YOU HAD ME AT “GOODBYE”

Watching romantic comedies and dramas through a feminist lens* is a deeply concerning experience. The notion that romantic relationships are acceptable, in the ways they’re typically depicted, teeters on a familiar, vertiginous premise of “true love,” orchestrated by blocking and lighting and wardrobe and makeup and cameras and score, all of which recruit and coach our attention. Those are the things that tell us that the person frantically ringing the buzzer to the apartment, waiting outside the workplace, showing up unannounced with a gift, running to catch the same train, or declaring the night is young, is the hero(ine), and not someone overbearing, unbalanced, or even dangerous. As for gaslighting? Rampant. “You don’t mean that.” “You’re scared to let yourself be loved.” Etc. Such things slip past our censors precisely because they’re so familiar, and because we’ve decided in advance—that is, it’s been decided for us—that in the case of the chosen couple, such presumptuous statements are perceptive and accurate. I used to be a projectionist and had big plans to write about the occupational hazards of so much exposure to culture through film, all the dramatic speeches thrown around (not to mention the overt violence and interpersonal ugliness). But the truth is that the average American in most walks of life has been exposed to as much as I was, if not much more—occupational hazards of being alive here and now. We are collectively gaslighted by culture, and that shows up in therapy offices. Certainly there are gestures, small and grand, that are, in fact, romantic—that do, in fact, show love. There may be someone you’d be glad to see hoisting a boombox beyond your window to play your song. Ultimately, it’s your body that knows the most about who’s safe and welcome for you, and who’s not. If you feel you lack such discernment because of past trauma, which can certainly happen, there are ways to cultivate it. Notice your preferences and bodily responses to foods, beverages, volumes, scents, textures, temperatures, times of day. Honor your senses. Someone who’s not right for you isn’t ipso facto a villain; being clear with yourself and others isn’t about vilification. Nor are our emotions necessarily simple and straightforward, I get that. But resistance—for example, feeling uncomfortable if someone offers to walk you to your car, or suggests you meet on purpose if you’ve met by chance—is a powerful instinct. It warrants attention.

*I’m not a scholar and can’t speak in a scholarly way about the history and current meaning(s) of feminism, which I perceive as signifying different things to different people. My use of “feminist” is meant to imply the endeavor to think critically with care for the well-being of all persons; as such, for me, it is related to environmentalism and to good therapy.

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Text and image copyrights held by me. In a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. I’m contemplating adding a donation button; stay tuned. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.

NEVER HAVE YOU EVER?

Felt exuberant. Felt defeated. Felt physical or emotional pain. Felt confused. Forgot a name. Wondered if someone liked you, if someone hated you. Wondered if someone was thinking of you. Hoped. Felt repulsed. Felt betrayed. Felt disgust. Have you ever? Shivered in response to an unexplained sound. Felt someone’s eyes on you. Thought of someone lost to you through death or departure. Missed him/her/them. Grieved. Wondered about the universe, the meaning of life. The possibility of a hereafter—what it might be like. Felt empty; felt like a cliche. Had a ritual. Had a good luck charm. Felt mistrust; felt superstitious. Couldn’t get a song out of your head. Have you never? Cherished something. Cherished someone. Felt lonely. Felt loved. Experienced self-loathing, however brief. Saw a shape in a cloud, in the frost, in peeling paint. Anthropomorphized. Struggled to get out of bed. Felt different from other people. Felt transparent. Isolated, wept, couldn’t weep. Sought comfort, rejected it. Waxed nostalgic. Held one position so long that you couldn’t tell where one part of your body ended and another began. Felt that with a lover. Felt aroused. Climaxed. Obsessed. Pledged fidelity; changed. Felt rejected. Felt foolish. Felt your thoughts swirl, your heart race. Felt shamed by an internal critic. Struggled to draw breath. Saw or heard or felt something so beautiful, it hurt. So beautiful, it was almost intolerable. Been seized by fear. Said the wrong thing; spoke in anger. Struggled to find words. All these common experiences, these ordinary workings of the brain, differ from what we call “mental illness” not in substance, but in amplitude and harmonic impact. By that I mean: the brain is the organiest organ—synapses firing together form chords. Press the wrong keys, or too many at once, you get dissonance, cacophony—and deafening, at that. Even silence, in a compromised state, can roar. If you think you’re immune, think again. Be compassionate.

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Text and image copyrights held by me. In a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. I’m contemplating adding a donation button; stay tuned. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.

JOYRIDE (TONIGHT I’M GONNA PARTY LIKE IT’S 2005)

The Truth About Hello Kitty | The New Yorker

I realized something crazy just now: If the movie review below were my progeny, it would be clutching its new driver’s license and begging to borrow the car!

So what is it doing here, sixteen years after the movie hit theaters? That’s a story for another day. Suffice to say, it was lost and is found, an odd and unexpected but nonetheless potent restoration to my heart and spirit, following the medical trauma of 2019. Perhaps a little wordy, but still relevant after all these years.

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Monster-in-Law

rated PG-13

If Hello, Kitty is the cute face of Japanese anger, then the Hollywood romantic comedy may be the cute face of American aggression. 

Monster-in-Law, the latest example of this, is a film about one-upmanship as practiced by women. Or rather, caricatures of women. They seek to out-dress one another, they sabotage each other’s dinner dates, and they call each other names, all in competition for male attention. (This is familiar territory. In the old days, the brandished insult was “hussy.”) In between, they smile and preen and bat their eyes.

That one of the two women at the center of this story is a jealous mother, rather than a sexual rival, doesn’t diminish the competition. In fact, it’s amplified, to the point where the genre’s usual pasted-on smiles begin to look deranged. 

Viola (Jane Fonda) is the titular monster. (She’s postmenopausal, after all, and thus automatically qualifies to be at least a crone.) A TV journalist, Viola finds out as the film begins that she’s being replaced by a mere babe and promptly expresses her outrage by pouncing, on-air, on a 17-year-old pop star interviewee. Her demotion and subsequent meltdown is the plot-crutch on which the rest of the film hobbles forward. We’re meant to understand that Viola is a respected personality who’s socialized with umpteen newsmakers; a prima donna prone to tantrums; the victim of two recent, public humiliations involving younger women; and a very rich single mother with too much time on her hands. For all of these reasons, it’s supposed to make sense when she imagines slamming her future daughter-in-law’s bright face, repeatedly, into her lunch. It’s supposed to be funny.

But is it funny? We’re expected to laugh along with fantasies of brutality, after also obligingly sighing when Kevin (the son, played by Michael Vartan) woos Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) on the beach. (He describes her eyes – after one prior, brief encounter and while she stands with her back to him – in studied detail: “But when you look into the sun, they’re almost green – that’s my favorite.”) We’re supposed to accept “What are you doing for the rest of your life?” and (from the doting mother of the man in love) “I could kill that slut.”

Charlie, for her part, turns out to be no angel, drugging Viola and leaving her to sleep facedown on a plate of tripe (again, the face and the plate – someone could write a dissertation on this) while she snuggles, self-satisfied, into luxuriant pillows. In a court of law, would this be pardoned as self-defense against cackling laughter? A person, it should be noted, could suffocate in tripe. 

The slugging, the slapping, the drugging – these are all supposed to sit easy with us because the two women kiss and make up in the end. What a sleazy shill, what a nonstop con. Hello, Kitty gets away with one thing: she has no mouth, and thus there’s no way to identify her expression; we see what we want to see. Hollywood “rom-com’s” get away with everything – pets flushed down toilets, sucker-punches by toddlers, sexual degradation – so long, of course, as there’s a happy ending. Happy endings are just so cute!

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This review originally appeared in a free weekly, now defunct. Text copyright held by me; image copyright most assuredly NOT held by me, or I’d be typing this postscript from a proper desk in a restored Victorian or Craftsman bungalow near the sea. Anyway: in a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.