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.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dark Thoughts

Not exactly a feel-good flick, but the documentary Dark Girls sheds light on the problem of colorism within the Black community.

Get a taste here:

Even though pale is no longer THE beauty standard, naturally tan cultures are still plagued by the debate of light-skinned vs. dark-skinned superiority.
While this doc focuses specifically on stories told by African-American women, I would be curious to see a comprehensive portrait of colorism, an issue that plagues brown girls around the world.

While getting some color at the beach this weekend, I couldn't help but think that my fair-skin worshiping grandmother would be scandalized by the notion that I wanted my legs to be darker. When will we overcome these superficial restraints?

Monday, June 27, 2011

If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

The Voice: my new favorite summer show. Why? Not only has it reawakened my 17-year-old's crush on Adam Levine, but it has all the makings of a true talent competition: no embarrassing "loser" auditions, bold voices and no pandering to the audience through grating taped segments. And it is quite possibly the most diverse show on TV.

Yes, unlike that celebration of all that is vanilla in the world --ehem, American Idol-- each episode of the Voice is like an understated celebration of diversity. While AI's last big voice, Adam Lambert, had to keep his sexuality a secret (well, only to the absolutely 'dar deficient), I heard more declarations of the phrase "I'm gay" on the first episode of the Voice than I can recall on any other single network TV episode. What's more, two of the finalists, selected by the home viewers, are openly gay women.

Who better to coach than Ms. "Beautiful" herself, Christina Aguilera, and Space Martian Cee-lo Green, ambassadors for the love yourself the way you are message (even when who you are is a hot mess imitation of Lady Gaga - looking at you Xtina). By combining mentors of different genres, an eclectic mix of artists and minimally messing with the artists' brands, the Voice truly seems focused on bringing the next big voice to the forefront instead of churning out forgettable one-hit wonder contenders (anyone remember Lee Dewyze? Didn't think so.). Somehow, I can't see tomorrow night's standout performer becoming the next Where are they Now.

What I respect most about the show is its spirit of collaboration. Here, you have arguably some of the biggest names in the music business hobnobbing with rising talent, teaching them, sharing group numbers with them and inviting them over for dinner at their homes. And it's also refreshing to see that the members of each team genuinely seem to support each other and enjoy listening to the others' music.

Over and over the judges emphasize that beauty lies in the quirkiness of its contestants, and it is exactly this concept that makes the show so beautiful.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baby, We Were Born This Way

If you have not yet seen X-Men: First Class, stop what you're doing, clear a space in your schedule and make sure you see it!

I could not speak more highly of this movie. I have already rec'd it to all my friends and my family, and would go so far as to claim it is one of my favorite movies of this summer. I caught the flick last week, and would definitely pay to see it again.

Not only does First Class feature phenomenal actors (McAvoy, Fassbender, yes, even Kevin Bacon!) who are also easy on the eyes (my personal favorite is Tony from Skins, Nicholas Hoult), but this origin story features emotionally layered characters. I never expected a summer action flick to be so affecting.

Since last week, I have not been able to get these characters out of my head. Especially Magneto. He is a beautifully complex individual. I have seen all the films in the X-Men franchise and I never gave him any further thought; I just assumed he was an evildoer. But Erik is not a bad guy. He's actually quite heroic. And even though he grows to be at odds with Professor Xavier and his team, I can't help but agree with his world view.

Because Erik is loud and proud. While Professor Xavier has developed his philosophy based on a fear of not being accepted, Erik takes ownership of his difference. Yes, I see X-Men as an allegory for gay/racial pride.

Throughout the film, Professor Xavier stresses that all he wants to do is blend in with the normal, un-mutated humans - you know, the mainstream. His mantra is not dissimilar from what I heard during my childhood, an iteration of the immigrant mentality: Mutants should do everything in their power to fit in. Act like everyone else and maybe you'll be accepted.

And that's fine for Charles, because he passes for human. The world can't tell there's anything different about him. And if they could, well, he would just convince them to think otherwise via his powers of telepathy.

While his beliefs are noble - unlike Magneto, he doesn't believe that mutants are a superior race to humans - he encourages the X-Men to mask their differences. He continually warns Raven to camouflage her natural blue appearance so as not to draw attention to how different she is. And when the poor, low-esteemed girl experiments in expressing her true self, he chastises her. Keep it in the closet, girl.

Magneto, on the other hand, feels that he shouldn't have to apologize for the way he is. He doesn't come from a place of privilege like Xavier. He's had to fight for everything he has. He sits down with Raven and tell her, "You are beautiful, no matter what they say...." Ok, not those exact words. But his advice holds the same power. He teaches her to embrace her differences and love her natural skin color. While I don't support his belief that mutants are inherently superior to humans and should therefore rise up against them (although I understand why his character feels that way based on his upbringing), I appreciate Magneto's message. Why deny that special something that makes you you?

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Am Not My Food

The next time you see meet an individual with a vaguely brown skin color and foreign sounding name, do not greet them with: "Oh my god! I love Indian food, egg rolls, burritos, [insert other "ethnic" dish]." You might be A.) Drunk B.) Just trying to make conversation C.) Looking for the right opening to announce your love for this dish or D.) All of the above. But please, don't let that be the first thing that pops out your mom.

You don't see me approaching British people telling them I love fish and chips (even though I really, really do), or proclaiming my love of pasta to Italian-Americans the first time I meet them. I love Indian food too. But it's probably not like the kind you're used to. The food my mother and my grandmother make tastes 100x better.

I am many things, Indo-American being just one facet of my personality. But I am not my food.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Maybe Kanye Should Try to Control Himself Instead of Other People

Despite all his flaws (or maybe because of them), I will always have love for Kanye. What I'm not loving at the moment is the newly released full length version of his "Monster" video, specifically the disclaimer at the beginning of the video.

The unfinished version of this video was leaked months ago, and Kanye caught a lot of media attention for his obviously disturbing video, which combines sexuality with violence in the form of disembodied and women and dead bodies in bed with him. In his attempt to quell the criticism, Kanye tacked this message onto his video: "The following content is no way to be interpreted as misogynistic or negative towards any group of people. It is an art piece and shall be treated as such."

His statement raises a number of red flags. First, if I learned anything in college, it is that intentions and interpretation do not, and in most cases, will not always agree. You might have the best intentions in the world, but that does not matter to the individuals who will interpret your work as they see fit. For instance, think about the fact that different religious groups (even within the same faith) differ on their interpretations of holy texts.

Kanye's sad attempt to control people's perceptions is futile anyway. You can't control interpretations just by telling someone not to interpret something a certain way. If anything, he is further drawing attention to the blatant misogyny in his video. One quality that has always distinguished Kanye West is his disregard for people's perceptions of him. In the past, he has had no qualms speaking his mind, or being over-dramatic for the sake of drama, and has never shown any real remorse for his actions. Apologies for Kanye are virtually nonexistent and for him to issue this disclaimer essentially implicates his understanding of how inappropriate his video is. Think about it: During the Katrina fundraiser, Kanye never said, "Excuse me while I turn this charitable occasion into a selfish demonstration of arrogance" nor did he say before stealing the mic from Taylor Swift at the VMAs, "Let me apologize for being a douche."

As for artistry, I'm not sure I understand how Kanye's rape/murder fantasies serve an artistic purpose. The combination of his lyrics and images lead me to this interpretation: Kanye's sexual appetite is so insatiable that he has become a monster, with a power so great he kills women. Well, either that, or he just gets off on sexual violence. WHICH IS NOT OK, because yes, Kanye, your message is degrading to women.

And P.S. Slapping the word "art" on your work doesn't automatically absolve your sexism. There is plenty of creepy, disturbing and offensive artwork in the world. Besides, the best part of your song is Nicki Minaj's verse, which has nothing to do with your artistry.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It Aint Easy Being Green ... With Envy

Have you seen this video yet?

When my brother alerted me to this viral vid, titled UCLA Girl's Asian Rant, I was expecting an outrageous racist rant; instead I saw a mildly annoying ignorant young woman who is tragically out of touch with the rest of the world.

Mostly, I just feel bad for her. She's clearly jealous that:

A. No one in her family ever comes to visit her at her apartment complex, and she wishes her family was as tightly knit as all those Asian ones surrounding her

B. She's not cool enough to ever receive phone calls while at the library

C. She doesn't know an awesome "secret" language to talk shit about other people in

I'm a little surprised this girl even got into UCLA. She seems a bit of a dim bulb and she can't even create a proper rant video. This reaction video, on the other hand is hilarious. Check it out.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don't Pass the Crazysauce, Please

Hot off his latest rant against CBS, formerly esteemed actor Charlie Sheen announced his tour. Tour!? Hard to believe that someone who has no act would hit the road, but hey, what could be more fun than a live show that follows the progress of a mental breakdown?

The "Charlie Sheen: My Violent Torpedo of Death/Defeat Is Not an Option Show" was announced last week, with an initial two-city line-up. Tickets sold out in mere minutes. Sheen has since expanded his tour to include the concert venue at my fair university. Tickets run about $100. Worse, people (students) are actually willing to pay for this window into man's descent into madness.

I think the name says it all. Sheen is a paranoid delusional. Projections are that Charlie Sheen will make a $7 million profit off his "monologue"-filled tour. Apparently, there are thousands of people out there who are cool with his antics, but I'm not comfortable with supplying him with that much money to support his clear drug habit and bi-polar behavior.

Dude needs help. But he's so filthy rich, he's not going to hit rock bottom for a while... until something tragic happens, no doubt. Hope those $100 tickets are worth it... or you leave feeling like you're winning.

Also, I know this man thinks he has tiger blood pumping through his veins, but what qualifies him as a superhero? What has he done that was remotely close to saving a life? Other than serving as a good example of how to take drugs, act irresponsibly, disrespect your boss, win fans, and make millions of dollars. Thanks as always for being a role model, Charlie.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Anderson Cooper: Man of Many Faces

Anderson Cooper, hands down, is my favorite newsman.

Actually, this may sound odd coming from the mouth of a former journalism student, but other than Brian Williams, Cooper is the only nightly newsman I can stand these days.

What I love most about Anderson is his versatility. First of all, he is a top-notch journalist. This man is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Whether he's saving a teen from a mob in Haiti or getting punched in the face by Mubarak supporters in Egypt, he's where the latest news is.

Bitch, please
cannot wait for the fall premiere of Anderson, his daytime talk show. Though he behaves like the consummate professional on Anderson Cooper 360, he has demonstrated his gift of natural banter in hilarious turns hosting CNN's New Years Eve bash with Kathy Griffin and filling in for Regis on Regis & Kelly.

Most of all, I look forward to hearing about his guarded personal history. No, I don't care if he ever comes out as gay or not (that's up to him); I want to know about his childhood. As an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune and son of the famous jean designer/socialite, he's sure to have some colorful stories.

For instance, during CNN's MJ tribute, Cooper revealed this gem:

"When I was 10, for some odd reason, I went to Studio 54 with Michael Jackson and a bunch of people and I had no idea who he was and I saw him dance and I was like, Oh, that guy is a really good dancer."

What was little Anderson doing at Studio 54 when he was only 10? I want to know more about his club kid background.

Let's face it. He's a hard man to hate. He is TV's top silver fox. He's a celebrated watchdog of the people. And based on his 2011 NAACP Image Award nomination, he might even be an honorary person of color. Cuz he's cool like that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Kiss Heard 'Round the World?

It finally happened. Sweet little Kurt got a smooch from his season-long crush Blaine on Glee. More than one, actually. Now, it wasn't the first same sex kiss on the show, that's apparently old news (I'm a little out of the viewing loop), but it was the first kiss shared within the development of a traditional teen romance.

Kurt's first kiss came earlier this season via an angry closeted bully. So last night, prime time America got to see two teenage boys realize their mutual attraction. Awww, gay love. Precious.

Recall that it was only 11 years ago that Jack kissed Will on Will and Grace, marking the first same-sex male kiss on a prime time comedy. Since then, we haven't seen too much of it. I mean, are Mitchell and Cam ever going to kiss on Modern Family? How am I ever supposed to find them a believable married couple!

Say what you will about Glee and its overblown, overwrought plotlines, predilection toward cheesy 80s ballads, misguided themed episodes and unbelievable characters. None of that can take away from its power to elevate outsiders to the mainstream. Yes, sometimes the show treads dangerously close to those shooting star "the more you know" moments, but that's exactly what I love about it. Heavy-handed or not, Glee's message of tolerance just can't be ignored.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Fat and Skinny of It

"You can either be fat and jolly or a skinny bitch: pick one." On the first episode of "The Big C," Cathy (played by Laura Linney) dispenses this tidbit of wisdom to her high school student played by Gabourey Sidibe.

At first, this line might seem unnaturally cruel. But, it had me cracking up and got me hooked to the show. What's so funny about it is how true it is, at least in our culture.

Have you ever noticed how many comedians and comediennes are overweight? Or used to be, growing up? Why do you think that is? I attribute this to childhood insecurities. Fact is, when you're not traditionally attractive (or perceive yourself not to be, according to the mainstream), you feel like your personally has to compensate for your looks. As Cathy puts it, "Nobody likes a fat bitch." Ouch. Harsh. But that's how it feels, at least to the fat kid. So, you craft a funny persona. Hide your feels of inadequacy behind a mask of humor. And try to make witty comments whenever you can; that way, people will like you.

Maybe because I was once a chubby kid (I was pretty well traumatized by another kid calling me "thunder thighs")that I divide the women of the world into two categories. I'll admit sometimes I see a particularly skinny young woman and I will say (in my head or aloud to a friend) "Look at that skinny bitch." And when I say skinny bitch, it comes out like this: "skinnybitch." One word. Can't separate the two.

She might be a totally cool chick, but my preconceived notion is that a tall, skinny woman is somehow bitchy. This is obviously a projection of my own insecurity. This distinction also carries a morsel of respect. I have NO willpower. So if you are able to maintain a tiny frame, that earns my respect and somehow entails you to be bitchy.

The pressure to be funny or to be aloof can be suffocating. While it's hard to overcome our body image insecurities, it's possible to change the way people are portrayed in the mainstream. Maybe one day, we'll (our I'll) be able to change these constructs.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gays are Girl's Best Friend

When I first read about Sundance Channel's reality show Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, I was mad that my cable package didn't include Sundance Channel. Long has it been my desire to live out a Will and Grace fantasy. Since I have yet to find my gay, I have to settle for watching other people act out my dream.

So, I know Comcast is an evil monopoly or whatever, but I can't help but love Ondemand. That's where I found free episodes of GWLBWLB, winner of reality show with the most awkward TV title ever.

Now, I've only seen a few episodes of the show, which follows four "couples," but I have to say, it's not as engaging as I thought. I think it's because there are too many characters to follow and every time I get engrossed in one of the cast's story lines, suddenly there's a transition to another person. I guess this is how reality shows create drama. Each shift leaves me hanging.

The eight people who the show revolves around should make for dynamic characters. Unfortunately, because of the off-putting editing, it's hard to maintain interest in each individual. I hope that as this show enters its next season, the editing will improve. The people GWLBWLB trail are interesting on paper.

In one couple, both are writers and the gay best friend is planning his wedding. Another woman and her bff own a vintage clothing store. The black couple are production partners who attend the NAACP Image Awards in one episode.

And finally... the most dysfunctional couple. A young free spirit type and her closeted gay best friend, an immigrant from India. They might be best friends but they seem to inhabit completely different worlds. At this point, I'm watching this show just for Sahil. Poor Sahil. He's gay, but he's never kissed another man. Rosebud, his well-intentioned best friend, keeps pushing him to come out of the closet to his family.

Now, one would think that agreeing to be a part of this show would out him to his family, but since I can't access Sundance Channel, I doubt his family in India would know about the series. What Rosebud doesn't get, which Sahil tries to explain to her, is that in India, being gay is beyond taboo.

As a foreigner and a gay man in America, Sahil feels a double burden. Yet, if he were back at home, no doubt the psychological effects would be far worse. Up until recently, being homosexual was actually illegal in India. Eventually, I would imagine Sahil would have to entertain some conversation with his parents about his sexual orientation. I don't know how old he is, but I'm sure his parents will be expecting him to get married at some point, and perhaps will even attempt to arrange a match for him. I'm going to keep viewing to see how his journey unfolds.

NOTE: I'm pretty sure Sahil is my gay alter ego. -Di

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Read This, Not That

I am so thankful for Winter Break, as it affords me the opportunity to wrap myself up in a blanket, chug a mug of hot chocolate and just read.

If you didn't know, books are like magic to me. Every Sunday when I was a kid, I'd force a parent to drive me over to the library, so I could check out the maximum number of books allowed on my card (which I believe was 40) and wade through a pool of books in the car.

I just finished reading two books of completely different genres and I'm here to urge you to crack one open and to warn you to avoid muddling through the other.

First, the bad. My mother, bless her intentions, brought home several tomes of short stories to inspire me (since I had been developing my own writing with my friend Sha'Donna). One of these books was James Franco's Palo Alto, so named for his hometown. Readers, should some curiosity move you to pick this off the shelf, put it back. Up until now, I have followed his career with admiration. Loved him in Freaks and Geeks, loved him as Spiderman's sidekick and absolutely loved him in Milk. When I heard that he had enrolled in something like four different grad programs, including an MFA in creative writing, and that he had published his work, I was intrigued. I shouldn't have been. His stories are unreadable. The characters are undeveloped and his plots meander. Clearly, his writing ability was a secondary consideration in his book deal. I guess if I was a famous actor, it would be pretty easy for me to get a half-baked book published too.

On the other hand, I recommend all of you try to get your hands on Rebecca Skloot's the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a decade-long investigation into the background of Henrietta Lacks, the women whose cancer cells became the infamous HeLa cells, supposedly one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th Century. HeLa cells have been used in polio vaccines and cancer medications, and have spurred numerous inventions over the years. Tragically, this groundbreaking discovery was ill-gotten, as her doctors collected a sample without her knowledge or consent. It was 1950s Baltimore and doctors in the "colored" wing didn't feel think her family needed to know that her cells were being being shipped around the world, traveling through space and being used for genetic engineering. Today, bio-medical companies make millions of dollars of profit off of her DNA. And her family has not seen a cent of it. In a sad twist of irony, her children, who cannot afford medical insurance, do not have enough money to pay for medications developed from the DNA they share with their mother. Immortal Life opened my eyes to issues of race relations and medical ethics I could never have conceived of. This is not a light read, or a feel-good book, but it is a mind-blower. And yes, there was a part that made me cry. I encourage anyone with an interest in medicine to check it out.

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Open Letter to EA Games

Dear Rock Band distributors,

Could you please, please, please expand the shades of skin color available to Rock Band avatars? While creating a character for your latest version, Rock Band 3, I couldn't help but feel disappointed when I noted the abundance of pale shades in contrast to the ones containing melanin. I had to settle for a burnt sienna shade for my alter ego, but really, it was either that or the color make-up companies often refer to as "sable" that didn't represent what I would consider a Caucasian skin tone.

I expect more from you when you develop Rock Band 4. When I play the game, I don't want to feel like I'm standing at a Clinique counter trying to decide which of their absurdly pigment-lacking foundations match me best.

Rock Band is a ridiculously fun game. It is in fact the only video game I have ever played more than once. It encourages kids to cultivate an interest in music. I just hope you take kids of all different colors into consideration your next go around. You wouldn't want to potentially discourage any future rock stars to be.

Thanks for listening,