Monday, December 31, 2007

TEGAN AND SARA AREN'T "GAY ARTISTS" (AND WHY THAT'S A GOOD THING)

Okay, if you know me, you know that I am pretty much obsessed with Tegan and Sara. In fact, I have written about them twice before -- back in July and again in August. Just at the end of last month, I finally -- after two long years of waiting -- got to see them in concert again. The first time I saw them perform, it was at a small venue in Madison when they were still really only widely known amongst the queer crowd. That same year, in 2005, they had been touring with The Killers and playing at music festivals such as Lollapalooza, so they were getting to be a bit more well known within the Hipster scene. And now here we are almost three years later and they were playing at a large, sold out auditorium in Minneapolis with a diverse group of fans rocking out to their music.

They were fabulous, as expected. I was glad to see that although the intimacy of a smaller venue has been lost due to their now increasing popularity, they have not abandoned their chatty and adorable way of interacting with the crowd. While my concert buddy Mira and I were chatting about the pros and cons of a favorite artist going "mainstream", we delved into a discussion about the twins' sexuality.

Tegan and Sara, both lesbians, have always been open about their sexual orientations, but they have never made it a defining part of their identity as musicians. As Sara said in an interview
“We’re a minority but we’re also a minority that is not necessarily always visible. It’s easy for us to project a heterosexual lifestyle. It’s important as a queer role model to be out, to be vocal about who you are … I think it’s important to break down the homophobic stereotypes … Even when we came into this industry there was a tendency for people to be like, ‘You don’t have to talk about it …’ Why was that such a big deal? I don’t need to talk for an hour about it. I just want to acknowledge that no, I don’t have a boyfriend and yes, I like girls.” Tegan notes, "Sara and I have seen points in our career when it's been extremely relevant for us to talk a lot about being gay, and then there's been other points where it hasn't seemed as relevant."

There was a time when a lot of people didn't even realize that they were gay. I used to watch clips of them on YouTube and there would be comments like, "Tegan and Sara aren't gay!" "Oh snap! I'd never guess they're gay!" and one that still seems to be circulating is that only one of them
is gay. The point is, they don't project a stereotypical image of lesbian musicians -- no folk rock, dreadlocks, nose piercings, or even gender-specific lyrics. As Tegan and Sara become more popular, they are accomplishing a number of things. They are some of the first of their kind -- openly gay female artists that are entering into the mainstream of "young people's music". Other queer artists like Ani DiFranco (who is openly bisexual), the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge may be wildly popular among certain subgroups of people, but it has been a challenge for lesbian musicians to find their way into mainstream youth culture. Tegan and Sara might just get there.

And the result would be something that is feared by conservative America and prayed for by us crazy progressives: basically, a normalization of homosexuality into mainstream culture. People hear their music and like it and they see them and think that they seem normal and cool. This isn't, as idiotic conservatives fear, going to make people run off and "become" gay. But it might make them wonder if gay people are really that strange. At any rate, the fact that Tegan and Sara are marketable to more than just a queer crowd means that there is increased visibility of lesbians in entertainment. And in my opinion, that can only be a good thing.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

THE INCONSISTENCIES OF O'REILLY

In this country we're lucky to have folks like Bill O'Reilly, who are able to so well demonstrate the misguided and intolerant voice of the right wing. Now I'm being slightly sarcastic here, but I am also serious in a way because if we ever intend to win in the great debate against those who promote hatred and restriction of civil liberties, we must understand where they are coming from. Unfortunately, it turns out that the far right may be nearly impossible to debate due to their general irrationality, misuse of logic, and overall intolerance of anything that is not what they consider "normal."

Anyone who is familiar with Bill O'Reilly knows that the political commentator of Fox's The O'Reilly Factor promotes "traditional" American values. He also frequently contributes to the culture of fear that serves to maintain intolerance within our country. In July I wrote about The O'Reilly Factor's absurd story on "lesbian gangs" that was highly misleading, containing extreme distortion of facts for what seemed to be the sole purpose of portraying a sexual minority as dangerous and sexually aggressive.

Now, it's interesting to look at the history of O'Reilly's views on gay rights. A 2002 article in The Advocate gives a pretty good overview of his feelings. In the article O'Reilly admits to believing in antidiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation as well as supporting adoption rights for gay couples (although he admits that he's looking out for the kids, not the gays). Some religious extremists, such as the uber-Evangelical American Family Association have gone so far as to accuse him of promoting the "Homosexual Agenda." (As a side note, for more information on the "Homosexual Agenda", you can visit the AFA's special issues page) In a transcript from a 2002 airing of his show, O'Reilly comes up against "ex-gay" spokesperson for the AFA, Stephen Bennett. In the show, O'Reilly directly challenges Bennett's religious fanaticism by quoting areas of the Old Testament (such as Deuteronomy 22:20-21, which states that non-virgins should be stoned) to highlight the immediate contradictions that come with citing Scripture to advocate for certain social norms. O'Reilly said to Bennett, "You don't speak for God" and reminded him that we live in a secular society -- one which allows for religious fanaticism, but which prevents that fanaticism from crossing the line into public policy (at least theoretically -- I wonder if O'Reilly was perhaps feeling a bit delusional when he made this statement since these days it seems that religion -- Christianity specifically -- dictates pretty much every move of the Right).

Despite all that, O'Reilly is far from being an ally to the LGBT community. In fact, O'Reilly thinks that gays should pretty much just shut up about their sexual orientation. He tells The Advocate, "The basic tenet is, I want you to have a good life. It's easier to have a good life if nobody knows what your sexual proclivities are--hetero or homosexual or whatever--so keep it quiet unless you absolutely have to define it." This goes along with an earlier statement: "I've never understood why anyone, why any American, would want to tell the world what their sexual preference is. It's no one's business but yours." So what he ends up promoting is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" point of view which tells gays that as long as they don't "express" their sexuality, there's no problem with it. Consequently, what you end up seeing is a massive double standard between what is considered sexual expression from a homosexual and what is considered expression of sexuality by a heterosexual. For the homosexual, the mere mention of a "partner" or of one's orientation is sexual. But, you certainly don't see O'Reilly or anyone else telling heterosexuals to not mention that they're straight ("What? You have a wife? Don't tell me that! It's none of my business! That's your private life!" -- Yeah right).

The basic inconsistencies in O'Reilly's (and many Americans') sentiments are exemplified in the November 7th broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor where he spoke to Dr. Laura Berman of Northwestern University about a poll in the yearbook of Waukegan High School in Illinois, which voted a lesbian couple as "Cutest Couple". O'Reilly was outraged over what he considered to be a vastly inappropriate promotion of sexual conduct in a school setting. Dr. Berman, luckily, held her own against the man and did her best at pointing out the error in his argument.



The thing that is most frustrating about O'Reilly's point of view -- one which is shared by many individuals -- is that he makes ridiculous assumptions using faulty logic and false analogies. The two girls in the story were automatically accused of promoting sexuality in a school setting just by being "in love", as Dr. Berman stated. For all O'Reilly knows, these girls might not even be having sexual relations -- not all high school couples do. But there is something inherently sexually inappropriate about them being a couple that is not true for any heterosexual couple. In O'Reilly's view, the simple act of coming out is actually an issue of sexual conduct (or perhaps misconduct). Gays and lesbians mentioning their relationships (whether or not it has anything to do with the erotic aspect of those relationships) is automatically sexual, whereas a straight woman mentioning, "Oh my boyfriend and I went to the movies" would never be accused of acting inappropriately by discussing her private "sexual life." But of course, heterosexuality is normal behavior and homosexuality is deviant behavior (it's "what you do" remember and not "who you are") so therefore any attempt at normalization is automatically political, apparently.

Back to The Advocate interview, O'Reilly explained that gays should stop trying to "force" others to be tolerant of them, since the majority of Americans are never going to accept them. Basically, he implies that discrimination against gays is acceptable and understandable and average Americans should just accept it and get over it rather than be outraged that in a secular, contemporary and democratic society like ours it is still necessary to be "tolerant" of those who hate others based on their sexual orientation. For a long time religion was used as a basis for racial discrimination as well -- for example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not ordain blacks into the priesthood until 1978. One of the great leaders of Mormonism, Brigham Young, stated that black skin was the mark of Cain -- a punishment for the murder of Abel by Cain in the Old Testament. An article in The Salt Lake City Tribune shows that although official church doctrine no longer teaches these beliefs, many Mormons still hold them and interracial relationships continue to be taboo within the faith. The point is, nearly every type of intolerance throughout history has been justified by religion. Religious opposition is certainly, in my opinion, no reason to give up the fight in insisting upon a fair and just society that values the inherent worth and dignity of all its members.

I was made aware of this current O'Reilly broadcast on AfterEllen.com. As usual, the writers over there had several witty remarks to make about it ("The Waukegan Bulldogs are trying to make an issue of something — trying to start a revolution via yearbook poll. After all, that's tactic No. 43 in the Homosexual Agenda Handbook. Next on the list: stocking the soda machines with virgin mimosas and herbal teas!") But one thing that stood out to me were some comments made by European readers:

"I can't believe ... that this kind of debates are broadcasted on the american TV. Honestly... as a german (or european) I'm quite shocked about this. What's up over there?! This man and his point of view are completely out of question... I can't believe any channel gives him any airtime! Is he popular? He definetly shouldn't be! Wow... it's the 21st century and people are talking about this on national television?! Something is going waaay wrong..."

"I live in the UK and I cannot believe this crap is shown on tv! It's outrageous he can get away for being so homophobic. I am genuinely shocked that something like that could be televised. I feel sorry for any American teens who may have seen this and been in the process of coming out or have just come out etc because [understandably] they won't want to be open about who they are and they are with because of people like this guy."

"I live in Sweden and it's truly shocking to se this kind of blatant homophobia on american television. Our most conservative government party, Kristdemokraterna (basically the christian democrats) are liberals compared to this guy and I can honestly say that if a "journalist" like O'Reilley said anything like this, there would be an uproar. It's a shame..."

"Being European (from a very small yet quite well respected country boasting a semi-direct democracy in between high mountains) this truly is yet another confirmation of the bad picture of "America" we get every now and then. The America which is "running" and judging our Planet. Red States having way too much influence - and a society (i.e. those parts that get represented in the media and thereby kinda seem to form public opinion) who in a way still have to live in a medieval state of repression ... I truly feel for every one of you who has to cope with such an ignorant society who on the whole (for their negative aspects) seem to have much in common with a medieval one where fears were big and belief in nonsense was normal and reasonable thinking was not an option. ... Would love to see him taken to the European court in Strasbourg"

"Another European here shocked to see that something like this can be televised in the USA. If one of the hosts of any of our news programmes ever made a comment as homophobic as the ones this man has made, he or she would be fired immediately. I'm not saying we don't have homophobic people in my country, because we have a few, but luckily for us, they're not given their own TV shows to spread their BS on national television."

"I'm not sure about the entire European continent, but this would certainly never happen in Germany. It simply couldn't. So even though I sometimes hate this country, and I've always wanted to move/life in San Francisco, I'm becoming more and more repulsed by the way the American right wing agenda is not only getting shoved in our faces through the media, but also by how many people still fall for that. After seeing this interview, I am honestly scared of having to live in the US. I know that there are people who don't hate "us", but sadly the right wings fundamentalist seem to get more and more powerful."


Basically, we should never stop believing that we can have a just society. We should never fail to be outraged by acts of intolerance. And we should never accept that "tolerance" of homosexuality as long as it's kept "private" is progress.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

MAXIM OUTDOES ITSELF ... AGAIN

Over the summer I wrote an entry analyzing the annual Maxim Hot 100 list. Just as "women's magazines" are often centered around cooking, raising kids, housekeeping, etc., this "men's magazine" centers on "male culture" -- which basically means articles focus on objectifying women and other manly activities like football. Headlines at Maxim Online include: "Movies that celebrate the greatness of irresponsibility", "These sexy ladies prove that Philadelphia is hot" and "We picked the dudeliest dudes of 2007". As I said in my July entry, the Maxim man's ideal woman is one that is as young as possible, as stereotypically sexy as possible and whether she is strong, independent and intelligent is of completely secondary importance (and in many cases undesirable altogether). A woman over 40 doesn't stand a chance of being considered sexy.

And as if the magazine hadn't done enough to prove its misogyny, it had to take it a step further with its recent poll on "The Unsexiest Woman of the Year." Men chose the top 5 "unsexy" women of 2007. The "unlucky" winners were as follows:





1) Sarah Jessica Parker (Of "Sex and the City" fame). Maxim says, "How the hell did this Barbaro-faced broad manage to be the least sexy woman in a group of very unsexy women and still star on a show with "sex" in the title?"


















2) Amy Winehouse (British musician that rose to fame with recent album "Back to Black"). Says Maxim: "When we first heard this chick boast about her reluctance to go to rehab we thought, Now there´s a girl we can party with! But upon beholding her openly hemorrhaging translucent skin, rat´s nest mane and lashes that look more like surgically attached bats, we were the ones screaming, "Nooo, nooo, nooo!""













3) Sandra Oh (most well-known for her role as Dr. Cristina Yang on the popular "Grey's Anatomy") because, "The only thing worse than a show about doctors is a show about sappy chick doctors we´re forced to watch or else our girlfriends won´t have sex with us. We´re holding Dr. McSkinny, with her cold bedside manner and boyish figure, personally responsible."














4
) Madonna (do I need to tell you?) because she "traded pioneering sexuality for, like other old Jewish women, self-righteous bellyaching and rapid postnuptial deterioration. Combine a Paris Hilton–like pet accessorizing fetish only for dirt-poor foreign babies with a mug that looks Euro-sealed to her skull, and you´ve got Willem Dafoe with hot flashes."
















5) Britney Spears (again, I think you all know...) who "less than five years ago, Britney had a python wrapped around her well-toned torso onstage at the VMAs. Since then, she´s lost the ability to perform, but gained two kids, two useless ex-husbands, and about 23 pounds of Funyun pudge."


As I made my way through reading the "Top 5" I found myself becoming more and more enraged. I'm not sure why, since I've learned to expect things like this. But I suppose it's a good thing that I haven't become desensitized. It is with desensitization that people become apathetic and no longer take a stand against sexist rags like Maxim.

I could go on about how they referred to all the "Sex and the City" women as unsexy, when that show represented a group of four very strong, very independent women. Or how Madonna, a former sex symbol, has apparently lost her appeal now that she is pushing fifty and has become an "old Jewish woman" (really?? I mean, really, Maxim??). Nevermind that she's managed at her age to maintain a killer physique, even after two children and supposed "postnuptial deterioration." Or how about what they say about Sandra Oh and her "cold bedside manner" and "boyish physique" -- could it be that Cristina is the toughest and possibly most intelligent of the Grey's Anatomy doctors? (On an interesting sidenote, the lesbians and bisexual women over at AfterEllen listed Sandra Oh as number 93 on their Hot 100 list).

Once again Maxim promotes the dangerous viewpoint that being sexy is not only about being young and beautiful, it is also about being available and preferably not very strong-minded or independent. And let's not forget, one of those to make their Hot 100 list was a 3-D avatar -- a sexy fake woman is better than a real woman that can think for herself. Granted, some of the women on this list (for example, Britney Spears) are not shining examples of strong, beautiful women by any means. But the point is that the list itself is offensive, as are the descriptors that go with each woman. A woman's value is much more consistently judged against her looks than is a man's. Case in point, how often does one see a woman's magazine come up with lists of "least sexy" men? Or focus itself predominantly on objectifying men? No, the majority of women's magazines focus themselves on aiding women in being as sexy as possible while men's magazine judge them on how well they did. But that is a subject for a completely different entry...

What's scary to me is that Maxim has 2.5 million subscribers and claims to be the leader in its industry -- outselling other "men's magazines" such as GQ and Esquire. Anyone who says that feminism is dead needs to leaf through Maxim and ask herself (or himself) whether women really are valued by the same standards that men are.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

MANDY MOORE SURPRISES

There was a lot happening in the world of pop music back in the late 1990s. In late 1998 seventeen-year-old Britney Spears debuted her first single "...Baby One More Time." The same year another little up and coming was beginning to hit the scene, Britney's former fellow Mickey Mouse Club cast member Christina Aguilera. In 1999 the then eighteen-year-old Aguilera released her first album and her song "Genie in a Bottle" hit the charts. A third blonde teenager, nineteen-year-old Jessica Simpson, released her first single "I Wanna Love You Forever" the same year. But there was another "pop princess" to hit the music scene in 1999, and many considered her to be the least interesting of the bunch. At only fifteen, Mandy Moore was the youngest of the bunch when her debut album released in late 1999. Although her song "Candy" was a widely-listened to success, her music was described as "medicore", "typical" and performed with "suffocating professionalism." Here is her music video for her hit song "Candy", which should be viewed in order to fully appreciate the transformation that you are about to see ...




Mandy followed up her debut album
So Real with a reworked version of it, I Wanna Be With You. In 2001 she released a third album, the self-titled Mandy Moore. A fourth album, Coverage, which featured covers of 1970s and 1980s songs, was released in 2003. None of the later songs obtained much success and her albums received mixed reviews. Mandy was more or less considered the "B version" of Britney and Christina. Due to low album sales she was dropped by Sony's Epic Records. But while Britney was heading down a path of self-destruction and Jessica was ruining her image on MTV's Newlyweds, Mandy was maturing and slowly but surely creating a new image for herself that would set her apart.

Perhaps it first began with her acting career. Many musicians that try the leap to acting fail miserably and also receive lots of eye rolls from skeptical listeners. Britney's foray into acting, the 2002 film Crossroads, was less than successful. Jessica Simpson has received consistently poor reviews for her acting skills and her most recent film has been rumored to be going direct to video. When Mandy debuted her acting skills with a small role in 2001's The Princess Diaries, followed up by a lead role in the 2002 film A Walk to Remember, audiences were probably skeptical as well. But over the years Mandy has created a solid acting career for herself. While her films have not always been successful, her acting skills have consistently been praised. Roger Ebert has called her "quietly convincing" with an "unaffected natural charm" and an "undeniable screen presence [that] inspires instant affection." Perhaps one of her best performances to date was in the 2004 positively-reviewed religious satire Saved! in which she played a zealous evangelical Christian, Hilary Faye.




View a humorous clip of Mandy from
Saved!:





Moore has appeared in several other films over the years, including
American Dreamz, Because I Said So and most recently License to Wed. She has also made guest appearances in the television shows Scrubs and Entourage.

View a trailer for her upcoming indie film
Dedication



In the summer of 2007 Mandy returned to her first love, music, with the release of he
r fifth album Wild Hope. The 23-year-old has expressed disappointment and embarrassment over some of her early works, saying that her first albums were "just awful" and that if she could she would give a refund to everyone that bought her first two albums. In a photoshoot for Jane magazine, stars from the Sundance Film Festival were asked "What's your crime?" Moore posed for the shoot, proclaiming herself as the singer of "Candy." Needless to say, when the time came to make this new album, she was going for something different. Unlike her previous albums, this one was the product of two years' hard work. Mandy joined up with a new record company because rather than following the mainstream she wanted to have "complete control and freedom" over her work. And complete control and freedom meant lending her own songwriting talents and collaborating with artists such as Chantal Kreviazuk, Rachael Yamagata and Lori McKenna. The result? A sound that is more (in Mandy's words) "organic" and "folky", an album that has been receiving positive reviews and a career that is beginning to show more promise than those of her former "A-list" counterparts. The 23-year-old hopes that her music will appeal to folks her age or older.

The Amazon.com reviewer eloquently states, "
Wild Hope, co-written with the cred-conferring team of Rachael Yamagata, Lori McKenna, and the Weepies, should earn her a spot on adult-alternative radio alongside format regulars Dar Williams, Sarah McLachlan, and Jonatha Brooke … Talent will be Moore's ticket to the transformation she's going for--no wild hoping necessary." The Portland Mercury humorously describes her transformation from average pop-princess to sophisticated, promising singer/songwriter: "Although Mandy never quite seemed to amass the out-of-control success of some contemporaries, it's impossible to deny that she has matured like vintage vino while some (ahem, Britney, Lindsay) have gone as rancid as buckets of Three Buck Chuck." The general consensus seems to be that, although Wild Hope is not an instant-success or full of memorable hits, it shows that Mandy Moore has amazing potential to be what IGN refers to as a "bona fide singer/songwriter." Who would have guessed?

Now touring the US for the first time in 8 years, Mandy has been playing in many small venues, sharing her new sound with the world. Despite her distaste for her older music, she frequently plays a remixed version of the song "Candy", perhaps to show her audience how much she has in fact changed. Watch the following video to see Mandy's transformation.



But it is not just Mandy's talent that is making people talk about her and that is causing many people to find themselves surprised to declare themselves fans (myself included). Mandy is a young woman that promotes a type of quiet and sophisticated grace in a culture that is often times filled with over the top eccentrics. Mandy declares, "When people in the late 1990s started looking at these crazy poptarts and wondering which one would kind of fade and be crawling back to where she came from, I don't think people were looking at Britney. But I think I've made good choices and been very, very lucky." Some of these good choices include avoiding the party scene and keeping herself out of the public eye. She admits that she doesn't really enjoy partying, has no skeletons in her closet and feels "dreadful" when she stays up late. As she states, "Maybe for some people drink and drugs work for them, but I’m not a tortured artist. I wouldn’t turn to some sort of substance to make me feel better, I’d turn to writing." She also explains that it is "a choice to put yourself out there in such a public way ... I really don't thrive on that kind of attention ... I'm glad that people mostly leave me alone."

Here is an interview of Mandy discussing her life choices as well as her career on CBS News in June 2007:





It is refreshing to have someone like Mandy Moore out there to prove that young teen pop stars are not all doomed to follow the path of Britney or Lindsay. It is unfortunate that all promising young talent is met with skepticism and words such as "just give her a couple of years" or "how long before she's following Britney's footsteps?" Mandy should serve as an example that nothing is a given. I for one am personally looking forward to both seeing and hearing more of Mandy in the future. If this most recent album is any indication of things to come, Mandy Moore is setting herself up to become a very talented musician with a career of true substance. And
that is truly a surprise.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NETWORK TELEVISION HAS LITTLE ROOM FOR THE GAYS

As I was saying in my post about the South of Nowhere girls, there is little representation of queer women on network television. In fact, as it turns out, there is pretty much none. At all.

Just recently, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) came out with a report "Where We Are on TV." This report tallies the number of LGBT Characters on both network television and cable television for 2007-2008 broadcasting year. Figures were taken at the season launch, and for Broadcast Networks include ABC, CBS, NBC, the CW, and FOX. The counts are broken down into LGBT characters playing lead roles, supporting roles and recurring roles. Out of the 20 total LGBT characters on Broadcast Networks, there are two lead characters -- one a gay, white male and the other a bisexual, white woman. There are five supporting characters (3 gay, one male bisexual and one straight MTF -- that's a male to female transexual who sleeps with men). There are 13 recurring characters -- two white lesbians, eight gay white males, one black gay male, one latino gay male, and one white MTF.

Clearly the representation of LGBT characters in general is dismally poor, but to top it off, the community that is represented is overwhelmingly that of gay, white males. There is little room for lesbians and clearly even less room for queer people of color. Some might say, oh one small step at a time. I might even be tempted to agree with that. After all, society's feelings towards LGBT people are still lukewarm at best. But, wait! What's that you say, GLAAD? These numbers have gone down over the past three years?

In 1996-1997, there were 33 LGBT characters on network television. Jump ahead a few years and in 2005-2006, there were 24 LGBT characters on network television (with 4 lesbians, 19 gays and one bisexual). In 2006-2007 there were 21 (16 gays, 4 lesbians and one transgender). That brings us to 2007-2008 where we see 20 total. What's with the drop? No big deal, one might think. But when there are so few to begin with, a drop of 4 over a two year period is a big deal. That's a 17% decrease. There were 13 MORE characters TEN YEARS AGO! When you stop to think about all the characters on television -- including leads , supportings and recurring roles, 20 is a miniscule amount. And maybe -- just maybe -- if there were more LGBT characters on television, there would be a slow increase in acceptance. Wouldn't it be nice if all the young girls out there questioning their sexuality were actually able to see themselves represented? If the only two lesbians on network TV weren't the recurring role of a middle-aged mayor and an animated character on The Simpsons??

For all the talk of how liberal Hollywood is and how many gays and lesbians are behind the [Photo]scenes in show business, it amazes me that they can't find a little courage and actually provide a fair representation of the American population. They seem to have no problem whatsoever showing two girls kiss when they want a boost in ratings -- so why is it so unbelievably hard for those two girls to just keep on kissing?

But at least there is Cable to take over where network TV fails miserably. Of course, cable television could do better itself, but it certainly exceeds the standards set by network. In 2007-2008 there are 57 LGBT characters on "Mainstream Cable" TV. That breaks down to 16 in leading roles, 24 in supporting roles and 17 in recurring roles. Those numbers break down to 25 gays, 19 lesbians, 11 bisexuals and 2 transgender individuals. In terms of race, cable fares somewhat better than network -- with 39 whites, 8 blacks, 3 latinas, 5 asians, and 1 biracial character.

Unlike network TV, cable's numbers have actually risen from 35 last year (17 gays, 14 lesbians, 4 bisexuals and 1 transgender) to this year's 57.

Thank you to GLAAD for making this report, and here's hoping that next year's a better one. Until then, I'll be happy to keep paying for my cable subscription...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

CLASS ACT

I like to write about music in here. I especially like writing about music that I think is good! I first heard the group Rilo Kiley a couple of years ago, but I just recently began to fully appreciate them, especially lead singer and former-child star Jenny Lewis (she was in two of my favorite movies from when I was a kid -- The Wizard and Troop Beverly Hills). The band was formed in 1998 by Lewis and friends Pierre De Reeder, Blake Sennett and Dave Rock (the latter was later replaced by Jason Boesel). Their first full-length album was Take-Offs and Landings, released in 2001 under an independent label. That album was followed a year later by The Execution of All Things. In 2004 they released More Adventurous, which was distributed by Warner Bros. It was following this album that the band began to see more recognition. Asides from the album receiving favorable reviews, the band toured with both Bright Eyes and Coldplay and had songs played in a number of movies as well as several popular television series including Dawson's Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey's Anatomy and Weeds.

So what's so great about them? Well, the music of course! They bring a sound and a quality of music that is both interestingly unique but also accessible. One reviewer describes their third album this way: "Part new-wave keyboards, part folky acoustic guitars, the music on More Adventurous is unexpectedly beautiful." Another states, "Basic but gorgeously textured pop-rock with a country tinge, Rilo Kiley's music is led by vocals that'll stop you in your tracks." Their newest album, Under the Blacklight was released only weeks ago and is earning the same amount of praise. The Onion, gives it an A, saying, "The L.A. quartet has returned with an album that's teeming with creatively executed ideas, to the point where it almost feels like the band was just using its first three albums to warm up." Blender: "Creamy and precise, every coo and arpeggio blows through your ear buds like the ruffle of crisp bills" and Spin: "Lewis' wordplay smartly unspools over the course of a song--with 'Breakin' Up,' she creates a 'Since U Been Gone' for grown-ups, and on '15,' narrates an Internet jailbait vignette without melodrama or moralizing." When you listen and watch them, you can't help but feel that you're experiencing something new.






As I said, Jenny Lewis is in my opinion the best thing about Rilo Kiley. Rather than fading like most child stars, she has completely redefined herself. A far cry from her acting days, 31-year-old Lewis is making her mark on the music scene. In early 2006 she released a solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, which was highly acclaimed and mixed music styles such as country, folk and gospel. She credits influences such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Laura Nyro and reviewers have compared her to Emmylou Harris, Dusty Springfield and others. One review puts it best, "Jenny's hauntingly soulful voice, sometimes bursting with buoyant spirit and at other times plaintive and world wearied, is deep, sensual and beguiling. Intricate storytelling and evocative lyrics infuse these songs with a captivating vibrancy but may be knocked sideways by the musical alchemy at play as a result of folk, country, and Southern gospel influences."

Here is the quirky video for her song "Rise Up With Fists!!!" followed by a stellar live performance of the song "You Are What You Love."







Whether Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley continue on in the mainstream music world, one thing is for sure: this is a musician with pure talent. Go! Listen!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

South Girls Break Ground in Teen Programming

I first wrote about South of Nowhere back in December, after the Season 2 finale. I was a little riled up at that point because the events of the finale upset me and quite a lot of other viewers. I would suggest going back and reading that entry because I don't want to rewrite everything here, but I will try to summarize my points from December.

A speed recap of the first two season of SON: The Carlin family moves to L.A. from small-town Ohio. The family consists of mom Paula (a doctor), dad Arthur (a social worker), sons Glen and Clay and daughter Spencer. While the show follows storylines around various characters, the main protagonist of the show is sort of intended to be Spencer. When the sixteen-year-old starts at King High, she is a sweet, straight-laced, Christian girl from the Midwest. Then she meets Ashley Davies and everything in her life starts to change. A free-spirit and daughter of and 80s rock star, Ashley doesn't care what people think about her, cuts classes to go to the beach, and sleeps around ... with girls. But before Ashley discovered the ladies, she was with Aiden, the high school basketball star, and we see that there is definitely some history there. Anyway, since opposites attract Spencer and Ashley immediately hit it off. Pretty soon, her relationship with Ashley (charged with sexual tension, by the way) starts leading Spencer to question her own sexuality. She confides in Ashley, telling her that she think she might be gay. She then flirts around with Aiden a bit, trying to figure out what she wants. It turns out that kissing Aiden only makes her think about Ashley. But there are other forces at work -- namely Paula, Spencer's conservative and very Christian mother who constantly worries that Ashley is a bad influence, and Glen, Spencer's intolerant older brother. Troubled by her family's worries, Spencer turns to Aiden again to try reaffirming her heterosexuality. Even Aiden is not fooled, reminding her that she can't help who she is and that lying to herself might make things more comfortable for everyone else but not for her. The season ends with Spencer and Ashley (dubbed "Spashley" by fans) finally getting together.

Season 2 could be renamed the "Ashley is Scared and Insecure Show" because those themes seem to taint every episode. In Season 1, Ashley was portrayed as a pretty self-assured and confident person. But it turns out that a lot of that attitude was just a cover and a way for her to keep people at a distance (where they can't hurt her). Unfortunately, Spencer and Ashley's relationship immediately faces some hard times. Ashley's dad dies in a car accident and she puts up a wall between her and Spencer. Things are further complicated by Paula who continues to try diluting Ashley's negative influences by setting Spencer up with boys from church and flying out Spencer's old best friend from Ohio and by Ashley who is pressuring Spence to come out to her family. The much-anticipated "outing" occurs halfway through the season when Paula walks in on the two girls in a compromising situation. Things get worse when Paula tries to put Spencer through sexual reparative therapy to try "changing her back." This blows up in her face when the girls run away together for approximately one episode. After this Paula puts up with Ashley for Spencer's sake. Ashley, however, seems to be getting freaked out by the intensity of her and Spencer's relationship. Perhaps scared that Spencer will realize she is not worth it or will end up leaving her for some other reason, Ashley begins subtly pulling away from her girlfriend. Meanwhile, her and Aiden seem to be getting pretty chummy again. Spencer notices these changes and gets worried that the relationship that completely changed her life (and not in all good ways) is in jeopardy. She tells Aiden to back off. But at the prom (which Aiden is attending with Ashley's half-sister, Kyla) Aiden reveals that he is still in love with Ashley. Ashley, rather than immediately saying Spencer is the one she loves, hesitates just long enough for Spencer to run off in tears. Ashley runs after her, but they are interrupted by erupting gunfire -- a gang from some nearby school has shown up and decided to wreak havoc on King High's prom.

Now the finale was upsetting to me for various reasons, which I enumerated in my December entry. Mostly I was angered that the writers seemed to be toying with the idea of sending Ashley back to boys town, which I thought sent a bad message to viewers. Although when first asked so umm ... eloquently ... by Spencer, "What are you?" Ashley replied that she wasn't into labels. But other times she referred to herself as both "gay" and a "lesbian." She seemed to have been exclusively with women since her break-up with Aiden and frequently made comments such as "guys are so predictable", "boys are way too much trouble" and "I've already played that hand."

The prom incident came right at the end of a season that had been plagued with viewer complaints in regards to the double standard between Spencer and Ashley's relationship and the show's heterosexual relationships. While the various straight couples on the show enjoyed various make-out sessions, sex in the bathroom stalls, etc. the most Spencer and Ashley got was a couple of two-second pecks on the lip. The rest of the season viewers had to suffer through their lame foreplay, which consisted of brushing each other's hair, pats on the knees and lots of hugs. They seemed more like best friends than girlfriends. By the time the prom episode came, many were concerned that this was all leading up to a major "de-gaying" of the show.

That the show might be "de-gayed" was a legitimate concern, as lesbians have suffered a long history of poor representation in the media. Gay men, while still obviously underrepresented and discriminated against, have had Will & Grace, Queer As Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as well as unswayingly gay male characters in other shows, such as Sex and the City. On the other hand, ask any gay woman to name solidly lesbian characters on TV since, say, 1990 and she could probably name them all on two hands. Finally, in 2003, we were given The L Word, the first show that was actually about lesbians. If we take that away and look strictly at network television, there is virtually nothing. It wasn't until 1997 that network TV showed the first kiss between two lesbian or bisexual-identified characters in the show Relativity. In 2002 Buffy the Vampire Slayer had the first lesbian "sex scene" (in quotes, because it was so tame, it barely passes as a sex scene) on network TV. These little strides have seemed like nothing when compared to both the exploitation of the lesbian identity through a phenomenon known as "lesbian sweeps" and to the concept of the criminal/deviant/dead lesbian.

"Lesbian sweeps" is something that occurs often during "sweeps" time, when shows attempt to boost ratings. The lesbian sweeps moments typically include kisses or perhaps extremely short-lived relationships between normally straight female characters on shows. AfterEllen has a list of Top 10 Moments in Sweeps Lesbianism which include moments such as a kisses between Jennifer Aniston and Winona Ryder on Friends, Roseanne and Mariel Hemingway on Roseanne, and the short-lived relationship between Marissa and Alex on The O.C. One can imagine that it gets rather frustrating for queer women to see their sexual identities exploited for the sake of boosts in ratings and male titillation; to see their lives shown as something that can be briefly "dabbled" in before returning to the safe comfort of heteronormative existence.

The concept of the criminal, deviant, evil or dead lesbian is an extremely familiar and old cliché which basically insinuates that all lesbians cannot find happiness and are doomed to tragic ends. The evil lesbian or the dead lesbian often came up in early 20th century pulp fiction -- in fact, Radclyffe Hall's famous 1920s novel The Well of Loneliness was partially so controversial not because of the lesbian characters but because many did not feel the characters met the tragic demise necessary to show that lesbian sexuality was immoral. The archetype exists well into the 20th and 21st centuries, however. Sharon Stone's character in Basic Instinct (1992) is a murderer and her girlfriend ends up dead, Heavenly Creatures (1994) portrayed an obsessively intimate friendship between two girls that ended in murder, Lost and Delirious (2001) ended in the suicide of one girl after her lover denied their relationship. There are many more examples in both film and television. Many believed that the tragic death of Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer contributed to this discourse. Scholars believe that the theory behind this archetype is that gays and lesbians are immoral and deserving of hate or are tragic and pitiable and in need of conversion.

The point of all this is that South of Nowhere's Season 2 finale gave reason for concern. Would the first show aimed for a younger teen demographic to show a positive lesbian relationship be drastically changing its course? The answer turned out to be "no." And what I've seen so far of Season 3 shows that SON only continues in its groundbreaking portrayals of sexual identity among teenagers. The season opens with lots of craziness in a hospital ER. We learn that Aiden has been shot and that Clay, Spencer's brother, has been killed. Jump forward a couple of months and Aiden has made a full recovery. Meanwhile, we discover that Ashley freaked and got out of the country. Spencer understandably feels bitter that Ashley disappeared in her time of need and she is also still angry about the pre-shooting events involving the apparent love triangle. Ashley, however, comes back and tries to apologize, telling Spencer that she "chooses" her and that she loves her and thought about her the whole two months she was in Europe, blah blah blah. What follows is an astonishingly long smooch-session between the two girls. The show cuts to commercial break and when it comes back, they're still kissing! I cracked up during this part -- it was like the powers that be heard all the complaints and decided to try making up for the lack of Spashley action in Season 2 all in this one kiss.



Spencer ends up pushing Ashley away, however, knowing that the girl is confused and will probably only break her heart again. Sure enough, after being given the boot by Spencer, Ashley jumps right into Aiden's bed. But our little Spencer has grown a lot over the past two seasons and is now being portrayed as a strong, self-assured gay woman. This is nice to see. We have witnessed Spencer's full evolution from a somewhat timid girl who does whatever is expected of her into someone not afraid to be who she is. With or without Ashley, she seems to fully accept her identity. As the season has continued, Spencer seems to be starting up a new relationship with a girl named Carmen. This is also great because it shows that Ashley was not just influencing Spencer to adopt the "gay lifestyle." This promo for the show explores past and future parts of Spencer's life:




I feel mostly good about what the writers are doing with the character of Ashley. On the one hand, Ashley's confusion about what she wants could be seen as a negative portrayal of bisexuality, promoting the stereotype that bisexuals are just confused and are "fence-sitters." But knowing Ashley's background, this doesn't seem to be the image they are putting across. Rather Ashley's storyline seems to be an exploration of her own insecurities and fears as well as the struggle to distinguish between platonic and erotic love. Aiden is like Ashley's safe-zone -- they have this past together and she knows that he will always worship her. After she has been rejected by Spencer she goes to him. However, even while she is with him she continues to have long phone conversations with Spencer. On her dresser in her new apartment she prominently displays a photograph of her ex-girlfriend, while Aiden's photo is put in the background. Spencer is clearly the one that she loves while her love for Aiden is more a love for safety and comfort -- something that she didn't have with Spencer (she was always insecure, worried that Spencer would leave her, etc.) While her love for Aiden is of the platonic variety, she gives way to the erotic due to her fears of losing him as well. Here is the Ashley promo, which explores her character a bit as well:



The fact that this show is aimed towards such a young demographic is awesome. It is good for tweens and teens to see the multiple dimensions of sexual identity as well as the struggles that are faced by LGBT youth. And despite the outrage and criticism that the show has gotten from some Christian conservatives as well as the departure of one cast member for "moral reasons" the show's actors, while all heterosexual in reality, continue to embrace their roles as forerunners in this area: Mandy Musgrave (Ashley), Gabrielle Christian (Spencer), Maeve Quinlan (Paula) and others have sat on panels discussing the show and its implications, they have attended events such as the GLAAD (Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Awards and have been more than happy to be spokespeople for the gay rights cause. 21-year-old Mandy says, "I think it helps teens learn how to open up and express themselves. That it's okay to experiment if that's what they're feeling inside. A lot of people have been saying we've been turning viewers gay and I'm like, "No. They're just finally fed up and finally trying to be more open." I am proud of that. It's taken a lot to portray a bisexual or a lesbian; whatever you want to call Ashley. Some of my closest friends now are lesbians and I can't believe I am fortunate enough to have them in my life. I do this role for them because I want other people to know that it's okay."

Next step -- get a show like this on network TV!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Living Up to My Expectations


Recently I wrote about one of my favorite music acts, the Canadian sister duo Tegan and Sara. I said that they were releasing their fifth album at the end of July and I expected them to find continuing success.

Well, in just a short amount of time the twins seem to be everywhere! They were MSN artists of the month, featured musicians on MySpace and their new album has been getting rave reviews. Amazon.com editorial review states, "Tegan and Sara's star-making Juno-nominated album, So Jealous, was their fourth--and their fifth album, The Con, not only avoids any kind of slump but sets a new bar of quality quite high ... The Con reverberates with unabashed creativity, and it's a rare pleasure to hear it done so well. I would be surprised if another band this year made a better record--it's really that good." Says The New York Times, "Somehow The Con is even more obsessive sounding than Tegan and Sara’s earlier work, and it’s probably even better; it could well be one of the year’s best albums."

Congratulations, ladies!

Here they are playing their first single "Back in Your Head" on Conan O'Brien the other night

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bratz Set Us Back

I promised in my last post that I wasn't going to write about little kid issues anymore (what generation would they be anyway? I'm considered "Generation Y" so I'm just going to the youngins as "Generation XX"). Anyway, despite this promise I feel compelled to bring up something else after reading this blog entry over on AfterEllen which discusses the upcoming Bratz film along with the Bratz phenomenon. In this entry the writer links to an article on the UK's "Daily Mail" entitled "Over-sexed and over here: The 'tarty' Bratz doll." The article is worth a read, but I will cite some of the information in here.

Little girls loooove the Bratz dolls. At the community center I worked at, we had xeroxed coloring pages of everything from Disney stuff to anime to fantasy to Sponge Bob and Hello Kitty. The Bratz coloring pages would disappear like nobody's business. The Bratz dolls, launched in 2001 by MGA entertainment, bring in about $3billion a year from the dolls and their accessories. Chief executive of the UK Bratz distributor, Nick Austin, says that "their edgy, streetwise style appeals to the post-Spice Girl generation." The author of the Daily Mail article, although despairing about the dolls, admits that they're undeniably appealing to girls, with their "catwalk chic, huge expressive faces and multi-ethnic skin tones." American product designer, Paula Treantafelles says that she designed the dolls to appeal to the 7 to 10 year olds that Mattel -- makers of Barbie -- was failing to reach.

And sure enough, the dolls are outselling Barbie at astonishing rates -- as much as 2 to 1 in the United Kingdom. Whereas Barbie used to be aimed towards girls 6-10, it now appeals to mostly 3-6 year olds while Bratz is taking over the older age group. Why? According to Treantafelles, "[Bratz] are about self-expression, self-identity. When Barbie was in her prime, girls were taught to be career women, to be men’s equals. Today, yes, career and education matter, but it’s also “express yourself, have your own identity, girl power."


And now, thanks to the Bratz dolls' ever-increasing popularity, Barbie has begun to follow-suit, creating a sort of "race to the bottom" in terms of appropriateness. Mattel recently came out with the "My Scene" Barbie dolls which include a "My Bling Bling" and "Street Style" Barbie doll. These dolls come complete with navel piercings and tattoos. And, no, this is not a joke. You can buy them on Amazon or any other online shopping site.


I don't even know where to begin. I spent the past two entries discussing the glimmers of hope for young girls in the media, but it is products like Bratz that are keeping these few positive influences from really making an influence. This past winter the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report stating that advertising and media images that encourage girls to focus on looks and sexuality are harmful to their emotional and physical health. In February 2007 they created the "Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls." USA Today wrote an article ("Media Cited for Showing Girls as Sex Objects") that detailed this report. The author explained that the APA spent 18 months analyzing over 300 studies that "included a variety of media, from television and movies to song lyrics, and looked at advertising showing body-baring doll clothes for pre-schoolers, tweens posing in suggestive ways in magazines and the sexual antics of young celebrity role models." The APA cited the Bratz dolls in particular: "Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality."

Apparently the CEO of MGA Entertainment (the manufacturer of Bratz), Isaac Larian, strongly disagreed with the report, stating "These are the clothes that are worn if you go to schools anywhere in the USA. They are not sexy." An associate professor at NYU, Ann Pellegrini, voices concern over what she sees as a "panic" about the sexualization of children. According to her, "I do think girls and women are still profoundly objectified when it comes to sex, but there may well be some things that look like objectification that are being experienced by girls and young women that feel empowering." I think that this relates back to what I was discussing at the end of my last post where there is a fine line between encouraging girls to be proud of their bodies and promoting the sexualization of their bodies. Larian says that the clothes Bratz wear are the same as ones any girl would wear to school. I couldn't disagree more with this. One only needs to look at the Bratz dolls, covered heavily in make-up and wearing skin-tight, revealing clothes such as miniskirts and fishnet stockings to know that very few six-year-olds look like that. And no six-year-old should. There is a strong difference between sexuality -- how one feels/relates to her body -- and sex. Pellegrini is wrong when she suggests that images that sexualize young girls can be empowering. When empowerment is tied to looking thin, sexy and beautiful, this can actually be harmful to the sexuality of girls. Girls have lower self-esteem and self-image, thinking that they must look a certain way to be "powerful" or acceptable in society. This leads to a negative relationship between girls and their bodies: they try to mold themselves to be a certain way rather than celebrating who they are as individuals. Larian explains that young girls do not see Bratz as sexy, just as pretty. However, Larian is unable to critically examine the subliminal impact that dolls such as these have. No wonder the APA Chair, Dr. Eileen Zurbriggen, says that "sexualization has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development."

Not only that -- the message being sent to the male population is dangerous as well and contributes to the consequences listed above. From these media images, little boys receive their first messages about what girls should look like and how they should behave. Images that focus solely on the appearance of the female body are objectifying. It doesn't matter if it makes the girls feel good or not -- what is important is what these images are saying about women. And what they are saying is that the body continues to be the female's most important asset. As Dr. Zurbriggen states, "As a society, we need to replace all of these sexualized images with ones showing girls in positive settings - ones that show the uniqueness and competence of girls."

Only those looking to commercialize on the sexualization of youth could argue with that. But unfortunately it is those people exactly that control what images are being put out. Once again, parents and other adults are left with the responsibility of trying to promote healthy body-images, high self-esteem and a sense of competence beyond appearance. Good luck with that.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Following up...

Following up on my last post ... I just spent a weekend watching Disney Channel with my little sister and it really got me thinking about a lot of things.

First of all, there are some really positive images of young girls on TV these days when it comes to children's programming. Ok, so I haven't really been watching a ton of kids' shows besides stuff on Disney since that's what my sister likes, but from what I've heard, those are the shows that are all the rage for that age group right now. And what I have seen has been good. First of all, there is Hannah Montana, which is arguably the most popular show and which I mentioned in my last post. In my opinion, from what I've seen, it is very positive. The main character Miley, who "moonlights" as Hannah Montana, is a really good kid. Each show seems to showcase some type of lesson about being honest, fair, accepting, etc. And when she transforms into Hannah, she seems to be okay as well. Sure the outfits she wears are really sparkly and everything, but she doesn't seem to be sexualized like many of the young pop stars.

I think back to Britney Spears, who was only slightly older than Miley Cyrus when she released her first album. Her first single "Baby One More Time" was accompanied by a music video of her dressed as a sexy schoolgirl, an image that is still well-known today. Although people claim that she went from wholesome to hypersexual, I would argue that she was never wholesome. This picture of her is from a 1998 tour she did with NSync, when she was only 16. Compare it with the photo of Cyrus, who is nearly 15 herself. Christina Aguilera, also close in age to Cyrus when she released her self-titled first album, gave us "Genie in a Bottle" where she proclaimed, "My body's saying let's go" and "you gotta rub me the right way" and where she rolled around sexily on a beach. Currently the singer Rihanna is a big hit with her single "Umbrella." The music video for this song involves her dancing around in some skin-tight, leather number that leaves little to the imagination. She is all of nineteen. Next to cases like this, Cyrus is like a breath of clean air -- even if that air has been purified by commercialized Disney pop. Her lyrics and dancing are clean while her outfits actually cover her body. I know I probably sound like I'm about 80 years old, but there is something extremely unsettling about seeing eight-year-olds imitating hypersexualized teen pop sensations. There is a reason why kids are engaging in sexual activities at younger and younger ages. The "tween" generation is in desperate need of alternative images. And luckily there are a few to go around.

In addition to Hannah Montana, another popular Disney show is The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. This show is about twin boys living in an upscale Boston hotel with their single mother, who works there as the headlining singer. The show also follows the lives of other employees of the Tipton Hotel, such as candy salesgirl Maddie Fitzpatrick (played by Ashley Tisdale) and the owner's daughter London Tipton (Brenda Song). While London is rich and beautiful, she is also not very smart. Maddie, her best friend, is portrayed as very hard-working, intelligent and outspoken. She cares a lot about environmental issues and aspires to attend law school. She is also the sensitive and caring character. Throughout the media's history, strong and intelligent women have often been shown as cold or ruthless or socially awkward. Maddie, rather, is shown as the character that girls should strive to be like.

Here is a clip from an episode where Maddie has to act as London's brains in order to help her impress a National Merit Scholar.



Another Disney phenomenon has been High School Musical, a Disney Channel original movie released in 2006, with 7.7 million viewers tuning in to its U.S. premiere. This movie also does a lot for positive images of girls on television. The leading female character, Gabriella, is sweet and pretty albeit somewhat shy. She is extremely intelligent, having won numerous scholastic competitions in the past. In the movie she is part of the scholastic decathlon. During one scene, other members of the decathlon are trying to convince her to forget about Troy (the male protagonist of the film). Her friend, Taylor, says to her, "Our culture worshipped the aggressor throughout the ages and we end up with spoiled, overpaid, bonehead athletes who contribute little to civilization other than slam dunks and touchdowns" then reminds her, "But the path of the mind, the path we're on, ours is the path that has brought us these people" and proceeds to show her images of Eleanor Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo, Sandra Day O'Connor, Madame Curie, Jane Goodall and Oprah Winfrey. She states that the side of education and accomplishment is the future of civilization. And all of this coming from a cute young girl (who they later show having a romantic interest for one of the other leading male characters) and not some evil, castrating bitch. In fact the entire movie itself is about nonconformity with lots of gender deviations -- the male lead, Troy (Zac Efron) is afraid for his basketball pals to discover his hidden desire to be in the high school musical while Ryan, the guy who is usually the male lead in all the musical productions is caricaturaly stylish and effeminate. In the song "Stick to the Status Quo", various students reveal secrets, such as one basketball player who bakes and dreams of making the perfect creme brulee.



Back to Hannah Montana, one can see all of this reflected there as well. Firstof all, education is put as a top priority in various episodes. In one, Miley's father tells her that her European tour will be canceled if she doesn't get her grades up. In another one, she is not allowed to go out all weekend because she must study for midterms. Her best friend Lilly defies gender norms by being great at sports, a skateboarding champion and hanging out with the guys. In one episode, Miley tries to get Lilly to act more "like a girl" in order to impress a guy. In the end, the guy reveals that he liked the old Lilly much better, showing that there are lots of different ways that one can "be a girl." Their other best friend, Oliver, is often doing girl stuff with them and while he sometimes frets about his masculinity being threatened, he shows that he can be a normal guy and also do "girl stuff" with his friends. Miley's dad, who is raising his kids on his own, cooks, gives his daughter advice, talks about what hair products he uses and after he and his son go work out one day to be more "manly" they quickly cave and go bathe with floral scented bath soap.

Beyond Disney Channel, there are other examples as well, such as the one I mentioned in my last post -- Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. As I said, Hermione is depicted as not the smartest girl in the school but the smartest student. She is also able to apply her intelligence and logic in dangerous situations, she stands up for others and what she believes in and she remains extraordinarily courageous throughout the series. If one goes through and reads the seven books, the trio's success would probably never happen without Hermione's cool wit.

But the problem is that while many of these images are available to young girls, their positive influence does not seem to be lasting nor does it seem to be universal. One only needs to step into a store such as Libby Lu which is like Hannah Montana on crack, with little girls doing runway shows with belly-baring outfits and headsets. I nearly passed out the first time I went into that store ... I would be ashamed to bring my little girl to a party at a place like that. It is not children's programming that is teaching young girls how to dress, dance and act provocatively. It is artists and shows that should be aimed towards older teenagers and adults, which for some reason seem to have a greater impression on youth. Furthermore, there is still an incredible drop in self-esteem for girls around the age of 10 or 11, when they begin to perform less well in school and feel less comfortable acting like an individual.

I think there are a few reasons for this. First of all, networks such as Disney channel are on cable. Network television does not have as much positive programming in my opinion. There is PBS, but unfortunately perhaps due to rapidly decreasing funding, the shows on PBS are aimed mostly towards preschool and early primary school children. Secondly, the target age for shows such as these seems to be shrinking. Kids as young as 9 or 10 are watching shows with mature content, which I think is inappropriate. Parents need to take more responsibility in monitoring what it is that their kids are watching. Devices such as Tivo are finally creating this possibility, so I think it is time for adults to really step up. Twelve or thirteen years old is not mature and not anywhere near adulthood. There is no reason why girls that age shouldn't be able to still watch shows such as those on Disney. But for many, these shows seem too juvenile and instead they're watching some crap like The Next Pussycat Doll which touts itself as empowering to young women but which is really females trying to see who can act like the biggest sex symbol.

It also doesn't help that adults don't give much credit to anything that is clean and not laden with sex. Kids and teenagers listen to the radio a lot. I know that I listened to it a whole lot more when I was younger than I do now as an adult. And what is on the radio? Songs with lots of adult content. If the radio is for everyone to listen to, they should include songs that everyone can listen to. I was just reading a Washington Post article recently that discussed how although Miley Cyrus has had two albums debut as #1 in the U.S., her songs have gotten no play on the radio. The article also cites other acts such as The Cheetah Girls and Aly & AJ, whose CDs have been reaching platinum and multi-platinum levels but have been locked out of the Top 40. They also mentioned the High School Musical soundtrack, which was the best-selling album of 2006 (sales hitting the 4-million mark) but got no radio play. One radio consultant said that many stations, which target the 18-34 age group, don't want to alienate their older listeners. However, there are plenty of other young artists finding radio play, such as Rihanna (age 19) and Sean Kingston (age 17) and of course in the past artists such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne, Mandy Moore and Hanson were all teenagers, too. Listening to the songs themselves, the only difference between an early era Britney song and a Miley song is in the lyrics -- Cyrus' being cleaner. One music executive notes that they Disney artists would have found radio play 40 years ago, but that there is no room for them today. This is unfortunate because many young teens will listen to the Top 40 to see what music is "cool" or "in" at the moment. Perhaps this is one reason why they are led astray. I don't really listen to the radio, so I certainly wouldn't mind if some of these artists were thrown into the mix. And adults should be able to deal with it, since there are plenty of crap songs aimed towards adults as it is. If adults interests determine everything that is played, then it is no wonder that kids are striving to become like adults faster and faster.

I think it really says something about society when I start to feel like I'm some type of old-fashioned prude by saying that 10-year-olds shouldn't be imitating the latest sex icon. I don't think that kids should be sheltered; actually, I think that we should be more open with our kids about sexuality. But I think that something went terribly wrong -- kids should understand about their bodies and sexuality and other facts of life, but they are still children and they should not be emulating adults. Sex and sexuality shouldn't be made taboo, but they also should not be "reclaimed" by children. It is one thing for a little girl to be taught to love and understand her body and another thing for her to be taught that it is alright to objectify herself. I do not feel bad saying that.

And now that I think I have beat this topic to death, you can rest assured that I will try not to mention young girls and media influences/portrayals anymore. It's that damn feminist in me!