Roller Derby, Why Have You Betrayed Me?

ROCKAbout a year ago, I learned that my city has a roller derby team, and I was immediately excited. For most of my adult life, I’ve idolized roller derby, imagining it as a fun, fast-paced, no-holds-barred girl-centric sport that encouraged and supported aggressive women. Danielle Corsetto’s Girls with Slingshots arc centered around a roller derby girl named Mimi only served to solidify my nebulous understanding of roller derby as did this comic by cartoonist Lucy Knisley. And, as luck would have it, roller derby has been falling into my subconscious a lot lately whether by seeing the local girls at parades, suddenly finding comics about the sport, or seeing advertisements for their training camps and events, so when my friend Devon invited me to a match this past weekend, I was practically vibrating with anticipation.

Unfortunately, roller derby isn’t exactly big in my area and neither the sport nor the team gets a lot of support. The match was at the local ice rink, which was probably built in the ‘70s and hasn’t been renovated or even re-decorated since then. Exposed, stained concrete was everywhere, hideous murals covered the walls, and the seats were few and steep, making you feel like you could pitch forward into the rink at any moment. Worst of all were the acoustics, which swallowed up even the words of people sitting right next to you while simultaneously amplifying and reflecting the referees’ whistles. During the match, my friends and I had to shout to be heard over the deafening whistles and white noise, and we never did manage to parse out what the announcers were saying.

However, environmental discomfort can be overcome if you’re enjoying yourself enough. It can even bond you with whatever you’re doing and whomever you’re with. That did not happen.

Let me be blunt: roller derby is boring. To the uninitiated, it makes no sense; there’s far too much stop and start; the rules seem arbitrary at best; and the action in the lanes doesn’t translate to action for the viewer. While I have no doubt that numerous players went home with bruised ribs and thighs, there were no black eyes, no being flipped over seats, no concussions, and no blood of any kind. It was simply a lot of girls bunching together while two others tried to squeeze their way past. It was being on the metro while on skates.

ROCK2Here’s what really happens at a roller derby match. There are two thirty-minute periods. Those periods contain several jams, which are moves that last up to two minutes. In a jam, both teams send out four blockers apiece. The blockers are supposed to prevent the other team’s jammer from getting through and help their jammer get through. A jammer is the girl with a star on her helmet who has to push through the blockers. The first jammer through the blockers is called the lead jammer. She takes a lap and then has to try to push through a second bunch of blockers. Once she does, she starts scoring points. She gets a point for every player she passes. She does another lap and tries to pass the blocker again. She can do this for up to two minutes or end the jam at any time. There’s strategy in ending the jam early because you can prevent the other team’s jammer from scoring. There are also a few penalties involved, including if the jammer gets pushed out of the ring and re-enters in front of any other player, if the players use their elbows, and if the players don’t listen to the refs.

The reality of roller derby is a lot of jostling, pushing, and thin, wiry girls darting around a clump of usually heavier or stocky girls. Whistles are constantly blowing because the refs need to point out when a jammer breaks free, when a jammer re-enters in front of other players, when a player fouls, when the jam ends, when the jam begins, and on and on and on. New viewers spend the first fifteen or more minutes utterly confused, wondering what in the world is happening and why the score is rocketing up. It was only through the helpful guide the match provided and a quick Internet search that I was able to figure out anything. I had to explain it to about five other people. No one knew what the hell was happening.

Because no one knew what was happening, the audience mostly sat in silence. No one cheered on the new jammer Dynamite or shouted at the other blockers to get back in position. It wasn’t until the jammer did a lap that people roused themselves, doing a lackluster cheer because she was finally out of the bunch. At one point, I was the only person making noise.

Making matters worse was the fact that our team isn’t very good. No one helped our jammer, which meant that she NEVER was the lead jammer and scored only 11 points in the first period. The blockers also never got into position fast enough, which meant that the other team’s jammer often blew past them in the second and third laps, racking up an embarrassing 204 points in the first period. The other team was actually quite good, putting one of their blockers on their jammer to make sure no one hassled her and ignoring our blockers to focus on our jammer. One of their players, Cupcake Cadaver, was especially good and quickly became my favorite.

Unsurprisingly, my friends and I didn’t stay for the second period. Once the final piercing whistle rang, we all got up en masse with several other audience members and left. We’d wasted about 40 minutes and $12 a ticket on the game and had no desire to see more.

A part of me desperately wants to cling to the idea that roller derby is actually fun. Maybe it was just the building that got me down. Maybe it was because I spent most of the first match not knowing what the hell was happening. Maybe it was because we have a sucky team. What if I were on the team? Wouldn’t I inject some much-needed aggression and communication? Couldn’t I help make it better?

Quite frankly, I’m not willing to try. There are so many other things I do and care about that I don’t have the time or energy to devote to reviving a dying sport. I also don’t have the confidence that I’d actually be able to make a difference as I get embarrassed about attracting attention and displaying my competitive side. So instead I’m just going to bury this shameful memory and persist in my naive assertion that roller derby can be fun. Maybe if I do, I’ll eventually find proof of that. People have believed sillier things on faith.

#LoveWins

To quote Abed from Community, I often think that we live in “the darkest timeline.” Racism is turned into an academic discussion in order to avoid real change and soul-searching. Dead children are held up as reasons why we should issue everyone a gun. People are called leeches for wanting health care and birth control. Hundreds of girls can be sold into sexual slavery, and we’ll ignore it to argue about a dress color. Hate is seen as common sense. The world can be a dark and terrifying place, and it usually seems like things are just going to get worse.

Until today. For the first time in a very long time, the future seems brighter, and it’s all because today, Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the ban on same-sex marriage, making same sex marriage legal in the United States. Same sex couples can now marry in the United States.

11430384_862214720522126_1495652013061409004_oIf you could see my Facebook feed right now, you’d see nothing but a sea of exuberance and rainbows. You’d see this cartoon by Dr. James MacLeod. You’d see news stories of the first gay couples to get their marriage license in Texas, South Dakota, and Kentucky. You’d seen prospective brides telling you how happy they are that they can marry their fiancée legally on their wedding day. You’d see my co-worker holding up a sign to her wife that reads, “Will you legally marry me?” You’d see pictures of President Obama quoted as saying, “Today we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.” You’d see pictures of Korra and Asami from Legends of Korra with the hashtag #LoveWins under them. You’d see people advertising their services for weddings and events. You’d see people joking about how they need to come up with excuses to miss twice as many weddings now. In a word, you would see people celebrating.

Same Sex in USI cannot tell you how happy I am with this ruling, not just as a member of the queer community and a supporter of equal rights, but also as an American citizen. I am so proud of my country for choosing to do the right thing and extend equal rights to all of its citizens. I am so excited about what this means for us as a nation. I have never in my life been this proud to be American.

But I have to remind everyone that the work is not yet over. Some courts in some states may still try to uphold bans on same-sex marriages, necessitating lengthy and costly lawsuits. Most states still do not have comprehensive non-discriminatory laws, which mean some queer people can be fired or evicted Monday for celebrating this landmark decision. Bathroom bills attempting to limit transgender people are still being introduced in numerous states. Perhaps this particular battle has been won, but there are still many others left to tackle. So celebrate today, and go to the PRIDE events that are everywhere this weekend, but remember that on Monday we have to roll up our sleeves and get back to work. There is still much to do.

57 Things Wrong with Pitch Perfect 2

Photo taken from: http://theatrgwaun.com/ pitch-perfect-2/

Photo taken from:
http://theatrgwaun.com/
pitch-perfect-2/

Pitch Perfect 2 is the worst movie I’ve seen since Dana Carvey’s 2002 movie Master of Disguise. It has zero characterization and even goes so far as to reverse the character development of the first movie. Female sexuality becomes a joke as do minorities, millennials, and fat people. The music of this movie about a cappella is terrible and cringe-worthy. And yet in the month it’s been out, it’s made over $170 million domestically, and a Pitch Perfect 3 has already been confirmed. No. That will not stand. So in an attempt to get people to stop wasting money on this horrible, embarrassing shit bag of a movie, I present you with 57 Things Wrong with Pitch Perfect 2.

  1. Every Barden Bellas song from the opening Kennedy Center Performance through the Convention Performance to “Flashlight.” They were a mish-mash of songs, highly jumbled, made no sense, couldn’t really be sung to, and more often than not weren’t a cappella.
  2. The over-use of John and Gail, the announcers. John and Gail were effective in the previous movie because they were only there for a short time and had quick, punchy lines. In this movie, they meandered and babbled and weren’t funny at all. They were useless.
  3. No one taking the time to talk with Fat Amy about the wardrobe malfunction. Fat Amy may be confident as hell, but she still showed her vagina to millions of viewers, including the President of the United States. Friends would have talked to her about it, even if she wanted to brush it off like it was no big deal. In a movie/franchise about female relationships, why was this topic never brought up?
  4. Every character, even John and Gail, making fun of a cappella. We got it in the first movie, people often think a cappella and those who do it are weird. But what we also learned in the first movie is that they aren’t, and it’s okay to like a cappella. Finally, it makes no sense for people who make their living on a cappella to be so down on it. Stop it.
  5. Flo, a Guatemalan woman, being played by Chrissie Fit, who is of Cuban descent and an American-born woman. Why not just make Flo Cuban?
  6. Chrissie Fit’s horrible, horrible Guatemalan accent. Hank Azaria’s accent from Birdcage was better.
  7. Flo being a racist stereotype. Every line she had was racist and non sequitur. It was offensive.
  8. Chloe staying as an undergrad for seven years. That’s unreasonable, and it should have raised a lot of red flags with her BFFs. How did no one talk to her about this earlier? How is she not in counseling? Who is still paying for her tuition?
  9. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayer sending the Bellas hate mail for a wardrobe malfunction. Justice Sotomayer is a huge defender of women, minorities, and gender identity and would never do such a thing.
  10. “Lollipop” by the Treblemakers. That was a terrible, embarrassing song. Why were people clapping? How did the Treblemakers go from being the bad boys of a cappella to preppy, no talented schmucks?
  11. Mama Katherine. Why was there an entire side plot of a relationship between a mother and a daughter? If this movie was about female friendships, why didn’t she have a friend her own age? Why was the mother a pageant mom who shoves her daughter into being in the Bellas? Why does she constantly insist that Bellas are lifelong friends and the best thing ever and necessary for a happy life? What the fuck was that?
  12. Lilly going back to talking quietly and not beat boxing anymore. Lilly’s character arc in the first movie was her learning to trust the Bellas enough to talk normally with them and share her talents. This movie completely negated all of that.
  13. Cynthia Rose constantly eye-fucking all of the Bellas. She’s been friends with these women for four years, she evidently has a fiancée (Why didn’t anyone know about her?), and lesbians do not spend all of their time hitting on their female friends. Which brings us to…
  14. Cynthia Rose being stripped of her character and turned into a “stereotypical” lesbian. All she did was ogle her friends, and when she finally did have a line it was to inform everyone that she was going to Maine to get married. What happened to her gambling problem? What else was she doing besides getting married? How did she feel about anything that happened that year?
  15. Emily constantly fucking up and saying weird, awkward things that no one would actually say. Was she supposed to be likeable and cute? Because she wasn’t.
  16. The Bellas choosing Emily despite the fact that she couldn’t do a cappella and had nothing prepared (which makes no sense considering whose daughter she was). She gave them nothing during their first meeting and should have been turned away.
  17. Beca and Jesse still being together. Beca strikes me as the kind of person who would get way too into whatever she was doing and have no time for a boyfriend whereas Jesse strikes me as the kind of guy that really wants to hang out with his girlfriend and would tire of her abandoning him. They had no chemistry. Most freshmen couples do not last. So why did they have to?
  18. The interns at the recording studio being completely useless. An internship at one of the best recording studios in the country would be highly competitive, and even if you’re only looking up YouTube videos or getting coffee, you would still have to be a talented and hard-working individual. The interns would have been aggressive and doing all they could to get noticed, not fucking up constantly, pissing off the guy in charge, and having no ideas. Why are millennials/interns constantly portrayed that way? No intern I’ve ever known has sucked that hard.
  19. Snoop Dogg. I don’t understand why Snoop Dogg was in this movie. Why did they waste several million dollars on his cameo?
  20. Benji being more socially awkward than he was in the first movie. He’s like 22 at this point and has been touring the country with the Treblemakers. He should know how to talk to girls. His magic was just painful, and I’m really damn tired of this, “Oh, boy nerds are too awkward to talk to girls!” trope. It’s never that bad. Stop pretending it is.
  21. Bringing Bumper back. He contributed nothing to the movie. He was irritating. He had way too much screen time. At best, he should have been a cameo.  NO.
  22. The Bellas training sequence. There was too much of it. It hurt the eyes. It never made sense. It lasted too long. It was poorly edited.
  23. Emily being the only one who tells Beca they need to work on the songs. No. It should have been someone else. Someone else should have talked to her or brought it up. That’s how close, multi-year friendships work.
  24. Beca suddenly getting flustered around Kommissar. Beca never struck me as the kind of person who couldn’t handle being attracted to someone. When she wants someone, she goes after them. But she couldn’t handle Kommissar. Which brings me to…
  25. Female sexuality being a joke in this movie. The joke was constantly that a woman was ogling another woman or wanting to “experiment” with them. Why can’t women have fluid orientations without it being a joke? Why can’t women having a sex drive not be a joke?
  26. The Bellas having a pillow fight. Why? That made no damn sense. It had no lead-in and was solely there for Beca to make a joke about them setting women back 50 years. It could have meant something. Instead, we got something for the male gaze. Thanks.
  27. The weird underground riff off. The rules didn’t make any sense and constantly changed, why this was happening was never explained, the Packers being there didn’t make sense, it in no way furthered the plot, and it had no real pay off. Also, we’d already had a riff off in the previous movie (and it was much better). Granted, this was the only section of the movie with decent songs, but it had no point. Why not make the plot of this movie a series of riff offs to get the Bellas back on top? At least that would have made more sense.
  28. Emily only singing her dumb ass “Flashlight” song. On the spot, does she seriously not know any other songs? In the history of music, she only knows the song she half finished? The Bellas should have kicked her ass out right then and there.
  29. When Beca feels bad about her boss’ criticism, she talks to Jesse instead of her eight best friends. For that matter, why were there zero female friendships in this movie? The best we got was Fat Amy rubbing her confidence all over Beca. Where was the communication? The love? The support? THIS IS A FRANCHISE ABOUT FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS!!!!
  30. The Fat Amy-Bumper romantic subplot. While I fully believe Fat Amy could and would fuck anyone she wanted to, this subplot took up too much time and was unbelievable. It had no point in this movie.
  31. Fat Amy suddenly becoming undesirable in this movie. In the first movie, we saw that she was aggressively pursued by gorgeous men and women. Every time she got on stage, someone yelled, “Fat Amy! Whoo!” And yet she had no one in this movie except Bumper. What happened?
  32. The disastrous old people’s home performance. Why were they dressed as black girls? Why did their performance get even worse? Why did no one complain about how horrible it was?
  33. Flo only doing cartwheels and flips on stage. Why would you bring in a gymnast into an a cappella group? Could she even sing?
  34. Bringing back Aubrey. That was just a mistake.
  35. Chloe bringing up wanting to “experiment” more in college. We got it in the first movie – Chloe is probably bisexual. Why not just have her date a girl in this movie? Why make her predatory and weird? Why make being bisexual a joke?
  36. The net joke being used too often. We got it. There are nets. Let’s move on.
  37. When Flo stood up at the retreat and said she’d probably be deported and then die trying to illegally re-enter the country, no one said anything. How do you develop “life-long Bella friendships” and not give two shits about a person that’s going to be deported and die?
  38. Jessica and Ashley being twisted into one weird person. They were always standing next to each other, often holding each other’s arms. Why? Are they not real human beings?
  39. Beca (and everyone else, I guess) still not knowing the difference between Jessica and Ashley. How have you been in the same a cappella group for four years and still don’t know who these girls are? How horrible of a person must you be?
  40. Chloe saying she either wanted to be a music teacher or an exotic dancer – like those are similar. Why is Chloe suddenly a joke in this movie?
  41. None of the original Bellas other than Beca (and somewhat Fat Amy and Chloe) having any lines in this movie. Instead, we got useless, constantly chipper but has no real talent, ‘nother white girl Emily. Thanks.
  42. Everyone singing “Cups.” It was just a call back to the first movie. It meant nothing. Like every other “emotional” moment in this movie.
  43. Fat Amy suddenly realizing that Bumper is the man for her. No. Bumper is terrible, and she can do much better. It is also completely out of character for her to settle for a pudgy, ordinary-looking, prospect-less loser like Bumper.
  44. The entire Fat Amy goes to Bumper scene. It was embarrassing, gross, and fat shaming.
  45. How Fat Amy and Bumper had to ugly make out. Because fat people are not attractive or normal and can’t just make out. Apparently.
  46. Everyone graduating before the World Championship. In the first movie, the A Cappella Nationals were before the end of the school year. Winning the World Championships was supposed to reinstate the Bellas. That was the whole impetus behind this movie. But apparently the girls graduated before the World, which was before the Nationals. That doesn’t make sense and is simply poor editing. It also makes the entire movie pointless.
  47. Beca and Emily suddenly being BFFs. Beca gets along with no one. Beca respects no one. It doesn’t make sense for her to suddenly envy Emily’s horrible song-writing ability or connect with her instantly and to the exclusion of everyone else. You do not drop the best friends you’ve had for four years for someone new. You add them, you include them, but you don’t drop everyone else.
  48. Beca’s boss deciding to sign her and Emily based on one song. He is one of the nation’s most sought-after producers. Even if he really liked that terrible song, why would he accept one song as an indication of her talent – especially when he just ripped her a new one a week before?
  49. The Benji-Emily romantic side plot. Who cares? It was just another side plot crammed into a too-full movie. It had no emotional grounding and was never worked for.
  50. Beca never owning her attraction to Kommissar. Beca started the movie tough-as-nails and not backing down to anyone, but she never managed to get it together in front of Kommissar. That was completely out of character. She should have been aggressive about it, owned it, and made Kommissar flustered.
  51. The song “Flashlight.” It is a dumb song, it means nothing, and every time they said “Flashlight,” I heard, “Flesh Light.” That is a terrible refrain for a song.
  52. “Flashlight” being a melodramatic song meant to create pathos but not wanting to do the work of actually meaning anything. It was an empty song, and it was cheap how it was staged to make people feel something over nothing.
  53. The Bellas winning the World Championship. DSM had a significantly better song, and their compilation was actually a cappella whereas the Bellas’ wasn’t. And shouldn’t the Bellas have been disqualified for suddenly adding 45 members to their ensemble? How and when did they have time to orchestrate that? Is that why the beginning of the song was still jumbled and stupid?
  54. The complete parallel of every scene from the first movie. That’s just lazy.
  55. The end scene. It had nothing to do with anything and was a terrible way to end the movie.
  56. The credit scene with Bumper on The Voice. So we end a female-centric movie supposedly about female friendships with Bumper being a fuck up loser poseur on The Voice? Fuck you, Elizabeth Banks.
  57. Elizabeth Banks being the director. No, no, no.

Corporations, Leave My Movies Alone: A Response to Jurassic World

Photo taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/sep/11/jurassic-park-4-jurassic-world-pirates-5

Photo taken from:
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/sep/ 11/jurassic-park-4-jurassic-world-pirates-5

When I was eight years old, I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. It was terrifying. At the time, I’d been hosting a sleepover for some friends, and while they huddled under blankets, laughing and shrieking and gaping wide-eyed, I’d had to get up and remove myself, traveling all the way from the front room to my bedroom at the back of the house. It was during the T-rex reveal scene, and the dread of its approach as perfectly encapsulated in that trembling cup of water had ratcheted my nerves to a near breaking point. I was still reeling from the velociraptor feeding scene, and I had to latch onto my mother during the velociraptor kitchen scene that would come later. The only reason I’d been able to make it through was because they weren’t screeching and screaming like the T-rex usually was. I could handle the horror of a slow-moving, barely-glimpsed velociraptor stalking its prey, its oversized killing talons clicking against the floor tiles, but I couldn’t handle the unbridled and simply unconquerable rage of a T-rex roaring. Even typing these sentences 20 years later, I’m filling with a creeping horror that simmers just below my skin.

Since then, no other movie in the franchise has come close to thrilling and terrifying me like Jurassic Park did. In every subsequent movie, the robotics or CGI weren’t convincing enough, the directing wasn’t nuanced enough, the script wasn’t plotted well enough, and the dinosaurs simply weren’t convincing enough. People died indiscriminately, and the dinosaurs found themselves in increasingly more ridiculous situations like bursting from a boat hold (that it had evidently already burst from) and terrorizing San Diego. The point of the movies became trying to capitalize on Jurassic Park and milk this cash cow for as long as Hollywood was able. Teaching the audience about the dinosaurs’ anatomy, understanding what made them tick, or displaying some rudimentary understanding of genetics all fell to the bottom of the hierarchy of what the movies needed to do. As a result, the movies got worse and worse, audiences cared less and less, and the franchise was finally allowed to die in 2001 with Jurassic Park III.

Until now. Until Jurassic World.

If you come into Jurassic World expecting nothing, you won’t be disappointed. The CGI is fairly advanced though too nuanced and idealized to really be convincing (the same problem Peter Jackson had in the Hobbit franchise), and the dinosaurs are beautifully crafted (at least in stills). Owen Grady’s (played by Chris Pratt) relationship with his four velociraptors is arguably the best part of the film and really the only thing I wanted to see. If it had been the focal point of the film, the movie as a whole would have been better. There was also plenty of violence which is a draw to some.

Unfortunately, that’s all you can say about Jurassic World. Its budget was $150 million, and it had no characterization, unconvincing CGI, terrible direction, and poor plotting. It premiered 14 years after the last Jurassic Park movie and 22 years after the first, and it had almost nothing to offer to either the franchise or audiences. It was, for all its marketing, budget, big name actors, and high-tech editing, an okay movie. Two out of five stars. Max.

Photo taken from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/12/jurassic-world-shows-just-how-weird-product-placement-has-become/

Photo taken from:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ wonkblog/wp/2015/06/12/jurassic-world- shows-just-how-weird-product-placement- has-become/

Catering to corporate backers was a huge problem in this movie. The most lovingly rendered shots were ones where the camera slowly panned past the Mercedes-Benz logo or artfully lit up the characters as they talked about Verizon Wireless and Pepsi. An entire subplot was how the park was going to finance itself and getting corporate backers to attach themselves to the franchise (Let’s be honest: it’s a Goddamn dinosaur theme park that forces people to use only its transportation, hotels, and food while they’re there for an extended stay and has a 90%+ approval rate at any given time – they’re probably making bank.). Every decision was made by a mysterious board of directors who had the tacit approval of several governments. Other than the discussion of genetic modifications, perhaps divorce, and maybe the violence, there was nothing really upsetting, taboo, or controversial in this film (and all these things are pretty common nowadays). It reaffirmed gender roles and common film archetypes and managed to be bland and non-political. Not a queer person in sight and just enough people of color to keep people happy. All very safe.

When you remember the triumph that was 1993’s Jurassic Park, this assessment becomes even more upsetting. While there was certainly product placement in the first and subsequent movies, that’s not what I or most people remember best. The product placement didn’t fuel the movie, coopting the plot in an effort to cram in as much as possible. The audience also understood that there was a difference between good and bad corporations with the bad corporations needing to resort to as many tricks as possible to stay ahead of the good guys (but that they would ultimately never win). In Jurassic World, the good corporation was being run by a bad corporation and wasn’t all that good. Claire Dearing and most of the other employees at the park didn’t see the dinosaurs as animals deserving of kindness and compassion, and there was no ethics committee reviewing any of the genetic modification being done. Even Simon Masrani, the corporate executive with a heart of gold, was fueled by a desire to make things bigger, scarier, and cooler and only became involved in the park when something went seriously wrong (and even then his first thought was not for the safety of the park attendees but for the safety of his revenue stream). Until that moment, he never considered if what he was asking for was feasible, ethical, morally right, or within the budget. He just threw money at the problems and did as he liked. At best, he was irresponsible.

The best part of Jurassic World was the subplot of how we should treat animals, especially if they’re being used in a controlled environment. Rather than crafting a thin plot about a struggling family and bemoaning how hard it is to get corporate backing, that’s what the movie should have focused on. You could still have the Indominus Rex get free and wreak havoc. You could still have Claire and Owen going into the jungle. You could still have lost kids needing to be rescued/rescuing themselves. You could still have nostalgia points sprinkled throughout the film. But if the focus had been on people’s relationships with these animals and the struggle to keep their best interests in the foreground as opposed to a corporation needing to milk them for all they’re worth, this could have been a legitimately good film (And if you got a new director and writer. Colin Trevorrow was crap.). Instead, we got two white people shooting dinosaurs and then making out. Thanks, Hollywood.

Over the past 20 or so years, nostalgia culture has become the driving force of American entertainment, often to the detriment of decent story, plot, and characterization. We’ve become a culture that finds Family Guy the height of humor, reveling in its non-sequiturs that do nothing but cram in as many pop culture references as possible. Punchlines become remembering pop culture instead of commentary on it or even comparisons using it. It seems like just remembering something has become good enough and there’s no need to have standards.

That’s what Jurassic World is and that’s why it’s made over $690 million worldwide in its first week. Audiences want to go back to Jurassic Park, they want to see and interact with dinosaurs again, they want to remember the terror and excitement of the first time they watched that movie. That’s why we have so many sequels and remakes and why six out of ten of the world’s top grossing movies for 2015 come from a pre-established franchise. However, overwhelmingly, these movies aren’t that great. Overwhelmingly, people say they liked them (not loved them) and say they would watch anything from that franchise. People aren’t going ga-ga over the CGI, the plot twists, or the new characterizations. They’re just excited to see this thing they once loved again. It’s like getting the same breed of dog you had as a kid even if that dog isn’t particularly smart, affectionate, or trainable.

And, much like getting a dog that looks like your childhood pet but has the opposite personality, you’re going to be disappointed, sometimes bitterly so. That’s how I felt when watching Jurassic World. I kept waiting for the terror. I kept waiting for the anticipation. I kept waiting for needing to cover my eyes or excusing myself to “go to the bathroom.” It never happened. It never will, and that fact has traveled down through the past towards my childhood self, crouched on my shoulder, and whispered, “They’re not real, you know. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” and ever-so-slightly ruined my lifelong enjoyment of Jurassic Park. And all because Trevorrow and Universal Pictures thought product placement and catering to the backers was more important than a good story. Thanks, assholes.

My Response to the Rachel Dolezal-Caitlyn Jenner Conflation

*Note: Originally, I was planning on turning this topic into Monday’s Daily WTF, but I have spent about 20 hours thinking and arguing about it, so strap in, kids.

As of right now in history, racial divisions are a social construct but skin color and race are hereditary. People are not transgender because their parents were, but they almost always are black because their parents were (Obviously, as biracialism and multiracialism tend towards one race, there is greater maneuverability for children, but their race is still determined by their parents.). Race is also part of culture and ethnicity whereas gender is not. A child adopted from China by a white couple is still Chinese even if she was “raised white” or “identified white.” Perhaps in time that will change, but until we understand race as something that doesn’t hinge on heredity, race is hereditary.

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The Normalcy of Genocide

normalcyThursday, October 23, 2014

Something that has always made the Holocaust – or any form of extreme violence and hate – seem distant is understanding how people could go through with their actions. When studying the Holocaust in schools, we focused on the Jews, both the survivors and the victims, and shied away from the individuals committing the atrocities. That made it easier to deal with because we could claim that people just got swept up in their actions, that the killers were faceless masses, and that they had lost their autonomy with the rise of Hitler, the one true villain in this tragedy.

What makes the Holocaust and the death of six million Jews (among the 12 million victims) easier to understand is how Ms. Lower in Hitler’s Furies identifies individuals involved and how or why they became involved. It suddenly becomes clear that, yes, thousands (if not millions) of people were involved in the systematic degradation, humiliation, torture, and murder of millions of Jews and that these people were normal human beings like you or I who every day had to face what they, their country, and their colleagues were doing. How then did anyone manage to do what they did day in and day out and not go thoroughly insane? Continue reading

Humanity

naziladiesWednesday, October 22, 2014

Hitler’s Furies continues to be a fascinating read, especially as we move into individual portraits of specific women, their backgrounds, their reasons for joining the Nazi party and directly/indirectly participating in the Holocaust, and their reactions upon coming face-to-face with violence and genocide. As I read, I am both appalled and fascinated by these women and the people who made up the regime and continue to see parallels for modern-day attitudes and actions. Continue reading

Daily WTF: Adult Friends Who Won’t Celebrate Your Birthday

Grumpy Cat BirthdayBirthdays are sacrosanct to me. In a thoroughly shitty childhood, they were the highlight, the one thing that could make the other 364 days tolerable. They were also the one thing my family would do to confirm that we did, in fact, like and/or love each other. So I’m pretty serious about them.

It has therefore always shocked me that my adult friends don’t ever want to celebrate people on their birthdays. It’s actually pretty hard to drag them away from their lives, and since I’ve turned 18, I’ve had friends schedule international plane trips the day before my birthday, miss my birthday to attend a voluntary conference, forget about it entirely, never send me a card or even a Facebook message, give me a card with a hairball taped onto it, and leave my party several hours early so they could take care of their cats. And getting actual presents or having someone plan a party? Forget about it.

Now I understand that it’s not always financially feasible to celebrate people’s birthdays, especially when you’re all at college together and someone’s birthday is once a week (if not more). However, as we graduate and move across the country in little clusters, shouldn’t we begin celebrating each other? Shouldn’t we begin planning our schedules around each other’s birthdays and giving each other cards, money, and presents? Or, barring that, do something to show that we value, appreciate, and love each other? Show up at work with a cupcake and a card? Drop off Chinese food? Mail a pair of awesome cheeseburger socks?

I think so, and if I can’t start getting people to shape the hell up, I’m going to need to get some new friends.

(P.S. Happy 28th Birthday to me.)

Initial Thoughts on Hitler’s Furies

Hitler's FuriesMonday, October 20, 2014

Today I started reading Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower. The book seeks to understand German women’s roles in World War II, especially in their work perpetuating the Holocaust and moving east following Operation Barbarossa. According to Ms. Lower, research on women’s roles during World War II is lacking, and it is has been the historical habit to downplay their roles in search of prosecuting men for their war crimes. Nazi women have even become martyrs, considered apolitical and long-suffering and known for cleaning and restoring Berlin after the Allied victory.

However, according to her research, about 1/3 of all German women (which was 40 million during the war) actively participating in Nazi activities, including as concentration camp guards, doctors and nurses who participating in medical experiments, secretaries, censors, and teachers, among other jobs. As can be guessed, many were not on the periphery of the great Nazi Aryanization scheme but were instead right in the thick of things – such as the approximately 200 women who worked with a Nazi doctor to choose and liquidate Jewish children who might become future criminals. Continue reading

Daily WTF: Old People Need to Learn How to Drive

Cadillac_Sedan_DeVille_(Orange_Julep_'10)A few minutes ago, I and three other people almost got sideswiped by a very elderly woman behind the wheel of a gray Cadillac. And it wasn’t because we were all in the same car or even in the same lane. No, this woman weaved into my lane, forcing me to slam on my brakes, then weaved into the right lane then back into mine, forcing four separate vehicles to slam on their brakes and employ evasive maneuvers. And she never even acknowledged us or that she had done something wrong.

I am extremely critical of elderly people driving and firmly believe in five-year driving tests for people over the age of 60 (Hell, I’m in favor of five-year driving tests for everybody. Over 32,000 vehicle-related deaths a year are way, way too many.). I’m even more critical of elderly people than I am of new drivers because new drivers don’t know better but are in fact capable of recognizing their mistakes and correcting them (They have to if they want to keep their license.). Elderly people don’t even notice they’re swerving all over the place. They don’t reason that they shouldn’t be driving with cataracts or palsy. They are insulted that you would ask them to think of other drivers first. They are a terrible, terrible hazard.

What makes it worse is that so many elderly people are proud of their terrible, dangerous driving. My girlfriend works with elderly patients and tells me horrifying stories such as the one woman who realized she was going the wrong way on an interstate and so promptly pulled a U-turn, roared over the grassy medium, and screeched into the other side of traffic. She didn’t look to see if she’d caused any injuries and didn’t see anything wrong with her actions. On the contrary, she thought it was a funny story that she told several people. Or what about my sister’s friend who had half of her house demolished when an elderly woman plowed right into their living room, forcing it into the kitchen, killing her iguana, and injuring her cats and boyfriends? That woman had no idea what had happened and remained sitting in her car trying to maneuver it until the paramedics forcibly removed her.

I want to be understanding because I also work with elderly people and I see how limited their lives get when they no longer have a vehicle. They feel powerless and retreat in on themselves, often refusing to use other services. I know that if I ever had my car involuntarily taken from me, I’d be upset. But I also hope that if I ever became legally blind or mentally incompetent, I’d take a taxi over potentially killing someone. Sometimes, you have to give up privileges when you can’t be responsible.

Until then, keep a look out for older but well-maintained luxury cars, guys – that’s usually the vehicle of choice for elderly people. And keep your eyes on your mirrors and your foot over the brakes. Evidently, it’s everyone else’s responsibility to look out for poor drivers.