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Archive for August, 2011

Romance can be a lovely thing, but the way fiction portrays it sometimes you would think that men ride around on white horses and women spend their time tripping on anything and everything, waiting for prince charming. Because of this, I decided to make a quick list of some of my top pet peeves about the romance genre.

DON’T…

  •  Make either of the couple sparkle with god-like perfection.“Nobody is perfect.” How many times is that phrase said each day? Yet how many times is the love interest in a story almost completely immaculate?  Love interests seem to have descended from the heavens and, like the mythical gods of ancient Greece and Rome, they glow with unearthly beauty that could cause a mortal to combust upon viewing. Even monsters are literally sparkling like disco balls nowadays (I’m looking at you, Twilight)! There are first impressions and there is new love which may add a little shine to the individual viewed through its lens, but there must be a real person with realistic flaws underneath. (F.Y.I. “I’m a sexy vampire and I might kill you” is not a realistic flaw.)
  • Make the love interest a jerk with a “good heart.” If you don’t think about it too much, the jerk with a good heart theme seems like a nice one (although certainly overused). Here’s a person-usually a guy-who is misunderstood, but by getting to know him, the girl realizes that he’s actually a good guy. Getting around first impressions can be a great and rewarding obstacle for readers/viewers to see a characters get through, but this one can be problematic. If it is truly a misunderstanding or the behavior is not brushed off as normal, that is one thing, but often the jerk with a good heart acts like just a plain old jerk to the heroine and the mean behavior is excused. Although it was one of the more extreme examples I saw of this scenario, I discussed some of the issues with jerk-love interests more thoroughly in my last post, Black Bird: Sexy Teen Romance or Creepily Sadistic.
  • Make either of the characters completely reliant on the other.  Aha! The old “You complete me” syndrome that often results in “I can’t live without you!” delusions and damsel-in-distress disease. Loving someone immensely is one thing-in fact, it’s a wonderful thing-but being so dependent on that person to the point where one feels he/she isn’t a whole person without the other is not healthy. (That’s some life advice.) So, the fact that fiction shows this situation as normal or romantic is feeding this unhealthy idea as good. The Twilight series is a perfect example of this. I know! I’ve already used Twilight as an example for something in this post, but it shows this scenario in such an extreme I just can’t pass using it again. In the second book of the series, Edward decides that he’s no good for Bella so, he dumps her and runs off. Bella literally curls up into a fetal position and cries, going into zombie mode for months because her own life doesn’t matter now that Edward is gone. While I trudged through the book (yes, I did read the series), I wanted to say, “Um, excuse me for interrupting you, Bella during this very important time, but didn’t you have a life pre-Edward?” Bella’s response to my question was to become dependent on another guy (Jacob) and do reckless, potentially suicidal stuff. Hmm. Not what I had in mind.  This isn’t to say that people aren’t allowed to grieve for lost relationships, but that letting life totally spiral out of control or giving up on life is not the way to do it so, fiction shouldn’t present it like it is.
My final thought to this little rant of mine is if you think none of this bad romantic advice given by fiction matters, I say this: if girls can look at the fictional world of TV/movies with its airbrushed, rail-thin models and develop insecurities, why couldn’t girls look at fiction and develop unrealistic/unhealthy ideas?
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Girl meets boy. Boy is kind of a jerk (in fact, sometimes it seems the boy hates and/or likes to hurt the girl). But girl comes to realize that under that crusty, prickly, are-you-stupid exterior of his is a deeply hidden sweet and sensitive side, probably. Is boy really the boy for her?

Sound like a familiar plot line? If you’re lucky, perhaps not, but I don’t seem to be a lucky person when it comes to this sort of stuff so I’m often running into it. So, either I’m a super powered magnet for girl-meets-jerky-boy romances or there’s just a lot of it out there. Since I’ve never felt myself giving off steady, magnetic waves, I’m going to take a leap here and just guess it’s the latter.

Without getting into the details, Kanoko Sakurakoji’s Black Bird manga series fits into that category of romance. When I first decided to read Black Bird, I didn’t really know much about it. A lot of the reviews I had read (*cough* skimmed) initially seemed to like it fairly well or absolutely love it so, I checked it out from my fabulous library.

Looking back, I should have had it figured out by the cover. I really should have.

Black Bird starts off normal enough with a teenage girl, Misao, dreaming of a long lost childhood prince charming. The twist is that Misao can see spirits, which torment her daily. But things get a little out of hand when more powerful demons start popping up like daisies trying to kill her who turns out to be some rare maiden that

a)If a demon eats her, will grant eternal youth,

b)If a demon drinks her blood, will grant a longer life,

or c)If a demon marries (a.k.a. has sex with) her, will grant prosperity for the demon’s clan.

Just a tiny detail about herself that Misao didn’t know. This new development made my face pucker up; they may as well have stuffed a lemon down my throat. Here we go again, poor heroine in dire danger who is treated like and is literally the prize of flesh and who is going to have to be rescued a lot by the love interest, Kyo. If that wasn’t a bad enough start, it continues to drag itself through the mud by adding attempted rape scenes. I have a serious problem with attempted rape and rape scenes. I don’t believe the true horror of the situation can be honorably represented no matter what media so what is accomplished by showing them? Is it supposed to be a turn on to see Misao getting groped and threatened only to be saved in the nick of time by Kyo?

Then there’s Kyo himself. Believe it or not, despite everything else that I consider wrong with this manga, Kyo is my biggest problem (thus my rant at the beginning of this post about love interests). Supposedly, he loves Misao, but Misao, not being the worst heroine, isn’t so sure she believes him. Seeing as he’s a demon, Kyo might just want her for the perks of her being this rare maiden. (Smart! Don’t buy everything a potentially dangerous demon says to you!) He has the level of understanding of a turnip at times. He expects Misao to just know that he really loves her (which is hard to figure out when you look at his behavior some times; he acts more like he owns her rather than loves her most of the time). When he finally comes out and confuses his love for her, he begins with the good, old pick-up line “Are you an idiot?” Wow. A girl is always overjoyed to be called an idiot. Who needs compliments and a show of a man’s love through his words and actions? Yeah, Kyo is your jerky-boy love interest, alright.

There are many depictions of Misao in pain that have nothing to do with the story.

And call me crazy, but I’ve always wondered what was attractive about these jerky guys. Some of them remind me strongly of elementary school boys; you know the kind that showed their affection for you by yanking on your braids periodically on the bus or otherwise teasing you? However, if I’m seeing this kind of behavior in a character (especially if that character is supposed to be a dashing teenager or adult), I’m left feeling frosted about how immature they are. Other times, these seemingly jerky men remind me of, well, just plain old bona-fide jerks, no matter how nice they can be on their off-time from being a regular jerk.

Now Kyo, I feel, fits more into the plain old jerk. As I said, later it is revealed that Kyo, in fact, does love Misao and isn’t just after her because marrying her would benefit his family, but his behavior is inexcusable. He’s like the abusive boyfriend/husband; he has the fits of petty jealousy to go along with that theory. Some of the most disturbing scenes in the manga for me are when Kyo gets into one of these fits. When Misao starts hanging out with another boy (before Kyo and Misao are a couple), Kyo has to “teach” her a lesson. He lifts her up into the air higher and higher (Kyo is a winged demon, a tengu) while Misao pleads and cries for him to stop because she’s frightened. She’s afraid he’ll drop her. “Why are you doing this to me?” She demands to which Kyo redirects the question, asking why she insists on making him angry all the time.

Then after he’s thoroughly terrified Misao, Kyo sets her on the ground, reassuring her softly that he really wouldn’t have dropped her, he just had to punish her a little; he needed to show her how she couldn’t live without him, how dependent she is on him. Oh, did I mention this scene is presented as romantic?

(Despite what it looks like, it's not a sex scene.) Kyo yet again punishes Misao.

Wham! This is where people should be completely disgusted (if they weren’t before). This is in the first volume of the series, only the third chapter, and yet people read this and want more? They get more of the same. Jealousy-promoted punishments, Misao receiving rough treatment from someone, Misao getting manipulated, Misao messing something up and getting called an idiot for it and/or blaming herself, etc. Granted, I’ve only read three volumes of this manga, but that’s about all I can force down and I think three volumes gave it a fair shot to show me something different.

Finally, if all of Black Bird‘s content didn’t shock me enough, I’m surprised by how readily it’s accepted, even loved by readers. Look at the responses to bloggers’ reviews of the manga and you’ll see that most people rave about it, making me wonder if I’m reading the same manga as them. I understand a guilty pleasure read, but this is a manga that seems to ok abuse, going so far as to present it as romantic and sensual and that is not ok at all. There is nothing sexy or cute about a controlling boyfriend or a teenage girl being thrown through a sadistic hell. That’s what I call a tragedy.

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 “Are you a female dog? …Because you’re acting like a real bitch.” – The Clique Series by Lisi Harrison

Books, politics, school, reality TV, and manga: what is the common thread that can tie these topics all together? Well, there could be a number of threads, but the one I’m fishing for is women fighting women. You know, manecured nails extended, ready to take a stab at the other party wherever and whenever possible? School girls post videos of their triumphs online and you don’t have to look hard to find some woman putting down another woman on TV. However, instead of condoning this behavior, like bees to honey, some people seem to get a real kick out of hissing and scratching (figuratively or literally) that can go on between women and promote it. Get the popcorn popping!

Cat fights of a previous century.

It all begins at an early age. To prime little girls still dreaming about becoming princesses when they get older, show them a classic of cat fights, Cinderella. An innocent girl thrown to the ugly wolves, her vile step-mother and step-sisters, sweet Cinderella is at the mercy of these jealous ladies. At the prospect of catching the attention of the very eligible bachelor prince, the mean step-sisters can’t take a chance with Cinderella. In a scene that could have been taken right from modern times, the step-sisters shred with vigor Cinderella’s would-be dress to the ball in an attempt to sabotage a possible threat.

As girls reach puberty and are looking for something a little more updated and adult than Cinderella, young adult books are swimming with choices for girl vs. girl wars.  Books like The Clique, A-List, and It Girl series center around girls going at each other over boys, popularity status, contests–anything that can be made into a competition and sometimes just to sabotage. Girls size each other up, “steal” each other’s boyfriends, call each other sluts, and spreading vicious rumors. While these characters are usually presented as mean girl-types, in The Clique series the story runs more along the lines of the normal girl Claire morphs slowly into a mean girl herself rather than vanquishing her evil foes. As Naomi Wolf puts it in her review, Wild Things, Claire “abandons her world of innocence and integrity — in which children respect parents, are honest and like candy — to embrace her eventual success as one of the school’s elite, lying to and manipulating parents, having contempt for teachers and humiliating social rivals.” 
 (These books are popular though so, if you want to check them out from the library, you may have to use your new-found all-girls-for-themselves tactics and beat off the competition!)

Of course, you won’t have to scavenge the teen book/movie section for this. Just flip on the TV. Shows such as ABC’s The Bachelor are perfect transitions from your favorite teen book. There’s one hot guy and 25 gorgeous women all fighting for his heart like starving wild cats over a piece of tender meat. Of course, now there is The Bachelorette, a reverse harem with 25 men after one woman however, this was created after the original Bachelor.

Physical fights, nails ready, brutal verbal messes, hissing aplenty, fights over boys, and fights over nothing but someone’s need to get that vindictive high. So, girls, take your pick; just don’t take your eyes off the girl next to you. If the media is right, I think she’s totally trying to sabotage you.

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Earlier this week I composed a post about one of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and discussed the strength, depth, and contrast of the protagonist and antagonist, Nausicaa and Kushana. While delving into it, an old thought occurred to me about Miyazaki’s female protagonists: almost all of them have short hair, if not through the whole movie, by the end of the story. Yeah, thanks for pointing out the obvious, you might be thinking, but I want to take a closer look at this trend which I believe is more than just a fashion statement. So, continuing on with the Miyazaki theme, let’s take a closer look at some hair!

First of all, there are many examples of strong female protagonists who begin with short hair; Nausicaa, San from Princess Mononoke, and Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service are a few. Kiki is on a journey for adventure, San lives with wolves and tries to protect the forest, and, if you haven’t read last week’s post, Nausicaa is the strong-willed princess who fights intolerance.  Three girls who face ups and downs, but begin with confidence and independence.

Sheeta from Castle in the Sky

On the other hand, Sheeta from Castle in the Sky and Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle–who both begin their journeys with long hair–have some interesting trends in common that differ majorly from the three characters listed above (besides names that both start with “s” and movie titles with the word castle” in it).

Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle

Both girls are burdened by something at the beginning. Sheeta is chased after by several groups of people due to her connection with a fabled land in the sky known as Laputa and thus is living a life that’s like walking on a thin rope, in fear of the next step. Sophie is in no mortal danger at the beginning of the story, but it’s revealed that she doesn’t have much confidence in herself and is overshadowed by her livelier, pretty sister and a little later, she has to deal with a curse placed on her.

Sheeta and Sophie also seem to go through a greater amount of character change by the end than the girls who begin with short hair because, unlike Nausicaa, San, and Kiki, Sheeta and Sophie begin with less independence and perhaps confidence in themselves. To compare the story lines of a short-haired girl versus a long-haired one, while Nausicaa already has the courage to do what she needs to do and just needs to use it, Sophie must first gain confidence in herself before she can truly save anyone else.

Interestingly, it’s at this point of climax where Sophie has gained her confidence that she gives up her hair, giving the moment a feeling of starting anew. The same feeling exists at the end of Castle in the Sky as Sheeta gazes on, free of her burden at last, her new, short hair blowing in the wind.

Chihiro

Of course, this trend doesn’t always hold true; Kiki’s Delivery Service is a journey largely about growing up and personal change although Kiki still begins the story with a larger amount of confidence than Sophie (although it wavers at points) and without a large burden like Sheeta. Also, Spirited Away‘s heroine Chihiro begins with long hair and keeps it even though she goes through a large amount of inner change and gains more strength by the end of the movie.

Nevertheless, the timing of the shortening of Sheeta and Sophie’s hair in their stories and the fact that the girls who already have freedom begin with short hair remains a point of interest. Whether Hayao Miyazaki consciously decided to have short hair represent freedom or not, pop in those films and see what conclusions you come to!

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