The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

Mrs. Maisel looks toward the camera in a crowd of men dressed in grey
Deepthi Suresh

13th of July 2022

A few summers ago, I came across a gem of a show, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a Prime video series set in the 1950s that revolves around a privileged New York woman who suddenly finds herself single when her husband leaves her for his secretary. As I excitedly allowed myself to fall into the 1950s stand-up scene in New York through the show, I knew I had hit a jackpot of clever wit. It was a journey of a woman coming of age into the smokey comedy clubs, trying to speak her voice when all hell broke loose in her life. This was a perfect combination of entertainment, clever writing, phenomenal performances by the cast, and a story that inspired me. However, as I began my research for this article on female stand-up comics, I was bombarded with articles pointing toward the seemingly common topic, “ Why are female comics not funny?” At first, it seemed odd. I wondered whether there was any truth to it. In my personal experience, I have mostly tuned into male comics’ specials on streaming sites. But why was that?

The 1950s was a time when comedians had begun to transition into observational humour, which is still in vogue today. The lead actress of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan, strikes an important note wherein she says, “History is generally told by men about men. To have a period piece being told by a woman about an extraordinary woman is exciting.“ That is exactly what the makers of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel set out to do. The woman at the centre of the show, Miriam Maisel, on the night of her breakup with her husband, ends up at a comedy club that she used to frequent with her husband to support him. He was an uninspired aspiring comic, and Miriam, being the devoted wife she is,would take notes and help him with his performance. Her rant about how her life turned out on that fateful night sets the stage for her accidental birth as a stand-up comic. She then embarks upon her new reality of juggling two jobs – professional stand-up comedy and single parenthood. Her first comedy routine ends up with her being dragged by the police for flashing the crowd while drunk and furious at the way her life has turned upside down. However, as time passes by, one can’t help but notice and revel in the charm with which she delivers jabs at unruly audience members or the police. She gets arrested not once but a few times throughout the series. It screams out a sure sense of self-assuredness that you normally don’t find in a female (comic) lead of a television series set in the 1950s.

It is interesting to note that Maisel’s character might have been heavily inspired by a Jewish female comic and singer, Belle Barth. Interestingly enough, Lenny Bruce’s character (a phenomenally played by Luke Kirby) acts as a mentor of some sorts to Maisel while in reality Bruce used to open for Barth early in his career.  Barth had been arrested and charged for lewdness in 1953 and was eventually banned from radio and television. But this didn’t stop Barth from achieving commercial success. Similarly, Miriam struggles to find her footholding in the field. She refuses to follow a set and expected style of comedy meant for female comics of the time. She refuses to apologise for her lived experiences and instead churns out spectacular recipes of relatable comedy with it. In the show it is clear that a woman faces bias in terms of finding space in the bill or male managers complaining about their material drawing in more women than men. But she cleverly convinces them that women can be a spending audience too. This is portrayed delightfully well in season 4.

An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall?

 

Although Mrs Maisel takes place in the 1950s, the show cleverly depicts alternatives to perfection, keeping in mind that women were still encouraged and pressured to strive for the latter then just like now. In Miriam’s case, her pathological need to be perfect is displayed when she keeps tabs on her slim figure by taking measurements every single day, and secretly removes her makeup after her husband sleeps just to put it back on before he wakes up. Perfectionism takes centre stage in Miriam’s life as she constantly walks on a tightrope of the expectations of her femininity while being a single mom as she ventures into the male-dominated field of comedy. She mines for her material through expectations that women are familiar with even today! Having faced setbacks and life experiences throughout the course of her journey to be a comic, she realises one important factor that sets her apart when she tells her manager, “You know what is great about me. It’s when I am me!” For Mrs Maisel to thrive, she had to let go of the never-ending quest for perfection. Her perfect life had to blow up in her face. This gave birth to her authentic self, a voice that tore upon the typical female caricatures that were quite in fashion among the rare female comics who had made a mark with self-deprecating humour.

Maisel learned to embrace the unpolished realities that she encounters in her daily life. She began to make choices that may have been unprecedented within her family. She was afraid of letting go at times but bravely managed to hold her ground even when the going got extremely tough. The most uncomfortable truths sometimes make the best material for comedy. Why? Because you and I are able to relate to it! For example, it is evident with Mrs Maisel’s entry into comedy where she ends up insulting her family sometimes in her act. She insults her Jewishness at times. She even insults the, ‘dumb secretary’ that her husband leaves her for. But would a male comic have to think twice before he spins out jokes about insulting people, family, or a community? 

Stand-up comedy has a tradition of breaking norms, morals, and political conventions. The question that arises in my mind is whether women are scrutinised a bit more than their male counterparts. Comedian Kim Wayans however, observes that with men, “the audience is eager and ready and then he has to prove that he is not funny and then they back off, but with a woman, you have to come out and win them over.” However, in a study by Alice Sheppard regarding social change and audience response to female comedians, she was able to find that there has been a considerable change in contemporary evaluations of women comedians, whose ratings now equal those of male comics. The pressure that a female comic faces in the field may have reduced due to increased awareness of gender problems and inequality in society. An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall? I would say it should be our duty as the audience to encourage and watch female comics’ specials on streaming sites and create a demand for their humour!

Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle.

Sumukhi Suresh, Prashanthi Singh, and Urooj Ashfaq, distinct voices in the Indian comedy scene, share their experiences as comics in an interview with Cinema Express. When asked whether questions about women in comedy get tiring after a while, Ashfaq and Singh are of the opinion that pressure to not fail publicly is harder on women than men. Suresh also expresses her displeasure with the usage of the tag, “female comedy,“ which has become a genre of comedy. Meanwhile, Singh understands that with her profession, she gets a chance to be vocal and be the voice for other women, and that is why she believes that questions about female comedy will continue to be asked. In my conversation with Ellen Corby, an Irish comic from Dublin, when asked about safety issues that female comics may have to face, she said, ”If the act is not necessarily in a city or if it is somewhere more in the country. It is funny that you mentioned it because I hadn’t realised it but in the last two gigs that I have been on, I haven’t drank and I have driven home myself. I usually know people on the line up and I don’t feel like I am on my own. It is something as women, we do automatically, we factor these things in constantly. It shouldn’t have to be. It is like second nature for us.” Eurydice Dixon was an Australian comedian and an actress who performed regularly at comedy venues in Melbourne, Victoria. She was found murdered at Melbourne’s Princes Park on June 13th, 2018 on her way back home from a gig. Comedy gigs usually take place at night, and the lack of affordable transportation puts women in an unpredictable dangerous environment.

In an interview for the Belmont theater district, Chicago’s largest theater district, when asked what was the best thing about being a woman in comedy, Jeanie Doogan, a stand up comedian who has set herself apart with her quick observations, says that she gets to amplify women’s experiences and parenthood through comedy. For Correy Bell and Sarah Perry, comics from Chicago, it was the freedom to speak their mind, that was the best thing about being a woman in comedy. But there is unfortunately a negative connotation to female voices in comedy. Common criticism is that female comics only talk about period, cramps, sex, etc.

Ellen Corby however, has an interesting take on this wherein she says, “You get the stereotypes about if you are a woman, you only talk about ‘women things’. I still get those kinds of comments even now but thankfully they aren’t that common or at least people aren’t saying it directly to me … but because I am a sex-ed teacher … people go like are you going to talk about vagina? I kinda lean into that a little bit but at the same time, men talk about dating, sex, and their penises all the time. I don’t even mind that humour. It is something that everyone can relate to or understand. I think it is a human nature thing and I don’t think it has anything to do with gender.” She says there are also a number of female comics who are incorporating various styles in their performances and that women have always pushed the envelope. In Ireland, according to Corby, there seems to be much more awareness with regard to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour. It is heartening to know that most promoters want to be more inclusive and include people from all genders. She says, “It has become particularly undesirable to have an act that is all just the same kind of looking males. It is much more attractive to people… I think now to see a bit of a variety there.” It seems like Ireland is the place for female comics to perform and grow together.

Today, more female comics are at the top of their field than ever before and they continue to make original and pioneering contributions to the genre. Ali Wong’s 2016 special, Baby Cobra, made headlines as the first comedy special filmed while pregnant. Wong described the challenges of fertility treatment, miscarriages, pregnancy, and childbirth while 8 months pregnant. Tig Notaro, in her 2015 special Boyish Girl Interrupted, performed shirtless in the final 20 minutes of her act, putting her mastectomy scars on full display. Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle. As Corby rightly points out, it’s just human nature. There are plenty of laughs and more to go around. Female comics have displayed an immense range of creativity and courage by using their lived experiences of being women in their acts. Future comics, regardless of gender, must use this rich universe of stories as an inspiration. These stories were told by fearless women who have successfully paved the way to enrich the fine art of story-telling in stand-up comedy!

 

Featured Image by Amazon Prime Video

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

A cloudy day above number of buildings' walls ripped apart with building materials scattered on the ground
Penelope Norman
Penelope Norman
1st of July 2022

 

I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.

I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’

In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)

This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.

One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,

 “O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”

 

She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,

 

“his words replete with guile

Into her heart too easie entrance won:

Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold

Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound

Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d

With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”

 

Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.

In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,

 

“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of יהוה —
creating them male and female.
יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”

In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,

 

“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”

 

This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.

A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,

 

“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”

In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.

At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.

I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.

 

 

Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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(Re)Visiting Miss Potter

(Re)Visiting Miss Potter

(Re)Visiting Miss Potter
Woman carrying a butterfly net with a bouquet in it
Parisa Zangeneh initials
31st of January 2022

Today, I visited with Miss Potter, the Miss Potter of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and Jemima Puddleduck fame. This visit took place over the internet, via the medium of the 2006, film, a film entitled “Miss Potter” starring Renee Zellweger of Bridget Jones fame. This visit was a bit unexpected and came about because I needed some inspiration to work on my thesis, and stories about female writers struggling and prevailing always serve as a source of inspiration for me. Thinking back to the impeccable Winona Ryder version of Little Women, and the more recent 2019 adaptation, these stories have mirrored the lived experiences of those who created them: Louisa May Alcott and Miss Beatrix Potter herself. 

 

Miss Potter is not about a fictionalized depiction of the struggles of a heroine, as was the case of Little Women, but it portrays the story of an actual living being, Miss Potter herself. The stories in both focus on the lives of educated, imaginative, talented, and ambitious young women who do not neatly conform to the gender expectations imposed on their sex. The film makes a point of portraying Miss Potter as somewhat different, unusual even, from other women and girls over the different stages of her life. She went from an imaginative young girl with great literary and artistic talent to a young woman who had few social contacts, possibly due to an overbearing mother and overly watchful (unusually present) minder. As a young woman, she envisions that the characters are her friends. As an adult, her behavior does not fit into the social constructs of the day, which is reflected in the slights and comments she receives at various junctures, such as when she visits publishers, hoping to convince them to publish her book.

 

Miss Potter also automatically conjured memories of the 1994 and 2019 versions of Little Women, in which the main character, Jo March, visits a publisher and is treated less than she is worth and with great condescension due to being a female. These moments in film make my blood boil when I think of comments and constrains women and girls have faced throughout history and still face every second of every day. The publishers also treat Jo March and Miss Potter with dripping misogyny due to their status as unmarried women. 

 

Today, women are not forced, or encouraged, to marry as a means of securing a stable, comfortable material existence, as they are allowed to enter the workforce and to participate in public life. But there are clear social remnants of these expectations that plague many of our behaviors and perceptions of unmarried women, even those who choose to remain single or childless, such as unmarried working women being afforded less respect and fewer social and professional opportunities than married women. I reflect on this with dismay.

 

The great value is revisiting old friends like Miss Potter lies is part is reminding us how we have evolved in the way we regard women, and how far we have to go.

 

 

​Featured photo by Cottonbro on Pexels.

 

This article was supported by: Arts and Culture Editor Deepthi and Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

Characters from the music video for 'Enjoy Enjaami'
Deepthi Suresh

Deepthi Suresh

13th September 2021

 

As I listen to the first few seconds of the new viral song, ‘Enjoy Enjaami (Enjoy, My God) that took the internet by surprise, it reminds me of Africa. It hints at the red earth. It hints at the exploited, toiling away under the sun on lands that will never be owned by them. But this is no African rap. The similarities are by design and choice only because this story has been experienced for years and years by the poor all over the world during the colonial era. The initial tempo sets the stage, and you are immediately drawn into the music. You wonder, is this an Indian song? What language am I hearing? Why did it garner over 80 million views on YouTube, sung by Australian-Sri Lankan singer Dhee and Indian Tamil rapper Arivu in less than a month since its release? The song from the state of Tamil Nadu in the very south of the Indian subcontinent was an instant hit and inspired hundreds of covers, song reactions and personal dance videos.

 

The world-class visuals depicted in the song masterfully captures the story of Arivu’s grandmother. Rap has always been the musical voice of the oppressed, poor, and disenfranchised. This song strikes the right chord with its listeners from its very first beat. It tells you the story of colonial India, which used to be a market for cheap labour. As history goes, thousands of poor Tamils migrated to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 19th century to work in the tea, coffee, and rubber plantations. With time, the virgin forests of Ceylon made way for the city roads and development, and it was the sweat and blood of the Tamil migrants that made all of it possible. However, as the migrant workers became expendable, they were forcibly sent back to India with no prospect of finding jobs there either. Once there, they took up different trades like masonry and painting. Rapper Arivu’s grandmother Valliammal is from the lineage of these workers.

 

 

‘Enjoy Enjaami’ celebrates the lives of common ancestors. Rapper Arivu finds his inspiration from Dr B.R.Ambedkar who is considered the chief architect of the constitution of India, also one of the greatest philosophers, civil rights activists and statesmen of the 20th century. Arivu pays tribute to the nonviolent resistance of ‘Mahad Satyagraha’ in March 1927, spearheaded by Ambedkar to assert the rights of the Mahar community to access public water. Ambedkar questioned why the ‘untouchables’ were prohibited from drinking water from a lake, where birds and beasts were allowed to drink. The lyrics – “The lakes and ponds belong to the dogs, foxes and cats too’’ echoes the demands that Dr Ambedkar had fought for.

 

As you listen to the song, it takes the listener through the journey of human civilisation and questions the role of an individual in space and time. One is posed with the question of self-importance and superior assumptions of their own identities while in reality share a common heritage with every being that played a role (ancestors including) in the journey of the human civilisation as beautifully explained in the following lyrics.

 

“ The land guarded by my ancestors
The devotee that dances
The earth rotates around
And the rooster crows
Its excretions fertilised the forests
That turned into our country
Then our home too”

 

Although the word imagery is lost in translation, the sentiment, emotion, and oppression of our ancestors are not lost in the tune itself. ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ is the history of life itself and how the oppressed survived.

 

 

Featured photo by Tom Thain

 

 

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Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

crowded cinema theatre
Ciara Phelan

13th August 2021

 

Although Hollywood is known as the forefront of creative media, and the home of the best and the brightest creatives, Hollywood film and television continuously fall victim to cheap gags and stereotyping. In this day and age, we are bombarded with stereotypes and tropes such as the funny fat friend, the sassy Black woman, the nerdy Asian, all of which are tasteless and unnecessary. The list is endless. One of these recurring themes in modern media is the use of body shaming as a comedic device. Women are commonly victims to this endless criticism, although men are not excluded from it, and it is seriously damaging the way we view our own bodies, and compare ourselves to those around us. Unfortunately, this cycle does not seem to have an end in sight, as these anti-fat messages are still being instilled in children, teenagers, and young adults to this day. 

 

An almost iconic problematic movie is Shallow Hal (2001). Shallow Hal is troublesome on a multitude of levels, but the worst and most central aspect of the story is Hal’s hatred of fat women. He is hypnotised to only see inner beauty, thus seeing larger girls as slim and gorgeous. Why has beauty become synonymised with slimness? To rub salt in the wound, the gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow is cast as the love interest, and is seen in a fat suit for segments of the movie. The use of fat suits is less of an attempt to be relatable and inclusive to all sizes, and more to advertise the actor’s thinness and to literally objectify fatness. Paltrow even said in an interview that she found her experience in the fat suit “so sad, so disturbing” because nobody would look her in the eye. The loss of thin privilege is an intensely dehumanising experience for those who are used to being conventionally attractive. It’s an equally humiliating experience for those watching the film, seeing their body shapes being peeled off so effortlessly by the thin actor underneath and their lives being parodied by people who do not understand.  

 

Another favourite Hollywood trope is a storyline involving a larger woman suffering a life-threatening head injury, and is then so confused and disoriented that she sees herself as appealing – how unbelievable! In the film, Isn’t It Romantic (2019), Rebel Wilson plays a character who wakes up inside a romantic comedy after she hits her head. Only after the accident, does she notice attractive men making grand romantic gestures in order to gain her attention. Is it really so far-fetched that attractive men, such as characters played by Liam Hemsworth, find women with a physique like Rebel Wilson attractive? Similarly, in the film I Feel Pretty (2018), Amy Schumer plays a character who falls off a spin bike, and wakes up with a newfound sense of self-esteem and confidence. In each film, the entire comedic aspect of the story is the fact that the “fat ugly girl” either believes she is attractive, or believes that men see her as attractive after she hits her head. Hollywood somehow still finds it hilarious to think that a larger woman could be seen as attractive, could have an ounce of self-worth, or could be the star in her own romantic story.  

 

For generations, people of all shapes and sizes were ingrained with fears of becoming fat and the social consequences of it.”

The current ‘ideal’ female figure is made up of a set of unattainable contradictions – ultra-slim but not too bony, curvaceous but not too broad, wide hips but a small waist, strong but still dainty and graceful. We are unknowingly surrounded by anti-fat messages such as these, and the damaging effects of this reach far beyond women who are heavier-than-average and it instead harms all those who view it. For generations, people of all shapes and sizes were ingrained with fears of becoming fat and the social consequences of it. Studies show that 40 per cent of primary-school-age girls are dissatisfied with their body size, with children as young as three years-old demonstrating an investment in the thin ideal, and five- and six-year-old children reporting a desire to be thinner and to diet. 

 

Body image issues are not exclusively a woman’s issue. Studies have shown that a surprisingly high proportion of men are dissatisfied with, or are preoccupied with worries regarding their appearance. A study in the US found that the percentage of men dissatisfied with their overall appearance is now at 43 per cent, almost tripling in the past 25 years and that now nearly as many men as women are unhappy with how they look. Men are forced into silence regarding their worries out of fear of being seen as weak. In recent years, a number of celebrities have spoken out about their struggles with eating disorders: ex-Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston, Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, and Zayn Malik have all spoken about their battles with anorexia; Russell Brand, John Prescott, and Elton John have also spoken about bulimia. 

 

Male bodily dysmorphia manifests in a way that is totally different to women – while women are told to slim down, men are told to tone and bulk up. This has been heightened by the “superhero effect,” and the intense training that goes into portraying a superhero on-screen. Stars like Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt have all been seen to shed pounds and transform into the ideal male body type. Research has shown that 90 per cent of teenage boys who go to the gym do so to “bulk up.” Men, although equally insecure about their bodies as women are, are more likely to suffer from ridicule regarding both their bodies and their feelings regarding their image. Although the body positivity movement has benefitted women in the sense that society calls out and cancels those who insult women for their size, men do not enjoy the same benefits and continue to be mocked and taunted for not looking like those we see in television and movies. 

 

Men are also severely affected by these cheap laughs. In Avengers: Endgame (2019), as Thor battles with his own inner demons and his fear of failure manifesting in the demise of his home, he (like many others) reached for alcohol and high-calorie snacks as a means of comfort. Marvel could have taken this as an opportunity to shine a light on mental health, trauma, and substance abuse but instead Thor is illustrated as a non-stop fat joke. He is introduced in the movie with his shirt off, showing his prominent beer belly, in an attempt to parody Chris Hemsworth’s usual captivating shirtless scenes. This further perpetuates the idea that fat people have “let themselves go,” or are “lazy,” or whatever other nasty stereotype, and totally belittles the body positivity movement. “Fat Thor” seemed to be the butt of every unnecessary joke or comment throughout the movie, and this alienated members of Marvel’s loyal fanbase.

 

Whether conscious or unconscious, there is an inherent bias within our society that benefits those who are slim and villainises those who are larger. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that we have grown to become more accepting, with Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson being two highly-paid and highly-respected actresses in Hollywood, but we must not ignore those moments within pop culture that reinforce the damaging stereotypes about larger bodies. We must demand better storytelling, and reprimand those within the industry who think that they can continually profit from cheap gags with no repercussions. We must protect those who are hurting because of this humiliation, and let future generations live the lives that we dreamed of where they are freed from this harmful gaze.  

 

 

 

Featured photo by Krists Luhaers

This article was supported by: STAND Arts & Culture Editor Deepthi + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Empowering women through female rap music

Empowering women through female rap music

Empowering women through female rap music

smiling woman taking notes and listening to music
Kate Bisogno

4th August 2021

 

Since its inception in the 1970s, the hip-hop industry has been inarguably male-dominated, yet women have consistently played a significant role in the development of its culture. Icons Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot paved the way for contemporary artists such as Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat, who have changed the narrative surrounding women in rap today. Figures like these are beginning to shift a culture that for decades has been criticised for its over-sexualisation of women. The recent increase in the popularity of female rap through platforms such as Tiktok has led listeners to view the music as both empowering and progressive. However, many still argue that the sexual and arguably aggressive lyrics of women in the industry further perpetuate the misogynistic connotations of hip-hop. Regardless of the stance that one may take on the topic, it seems as though there is an undeniable depth to our beloved hot girl summer anthems.

 

Men within the hip-hop industry have fuelled misogyny through lyrics which both objectify and over-sexualise women, facing little backlash. Yet when female artists discuss similar topics, they receive rather extreme reactions. These double standards were evident when Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion joined forces to create the unforgettable anthem WAP. The internet exploded with both criticism and praise for the duo. In response to the backlash, Megan stated that “some people just don’t know what to do when a woman is in control and taking ownership of her own body.” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion had completely reversed the narrative. Not only were they speaking about sexuality in a manner that had, for the most part, been exclusively associated with men, it was even said that the lyrics ‘objectified men’, causing many to acknowledge how it may feel for women to listen to the degrading lyrics of many male artists. 

 

The empowering hits continued with the release of Megan Thee Stallion’s debut studio album Good News in late 2020, featuring icons such as Beyoncé and SZA. Saweetie and Doja Cat kicked off 2021 by promoting female independence with their single Best Friend, highlighting the importance of women supporting one another, rather than falling victim to the toxicity of comparison – another ideology that is intrinsically linked to the male portrayal of women through media.

 

“The notion that there can only be one woman at the top is beginning to dissolve as we witness new female faces rise to stardom in the industry.”

Although women within the hip-hop scene are no strangers to public abuse, their overwhelming success and praise is indisputable. The notion that there can only be one woman at the top is beginning to dissolve as we witness new female faces rise to stardom in the industry. Long-time favourites such as Nicki Minaj and newcomers like City Girls receive similar levels of success to their male counterparts which speaks volumes to the growing female presence within the industry.

 

Instead of condemning male rappers, these artists are turning the tables and using the sexualisation of women to their advantage. Through female rap, women are given the option to reclaim power over their sexuality and obtain a new sense of confidence. To denounce this fact would be to silence one of a woman’s innate powers. Why should women be shamed for expressing their sexuality in a way that men have been doing for decades? A woman is a multifaceted being. Female rap incorporates both a woman’s female and masculine energies simultaneously. Yes, women can listen to Taylor Swift and feel all their feelings, but we can also channel a healthy inner aggression that resides in many of us by aligning ourselves with the shameless energies of Flo Milli or Rico Nasty. The women of the hip-hop industry are reversing the narrative. Instead of being silenced while men profit off of female sexuality, they are using it to empower both themselves and others.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Soundtrap

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Alex

 

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

Mare of Easttown changes the way we look at murder mysteries and legends

woman holding a clapperboard
Deepthi Suresh

20th July 2021

 

It is a privilege to witness legends perform. Kate Winslet is a legend on every count that I can think of. I must confess that I have been a diehard fan of her since her role in Peter Jackson’s masterclass, Heavenly Creatures released in 1994. Articles were popping up on digital media describing Kate Winslet’s performance in the HBO series, Mare of Easttown as priceless, sensational, brilliant, and so on with a subtle tone of surprise among the reviewers and the audience. Why were they surprised?

 

Before I digress into listing down the very many triumphant acting laurels that Kate Winslet has achieved in her life, I focus my thoughts on the stunning murder mystery, Mare of Easttown. The HBO limited series is a character study set in Pennsylvania, the not so perfect cousin of Boston or New York. The elegant, accented Brit makes it seem like a piece of cake with the way she can nail the look, sound and feel of the townspeople of Delaware County. Winslet plays the lead character of Mare Sheehan, the town police detective who has been called to investigate a murder to start with. But it becomes clear that the audience is in for a ride much beyond the mystery of a murder in this seven-part drama series. This character study showcases the grief and trauma of a divorced woman’s loss of her son to drugs and suicide while raising her grandson in the face of a custody battle with his mother who has been on and off the rehab herself. It also takes in ordinary strains of a common life that routinely pushes Mare’s buttons as she sways through her painful journey. Mare is also burdened with a prior unsolved case of a missing girl and another girl while the investigation is underway.

 

What makes the show special is its achievement in the understanding of what real life could look like while in the guise of a murder mystery.”

What makes the show special is its achievement in the understanding of what real life could look like while in the guise of a murder mystery. Although, with each episode, the storytellers spin interesting webs to garner the attention of the audience and we are taken into the lives of the usual suspects and strangers as our doubts are raised and then lowered through the hour-long episodes of Mare’s police work. But this was not a murder mystery to begin with. You are not investing your time to find how it all ends but instead, how the journey takes place. How does Mare get back to normalcy after losing her marriage, her son, her daughter who moves away for college and her relationship with her best friend? These are the questions that cloud your mind while you embark upon this story.

 

Mare of Easttown has also been raving up the discussion on how female bodies are portrayed in TV shows. The Oscar-winning actress who has never been shy of performing nude scenes goes one step ahead and decides to portray a middle-aged woman’s body accurately in a sexual scene despite being offered the technologically induced magic of perfect bodies which has been the norm. She believes that the audience connected to her character in part because she is “a fully functioning, flawed woman with a body and a face that moves in a way synonymous with her age and her life and where she comes from.” Kate Winslet’s weight has been the talk of the tabloid media since her rise to stardom in the 1990s and she has frequently spoken about the pressures on actresses to maintain a particular appearance. In 2008, she told Vanity Fair about her early years of acting: “I was fat. I didn’t know any fat famous actress. I just did not see myself in that world at all, and I am being very sincere.’’

 

Winslet refines the character of Mare into multiple layers that could have easily been missed by other performers. She elevates every character around her with her sincerity and trueness to human emotions. The subtle expression on her face after being pleasantly surprised by a kiss or, the time when she breaks down in the middle of the night longing for her mother who hugs her after a near death experience, makes you realise the powerhouse of talent and ease with which legends like her are made of. Mare of Easttown celebrates emotions in the rawest sense possible and somehow, this brings you peace.

 

 

Featured photo by Jon Tyson

This article was supported by: STAND Arts + Culture Editor Deepthi & Programme Assistant Alex

 

I May Destroy You: Letting go or making sense of it?

I May Destroy You: Letting go or making sense of it?

I May Destroy You: Letting go or making sense of it?

Arabella from I May Destroy You
Deepthi Suresh

27th May 2021

 
 

Chaotic, complicated, heart-wrenching, mesmerising. These were some words and thoughts that were running through my mind as I watched this mind-blowing twelve-episode series made for HBO and BBC One. Written and co-directed by the charismatic talent, Michaela Coel, who also plays the lead role of Arabella, I May Destroy You is one of the best performances I have seen in recent times. Millennial-life related shows may raise eyebrows at times as, more than once, various showrunners have only ventured into time-tested stereotyped life routines of the millennial. There has hardly been a fresh take on stories that one could easily relate to. Coel however, has championed the intrinsic issues we might face, through multiple layers of clever screenplay and direction. This show makes you think. This show makes you introspect. This show has my respect. 

 

Arabella is a free-spirited young East Londoner who owes her book agents a draft of her upcoming book. But the night longingly makes her abandon her laptop. She quickly slips into a late-night crew party as she drifts to a place called Ego Death Bar. There are shots going around. The night quickly blurs and disintegrates. The audience wonders why Arabella seems dizzy and clawing her way out of a door. But we are not given enough time to ponder, as the next scene cuts to Arabella at her writing desk. She has a minor injury on her forehead that needs cleaning up, but she manages to meet her deadline. Setting the tune of the show are the clouded scenes whizzing through Arabella’s mind, of a man sweating and panting with flared nostrils in a bathroom stall.  For those brief seconds, as the memory flashes through her mind, she is in shock. Arabella is a victim of date rape drug. 

 

Coel broke into TV at 28 through her BAFTA award-winning comedy Chewing Gum about a girl desperate to lose her virginity. While pulling an all-nighter drafting the second season of the show, Coel decided to take a break to meet up with her friend at a bar. Her drink was spiked, and she was sexually assaulted by two men. She finds herself returning to consciousness at the Fremantle Media production office, where she had been working earlier. Her phone was smashed, and she goes on to finish the episode that she has been writing and eventually realising what she had gone through in her drug induced state. She portrays her real-life horrific incident in the show with ease and courage.

 

“I May Destroy You takes the viewer through a journey of despair, blankness, and an attempt to understand what had happened and what might happen in her life going forward. The truth of this show does not lie in showing what happened but in how it felt…how it feels.”

I May Destroy You also bravely touches upon how a gay man encounters sexual assault and finds it excruciatingly embarrassing and uncomfortable to register a complaint, and how a woman visiting an exotic place gets played by charming locals into a threesome, leaving her with a feeling of being used. Is locking your friend in a room with their crush during a party at your home the right thing to do? Did your friend consent to it? Was it a harmless thing to do? The question of consent moves to varying degrees in all our lives depending on the circumstances or situation. One might be forced to ponder deep into its meaning during a harmless conversation with friends. The question of consent is a difficult subject but is in grave need of discussion in mainstream media and this show touches upon all the right notes for the audience to hopefully understand and engage with the topic a bit more. 

 

The art of letting go is probably the toughest motion a victim of trauma must adapt to. Nevertheless, it is a universally accepted coping mechanism. But the question is, how do you do it? What is the right way? The finale of I May Destroy You will bowl you over with its beautifully translated trials and errors through its top-notch screenplay to well, let go. The title, in all its vagueness, is what makes the show special. It is the vagueness of our own understanding of what does or does not happen to us, that shines through our lives as we try to go forward in the best way we can. 

 

I May Destroy You is a much watch. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by BBC Studios on Twitter

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Rachel

 

Do we need a Gossip Girl reboot?

Do we need a Gossip Girl reboot?

  ARTS + CULTURE
Do we need a Gossip Girl reboot?
Gossip Girl
Grace Donnellan
13th April 2021

 

When Gossip Girl first hit our screens in 2007, much of the world was still enthralled by the wealth, materialism, and hyper-capitalism of the economic boom. While some were predicting an imminent crash, they were largely ignored. Television shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen, The Hills and The Simple Life had all been large successes. And so, Gossip Girl, with its window into the lives of the Upper East Side’s uber wealthy, fitted neatly into the cultural context of the time.  

 

The first season of Gossip Girl was hugely popular and earned accolades such as “the greatest teen drama of all time.” At this time many were feeling the benefits of economic growth and for those not yet benefitting wealth seemed like an achievable aspiration. We could laugh at the ridiculousness of the lives of Gossip Girl’s Upper East elite, while also using them as aspiration porn. The first season also utilised Brooklynite Dan Humphrey as a moralising force who granted us an outsider’s perspective. 

 

Then in 2008, the economic and cultural landscape changed utterly after the financial crisis. The excess portrayed in Gossip Girl became more jarring than aspirational. The showrunners were left with a choice whether they would alter the show to reflect the recession or whether they would lean into the ridiculousness as a form of escapism. They seemed to attempt to do both. As the seasons progressed, Gossip Girl still maintained the character’s glamorous lifestyles, but at the cost of their empathy and nuance. 

 

The protagonists in Gossip Girl, who we are supposed to root for, are Chuck and Blair. Chuck is a bad boy who personifies the worst elements of wealth and privilege. He sexually assaults numerous characters, including 14-year-old Jenny, and on one occasion gets violent with Blair. Blair is a bitter elitist. While in the first season we see a softer side of her character, in the post-recession seasons the writers double down on her classism and meanness. And yet Blair and Chuck get everything they want by the time the show finishes. We are supposed to adapt to their worldview and feel happy for them, despite neither character exhibiting real growth. The less affluent characters are not painted in as forgiving a light. In the court of Gossip Girl fans, Dan and Jenny are considered the worst characters. While Dan is pretentious and irritating at times, his behaviour pales in comparison to the Upper East Siders. In the finale, it is revealed that Dan has stooped to the manipulative, scheming level of his peers and only then, after a brief period of repentance, is he rewarded. The audience internalises the worldview that the behaviour the affluent characters used to get ahead is okay because they are rich and that the worst sin you can commit is to be moral or poor. 

 

Often reboots are made to tap into our nostalgia surrounding the original. But any nostalgia surrounding Gossip Girl does not exist anymore. The aspirational thinking promoted by the show died with the financial crash and would be even more incredulous now. Many young people who might have enjoyed the show felt the impacts of the recession in their homes as teenagers and have grown into socially conscious adults. It would be hard to argue that they would be interested in a show about vapid, wealthy elites. In any case, why should we even make such a show?

 

“In today’s world many of the heroes of Gossip Girl look more like villains, should we not be rooting for better characters?”

The only way a Gossip Girl reboot could work would be to totally subvert the themes of the original. This seems unlikely as Jordan Alexander, a reboot cast member, said that the reboot would be “staying true to the essence of Gossip Girl but with a completely different take on it.”  This essence is a world where wealthy characters manipulate and scheme for their personal gain and the less affluent characters are demonised or forced to assimilate.  

 

Another major issue regarding the original was the lack of diversity. The only main character of colour was Vanessa, who was not meant to be liked. The reboot features a heavily BIPOC cast which is a welcome change. However, it could be considered tokenistic to reboot a show that originally ignored race with a now diverse cast. Who is this reboot serving except for the consciences of the original show’s creators and the white people who enjoyed it without criticism? Would it not be better to platform stories by and about people of colour, as opposed to inserting them in a white hand me down? 

 

There is no denying that Gossip Girl is an entertaining show. It has retained relevance, to a certain extent, due to its ridiculousness. And while it can still be enjoyed with hindsight, is it the kind of television we should be making today? Arguably not. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva

 

Women in the MCU

Women in the MCU

 

ARTS + CULTURE

Women in the MCU
tampons
Darius Apetrei

5th April 2021

 

With the release and success of WandaVision, we can now see that when the MCU tries, they can create intriguing female characters that are more than just catalysts used to move the plot from one point to the other. Wanda’s experiences with grief and trauma from previous movies are built upon in this series and are brought to an apogee, providing the MCU with an incredibly humane and vulnerable side to a female superhero. Yet this does not drown out the super part of the Scarlet Witch as we are also shown how powerful Wanda can truly be, reminding us that even when dealing with loss and emotional duress, we are still looking at a superhero.  

 

 

WandaVision is an incredible direction for the MCU to move in, but even so, there is a definite air of confusion present questioning whether the MCU can integrate well-written female characters into their stories. Early on in their universe, they have shown that they can do so through the characters of Natasha Romanoff and Virginia “Pepper” Potts, whereas later, they released flops such as Captain Marvel. As well as some of the female characters are written, how frustratingly satisfying is it that most female representation in the MCU consists of side-characters or superheroes that are simply not strong enough to face any of the main villains? Romanoff is stuck fighting fodder most of the time she’s on-screen as she simply does not possess the power to go up against villains such as Ultron or Thanos. Pepper, on the other side of the spectrum, fills her role of a stay-at-home moral-support character that must constantly keep Iron Man in check and deal with his company for him to have the time to save the world. You look at these characters, as well written as they are, and wonder if they are the type of characters one looks up at and strives to become. 

 

 

I remember that as a young boy, the main appeal of superheroes was that they looked cool on-screen while taking down the bad guys. While I was young, it was enough that both Iron Man and I were male; I felt represented and empowered and that I could become just like him if I took the right steps in life. The problem now is that as time passed, the audience grew up while the superheroes remained mostly the same.

 

“The older I got, the more I realised that sharing gender with the superhero on screen was not enough, something had to be added onto it. Something deeper and more intricate had to connect us, something like emotion and experience that could create an attachment that expanded our connection beyond the mere similarity of gender.”

With all these criteria in mind, it is already difficult to find a male superhero that fits the bill, let alone a female one. When the MCU announced that they were releasing Captain Marvel, I thought that it would be the perfect moment for them to capitalise on making sure that women gain a significant foothold in superhero representation in the MCU. (Yes, before Captain Marvel there have been shows like Agent Carter that had a female lead, yet the fact that the show got cancelled due to a lack of viewership speaks for itself.) Unfortunately, Captain Marvel did not live up to expectations. The movie fails to properly portray who Carol Danvers really is. She is presented to us as this extremely powerful character that wants to do what is right, which does not distinguish her from any of the other superheroes in the MCU. Even now, I am not entirely sure whether the script is to be blamed or the poor chemistry between Brie Larson and the character she was supposed to depict. Even so, no matter what was at fault, at the end of the day, the character was so flat and dull that the whole plot-point of Danvers experiencing an existential crisis and trying to find out who she is, has no impact whatsoever. Comparing her to characters going through similar circumstances such as Natasha Romanoff and Wanda Maximoff, one begins to wonder what happened between the earlier movies and this one; it feels like Marvel completely forgot how to write female characters in-between. Both Natasha and Wanda are shown struggling with notions of morality that are tied to their actions whilst trying to find a place they belong to. Captain Marvel on the other hand simply has this existential crisis hanging over her head the entire movie yet she does not appear to be affected by it all that much. She becomes one of the most powerful beings in the MCU yet there is no real moment of introspection that can show us how she truly feels or what she stands for, unlike the brilliant struggle Natasha and Wanda are shown going through as they battle against their past actions in Captain America: Civil War, having multiple scenes dedicated to them attempting to undo their past wrongs by siding with what they believe is right. 

 

 

The MCU, I believe, also struggles with tokenism. Characters such as Pepper in the first Iron Man and Jane Foster in Thor and Thor: The Dark World were mere token female characters that were there simply to exist. In the case of Pepper, she at least evolves into a substantial role throughout the movies. The chemistry between her and Tony Stark forms naturally as he passes the burdens of running Stark Industries onto her to free up his space and become Iron Man. Jane, on the other hand, has none of that development. Spanning two movies, Jane Foster and Thor built no chemistry whatsoever, yet we are meant to believe that the two are in love with one another. In Thor: The Dark World, when she gets possessed by the Aether, she at least acts as a catalyst that moves the plot of the movie from one point to the other, yet even then, Marvel has Jane do absolutely nothing with that power. Even Hela in Thor: Ragnarok was a disappointment. She is presented as the Goddess of Death and Odin’s firstborn. With Odin’s death, her banishment is over, and she returns to take over Asgard. The problem stems from the fact that we are presented with these facts about her, and intrigue is formed, yet nothing of significance is built upon that intrigue which leaves us with yet another one-dimensional villain. 

 

 

Another example of tokenism would be the famous scene in Avengers: Endgame where all the female characters get together to help Captain Marvel get the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos. Aside from the fact that there is no logical reason for this scene to exist, as Captain Marvel is strong enough to destroy Thanos and his entire army all by herself, the heroines that get together to help do not actually help. Each is shown fighting their own battles, but those battles do not contribute anything to Captain Marvel’s success in taking the gauntlet away from Thanos. In the time it takes the heroines to kill a couple of aliens, Captain Marvel flies through an entire armada without batting an eye. 

 

 

Thinking of this scene brings me back to my childhood years and to the glint in my eyes as I watched Iron Man save the world. Just the same, I cannot help but think of all the young girls sitting through this scene and finally getting to experience that glint for the first time, seeing, at long last, all these incredibly powerful women come together and kick ass, inspiring them, as Iron Man inspired me, to believe that if they are to follow the right steps, they too can one day be able to save the world. Truthfully, who I was and who I am are not the same. Young me was satisfied with Iron Man saving the world and I did not care much for the depth and meaning behind his actions and development as a character. Yet as I grew up, I began to care more and more about it, and, thankfully, there was something to fall back on and pick apart. For these girls, what is there to fall back on other than false promises and superficial scenes that are half-heartedly created to make a portion of the audience keep quiet? 

 

I see most of the MCU’s issues stemming from trying too hard. With Captain Marvel, the MCU tried too hard to make one movie that finally had a strong heroine as the main character. It felt as if the movie itself was concerned too much with achieving that goal, and focused way too little of its attention on creating relatable characters and a plot that made sense. This, inadvertently, made it so the MCU’s glaring issues were more exposed, rather than finally covered. That one scene in Avengers: Endgame also suffers from the same issue: they focused too hard on making a statement and too little on that statement making sense in the context that it was placed in. WandaVision, on the other hand, has its success come exactly from the opposite. The focus is placed on making Wanda’s character as easy to empathise with as possible. Her trauma and escapism are relatable—especially during this pandemic—that it is hard not to empathise with and be immersed in her world as she tries to find a safe space. 

 

 

I truly believe that when one creates a story, the focus must be on delivering the best version of that story, not on fulfilling an agenda, because if the story itself is good, the agenda will fill by itself. If the forefront of your focus is to force-tick certain social-boxes, the story will suffer, making the actions of the characters in the story appear shallow and unrealistic. Yes, the MCU clearly suffers from a lack of female representation, and sadly, even the low number of female characters that exist, are rather poorly written, but if WandaVision is to be taken as an example of what is to come, I am more than happy with waiting to see what more the MCU has to offer. 

 

 

Featured photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

 

Book review- A Wiser Girl

Book review- A Wiser Girl

 

ARTS + CULTURE

Book review- A Wiser Girl

bring back our girls protest in nyc
parisa

18th March 2021

 

A Wiser Girl. The title of Moya Roddy’s new novel does not betray any of the twists and turns in the adventures of its heroine, Jo, but it does hint at something important: that these twists and turns also serve as trials and tribulations that presumably will leave her A Wiser Girl.

I went to Charlie Byrne’s bookstore over the holidays and picked up A Wiser Girl after seeing Moya’s name, as Moya is my friend’s mom. The first thing I noticed was the cover: a picture of a girl’s flaming red hair resplendent in the light and shadows on a clear day, as the girl seems to be looking out at the waves. The image also reveals nothing about the adventures that lie between its covers.

The book tells the story of Jo, an Irish woman in her early 20s, as she journeys to Italy during the 1970s in hopes of becoming a painter. She harbors ideations of herself as an aspiring bohemian. In Italy, she runs into all sorts of trouble, ranging from the sexual attention of her boss, the father of the family for whom she works as an au pair, to inadvertently finding herself connected to dangerous communist groups who drag her into their political activities under the façade of working for animal rights. Jo, simultaneously naïve and unaware of her naiveté, is a prime target for the trickery of duplicitous men.

As she finds herself out of a job after an inopportune display of intoxication at her boss’ dinner party, Jo lands another job working in a home for the elderly, which is operated by a woman with crude manners and even cruder fashion sense. Despite this, Jo manages to somehow make friends with a kind (and wealthy) English man, Rupert, whose family own a property in Italy. Unfortunately for him, her romantic interest waxes and wanes as her time in Italy progresses. However, soon romance sparks between her and Philip, a young American painter, who also receives attention from Rupert’s mother.

As the novel progresses, the themes of youth, vulnerability, and making life mistakes color the plot and give context to the situations in which Jo finds herself. Her decisions seem at times madcap and ad hoc, partially due to her lack of propriety and partially due to her inability to keep quiet when annoyed or upset.

 

“As the novel progresses, the themes of youth, vulnerability, and making life mistakes color the plot and give context to the situations in which Jo finds herself.”

 

A Wiser Girl depicts something that many women and girls today still face at every second of their lives, but many have not experienced: being controlled and having their wings broken by the men in their lives. In Jo’s case, the readers are aware that she leaves Ireland with a broken heart, in part to escape from her past with Eamon, someone who touched her profoundly. We are also aware her financial means are limited and that she comes from a working-class background, which has limited her educational options. Throughout the course of her experience in Italy, Jo constantly faces situations or decisions that illustrate how youthful and vulnerable she is, both as a foreigner and as a young woman in Italy in the 1970s.

The most poignant illustration of this, at least for me, is the scene in which Jo receives a letter from the Florence Art Academy inviting her back to model for the students. The previous semester, Rupert had found her a job there after she found herself out of the job at the home for the elderly. At the time of receiving the letter, she and Philip are ensconced in their own live-in relationship, and Philip flat-out forbids her from going back, without even giving her the chance to express her thoughts, and what is remarkable is that he feels comfortable doing so, without a doubt about whether it is his choice, or even his place to do so. Whether or not Philip made this choice out of jealousy over the fact that his girlfriend would be posing (her body visible) before other students, her artistic ambitions, or of her spending her time with other people on other things is unclear. But Philip makes the decision, and she goes along with it. As a result, she is left completely beholden to Philip, completely at his beck and call, and she is essentially completely reliant on him for her own physical, emotional, and financial well-being, a responsibility bestowed upon him that he does not deserve.

Philip uses Jo as a muse, but also as his emotional, social, and physical crutch and companion, at times as his unofficial housewife. He reminded me of what I imagine a narcissistic who sucks all the energy out of those around him would be like, of the way I imagine a sensitive, creative type in need of constant praise, stimulation, and attention, unable to internally bear what he perceived as her competition as a painter or as an independent partner.

Jo’s summer in Italy leads her into trouble, foibles, and adventures, and it proves to be a summer of self-discovery. In the end, hopefully she realizes who her real, true friends are and is on her way to realizing and manifesting her own self-worth and potential. May we please have a sequel?

 

Featured Photo from Conor Montague on Twitter

Documentary review: Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.

Documentary review: Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.

 

ARTS + CULTURE

Documentary review: Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.

fka twigs in concert
deepthi suresh stand news

10th March 2021

 

When Mathangi (Maya) Arulpragasam took out Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks in 1996, it had been 10 years since it was last borrowed from the London City Library. The book had been lying idle for a decade amidst a busy crowd of sleeping beauties. Black Skin, White Masks expresses the restlessness and the haunting trauma of the misconfiguration between the experiences and identity of the persecuted. Fanon demystifies the socially constructed realm of ideas driving our perception of oppression and exposes the need to awaken bystanders from their ignorance and overwhelming hubris. This is exactly what Maya, or M.I.A, has intended to do and art has been her medium.

 

Even after years of periodically listening to M.I.A’s Paper Planes, the Grammy nominated song seemed to be nothing more than the latest pop hit produced by a band of robots. Not until I stumbled across the artist’s documentary, Matangi/Maya/MIA, did I realise the story being told. Maya, or M.I.A, is a Sri Lankan Tamil musician and filmmaker who moved as a refugee to South London at age 11. Her father was a high-profile figure of the Tamil independence movement and was engaged in the gruesome civil war which continued until 2009. Maya’s encounters with the injustice of the Sri Lankan violence were silenced by the fear and oppression which reigned over the nation for decades. Paper Planes is an anthem of protest against the scapegoating stereotypes which plague the immigrant communities of the world. Her artistic and creative productions are the means through which she fights for the truth and activation of social and political consciousness. Paper Planes is a testament to both the ills of immigrant oppression and the vitality of their movement, and this intermingling has brought about the development of a thriving urban culture.

 

Maya’s documentary is an ode to her artistic activism as she accounts for the years of war-torn struggles in Sri Lanka, while simultaneously highlighting her experience of the hypocrisy and censorship of western media. The film itself is eccentric in form but it is through this raw style that an unfiltered depiction of the evolution of M.I.A, a world-renowned artist and silenced victim of censorship, is revealed. During the violent years of Sri Lanka’s civil war, one could not speak up for fear of death. In the West, one can speak but cannot be heard. Maya was, and often still is, portrayed in the international sphere as a pseudo-political activist using her platform and fame to preach irrelevant claims of human rights violations and Tamil independence. If she was not dismissed by U.S talk show hosts, her indigestible exposure of Sri Lankan war crimes was simply edited out by media bureaucracies in the West. In the New York Times, she was politically delegitimised due to the singular fact that she ordered truffle flavoured chips at a restaurant. She is wealthy and famous; therefore, she has no right to complain about injustice. If she were poor and invisible, would anyone hear her complain? In an international television interview, the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary claimed that she “should stick to what she is good at, and that is music.’’ Unlike her pop music, Maya’s experiences of war and injustice were simply too uncomfortable for the ears of the western media.

 

“She is wealthy and famous; therefore, she has no right to complain about injustice. If she were poor and invisible, would anyone hear her complain?”

 

Maya was sued by the NFL for £15 million because she stuck up her middle finger during her Superbowl performance with Madonna. Her music video for the song Born Free received infinite outbursts of negative attention due to its violent graphics and controversial messages involved. The video sets the scene of the genocide of ginger-haired civilians in London. The production was inspired by the leaked footage of Sri Lankan authorities executing Tamil civilians the same year. When Maya shared the real-life coverage of the Sri Lankan executions on her Twitter feed, the post fell on deaf ears. The Sri Lankan war crimes and suspected genocide continued to be silenced in the international press. When an electro-pop melody, fake blood and ginger-haired actors got involved, the world erupted in outrage and YouTube censored the video’s availability.

 

‘Art is either a poem or a piece of cheese’. If an artist does not dare to create outside the boundaries of censored societies and perceived taboos, what is being created is nothing more than an empty medium, a blank canvas. Not only do people like Maya have social and political platforms from which millions could potentially listen to what they have to say, but artists also possess a form of communication more powerful and unique than any political campaign. They possess the power of influence, of inciting understanding and most significantly, they have the power to change the velocity of a society.

 

Truth is, nonetheless, a taboo. This taboo continues to be silenced, prosecuted, and dismissed every day across the world no matter how large and wide the platform of communication may be. Many people, therefore, enjoy an idea of equality that does not exist in their society. Political censorship enables this to continue. Art, on the other hand, remains to be a fundamental means of expression within our interconnected world. Censorship and political dismissal of artists is therefore an undermined and alarming problem. “The condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak.”

 

Featured Photo from miadocumentary.co.uk