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Archive for September, 2011

Whenever the old “If you could go back and live at any time, what time period would it be?” question comes up, I look strangely at the people asking and say, “Are you crazy? Have you read history?” Assuming I would still be a woman, going back in time really doesn’t help my standing with society; in fact, it only gets worse. With some new shows coming out this season on TV like Pan Am and The Playboy Club I’m not feeling any more inspired to take a trip into the past.

So, with the already highly debated Playboy Club starting this week, I decided to hunker down in front of the TV, force my fingers to click in NBC at the alloted time, and watch the thing. In the first few minutes, viewers are shown a bunny almost getting raped, but accidentally killing the guy by kicking him with her stiletto (very cliché), a bunny getting hit on, a bunny getting leered at, a bunny copulating, and so on. To add to the realism, the creators have added in a nice touch of having one of the bunnies’ boyfriends working at the club so viewers can see the boyfriend’s side. Of course, it’s torture for him. He watches with a set jaw as a group of guys hits on his girlfriend just feet away from him. When the boyfriend voices his frustration to an older man working there (something along the lines of “You don’t know what it’s like to watch your girlfriend get hit on every night by every guy”), the older man replies that that’s why he married his wife; to get her pregnant and ugly.  Wow. The visions of female empowerment just won’t stop, will they? I couldn’t stand to waste anymore of my time on this.

Some people are complaining because they don’t think the material is appropriate, I have a bigger issue; why are they trying to pass this fluff off as women’s lib? It can be debated as to whether Playboy began a sexual revolution for women in the beginning, but this show isn’t giving off empowering vibes. If the men making these shows really wanted to give us something related to women’s liberation in the 60’s, they could have picked something a lot better. Instead, they give us a show that objectifies women by placing them in fishnets, bow ties, bunny ears, and satin leotards with fluffy bunny tails. That’s what you wear when you want to show people you mean business. I haven’t seen Pan Am yet, but if it’s like The Playboy Club I think I’ll bang my head against a wall. Maybe NBC and ABC are fighting for the title of sexist TV show of the year?

If this show is about women, why are they in the background of this pic?

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Let’s face it (if you haven’t already); guys can be pretty immature and for a long time (sorry guys!). Girls usually mature faster so, it’s not surprising that some girls can be left feeling the need for more mature guys than those of their age group. However, there’s a big difference between a mature guy and an older man. To a 16-year-old girl, even a four year difference in age may be too much of a gap, especially in respect to dating. There’s a dangerous line.

In today’s society, there’s a bit of a problem concerning the matter. Some young girls seem flattered when approached by older men who certainly know better about what they are doing. When presented in fiction, it gets even harder since it’s often depicted with a certain innocence.  That’s why this trend I’m about to discuss is so tricky; in the following manga, young school girls are in love with men around 10 years older than themselves and these men are truly in love with those younger girls. If one could detach from reality and think only of innocence, the following couples wouldn’t bother me so much. However, because these young-girl-with-a-grown-man couples are so innocent, I worry about the message it sends to young girls.

Take Fruits Basket‘s Kyoko Honda for example. First, let me just say that I love Fruits Basket; it’s cute, but it’s also quite deep

Kyoko and Katsuya (Artwork by Natsuki Takaya)

with well-developed characters and I’d highly recommend it. However, there is something that nags at me slightly whenever I read Fruits Basket. I don’t want to be a stick in the mud, but I felt it was pushing that line of appropriate age difference with Kyoko’s relationship. Kyoko was in middle school when she met her future husband, Katsuya, a 21-year-old teacher at her school. This is tricky because nothing happens between them, but there is a mutual interest that turns into love. The age difference between the girl and man in this couple isn’t seen as “normal” exactly (the age gap is taken seriously), but that gap remains and is a little curious. If you don’t think about it too much, the oddness of these scenarios can easily be ignored (the relationship feels real and full of genuine love), but when you do stop to think, it’s a bit iffy; the fact that Katsuya is a teacher at Kyoko’s school makes it even iffier, especially in times when the boundaries between students and teachers slipping has become a real problem. While Kyoko’s relationship with a teacher turned out beautifully, in reality that is not really what happens.

Kare Kano‘s Maho is a beautiful, mature first-year in high school (which I believe is equivalent to a sophomore in American high schools). At one point, the main heroine of the story, Yukino asks Maho if she’s got a boyfriend. Without batting an eye, Maho replies that yes, she does in fact have a boyfriend, a boyfriend who happens to be a 28-year-old dentist. Just as casually as Maho told her this, Yukino thinks this is amazing. Unlike in Fruits Basket, the characters act if this is perfectly normal if not condone. Granted, I’m only part way through the anime series so maybe this issue will be addressed down the line, but I have my doubts.

The teacher and the 10-year-old (Artwork by Clamp)

Cardcaptor Sakura presents the most disturbing scenario. Cardcaptor Sakura is a children’s manga revolving around 4th grader Sakura and her friends and family. Among those friends is Rika, the mature (10-year-old) girl of the group who has a secret crush. And that crush is (drumroll please)…her teacher, Tereda!  It’s a manga all about love in the purest form (between family, friends, and also boyfriends and girlfriends) so, it’s been said that perhaps one shouldn’t take this scenario too seriously, but it’s just hard not to be creeped out by it. While there are some different relationships in Cardcaptor Sakura (including another student-(assistant) teacher relationship), this one definitely crosses the boundary. Although I don’t know exactly how old Tereda is supposed to be, any adult interested in a pre-pubescent kid is just plain creepy (even though, again, it’s presented with child-like innocence). The “couple” is even engaged to be married once little Rika-chan is older. This relationship is a secret between just the two of them that not even Rika’s friends know about. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t manage to brush it under the rug in the back of my brain where all the other things that shouldn’t exist go (see my last post on Mulan II). Believe me, I tried.

As I said, I think the thing that bothers me about all of these scenarios is that they are all presented as innocent and/or as normal. Not to say that I want to see a realistic portrayal of that scenario, but these relationships are so nice people could perhaps get the wrong message from them. They could even be seen as desirable or normal…unless you really think about it in terms of reality. Cardcaptor Sakura particularly bothers me for that reason since it is a manga younger kids can read and may not think about it as much.

On a last note, this isn’t meant to turn people off any of these manga; in fact, I like all three of them generally. Also, if any of you who are reading this aren’t very familiar with manga, it should be noted that while these scenarios do happen sometimes in manga, this isn’t what manga is all about (and I don’t think this trend is limited to manga either). It’s just something that I feel needs to be addressed and given some thought to.

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A conversation between two Disney employees ensues.

Employee 1: “Hey.”

Employee 2: “Yeah?”

Employee 1: “I want some more money. We should make a new movie. …What’s with that look? Don’t you want money?”

Employee 2: “Well, yeah. I want money, but doesn’t making a movie require…you know, a lot of effort? Besides, what if we create a whole story, all-new characters, spend all that time on it, and nobody buys it?”

Employee 1: “Relax! I’ve got it all figured out. We’ll create an unneeded sequel to one of our classics. It’ll save us a lot of effort and make a lot of money; people always buy those things.”

Employee 2: “Hey, that’s brilliant! And here’s an idea! What if we create a sequel to that Mulan movie?”

Employee 1: “Mulan, mulan…is that one of those movies about talking horses?”

Employee 2: “No, it’s about a girl in ancient China who disguises herself as a man and goes into the army.”

Employee 1: “Oh.”

Employee 2: “Anyway, it’s never sat right with me. It just doesn’t go with any of our other movies with female leads. I mean, the girl doesn’t even get married at the end, for Pete’s sake! How do we even categorize a movie like that? So, how about we fix that in a sequel?”

Employee 1: “And marry off one of the only independent female leads Disney has ever had? …Sounds great!”

This is the conversation I imagine took place just before the making of Mulan II. Ever since it was released in 2004 this movie has been a large thorn in my side, lodged deep in my skin. I can almost forget it’s there until Mulan-anything is mentioned. Then, there it is again, annoying as ever. Let me start from the beginning.

I adored Mulan as a child; I sill do, in fact. In a world filled to the brim with pathetic role models for girls (and women), Mulan was the shining ray of hope amongst the darkness that is Barbie, Bratz, and any Disney princess movies. I could watch Mulan over and over, relishing Mulan’s strength (physically and mentally), courage, and above all else, independence. Mulan’s story is all about self-discovery and accepting one’s self and for Mulan, that meant being independent. She took control of her own life while showing women could do anything men could do, that one’s gender shouldn’t be a restriction. Furthermore, while the story is chalk-full of male characters, there is only a hint of romance, no wedding bells (the signal of conformation as a “true,” full-filled woman in Disney), and there is truly a partnership between Mulan and her fellow male cast, including the guy she likes. How’s that for a role model?

Disney, however, seemed confounded on that particular issue. Even before the never-should-have-even-been-thought-of Mulan II, Mulan was almost consistently represented as the pretty young woman going to see the match-maker. Mulan merchandise consisted mostly of beautiful Mulan dolls with painted faces and extravagant robes and while searching “mulan costume” does yield some soldier-Mulan costumes, I don’t believe any of them are made or sold by Disney. Yeah, Mulan looks very pretty in that dress, but wasn’t one of the big points of the movie that Mulan was more than a pretty face? It reminds me of video game companies trying to appeal to girls/women; if it’s got to do with girls make it pink, frilly, and pretty.

Mulan is also presented as a Disney princess. F.Y.I. Disney, last time I checked Mulan wasn’t a princess so, here’s my question: why must every (human) female lead be grouped with the princesses? Because of our culture’s stereotypical view of princesses, by placing her with the princesses, it’s like screaming “THIS IS A GIRL’S MOVIE! ONLY GIRLS WOULD BE INTERESTED!” Of course! The movie is all about a girl so, obviously it’s a chick-flick! Not. Girls watch/read movies/books about male protagonists all the time so why is it that so often when movies/books feature a female lead, it’s automatically a girl’s movie? Boys could like Mulan just as much as girls. Disney just can’t seem to let it go.

Now you know what to avoid.

The other thing Disney just can’t seem to let go of is the opportunity to make sequels-sequels that should never have existed. In the case of making sequels, Disney is like that dog that, no matter how many times you tell it “no” or “leave it,” feels a certain compulsion to go after that dead squirrel in the backyard. It’s a gross fixation that usually ends up just as stinky (with some exceptions). They go back to dig up classics and give beloved protagonists kids (The Little Mermaid II, Lady and the Tramp II, The Lion King II, Return to Neverland), generally add stories that never need to be told (Tarzan II, Bambi II, The Lion King 1 1/2),  and, of course, marry off previously independent leads. Enter the hated Mulan II.

Frankly, I don’t like even thinking about the content of Mulan II; I like to pretend it doesn’t even exist. (So far, my denial of reality doesn’t appear to be working so, I’m hoping this rant will be like some kind of therapy. Some day, I hope to move past this trauma.) So, Mulan II goes like this: Mulan and Shang have been abducted and replaced by shallow shadows of themselves (ok, I made that up). They want to tie the knot, but they’re dealing with the usual relationship issues. (“I told you we should have stopped for directions, Shang! Jeez, Mulan! I know what I’m doing! Just because you saved all of China doesn’t make you smarter than me!”) Mushu, for his own reasons, wants to break the couple up. Let’s pause here for a moment. Did Disney really make Mulan, a story that went beyond the normal blah of stereotypical romances, into a superficial romance? Now the uniqueness of the original has been replaced by outsiders trying to break up the couple that’s “meant to be” for their one selfish reasons. What’s next? Mulan and Shang will be breaking up and getting back together in some strange accordion fashion? Not far from it.

The new Mulan.

Then there’s a sorry story about Mulan’s friends Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po finding their ideal women in three princesses (Disney can’t resist). Oh yeah, and then there was some stuff about playing bodyguard and political alliances (oooh, so that’s why those princesses were there!). Mostly, Mulan II is a romance with a side dish of action, the polar opposite of the original. The sophistication of Mulan was also replaced by a certain shallowness, a mere trifle. In The Art of Mulan, the animator of the character Mulan, Mark Henn, is quoted as saying the original movie was “‘really a story about a father and daughter and honor–not girl meets boy and they live happily ever after.'” Oh, what must he have thought at seeing Mulan II? Bottom line: Disney should leave dead squirrels where they lie and let the world enjoy a truly independent female lead.

The real Mulan.

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After a week with no power, I just got my electricity back on so, as you can imagine, it was hard to work on a post for this past week.  Since things should be back on schedule now, I’ll have a post out this week on time.  Thanks for your patience!

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