Smile Baggage

A few days ago I had a chip in my left front tooth repaired, and I keep going to mirrors and smiling at them. The dental assistant did a really great job. It’s really hard to tell that there was a chip for 15+ years.

But I’ll probably be back to hating my smile again in a day or two, after the novelty has worn off. That’s neither here nor there… I’ve never liked to smile. Part of that stems from my lifelong discomfort with my teeth (Grandma, rest her soul, would inspect and comment on them every time we visited), but another reason I’ve never been a grinner comes from the fact that I am not a cheerful person, by and large. Most of the time, I’m neutral… happy is too strong a word for my usual mood, and I don’t like to go about aimlessly smiling (I do enough of that at work). But even as a kid, the constant pressure to smile and “be happy” all the time irked me. At school, they wouldn’t stop taking yearbook photos until everyone was smiling. The worst of it was when I was graduating… it was 87 degrees, somebody had already passed out, and because our caps and gowns were very light-colored, the tall people were getting blinded… but it was emphasized that the session would not end until everyone grinned (I thought of Sean Connery circa 1963 and bared my teeth. It was the last photo.)

The W.C. Fields quote, “just start every day out with a smile and get it over with,” sums up my feelings beautifully.

Especially when, as a woman, a lot of people tell me to smile… that I’ll get wrinkles if I don’t… I’ll look prettier if I smile… the usual litany of garbage. I know I’m quite ornamental, but there’s more to me than that. Besides…  some days there are other things to think about. Or just the fact that I’m up, about and civil is a victory. I don’t need unsolicited editorials. This was especially true in graduate school, when I was often physically sick and/or anxious or depressed.

Speaking of which… I don’t know how common this particular pressure to smile is, and whether it’s segregated by gender (although I suspect it’s more aimed at females), but in college I once received a lecture about how it was important to smile because not smiling at someone might be the final straw that pushes them to self-harm or suicide. It’s possible, of course, but that whole lecture never sat well with me. It was a lot of pressure, and it seemed too broad, considering that the fuss was about a very specific dorm issue (that I wasn’t even aware of).  But it still comes down to not smiling for yourself, but smiling aimlessly for the benefit of the rest of the world.

It’s heavy emotional labor, acting happy for the benefit of everybody else. It’s tiring. And there’s just not always time for it. There’s courtesy and respect, and there’s being a Stepford. Or a Smylex victim (

And on that note, I’ll leave you. Because the Joker is always a tough act to follow (and live). Unless you’re Batman, and if you’re Batman, no one will tell you smile without fear of losing teeth. Just noting.


Cinderalla, a Story About a Pumpkin

Pumpkin CoachThe summer I turned three, I was miserable.  My mom was on bed-rest with my brother-to-be, and my dad was in graduate school in Moscow. So I was obsessed with Disney’s Cinderella, a story about an orphan (which I felt like).  I watched the damn movie every day and did things like scrub the kitchen floor and carport floor while singing “Sing Sweet Nightingale.”  That’s a lot of days off my life I’m not getting back.

And I haven’t really watched the movie since then.  I had no intention of seeing the live-action remake.  The only reason I saw it was because my boss was playing it in the video store where I work.  I didn’t like it, but it made me curious enough that a few days later when I was minding the store on my own, I put on the cartoon.

I remembered why I liked it as a kid, and why I don’t like it so much now.  But also why it’s better than the remake (sorry, Dad).  Let’s look at the checks against the original.  Cinderella isn’t very bright.  The mice are in nearly every scene.  It’s sexist.  The Prince doesn’t have much personality.

Now let’s deconstruct.  Cinderella isn’t very bright, but she still behaves like a person.  She gets angry when she’s mistreated, and she fights to get out of her tower when she’s locked in. Basically, she’s been a victim of abuse for years (she looks like she was about 10 when her father died), so that probably has messed with her head some, but she also still has an inkling that she doesn’t really deserve for the stepmother and stepsisters to treat her like garbage.  And she does stand up for herself from time to time.

The mice might be too much.  I don’t know.  I just liked them better than the stuff with the Prince and his father in the remake.  And now for a defense that isn’t my opinion… in the original movie, it’s mentioned hurriedly that Cinderella and the Prince are in love.  But what’s more emphasized is that the King has basically told his son that he was to get married and start producing heirs pronto.  The old King is as much if not more of a driving force behind the search for the maiden with the slipper because of his desire for a dynasty.  It offsets the “they can’t be in love after two hours” argument somewhat.  As well as the Prince not having much personality.  With his father having him under the gun to get married, what Cinderella sees in him isn’t as important.

Finally, the sexism.  I’m not going to defend it per se.  All I’ll do is give the movie a certain amount of credit for being upfront about it (sewing is women’s work, the king sees his future daughter-in-law as a walking uterus, beauty or the lack thereof is a personality trait).  The remake is still sexist, but a ton of its publicity was taken up with assuring the public that it wasn’t, and that this Cinderella was no victim, and all that.  Then they bungled it (and my disappointment comes at a price).  At least with a fairy tale made in the 1950s I know what I’m getting into.

In the end, though, it’s still a familiar story about a girl and a pumpkin.  Or a girl and the holy family.  Or a skeleton.  Or a dog.  Or whatever version you please.  I didn’t like the Disney remake of its classic, but I don’t care enough to rail against it.  Or even the first one.  I have a long history with Cinderella, and even though it’s a little embarrassing now, it was all pretty harmless.  And I’d be interested to see somebody else give the story a try.

Bippity boppity boo.


007: Pageturner

Pow, you're dead.

Pow, you’re dead.

When I was a lonely, bored, curious, culture-starved high school student I discovered the James Bond novels.  It was a very roundabout discovery… I think it started with a Paul McCartney album (it had the song “Live and Let Die”), and then when I was about sixteen Mom said I was old enough for a double feature of Dr. No and From Russia with Love, and then came the books.  Lovely books.

Of course, I saw movies beyond the two first permitted by my mother… every Sean Connery addition (except Never Say Never Again… that one doesn’t count), The Man with the Golden Gun (for Christopher Lee), a couple other Moore flicks, and License to Kill.  Connery and Dalton are my favorite Bonds.  I didn’t last long enough in Goldeneye for M to call out James on his misogyny (you go, M!), and I didn’t like Casino Royale (though to be fair, I didn’t like the book, either).

But it’s been maybe four or five years since I saw one of the movies… even From Russia with Love, my favorite.  I’ve always had problems with the movies… very quickly their cliches became evident, as well as their nasty misogyny.  In fairness, the books aren’t much better… but in Fleming’s work, everything is a bit more complicated and has consequences.  Therefore, they have more depth.  The movies seem watered down next to them.

I’ll explain.  In the novels, we get into James’ head.  We know he’s suffering from PTSD (although they don’t call it that), and a lot of his self-destructive behavior (the reckless gambling, driving, drinking, and otherwise living beyond his means) are related to that and the fact that he expects to be killed in the line of duty.  He suffers terrible guilt over the death of his wife, Tracy (who we know he really loves), and over the jobs where his mission is just to kill somebody.

In the novel The Man with the Golden Gun, he starts trying to get fired, something that continues into The Living Daylights— Fleming’s last Bond adventure (a novella rather than a novel).  As a reader, I initially interpreted that as Fleming wanting to get on with his life and on to other projects (which could be true, I don’t know for sure), but if I had to pick a moment in Bond’s character where the sentiment really picks up, it’s when Scaramanga (the titular character in TMWTGG) asks if he can say the rosary before getting shot.  Of course, James can’t bring himself to refuse and barely gets out alive.

Isn’t that interesting?  And you sure the hell wouldn’t see anything like that in the movies.  Though after 50-odd years, there might be something to be said for that.  Goodness knows there are other spies and spy novels to be adapted.  Plenty of other fish in the sea… or even octopuses because that’s what Octopussy really was… a blue-ringed octopus.  What can I say?  Not one of Fleming’s more creative names.

But do pick up one of the novels and give it a look-see.  My favorite of the books is actually Goldfinger (even though it’s homophobic… what wasn’t in the 50s?).  The book doesn’t have the infamous barn scene, and I find it far superior to the movie.  But you’ll never have two people with the same list of favorite Bond books and movies… the pool’s just too big.  And full of octopuses.


“Nothing” is Worse

Well, same to you!

Well, same to you!

I’ve been thinking about insults.  The wherefores and the whys don’t belong on the Internet.

There’s so many unflattering things to call people: a liar, poison, a moron, an asshole, a prick… but nothing comes even close to calling someone a vagina, be the insult pussy or cunt.  Nothing.  Or “no-thing” in Shakespearean English.

The implication of such an insult is that the person it’s directed at is weak, powerless, doesn’t know their place….  They’re all ridiculous.  Think for a minute about what a vagina is capable of, and tell me it’s weak.  Then think of how fragile a penis is.  (I’m just saying.)

Also, how many women check to make sure their vagina is still there?  I didn’t realize it was a thing for guys to make sure their junk was still attached in the morning, or after a coma, or an accident, but I’ve come across enough popular culture references to assume it must be a thing.  Anyway, maybe that’s because the vagina, despite the “wandering womb” nonsense from the ancient Greeks, is not something women usually get hysterical (hah) over the fear of losing.

Anyway, I could go on in greater detail about why “vagina” is a stupid, sexist insult, but in theory most of us know that already.  Yet the insult remains.

When we’re angry with someone, we tend to go for any weaponry available (the time that thing ten years ago happened, etc.) and not necessarily analyze the impact of the weapon chosen.  (Gee, that sounds vaguely like history.)  For those who know not to use vagina as an insult, but aren’t sure what else packs the sting of calling someone the vilest word in the English language (cunt)… I don’t know what to do, either.  My goal is to find something else equally pleasing to the tongue that’s still insulting.  Qualities are good (like poisonous), though, of course, insults are in and of themselves undesirable.

But if we get away from ugly, senseless insults, we might edge more towards intelligent arguments.


Top 10 Disney Supporting Characters #5 Widow Tweed

This scene never makes it on "best of" lists.  Quite an oversight.

This scene never makes it on “best of” lists. Quite an oversight.

I loved The Fox and the Hound as a kid.  I remember watching it while my parents and their colleagues packed up the house, so we could move across town.  The TV and VCR were among the last things packed.  Besides the awesome action and moral, one of the reasons I liked it so much was Tod’s human, Widow Tweed.

She was voiced by the talented actress, Jeannette Nolan– who had been in film for nearly 40 years at this point.  She played tough frontier and mountain women, too– most notably in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and The Twilight Zone episode “Jess-Belle.”  She could do sympathetic, unsympathetic… you name it.  She brings a ton of energy, style, and brass to this animated woman.

It’s believable that this dairy farmer would take in an orphaned fox kit.  When she interacts with Tod and names him the audience gets a sense of how lonely she was.  She can’t stay mad at him when he accidentally causes a ruckus in the barn.

But she has a ton of grit.  When her neighbor, Amos, starts shooting at Tod (and by extent Tweed– the fox was in the back of her truck), she slams on the brakes and stands in the path of the oncoming car!  She doesn’t back down– whether from his yelling, the older dog Chief’s snarling, the fact that she might very easily get hit.  She puts up with Amos’ sexism (he only ever calls her “woman”) and kicks him out of her house when he barges into her house looking for Tod after Chief gets a broken leg.

Realizing that Tod can’t be safe living next door to Amos and his dogs, she then makes the difficult, heartbreaking decision to release him on the game preserve.  She has a lovely monologue during the drive that expresses perfectly how she feels, without becoming maudlin.  But she never wavers when she has to drive away.  Tod’s collar and leash comes off.  She hugs him and goes away.  Interestingly the movie never has the fox express any feelings of betrayal or abandonment at being left in the wild– maybe he realized, too, that this was the best option.

Tweed makes a final appearance in the movie’s closing scene.  Amos, fresh from his ill-fated attempt to kill Tod on the game preserve, has had to swallow his pride and ask her for help with the foot that was caught in one of his own steel-jaw traps.  And she helps him, though she’s not above having some fun at his expense at the same time.

The result is a tough, good old woman.  We don’t see many characters like her nowadays.  Actually, they were thin enough on the ground in 1981.  Clearly something is wrong with this picture.


Just a Pretty Face

Some of my collection, including my lovely vintage doll, Charlotte.

Some of my collection, including my lovely vintage doll, Charlotte.

Recently I’ve seen a lot of venom directed at Barbie across various mediums, interspersed with one article arguing against the idea that playing with the doll increases body insecurities and the risk of eating disorders.  Admittedly, like all corporations, Mattel brings a lot of its trouble on itself.  But does an 11 1/2 inch doll with tits really prompt girls to hate themselves?  I’m fat.  I’m a feminist.  I had numerous body insecurities growing up.  I have opinions.

My first Barbie-style doll was a black Miss Flair… she was probably bought in 1993 or ’94.  I named her Julia.  My first Barbie followed soon after, and then a Ken.  About that same time my dad acquired a tape of Tex Avery cartoons, of which, one of my favorites was always “Swing-Shift Cinderella,” starring the even more impossibly proportioned Rita Hayworth-esque dame from “Red Hot Riding Hood.”  I was fascinated by Red.  She was gorgeous; she sang well, and she could handle herself pretty well against the ravenous Wolf (that’s how Grandma described him).  I asked my mother if I would look like Red when I grew up; she said no, Red was a cartoon character.

I applied the same lesson to my dolls.  I would probably have learned it anyway.  My baby brother arrived July of that year, and he in no way resembled the handful of baby dolls in my room.  Toys and real life were mutually exclusive.

Admittedly, it’s just my experience.  My body insecurities came from people rather than toys.  But beyond the body image thing, there’s still a lot of rather myopic hate thrown at Barbie.  A couple years ago I came across this book called The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie— a history of the doll, and the controversies surrounding her.  Some were pretty ridiculous, such as is Barbie an assimilated Jew (because the Handlers were Jewish)?

No.  Barbie is a plastic doll.  She’s not a Jew, a Christian, or any other religion.  She was invented because Mrs. Handler’s daughters preferred grown-up paper dolls to baby dolls.  It wasn’t meant to be political, or scheming to make people unhappy.  She just happened to observe what was liked.

Anyway, that was a commercial break.  The question you really want answered is whether Barbie is feminist or not.  And different feminists will tell you different things.

Yes, Mattel has slipped up a lot– pretty much all companies be they toy or entertainment have.  But Barbie is more than just a pretty face in that regard.  The Handlers put her into space before the US sent its first female astronaut skyward.  She has also been a teacher, a doctor, an army medic, as well as all the careers people are inclined to sneer at (ballet dancer, model, etc.).

And the inclination to sneer at Barbie for being too pink or two feminine complicates the problem further.  The problem isn’t pink– it’s pink being the only choice.  And that wasn’t always the case.  Until the 1980s, Barbie had a much broader palette.  For that matter, when she was first created, her appearance was much more cartoonlike (like Red), unlike the levels of “realism” Mattel strives for today.

Body image is a genuine problem, as are eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, but I feel that pointing the accusing finger at Mattel and Barbie is simply putting a bandage over the bigger issues.  Mental illness, eating disorders included, is still incredibly stigmatized and difficult to treat because most insurance plans don’t provide sufficient coverage for a patient to get the therapy they need.  Also body insecurity is not the sole cause of eating disorders.  Famous anorexic royal, Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary was trapped in a loveless marriage, bullied and sometimes locked in her apartments for days by her mother-in-law– what she ate, and how she made ready were the only aspects of her life she had real control over, and very quickly sank into that mental illness.

Then there’s the beauty paradox.  Too much of a woman’s worth is placed in what she looks like, that’s elementary, but the beautiful don’t necessarily get ahead.  Attractiveness is also a liabilty in that if one is beautiful, people will likely assume that that woman isn’t smart, that she’s shallow, or can’t be a good mother.  Barbie falls victim to that.  The viral video of kids playing with the “average Barbie” doll features one child saying that Barbie looked like she wouldn’t have a job.  Adults say the same thing.

There’s a lot of sexism in her criticism.  Even feminists who don’t like Barbie occasionally fall into that bad habit.  Admittedly, though, it’s a tough one to break.

So, should Barbie continue to be demonized as corrupting girls with her tits, dooming them to a life of misery, and mental illness?  No.  Is she a bright and shining example for young girls everywhere?  Probably not.  Though she has a very impressive history and makes many children happy when they act out her various adventures.  But she’s a doll– just a pretty face if you will, even though there’s a lot of brains behind it.  When there’s a problem, we need to use our brains and solve them instead of looking for something to blame.


Top 10 Women in Horror Films #2 Ellen Ripley

It pays to listen to her.

It pays to listen to her.

Another sci-fi/horror, although  Aliens is more horror than its prequel, because its plot echoes one of the best sci-fi/horror films of the 1950s– Them!  An insectoid menace, a little girl who is the the lone survivor of the initial carnage, and the need to destroy the queen before all is lost… these are all details shared by the two movies, although there are, of course, many significant differences.

Aliens(1986) opens 57 years after the events of Alien when Ripley(Sigourney Weaver) is brought out of hypersleep, her shuttle having drifted through space all that time.  No one believes her story about what happened to her fellow crew members on the Nostromo, and she is demoted down to forklift operator.  However, the planet where all the trouble started has been terraformed and colonized, although suddenly all contact is lost.  The Company now begins to believe Ripley and asks her to join the rescue mission, made up of a group of maladjusted, misfit space-marines and the corporate bastard Burke.  Landing, they discover the little girl, Newt, whose father was the first casualty of the alien outbreak.  With an alien for each member of the colony, and an egg-laying queen, not to mention that the whole place is undermined by a nuclear reactor, the plan quickly melts down.

Tension surrounds Ripley’s character from the moment she wakes up.  She has to prove that she’s not crazy and acted to the best of her abilities on the Nostromo.  Due to the crisis on the colony, the only way to do that is to confront her nightmares head on– not usually a situation female characters are seen in.  She also has to constantly deal with the space marines and Burke overriding and belittling her out of sexism, the fact that she’s a civilian, the fact that she’s the crazy Alien lady… you could make an argument for each or agree that it’s a combination of all three.  When Gorman panics, she assumes command of the team, using her expertise and leadership to prevent a bigger crisis. And she rises to it all, even taking Newt under her wing, inverting the usual trope that tough women don’t have a tender side.  She even learns that androids can be good.  We need more characters like her, and no, I don’t mean Avatar.