The Ropes Have Been Unbound

Month: August, 2014

2 Words, 10 letters, You Know You Love It, XOXO

The term “guilty pleasure” might be the most condescending phrase in the English language. Perhaps it’s a side effect of  being vaguely Dionysian in nature but I never understood the rationality behind apologizing for what you enjoy. (With the obvious caveat that it’s not harmful to others) This summer, I reread the entire Gossip Girl book series by Cecily Von Zeigesar,” aka the ultimate guilty pleasure.

The show entered the pop culture zeitgeist thanks to a series of “omfg” moments, impeccable style, and a biting tinge of humanity that couldn’t be extinguished no matter how the show runners tried to do so. I’m not going to pretend that either the show or the book series are the pinnacle of human media achievement but there are distinct elements of intellectual and emotional value in the series that bled through the muddle of commercialism, irrational love quadrangles and absolutely horrid parenting. I read them for the first time in the 7th grade, and my parents were absolutely horrified when they discovered what I was reading, and ironically, I stopped reading them when I started dating my first boyfriend, which appalled them even more.

There are a couple lines that really stood out to me: from the first book, “She had that salty taste in the back of her throat again, the taste of tears. She’d been holding them back for too many days now, and she could feel a tidal wave coming on. All of a sudden she would start sobbing and she wouldn’t be able to stop.” And, from the 8th book, “He pretended to not like calling but he secretly needed it the way only children always needed to be the center of the universe.” The big overarching theme of the series concerns the topics of identity and burlesque; children acting like adults and adults refusing to grow up, and the eternal battle between hiding your emotions to be powerful or expressing them and risking getting burned, and no amount of Prada can take that away. At the very core, these young adults who act like they rule the world are nothing more than scared, petulant children who have never been told they have inherent value beyond their monetary worth and it makes them incapable of contentment. We can call it the existential crisis of the extremely wealthy that unfortunately has long reaching consequences on themselves and those around them.

Not to mention, in the first two seasons of the show especially, the ugly class question is omnipresent if you’re paying attention. I’m not saying that the Humphreys are anywhere close to poverty, in their sprawling apartment and hipster chic outfits, but often that’s where the class differences are most uncomfortable, among those who are objectively equal and yet will never garner the status they so crave. And then there’s Chuck Bass, the spawn of the dreaded “new money;” in the words of Karmin, “Daddy always said money can’t buy class/You don’t wanna get stuck taking out trash.” The takeaway from the series regarding class seems to be that nobody has any innate “class,” from the wealthiest to the poorest, because we’re united in this messy identity I call humanity. Money buys the physiological and safety needs in Maslow’s terms and it’s impossible to reach the higher levels without food and shelter and a stable income. But money doesn’t buy self esteem, acceptance by others, morality, love, generalized happiness, and this realization is what drives the demand for $300 therapy appointments, profiting on the generalized disillusionment of the wealthy.

And of course, the benefit of having 5+ protagonists is that there were no heroes or villains which is how real life works. We may be the heroes in our own lives but we sure as hell may be the villains in other people’s and that awareness is important; other people have their own backstories and motivations and objective right and wrong is a lot more difficult to define as we grow up. There were sympathetic antagonists, downright pathetic protagonists, and parents that ranged from incompetent to downright abusive and the world was colored in shades of grey instead of the black and white morality we grow to expect in our media.

Honestly, I far preferred Gossip Girl to a lot of the young adult literature I grew up with, full of girl power warriors and plucky tricksters because the concept of “I want to do boy things” was always far less relatable to me than “I want to be respected for doing girl things,” even if it’s just as worthwhile. I’ve always despised the societal trend to laud women being interested in male coded activities (as long as they still look perfect of course), football, eating messily, monster trucks, while condemning interest in conventionally feminine activities like getting nails done or enjoying “girl” media like Gossip Girl, which is probably a major reason I was determined to stick to this reread without giving up. I wanted to prove that my conception of the world on a backbone of on teen queens and fashion iconography and pretty dresses in 4000 level math classes is just as valid as Alanna of Trebond’s, the lady knight who abandons her prince and potential crown for the down to earth thief and a life in breeches, and I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but I’ve tried.

So anyway, the entire Gossip Girl television series is on Netflix and all 12 of the eBooks are available for free online if you know where to look, so just pretend to be 13 and precocious again for a while. You may even learn something.

Lear, Hamlet and Cordelia Chase

Here’s the thing about Shakespeare: you’ve got your objective greats, Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear. But I think that each person’s subjective favorite says a lot about them as a person. Like, I think that objectively speaking, Hamlet’s the best play and the most has been written on it in western canon, even more than the bible interestingly enough. But personally, King Lear is my favorite play. It’s a lot less commonly read at the high school level and even the college level (though I haven’t taken a specifically Shakespearean English class yet so maybe it is) but it just gets me really excited for some reason and I love talking about it.

So, to me, Lear concerns the fallibility of the human soul in a way that Hamlet is as well but Hamlet is a lot more Romantic with a capital R than anybody in Lear and you would think I’d gravitate towards that but not really at this point for some reason. Hamlet’s value to me is about the concept of life after death, the constant battle in the mind between whether it’s better to deal with the world we live in or to give it up and journey to life after death and as a young teenager that was all really important to me.

And I definitely read Hamlet as a young man, in his late teens most likely because here’s the thing: If he’s older, there’s no way some of his antics would fly, and I’d want to slap him even more than I already do for soliloquizing while Ophelia drowns herself sigh. I do have the “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy memorized though because senior year English with a real life J. Alfred Prufrock. Hamlet as a character is brilliant I don’t deny it, but I find myself extremely frustrated with him as I read the play and I’m far more interested in the archetypes and constructions surrounding the play, Rosencratz and Guildenstern as players, Ophelia as a precursor to the Sylvia Plath/Virginia Woolf/Lana del Rey aesthetic of near voyeuristic sadness (Woolf drowned herself in a very similar way to Ophelia it’s extremely chilling if you think about it), and the relationship of the former king and Gertrude more than in Hamlet and his angsting, no matter how intelligent and articulate it may be.

But “King Lear” on the other hand is about people just really messing everything up when they really really should know better and I love that frustration. You’ve got Lear who can’t see through his daughters’ manipulations, you’ve got Edmund who’s a bastard (in more ways than one) who is extremely righteous in his avarice so that he almost convinces the audience of the validity of his actions, and then you’ve got Gonreil and Regan who are two halves of this horrible whole, Gonreil as the instigator of violence and viciousness who kills her sister out of jealousy and in the end, is the only person capable of getting rid of herself, and Regan who just magnifies everybody else’s pain, and then you’ve got Cordelia. Light of the play, sun of my heart, I actually want to name my daughter after her and I’m pretty serious about that actually. Plus Cordelia Chase from Buffy other light of my life even if she was created by Joss Whedon the literal waste of space.

Cordelia is honest, and she’s true, and she is forthright about her convictions to her own demise. Her father doesn’t admire her, because Lear is a weak man and swayed by what’s on the surface but Cordelia is like a prophetess almost, she knows the true nature of her sisters and has no part in it. She becomes Lear’s caretaker almost when he goes mad, going from maiden to mother and this quote oh my god “My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty / According to my bond; no more nor less.” SHE LOVES HIM FOR HIM REGARDLESS OF PROPERTY. That’s just so important to me because the play brings up the question of whether money buys happiness and the crux of it is that it resolutely does NOT, security and pride but not happiness. Lear is alone, he’s being cuckholded by his daughters that claim to falsely love him and he’s banished the daughter that flat out tells him “love and be silent” because she understands that no amount of flowery words can prove her love as much as her actions which people today still don’t comprehend. Don’t propose to me on a jumbotron, ask me when I’m searching for bobby pins to pin back my dutch braided bangs you know?

And Cordelia shows him her love doesn’t she? She forgives her father because sometimes in love we have to accept apologies we’re never going to get, she takes care of him and she dies for him. Cordelia is so important to me, “King Lear” is so important to me, and I’m again sort of laughing at myself for how much I care about this because nobody in my life actually cares this much about these things. (Partially because I hang out with lots of STEM majors who pretend that anything humanities based is inherently dumb but still.)

Go read “King Lear” and try to love it as much as I do. I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s comedies except Pericles and the Two Noble Kinsmen, all the tragedies except Coriolanus and Richard III. I was planning to tackle the Tetralogies this August on the beach because I do know the history behind it all reasonably well but alas, that didn’t exactly happen. Either way, Shakespeare wrote for the common man since he was the common man (reject any idea that Shakespeare was secretly a nobleman because that is rooted in the classist idea that someone who wasn’t born wealthy could be that intelligent), and the edification of his work as the ultimate literary genius won’t ever stop being ironic to me.

The Basic Eight, Fight Club, and Perceptions of Violence

I’m on a plane home right now from Los Angeles, and the main question in my mind is what was wrong with me that a guy I dated for two and a half years is now a cross dressing anti-feminist LBGT activist. He was obsessed with masculinity when we were dating, and it was actually a major reason we broke up. He told me that I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup because he wanted a naturally beautiful girlfriend, and that feminists couldn’t wear dresses, and wouldn’t even wear a scarf because he thought it would make him gay, because obviously the scarf has the ability to change people’s sexualities. His whole family even called me a good investment despite not being white just to hit the racist checkmark as well. But anyway, I was just thinking: he’s the sort of guy that would really love Fight Club.

I like Fight Club, don’t get me wrong; I think it’s well written, intelligent and funny and real talk: Brad Pitt was never more attractive than as Tyler Durden. But David Fincher is a gay white man who meant Fight Club as a critique of hypermasculinity, with the blatant violence in the form of the literal fight club as well as the effect it has on its participants. But somewhere along the line, Fincher’s thesis got lost, and heterosexual white men ended up over-identifying with Fight Club using it to justify their misogyny and inclinations towards physical violence because “it’s intellectual you see.” I’m inclined to claim Death of the Author at this point and reuse the statement I made on Charles Bukowski again: “love Fight Club all you want but mistrust any men that love it on principle” and apparently Fincher agrees with me. I don’t have an issue with terrible people and terrible situations being depicted in media because they’re just as real as plucky heroines or saintly warriors, but the voyeuristic quality of the violence shouldn’t be present, which is what Fight Club and other projects like Dollhouse (heralded by Joss Whedon who’s the actual worst) epically fail at.

But I’m not here to review Fight Club, not really, because let’s be real, every guy goes through the “I’m cool, alternative and am into casual misygony and David Fincher” phase and almost every “smart” girl goes through the “I’m not like other girls because I consume BOY media and girl things are dumb” phase and so, Fight Club isn’t exactly obscure literature at this point in time. I want to draw your attention to Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, and his first novel The Basic Eight. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I’ll say this much: The Basic Eight is Fight Club with more tongue in cheek humor and a greater awareness of the moral depravity of its subject which renders the work leaving not as bitter a taste when one considers it a while after initial exposure to it.

To put it simply, the protagonist of The Basic Eight is a work of art. Flannery Culp: brilliant, artistic, slightly socially awkward, and on trial for murdering a boy she loved. Wait what? Handler wrote A Series of Unfortunate Events, which on retrospect is artistically and stylistically far superior to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or really any other children’s book series because he managed to write to his audience without talking down to them, and this practice is just as strong in his earlier work. His protagonists are young, whimsical and jaded on intervals like most teenagers are, carrying with them the naiveté and nonchalance that comes with youth but at the same time are given by the narrative the ethical range and the moral ambiguity rarely granted even to adults, especially to young women. Flannery Culp’s name is Chekov’s Gun, her best friend Natasha is an enigma that Flan herself is almost in love with (or so it seems anyway), and Adam himself, the Laura Palmer figuratively speaking, is what I’d like to call an asshole victim of epic proportions.

The structure of the novel is Flan’s diary of the first semester of her senior year of high school, interspersed with end of chapter reading questions reminiscent of those horrid active reading quizzes that were the bane of our existence once upon a time. Apparently, the high school is directly based on Handler’s own high school in the Bay Area, right down the biology teacher who sexually harassed his assistants and students. Okay then. The key thing to remember while reading is that Flannery Culp is not a reliable narrator. I read the book keeping this point in mind and yet I was still blindsided by the ending. There’s an element of the novel that recalls the place between real life and dreamland, where we cannot reach the truth of the matter no matter how hard we try because the answer just doesn’t exist. Nothing makes sense when reading, and you think it’s because Flan is trying to keep up the suspense, but the fact is actually she’s slowly becoming so deranged she doesn’t know the truth of the matter either, and she experienced it.

The book is a coming of age novel, a madness narrative in a similar vein to Euripedes’ Medea, intermittently humorous and morbid, strangely sexy even and I just can’t recommend it enough. I’m trying to be honest about the books on the list, but the problem might be that I can’t finish books I don’t like or at least tolerate let alone write reasonably long critiques on them. Ergo, most of these entries are explicitly complimentary, perhaps excessively so but YMMV. Either way, I would recommend both of these books, for comparison reasons if nothing else, and as a study in the different ways our society perceives male and female violence and its long standing impact on the treatment of its perpetrators.

Misandry’s a Game but Maybe that’s a Good Thing

So, I basically ate this book the first time I read it and since the movie is coming out soon,  I reread it, going more slowly and collecting quotes as I went along it. But I wanted to talk about the book because I actually consider it rather iconic since in this post feminist world we live in because women are equal to men right? We can vote, and wear pants, and even keep our last names! And well. Amy Elliott Dunne, what a dame.

The thing about Amy is that nothing will ever be enough for her. She wants everything in the world and she was told that she could have it because she had parents who loved her, she had beauty and charm and brilliance to spare, but it wasn’t enough. She could do whatever the hell she wanted right? But she couldn’t. The thing about existence as a woman so to speak is that either you obey the rules set forward by society, wear the right clothes, say the right things, date the right men, be whatever people want you to be and avoid trouble and the disconcert of other people or if you can’t do those things or you don’t want to, you’d better expect the consequences. You can’t do whatever you want and demand the consequences don’t apply to you which is almost what Amy tried to do.

One of my favorite Amy lines aside from the whole huge rant on the Cool Girl is from her last chapter “I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge?” As human beings, I think we need that prodding, that motivation to be better people. For the longest time, this came from organized religion, the whole if you don’t do the right thing, God will smite you and you’ll be stuck in hell with all the other sinners. But in the modern era, it’s almost a taboo to be religious or rather to believe in the unknown outside the confines of organized religion which is just really not conducive to freedom that we so covet. It’s not “rational” and “practical” but so many young women are stuck with this internal mantra of “I need a purpose I need a reason I need to be absolutely everything under the sun and even though I managed to achieve this because I’m so capable, I am still empty and I don’t know what can fill me up.”

Amy Dunne is looking for a purpose to life, she can’t find it, so she manipulates those who have somehow made her feel less than extraordinary into giving her that purpose. She hates the idea of anybody beating her of being better than her of somehow surpassing the ridiculous standards she set for herself. And her actions are horrible of course and not morally right at all; the Hilary Handy situation not to mention the framing Desi for murder and then murdering him, although the way Desi treated Amy made me sick to the stomach to be quite honest and maybe it says something I thought he almost had it coming.

But the whole “why are we here what is the purpose why am I not happy even though I should be?” is the question that Sylvia Plath posed in the 1950s and and is written off by many (white male) quasi intellectuals a la Woody Allen as a crazy sad girl with serious daddy issues who wrote some pretty words and killed herself in the most gruesome way. (Conveniently ignoring the fact her husband Ted Hughes’ second wife died in the exact same way which is a coincidence that’s really eerie.) What is the purpose to existence? As woman why are we mandated to dance to the tune of men? Acquiesce to their requests with a smile, be their mothers and their wives and their whores and their sisters all in one and never get the respect that any of those identities should garner, let them think they’re men while treating them like the little boys they are never letting it slip the work we put into the carefully constructed identity of it all.

The Plath quote in full, which often the only last part is quoted because it’s a bit too radical for many modern male egos, is“Being born a woman is an awful tragedy. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.” I don’t want to be a woman sometimes, or rather the sheer frustration with the amount of organized rules and regulations and isms I have to live under just makes me angry, and Amy really resonated with that aspect of my brain. I just want to be a person, not a woman with the rules of a woman where my body is free to be judged my whole life and my mind is supposed to be just as constructed but I’m trapped in that body.

It’s a coffin almost that we’ve been buried alive in but the Amy Dunnes and the Cersei Lannisters and the women who want more take the gamble to do it and sometimes they succeed but is it really worth it? The tragedy of it all is that they generally still lose because the society isn’t conducive to that sort of wanting in a woman while in most men it’s excused because “that’s how men ought to be all ambitious and go-getting.” I said today that men want strong independent women as a token on the checklist to the “suitable partner” as long as they aren’t strong and independent towards them and just do exactly what they want them to do. But good god Amy Elliott Dunne. Rosamunde Pike will kill it and Ben Affleck is Nick Dunne to the point he has a face I want to slap. I was in the minority who really loved the ending as it is and I hope Gillian Flynn doesn’t change its vibe to much though I get some of the logistics could stand to be altered.