Hellooooooo Mrs. Jensen!

Pop Culture, Random 2 Comments »

I admit it…I love most things that people consider creepy or weird.  Tim Burton’s work?  Love it.  The costume design and special effects in that horrendous Jennifer Lopez film, The Cell?  Loved that too.  And admiring dirty, primitive folk art dolls is my saving grace when forced to shop at every country craft shop on the planet when visiting with my family.

So it was a given that after watching this Snickers Halloween ad, I found myself totally in love with the main character.

I wish Snickers cut the ad by about five or ten seconds, so viewers don’t know that the mystical lady is made up of some kids pulling a prank.  I love the character’s mismatched arms, missing fingers, extreme height, oversized bathrobe, over-the-top mask (heightened features and makeup, but no moving lips!), etc.  It bums me out that this very helpful creature is just a vehicle for kids to scare adults into giving out more Snickers on Halloween.

The other day in the car, Dan and I spent a good twenty minutes daydreaming about ways for the Snickers Lady to keep going year round.  Perhaps she pops up a county fair, chucking hot and scalding deep fried Snickers bars at unsuspecting passersby (I’m only helping!) or at a Dairy Queen, dumping far too many ground up Snickers into Blizzards.  Teehee.

Unfortunately the original costume for the Snickers Lady was auctioned off recently so she probably won’t be making any more appearances for the company, but at least the $1,900 raised went to Feeding America.

I’m Back…

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And better than ever!  I’ve spent the past four months without my own computer, which is an exercise is pure torture for a pop culture/Internet fiend like myself.  After purchasing four laptops in the past five years, and all of them blowing up on me, I finally decided to plop down the big bucks and get what I’ve always wanted–a Macbook Pro!
I would like to introduce you to Gabrielle (insert angels singing):

I’ve convinced myself that a Macbook will revolutionize my entire life, especially my blogging and writing, so I’m out to prove that Macs are machines of the Gods.  If my hypothesis is correct, expect to see a lot more on this blog soon!

Love: How to Be Alone

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I absolutely love this video.  That is all.

Summer Reading Program

Gender, Pop Culture, Race, Sex & Sexuality 2 Comments »

Since it’s hotter than Hades in New England this summer, I have spent a majority of the season hidden in my one room with air conditioning–the bedroom.  We only have one television, in the living room, so I decided to dust off the “must read” list I kept during three years of grad school and visit my local library.

Wow, I forgot how much I love the library!  It’s like participating in the summer reading program all over again!  Although the Rhode Island library system is strong, I’m having a hard time finding some of the LGBT, feminist, and independent work I want to read (I’ve sent in suggestions!), but I’ve been lucky with newer novels, books about blogging, writing, and other pieces of nonfiction.  I finally realize that I do not need to own every book I fancy, especially fiction (since I rarely go back and reread it).  During the month of July, I read the following pieces of fiction that I want to share with you:

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb (B-)

Wally Lamb’s latest novel, a behemoth of 700+ pages, was sold as a story about the shootings at Columbine, but it’s not really a focal point.  Although there are some chapters about the event itself, Columbine is more of a catalyst for the main characters.  This is not Lamb’s strongest character work, but he does make smart and entertaining commentary about grief, trauma, the industry of American psychotherapy, substance abuse, the power of generational secrets, how we define family, redemption and faith.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (B)

Over the past year or so, I’d witnessed many conversations between co-workers, friends, and family that went a little something like this:

Person A: Did you read The Help?

Person B: (with big eyes) Oh yes! The best novel ________ (I’ve read this year/this decade/of all time)!

Person A: I agree…it was so good!

Besides all of this general excitement, I didn’t have any knowledge about the premise of The Help but I picked it up on the 7 day shelf at the library.  And I agree…I was entertained by the novel.  However, there were some pieces that didn’t sit well with me (in terms of the novel’s portrayal of race, gender, the author’s use of southern vernacular, etc.) and I plan to seek out some critical readings of The Help.  I may write more about this soon.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (A-)

I love and own all of Kingsolver’s work, so it pained me to wait this long to read The Lacuna (available about a year ago).  This historical fiction, set in the early to mid 20th century during the Mexican Revolution and the Communist scare in the United States, uses journal entries, letters, and press coverage to tell the story of the main character Harrison William Shepherd.  Harrison, a writer with dual Mexican and American citizenship, comes of age while working at the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  He also befriends Leon Trotsky, during his exhile in Mexico, and is a witness to his assassination.  Kingsolver again develops engrossing characters (even the real ones like Kahlo and Trotsky) and detailed settings that transport the reader back in time.  After I finished the novel, I found myself researching and reading about the Mexican Revolution, Frida Kahlo, the Aztecs, McCarthyism, and Russian history.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (A+)

I purchased Middlesex shortly after it became popular in 2007 (althought it was published in 2002) and it sat patiently on my bookshelf until I devoured it a few weeks ago.  I truly loved this novel and I found myself having strong emotional reactions to Eugenides’ work; over the course of 544 pages, I laughed, I sobbed, I cringed.  Middlesex, a multigenerational story about a Greek family who emigrates and grows in the suburbs of Detroit, resonated with me personally because of my own eccentric Greek family.  (We too had a Yai Yai that insisted she was on death’s door and wore black after her husband’s death for 20+ years).  The coming of age story of the main character, Calliope/Cal, is further complicated by the discovery that he is intersex.  Eugenides tied so many interesting topics together (gender identity, incest, ethnicity, race relations, etc.) with complex characters that I would gladly read a sequel…please make this happen!

Why I Quit Facebook

Pop Culture, Random 2 Comments »

Three weeks ago I made a final decision about something that’s irked the shit out of me for well over a year—I deleted my Facebook account. I know that many Facebook users jumped ship a couple of months ago because of the company’s new Big Brotheresque privacy policies. While I disagreed with Facebook’s decision to essentially share personal information with companies all over the Internet, this was not the Number One (or Number Three) issue that sent me packing. I understand that Facebook is an essential tool for many people, but here are my cynical views about why I chose to cut the cord with Facebook:

Facebook is a huge time-suck. Ever since I started using the Internet in 1995 (ah, good old dial up AOL), I have always found umpteen ways to waste my life away on the World Wide Web. I’m a researcher by nature, so I find it exciting to look up trivial information all the time and usually at the expense of doing something much more productive. Wikipedia, IMDB, blogs, Twitter updates, etc. all provided hours of distraction from a term paper, freelance assignment, or my full-time job. I have garnered delicious recipes, article ideas, book recommendations, funny videos, academic research, or at least some trivial knowledge (Meryl Streep played the Rabbi in Angels in America!) from these sources. But Facebook was the worst online black hole because, at least for me, it provided nothing of value. Sure, it was nice to see a video of a friend’s son taking his first steps or photos of another friend receiving her PhD. But more often that not, I found myself reading personal information about a friend of a friend or stalking a crush I had in the 7th grade. I am the Queen of Wasting Time, but even I couldn’t justify it any longer.

Facebook made me feel like an adolescent again. And I’m not talking about the good parts of the teenager years. I’m talking about the catty, jealous, lonely, low self-esteem, Mean Girls moments of adolescence. In the real world, it stings less if you don’t invite me to your party, baby shower, or night out on the town. I probably won’t even notice, since as adults we’re so busy and lucky to see each other once a month. On Facebook the proof is splashed all over the screen of my computer, whether I want to see it or not. Wedged between Farmville announcements and status updates about potty training toddlers, I see dozens of photos from a 30th birthday party of someone I consider a good friend. Look at all those people having fun! Why wasn’t I invited? I hate myself!

Facebook was getting awkward as more people joined. In the months leading up to the deletion of my account, I had received friend requests from clients at my full-time job (a big social work no no), co-workers (umm, no thanks), staff I directly supervise (no way!), people who I never met but who worked once or twice with my fiancé (why?), and many relatives (thanks for the offer, distant cousin twice removed, but I’ll pass).

When I’m bored, I still find myself automatically clicking the space on my iPhone where the Facebook app once existed. And some of my friends have no idea how to contact me outside of Facebook; several left Happy Birthday messages for me through my fiancé’s Wall. But overall, I’m really happy about unplugging.

Do Nothing to Feed Hungry Rhode Islanders

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Several months ago, I visited the Warwick Mall (poor flooded mall) with my brother Michael.  We were lazily browsing in each store, trying to pass the time on another cold winter day, when we were approached by a young man.  He asked if we wanted to participate in a taste test in exchange for a Dunkin Donuts gift card.  I inquired if the sample food was gluten-free, since Michael and I both have celiac, and I was assured that the sample was a-okay.

After signing a release form, we were led behind a set of curtains to a table and chairs surrounded by several video cameras.  The table held a microphone and a silver dome that covered a dish.  As Michael and I sat down on one side of the table, a handsome guy who looked like a news reporter or game show host took a seat opposite us.

He said that we were going to sample something that Rhode Islanders eat every day and he wanted our opinion about it.  I instantly started pondering–what do Rhode Islanders eat every day that’s gluten-free?  Iced Coffee?  Seafood?  Del’s Lemonade?

He slowly lifted the lid to reveal NOTHING.  An empty plate.  He gave us a moment to take it all in and then explained that many Rhode Island residents eat nothing.  They go hungry.

When asked how that made us feel, I said that I work for a non-profit organization so I know how many people come to us on a daily basis looking for food, clothing, shelter, etc.  I’ve watched these issues devastate so many people–home owners, small business owners, college graduates, small children, people who are running out of welfare benefits, youth aging out of foster care, the elderly etc.  Hunger doesn’t discriminate.

Our eye-opening taste test was part of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s new fundraising campaign.

Besides great videos, the Nothing campaign also includes billboards, radio spots, and these nifty Nothing brand cans that are for sale at local markets and stores for $2.99–the cost of purchasing 10 pounds of food for someone in need.  The cans also have a slot in the top to gather even more donations for the Food Bank.

This fundraising campaign has gained attention from NPR, the New York Times, and other media outlets.

Please considering doing nothing for hunger in Rhode Island.

Baby-Sitters Club Redux

Gender, Pop Culture 1 Comment »

Sunday morning, as I read the New York Times on my iPhone (there’s an app for that!), I squealed with delight when I came across the best news ever—Scholastic is reissuing the first two volumes of The Baby-Sitters Club with a new prequel written by the series’ author Ann M. Martin!

As a child who followed the public library’s summer reading contests with a religious fervor, I devoured these books and still hold them in high esteem.  I always connected with the characters Mary Anne (the shy, organized one) and Claudia (the creative one–though I lacked her fashion sense) and longed for a tight knit club of my own.

Many times I have thought about collecting the series from used bookstores, but I’ve never found the space for the 100+ that I read before I moved on to Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine (none of that Goosebumps crap…only Fear Street), Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  I was a dark and sullen middle schooler, huh?

However, my excitement was immediately taken down a notch when I read that the original volumes will be “slightly revised.”  According to the Times:

Editors at Scholastic updated some of the references to technology and outdated fashions in the reissued books. So a “cassette player” has become “headphones” and a “perm” has become “an expensive hairstyle.”

Seriously?!  Where’s the fun in rereading the series, or introducing younger generations to The Babysitters Club if some references to the 80s and 90s are erased?  As an avid fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels, I don’t recall Laura riding in a “vehicle” (i.e. horse drawn wagon) or the family moving into a new “neighborhood” (i.e. the prairie).

While I will definitely check out the prequel when it is published, I have no plans to purchase or read the revised volumes.  Used bookstores, here I come!

Male and Female Performance

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The fiance and I have moved into a new apartment–a beautiful, roomy two-bedroom place with a huge kitchen perfect for entertaining and cooking up gluten-free food.  The apartment is surrounded by woods, a river, a small village of shops and restaurants, the bay, and a farmers market every Saturday.  We couldn’t ask for a nicer place to call home.

Everything was perfect until, five days after moving in, I took a fall down the outside stairs and busted my leg.  A broken fibula, a fractured ankle, and a surgery later, I am facing another 3-6 weeks of bed rest before I can even start putting weight on my leg. 

I’m out of work for this whole time and am running out of ways to entertain myself.  Daytime television is driving me insane–did you know that The Jerry Springer Show is alive and well?  I think I’ve read the entire contents of the Internet and I am almost finished watching the lengthy list of silly 80s movies I’ve never viewed in our collection.  Erik the Viking = thumbs up; Iron Eagle = thumbs way down! 

But it’s not all doom and gloom and synthesized music.  I started reading Eat, Pray, Love (a book that really speaks to me so far…I love the author’s voice) and finally taught myself how to use Twitter.  Since finishing my pain meds, I have found stretches of time and mental clarity to work on my thesis. 

And now it is time to breathe some life into my writing–my favorite past time/vocation but the first thing I dump in case of emergency or times of stress.

While wasting my day away on the Internet, I stumbled upon this frame-by-frame parody of Shakira’s “She-Wolf” video:

This video led me to watch the original version by Shakira, which of course featured very different audience responses than the parody featuring a male.  Comments on YouTube for Shakira’s version included calling the singer slutty, sexy, hot, flexible enough for great sex, and a terrible dancer that has a nice body.  And those are the tame comments.  Almost none of the comments mentioned the song, the beat, the singing, etc.

I appreciate the parody, created by Washington State sophomore Andrew Foster, because it opens up the possibility of a dialogue about male versus female performance.  Also, if enough people create and/or consume these types of parodies I think it weakens the effects of the original message.  While Shakira’s dance moves and poses are a tad ridiculous, they contain many of the stereotypically “sexy” moves used by female performers–dancing in a cage or near a pole, sucking on their fingers, shaking their hips, women of color as animals, etc. 

However, viewers seem to find these moves not sexy and down right hysterical when performed by a man.  Most of the YouTube comments are either commending Andrew for creating a funny video or condemning him for acting “so gay!” 

As a culture, this is a stark example of our rigid gender roles–particularly around what is sexuality and sex appeal.  Frankly I find both performances to be awkward and unappealing (you have flexible shoulders–I want to sex you!  huh?), but I am clearly in the minority. 

What do you think?

Bitch Infomercial

Gender, Media, Pop Culture 1 Comment »

A few weeks ago, I came across this really nifty contest to create an infomercial for Bitch magazine.  I pointed it out to my partner, who is a filmmaker and a producer of a hilarious improv troupe–Bring Your Own Improv.  Check them out, I guarantee you will pee your pants!

Anyway the BYOI group, armed with some amazing and funny feminists (and rabid Bitch fans!), created the following infomercial.  Kudos to Amber Guillet for an excellent, cheesy sountrack.  I guarantee this will make you pee your pants, too!  Good job everyone!

In other news, I finally figured out how to embed video into my blog posts…go me!

PUBLISHED! Feminist Review

Gender, Media, Pop Culture, Published!, Sex & Sexuality No Comments »

Check out my latest published work!

Review of Queer Youth Cultures