The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 28


Before I move on to what Gough-Yates called for as the next stage of research, I’d like to take a moment to call attention to race. It’s likely that at some point over the past few months you read about how some (many?) black women did not feel that Hillary Clinton was a candidate who would (could) represent them and their interests.  And, yeah, I’ve overlooked this aspect so far myself. Think how many problems this brings up, though, at every point of the history of scholarly criticism of women’s magazines.  Positive/negative images? Well, they were all white for a long while there, so black must be really negative. Magazines as tools of the patriarchy? Shit, white women themselves have been tools of the patriarchy for a long time (*cough* suffragists *cough*).  Conversations about thorny social issues? I’m going to refer back to the covers to give you an indication of who we’re being told are having these conversations.

Christina Baker (2005) may have found that 11.5% of Cosmopolitan‘s readers were black, but I invite you to scroll down the page and see if the covers match that percentage.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 27


So let’s sum up the history of scholarship on feminist magazines:

Nobody looks like that! These are unrealistic images of women!

Sure, but that’s not the magazine’s fault; women wouldn’t buy it if they didn’t identify with it. Magazines are just one of many tools.

…of the patriarchy, yeah.

Okay, well, maybe these magazines are starting to address real issues that women face?

And offering them solutions that don’t rock the boat (the patriarchy boat)!

*sigh* You’re right.  Ms. is better than most, though, right?

Yes, Ms. is okay.

Well, maybe women are still thinking for themselves past the pat solutions offered?

….yeah, no, sounds like they don’t even read the damn things; they just treat them like lottery tickets. You buy one so you can think of what you’d be like if you could be perfect and have everything.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 26


Feminism (and feminist critique) have among their goals the empowerment and freedom of women, right? So in the 1980s, researchers began to counter all of the above by saying that perhaps readers were making their own meaning; that perhaps they themselves were critiquing the magazines even while consuming them. Let’s take this idea further–that women are strong enough that something like a magazine can’t harm them in some deep way.  Just how each generation’s ideology and how it’s communicated to the masses differs, so too does the way each generation responds to it.  So, sure, let’s look at the readers!  Joke Hermes interviewed a number of women in the early 90s to gauge their interaction with women’s magazines.  (For the sake of how much time I’m willing commit to a series on boobs I stared at in the grocery store, I am simply summarizing Gough-Yates’s treatment of Hermes’s study; though really I should have tracked down Hermes’s book Reading Women’s Magazines.)  What Hermes found was that the magazines functioned as a way for women to envision ideal versions of themselves.

Her interviewees often seemed to have very little to say at all about the magazines themselves, talking much more about how the magazines they read fitted into their daily routines. In fact, readers gave meanings to women’s magazines which Hermes found to be quite independent of the text….


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 25


In the late 1970s, says Gough-Yates, the discussion had moved from women’s magazines as tool of ideological mouthpiece to place of ideological “negotiation”.  That is, as feminism itself was on the rise, women’s magazines seemed to offer more articles on the topics addressed by feminists: gender inequality in all levels of society, be they in the family or workplace or political arenas.  The magazines would discuss these topics, but would offer practical solutions that were typically along the lines of individual responsibility, which I’d argue was part of a larger shift towards atomized morality (another story for another day).  In other words, and I’m reading between Gough-Yates’s lines here, is that the internal conflicts of women (should I obey my husband or fight for my rights–sorry for being reductive) were externalized.  Sure, the reader could get a chance to think about the issues she and her contemporaries faced, but someone else was limiting the conversation to simply what she could do alone. The discussion was externalized; thus the solution was as well.  Radical views–and solutions–were not addressed.  On the whole, said the feminist academic community at the time, women’s magazines “lack[ed] the substance needed to effect meaningful change in either wider society or the magazine genre itself.”  Except for Ms., though. Ms. was pretty great.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 24


The next round of scholars took a page from Louis Althusser’s ideas of ideology, saying that ideology is practiced by society. In other words, the ideology (of what women should be) existed already, and not only were the magazines fixing it and normalizing it in the process of dissemination, but women were practicing it as well, and would see in the magazines a reflection of their own lives. The criticism remained–these were feminist scholars, after all–that the magazines were (merely) a tool in the hands of the patriarchy.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 23


Anna Gough-Yates (2003) offers a summary of scholarly engagement with women’s magazines in terms of their content (imagery/text), their production, and their readership.  She goes all the way back to 1963, with Betty Friedan (among others) claiming that women’s magazines were a bar to women realizing their true selves and connecting with each other, thanks to the false images offered of what women were/should be.  This stage of feminist academic treatments of the magazines, according to Gough-Yates, was one of simply saying whether the images offered were “positive” or “negative”.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 22


We’re not dealing with astronomy here, but even when it comes to bedside astrology, it’s still worth questioning our own views. Are Cosmopolitan and other such magazines a step backwards? Sometimes you have to look at old theories in light of new evidence; sometimes you have to look at evidence in light of new/different theories.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 21


Moreover, sometimes you do have to go back and double-check, even with previous findings.  I’m not talking about the covers here; I mean, cleavage is cleavage is cleavage. I’m referring to theory. Theory informs research, research produces findings, findings confirm, refute, complicate, etc., the theory. Inevitably, though, theory may eventually be questioned, its blind spots exposed.

Blah blah blah Galileo, right? I’ll give you something that you probably don’t hear every time Galileo’s brought up: retrograde epicyclic motion.  One of the things that the Ptolemaic model had to explain was why the other planets sometimes appeared to reverse their direction in their orbit around the Earth, occasionally doing a loop-de-loop and travelling backwards for a little while. Aristotle says the Earth is the center of the universe –> those other planets sure do weird crap!


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 20


Some of you have probably spent the last 20 weeks wondering why the hell I’m so dense. Obviously the cleavage on the cover is a message that women should have a body good enough to show it off. Obviously the juxtaposition of cover and messages (“30 Beauty Boosters”, “The South Beach Diet: Peel Off 7 Pounds Fast“, f’rinstance) is meant to imply connection. Do this (“The South Beach Diet: Peel Off 7 Pounds Fast“), be that (Jessica Simpson), get this (“Feel Happier (and in Control) on Your Most Crazed Days”). Obviously.  But you have to be able to back that up. Did you even read parts 5-10?


Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

I just saw the new Ghostbusters movie. I’ll give you the TL;DR first; or, I suppose that’s the “too long, won’t read”.
Good dialogue and visual gags, 95% solid story, and God bless the team that oversaw the color choices.
Ghosts should be green, thank you for the green ghosts. Thank you for the blue ghosts. Thank you for the pink offsetting the green, it was very 80s. Thank you, color team.
I laughed throughout the movie, and I was happy to be the only person in the theater who laughed at the communist undertones of Rowan’s plans. I’m sure if I knew more, it’d be even funnier!
I enjoyed the attention to detail–that is, my own attention to it, anyway. I’m not sure what all time periods are meant to be represented in the film’s final fight, but I saw two films from 1971, and one from 1976 on marquees. I suppose any big film nowadays has so many people working on it–and with computers–that you’re bound to get lots of detail. It’s simply what you notice that informs your reading, so I appreciate being the kind of person who pays attention to the background to begin with. Anyway, we’ve got the 1920s (or a highly stylized version of it, anyway) in the form of the parade balloons. Sidebar: the 1920s are actually referenced twice, explicitly. Let me back up. The first time was in the concert hall, where the prissy manager is upset at the Art Deco fixtures being physically destroyed. (The fact that a metal band (can someone tell me if this was really what a metal band looks and sounds like these days? or was it movie metal, the way movies treated punk characters in the 80s?) is performing in the venue doesn’t faze him, though, I should point out.) You’ve got the 1960s present when the Slimers–the woman Slimer replete with a flip hairstyle–taking a joyride through the city. Oh yeah, and the pilgrim, and whenever the hell the locked-up daughter was from, and whenever the prisoner was supposed to be from.
There’s this mix-and-match, a picking and choosing of what parts of the past to show. Sure, to make the story read, you have to pick ones that are *obviously* representative of certain eras (like, were there Pilgrims in New York? I’m clearly the wrong guy to ask), but the approach remains clear. And it’s the same approach that the film takes when dealing with the original Ghostbusters movie (I’d say movies, but I still remain the only person on the planet who loves GB2). You get jokes about how you can’t have things exactly the same: the rent for an abandoned firehouse is prohibitively expensive; a paranormal studies department could only exist at a shitty college* that forgot it was there; it’s finally revealed at the end that Holtzmann builds all the cool equipment from stuff she finds in dumpsters, and yeah, seriously, where the hell did the original Ghostbusters get the money and manpower to build a giant containment unit? The mix-and-match goes further–nods to the cartoon in the form of Holtzmann’s cartoon-Egon hair; Rowan being simultaneously the 80s cartoon logo, a pastiche of even older “cute ghost cartoons”**, AND both Oogie Boogie and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
It’s commercial, and it’s pandering to an extent, and yes, and I’m sure if I knew more about communism and cataclysms, I could either make this film punch itself–or explain itself. I mean, come on, the opening scene has a ghost terrorizing someone who makes their living off of the commodification of ghost stories. And don’t get me started about how Patty Tolan knew the street artist who made the No Ghosts logo, yet we don’t see her tracking the guy down to license his creation. But it’s precisely the same type of love/hate relationship I–and likely a large swath of my generation–have with the pop culture we grew up on. We wouldn’t have the movie we got without love for the franchise, and we wouldn’t have the movie we got without a willingness to criticize the past. It’s how I write my comics; it’s how I write my Perfect Strangers blog. I think it’s a type of thinking about old media, and our relationship to it, that will never sit well with those who are simply fans, and just want to consume.*** I think that’s part of why Star Wars was a “success”, and why this “wasn’t”. I think it’s why the Perfect Strangers fan community will never get past my swear words and toilet humor to see the thought (and love, I’ll admit) I put into those reviews. I don’t want to downplay the sexism inherent in the pre-criticism of this film, because that was a bunch of bullshit from whiny guys. (An aside: I believe that no one who dislikes GB2 has any fucking right to criticize this film on any basis, but that’s a post for another day. Another aside: I have some theories about why these type of guys are semi-legitimately whiny, but just can’t see the bigger picture (spoiler: it’s basically the same short-sightedness of affirmative action critics).) (Do I love my parenthetical asides or do I love my parenthetical asides?)
I’m going to say that this movie is a great balance of goofy and serious in its storytelling, and like Socrates, let’s understand the city by looking at the man. The hyper, overworking generative force of the Ghostbusting team–Jillian Holtzmann, who manages to be comic at both the broad and detailed levels****–is herself constantly clothed in a fusion of mismatched styles. I think people like to break teams into easy personality categories: the “funny” one, the “serious” one, the “nerdy” one, the “heart” of the group. You know what? Holtzmann *is* the Ghostbusters: she makes everything work and tells everybody what to do. She’s not a leader; she’s a god damn force. She’s the perfect combination of theory and practice, the perfect balance of goofy and brainy, and I fell in love with her more than I’ve swooned for any lesbian with great hair (which is strangely damn often).
Other tiny things I loved:
–There’s a scene late in the movie, where Abby is running from Rowan’s ghost; she tries to lock the door with both locks, even though we–and she–saw in the first act that there’s no amount of locks that can keep a ghost from opening a door
–Erin and Abby’s motivations can be understood through their backstory of being teased in high school for their belief in ghosts; everyone called them the “ghost girls”. At the end of the movie, the resolution of both the threat of the movie and their relationship’s arc results in their hair turning white.  I teared up at the fact their reclaiming of the put-down had taken physical form.
Things I hated:
–the Harold Ramis bust was kind of lame
–I’m primed to keep an eye out for what I call the “videogame scene” in movies like this (that is, a scene that seems to have been come up with by someone who said “this will be great in the video game”), and that scene was popping the parade balloons as they approached
–Also, this movie plays super fast and loose with whether ghosts are made of physical material, and whether the ghostbusting equipment only impacts ghosts, or the physical world as well. We got a whole sequence in Ghost Dad where Bill Cosby went from passing through an old woman’s crotch; to working on trying not to fall through the floor; to mastery over his new relation to his environment by travelling through a phone line. It felt like there were no rules, or at the very least none explained
–This movie shows its seams. I could have used a little more Rowan, and I feel like there probably was more Rowan. I’ll admit I read about the dancing scenes that were cut before I saw this, but I think I would have realized there was something missing in that part of the movie. I mean, Rowan-as-a-ghost-as-Kevin putting people into dance positions, and then nothing happening is the equivalent of one of those “scene missing” screens. Also, the scene where the team tries out Holtzmann’s inventions felt off, like there was too much edited out of it; but hey, this thing was already 105 minutes.
–Ozzy’s cameo was total shit
Lastly, I think they missed an opportunity for Bill Murray’s and Dan Aykroyd’s cameos by not having them be the bums from one of the deleted scenes from the original movie, but I suppose you can’t get everything you want.
*I love jokes about shitty colleges
**Harvey Comics tried to sue over the No Ghosts logo, claiming likeness too similar to Ghastly Trio (Casper’s brothers)
***I think you should all be paying attention to whatever South Park is going to say about this with its 20th season, because “member-berries” are certainly resonating with this line of thinking I’m going down
****never, EVER take your eyes off of her if she’s on screen; she never turns off