last I blogged about it. Not only have we gotten to know Echo – our hero – a bit better, but more importantly, the show has addressed “the consent issue” head-on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s a brief summary via Wiki:

Eliza Dushku plays a young woman called Echo, a member of a group of people known as “Actives” or “Dolls”. The Dolls have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas, including memory, muscle memory, skills, and language, for different assignments (referred to as engagements). The new persona is not an original creation, however, but an amalgam of different, existing personalities. The end result incorporates some of the flaws, not just the strengths, of the people used as templates. The Actives are then hired out for particular jobs – crimes, fantasies, and the occasional good deed. On engagements, Actives are monitored internally (and remotely) by Handlers. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed “The Dollhouse”. The story follows Echo, who begins, in her mind-wiped state, to become self-aware.

As I noted before, the Dolls’ lack of agency in both their “wiped” and “programmed” states makes it impossible for them to give meaningful consent – for any of their actions, including sexual relations. When a doll “has sex,” she (or he) is actually being raped. Usually the rapist knows full well that he (or she) is “having sex” with a programmable “doll” – so it’s rape with intent. Occasionally, however, the “doll” is sent on a covert/undercover mission – for example, to seduce a certain FBI agent – and sex becomes a tool she (or he) uses to that end. Such cases still constitute rape, but…well, it’s hard to say who the rapist is when the “doll’s” partner believes that the encounter is consensual. The Rossum Corporation, perhaps?

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Hunting “Tail” on Dollhouse

Monday, March 2nd, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

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Caution: Major spoiler warning below the jump!

I’ve been a Joss Whedon fan since his Firefly days, so when I heard that he was working on a new project, Dollhouse, I immediately got all giddy like a schoolgirl. That is, until I hear that Eliza Dushku would be starring. Ugh.

Even before the hunting flap, I disliked Dushku. Perhaps it’s because she came off like an entitled snot in a very early episode of Punk’d; even before she was faux “arrested” for “shoplifting” in a local retail boutique, she copped a huge ‘tude over all the free swag she was obviously owed for being a celebrity. That, and Tru Calling looked absolutely dreadful. Well, and I’m also weird like that; Dushku isn’t the only celebrity I have an irrational, knee-jerk dislike for. Take Ben Affleck, for example: clearly, he’s a funny, charming, altruistic guy, but there’s just something about him that I want to hate. He’s smarmy, but not. Did I also mention that I have a crazy aversion to feet? So maybe it’s just me, after all.

Anyway, the aforementioned hunting flap gave me a reason to dislike her – a good one, actually. In an August appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Show, Dushku discussed her love of hunting – you know, that sadistic leisure activity which involves murdering innocent animals for “fun”:

Here’s the gist of the interview (via ecorazzi), in case you don’t want to sit through the whole video:

A couple night ago on Jimmy Kimmel Live Dushku revealed that she loves to hunt elk and deer. Not only did she brag about it, but she also showed off her bow and arrow skills and boasted about killing a deer in Oklahoma last Christmas. WTF, Eliza? Why are you such a jerk?

Even the studio audience turned on Dushku forcing her to joke, “My mother called me herself and said, ‘You’re a liberal from New England, what the ‘f’ are you doing in Oklahoma shooting things.” Backpeddling later she said, “When you’re in a relationship with somebody you have to, like, experience things that they do. A lot of people eat meat… and I eat what I kill.”

Dushku’s hunting isn’t so much the point, though, as it is a set-up for the rest of this post. Despite my ambivalence, I started watching Dollhouse on my DVR last week. It’s alright, certainly no Firefly, but also not the complete stinker I was afraid it’d be. The second episode, “The Target,” is of particular interest from an animal rights standpoint.

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