Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Manic Pixie Nightmare

I wrote this essay for my Criticism class, and I'm particularly proud of it.

She enters the scene like some sort of ethereal creature from a dream. Waifish, with giant anime eyes, wavy tresses and otherworldly pale skin, she exudes an infectious devil-may-care attitude. Everything that pops out of her mouth is surprising and quirky and yet, her gobbledygook pearls of wisdom inspire men to better themselves. She’s a spiritual guide, artist’s muse and indie music goddess rolled into one. If she sounds too good to be true, that’s because she is. She is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the character men love and women love to hate.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a term A.V. Club film critic Nathan Rabin coined in his book “My Year of Flops” describing a female ingénue archetype who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.” Not-so-surprisingly enough, the writer-directors behind these characters are young men, who model the young male heroes after themselves.

The character who sparked Rabin’s vitriol was Kirsten Dunst’s overinvolved flight attendant Claire in Elizabethtown, who utters a fitting line: “I'm impossible to forget, but I'm hard to remember.” The unforgettable Manic Pixie Dream Girl has long been a part of cinematic history, starting with Claudette Colbert’s high-society spaz in 1934’s screwball comedy, It Happened One Night. As entertainment writer Sharon Knolle pointed out in Moviefone, one of cinema’s most iconic heroines epitomizes the MPDG trope. Holly Golightly, Audrey Hepburn’s famous wannabe socialite in Breakfast at Tiffany's is a prime example of the whimsical yet wise woman whose mystery charms and inspires the male protagonist (George Peppard’s writer Paul Varjack) to reexamine himself.

The MPDG has emerged, according to the AV Club, in many forms, including Shirley MacLaine’s free-spirited elevator operator in the Apartment to Julia Robert’s Pretty Woman. But it wasn’t until the 2000s that her character became a pervasive screen presence. From Kate Hudson’s 2000 portrayal of fragile fantasy girl Penny Lane in Almost Famous to Mila Kunis’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Friends with Benefits characters, and most memorably Natalie Portman’s eccentric Sam in Garden State, the MPDG has been instrumental in saving navel-gazing men from themselves.

The difference between the old Hollywood MPDG and her Millennial counterpart is a lack of a character development. Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, for all of her quirks, had a tragic backstory as a child bride that made her a sympathetic character. Today’s MPDG is hard to identify with because as the critical pop cultural blog Jezebel points out, her character is distinguished by a secondary role and lack of an inner life. “She's on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.” She exists as an ideal, a hologram men can project their image of the perfect woman onto. As a real woman, she lacks substance. She would be considered flighty, frivolous, or just plain, a mess.

Take for instance, the latest embodiment of the MDPG: Zooey Deschanel characters. Since appearing in (500) Days of Summer and now starring in the too-cute TV show New Girl, hipster princess Deschanel has become the poster child for the manic pixie dream girl. Her title character Summer was awful: she was self-involved, callous and unreliable. Yet, romantic Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) read her lack of predictability as an air of mystery. Summer became the puzzle he, and real-life men around the world, yearned to solve. And now, as the New Girl, Deschanel sells her brand of “adorkability” – an actual tagline from the show’s advertising – on a weekly basis, as she steals hipster boy hearts and repulses real-life nerdy girls with her exaggerated posturing, irritating self-motivational jingles and penchant for saying the wrong - but somehow still cute - thing.

The question the MPDG poses is: what does her existence say about men? What of the stock character who needs to stoke his ego by projecting his anxieties onto the MPDG? The young writer/director/actors of today are apparently lost, and so are the men who fall in love with these dream girls. Perhaps they need to work on themselves instead of hoping for a spirited woman to whirlwind turn their lives upside down. As Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind warns the emotionally withdrawn Joel, “Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ten Things We Love About Mindy Kaling

Seems like our girl Mindy is everywhere these days as she gets ready to promote her new book, Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?, entertaining us weekly as Kelly Kapoor on The Office and breaking down rom-com stereotypes in The New Yorker.

Here's a list of just a few of the many things we love about Mindy (and you should too):

1. Watching this first generation Indian-American woman (her birth name is Vera Chokalingam) stake her claim on the American comedy scene is pretty inspiring for us fellow Desis. She's fierce, funny and and bringing a new face to TV. I'm pretty sure a majority of my non-Hindu friends learned about Diwali through The Office.

2. She is a master Tweeter. Ask any of her 1.5 million+ followers.

3. She's from Cambridge, and from what I gather from Tweet stalkery, returns for visits often. My not-so-secret hope is to spot her out on the town while I'm still in Boston. In a recent Bust Magazine interview, she admitted she likes getting recognized and being approached by fans, so hopefully she would not be creeped out by my adoration.

4. It's like she's inside our heads. Seriously, Is everybody hanging out without me? And thank god we didn't peak in high school. This blog wouldn't exist.

5. She recently restarted her fashion blog, Things I Bought That I Love. She might be Ivy educated, but she's not above bright prints and glittery nails.

6. She started writing for The Office when she was 24. 24. Now she's an executive producer and she directed last season's memorable tear-inspiring episode, "Michael's Last Dundies." And she's featured in every episode. We're 25. We need to get on our shit.

7. Have you seen her Subtle Sexuality videos? Mindy-as-Kelly-as-wannabe-pop-star is hilarious.

8. Her breakthrough performance was in a play she co-wrote called "Matt & Ben," in which she played ... Ben Affleck!

9. Even though she's not shy about revealing her personality through her blog and memoir, she remains private about her private life, which is refreshing. A girl's gotta have some secrets.

10. This is even better than Tina Fey's Bossypants haircut picture.

Mindy, I know I'm echoing many of my peers when I say: you are truly an icon for the funny, sometimes awkward, internally dramatic multiculti girls of today.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Way We Were

Lion King 3-D is the number one movie in the country for the second week in the row. Today, several articles hailed its showing as the surprise hit of the year. Disney is even considering extending dates. A traditional pre-computer animation cartoon released more than a decade ago (1994) re-released in 3-D format, how did it gain such speed?

Well, if you're a 20-30-something American, the most surprising aspect of this story is the fact that industry insiders didn't anticipate this audience reaction. To Generation Me Lion King represents Disney's golden age: Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King. With its identifiable archetypal characters, the theme of a hero's journey, an Academy-Award winning Elton John/Tim Rice soundtrack and characters voiced by James Earl Jones and JTT/Jason Weaver, Lion King taught us about life and death and redemption in a fun, sing-along way.

It makes perfect sense that kids, especially grown-up kids, flocked to the theater the past two weekends. While new audiences discovered the movie, friends of mine attended screenings where the audience sang along and shouted out dialogue. Call me quick to label, but I find Millennials to be the most nostalgic group I know.

Here's an (condensed) exchange I had with one of my best friends the other day:
S: I'm excited, I never got to see Lion King on the big screen.
D: Really? It's the second movie I saw in a theater, after Aladdin.
S: I love Aladdin! I saw it too, and we stayed after in the theater to watch it again. Aladdin was hot.
D: Especially as the prince.
S: What was his name? Ali Ababwa?
D: Yep. The song went: Prince Ali, fabulous he, Ali Ababwa.
S: Strong as 10 regular men, definitely.

... And then we realized, we - two grown-ass 25 year-olds - know all the lyrics to that song. In fact, I'd venture to guess we know all the lyrics to every song in that movie.

Why are we so obsessed with our childhood fascinations? I've observed with some curiosity that the average age of writers has to be 25. Lately, the PopWatch blog has dedicated several posts to JTT, SNICK programming and Saved by the Bell, just to name a few.

With the 10th anniversary of 9-11 behind us, I am often told that my generation lost its innocence on the tragic day. Is that the reason we yearn to be reunited with our childhood TV buddies? Ten years ago, there was no YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, social or new media. My family had dial-up Internet and I did not have a cell phone, even though I would soon be driving. Perhaps we are seeking to recapture the feeling we got when we rushed home to catch our favorite shows afterschool, something that seems quaint in the days of On-Demand, Tivo and Internet streaming.

Why do you think Millenials are so nostalgic? Or, maybe I'm being short-sighted. Have humans always been this nostalgic?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Period Dramas: Stylishly Glossing Over Grit

This summer, I had an averse reaction to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. "Why?" my film-studying friends asked. Because I don't idealize the past. Much as I love classic '50s and '60s cinema, I would never wish to live in another time. The modern age may be rife with digital age issues and economic depression, but we are also living in a time (at least in the US) of the most equality thus far.

Now, I've only watched one episode of Mad Men, so that's really not enough to judge the content of the show. What I do know is the drama has garnered much praise for bringing back the '60s vibe. I will agree, vintage fashion is cute (minus those weird cone bras), but '60s attitude is anything but. I guess as viewers we're all supposed to root for Peggy, the first female copywriter in her agency, a wide-eyed young woman making her way in a man's world. But, all I can help but think is how misogynist the show, and the '60s were. And Mad Men, for all its exposure of the advertising underbelly, seems to underplay the social issues of the time.

Premiering next week are two more TV shows playing up the alleged fabulousity of the Civil Rights Era. So far, all the praise for Pan Am and Playboy Club has revolved around their plays on nostalgia. I see nothing nostalgic about a time in which women had to meet certain beauty standards to be selected as stewardesses. And as a modern, intellectual, freethinking woman, when I think Bunny Club, I think blantant mistreatment of women, not those women knew how to put themselves together. I thought Gloria Steinem had established just how skeevy conditions there were.

Think of all the strives we have made since the '60s. Women's lib. Civil rights. Better immigration laws (prior to 1965, there was an Asian Exclusion Act in place). Gay rights. We might not have progressed to where we ought to be - Cukoo Michele Bachmann announced the other day that she wished the the Exclusion Act had never been lifted! But, my gosh, why would I ever want to go back?

Seeing these new shows on TV does make me wonder if there's a certain anxiety in our culture that has lead to their development. Are people yearning for "simpler times?" When men couldn't marry men in New York? And white was right? Don't feed me a high-gloss fantastical whitewash of history. Show me what was really going on.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Award Show No-Nos

I guess you could say I'm a glutton for punishment. I sat through last night's VMAs without changing the channel once.

Award shows have always captivated me: from the red carpet interviews to the judging of outfits to the spontaneous moments that can only occur on (time-delayed) live TV. But, this has got to be the absolute worst year for award show fans. First the general ehhh-ness of the Grammys, then James Franco's bizarre I'm-tired-from-working-too-many-jobs/I-smoked-up-too-much-backstage hosting of the Oscars and now the 2011 VMAs mess, which will forever be known as an awkward snoozefest.

This year, MTV decided to forgo paying someone to host the Video Music Awards. It seems the channel also forgot to pay writers to script the show. Kevin Hart's opening rant on being passed over as host was uncomfortable, the presenter banter was painful (Jonah Hill, everyone?) and the skits were confusing. I thought I could count on Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen and Jack Black to revive the night, but their Beastie Boys impression was oddly unfunny. Why oh why was there not an actual dance-off? Afraid to wake up the napping masses?

The worst offender by far was Lady Gaga. Dressed as her male alter ego, Jo Calderone, she managed to single-handedly turn the VMAs into a creepshow. I don't think anyone was confused that she was embodying a male character, but she felt the need to continually explain that she was supposed to be a guy and not "Lady" Gaga. Honestly, nothing Gaga does at this point surprises anyone. The audience could not have been less impressed by her Quasimodo-meets-West Side Story interpretation of masculinity. It was overly theatrical and in the end, just felt like she was beating a dead horse. Britney Spears was so unattracted by her behavior she couldn't bring herself to kiss Gaga during her award acceptance.

Cringe-inducing is the best term to describe what was hyped to be an epic showcase. The only good thing about the night was Adele. Her bare-bones performance not only murdered the other ones, but it exposed the other musicians as frauds who needed to hide behind laser light shows and costume gimmicks. The Amy Winehouse tribute was a nice touch, but Bruno Mars? Eww, couldn't they find anyone more fitting?

MTV as usual demonstrated its lack of interest in promoting musicians by awarding campy show boaters like Katy Perry instead of Adele. In the words of MTV's sole focus these days - the Jersey Shore - someone pulled a robbery. By the standards of this year's show - and let's face it, MTV's disinterest in music video as programming - Adele should be glad she didn't win any of the major awards.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Songs Have It Wrong: Big Girls Do Cry

I know that obesity is an epidemic in this country. I know that children aren't as active as they used to be. And I'm aware that being overweight may pose all sorts of physical and psychological threats.

Despite all that, they way to deal with these issues is not to outcast overweight members of society or call them names. That's not going for anyone good.

Following in the tradition of insensitively-titled TV programs such as Big People, Little World and Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss, TLC's rolling out a new TV show called Big Sexy. The show trails five full-figured models trying to break into the mainstream modeling world.

What does Big Sexy even mean? First of all, it's not a good title. Maybe there should be a comma in between to signify "and": Big, Sexy. That would imply that women can be big and sexy at the same time. That's more than obvious. Listen, I'm not saying that people should be applauded for being obese. But I'm not saying it's bad to be overweight either, unless you're morbidly obese and unable to function in daily life. If you're a model, that's obviously not the case. So to imply that a woman can be plus size and sexy too - that's just condescending.

Big girls, they're just the same as every other girl: maybe physically attractive to some and not to others. We don't need to call them "diva" or "mama" to make them feel better about themselves.

Why does society always equate waist size with self-esteem? I might seem like a hypocrite, given that my BMI indicates that I'm slightly overweight and that I recently celebrated my satisfaction at reducing my waist size. It's not that I feel my worth is tied up in my appearance; I just feel healthier and am proud to have accomplished a goal.

Because obesity is on the rise among the younger generation, we need to be teaching kids that while it is good to eat healthy and to get exercise, being overweight is not something to feel shamed about. That's why this new children's book, Maggie Goes on a Diet is so disturbing. Suggested for 4-8 year-olds, the book tells the story of "chubby" Maggie, a 14-year-old who gets teased at school because of her appearance. Maggie goes on a diet, loses weight and becomes popular. Cuz that's how easy it is to achieve popularity in middle school - if only!

Let's not teach kids that the only way to be accepted by their peers is to conform to a societal construct that few kids may fit these days. No matter how much you drill good habits into them, some kids are just big boned, have hormonal imbalances or just can't lose weight easily. Don't make them feel less than. Don't push them to become neurotic diet-obsessed preschoolers. Or worse yet, start on the path to an ED. "Big" kids, they're just the same as every other kid, give or take a few pounds.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number

You’ve all heard this one before: “Black don’t crack.” But, I submit for you a new catchphrase: “Brown don’t frown.” ™© (You best pay me if you steal this one.) It’s a well-known fact that melanin protects skin from the sun’s harmful rays, resulting in reduced risk of skin cancer as well as natural wrinkle protection. What it leads to is an inability for other people to identify how old you are.

All my life, people have been unable to guess my age. When I was in high school, I resembled a 12-year-old. In my early 20s, I looked 18. Now, at 25, I’m confused for a 21 year-old. Since I finally look like I’m legal, I guess I should be flattered. Pretty soon (ok, a half-decade from now), I’ll be the most convincing 30 year-old pretending to be 25.

Despite my typical ethnic girl hang-ups with melanin, I am incredibly grateful to be blessed with skin that doesn’t sunburn or crinkle. Ninety-five percent of the time. I see how gracefully the women in my family have aged and I hope to follow suit.

But, there’s a little bitty part of me that wishes I could appear my age once in a while. Say, in the workplace. This summer, I interned at a PR agency, where I know I passed for one of the undergrad interns. It would have been nice if my same-age mentor would have regarded me as such. I know that it’s shallow and ageist, but older people are regarding with more authority at work, and their responsibilities are doled out accordingly.

The other area age shouldn’t be twisty: romantic encounters. Get your mind out of the gutter, not that kind. I just mean, when I first meet a guy – out on the town – I don’t like to be greeted with, “Twenty-five? Oh, I thought you were younger.” Complimentary sometimes, but not when you leave the interaction feeling like an old bitch. One day I will be thrilled to attract younger men, but right now, I'm not trying to get with a I-just-graduated-live-with-my-parents-have-no-income kind of guy.

I suppose I’ll just have to wait til I’m fabulous 40 to accept my god-given anti-aging serum.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Words, Words, Words... Too Many Words

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the current aesthetically unpleasant nature of this blog. I don't know if this was on Google's part (I'm guessing it is), but all of our pictures disappeared. I will work to upload those again, but ewww, who wants to look at an image-less blog?

- Bitch, please

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bye Bye Bookstores

As I recently reopened the file containing THE definitive Millennial novel (known to many of you as Vignettes, or simply Jane), which I am co-authoring with one of my best friends, I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of our third writing partner, Borders bookstore. As disillusioned post-grads, my writing partner and I would steal away from our parents’ homes and head over to our writer’s studio at least, twice, maybe three times a week.

There, our bank-tellering addled minds were soothed by the gentle hum of World Music, light jazz and the occasional Seal album. We would warm our bellies with Snickerdoodle cookies and Caramel Apple Cider (Starbucks had nothing on ‘em). Then, we would write and talk and write and talk and write. For hours. Often, we would take breaks to peruse the books and draw some inspiration. And even though we always left well after closing time, the employees at the Borders store in Rockford never kicked us out.

I can’t say the same for Barnes and Noble. The handful of times we attempted to work there, the pastries were cold, drinks overpriced, coffeehouse versions of pop classics made my ears bleed and the staff couldn’t wait to get us out the door. “B&N” just lacked that certain everything.

Tragically, after a prolonged bankruptcy process, one of those booksellers disappeared off the face of the earth last week. To my dismay it was Borders, the retailer that placed all its faith in paper books, instead of the digital kind.

Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, stays afloat by pushing the Nook, an electronic device that makes it possible to read with minimal effort while lounging on the beach, standing on the train and laying in bed. That’s all well and good, but as a wannabe author, I have always dreamt of seeing my name printed on a book cover. And of standing at a lectern, book in palm, reading to an audience, slowly turning the pages to build up anticipation. From early childhood, I was a book nerd. The more engaged I become with a text, the more wrapped up I get in the character, the more greedily I turn the pages. I’d always wished the same from my readers, that they would be able to devour my pages.

But those days are gone. I recently read Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian novel (you know I love those) about the downfall of hyper-consumer civilization. In Gary Shteyngart’s satirical farce, set in the not-so-far in the future, books are referred to as artifacts. The premise is that the digital generation has no need for them. They communicate purely through devices and screens (called apparati), which severely hinders their ability to interact face-to-face, demolishes attention spans and causes a plague of illiteracy. Shteyngart’s anti-hero is the only poor sap who still believes in the power of words, the last reader left in the world.

The fall of the bookstore signifies loss to me. Recently, I spent a leisurely day at the beach with some friends. I had a novel with me, which bore a scandalous name: Eating Chinese Food Naked. (The title was far more tililating than the book was.) Someone asked me how I heard of it. I found her question confusing. Reviews and recommendations are always appreciated but, what I enjoy is the process of finding a book, wandering the aisles in search of that one book that speaks to me.
Sure, it’s nifty to have entire texts at your disposal with just the mere push of a button. But I, for one, will miss the promise of exploration, discovery and fantasy dead-tree books carried with them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ignorance: Nothing Like Bliss

Saturday morning, I awoke to the news that a deranged man had killed nearly 100 people in Oslo, Norway's worst massacre since World War II. While the bombing of a youth camp - targeting innocent teenagers - is appalling in its own right, now comes the news that the alleged bomber felt his actions were "necessary" to exterminate "multiculturalist traitors." I find this righteousness sickening.

White supremacy? Really?! It's 2011. Why is the world so damn hung up on race, religion and establishing the superiority of one group over the other? Maybe if we were living in a time of warrior societies and were in competition for diminishing resources, this kind of behavior could be tolerable, but as the modern age is a time of domestication and intellectual thought, I find this sort of ignorance to be inexcusable.

Multiculturalism is a beautiful thing. In this time, where all information is global and our industries and economies are dependent upon each other, embracing and accepting the differences of other cultures is the only path for human progress. To reject multiculturism, worse yet, to advocate against it, speaks to pure ignorance.

Diversity is a necessity for me. When I received my graduate school acceptance letters, one of the first questions I posed to admissions was: How diverse is the program? Since I was old enough to recall, my friends have always resembled a Benetton commercial or a small-scale United Nations meeting. I’m the sort of person who considers herself a life-long learner. No, I’m not planning on staying in academia forever; rather, I enjoy being taught about things that are outside my experience: new cultures, customs, foods, religious beliefs, etc. etc.

If all my associates were just like me, I would feel insulated – it’s why I was so averse to joining a sorority even while attending the university with the largest Greek system in the world. I have had many friends I didn’t always agree with – that existed on the opposite end of the political spectrum, or were different in age or social stratification or racial identification, and so on. And as long as these people weren’t espousing ignorant or hateful rhetoric, my life has been richer for my interactions with them.

Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to associate with people who share the same perspectives or background as you. And not that I didn’t also find things in common with these friends who appeared at the outset, to be different from me. I just find intolerance for its own sake, well, intolerable.

I genuinely cannot comprehend how a person or a group of people could believe themselves to be superior to another group of people. I won’t lie, there are times in my life I have thought, perhaps even voiced, my superiority to another in terms of some characteristic. Ie: I’m smarter than ______; I’m a better student than ______; I'm more qualified than _____. But NEVER ever EVER have I believed myself just all-around better than another person, much less a group of people, especially when these groups are categorized as similar by factors such as skin color, sexuality, religious preference etc.

There is nothing more despicable than willful ignorance. Ignorance due to lack of exposure is forgivable. Hatefulness, on the other hand, should never be condoned. To hate people you don’t know for no other reason than they are different from you … I find that to be idiotic and extremely dangerous.

I’m not naïve. I don’t think everybody has to be friends with everyone else. But I think we should all be able to coexist. Peacefully. Like John Lennon said, “I hope someday ... the world will be as one.”