Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Keeping up appearances

I've realized lately that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And that because I'm female, no matter what I write on this blog or say in real life, there will always be someone who'll be more concerned with the way I look than anything else.

We've seen it happen often in the last year or so, since the premiere of the HBO series Girls: star and creator Lena Dunham takes her clothes off onscreen and people are suddenly up in arms that a woman who is not model-pretty would dare to do so. The debate got even noisier after a recent second-season episode in which her character, Hannah, spends a lot of time naked, mostly in the presence of Patrick Wilson, who just happens to be really really ridiculously good-looking. And sexually interested in her. And somehow it was implausible that someone like him would be attracted to someone like her. We get it. She's not very tall, and she's a little chubby and a little pear-shaped, and you probably would never see her in a Victoria's Secret catalogue. But people are acting as if she shouldn't be on TV or something. This is a woman who, in her mid-20s, made a film that caught the attention of HBO to the point that they basically asked her to write a show for them. Young writers are often respected in writers' rooms because they often have fresh and different ideas - that's something I won't deny. But very few series creators and showrunners are both female and in their twenties. That trend is changing, but will continue to change only very slowly. The fact that a woman (or anyone, really) has garnered so much attention for her writing and directing in her mid-twenties is impressive. Now, I know that there are a lot of people out there who can easily point out some problems in Girls' writing, and I won't get into those here. Anyone who criticizes a writer for their writing probably has a reason to make their argument. Anyone who criticizes someone on TV for not looking like George Clooney's arm candy needs to be put in check. It's basically akin to saying that someone should not be playing a sport because they're the wrong nationality. It just doesn't make any sense. The idea that people would publicly express their disdain for someone else's body, and try to find excuses to justify it, disgusts me. Dunham probably grew up surrounded by the same movies and magazines and whatnot that we all did; the ones that informed our opinions of what is beautiful and what isn't. All she's doing is proving that some people took all of that far too seriously and can't stand the thought of seeing something or someone different. So she's expressly pushing their buttons, and somehow they don't realize that. People have a problem with her body? She responds fearlessly, by continuing to do nude scenes, and writing dialogue (for Hannah, as well as other characters) that expresses the fact that people are often unhappy and uncomfortable, and that this is informed by what other people think is "normal."

But people continue to think that a woman's looks are the most important thing about her.

Take this dumbass beer commercial, for example. Molson was smart enough to start airing right around early January, when everyone resolves to lose some weight this year or something, but the advent of a new NHL season means that most people will go back to drinking beer a little more regularly than others. The ad also tried to be a little interesting by not jumping right into the common cliché of throwing as many Barbie-doll girls onscreen as possible (see: cheerleaders screeching their way into a sports bar, because a man told them to.) Instead, it lauds some guy for jogging from his parking space to the pub, where he orders a low-calorie beer and a manly burger. (It's manly because it's red meat, and bacon, and crispy onions, and you eat it with your hands, like a man. Oh and also because an American restaurant literally called it the "Manly Burger.") This, apparently, is called a "guyet." With a G. It, as the voice-over dismissively explains to us, is not some diet. Because diets are for girls, I guess. Because only girls are supposed to obsess over their bodies and make sure they look good enough. Thanks, "guyet," for not only being ridiculously stupid, but also offensive!

Part of the intro to the NBA All-Star Game was a video sequence of a woman talking about what it means to be a baller. But it didn't really feel like she herself was one. It kind of felt like, rather than being dressed up as various types of successful women, she'd been dressed up as the kind of woman attracted by various types of successful men. (That, and the excess of pre-game ceremonies made me feel as though it could have been cut out and no one would have been the wiser, and we all could have started watching a basketball game that much sooner.) Despite the fact that the All-Star skills competition always includes WNBA players, this intro basically perpetuated the idea that a woman's role in professional sports is basically to be pretty.

This is reflected in much of the coverage surrounding Reeva Steenkamp's death. It felt as though her modeling career added a lurid twist to the whole story, which was explained by some outlets as "SUCCESSFUL AND INSPIRATIONAL ATHLETE (shoots and kills) PRETTY BLONDE WOMAN!" Literally, a man whose body can break world records in track killed a woman whose body could sell products. No mention of this man's psyche. Very little mention of this woman's life.
This was also seen by some as some kind of misfortune for Oscar Pistorius that could end up causing a huge blow to his career. Not enough people were shocked that an athlete who had brought so much joy to his spectators was capable of something so awful. I'm not accusing Pistorius of murdering his girlfriend, but I am saying that there was allegedly a history of "domestic disputes," which means that Pistorius may very well have exhibited violent behaviour in the past. I'm also saying that pictures of a woman in a bikini shouldn't be all over the newspapers the day after she's been shot and killed. The fact that she was beautiful is more important than the fact that she is dead. Certain media outlets had the good sense to go beyond this, and actually mentioned the fact that she tried to use her fame for good, and to inspire others to do the same. She spoke out about violence against women, and ended up being a victim of it. Not enough people have taken notice of this, even though it should be a wake-up call. What makes this worse is the fact that both Pistorius and Steenkamp were more successful than Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins, whose story might be similar in a few ways but who received less media coverage. Did this crime actually receive more global attention because the killer was more famous, and because the victim was a white swimsuit model? And yet even after her death, people are publishing shots of her in a bikini? This all makes me question our standards: as men and women, as consumers, as passive.

It's time that our bodies stop being the only thing that measure our worth.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Plus/Minus survived that Flyers game

When I started working on this Plus/Minus, I didn't even know what the Harlem Shake was. It seems like so long ago. Those were the days, man. Those were the days.

+ Bruce Arthur noticed my Twitter bio, in which I refer to myself as "the Bruce Arthur of cat ladies."
+ Blake Geoffrion, for slowly getting back into shape and addressing the media after that nasty head injury.
+ Will Smith, for making the Bell Centre just a little bit fresher.
+ There was a brief bit of footage on the latest 24 CH where a bunch of kids in Washington were asked who they were cheering for, the Caps or the Habs. Obviously, almost all of them excitedly said "Washington!" and showed off their Caps jerseys. Except for one kid. As soon as their excitement died down, he said "No, Canadiens!" I think that kid might be my hero.

+ The last two episodes of Parks and Recreation had me falling off the couch. Such great acting, especially by the boys' club (Adam Scott, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, and Rob Lowe) in a subplot about food poisoning. Also to whichever writer coined the phrase "Fleetwood Mac sex pants."
+ Scandal has been relentlessly suspenseful and soapy since I started watching it a few months ago. It just never stops. Every time I watch it, I can't help but worry about the eventual day when it'll jump the shark, but so far, it just keeps surprising me. 
+ Kelly Clarkson's acceptance speech at the Grammys was one of those rare moments in history that someone genuinely didn't expect to win an award and had to improvise their speech.
+ The NBA All-Star Skills competition is my favourite sporting event of the year. There, I said it. So it gets a Plus, for happening.

- Get well soon, Brendan Gallagher.
- I hate to go for the easiest joke ever, but are NHL officials trying to make the NFL replacement refs look good? The officiating has been so bad lately that Nicolas Cage wants to make a movie about it.
- This Minus laments the fact that Will Smith couldn't get that gadget from Men In Black and make us all forget the last two. Losing to our two greatest rivals, and seeing a win slip away from us in the closing seconds of a game against Buffalo? Please make me forget that.
- I'm not sure what's worse: finding out that there are teeth in Mikhail Grabovski's no-face (and that he's not afraid to use them) or the utter ignorance of some Leafs fans, who are still crying because Brian Gionta got pushed into James Reimer and Reimer fell, but don't seem to think it's a big deal that one of their players bit someone. Are they only offended because they know that Max is indestructible and that the bite did nothing?
- This Minus is for anyone who hoped that Ryan White would get scratched, then watched the Leafs game and wished he wasn't.

- Christina Applegate left Up All Night. So did showrunner Emily Spivey, a few weeks back. And so will I.
- Charles Barkley is upset that there weren't enough stars in this year's slam dunk competition. He's not technically wrong, and maybe his saying so will encourage some of the NBA's bigger names to take part, but all that really matters are the dunks. If some lesser-known players decide that they're not too cool for school, and impress the audience, then what else matters?
- The only thing worse than refusing to be in the dunk contest is probably showing up to All-Star Saturday in a pair of leather sweatpants and a shirt with leather sleeves, LEBRON.

Happy birthday, Michael Jordan!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fresh Prince of Bell Centre

Will Smith was at the Habs game tonight. I wasn't, but if I was, trust me, I would have probably gone searching for him just to tell him how great he is, and then a whole unintelligible ramble explaining the same.

So here are a few of the things that make him great:

(Personally, I prefer the long version, and would probably perform it if asked. When I went to Italy last year and started feeling homesick, I sang it to myself while I got ready for bed and it did what Nutella, the Internet, and cats couldn't do - reminded me of home.)

If I was the Bell Centre DJ, I would definitely bust out all of his hits:

And maybe a Leslie Knope cover, too:

And, just to send the message that it was pretty cool when he made songs for his movies:

If Ryan White was playing in this game, I would have spun this as a tribute to another member of the Smith family:

And then, just for fun:

Love you, Fresh Prince.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Plus/Minus: Can you handle this?

I think it makes more sense for this week's Plus/Minus to be presented in a slightly different order than usual, so please bear with this disorganized mess.

+ I skipped the gym for like a week after I had the stomach flu. Max Pacioretty was playing NHL hockey a week after surgery. (I don't care how minor a laparoscopic appendectomy is. It's still impressive.) Seriously what does Max Pacioretty eat for breakfast, and can I be put on an IV of it?
+ Brandon Prust isn't afraid to drop the gloves when he needs to, sticks up for his linemates, and overall just earns his money. I don't even care that he hasn't gotten his damn hair cut yet.

- Stop taking dumb penalties, Ryan White. I know I usually love everything you do, but make sure you don't get sent to the box for no reason. (That almost sounds like a euphemism. It was not supposed to.)
- Stop trying to mess with everyone, Chris Neil.

+ the Angry Michel Therrien Twitter account. Sure, it's just a disposable parody Twitter account, but we needed it.

- Don't get me wrong, I genuinely enjoy having a coach who takes winning seriously and stuff, but does he have to take everything seriously? He banned the triple-low-five, and then announced that he did so. A good coach should know that his job is done when his team wins a game. He shouldn't try to script what happens afterwards.

+ I really liked that all of the featured vocal talent - Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, and Destiny's Child - was female. Yes, the national anthem has been sung by a female vocalist every year since 2008, but still. They could easily have featured some New Orleans-based talent, rather than New York icon Alicia Keys, but they didn't. (And that's cool, but... what about all that awesome New Orleans tradition?) Only a handful of female singers have headlined the halftime show in the last twenty years, and lots of people said a bunch of rude stuff about Madonna last year, so it would have been an easy choice to just go for a well-established band made up of dudes. But they went with Beyonce, who might be the hardest-working woman in showbiz. Also, CBS broke with tradition and didn't request that America the Beautiful be performed by a singer who belongs to the network, so that was pretty cool of them. I'm sure NBC appreciated the extra publicity for the new season of Smash.
+ Edited to add: During the first half, Aziz Ansari started a hashtag: #FNLSuperBowl. Basically he wrote the Super Bowl as an episode of Friday Night Lights. It was brilliant.

- Don't get me wrong, Beyonce looked great. But let's not forget that she wrote a song called "Bootylicious." And that she got a lot of credit for changing standards of beauty by (to paraphrase Tina Fey) bringing the leg meat. Yet she looked insanely thin at halftime. She had great legs, but how is anyone supposed to know whether they're ready for this jelly if there isn't any jelly of which to speak?