Wednesday, March 4, 2015

White Chicks Can't Say the N-Word

One of my top favorite comedies has to be White Chicks staring Shawn and Marlon Wayans.

These two play FBI agents who are one mistake from losing their jobs, so they get an easy job: baby sitters for two spoiled heiresses. On the drive to the hotel from the airport, the group in a minor car accident and the girls walk away with tiny cuts on their faces. The girls refuse to go out in public with their faces so messed up. Not wanting to lose their jobs, the Wayans brothers (Marcus and Kevin) decide to dress up as the heiresses (Britney and Tiffany) and pretend to be them for the hottest weekend in the Hamptons. This is no easy task for two black men to become two white women, and the results are hilarious.

One of the best scenes in the movie is when Kevin and Marcus are dressed up like Brittney and Tiffany and they are riding in the car with the girls' closest friends: Karen, Tori, and Lisa. Here's the clip.

The impostors don't know the words to Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" (a "typical white girl song"), but then "To All My Niggas" by 50 Cent and Biggie Smalls (a "typical black man gangsta rap song") comes on the radio, and they unabashedly sing the entire chorus, n-word and all.

The interesting part, to me, is when Karen calls them out expressing her disbelief of her white girlfriends saying the n-word. The black-men-impersonating-white-women shrug and excuse the use of the word since no one was around to hear it.

What does this mean? Is it ok to say the n-word as long as you're alone or only surrounded by your close friends? Or is it only ok for black people to say the word, and the impostors were simply trying to maintain their disguise?

Now check out this clip from later in the movie.

The white chicks are in the club and a rival group of white chicks challenge them to a dance off to Beyonce's "Crazy in Love". When it looks like our heroines lose the battle at the end of the song, the Wayans brothers step in with some old school dance moves to "Tricky" by Run DMC and win the challenge. 

Here is another instance of "white girl" vs. "black guy". Even though Beyonce is black, her music reaches the "white girl community". Run DMC, however, only reaches the "old school black guy community". No one else involved in the battle could have pulled of the head spins, flares, and flips the black-men-impersonating-white-women performed. I think it is worth noting that when we talk about gangsta rap that is so prevalent in pop culture, we must also address dance styles. 

By the end of the movie, and after all sorts of shenanigans, one thing is clear: try as they might, Kevin and Marcus can't hide their "inner gangstas" and they have to show the world that they are not, in fact, white women.

Are these separate communities (white and black, men and women) so divided that we can't all take part in the same pop culture artifacts? 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Rita's Perspective

With as popular as the movie Groundhog Day continues to be, you may find this hard to believe, but I had never watched the entire movie until this week. Actually, I never had the desire to watch a movie where the self-absorbed guy is perpetually reliving the same day over and over again. I heard the storyline and became impatient just listening to the plot. So, it was never on my list of “gotta watch” movies…until after reading the analysis by Barry Brummett. As his assessment focused on how the movie reveals a “simulation nature of culture,” it was no surprise the analysis identifies a self-absorbed, preoccupied man who is unable to relate to people except to only manipulate them for his needs. The movie simulates a life moving through life void of authentic human interaction. Brummett warns about a culture lost in this type of simulation. I realized, wow there is more to this movie than I thought. So, I found a copy on YouTube and watched it. I admit; there is great advice presented in this movie. Granted, it takes most of the first half of the movie to get to it, but there is a lesson to be gleaned from this comedy romance! After moving through many days of Phil’s narcissistic behavior, there was great advice given by Rita. When Phil tells Rita about his curse of this nightmare he is living…the same day over and over again. Rita said, “I don’t know, Phil. Maybe it’s not a curse. It just depends on how you look at it.”

It’s so true! Your mind shapes your universe. Whatever you’re thinking about or feeling about today is creating your future. A shifting of your thoughts can shift your day and your life. There are laws of the universe…law of gravity, law of relativity, the law of cause and effect. There is also the law of attraction. This law reveals that we attract to us what we are focusing on. Phil was only getting back what he was focusing on…his self-absorbed life. Everything has energy—high or low. It is this energy that attracts other energy of the same—high or low. Controlling our feelings to be positive increases these vibrations, or energy, and we will attract good things in our lives. It wasn’t until Phil turned his focus from himself and began reaching out to help other people did good things begin to reciprocate back to him. One of the best ways to get us started on this positive change is to be grateful for what we have.

In a TedxUCDavis talk, Allison Ledgerwood refers to a study out of UC Davis that found study’s participants had a significant increase in happiness and health just by taking a few minutes each day to write down things they were grateful for. So the benefit of seeing the positive in life has even been documented in research.

So in addition to Brummett’s analysis, some of this post’s information comes from the movie The Secret. Check it out on Netflix or view it on YouTube here. It’s worth your time to watch it. It is life changing…or not…it just depends how you look at it…just like Rita’s message in “Groundhog Day”.

At the very least, though, start a gratitude journal. It is amazing how your attitude will improve. And an improved attitude brings an improved life. So, yes, it’s true…your mind does shape your universe. “It’s all in how you look at it.”

Vampires, Zombies & Werewolves= Love?


          Do you remember the classic horror films before the entire vampire, zombie and werewolves scene started taking over? I remember watching films such as Dracula and The Howling when I was younger that scared the heck out of me. Today everything is recycled from previous horror storylines with some sort of an impossible love. These creatures were seen as “monsters”. They are killers who feed of humans. In 2008, Twilight was introduced to the big screen and from that year on, all we have seen on screen are vampires, zombies and werewolves. As mentioned in My zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead Twilight created a domino effect. There is True Blood (2008), The Vampire Diaries (2009), Teen Wolf (2011), and Warm Bodies in (2013). What do all these films and TV shows have in common other than having a vampire, zombie or werewolf as one of the main characters? They all basically have the same storyline. Yes, the details are not exactly the same but the main story is the same. The human falls in love with a “monster” and they find a way to make their relationship work against all odds. Why are we trying to humanize a “monster”? What function does it serve in our society? Is this “monster” suppose to represent are biggest fears within love/life? My biggest question is why are teenagers and young adults so intrigued by this storyline? All the films and TV shows I mentioned have had huge success and gained a huge amount in profits…but why?

Here is an example of some quotes based of vampire, zombie and werewolf love: 

“About three things I was certain- First, Edward was a vampire, second, there was a part of him I didn’t know how dominant that part might be, that thirsted for my blood, third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him." Bella from Twilight. 

 “I am not a human, and I miss it. I miss it more than anything in the world. That’s my secret. But there is only so much hurt one man can take.” Damon from Vampire Diaries.

According to Stephen King, horror movies serve an important regulating function, defusing people’s destructive urges and helping to maintain a society’s psychic equilibrium. In my opinion I find this statement to be true in all genres. We all watch a film or TV show to escape from our daily lives. We are often stuck in routine and watching something that makes you believe in love, fear psycho killers or laugh at other people’s stupidity is a release of your everyday life. Maybe we all secretly wish to fall in love with a vampire, zombie or a werewolf.

Reflection of American Values Through Film

I was thoroughly intrigued by the article “The Way We Are” which was actually a presentation delivered at a popular culture conference by the renowned filmmaker, Sydney Pollack.  I found it very informative and inspiring to read the opinions about popular culture’s influence, and specifically film, from a creator of popular American films.  Analyzing popular culture from different points of view is important, in order to understand all of the potential influences and perceptions from all sides of the story.

Pollack explained that society’s values have changed over the past few decades.  Movies reflect the current American values and ideologies.  While it would be ideal for movies to change society’s values, they only reflect the current values in order to make a profit.  Pollack made a very important statement when he said, “The controlling influence in filmmaking hasn’t changed in 50 years: it still belongs to the consumer.”  People will pay to see and buy films that please them and are aligned with their beliefs.  Unfortunately, the only way for filmmakers and studios to stay afloat is to produce films that do not harshly challenge American values, but embrace them as they currently are. 

Portraying the “truth” is what Pollack said he strives to do in each of his films.  The truth in this context doesn’t necessarily mean a virtuous aim, it simply means to demonstrate characters how they are.  Pollack tries to “describe motives that are hidden in day-to-day life.”  As consumers isn’t that exactly what we want from popular culture?  I personally desire to have stories told in the most truthful manner possible.  

American movies do not require any education to understand and assimilate. Pollack wrote, “America has the most easily digestible culture.”  With this in mind, I believe that filmmakers should recognize their responsibility to educate society through their films.  While fictional films and scenarios are fine, filmmakers can choose to create these scenarios in honest ways, to depict events as they may really happen. Many individuals understand the world around them through the films and television that they view, making them vulnerable to real life situations where they have created certain expectations.  

I think that when our values are challenged in popular culture it is a good thing.  When we experience cognitive dissonance, we usually grow as a person.  We are forced to evaluate our own values, and to either make changes or to defend what we stand for.  If nothing more, popular culture that challenges our values will make us think, and stimulate thoughts about what is right and wrong and how to approach situations that may be depicted in film, music, art, etc.
How do you feel the popular culture industry can challenge current values and return to traditional American values?

Do you think it is important that traditional American values are reincorporated into films, or do you believe that American values have evolved and films should reflect what is currently happening in society?

Monday, March 2, 2015

What is your weapon of choice for the zombie apocalypse?

There are a select few types of people who can’t wait for the zombie apocalypse, my husband included. I am not sure if it is because of his military background, or the fact he was raised in an outdoors loving and pro-hunting family. It could just be that he has an unresolved hero complex and feels the need to save his family and kill the “bad guys.” Whatever the reason is, we have made the decision to start preparing for a worst case scenario situation —zombies included or not. What I find interesting is that as we discusses what supplies we need to have on hand, whether we should bug-in or bug-out, or how to keep our dog safe through everything, apocalypse films seem to be our source for most of our examples and discussions. From World War-Z (2013) to Zombieland (2009), all the way to films like The Road (2009) and Armageddon (1998) and Wall-E (2008). I find that films become an easy reference point to find examples and relate to real life situations, even when the films seem very unrealistic (cough cough, Zombieland). Well. . . successful films at least. As we discussed briefly in class, the new film The DUFF seems to fail to its female audience because the DUFF in question lacks the pounds and the ugliness. For a specific female audience looking for validation from the film, the film falls short and there is no sense of relation. But I digress. . .

Back to Zombies — which has become our catchphrase for Sh*t hitting the fan/doomsday/pandemic situations. From what we have learned about pandemic situations from movies (which is generally what a zombie apocalypse really is. . .) no one is safe and it is better to stay away from everyone. Sometimes you are safer locking yourself in your home, but that is not always safe as you still have the criminals who abuse the situation and pose a threat on top of those who are inflicted. Both can potentially attack your home and you may have no way out. Additionally, you may feel pressure by others to include them in your home out of some moral obligation through your shared humanity. You may not have the supplies necessary to support them. Or, if you are like the family in World War Z who lets Brad Pit’s family in, you end up dead. Or if you are like Bill Murray who has the group of zombie hunters enter his home, you end up dead. There are not a lot of films that support the bug-in concept. Most suggest bugging out, or running around with a rifle or shot-gun is the best way to go. Bugging-out certainly makes for more exciting movies. But in reality, which is surprisingly very different then the movies (go figure) the safer and more logical choice is bugging in. In a Pandemic situation, zombies included, running around outside is really the last thing you would want to be doing. 

So even though movies generally provide a point of reference for people (I am assuming my husband and I are not alone in this), they also promote a more dramatic understanding of the world. In the context of a Pandemic or Apocalypse, the fact that zombies have become the perpetuated thing to fear is ridiculous. The fact that I know my weapon of choice against the Zombies would be a short barrel shot gun loaded with buckshot is ridiculous. The fact that my plan b weapon of choice is a deer antler that I can swing like a bat is even more ridiculous. 

Many of the articles we read for this week discusses why the zombies obsession has come about. Whether it be a post 9/11 response, increased fear in pandemic diseases, or a suppressed desire to kill the monotony of daily life, the theories are expansive regarding the topic. I have my own theory on why zombies have become the thing we fear, which is closely related to a theory I developing on why villains are often depicted as mentally ill. The fear of losing ones mind, to insanity or some illness, is one that any rational person would have. No one wants to hear they are going “crazy,” and certainly no one wants to go “crazy.” Zombies are beings that have lost their minds, lost their humanity. Their bodies still are capable, to an extent, but they have lost all cognitive ability. There is no emotion, no memory, no life. People who suffer from serious mental illness can possibly suffer similar fates if and when they become incapable of managing their illness. These people become outcasts or non-functioning members of society, or civilization. When the entire population falls into this category then you have the total dismemberment of civilization, or our zombie apocalypse. 

So my questions for you are: 

Do you have a theory behind the zombie obsession?
Do you feel that the film industry is abusing this obsession or excessively perpetuating the obsession?
What is your weapon of choice for the zombie apocalypse?