Blog PostsIn Praise of “Moaning Lisa”

In honor of the glorious “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon playing on FXX for one and a half weeks, I’m going to talk a little about an underrated episode: “Moaning Lisa.”

“Moaning Lisa” is not one of the funniest episodes of The Simpsons. In fact, a fair amount of the jokes, particularly in the Bart-Homer video-game subplot, are a little obvious and corny. What makes “Moaning Lisa” great is not the humor, but the emotional resonance.

The episode opens with Lisa staring into a bathroom mirror, almost paralyzed by her sadness.

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I can’t think of many sitcoms, animated or not, that would open on a scene with a character so vulnerable.

We follow Lisa as she goes about her day, and we see that the sadness is affecting her interaction with everyone. She refuses a cupcake from her mother, she improvises wildly in music class, and doesn’t participate in dodge ball in gym class because she’s “too sad.” When her family asks her for the reason behind her sadness, it turns out that there’s no inciting incident or traumatic event she’s been keeping from them:

I’m just wondering what’s the point. Would it make any difference at all if I never existed? How can we sleep at night when there’s so much suffering in the world?

Homer, at a loss for words, ineffectually bounces Lisa on her lap and tries to cheer her up. He cares about his daughter but has no idea how to help her – he’s completely out of his depth. Lisa, knowing this, gives her father a kiss and tells him she knows he means well. Homer then orders Bart to clean the living room in one of the few moments of the episode that’s as funny as The Simpsons would be in its prime (“In times of trouble you got to go with what you know – now hop to it, boy!”), and Bart, as a result, is unsympathetic to Lisa’s pain. There are many times in the show’s future where Bart steps out of his selfish, ten-year-old viewpoint and shows empathy to his sister (“Separate Vocations,” ” ‘Round Springfield,”) but this isn’t one of them.

Later, Lisa practices her saxophone in her room, and Homer runs upstairs to tell her to knock off all that racket – until she starts crying again, and once again, he has no words of comfort except to tell her that she can practice her fingering as loud as she wants.

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Lisa’s sadness runs so deep that she can’t even describe it to anyone. From what we’ve seen, she doesn’t have a bad life, but she’s isolated from others because of her pain, and even people who want to understand her and help her don’t know how.

That all changes when she hears more saxophone music miles away, and she slips out of her house and meets Bleeding Gums Murphy playing the “I Never Had an Italian Suit Blues.”

Meanwhile, Marge has a nightmare straight from her own childhood about her mother encouraging her to smile even when she’s sad:

“Wait, Margie. Before we go out the door, let’s put our happy face on, because people know how good of a mommy you have by the size of your smile!”

Young Marge then puts on the most strained, fake smile I’ve ever seen before walking out the door. The smile looks like it’s hurting her face. But when the adult Marge wakes up, she wonders out loud how to educate their daughter on how to become a young woman.

Back at the bridge, Bleeding Gums Murphy and Lisa each sing aloud their pain. He tells her, “You know, you play pretty good for someone with no real problems.”

I’m going to take a moment just for that one line, because it’s brilliant. One hand, you understand Bleeding Gums’s point. From his perspective, Lisa is the exemplification of #firstworldproblems or #whitegirlproblems. She’s healthy, cared for, and she wants for nothing. On the other hand, depression is real and Lisa’s definitely feeling a version of it deep in her bones. It doesn’t really matter that she has no “real” problems when the feeling of sadness is all-consuming.

Marge comes by and whisks Lisa away, telling Bleeding Gums, “Nothing personal, I just feel the unfamiliar.” And Lisa is taken from someone she commiserates with and makes her feel less alone.

The next day, Marge tries to get Bart to be nicer to her sister, and they have an exchange where he awkwardly half-admits to some affection for Lisa:

“Marge: You do love her, don’t you?
Bart: Oh, Mom…
Marge: Well you do, don’t you?
Bart: Don’t make me say it. You know the answer, I know the answer, he knows the answer, let’s just drop it, ok?
Marge: Okay, Bart, you don’t have to say it, but you do have to have a loving attitude. Be nice to your sister.”

It’s a perfect portrayal of that stage of boyhood where it’s socially unacceptable to admit to any positive feelings for his sister, because girls are gross. He can’t even say out loud to his own mother that he loves his sister.

And of course, the only thing Bart can think to do to cheer up Lisa is to make a prank phone call to Moe’s Tavern. It doesn’t work, even though she usually laughs right along with him.

Marge makes one last effort to cheer up Lisa, and the only thing she can think to do is to give her daughter the same kind of damaging advice her own mother gave her:

“Well it doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know? It’s what shows up on the surface that counts. That’s what my mother taught me. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees until you’re almost walking on them. And then you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you, and happiness will follow.”

Hearing this come from Marge is downright heartbreaking when we see how much pain this caused her in her own childhood. She’s clearly giving this advice because it’s all she knows, and she’s convinced herself that it was the right way to go.

But even repressed suburban moms have their limits, and Marge reaches hers when she sees one boy tell Lisa, “I used to think you were a brainiac, but I guess you’re okay,” another boy invite her to do his homework, and the music teacher chiding her for her creativity. She makes a U-turn in her car and whisks Lisa away. Then she parks the car and does a similar 180 on her advice:

Lisa, I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back! Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you. And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there. From now on, let me do the smiling for both of us.

Then Lisa hugs her mother, and gives her first genuine smile of the episode, because she “feels like smiling.”

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This display of support from her mother is the moment that finally breaks Lisa from her sadness, and she takes her family to the jazz club to hear Bleeding Gums Murphy play.

We can see the lasting effects of “Moaning Lisa” throughout later episodes and seasons of The Simpsons, where the saxophone is a vital part of Lisa’s identity and an important outlet of creative expression. Finding a kindred spirit and creative outlet is key to her sense of self-worth and identity.

But just as important is Lisa hearing exactly what she needs to hear from her mother – that it’s okay to be sad, that her feelings are valid, and that she will have support no matter what she’s feeling.

I feel like most sitcoms would gloss over an emotional crisis like Lisa’s (if they bothered to portray that kind of emotional crisis at all) by having their character experience some kind of sentimental moment that Restores Their Faith In Humanity or some other garbage, but “Moaning Lisa” doesn’t try to gloss over Lisa’s problem by pretending she’ll never be sad again. We know she will be sad again, and maybe one day she’ll be sad again for no reason she can identify. But now she’ll have a support system that doesn’t rush to “cheer her up” and instead lets her see her emotions through.

That kind of emotional support is validating and essential to Lisa, and yet the moment is still tinged with bittersweet sadness. When Marge says, “I’ll do enough smiling for the both of us,” we understand that her practiced happiness is too ingrained in her personality to ever change, and she’s giving Lisa the freedom and emotional validation she never received herself.

“Moaning Lisa” doesn’t make anyone’s top 10 list of The Simpsons episodes, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not the funniest episode by a long shot. But in terms of emotional resonance, it strikes as much of a chord as “Lisa’s Substitute,” “Mother Simpson,” and “And Maggie Makes Three.” Whether a person struggles with depression or just feels “down” sometimes for no identifiable reason, there’s nothing more helpful than hearing, “It’s okay to feel sad.”

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Blog PostsWhy I Write Male Characters

When asked if the criticism regarding the lack of substantial female roles in True Detective affected his conception of the second season, producer and creator Nick Pizzolatto said, “[It] affected me a little bit in my conception of season 2, but then not at all. I realized I was listening to things I didn’t agree with and taking cues from the wrong places. I just put it out of my mind.”

This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that there will be no prominent female characters in the second season of True Detective - it just means that another male creator of a television show didn’t think that the inclusion of female characters was important.

I could talk about why that attitude is problematic, but instead I’m going to explain why I write male characters.

I live in a world where men make up half of the population.

I have a father. I have two younger brothers. I have grandfathers and uncles and male cousins. I had male teachers and male classmates. I’ve had male bosses and coworkers. I’ve had male acquaintances and close male friends and boyfriends.

Men exist in my world, and I interact with men every single day of my life.

It would never occur to me to not write male characters in my fiction. 

My first novel includes four main characters, two of whom are boys, and the narrator is male. The web series that I’m writing with two friends has a gender-balanced ensemble cast of six characters with a female protagonist. The play that I’m writing, a romantic comedy twist on an old formula, has a female protagonist and the story is told entirely from her point of view, but I can still tell you everything about the male lead: his motivations, his insecurities, his flaws, his goals, and the relationships he has with other people in his life.

The reason I’ve put so much thought into the male lead’s character, even though he’s not the point-of-view character for the narrative, is because I want to write a believable love story between two people, not one fully drawn human being and a hunky object of her desire.

I write male characters because I consider men to be people.

The other day, I had a conversation with one of the co-creators of the web series we’re developing. I told him how much I appreciated the fact that he and our friend were male writers who made a point of creating interesting female characters. (It was their idea, not mine, to make our protagonist a woman.) He said, “Of course. Women are messy and flawed people, just like men are.”

Women are messy and flawed people, just like men are.

I’m glad that my creative collaborators are men who who a) enjoy writing women and b) enjoy writing with women, but it’s pretty depressing that I found their attitude remarkable and worth commenting on at all.

And I’m not the only one. George R.R. Martin, Joss Whedon, and a few other prominent male writers known for writing interesting female characters were asked by interviewers why they write interesting female characters – not how, but why.

Asking a man “how” he writes interesting female characters is insulting enough, implying that women are some mystical “other” creature too difficult for men to possibly comprehending, but the “why” question is even worse. It expresses wonderment that a man would consider a woman’s story even worth telling.

When asked why he writes strong female characters, Joss Whedon responded, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Why am I telling you why I write male characters? Because no one ever asked me that question.

And I doubt that I would ever be asked that question, even if I someday have the reach, influence, and body of work as Joss Whedon.

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Blog PostsTo the Liberal Men Worried About the “Slippery Slope” of the Hobby Lobby Decision

Dear liberal men who are worried about the “slippery slope” of the Hobby Lobby decision:

Stop. Just stop.

I don’t want to hear another word about how the Hobby Lobby decision is frustrating for women and all, but what you’re really worried about is the precedent that it sets for future decisions relating to religious freedom and corporate personhood.

Don’t get me wrong. I worry about the precedent, too. Corporate personhood is a nightmare, and I’m convinced that religion is going to ruin America. Women and trans* men all over the country will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, and these children will spread disease as the anti-vaccination movement continues to become more widespread, eventually killing us all. (Actually, that sounds like a good plot for a science fiction novel. Dibs and patent pending.)

But to say that the precedent is what you’re really worried about indicates that the precedent is the real problem, and a restriction to access to birth control is just a minor inconvenience.

Here’s the thing: a woman’s ability to control her body and reproduction is actually a huge freaking deal.

There are women who don’t want to have children. There are women who might want to have children someday, but not now. There are women who already have children and don’t want anymore. There are women who already have children and might want more, but are carefully planning their next pregnancies.

And there are many people in this world who don’t believe that we have the right to make those decisions for ourselves. And there are many people, including five Supreme Court justices, who want to limit our options in making those decisions.

Decisions about our bodies. Decisions about the very skin we live in.

If you have ever cared about a woman in your life, and if you see women as human beings equal to men, that should worry you.

That should be enough.

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Blog PostsConfessions of a Former Nice Girl™, Part 2

Once upon a time, I exhibited some Nice Guy™ tendencies in girl form. As a lonely teenager, I idealized boys from afar, built them up in my head to meet unrealistic romantic standards that no human being could possibly meet, and never made my feelings known, preferring to hang around them until they realized how cool I was and fell for me. (This part never happened.)

Back then, I could check off some of the main qualities on the Nice Guy™ checklist. I had the unrealistic expectations, the romantic objectification, and the romantic interest disguised (sometimes poorly) as friendly interest.

Still, there was one big quality on the Nice Guy™ checklist that I lacked: the sense of entitlement.

I wanted these boys to like me, maybe even love me. I wanted it badly. But I never once thought that any of them owed me their affection or interest.

I never thought that, after all the effort I’d spent yearning for a person, that he somehow needed to pay me back for the time I spent thinking about him.

This lack of entitlement could just mean that I’m a better person than those unfortunate people whose Nice Guy™-ness extends past adolescence and far into adulthood, and I think there’s something to that theory. I also think my lack of resentment has something to do with the difference between how boys and girls are raised in our society.

Boys are taught, “If the girl you like doesn’t like you back, you should never take no for an answer, because if you keep pursuing her and never give up, you can turn that no into a yes. And if she still doesn’t like you after all that, she’s a bitch who doesn’t deserve you and you’ll find someone hotter later on.”

Girls are taught, “If the boy you like doesn’t like you back, it’s because there’s something wrong with you, because you’re not pretty enough, or you’re too pretty and too shallow and focused on your looks, or you’re too girly, or not girly enough, or any other item on a list of flaws that makes you imperfect, and the only way to get that guy is if you change x, y, and z.”

Imagine how society would function of boys and girls are both taught, “If the person you like doesn’t like you back, it probably doesn’t have any reflection on either one of you as a human being. You’re probably just not right for each other even if you’re both decent people. C’est la vie.”

But that’s not how it works. Boys are taught that girls are to blame for crushed sexual and romantic hopes, and girls are also taught that girls to blame for crushed sexual and romantic hopes.

Perhaps that’s why, while I didn’t have the Nice Guy™ sense of entitlement, I did have a very Nice Guy™ view of the girls my age: they were the source of my unhappiness.

If the boys I liked didn’t like me back, it wasn’t their fault. They were distracted by the prettier and shallower girls. Guys were stupid and entranced by shiny objects, but other girls were the real problem. They were the mean girls, the Heathers, the ones who wore short skirts while I wore T-shirts, the cheer captains while I sat on the bleachers.

It didn’t matter that, on the whole, the popular girls left me alone and the boys were the ones who bullied and teased me (and I didn’t know many cheerleaders in the first place). Somehow, I still had the perception that the other girls were the enemy, that they were far more to blame for my lack of romantic success than any boy’s lack of interest.

Fortunately, I got over this phase midway through high school and stopped resenting other girls, but it took me much longer to stop feeling this bizarre superiority/inferiority complex with them, where I thought I was smarter and funnier and more interesting than other girls, but they were all prettier and more socially savvy than I was.

I resented boys as well, of course, but mostly because I couldn’t get through a single day without several of them making fun of me. I resented girls because they attracted the attention of the decent guys I idealized as being “not like the other guys.”

I resented boys because of the way they treated me. I resented girls for existing.

Boys are taught to hate girls. Girls are taught to hate girls.

In my days of being a Nice Girl™, I had negative feelings towards other girls, but the lack of entitlement meant I also didn’t actually believe I deserved what they had…because girls are taught to hate themselves more than anyone else.

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Blog PostsConfessions of a Former Nice Girl™, Part 1

I have yet to write at length about Elliot Rodger’s killing spree or the #YesAllWomen hashtag that surfaced in response to his misogynistic manifesto, partly because I haven’t had much free time lately (hello, first blog post in over a month), but also because I needed to sit with my thoughts on it for a little while. Some news stories are too upsetting to talk about immediately and I needed a little time and distance before I could comment.

I considered writing a blog post about the most egregious forms of sexism I’ve experienced in my lifetime, or of being harassed on the street, or of being on the receiving end of a piece of intimidation disguised as a compliment.

Instead, I want to talk briefly about the Nice Guy™ phenomenon. Elliot Rodger was the most dangerous form of the Nice Guy™, whose anger towards and hatred of women led him to commit a series of murders. He desired women, and when they didn’t desire him back, he resented them, and he killed several women (the prizes he could never win) and several men (the undeserving jerks who stole the prizes he could never win).

Most Nice Guys™ don’t go as far as committing murder, but the Nice Guy™ mindset runs rampant in our culture, with scores of men thinking that the best way to get a woman to be interested in him is to be Nice, and then eventually, she will reward him with sex and/or romance.

Already, I can hear the choruses of men – some of whom are jerks, some of whom might be genuinely good guys who are feeling momentarily defensive – crying out that sometimes women do that too, and are we saying that there’s no such thing as a Nice Girl™?

No, I’m not saying that. There are definitely Nice Girls™ in this world. I know because I used to be one of them.

In middle school and high school, I was not a pretty girl. I had few friends, I was isolated and teased, and I was repeatedly told that I was undesirable, unattractive, and ugly. As a coping mechanism, I invented elaborate fantasies about the guys I had crushes on. Most of these fantasies involved a popular boy declaring his feelings for me in front of his popular friends, thus getting the affection and validation I wanted and saying “screw you” to anyone who was ever mean to me.

These boys all had the same two important qualities in common. They were all funny and all had shown me more basic human decency than the other kids in school.

In every case, I decided that we were meant to be, and focused obsessively on the qualities that I liked about him (he’s funny, we get along, he’s friendly) and conveniently edited out the qualities that made him incompatible with me (he’s not interested in me in that way). I didn’t want the real guy. I wanted the idealized version of him in my head.

As a result, I never asked the guy out or let him know that I was interested (with one exception, which I’ll get to shortly). Heavens, no. That would have required guts that I didn’t have. Instead, I would hang around the guy more frequently, time my exits from the lunchroom to coincide with his so we could walk up the stairs together, and try to be his friend…because even if he didn’t like me now, surely he would once we spent enough time together and he saw how cool I was.

I broke this pattern only once in my sophomore year, when I told a male classmate and friend over email that I liked him, that I knew he probably didn’t feel the same way, but I wanted to let him know just in case, and I still wanted to be friends regardless. He let me down very nicely, and after a few days of awkwardness, we were back to normal, and we stayed friendly until the end of high school.

Looking back, it’s funny to see how, at the time, the “pining in the distance and waiting for him to like me” strategy seemed like the safer choice, when being honest about my feelings was too mortifying a concept to entertain.

Looking back, my moments of pining and longing still make me cringe, while the one time I was forthright and honest makes me want to go back in time and high-five my fifteen-year-old self for having the guts to lay my feelings on the line.

Looking back, I understand what set apart that incident in sophomore year from the other times I pined from a distance. In that case, the boy in question was more than an idealized object I worshiped from afar and sometimes conversed with awkwardly. In that case, he was actually my friend, not someone I faked friendship with in the hopes of getting something more later on. And I realized that I had to tell him how I felt because hiding my feelings was driving me to distraction, but I also knew that I would want to continue be friends regardless of whether or not he returned my feelings, because I liked him enough as a person that the friendship was worth maintaining.

To put it more simply, I had crushes on several different guys during high school. With most of them, I was a Nice Girl™. With the guy in sophomore year, I was just a girl who had unrequited feelings for a friend.

Because most of those guys were fantasy objects I put on pedestals, but the guy in sophomore year was an actual person in my eyes, not a vessel in which I could pour all my romantic hopes and fantasies.

And it’s really not hard to tell the difference between the two.

[To Be Continued...]

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ReviewsA Review of Peach and Frog Theatre Company’s “King John”

King John (Eric Doss) and Hubert (Randy Howk) in Frog and Peach Theatre's King John. Photo by Claire Taddei

King John (Eric Doss) and Hubert (Randy Howk) in Frog & Peach Theatre Company’s King John. Photo by Claire Taddei

The press release for Frog & Peach Theatre Company’s production of King John advertises the play  as “Game of Thrones, Shakespeare style.” It’s a catchy descriptor and in some ways an accurate one. The plot of King John shares some similarities with Game of Thrones, as the play contains political intrigue, shifting alliances, swift changes in power, and many self-interested characters with only a handful of “good guys” to root for. Describing a production as “Game of Thrones, Shakespeare style” is a great marketing pitch to get public interest in a show.

However, this production of King John feels less like a production of Shakespeare’s text and more of an excuse to put on a stage version of Game of Thrones. Quick pacing is prioritized over letting the emotional moments of the play breathe. Costumes are designed to be attention-grabbing, particularly for the actresses, and the female characters are unnecessarily sexualized, put in tight dresses and leggings. (One even carries a riding whip for some reason.)

The portrayal of female characters in King John is the strongest indication of the production’s . Queen Elinor (Karen Lynn Gorney) is portrayed as the powerful, intelligent matriarch as she’s written to be in the play (though she’s described as “wily and seductive” in the press release), but the grieving Constance (Amy Frances Quint) vamps and flirts when trying to ascertain information about France’s new alliance with King John, while Lady Blanche of Spain (Ilaria Amadasi) is reimagined as a warrior princess sold into reluctant marriage with Louis of France – almost as if, to use another Game of Thrones comparison, the Stark sisters, Cersei, and Ygritte were combined into one character. Whether these directorial choices were made for sensationalist purposes or out of a misguided attempt to give the female characters more depth, they show a mistrust of the original text to hold the audience’s interest. Constance is a grieving widow and the mother of a boy whose rightful inheritance was stolen from him, and Blanche is a political pawn suddenly thrust into the middle of a war between two nations. Those motivations are enough to invite an audience’s sympathy, and the extra vamping, pouting, and indications of overt sexuality are superfluous and distracting, taking away from the more genuine moments later in the play.

Fortunately, some genuine moments do still ring true, most of them involving Hubert (Randy Howk), combining the political acumen and cunning thinking of a Lannister with the honor and nobility of a Stark. He agrees to kill young Arthur against his conscience, and the scene where he attempts to kill the boy is the highlight of the play. Howk’s Hubert shows a wide range of emotion throughout the scene, showing the character’s guilt, self-hatred, determination to fulfill his bloody deed, and almost parental love for the young boy. Hamish Carmichael as Arthur plays off of him well, showing a deep trust and affection for Hubert, increasing the tension and emotional weight of the scene.

Another strong performance is found in Eric Doss as King John himself, who gets his chance to shine once he makes a covert deal with Hubert to dispatch of the boy Arthur. Doss’s John is a petty, small man who laments and whines and lashes out at others when things don’t go his way. After receiving news of his mother’s death, he transforms into a little boy right before our eyes. This John is a deeply insecure man who has no business being king even if he were in the proper line of succession.

The scenes between Hubert and Arthur, and Hubert and John, are by far the strongest in the production. Not coincidentally, they are also the scenes where the director takes a step back from emphasizing the costumes and “sexy” political intrigue and lets the actors work with the text. (They are also two scenes where no one has to say the word dauphin, an unfortunate cast-wide mispronunciation.)

King John is not often produced – a shame, because the play is an ensemble’s dream come true, with a large number of strong, interesting characters. It is also only one of two Shakespeare plays written entirely in verse (the other being Richard II). Any company that decides to mount King John should be admired for producing such an interesting, underrated play and providing so many great acting opportunities to its cast. This production of King John gives its actors those opportunities but sometimes hinders them for the sake of an inconsistent vision.

King John is playing at the West End Theater at 263 W 86th Street from April 24-May 18 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. 

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Blog PostsPervasive Sexual Violence on “Game of Thrones”

Well, they’ve done it again. For the second time, the writers of Game of Thrones have taken a consensual sex scene from the books and turned it into a rape scene for the show. And it’s even worse this time.

[This post discusses plot points from season 4, episode 3 of Game of Thrones.]

The first instance, as book readers/viewers remember, took place in the show’s pilot episode, with Khal Drogo raping Daenerys Targaryen on their wedding night. In the book, this scene was as consensual as sex between an adult man and a teenage bride could get – meaning, while the terms of their marriage are unequal and inherently problematic, Drogo took the time to be tender with Dany before having sex with her, and even waited for her to say “yes.”

The second instance took place in last night’s episode, where Jaime rapes Cersei in the sept after they view Joffrey’s body, forcing himself on her after repeated cries of “no” and trying to shove him off of her. In the book, Cersei is the first to kiss Jaime, and while she makes one sentence of protest that they shouldn’t do it the sept, she then continues to kiss Jaime and begs him to fuck her.

And I cannot fathom why the writers thought that this change from the book would be a good idea.

I didn’t agree with their decision to turn the Drogo/Daenerys scene into a rape scene, either. It made Dany falling in love with him ickier, and the scene where she “tames” him by insisting they have sex with her on top is problematic and gross. But at least in that instance, I could understand why the writers made that change. They thought that portraying a consensual sex scene between a grown man and his teenage girl bride would be inappropriate.

In this case, I’m at a loss. I don’t know what the writers are doing.

For a whole season, we were treated to the beginning of the redemptive arc of Jaime Lannister, one of the most successful arcs the show has done. We saw that the Kingslayer and attempted child-killer was a much more complicated man than we originally thought. We saw that killing the king, a “sin” that the realm reviles him for, was actually one of the noblest things he ever did. We saw him act selflessly in regards to Brienne, his fellow captive and eventual partner, even friend.

And that all went to hell last night when he raped his sister.

I suppose the writers wanted to emphasize the fact that the Jaime/Cersei relationship is inherently wrong and destructive, but I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet already knew that.

You know, because of how that one time when Jaime’s love for Cersei prompted him to push a ten-year-old out of a high window to the child’s almost certain death?

Of course, the writers and directors of the show, and the actor who plays Jaime, don’t see the scene as rape, because it “becomes consensual” by the end.

I think I need to take a bullhorn to the mountaintops to announce to the world that rape “becoming consensual” is not actually a thing, no matter how many times the victim and the rapist have had consensual sex in the past, no matter if the victim is at all physically turned on by the rape.

And the only reason people think rape “becoming consensual” is a thing is because of TV shows and movies like this that portray it that way.

Putting the disgusting implications of the scene aside, I also don’t even see how this action is in character for Jaime. The first good thing we saw Jaime do in the series was convince his captors not to rape Brienne – an action that wound up having a huge personal cost to himself. And he didn’t even like Brienne at that point.

Now, the man who saved a woman he didn’t like from rape is raping the woman he ostensibly loves?

He called her a “hateful woman” – and not because she wanted him to murder their little brother, but because she flinched from his new hand and didn’t want to fuck him next to their dead son’s body.

Cersei Lannister is vile, but not wanting to have sex right after her son died is not an example of vileness. Not wanting to have sex with Jaime because of his prosthetic hand is, at most, superficial. And she doesn’t deserve to be raped, no matter how horrible of a person she is.

When I first watched the scene, I had a disturbing feeling that this rape wasn’t going to “count” in the eyes of many viewers in terms of how they saw Jaime. I was afraid that Jaime’s rape of Cersei would be canceled out in viewers’ minds by his saving Brienne from rape a season before. I was afraid that it wouldn’t be considered a bad thing because everyone loves Brienne and everyone hates Cersei.

Instead, the conclusion I’m drawing from the writers’ and actors’ interviews is even worse – that they don’t consider it a rape scene at all.

Due to my frustration with the constant wheel-spinning in the non-plot advancement of the last two books, I was ready to throw in the towel with the books and just see how the TV show played out. Now, I’m considering giving up on the show as well.

Please, George, just email me and tell me if Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon. I don’t know how longer I can watch a show that uses rape for shock value and doesn’t take it seriously.

 

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Blog PostsMara Wilson Doesn’t Want to Do the Mrs. Doubtfire Sequel

Hollywood has greenlit the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel over 20 years after the original movie came out, and Mara Wilson doesn’t want to be involved in it.

Naturally, people on The Internet have opinions on this, and many of them are negative.Headlines announce that “Mrs. Doubtfire Star Mara Wilson Slams Sequel Plans,” and the first few comments on the Huffington Post article are, of course, critical and uninformed. Here are just a few:

“Wow. She is so full of herself. I mean honestly, I can not think of any other movies I have seen with her in it. Money is money regardless to it being a sequel or not. Maybe this is the decision that ends her acting career.”

“The funny thing is that she probably should do it if offered given that her career isn’t going great.”

“I think she is being a bit premature (and a bit immature) in making a statement like that before she even sees a script. If you see it and think it’s crap, fair enough. Don’t do it. But give it a chance, for pete’s sake. Not many people are lucky enough to have that kind of opportunity practically handed to them – don’t spit at it until you know for sure.”

“While she is right about sequels almost always being terrible, her droning on and on about it suggests she was never asked to be it in the first place and is pissed.”

Never mind that Mara Wilson publicly quit acting years ago and now has a pretty good writing career. She’s obviously uppity and too big for her britches and ungrateful – all words people love to use when a woman doesn’t leap at the chance for any opportunity, no matter how small or how little rewards can be reaped from it.

The fact is, many people who followed her on Twitter asked her if she was going to be involved in the movie, and she responded by saying no. I have no doubt that, had she neglected to comment, some entertainment writer on a slow news day would have written a blog post about how Mara Wilson refused to answer whether or not she’d appear in the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel.

This is a prime example of how the Internet and the world at large, despite claims that we live in a postfeminist society, is still rife with misogyny. This type of snarkfest is what many people feel when a woman steps out of her place.

Why do I call these comments examples of misogyny?

Because the only other explanation for this kind of commentary is that these people are really, really invested in the idea of a Mrs. Doubtfire sequel.

And, come on. No, you’re not. No one is.

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Blog PostsHow I Met Your Misogyny

Tomorrow night, How I Met Your Mother will end its nine-year run with a one-hour season finale. A show that spawned countless catchphrases and running gags, How I Met Your Mother will be remembered for its nonlinear storytelling and its portrayals of romance and friendship.

It will also be remembered as one of the most misogynistic sitcoms on TV.

Okay, I admit it – I’m exaggerating a little to make a point. I haven’t seen enough shows to determine whether or not it’s one of the most misogynistic sitcoms. But over the years, How I Met Your Mother has devolved into a show rife with anti-woman nastiness, making me grateful that the program is finally coming to an end.

I’m also saddened by the devolution in the show over the years, because once upon a time, I would have considered How I Met Your Mother a more progressive sitcom than most.

In the first few seasons of the show, I was impressed with the show’s different take on stereotypical gender roles. I liked that Ted was the hopeless romantic who wanted nothing more than to settle down, get married, and have children, while Robin was the more pragmatic, career-minded person who wanted a more casual relationship. I liked that, even in the context of Marshall and Lily’s super-sweet relationship, Marshall was still the more sentimental of the two. I was moved by Lily’s “career vs. romance” subplot in the end of the first season because the show recognized the emotional weight of what she was feeling. I liked that Lily and Marshall’s wedding followed a typical “bride freaks out on a wedding day” plot with an unexpected and very funny “groom freaks out EVEN MORE on wedding day” plot with Marshall shaving part of his head.

Even Barney, the most problematic character on the show through a feminist perspective, wasn’t so terrible in the first two seasons. Back then, Barney’s womanizing wasn’t the only aspect of his character. Barney was just a person who wanted to make every night legendary no matter what, whether it involved creating elaborate stories to get women to sleep with him, licking the Liberty Bell, paying Robin to say ridiculous things on camera, inventing a drink called the “Thankstini,” setting Ted’s jacket on fire to stop him from drunk-dialing. His treatment of women wasn’t okay, but it didn’t come from a place of showing complete contempt for anyone around him.

Somewhere along the line, all that changed.

Barney became a person whose primary goal was to trick as many women as possible into sleeping with him, and his behavior toward them became increasingly nasty and downright criminal. In season three’s “The Bracket,” he admits to having sold a woman, and in season eight’s “The Fortress,” he shows the feature of a “Ho-Be-Gone” system which wheels one-night stands into a wall. And we’re supposed to be happy that Robin married this man.

Unfortunately, the misogyny that has pervaded How I Met Your Mother isn’t just limited to Barney. Here’s a list of just some of the most memorable misogynistic moments from the show’s history:

- Season five’s “Of Course”: Jennifer Lopez appears as a character whose sole purpose is to peddle the “Power of No.” Because we need more characters who affirm the stereotype that women like “playing hard to get.”

- Season five’s “Say Cheese”: Lily, angry that Ted has brought yet another date no one knows to her birthday party, shows him a photo of a previous year’s celebration and asks him to “name that bitch.” Not wanting strangers to attend your birthday party: fine. But what did these women do to Lily to warrant being called “bitches?”

- Season five’s “The Playbook”: All of it. But I’ll get to that later. (/SagetTed)

- Season six’s “Baby Talk”: Marshall worries about having a daughter because he remembers the way he and his high school classmates used to be sexist towards the female students. (Sexual harassment is bad when it’s happening to women you care about, boys, but random bitches are free game and THEN cat-calling is hilarious!)

- Season six’s “Canning Randy”: the men leer at the day-after-Halloween parade of women walking down the street in costumes, guessing at their one-night stands. Could have been a funny gag if it had been the entire gang watching a parade of men and women returning from one-night stands, but as it was, it was just a bunch of guys snarkily judging women.

- Season seven’s “The Slutty Pumpkin Returns”: Lily has pregnancy brain and Marshall and Robin treat her like she has the intelligence of a two-year-old, and they prove to be right when Lily gives a stapler to a kid on Halloween.

- Season seven’s “Now We’re Even”: Barney delivers what’s supposed to be a moving monologue about the difficulties of dating a stripper and how it makes him feel to know that Quinn is dancing naked for other men, and we’re actually supposed to feel sorry for him after years of him treating women like dirt.

- Season eight’s “Lobster Crawl”: Robin acts like a simpering idiot when she’s desperate to win Barney back. She continues to be mean to poor Patrice for no reason and it’s supposed to be funny (probably because Patrice is fat).

- Season eight’s “The Final Page”: Barney proposes to Robin after a long con of making her believe that he didn’t want her, and it’s one of the most glaring examples of emotional abuse disguised as romance in recent memory.

- Season eight’s “The Fortress”: Like I said – Ho-Be-Gone.

- Season nine’s “The Broken Code”: Robin realizes she has no female friends and acts astonishingly rude to the women around her, finally confirming that she and Barney really are meant for each other, since she hates women just as much as he does.

And those are just a few.

But the biggest examples of misogyny are, of course, Barney’s two books: The Bro Code and The Playbook. Two books that are actual books that people can now buy.

And The Playbook? Is a pick-up artist’s wet dream.

Before anyone argues that it’s “just a joke,” keep in mind that there are actual websites out there dedicated to coaching men on tricking women into sleeping with them – and some of these sites actually use the character of Barney Stinson as a role model.

How I Met Your Mother isn’t entirely hopeless even at this late stage. The writers handled Robin’s infertility with respect. Season eight’s “The Time Travelers” was one of its best episodes, truly romantic and poignant. Marshall and Lily’s renewed vows were moving. I love everything about the Mother herself and Ted’s relationship with her, proving that this show still has a soul. But the stink of misogyny has tainted what was once one of my favorite sitcoms.

And if, at the end of tomorrow’s finale, it turns out that I dealt with all that anti-woman crap on a weekly basis only to find out that the Mother is dead in the future…if that is the direction the writers have decided to take…then burn it, burn it to the ground.

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Blog PostsBrooklyn Nine-Nine’s Not-So Nice Guys™

Brooklyn Nine-Nine had its season finale two days ago and completed what was (in my opinion) the most successful first season of a television sitcom since Arrested Development. It found its voice early on, quickly took a manchild-like character (Jake Peralta) and made him more mature without having him lose his goofy charm, and combined humor with heart without ever becoming overly sentimental.

In fact, the show was so successful that I’m even cautiously optimistic about the two  romantic subplots for next season. Brooklyn Nine-Nine could have easily given us two Nice Guys™ but avoided falling into that trap…so far.

The first and most obvious romantic subplot took place between Boyle and Diaz, with the enthusiastic Charles Boyle pining after the sour Rosa Diaz for a good two-thirds of the season. The pining was funnier than a lot of “nerdy guy pines for hot girl” subplots we see in many sitcoms, mostly because the characters’ personalities were so dramatically opposite and watching them bounce off of each other was a delight.

At the same time, I worried a little about the direction the story was taking, since the show established that Charles had pursued Rosa a couple of times only to have her clearly turn him down. (Seriously – she flat-out told him that she liked him as a person but wasn’t interested romantically. I’m barely paraphrasing here.) He kept clinging to his naive hope that she would return his feelings.

It was only a little uncomfortable to watch, because a) it was obvious that he never made her feel unsafe, only a slightly awkward, and b) Charles never indicated a sense of entitlement over Rosa, and his pining was more evidence of his optimistic-to-a-fault personality.

Still, I cringed when Charles saved Rosa in the line of fire. I’ve seen too many shows to not predict where this was going: the man would “earn” the woman he adored by performing an act of heroism.

Then the show surprised me by 1) having Charles admit that he didn’t know he was saving Rosa, and that he would’ve done the same thing for any fellow officer, 2) having Charles fall in love with someone else, and 3) having Charles apologize to Rosa for making her feel uncomfortable with his demonstrations of unrequited love!

I was stunned, and very happy to see that Brooklyn Nine-Nine wasn’t going to shove a mismatched couple down our throats for the sake of “rewarding” another dorky guy with a hot girl for being Nice. Charles Boyle is one of the most delightful characters on TV, and I’m glad that the show reaffirmed that he is not a Nice Guy™, but a genuinely nice guy.

The other romantic subplot in Brooklyn Nine-Nine took place between Jake Peralta and Amy Santiago. While Boyle & Diaz filled the “dorky guy pines for hot girl” quota, Peralta & Santiago filled the “bickering bickersons” quota, showing their barely suppressed sexual tension by having them make fun of each other. Early on, their squabbling was one of the weak points of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and it improved once they took time to establish Santiago’s character as something other than the stereotypical uptight woman paired with the fun, goofy man.

Near the end of the season, Jake was introduced to a fellow officer named Teddy whom Amy used to date. Nursing a crush on Amy while not being quite aware of it yet, Jake let his competitive instincts take over during a training course, and still felt vaguely unsatisfied. Just when he started to question why Amy would want to be with Teddy, Charles made a very obvious, but very important point: “You know why she’s dating him and not you? Because he actually asked her out.”

Later, Jake swallows his pride and approaches Amy to ask her out on a date, but backs down when he sees that she’s leaving for a date with Teddy. He spends the next few episodes looking for ways to distract himself from the existence of Amy’s relationship, and acts awkward and uncomfortable when she’s near him with her boyfriend, but not immature or nasty.

He only finally admits his feelings to her in the season finale, after he’s been “fired” from the NYPD so he can go undercover to expose a much larger crime ring. He tells Amy that he wouldn’t mind if something happened between them, “romantics-wise.”

I was almost shocked by how understated this moment was. It wasn’t framed as a Big Romantic Moment or weighed down with too much heavy-handed importance. It was a man telling a woman that he liked her in a moment that was sweet and a little awkward.

I also appreciated that Jake didn’t pull any passive-aggressive nastiness with Amy when he realized that he wanted a “romantics-wise” relationship with her, and that he made a point of acknowledging that she was dating someone else. It was a confession that wasn’t attached to any pressure or demands. He told her because he couldn’t hold it back anymore, in a situation that would decrease her discomfort since they would no longer be working together.

The Boyle/Diaz and Peralta/Santiago storylines both refreshingly feature nice guys instead of Nice Guys™: men who struggle with their romantic feelings for their female friends, but don’t pressure these female friends or whine about being friendzoned when the feelings aren’t reciprocated.

Let’s hope they keep up this trend in season two. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Peralta and Santiago gave it a shot, but I truly hope the Boyle/Diaz story is dead and buried, especially now that the eventual fallout of the Charles/Gina hookup has much more comic potential.

 

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