Archivo de la categoría: Cultura Pop

When fame gets in the way of love: a musical tragedy.

It seems that love and fame are difficult —or even impossible— to get along with. At least that’s what some movies, particularly musicals, have been trying to explain us all along. In their worlds, failed artists are meant to find love only by sacrificing their passions.

Nowadays, films’ stance on the artists’ love life is like this: you either are very lucky to find the love of your life and spend what’s left of your days to devote yourself to his or her hapiness, or you succeed on achieving your dreams by following the path you are always meant to walk. You have to choose, you can’t have both.

There’s no better way to illustrate this than with Jason Robert Brown’s  The Last Five Years, adapted to film by Richard LaGravenese, and Damien Chazelle’s Lala Land. Movies where their protagonists   —all artists, by the way — have to face the tough decision of living a fameless life by staying together or embracing the success that is coming their way, but only by themselves.

In The Last Five Years’ movie adaptation, Cathy (Anna Kendrick) is a musical theater performer who is looking for an opportunity that can finally take her out of her waitress job. Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), on the other hand, is a writer looking for a publishing house who would want his book.

In Lala Land, Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress who is looking for an opportunity that can finally take her out of her barista job. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz lover who wants to open his own club where he can play his own music.

They all have dreams to fullfill and places to be, but life — and love, at some extent— eventually gets in their way.  Both couples fight to stay with each other along the way, but success, as we will learn, is a tricky thing to achieve and it does not wait for anyone or anything.

What’s really enlighting about contrasting these two movies is that we have the possibility to understand how two directors can represent different scenarios, and perspectives, of the same problem: the one with the couple that begin to have problems as soon as one of them becames famous, and the other couple that strengthens themselves by supporting each others dreams but fell off the wagon half way anyway.

Whilst Jamie succesfully manages to sell his first book to a famous publishing house right after he starts dating Cathy, she is not getting callbacks at all. In fact, she is just stuck between her job as a waitress and her summer gig in Ohio. She is happy for him but, as he becomes more and more famous, she starts to feel more like a failure. She doesn’t want to be the one that’s left behind.

There’s more than the eye could see with their relationship’s problems, Jamie’s success in no way feels like a threat to Cathy, but rather a constant reminder of her failure and her impossibility to follow and achieve her dreams. Cathy’s insecurities stems from society’s need to validate women by their hability to carry along with their household activities they’re supposed to do, instead of accomplishing their goals.

Their real problem, though, is their unwilingness to communicate with each other. They are really afraid to let the other down, because they really love each other. And when they actually communicate, their only purpose is to hurt themselves.

Cathy and Jamie, in fact,  sing to express themselves. They use music to express their deepest and inner thoughts, and to reflect their expectations, like a daydreaming blowoff valve.  She wants to be independent, succesful and in love, but, at the same time, he wants to be a good provider, a succesfull writer and a charming womanizer.

Mia and Sebastian’s relationship functions the other way around. Both of them are unsuccessful and very lonely when they actually start dating. What’s really great of their relationship is the support and motivation they have with each other. Neither one of them want to see the other one fail, on the contrary, they want them to be happy and fulfilled people.

It’s really their inhability to feel empathy for one another what pushes them to break up. While Mia is incapable to believe that Sebastian would do anything to follow his dream —even if this means to play on a mainstream band and touring— he is clueless about her weariness and constant disappointment that all her failed auditions make her feel.

In the end, they all are idealists, and it’s really interesting to understand that the one thing these four people share, apart from their desire to be famous, is the way they grapple their lives by putting all their expectations before reality. They want to be in an ideal relationship, one where empathy and communication are something to be expected from your loved one.

As we can see, all of the four characters  are always constrained and forced by themselves to live between two worlds: first and foremost, on a fantasy land where they can have it all, and, later, on the real world, where love and fame can’t get along.

In fact, one of these musicals strenghts is their capability to toy with their narrative in order to show their portagonists’ life expectations by using different formats to evidence the stark constrasts between their titular couples real lives’ and their fantasy worlds.

In these movies, achievement and happiness are related with a fantasy/dream world  were their expectations are fulfilled, whilst failure and disappointment are paired with the real world. Both LaGravenese and Chazelle even depict these particular moments with different colors and shades along their stories; whereas the blue and gray filters are in charge of showing failure, the yellow and white ones are destined to bathe the screen with color when an achievement is made.

There’s certainly something tragic behind this argument. This is a world  where idealists are bound to always be normed and constrained by their expectations if they want to follow their path towards success. Even if this means to sacrifice love in their lives.

Supergirl y la deconstrucción del estereotipo de la madre

Como lo he mencionado anteriormente, la representación de la figura materna en el cine y la televisión ha sido casi siempre relegada, y desplazada, a ser aquella mujer entregada a su familia y que no es capaz de entender su existencia como mujer separada de su posibilidad de ser madre. Para la sociedad que se refleja en estas historias, ser madre es la característica por antonomasia de la mujer.

Actualmente, pocas series han intentado (de)construir esta representación tanto como lo ha hecho Supergirl. Desde sus inicios, este programa ha retratado a sus personajes femeninos como mujeres fuertes, decididas, ambiciosas, libres y seguras de si mismas. Individuos capaces de tener una relación fuerte con otras mujeres sin necesidad de sentirse amenazadas.

En el universo de Supergirl las mujeres son mucho más que simples incubadoras de bebés; son líderes de compañías multinacionales, agentes encubiertos que trabajan para departamentos importantes del gobierno, reporteras incansables que siempre están en busca de la verdad, empresarias exitosas, reinas de civilizaciones, científicas que se preocupan por el medio ambiente y, por supuesto, superheroínas.

Lo que diferencia a estas mujeres del resto de las que existen en los programas de televisión actuales, es que algunas de ellas son también madres.  Las matriarcas de dicha serie no son reducidas ni relegadas debido a  su maternidad, al contrario, la maternidad no hace otra cosa que fortalecerlas. Ésta no se configura como su único rasgo identitario, sino que forma parte, más bien, de una serie de características y atributos que la constituyen como un ser humano completo.

De hecho la segunda temporada nos regala no sólo a una, sino a dos madres que figuran como la mayor amenaza de Supergirl: Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong)  y Rhea (Teri Hatcher). Lillian es una científica, y fundadora del proyecto Cadmus, dispuesta a hacer todo por tratar de frenar la afluente — y a sus ojos, peligrosa—migración de extraterrestres a la tierra; también es la madre de Lex y Lena Luthor. Rhea, por otro lado, es la reina de los Daxamites, una civilización extraterrestre en constante batalla con los Kryptonian (la sociedad de donde proviene Kara ); también es la mamá de Mon-El, la pareja sentimental de Supergirl.

Ambas mujeres son líderes poderosas que están dispuestas a hacer todo para lograr sus metas, incluso manipular y chantajear a sus hijos de ser necesario. Mientras los planes de Lillian siempre involucran métodos peligrosos, y posiblemente terroristas, para deshacerse de los extraterrestres ilegales viviendo en la tierra, Rhea es capaz de cometer asesinatos en nombre de su civilización y con el fin de conquistar el planeta tierra.

Lo más interesante de estas dos figuras femeninas es que representan a la antítesis del estereotipo materno; las dos usan a sus hijos como medios para lograr sus planes y que, en caso de encontrarse en una situación de peligro, son capaces de deshacerse de ellos para salvarse así mismas. Tanto Lillian como Rhea apelan a su lado materno solo cuando necesitan verse más humanas y vulnerables frente a sus enemigos.

Con estos personajes los creadores de la serie logran subvertir por completo el estereotipo desgastado de la madre que hemos visto una y otra vez. Cada una usa su vulnerabilidad como fortaleza y respuesta ante una amenaza,  mientras que la a abnegación y entrega incondicional que se espera de ellas no es más que un obstáculo en medio de su camino.

Esta deconstrucción nos permite enfrentarnos a las ideas preconcebidas del imaginario de madre que reproducimos una y  y otra vez dentro de la sociedad.  Una mujer puede ser madre y una líder capaz de guiar un movimiento.  De la misma forma, también  puede elegir ser madre y dedicarse a ello de tiempo completo, cualquier alternativa es válida mientras exista la opción de tomar la decisión.

Lillian y Rhea no son solo madres, son mujeres poderosas que deciden separarse de la idea de maternidad  que la sociedad se aferra en establecer como aquella característica intrínseca de identidad que, en otra serie o situación, podría describirlas y reducirlas por completo.

Si hay algo que he aprendido de esta serie es que ser madre no es una obligación, es una decisión que cada mujer debería poder tomar con libertad, sin sentirse culpables y  sin necesidad de estar comprometidas a serlo,  solo por el simple hecho de tener un útero.

 

 

Rachel Bloom: musical comedy and spot on feminism

The day I fell in love with Rachel Bloom was actually the first time I ever heard anything from and about her. I was just  in the process of getting over my ex-boyfriend, so, naturally, I was looking for new music for my sad “I’m-over-you-and-I’m-not-sad-at-all” playlist to listen to on an infinite loop. I ran out of options quickly so, as any other lonely guy would do, I searched for songs with the word “dick” on their name and, without realizing, I was rapidly blasting “Pictures Of Your Dick”, by the one and only Rachel Bloom, non-stop. Little did I know that finding this merry tune will be just the tip of the iceberg on my quest to understand and embrace the numerous ways she navigates with her comedy.

For those who hadn’t had the joy of knowing Rachel Bloom, let me break it down for you. She is a comedian who started her career by doing musical comedy on Youtube (Please, don’t miss the opportunity to go to her channel to take a look of what’s she’s capable of) and now she’s the creator, writer and protagonist of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend TV show, which recently was renewed for a third season.

She is a feminist who uses musical comedy to make a point and to take a stand on what she really believes in. So, in order to understand her comedy, you will need to see it as a criticism and a satire of the society’s actual state.

The clever ways she  balances her feminism in perfect unison with her comedy is, actually, her greatest statement of all; in fact, Rachel Bloom’s best asset is her particular way she uses the deconstruction of tropes, and social constructs, as strong arguments against sexism. Traditional gender roles and moral values are just some of the topics she likes to toy with on a daily basis.

Rachel Bloom sees society as a one big musical. A staging where the performers live by the narratives they taught themselves to believe in in order to follow the rules the script has laid upon them. A play where some tropes could be just as harmful as labels, but that can also be subverted in the same way.

You will only need to take one glimpse on her trajectory to find three subverted tropes that are present consistently on all the things she does: The Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Disney Princess and The Party Girl. Her most famous yet is, and thanks to her TV show, the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This particular trope is pretty complex by itself, not only because it comes from a blatant sexist background, but because women are often labeled with it. You might have heard about this one before, it stems from the outdated idea that women are just emotional individuals that keep making rushed choices with their heart and not with their minds. So, by acting on it, they will always be reduced to this one-note characters that will probably be obsessed with the dudes they had a relationship with.

Rachel Bloom, on the other hand, makes the most of it by really going along with it. She constantly mocks this particular trope by going the extra mile by granting all these particular characteristics to her main character of the show, Rebecca Bunch (played, obviously, by her): she basically moves to her ex-boyfriend’s hometown in order to get back with him, but she’s convinced that that’s not the reason she changed cities.

Rebecca is obsessive, irrational and stubborn. She’s the best caricature of the trope we can get. That’s what’s really enthralling of the show, her character is so exaggerated and over the top that it becomes really easy to deconstruct it in order to identify the flaws behind it. That’s how Rachel Bloom rolls, by exaggerating the stereotype and waiting for the cracks to show.

Her Crazy Ex-Girlfriends are often saying to themselves, and to others, what men would like to hear in order to get back with them, after all, they are hopelessly in love and  very devoted to the man they love. It’s common that they have a really low self-esteem and their personality, and core identity, varies from man to man. They even upload pictures of their ex-boyfriend’s dick online as a form of personal vendetta.

With only two seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in, we are able to understand, as the audience, that women that are labeled as the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are, in fact, often constrained by all the high and sexist standards that society have placed on them from the very beginning.  In a certain way, they just acts on it.

Women have to be sentimental — and not tough—, because the gender role they have to fulfill demands them to be like that, but only in small doses and without being too loud, because, without any kind of supervision, it could probably transform into an obsession or, even worst, a direct attack against our very fragile masculinity.

The Disney Princess trope comes right from the same place. Society will always tell us that, in order to have a happy life, women have to become wives, not Crazy Ex-Girlfriends,  and the best way to do it is by drawing the attention of a Prince Charming by being feminine, elegant, selfless and sentimental. That’s why Rachel Bloom’s subversion of this trope is so delicious. Her Princesses are everything but what society likes to call “ladylike”. They like to curse while their sing, and they will certainly talk about poop and menstrual cramps without any decorum. They are, at the end of the day, regular human beings, not impossible standards to achieve.

The Party Girl has her origins on the darkest corner of masculine heterosexuality: the fantasies. This stereotype wants women to be sexy, sensual and carefree but without losing any trace of femininity and elegance. This particular trope can be very contradictory by itself, it asks women to be kind of slutty but without losing her prstine image or any respect from the others, especially from herself. You can also find this girl in any party waiting to woo over some random dudes.

In Rachel Bloom’s world, the Party Girl sings at the club about dying from cancer, throwing up a bile, threatening someone’s girlfriend to kill her and use her skin as a dress, or even flying her dirty panties as a kite, all of that whilst using a revealing outfit. As you can see, she’s anything but sexy.

This is what we really need right now, someone who is willing to use her platform to make strong statements about important topics visible,  with creative methods that can help people understand them in a more accesible way. Rachel Bloom is already getting ahead of everybody.

Fading to black: Lars Von Trier and gender politics.

As I have mentioned before, I really like to watch movies and TV Shows that are capable of making me feel uncomfortable —and, sometimes, even disturbed—not only for the cringeworthy moments, but for their capacity to confront and transform the paradigms with which I live my life by. Lars Von Trier’s films could perfectly sum up all of this.

I’m sure you have all watched at least one of his movies, and I’m also sure we can all agree on one thing: Lars Von Trier’s movies are nothing but average.

I’m not here to talk you into watching some of the best films of his wide and impressive career (something you should definitely do) or to tell you he is one of the most clever minds that the modern cinema has and will ever have (he really is), but to rather talk about something more relevant, and significant, to the times we’re living in: his gender politics.

If there’s something this director is really good at is portraying accurate depictions of what is like to be a woman in our current society, what her place is and how difficult her relationship with the men around her could be.

Lars Von Trier depicts his women like individuals without a voice, without a place to belong and a body to own. These women are often the caretakers, the ones that are always giving everything without expecting anything back, the ones that put everyone else’s needs before theirs. These women are stripped of any type of agency and decisions of their own and are constantly taken for granted.

Men, on the other hand, are the ones deciding upon women’s lives, decisions and bodies. The ones taking the spaces from them, the ones that are constantly putting women down by being condescending and unapproachable. These are the men that think they deserve everything they want, specially when a woman is involved. It’s no surprise that all of Lars Von Trier’s women end up on the verge.

The director has a keen eye to portray hopeless mothers. These individuals are portrayed as both completely vulnerable and always subjected to the men around them. They are women devoted to look after their children and to keep them safe from the dangers of the world.

Selma (Björk), in Dancer In The Dark, is the embodiment of this. She is an immigrant single mother that lives in the backyard of Bill (David Morse), a well-known policeman of a small town of the U.S who would do anything to please his wife, even if it means to steal money from his tenant.

Selma’s otherness is both the cause of her demise and her reason to be happy. She has no place to live, but the shed of Bill. She’s also going blind and lives with a constant guilt over her son’s possible blindness too. Bill takes advantage of this situation by immediately robbing her and putting her in a difficult position; leaving her with no other solution but to kill him.

Selma’s worst fear is to lose her child, to live in a world where his son’s childhood could be instantly robbed from him only because she has a hereditary illness. Selma’s entire life purpose is to procure her son’s health, even if it costs her her life.

So, when she’s thrown into jail, she’s not only becoming another faceless victim, she is also thrusted into a system unable to defend her. A system led by men,  that has control over her body and her freedom. A corrupt system that eventually ends up killing her and her spirit, without hesitation.

Charlotte Gainsbourg also depicted this type of mother on two Von Trier movies: Antichrist and Melancholia. This two women share the same fear of losing a child that Selma has. The difference between them resides on the story.  The woman named “She” loses her son at the beginning of the former and Claire at the end of the latter.

Both woman also have indifferent husbands who thinks that money and complaisance are the best way to be there for their wives in order to help them go through the difficult times. “He” (Willem Dafoe) is a psychologist reluctant to feel any sort of empathy towards his wife and his mourning process over the death of their child. John (Kiefer Sutherland) , on the other hand, is a scientist already fed up by her wife Claire and her “sentimentalism”.

These two men are completely certain that their wives would, and should, process their feelings the same way they do. They think they know and understand them perfectly well, but, in reality, they are just thinking about themselves. They’re not listening to them. In fact, they constantly find ways to silence them.

Dogville‘s Grace (Nicole Kidman) not only is left without a place to belong or live, but she’s also left without any will to go on with her life the very moment she arrives to the fictional town, named Dogville, looking for a place to hide from the gangsters that are after her. In there, the villagers find bizarre ways to mock her, silence her and arbitrary situations to justify the means of owning her body.

What’s really interesting of this movie is not only the raw depiction of humanity that Von Trier portrays accurately, but also the poignant point of view of a woman that is on the verge. Grace reaches a point were she has nothing left to loose. So, she orders the gangsters that are after her, to kill all the people on the town, even the children.

Yes, Lars Von Trier’s women can be selfless caretakers, but they also are human. And, as human beings, when they feel threatened, they will retaliate. Sadly, these personal rebellions will only appear when a breaking point is reached. Lars Von Trier depicts perfectly the way women are raised nowadays, as mute individuals that will not, and should not, raise their voice against anything.

Notwithstanding, Selma’s spends her last minutes alive by singing a song as an act of rebellion against the system that is in charge of breaking her. Claire finds a way to calm her child minutes before the world’s end as a way of retalliation against her fear of letting him down. In Antichrist, She finds a way to mutilate the genitals of her husband as a way to emancipate and break free from the box He put her into.

But, as we will learn from this movies, acting out will always bring consequences to the women involved. Something that Von Trier perfectly sums up on Nymphomaniac. a film where Joe (another wonderful acting piece by Charlotte Gainsbourg) goes against all that standards that the women before her had to live upon.

Joe is a fearless woman who is trying to understand who she is through sex. She is very confident about her sexuality and very conscious of her body. She refuses other men’s advances whenever she wants to whilst she doesn’t put up with them trying to control her body. She, eventually, will learn that society will not tolerate rogue women prancing around with their moral values.

By the end of the movie, Joe will be punished for her actions and for standing against a society more concerned about her behaving than to actually listen to her. Joe will reach for a gun in order to protect herself against a man (Stellan Skarsgard) who wants to control her body, and we will be left with nothing but a fade to black and an uncertainty around Joe’s life. Like all the other women in real life who are brave enough to stand against the very system who is always trying to break them but they keep disappearing.

La falacia de la mujer protagonista en el cine

Hollywood tiene algo claro: los personajes femeninos empoderados venden. Solo con echarle un vistazo a algunas de las películas exitosas de los últimos años (sobre todo si se trata de franquicias) como The Hunger Games, Mad Max: Fury Road o Rogue One: A Star Wars Story nos podremos dar cuenta de ello.

Tuvieron que pasar muchos años, y diversas peleas dentro y fuera de la industria, para que los estudios comenzaras a ver a las mujeres como algo más que objeto de deseo de los hombres. Ahora es posible encontrar a personajes femeninos que vivan fuera del imaginativo popular y ser protagonistas al mismo tiempo; eso es, sin duda, algo digno de celebrar. Los personajes femeninos pueden -y deben- llevar historias completas en sus hombros sin problema alguno.

Me encantaría argumentar que esto es suficiente para que exista equidad de género y representación femenina suficiente, pero me estaría mintiendo. Es cierto que hemos avanzado mucho, sin embargo, es necesario hacer un especial hincapié y detenernos a pensar en la forma en la que este avance se ha hecho.

Sí, ahora contamos con una mayor representación femenina en las pantallas grandes y sí, ya tenemos mujeres protagonistas dispuestas a llevar historias que antes no eran consideradas dignas de su género.

El problema, en realidad, no radica en la extraordinaria construcción detrás de Katniss Everdeen o de Furiosa, sino en la existencia de otros personajes femeninos que tratan de imitarlas, aprovechando la tendencia actual por representar mujeres fuertes, pero que terminan perdiéndose en esencia.

Ahora tenemos a la muer fuerte, empoderada y con agencia suficiente para mantener una historia donde sus decisiones repercutan directamente en la trama, pero, al mismo tiempo, tenemos a esta misma mujer cuya existencia en la película depende enteramente para validar al personaje masculino (sea protagonista o no) y a sus decisiones.

Aurora, el personaje de Jennifer Lawrence (quién también interpreta a Katniss en The Hunger Games) en Passengers es la representación perfecta de esa idea. Al principio de la película es presentada como una chica independiente, con motivaciones y metas fuertes que la llevan a tomar la decisión de cambiarse de planeta y comenzar su vida de nuevo allá.

Algo que pierde por completo cuando Jim (Chris Pratt) decide despertarla para no estar solo en lo que resta del viaje, es decir, una vida completa. En un momento de la película, Aurora se entera que su despertar no fue accidental, sino a causa de Jim.

En cualquier otra situación de la vida real, una persona común y corriente se sentiría traicionada y herida al enterarse que otra persona literalmente la condena a vivir encerrada. Aurora se enoja, pero al poco tiempo lo perdona e incluso decide olvidar su vida en el nuevo planeta en favor de quedarse con el hombre que ama.

Sus decisiones, antes de conocer al personaje de Chris Pratt, dependen enteramente de ella y de nadie más, pero al momento en que se encuentra con él, comienzan a girar a su alrededor. Todo lo que ella hace es en función de validar a Jim como persona, como ingeniero y como amor de su vida. Aurora termina siendo definida por su relación con Jim y no por sus decisiones.

Lo mismo sucede con el personaje de Maru, intepretado por Karla Souza, en la película mexicana Qué Culpa Tiene El Niño. Maru es una mujer con decisiones propias, ella decide seguir adelante con su embarazo no deseado, no porque Renato (Ricardo Abarca) se lo pida, sino porque ella quiere hacerlo.

El problema radica, más bien, en las acciones que suceden a esta decisión, cuando comienzan a girar en torno a renato y su felicidad, mientras que vemos a Maru pasa de ser protagonista de su historia a espectadora. Para la mitad de la película la narrativa comienza a transformarse sutilmente hasta que llega a un punto en el que  Renato secuestra la decisión inicial de Maru y la hace propia.

Al final, Maru y Renato tienen el bebé y él se corona como el héroe de la historia que mantuvo sus convicciones intactas mientras que Maru se pierde en el fondo, al pasar de ser una portadora de voz y agencia a convertirse en un mero receptáculo de reproducción humana.

La invisibilización de las mujeres en la sociedad -y en consecuencia, en el cine- no es algo nuevo. Por mucho tiempo, incluso en la actualidad, han sido constantemente despojadas de agencia y voz con el afán de tomar papeles dependientes a los demás que les den presencia.

Así, vemos cómo estos dos personajes comienzan su historia portando un nombre y una agencia propia, para terminar al final de la película siendo un dispositivo de validación más, y objetos de sus contrapartes masculinas, “el amor de la vida de Jim” y “la mamá del bebé de Renato”.

Son mujeres a las que se les da agencia, pero no autonomía. Mujeres fuertes que pueden ser protagonistas y llevar la historia principal con facilidad y sin problemas, pero aún necesitan de una presencia masculina a la cual institucionalizar. Mujeres con voz, pero sin credibilidad alguna.

La representación equitativa de género en el cine no significa simplemente tener un personaje femenino que parezca ser fuerte, y que cubra las necesidades básicas de cualquier filme. También significa crear una narrativa acorde a la construcción del personaje, que la valide, e institucionalice, más allá de su aparición.