Repression, Oppression, Suppression: A Life of Domestic Routine

jeanneSomewhere in the middle of Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the eponymous Jeanne eats a sandwich in her kitchen. We have, by that point in the film, seen quite a lot of Jeanne’s kitchen. We’ve watched Ms. Dielman cook in that kitchen, peel potatoes, wash dishes (shot from behind her back so we can’t really see what she is doing), dry forks and knives, and polish her son’s shoes.

By the second hour of the film (just under four hours long in total), Jeanne Dielman’s kitchen has become an intimate space for us. Within this intimate space, we watch a woman eat a sandwich. The most remarkable thing about the scene, to me, is that we see her eat the entire sandwich. [Read more…]

Wonder Woman, Flying, Part 2: Beauty and Sacrament

Continued from yesterday.

wonderwoman2In this scene from Batman’s first meeting with Wonder Woman in Trinity, you can feel the writer Matt Wagner’s personality trumping the artist; though it doesn’t really add much to the narrative, Wagner can’t help but let Bats make a crack about her costume.

Superheroines’ costumes are perpetually controversial, it seems (perhaps because few artists have done much to better protect their heroines), and I sympathize with those who critique the way women are often overly sexualized in ways men are not. I don’t agree that the antidote is more sexualized male bodies. That strikes me as the kind of capitalistic, individualistic, hedonistic thinking that led to the hypersexualization of all bodies at the magazine racks. But at the same time, I also don’t believe we need more realistic bodies or body armor in all cases.

Take Wonder Woman flying, for instance. Yes, it stretches the suspension of disbelief to breaking to put her in a strapless one-piece “armor” (and yes, it is frequently referred to as armor; if you look, you’ll see the chest-piece and waistband are, in fact, metal). Some newer series and geek blogs have tried to re-imagine her costume in more realistic terms with some success, but increased realism comes at the cost of bringing Diana closer down to earth. [Read more…]

My Evolving Identity

 

10901090303_16118622bb_zI’ve just read a thirty-page article called “Whitman Music: The Problem of Adaptation.” A critical analysis of musical settings of Whitman’s poetry, the article was published in the 1965 issue of Books at Brown, a journal devoted to materials in the Special Collections of Brown University’s library. The author is Peggy Z. Rosenthal.

I turn to the contributors list at the back of the journal to learn more about this author. I see that her article is “based on the honor thesis which Mrs. Rosenthal [this is so long ago that “Ms.” hadn’t yet been born] contributed to The American Civilization program. Mrs. Rosenthal graduated magna cum laude from Pembroke College in June 1964.”

What the contributors’ bio omits is that Mrs. Rosenthal, as Peggy Zierler, studied music composition all through elementary and high school, while writing poetry for the high school literary magazine. Hence her interest, for her college honors thesis, in musical settings of poetry. (It was her thesis advisor who suggested basing her thesis on the Brown library’s unusual collection of musical settings of Whitman.)

Nor does the bio mention that Peggy Zierler married Mr. Rosenthal just before her senior year of college, commuting to Brown from their apartment at MIT, where he was doing graduate work. In order to get married as a Pembroke student, she needed a permission letter from the Pembroke Dean. The letter also stipulated that Mrs. Rosenthal would not be allowed to spend the night in the Pembroke dorms; her experience as a married woman would not be a good influence on her (supposedly) virginal peers.

After Brown, Mrs. Rosenthal went on for a doctorate in literature, where parts of her dissertation on Whitman’s poetry were published in scholarly journals in the early 1970s, under the name of P. Z. Rosenthal. She chose the initialed name in order to disguise her gender. Women in academia were still few, and considered intellectually inferior by the male majority, so she strategized that a non-gendered name would be more likely to gain acceptance by journal editors. [Read more…]

Elsa Blue and Frozen Power

ElsaFrozenFor Chad Thomas Johnston

Along with Kermit green, Barbie pink and—Lord have mercy—SpongeBob yellow, we can now officially add another color to the commercial childhood color spectrum:

Elsa blue.

Not the uninspiring medium light-blue of the golden-haired Disney Cinderella, the color of hard-sided Samsonite suitcases and redolent of 1950s animation, but a far more rarified shade, mixed with white and the tiniest drop of yellow-gold. A color that is just a step closer to Tiffany blue, and I bet you anything that this is not a coincidence.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, and have been preoccupied with your life of craft beers and reading Teodor Adorno, “Elsa blue” is the chief signifier and synecdoche of the 2014 animated film Frozen that recounts the story of two orphaned princesses in the Norwegian-inspired kingdom of Arendelle, the older of whom—the now-Queen Elsa—has the lethal and hidden power to create snow and ice.

[Read more…]

Everyone Deserves Clean Grout and Starched Linen

Pie Counter (1963), Wayne Thiebaud For my junior high school Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Lesca Black, who taught me how to press every seam once you’d sewed it, and for Dr. Sandra DeJong, who said she thought I might be a feminist, after all.

It all began, I suppose, with the hardbound set of Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks my mother ordered by subscription, lined up on a kitchen shelf between utilitarian metal bookends.

There was one hardbound volume for each European region, and multiple volumes for the regional cuisines of America, each covered in darkly-lit photographs reminiscent of still-life paintings. The volume for France had a picture of a cheese soufflé; the book for Austria (Austria?) had a gingerbread house frosted with royal icing and studded with candies—a Middle American fantasy of an Alpine Christmas.

“Let’s make that!” I always said to the nearby humoring adults, who were willing to let me make a mess in the kitchen but were not otherwise interested in “projects.” [Read more…]


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