Hey, Mom! The Explanation.

Here's the permanent dedicated link to my first Hey, Mom! post and the explanation of the feature it contains.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Burgers or Booty?



Women are not pieces of meat!

Usually I am not one to join a rising outcry against something intended for children. Invariably, outraged parents or just those “concerned” for children will advocate censorship, something I am dead set against, in an effort to “protect” our children. From what? I always ask the same question. From what are we protecting our children? Because many families don’t have the same filters on their own behaviours as they want controlling television, film, music, video games, the magazine covers in grocery stores, advertising, music videos, Facebook, and on and on. However, just because, usually, I will not unite with wolf criers over questions of morality or the issues of sheltering children from things that are an integral part of life (usually sex and violence), this does not mean that when I encounter something truly nauseating I will keep quiet and not attack the product with criticism.

The latest product of Madison Avenue advertising “acumen” is the new Burger King commercial made in partnership with Nickelodeon to unload Spongebob Squarepants toys in kids meals. The commercial features a re-mix of Sir Mix-a-lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” which back then, a more conservative MTV only aired at night.

Here in the Burger King commercial “I like big butts” is changed to “I like square butts” as reference to the Spongebob character and his “square” pants (which in the show is both metaphor– he’s a “square”–and a literal description–he’s a kitchen scrub sponge, square and thick).

Now, Sir Mix-a-Lot reviving his long inert career huckstering kids meals for Burger King would be barely a blip on the old media criticism radar except for the content of the commercial. If Mix-a-lot were rapping about Spongebob with shots of the scary, masked Burger King (like some horror show ventriloquist dummy if you ask me) and the beloved characters from the Nickelodeon cartoon, then there would be no need for criticism. But that’s not what we have here. WATCH THE VIDEO!!

The horror show Burger King appears to be rapping about not just Spongebob’s square butt but women’s square butts, lots of them. There are far more women in this video with phone books stuffed in their skirts than there are shots of Spongebob or his friends. There are four dancing girls in gym socks, a mermaid, and a vampy woman in a red dress. Later, one of the dancers gets her square butt measured with a right triangle. But if that was not nauseating enough, and worthy of some serious media criticism, the video ends with Mix-a-lot flanked by two women on a couch, and he says “booty is booty.” HUH?? What does he mean by that?


The connection here is obvious: women = meat. Booty = burgers. This is disgusting.

Like I shared previously, I don’t usually like to argue for “protecting” children from anything, and I am certainly never fond of censorship, but when are any of these companies who violate our airspace with their infotoxins and destructive memes going to be brought to heel for their flagrant disregard of women as individual human beings. Now Burger King, a company that has generally attempted to avoid using sex to sell its meat, has created a version of the famous “woman through a meat grinder” Hustler magazine ad for kids. It’s vile.

What is the Burger King corporation thinking? Do they think that linking sex and meat will sell more burgers to pre-pubescent children? Do we need to have our kids meals at Burger King so sexualized?

Sometimes I think that corporations like Burger King see falling sales, and they want to stir the pot, and so they purposefully put out a product that will get a lot of attention by generating controversy. This commercial may not be making a big enough splash in the national news, (yet... many parenting groups are fomenting rebellion), but it seems to me to be a risky venture on Burger King’s part if controversy generation is its intent. Will sparking a morality/sexism controversy really sell more burgers?

I think not is the answer to all of the rhetorical questions above.

A couple of final thoughts: both Burger King and Nickelodeon claim the commercial is aimed at adults. Seriously? Is this an ad for parents who buy kids meals who grew up in the 1990s and will appreciate the nostalgia of Mix-a-lot’s revival? It’s not like the ad airs on stations watched exclusively by adults. It’s on Nickelodeon, which, last time I checked, has a primary audience of children (though plenty of adults get stuck watching it, too).

Also, does Burger King really want to promote the usual hip-hop mantra that the end goal of everyone in America is status, bling, ka-ching, and the booty that comes with it? In this short commercial, Mix-a-lot raps that “Spongebob is making me richer.” Oh, Spongey, beloved cartoon, really? Must you sink so low?

A couple of links:

My choice to blog about this commercial was totally inspired and must be attributed completely to my brilliant and amazing friend Zahkia, who is a perspicacious writer. So here's the link to her blog, which inspired me. Thank you Zahkia!

Spongebooty Squarepants

and with a link to the letter writing campaign...

Is the Sir Mix-a-Lot Burger King commercial too much for kids?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There's no shame in what You're Feeling: OWN THE KISS!


After the Madonna-Britney Spears kiss at the VMAs, VH1 interviewed Britney Spears about the kiss as she was promoting “Me Against the Music.” Britney would not look at the camera while talking about the kiss. She claimed that the kiss was “Madonna’s Idea.”

“She was the groom and I was the bride, and she felt, we should kiss or whatever,” Britney said not looking at the camera. “And I was like, ‘oh, okay,” Britney said in her best California debutante act, looking to the side with a half-eyeroll.

While teaching my Gender and the Media course at Western Michigan University, I always used to show this VH1 clip and criticize Britney for her indirect denigration of sexuality that doesn’t conform to the narrowly defined heterosexual morality. Britney’s choice here, which I called her “heterosexual act,” was a persona, a performance of what is expected of heterosexual role models in the media spotlight. These expectations are held by fundamental groups who still in many ways have a chokehold on this country. The word fundamental is apt here because like a foundation this culture is embedded deeply within the American Locus Ceruleus – the reptilian brain – a carry over from the Puritans who were some of the main founders of this country. The Puritan codes of conduct have become ingrained in the American genetic code from then on, and Britney pandered to them in her dismissal of the kiss with Madonna.

I felt that Britney was performing the established ideal of what heterosexuality should look like in response to what was clearly meant to be a titillating publicity stunt to give both her and Madonna some much needed press. Not the first stunt for either of them, and in fact, Britney seems to pull such stunts at the VMAs almost annually (remember the snake?).

I felt Britney should take responsibility for her own actions. This would have been a far more mature and positive reaction to the kiss: “Hell yeah, I kissed Madonna. I have always wanted to kiss Madonna. Not only is she smokin’ hot, but she’s the kind of powerful and strong woman that I emulate, that I am still striving to be. Plus, she’s a great kisser. Y’all only saw the one kiss, but we did a lot of practicing before we did it for the cameras. If you ever get a chance to kiss Madonna, do it. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Wouldn’t that have been better? Nowhere in such comments would Britney admit to being bi-sexual or, worse (in the eyes of the fundamentals), a lesbian. With a comment like that one, she would endorse that it’s all right for a woman to kiss another woman, all right for a woman to desire another woman, all right for women to kiss without either of them having to adopt any labels. Sexuality is fluid; it’s complex. No apologies, no equivocating.

Britney had an opportunity to advance cultural attitudes about sex, the way sex is perceived and experienced. Before all her many scandals and life changes, at the time of the kiss, Britney’s fan base was possibly at its peak in sheer numbers and fervency. She had a chance to really influence people. She could have re-positioned the way the kiss was viewed and regarded as more than an extension and fulfillment of male pornographic fantasies, as more than the embodiment of multiple women as sex toys to serve the male pleasure and privilege. But Britney did none of these things. Britney feigned so much embarrassment that she could not even look at the camera. Thanks, a lot, Brit.
Now, in 2008 and carrying into 2009, Katy Perry hits it big with “I Kissed A Girl (And I Liked It),” and she earned a Grammy nomination for the song. And though the song makes some positive strides forward that Britney’s publicity stunts did not, Perry’s single and accompanying video is neither free of the dogmatic constraints of narrowly-defined heterosexuality nor fully sex-positive, breaking barriers of artificial morality and sexual mores.

The comments online have been mixed between love and hate. Even among the gay community (check out the GLAAD link below), there is not a universal outcry against what Katy Perry has done (with “UR GAY” and her whole career pre-girl-kissing) and is doing for sexuality and our understanding of it.

But come on. Take a closer look. LOOK at the video. READ the lyrics, CLOSELY. This song is NOT an endorsement of the freedoms of sexuality, this song is NOT a testament to the sexual differences we all have no matter how much we repress and deny our feelings. This song is an attention-getting titillation that shows a girl experiment with the “naughty” world of “gay sex” (or, rather, just kissing) and then return to her boyfriend at the end. The ending of the video is suitably ambiguous, suggesting that either Perry kissed a girl, liked it, experimented, and now that’s over; OR that she just dreamed about such experimentation: it’s nothing more than a fantasy that has not and will not be fulfilled because, as she sings, “I hope my boyfriend don't mind it,” which seems to imply that she might care about what her boyfriend thinks, might stop what she’s doing if he DOES NOT like her kissing girls. Though as we all know, in general, most boys DO like watching girls kissing girls.

The video’s sets and costumes all reinforce and glorify the heterosexual world of pink satin, teddy bears, kitty cats, gold lamé, and “innocent” pillow fights with a gaggle of gal pals. The song’s lyrics also reinforce Katy’s heterosexuality and her status as an experimenter, who is only curious and only interested in “kissing,” as if it is such a DIFFICULT thing for a person to kiss someone of the same sex (people in Europe do it all the time, and they don’t make freakin’ music videos about it). There’s other heterosexual signs in the song and video, like “cherry chapstick” and references to “good girls,” the good girls of heterosexual fundamentalism and abstinence.
I must admit that the song is perky and spritely with plenty of bounce in its catchy, pop over-production, and Katy Perry herself is all dolled-up to be the gorgeous dream object of any boy or girl. And the song is not completely without merit. The best part of the song arrives near the end when Perry sings: “Us girls we are so magical/ Soft skin, red lips, so kissable/ Hard to resist so touchable/ Too good to deny it.” I love this sentiment because I adore women and find their sexuality mesmerizing (much more so than men, which reveals my sexuality; so there you have it). But Perry negates any positive message she makes with those lyrics with the last line of the verse: “Ain't no big deal, it's innocent.”

Innocent? So many interpretations to delive into with that line, and I am hoping some astute readers will leave them in comments. But the first thought that leaps to my mind is how toying with someone’s affections IS NOT INNOCENT. I have known too many lesbian women, good friends who have cried on my shoulder, good friends who complain about bi-curious girly-girls who love to tease, drunken make-out partners who will not remember these sessions in the morning, and the infamous gay-until-she-graduates experimenters (a phrase coined by a close friend of mine) who have broken the hearts of many women I know who make the mistake of falling in love with these temporary lesbians.

By presenting herself as some golden Holy Grail of ultra-hot girly-girlism, Katy Perry is sending the message once again that sexuality is not identity: it’s a game, an experiment, a toy with which one plays. She waves all her sexy body bling in the faces of the women who may lust for her. They can look, they may receive one of her curious kisses, but they can’t touch; they cannot have and hold.

And this is the story of the hegemonic, heterosexual fundamentalism firmly rooted in the American culture: if you play for another team, you’re a toy, you’re not the main attraction, and in the end, you’re the loser.



ALL THE LINKS AND VIDEOS

BRITNEY SPEARS: ME AGAINST THE MUSIC


BRITNEY KISSING MADONNA


"I Kissed A Girl" -Katie Perry


Amanda Palmer, Margaret Cho double-team Katy Perry


Amanda Palmer and Margaret Cho Sodomize “Katy Perry” - Live!

From the F word on the Katie Perry video

From NewNowNext

From Semantic Bits
Its funny, but most of my girlfriends all agreed.There is absolutely no way, that a man, directed this video.Guess what?
Yes a woman, did indeed direct this - Kinga Burza.The video is great and I'm quite sure, that lots of other video directors, could learn from this-how not to alienate one half of your audience...

Jill Sobule weighs in on Katy Perry's 'Kissed a Girl'


Gay activists deface church sign over Katy Perry lyric


The Miseducation of Katy Perry

"Why I Hate Katy Perry"

GO FUG YOURSELF KATY PERRY ARCHIVES

from GLAAD: Katy Perry: Friend or Foe?

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Rotten Tootsie Pop: 28 Weeks Later

28 WEEKS LATER REVIEW FOR BLOG
(originally from 0808.23) (Last of Old Blogs that Never Got Posted, pt.3)
And for those who have not seen the films 28 Weeks Later, 28 Days Later, and I Am Legend, beware SPOILERS to come.

Maybe my standards are too high, though I often think they are not high enough. There’s stupid movies, like The Day the Earth Stood Still remake (Dec. 2008). Stupid movies can almost be forgiven because they’re usually stupid from the start to the finish.

Some movies have moments of real brilliance (or at least quality) and avoid start-finish stupidity; they take a wrong turn. Movies like 28 Days Later and I Am Legend start really well, feature some great stuff in setting or situation, and then, inexplicably, what is working about the film is abandoned, the filmmakers take the film in a new direction that’s not in synch with what made the film good in its first half or two-thirds. And then, there’s a third kind of botch job: the film that’s ruined at the center, that violates a premise on which it built its foundation. 28 Weeks Later is such a film.

Imagine making Tootsie Pops. You make thousands, millions, with a delightful chocolate center. People like the center. People rely on the center, and they trust that it is there when they commence to dissolve the hard candy part with the tongue. But imagine you have taken it upon yourself to ruin one pop by replacing that reliable center with something else, something icky. You violate the sanctity of the center. Films that follow suit are worse than the stupid films or the wrong turn films because there’s some merit or consistency. But the violation... that cuts deep.

The violation isn’t apparent at first, and so, to start, there’s a lot to like about 28 Weeks Later. The opening sequence presents a great, character-driven problem, giving the main character angst that could only be born in a zombie-apocalypse saga. But in the end, the film fails to sustain this character-driven story and resorts to schlock horror.

This examination has helped me to think about what’s wrong with stories being produced today in a variety of media (books, comic books, TV, also). In a way, 28 Weeks Later provides a cautionary tale about an inherent problem in modern storytelling and a disrespect by many creators for their audience.

Ratings

I was surprised by how highly 28 Weeks Later is rated. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an overall 71% rating and a general 6.6 out of 10.

Metacritic calculates a score of 78 out of 100 from 34 reviews, and users gave it an average of 7.0 out of 10.

I am more inclined to give the film a 58% rating out of 100 or a 2.9 out of 5. Or rather, I would give the first half of the film an 78% and the second half of the film a 39%, which averages out to 58% for the film as a whole.

But it’s worthwhile to examine why the first half is such a success (and I am inclined to rate it much higher than 78% but a few bugs prevent me), and why the second half is such a disappointment.

I AM LEGEND in the same leaky boat

I had the same feelings for I Am Legend. (Excuse me while I digress momentarily.) The first hour of the movie studies loneliness and desolation in an elegant way. I had disliked the second half of the film so much that I forgot about it. I remembered the aerial views of an empty, abandoned New York City, and the palpable tension packed into every moment of Neville’s life. Watching the film, you know that the safe, little world he has constructed for himself is very flimsy, that it could collapse into utter ruin at any moment.

It’s a great sequence of scenes. Being an experienced movie watcher, you know something is going to happen. You know the threat lurks just around the next corner, just off camera, in a shadow, poised and ready. But the filmmakers cleverly delay showing the threat, which makes the tension of the possible but as yet unseen even more intense.

It’s such a powerful technique that if sustained better it would have made the film top-notch, instead of the kind of film that takes a wrong turn. After skillfully manipulating the viewer by withholding the threat and building the character identification to culminate in the wonderful scene in which Neville loses his dog, the film takes a wrong turn, abandons what was making it successful.

Much of these same sentiments are imparted in the SALON.COM review.

WHY 28 Weeks Later TAKES MORE THAN JUST A WRONG TURN

28 Weeks Later has many of the same problems. The set-up is the best part, but the film does not pay off in the end on the excellence of the beginning. However, like how I am Legend takes a wrong turn, so does the original film, 28 Days Later. The survival stuff and the gathering of characters was very well rendered, especially the loss of Frank. But when the characters are captured by the pseudo-military unit, the film takes a wrong turn and steers away from what made it successful in the same way I Am Legend ruins itself.
But that’s not what’s wrong with 28 Weeks Later.

It commits a greater sin than these others, instead of just taking a wrong turn, it takes a founding premise, the internal logic of the film’s concept, and violates it to drive plot. Moreover, to drive a plot that is not the best story that could derive from the film’s set-up. In fact, it’s the worst.

In reading the reviews of others, what I found most strange is that only one reviewer of the many seemed to spot what I feel is the greatest problem with 28 Weeks Later. Moriarty of Ain’t It Cool News summed it up best:

“What doesn't work is the use of a "hero zombie" in Don, which gives the film a single big bad to be faced and doesn't sit well within the film’s own internal logic of how the Rage virus works. For me personally, I hate the trend of taking a horde mentality monster, such as zombies, the Alien and the Borg and giving them a Queen or similar that gives the audience something to cheer when its killed as it robs the monster of its faceless horror element.”

Exactly.

After watching the film, I had the same reaction. Driving a plot with something so illogical doesn’t work. All the viewers should stand up and protest with a great big “WHAT THE HELL?”
To not be redundant, here’s a summary of the film if you have not seen it: WIKIPEDIA.

THE MEAT CORE OF THE SKINNY CENTER - YUK-

Like I Am Legend, the savory outer coating comes off first. In 28 Weeks Later, we have an opening scene that could become one of the masterpieces in all horror film. Survivors huddled in an old country home in England. As the rage-infected besiege the home, Don abandons his wife, afraid of taking the chance of becoming infected himself if he tries to save her. As he runs from the house, her image in the window of the upstairs bedroom where he left her evokes all the pathos and torment that Don carries when we next catch up with him.

The angst, self-loathing, and cowardice Don feels all comes together when he must tell his children about how he could not save their mum. We viewers know he is going to lie. This psychological drama of the choices survivors make in an apocalyptic scenario and then how they revise their personal history is the true brilliance of 28 Weeks Later. If the filmmakers had chosen to tell that story, the film could have had a delightful chewy center to equal the slick sugar of the outer coating. But that’s not the choices these creators make.

(ASIDE: I like to lump creators together as the “fault” for these choices could lie with the
writers, the director, or the producers – one of which is Danny Boyle, who did the first film.)

When the wife and mother, Alice, is found, the film introduces its second idea that is truly fascinating: she is infected, but she is immune; thus, her children may also hold the genetic key to curing the rage virus.

Chaos ensues after Don kisses Alice, and the infection transports itself to his system via saliva. In fact, the implication that Alice knows she is infected and contagious and gives the virus to Don to punish him for leaving her behind is another of the film’s brilliant and unexplored ideas.
If the film proceeded from this point as a story of how a few clever people, and the “cure” children, survive the new outbreak of the infection, then 28 Weeks Later might be a very good film with first and second halves earning high marks. Given that the American military chooses to indiscriminately slaughter everyone, even its own soldiers, to attempt to contain the virus, the story has a two threat structure that sets it apart from other zombie-apocalypse films. But the creators make other choices neither serves the premise of their story nor their good ideas well at all.

The idea that the “rage” virus would compel the father, Don, to hunt his children in an almost preternatural way is difficult enough to accept. When Don is first infected, trapped in a locked room with his wife, it makes sense for him to kill her. But beyond that for him to show unusual cunning, planning, and tracking skills not endemic to the infected breaks the flimsy bonds of suspension of disbelief. But even worse, to have Don show up as a frightening sentinel of foreboding and imminent death in the classic style of Mike Myers or Jason – back-lit and framed by creepy smoke to be the boogie monster from whom the kids cannot escape – is completely unbelievable, hokey, and ridiculous.

All of that is bad enough, but the creators of 28 Weeks Later take this rotten core to even greater extremes.


Once the helpful soldier is killed, the trusty doctor, Scarlet, leads the kids underground to avoid the bombing runs and other attacks by an American military hellbent on its scorched earth and extermination policy. A truly frightening scene unfolds. The three have only a rifle scope with night vision to guide them. Scarlet wears the goggles and directs the children as they navigate the underground tube station, climbing down escalators jammed with corpses. And though they are making tons of noise, it violates every premise of the mindless rage that supposedly drives the infected to have Don track the trio, come upon Scarlet in the dark, and beat her to death. Left on their own, blind, the children somehow manage to escape Don in the dark until they are separated.

The culminating moment of the film seems to be when Don infects the boy, Andy, just before Tammy kills her father. The boy then is a carrier but not enraged by the virus, (like his mother) as he and his sister are flown out of England to Paris where the virus can infect and spread in a possible sequel.

Making Don the sinister and persistent predator, the “big bad” villain who plagues the heroes throughout the film, violates the premise of the “rage” virus, imbuing Don with intelligence he should not possess given how the infected have been previously characterized.

The improbable pursuit of the children by Don destroys suspension of disbelief and ruins a film with a chance to be brilliant from beginning to end. It is these kinds of choices that make me wonder if the creators of a film truly understand the kind of the film they are making, its rules, its inviolable tenets. Like with the first film and its ridiculous “happy” ending, is there some hotshot producer or studio executive who lays down the law for a particular decision that ruins the film? If so, it would be awfully nice to have nationally recognized awards that ridicule these mavericks who destroy valuable property like this franchise.

OTHER LINKS
FILM THREAT

EW

FREEZE DRIED

ROLLING STONE

- the gmr ... 0901.09 - 21:01