Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wonder Woman: Born Sexy Yesterday?

While Marvel movie fans have been eagerly awaiting a Black Widow movie, DC has stepped up and released the first big-name superhero movie to star a woman in quite some time. Released on June 2nd, Wonder Woman has a lot of expectations to live up to. 

Originally designed as a symbol of the suffragette movement, Wonder Woman is often regarded as a symbol of feminism. Though her original design may be questionably titillating, the ideals of feminism have changed over time, and Wonder Woman's character design and personality has changed with them. Now, she's not only a highly skilled fighter, but an incredibly empathetic and morally upstanding person who finds it hard to walk away from anyone in need.

In the new movie directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman is born Princess Diana (Gal Gadot), on the small magically concealed island of the Amazons, a seemingly immortal race of only women, who fled ancient Greece to escape their enslavement. Sculpted from clay and granted life by Zeus, Diana grew up the only child on her island, and so was already fairly sheltered by the time American soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the magical barrier concealing her island.

This could easily have been a problematic plot-point. Science fiction and fantasy have had a history of  fetishizing naive or isolated women, creating a fantasy in which an average man becomes the smartest, strongest, kindest example of his sex in the eyes of a woman who's never met a man before. This trope has been recently recognized by the TV tropes website and named "Born Sexy Yesterday."

Coined by Youtube’s “Pop Culture Detective Agency,” this trope is described as involving a woman with "the mind of a naive yet highly skilled child, but in the body of a mature, sexualized woman." It often centers around androids or other synthetically created women--who literally were “born yesterday”-- such as Leeloo from The Fifth Element or Quorra from Tron: Legacy, but can also be applied to women who have been isolated from society in one way or another, such as Altaira Morbius from 1956's The Forbidden Planet or almost any of Captain Kirk’s love interests from the original Star Trek series. Though currently it’s most often found in science fiction and fantasy, the trope is really an offshoot from one in which white men discover indigenous women and must show them the ways of “civilized” society.

The problem with this trope is that it fetishizes a power difference between the man and the woman (examples of this trope with the gender roles switched are extremely rare and are often played for laughs). The women are often portrayed as little more than children, yet in sexualized bodies. It’s often used as an excuse for the woman to disrobe in front of men because she “doesn’t know better.” Since so many of them have never seen a man before, the leading man becomes the most amazing man they’ve ever seen by default. The man is often a completely average one, often socially awkward or in some way unable (or unwilling) to have a lasting relationship with a woman who’s his equal. Average knowledge such as how faucets work or how to find your way around New York make him seem smart and worldly to the woman born yesterday.

Which brings us back to the Wonder Woman Film. Diana has lived an extremely secluded life, growing up the only child on a magically concealed island made up entirely of women, and could easily fall into the “born sexy yesterday” trope. The difference here is that, while she does share a love story with the leading man and he does have to teach her how to behave in the outside world, the focus is not on their relationship but on Diana’s own personal struggles with morality. If anything, the romance is downplayed to give more attention to Diana’s character arc. Diana is never portrayed as a child in a woman’s body, however socially unaware she might be, and is never actually sexualized or objectified. In fact, she’s incredibly headstrong and refuses to be talked down to, often ignoring Trevor’s advice when her own code conflicts with it. They often butt heads on the battlefield when they disagree about the best way to handle a situation, and neither of them are portrayed as right or wrong--the takeaway of the movie is that morality is not black and white, and war especially is wrought with shades of grey.

In the end, it is Trevor’s love that gives Diana the strength to defeat the evil war god Ares, in a way. In another way, it’s the concept of love itself. At the height of her moral dilemma, she’s realized that evil does not come from any outside influence, corrupting the hearts of man, but was in the hearts of man to begin with. She looks over at her little battalion as they embrace each other and prepare for the end, and she thinks of Trevor standing up for what he believes even in the face of such evil, and she comes to the conclusion that only love can conquer evil. She did love him, but she could have come to this conclusion without him, as her platonic relationships with the other battalion members were just as real and honest.

Her relationship with Trevor was entirely set on even ground. In the beginning of the movie, being a man in WW1, he tried his best to guide her through London and show her the ways of the world, often coming off as patronizing. Yet it’s only after they go into battle together and fight as equals, and he finally stops looking at her as a child, that she initiates the relationship. Though she’s only dealt with men for a short time, she already knows how they work, and nothing happens that’s not on her own terms.

At a Glance:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

American Gods Review

In the wake of Westworld's first brilliant season and while you're waiting on the edge of your seat to see what happens next on Game of Thrones, you may be desperate for a new high-concept, expansive drama to capture your interest. Starz's new series American Gods might just fill the void.

Based on the iconic novel by Neil Gaiman, American Gods is intrinsically hard to describe. The basic concept is that gods are created and sustained by humanity's belief in them. As a result, every people that has ever immigrated to America, since the very first nomadic tribes crossed the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the Ice Age, have brought their gods with them. As belief in them wanes, the gods must do whatever they can to sustain themselves. At the same time, new gods, those of media and technology, and of abstract concepts like globalization, are reigning supreme.

The story follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), who during the worst day of his life so far is released from prison, finds out his wife and best friend were both killed in a car accident...and that they were sleeping together. When he's offered a job by a mysterious grifter who calls himself Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), he finds himself more or less recruited into a war between the old gods and the new.

And that's just the first episode. Over the course of five episodes so far, American Gods has explored themes of loss, of immigration, and the true nature of reality. When asked what the show was about, Whittle described it as "hard to define and categorize, which is great. The show is this beautiful love story between Shadow and [his wife] Laura (Emily Browning). The show touches on immigration. It touches on sexism, homophobia, racism. It's a buddy/road story between Mr. Wednesday and Shadow. It's about the melting pot that is America. It's just very, very topical themes in the current, heated political climate right now."

With a whopping 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it's easy to see why this series has already resonated with so many audiences. For one thing, its cast is incredibly diverse. Shadow Moon, whose ethnicity was only hinted at in the book, is now definitively a black man. Minority characters are fleshed out and three-dimensional, and often incredibly likable. Sex scenes are graphic, yes, but passionate, intimate, and quite unconventional in themselves.

The most telling example of both of these is in the side-story about a Muslim salesman, played by Ohmid Abtahi, who feels lost and marginalized in America and finds comfort in a Muslim taxi driver who also happens to be an Ifrit, or Djinn-- almost like the Muslim version of a demon, but not quite. He takes the Ifrit to his hotel room and they spend a night making passionate love, which is shown entirely as something beautiful.

In this scene, executive producer Brian Fuller said he wanted to explore "in a sex-positive way the human relationship to our own sexuality" and "what it is to bond and join and physically become one with another human being, and leave our individual sense of self behind and become something greater than what we were before we were penetrating or being penetrated or entwined in whatever respect we were going to be entwined with another."

But in addition to being even more sexy and violent than Game of Thrones will ever be, it explores high-concept dilemmas like what it means to be human in even more engaging and entertaining ways than Westworld did. Unlike either of these shows, however, American Gods doesn't easily fit into the category of either sci-fi or fantasy. It relies on a high-contrast, colorful style akin to comic book movies like 300 and Watchmen, but uses extreme visual metaphors to create a dreamlike feeling throughout the whole narrative.

More than once, Shadow believes he's going crazy, but when he brings his concerns to Mr. Wednesday, he's met with cryptic explanations that offer no assurance. "Seems you have a choice. You may have to consider that you didn't see what you saw," he tells him," Or you did. The world is either crazy or you are. They're both solid options. Take your pick, and when you decide, come and tell me. But don't rush into it. Take your time. Difficult decision." When Shadow presses him, he shuts down the conversation with a veiled threat."There are bigger sacrifices one might be asked to make than going a little mad."

All in all, American Gods is well worth the watch for anyone craving more minority representation in media, or just looking for an intense, visually stunning drama that explores deep concepts like what it means to be human and what it means to be American.

At a Glance:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Column: Disney's First Gay Character Amounts to Very Little

At the time of its release in March, “Beauty and the Beast” sparked controversy over the inclusion of what is effectively Disney’s first gay character, but no matter what side of the issue they’re on, viewers are bound to be disappointed by the brief moment everyone thought would be so important.

 After much deliberation, Russia released the film with a 16+ rating, though ruling party MP Vitaly Milonov called the movie "obvious, barefaced, unscrupulous propaganda of sin and perverted sexual relations" and called for a countrywide ban.

In addition, a drive-in theater in Alabama flat-out refused to screen it, and Malaysian censors locked horns with Disney after the film company refused to edit out the scene for their audiences.

And yet the character in question, Gaston’s soft-spoken manservant Lefou, does little more than trail after Gaston and giving him longing looks. Aside from one point in a musical number when he twirls into Gaston’s arms and swoons a little, anything gay about the character remains only hinted at until a small, incredibly insignificant moment at the end.

In an interview with Attitude magazine, director Bill Condon described Lefou as “somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston, He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings,” but said all this build-up “has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

The Payoff? There’s a ball in which all the characters dance one of those renaissance dances where they change partners. Whether intentionally or by accident, a male background character twirls into Lefou’s arms and...they sort of smile at each other. And that’s it.

Condon has since expressed regret that this little moment blew up the way it did, but the whole thing almost felt like Disney tooting its own horn. With themes of not fitting in and of self-discovery throughout their movies, and songs like “Reflection” and “Let it Go,” these movies have always resonated with an LGBT+ audience. They’ve arguably gotten close to real representation with characters like The Lion King’s Timone and Pumba, Aladin’s Jafar, and Hercules’s Hades, but these are all explained away with “they’re just friends,” or “he’s just weird.” LGBT+ audiences have not made it a secret that they want more.

This proves problematic for a company like Disney, because much of their fan base also consists of conservative viewers who watch Disney movies because they teach wholesome family values. It’s this demographic that doesn’t want their children to see positive representations of gay people in media.

Disney’s solution was apparently one of compromise. They gave the LGBT+ audience the representation they asked for, but only in the form of a brief moment at the end and a sniveling, spineless character who ends up reinforcing more negative stereotypes than he breaks down.

Perhaps that’s unfair to say--Lefou does get a nice little redemption arc, and the little moment during the dance seems to indicate that he was afforded a happy ending. Though he’s a little stereotypical he still seems very human, very genuine, and very sympathetic. And hey, they could have made him evil. Lefou’s villainy stems less from malice and more from insecurity, as the only thing he’s guilty of is not stopping Gaston from trying to kill people--but it’s not as though he had any sway over Gaston’s actions anyway. Gaston is a dangerous, violent man. Perhaps he’s right to be afraid.

But that’s the biggest take away. Lefou is non-threatening, his femininity is played for laughs, and though he switches sides at the end, he never actually affects the plot one way or another. He might as well have not been there. If Disney really wants to appease their LGBT+ audience, they simply have to do more. Though the backlash over this character didn't seem to make a dent in the film's revenue (it still made over $1 billion worldwide), let's hope it wasn't enough to scare Disney away from trying something like this again.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Profile: Sheri McIntyre

If you’re a student at LBCC, chances are you’ve heard of, if not visited, the Learning Center already. The atmosphere of productivity can be almost overwhelming at first, everyone hustling around and getting things done. The Learning Center offers a variety of services to students, including math and writing help, college skill counseling, testing, and tutoring.

Tutoring subjects offered vary each year, ranging from Biology and Computor Science to Music and History. But with the constantly changing needs of the students and the tutors available, perhaps the most important job goes to Sheri McIntyre, the Tutor Coordinator, who won the Classified Excellence award in April for “her professionalism, her ability to engage student tutors to be the best they can be,” Bruce Clemetsen, Vice President of Student Affairs, reported.

McIntyre’s responsibilities are many, and her days are constantly busy. She coordinates students who need help to the tutors who can provide it, supervises the staff and the support students are recieving, as well as making herself available for any students have any questions. Her office is tucked into a corner of the Learning center in the math help area. Unassuming in its location yet perfectly organized, the office gives off an acedemic, professional vibe, much like McIntyre herself.

With her small stature and stylish, professional attire, she gives off a very approachable feel, a necessity for anyone dealing with students every day who may be anxious about asking for help. “She really seemed like she cared about her job, and that she was passionate about it,” said Zoe Hans, who worked as a student amassador in the New Student Center during winter term.

She must be passionate--she’s been teaching students how to teach for almost 20 years. After teaching early childhood development for eight years, teaching students how to be teachers in a classroom, McIntyre was promoted to Tutor Coordinator in 2011. “Working with adults on study skills was a very different direction, and I found it to be really rewarding, in a different way,” she said, “a lot of times in life, there are a lot of curves and bends in the road. I kinda followed it to this.”

Sheri McIntyre is someone who does her job well and takes it seriously. She found her calling right out of the blue, but the fast-paced lifestyle of Tutor Coordinator really is perfect for her. “I could never imagine not being in an acedemic lifestyle,” she said.

At a Glance:

  • Sheri McIntyre
  • Tutor coordinator at the LBCC learning center, negotiations team leader
  • Hired in 2004 as an early childhood teacher in the Periwinkle Child Development Center on campus, now Head Start
  • Promoted to Learning Center Tutor Coordinator in 2011
  • Winner of the 2017 Classified Excellence Award
  • Office: WH 229
  • Email:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Beauty and the Beast 2017

Disney’s new live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” skillfully supplements and expands on the original by putting more attention on character development and neatly tying up a few plot holes, but if you’ve never seen the original and you’re wondering which one to see first, they’re effectively the same movie.

The main story remains the same--long ago, a cruel prince was cursed to become a hideous beast unless he can learn to love and be loved in return before an enchanted rose loses all of its petals. In addition, every one of his servants takes the form of a piece of furniture or kitchenware. Down in a nearby provincial town, well-read outcast Belle discovers the Beast after her father ends up his prisoner. She takes her father’s place, and slowly, she and the Beast fall for each other.

Emma Watson and Dan Stevens deliver exceptional performances as Belle and the Beast, respectively, and writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky effectively sell their romance in a convincing way, with new, character-central scenes in addition to brand new songs. In particular, the Beast's new song "Evermore" resonates with emotion, as he laments his selfless decision to give Belle her freedom so she can save her father from danger.

But what really sells this movie are the minor characters. Each of the main servants gets a chance to tell their story or to share their philosophy on their curse, giving even more personality to these already beloved characters. The villain Gaston, played by Luke Evans, is also given more screen time to play up how cartoonish this brutish and thick-headed this huntsman is. The biggest change comes with Lefou, Gaston’s ever-present manservant, who’s been given an entire character arc in this remake.

Director Bill Condon said in an interview with the New York Times, “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.” There were undertones in the original that seemed to suggest the manservant had feelings for Gaston, but this remake makes him the first officially gay Disney character--and has gotten a certain amount of backlash as a result. Still, his character seems to straddle the line between fleshed-out character and flamboyant stereotype, his femininity often played up for laughs. Yet he's far from a token character, with his own motives and morals to flesh him out as his own person.

Overall, the remake stays true to the original almost religiously, but what changes it does make are, for the most part, good ones. While it’s probably not a must-see, audience members may find it hard to see anything disappointing in this artfully done, visually stunning remake.

At a glance:

  • Beauty and the Beast (2017)
  • Disney live-action feature film
  • When her father is captured by a hideous beast, Belle offers to take his place and discovers that the beast is really a selfish prince who has been transformed by a powerful curse, and must fall in love in order to break it. 
  • Stars: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
  • Rating: 4/5
  • Rotten tomatoes score: 71%
  • "What Beauty and the Beast rises or falls on is the love story, and here, allowed to slow down to let in intimate moments, the movie catches fire. It's an exhilarating gift."--Peter Travers

Friday, April 14, 2017

Story 1: Hogwarts Express Bakery Display

 When second-year culinary student Christina Devey heard about the Bakery Display project, she immediately knew what she wanted to do -- Hogwarts Express.

 Each student is allowed two weeks out of the term to prepare either two small displays per week, or one larger display at the end of the second week, showcasing an array of baked goods that tie into a theme that the student chooses. The student is also expected to bring in props and decorations, to simulate what would be expected of them as a caterer for someone’s theme party.

Because the students choose their own themes, the assignment “really allows them to be creative and do something they’re interested in,” said Todd Ketterman, second-year culinary instructor. Devey has always been a fan of the Harry Potter franchise, and so when she heard about the assignment, she couldn’t wait to put her skills to the test.

On Thursday, April 13, the Commons Cafeteria showcased her display of "Harry Potter" themed pastries, including pumpkin pasties, butter-beer cupcakes, Golden Snitch cake-pops, and treacle tarts. The display also featured two detailed cakes, one in the shape of the iconic Monster Book of Monsters, and one pink cake that read “Hapee Birthdae Harry” in green frosting -- alluding to the cake Groundskeeper Rubeus Hagrid made for Harry in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 

Every item was made by Devey herself. Even the “Marauder’s Map” wall-hanging behind the display came from her own home. She had to work in the kitchen for 4-5 hours per day over the last two weeks, and on the final display day, ended up getting to the kitchen at 6 a.m. to set everything up. Some items she prepared beforehand, some she froze, unbaked, so they would be fresh on Thursday.

Devey said that although she wanted a career in baking at first, now that she’s gotten more experience in the kitchen, she may look for a career in another field. Even so, baking remains one of her passions, and not something she’ll likely give up any time soon.

At a glance:

  • On Thursday, April 13, the Commons Cafeteria showcased Christina Devey's "Hogwarts Express" bakery display project
  • Find weekly menus on The Commons Cafeteria Facebook Page
  • More information can be found on LBCC's Culinary Arts program webpage