Bridgerton, Episode 3

Let’s talk about young women’s bodies. After all, from episodes 1-3 the Bridgerton creators have been forcing us to look upon them as commodities. Indeed, this is supposed to be a reflection of the marriage market, which puts us as viewers in the position of potential suitors, I guess. Well, we have bought into this, right? We enjoy looking at beautiful bodies, regardless of the sex, but we also enjoy criticizing bodies, especially those that break the stereotypical mold.

Bridgerton offers us such conforming and nonconforming bodies. Let’s start with the norms. While watching episode 3 with my partner, I was asked “Do they all have their boobs smashed like that and popping out over the top of the gown?” “Yes, they do,” I said. This is partially true for Bridgerton. If you played a smashed-boobs-popping-over-dress game, you’d be drunk within seconds of watching any episode. Of course any scene will include cleavage, but some of them show what appears to be outright torturous breasts. Take the opera singer, Siena’s dΓ©colletage. I was looking at it in episode 3 and thought that it looked utterly painful. How unnatural to force young, unmarried women to behave properly but require them to parade their breasts this way. Breasts for sale! Oh, sorry, it’s window shopping. You can look, but don’t touch…or if you touch don’t let anyone know.

Even our heroine Daphne is exposed in such a fashion. The only female characters not showing cleavage are Lady Danbury and Eloise. This is actually quite shocking, to be honest. I’ve seen a lot of period shows, and age does not prevent you from showing your cleavage. So what gives? I think it has something to do with women reclaiming their power. Lady Danbury doesn’t need anyone to define her, and Eloise doesn’t want a man to limit her.

Bridgerton season 1, episode 3 recap - what happened in "Art of the Swoon"?

Talk about (re)claiming your power…oh, oh, oh my god. Daphne found her groove in this episode, and I was shocked. I didn’t expect this, and as I watched this scene I laughed and said, “Well, this certainly isn’t Austen,” and thought about all those Janeites who must surely have been blushing. There’s only one thing truly off-limits when it comes to sex scenes in these kinds of shows–and that is women pleasuring themselves! Men and women having sex on screen is acceptable (for many viewers), same-sex sex is pushing the boundaries, male masturbation is taboo, too, but female onanism, well, that’s just forbidden. Women are not supposed to engage in autosexual activities, right? They are supposed to become wives, let their husbands have sex with them, and then have lots of babies. That’s how its supposed to be. Pleasure? Eh, that’s for men.

Not in Bridgerton! Young women enjoy sex in this show. That’s how we are introduced to Siena. We know Marina has had sex (cuz preggers). And now we know that Daphne can experience sexual pleasure…with herself! πŸ™‚ The episode actually begins with what you might call a wet dream. Daphne has fallen for Simon Hastings, and she’s dreaming about him a lot. There are a few scenes in the first three episodes where we see the power of touch when they are dancing, and in scene three when their hands graze each other’s in the gallery. But this is all set up for Daphne touching herself.

Bridgerton Season 1 Episode 3 | Daphne And Simon - YouTube

What’s most interesting–to me–is not that she fondles herself, but that she had not thought to do that before Hastings instructs her–in public–how to do it. What a weird, uncomfortable scene. In a sense, he is acting as a friend, a guide in this scene (and in others), and what he’s really preaching here is women’s lib! He says something like, “It’s OK to touch yourself, you know.” Alas, poor Daphne seems to not have any concept (like her sister, Eloise, apparently) of what happens at night between a husband and a wife. Hastings has to address this, albeit indirectly, too. Sheesh! These girls need to read Fanny Hill! It’s an awkward scene, and the actress plays it well, when Hastings schools her about sexual pleasure and then turns and walks away. A good student, Daphne heeds the lesson well and gets an A+ that night. πŸ™‚

I think this is an example of a nonconforming body–it shows viewers that young women can find their own pleasure. They don’t need a man to make that happen.

But there’s one more example I ask you to think about, and it’s one that’s neither shocking nor unexpected. This has to do with the size of women’s bodies. There are a few scenes in episodes 1-3 where viewers are asked to see how girls whose bodies are not deemed slender are made to feel like they are pariahs. There are a few references to eating cake–too much cake–and the size of Marina’s belly is called out in episode 3 when she is fitted for new clothes. But we expect that, right? She is being shamed for having sex outside of marriage.

Nicola Coughlan on the 'Bridgerton' Ending

Let us not forget in episode 1, though, that Penelope’s mother and sisters fat-shame her. It’s a quick moment, but it’s one that struck me, and upset me. It felt very modern to me. I know Austen made fun of girls’ bodies in her juvenilia, and I imagine within a household we might expect similar conversations to have taken place, but in a period show, bodies larger than a size 6 are not usually addressed. Rather, these bodies are the ones we don’t look at because they do not matter. Bridgerton has called these bodies to our attention, but I wish we could have just had Penelope be Penelope, not the “fat” sister.

I would love to see Penelope as a real love interest for a suitable suitor, not the girl who gets a pity dance (remember episode 1). Let’s do better. Maybe Bridgerton will do better in future episodes?

Bridgerton, Ep. 2

Dear Reader,

As I venture forth into Bridgerton I am struck by the large quantity of testosterone abounding in this silly show. Two episodes in, I cannot refrain from sharing my thoughts on the multitude of masculine ego driving various plots in this series, and in this communique I will discuss them. I must also pause to reflect on our dear favorites, Eloise and Penelope, and their ignorance concerning conception. But first…

What the fuck is wrong with the old Duke of Hastings? I mean, seriously. Oh, forgive me. I cannot imagine from whence that foul language originated. It’s so out of character for me. It’s so shocking and vulgar; I cannot imagine someone of my station would utter such words. Let me rephrase: would someone please explain why the old duke casts out his son for a speech impediment? After all, as the boy’s mother lie dying the old duke was thrilled that he finally was given a son–oh, he cared not for the source of the child (wife or no), but only that the child were male. Please accept this likeness of the Hasting men as proof of my estimation:

Bridgerton' Episode 2 Recap: "Shock And Delight"

After all the anguish over the boy’s sex–which is truly about the father’s title and honor–why would he dismiss his son at the age of four for his lack of speech and treat him so cruelly throughout his young life? (Seriously, what is to be gained from this plot other than to make us feel sympathy for the young duke and like him all the more?)

Indeed, I felt such a connection to the child when he tried to speak to the heartless duke and when he eventually asked him why he had let people believe the child dead. I also fist-pumped the air when Lady Danbury took charge of the child and raised him up to be a fine gentleman. These two characters are surely the most agreeable characters in the show. Hastings (as I will now call him, for his father is dead) has many redeeming qualities, including, but not limited to, his own sense of honor, his willingness to defend young Daphne’s honor, his wit, his charm, and let us not forget his dashing good looks. Though depicted as a rake, I see something noble in his character that I am eager to see developed.

Let us compare his finer qualities to two other men–the eldest brother Bridgerton and the nefarious Lord Berbrooke. Daphne’s brother surely has her best interest (and the family’s interests) at heart when he rejects suitor after suitor and condemns her choice (though we know it a ruse) to be courted by Hastings. Surely he isn’t truly the ass he appears to be. After all, what kind of man would tell his mistress–a beautiful opera singer, but alas of the wrong class–that he will protect her forever and then dump her (“leave,” he said) because he needs to appear to have more honor? What kind of man would accuse his own friend (dear Hastings) of “sleeping around” as the young call it when he himself is doing the same? What kind of man would prostitute his own sister to a buffoon, pray tell, because he has not been rumored to live licentiously when in fact we know he has. Indeed, Berbrooke’s maid was with child and sent to the country for good reason.

Let me share with you my thoughts on that incredulous fool. Berbrooke! Distasteful. Disgusting. Disrespectful. Disagreeable. Dishonest. How dare he compare dear Daphne to a horse? How dare he attempt to coerce her family into forcing her to marry him so that he can raise his situation? How. dare. he. He got what he deserved, in the previous episode by Daphne’s hand and in this one by Hastings’.

May I also add that Hastings gave Lord Bridgerton a few blows to the body that he also deserved? Further, I will say that I applaud Hastings’ final words to his father–what better way to send the old man packing than to deny him his own vanity. Take that, I say!

Now I must turn my thoughts to the lovely innocents, Eloise and Penelope, who naively ask, where do babies come from, mama? I have included their portraits here for your perusal:

Bridgerton Episode 2 recap: Why does Simon refuse to marry?

It seems absurd to imagine that these two girls, especially Eloise, cannot deduce how children are conceived. To state that they are the product of marriage but not to understand how seems to be written for comedic effect, but I question its placement in this plot. Eloise seems to be what the moderns would call a “feminist.” Penelope is simply ignorant, but I expect more from Eloise. I see why Penelope cannot understand the place from whence children are conceived, for this sets her up nicely to ask dear Marina how it happened and for Marina to exclaim, love! Clearly we all know that love has nothing to do with conception, for how many women have married for anything but love and have borne many children! I do wonder what the viewer is to understand here–that all girls are foolish, including Marina who is now “ruined” because she fell into the trap we dare call love?

I fear this note has exceeded the pleasure of your reading and must conclude. I welcome your thoughts about the subjects of this letter, and I look forward to writing to you again when I have learned more about the world of Bridgerton.

Your humble servant and amiable friend,

M. K.

Bridgerton, Ep. 1

That’s an unoriginal title, I know, but it’s what the blog post is about. Here begins my blogging about the new Netflix series Bridgerton, which dropped on December 25, 2020. This TV series is based on a book series by Julia Quinn, and I have neither read the books nor intend to read them. I’m going to watch the show and be fine with it! The show is created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes, whose credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get away with Murder, and more TV shows.

Of course, the Austen fans couldn’t wait for this series to arrive on Netflix, and many of them have already binge-watched the entire series and have already written reviews of the whole thing. I am doing my best to avoid those reviews because I don’t want any spoilers. I’m going to spoil it for you, though, so read no further if you haven’t watched the first episode yet. Need I type this in all caps? SPOILERS. πŸ™‚

Alright. Episode 1. So many thoughts.

Netflix's Bridgerton Review - IGN

I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t love this first episode. I like the look of the show, and I love the diversity of the cast in the show, but I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters. I always tell my students, “You don’t have to like any of the characters to be able to appreciate a work of literature.” I stand behind that statement, and if I analyze Bridgerton (always talking about the TV series when I use that moniker from here on out), I have a lot to say and can appreciate a lot about the show. If I’m just watching it for absent-minded, don’t-want-to-think pleasure, I’m not too excited about it right now. Maybe the next episode or two will change my mind.

So what I’m going to do here is think literarily about this show and make a few observations.

This is not Jane Austen. Obvious, right? Well, no. A lot of people are comparing Bridgerton to Austen (especially those who watched Sanditon), and they really shouldn’t argue that they are the same kind of plots. Just because this show is about teenagers/early twenty-somethings and is set in early 19th-century polite English society does not mean that it is Austen. Austen wrote satire and comedies of manners. Quinn wrote a historical romance series. Van Dusen and Rhimes adapted that romance for a TV audience.

The show definitely has a different agenda than Austen’s novels do, even though Bridgerton reveals the ridiculous nature of young girls being “out” in society and having to marry young and well. It’s also cruder than Austen’s world, even more so than Andrew Davies’s Sanditon, but that’s because it is not trying to be Austen.

Let’s call Bridgerton “Austen adjacent.” There are two bump-and-grind sex scenes in the first episode. One character says “fuck,” FFS. There are a lot of 21st-century influences and touches in this series that appeal to today’s audiences. The costumes are divine and do much to bring Regency England to a modern audience. I really enjoyed the use of color in the first episode–so many bright colors! So many shiny fabrics! The addition of classically played versions of Ariana Grande’s “Thank You, Next” and a Maroon 5 song (was it “Girl Like You”?) at the ball were fun, too.

I have a lot of thoughts about this show, as I said, but I won’t share them all with you quite yet. This blog post would turn out to be quite long. I won’t comment on what I think of the lead couple, the controlling brother, the controlling mother, etc. and etc. Instead I’ll share this one thing below.

The thing I appreciate most about the show is its racially mixed cast. Sometimes Janeites freak out when they see a person of color in a Regency-themed film or series and claim that it’s historically inaccurate. That’s just white people being racist, IMHO, but they don’t always realize their own prejudices. People who claim you can’t cast a Black actor in the lead role seem to forget that every film or TV version is an adaptation of Austen’s novel, so you can do whatever the heck you want with it. But I digress.

To get back to my point: I’m glad to see actors of color playing parts beyond servant or slave in a show about the time period. It’s wonderful to see the queen and two nobles not being played by white people. (In the book they’re white.) This show breaks new ground in its deliberate casting and seamless incorporation of actors of color playing characters equal and superior to white people without calling attention to that, and this is REALLY important to recognize.

Bridgerton" Cast and Characters Guide

While at first I thought the show’s plot was not calling attention to race in the time period–it seems that every actor plays their part as if skin color is not an issue in the temporal setting: in Bridgerton a duke is a duke, a queen a queen, regardless of skin color–that is surely not the case. The fact that the queen and Lady Danbury are women of color opens doors for other women of color to hold prominent roles in this society. But there still might be something racially sinister going on in the world of this show.

Bridgerton': Here's where every character ended up on season 1 - Insider

There is a subplot that I want to keep my eye on, and this is the plot surrounding Marina Thompson. When she arrives at her relatives’ home she is clearly seen by the women of the family, with the exception of one, as a threat. She is different: she is from the country; they are from the city. She is naturally beautiful; they are not. They have the artificiality of beauty–clothes, mostly–while she has an uncultivated beauty. She is a person of color; they are not. I can’t help but wonder if this is something to which we should pay more attention. By the end of the first episode we learn that Marina is pregnant. We don’t know anything more than what Marina says to her aunt, which is that not everyone has it as easy and lives a life of luxury as they (this white family) do. Then she gets a gigantic slap across the face. This scene made me feel like there is a connection between race and class, and that we should not see the show’s vision as suggesting colorblindness. Color is very much a part of this show.

Bridgerton Star Breaks Down One Of Season 1's Most Swoon-Worthy Scenes -  CINEMABLEND

This gets us back to the queen and the real queen Charlotte. We should not just say, oh, it’s nice to see a woman of color playing this role and then move on. We should consider what it means to see a woman of color sitting on an English throne in this series and what doors this opens for all characters of color in the show. We should consider how the show normalizes Black women in positions of power. We should also consider the real-life queen’s lineage, which indicates that she was descended from a Black line of the Portuguese royal family. The internet is all about this history lesson right now. Did the show’s creator and producer make this connection? I don’t know. I have yet to see them say that in an interview. Doesn’t mean they haven’t said it, though.

What I did find was the lovely Golda Rosheuval’s comments on playing the queen: “Putting that person at the top of the triangle, as a person of color, allows you to expand the boundaries.” She also says, “For a long time, people of privilege have been in charge of the storylines and storytelling. I don’t know whether they have intentionally written out Black people, because we know that there were Black people and people of color” in Regency England. More diversity in historical films and TV shows is “long overdue.” Hear, hear!

As I close this inaugural post on Bridgerton, I’ll say that I actually enjoyed writing this post more than watching the first episode. I have enjoyed thinking through what the show represents as a show more than how it represents its characters and plot. I hope to see characters developed with more depth, and assuming they do look forward to commenting on that, too. πŸ™‚

Toodles!

Wrapping up Christmas Movies

It’s time to say goodbye to the Christmas movie season. There were a lot of movies I planned to watch but didn’t get around to seeing, and there were a few I viewed between December 23-25 that I have yet to talk about. Here goes!

First up: Operation Christmas Drop.

I watched this movie over a few days in twenty-minute intervals, and then on the 24th I finished up the last bit. I was skeptical about this film upon seeing it advertised on Netflix. It looked like another one of those uptight girl meets come-on-loosen-up guy, and then they fall in love and the world is grand. In a way it was just that, but there’s more to this film.

For one thing, the acting in this film is actually pretty good (as far as Xmas movies go). I like Kat Graham, and the guy playing her would-be-love-interest, Alexander Ludwig, seems goofy at first but really does a fine job of playing the role. I didn’t recognize him at first, but once I looked him up on the ‘net I found that he played Cato in The Hunger Games.

I have to say that the plot was not as predictable as one might expect for the genre, and the message of this movie is about more than romance. This film has a lot of heart, and it’s about giving, not receiving. There are some white-savior moments in the film, but that has a lot to do with the fact that the movie is based on the actual Operation Christmas Drop program, which I didn’t even realize was a real thing until after the movie was over. Lesson learned!

Next up: Die Hard. I watched this film when it first came out in 1988, and I swear that I haven’t seen it since…until December 24th. Wow. I have this memory of the walking on glass scene–which apparently traumatized me because I still kind of freak out at the thought of it–and the funny thing is that watching the movie again showed me that I had constructed a memory of John McClane walking on glass when in the film we don’t actually see him doing it. We only see his glass-poked, bloody foot afterwards.

OK. Enough of the trip into Misty’s psyche. Let’s talk about this Christmas movie–yup, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. It’s set at Christmas time, so in my book that makes it a Christmas film. It has some of those classic Christmas messages, like don’t take for granted your loved ones, say “fuck” a lot to get through tough times, and don’t try to fake an accent that will clearly show you’re not American or German. Alan Rickman does a great job in this film of being “the bad guy,” but he doesn’t sound German to me.

I love three things about this movie: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, and Reginald VelJohnson. These three are like the trifecta for me, the trinity, the…OK, I’ll stop. Actually, VelJohnson is near and dear to my heart, for he played the dad in Family Matters, which I grew up watching! He’s superb in Die Hard, IMHO.

If you haven’t seen Die Hard in a while, put it on your watch list. Yippee-ki-yay!

Last up: It’s a Wonderful Life. I try to watch this film every year, as it is also one of my favorite movies ever. This year I fell asleep about 30 minutes in on Christmas day because I drank a pretty strong margarita! I planned to go back and watch the rest of the film but never got around to it. I’ll try to watch it in full next year and blog about it then. Or maybe I’ll watch it on New Year’s Day because it also feels like a NYD movie.

For now, I’m all done with Xmas movies. I look forward to 2021 Christmas time, and I pray to the godz that I’ll be spending it with my family, and you with yours.

Β‘Feliz AΓ±o Nuevo!

Gremlins and (White) American Patriarchy

Gremlins at 35: The timely return of Joe Dante's controversial creatures

I’m back at it again, y’all. I’m Grinching up your (and my) favorite Christmas shows.

Last night I decided to watch the Steven Spielberg classic, Gremlins (1984). I actually own the DVD (thanks, mom!) because this is one of my favorite movies of all time. That’s right. It’s not just one of my favorite Christmas movies. It’s one of my fav-o-rite movies ever.

I’m not afraid to point out a few–ok, a lot of–things about the film that are much darker than those scheming little gremlins, and in this blog post I’m gonna do just that. Let’s talk about (smashing) the patriarchy!

Let me reiterate how much I love this movie. This criticism of white American patriarchy I am about to talk about is actually a part of the movie’s lesson–not just my feminist ranting. Let me offer some examples, most of which bear on a character who is virtually absent from the middle of the movie: Mr. Peltzer.

Pin by Crystal West on Name that, great movie! | Gremlins, Movies, Great  movies

OK, here we go. Think about all of these elements of the movie and what they represent:

  • Mr. Peltzer’s ruse (?) to be shopping for his son (of an indeterminate age) a gift for Christmas, and his imposition upon the Chinatown shop owner, Mr. Wing, in which he tries to sell him one of his crappy inventions
  • Mr. Peltzer’s ridiculous, deficient inventions (and this is shown in multple scenes in the home and in public places)
  • Mr. Peltzer’s decision to go to an invention convention at the risk of not being with his family on Christmas day
  • Mr. Peltzer’s insistence on buying the mogwai (and raising the price to get what he wants)
  • Mr. Peltzer’s underhanded purchase of the mogwai from Mr. Wing’s grandson
  • Mr. Peltzer’s decision to name the mogwai Gizmo, thus turning the creature into another one of his inventions
  • Pete’s tree-selling dad’s insistence on making his son dress as a Christmas tree and deliver the trees to people’s cars and houses. How cruel!
  • Mr. Fudderman’s rant about everything foreign being bad (including what he calls “gremlins,” thus giving the film its namesake)
  • Gerald’s prickishness (already climbed that business ladder at 23 and flaunting it in Kate and Billy’s faces; his asking her out on a date just to show her his cable TV and nice apartment)
  • Mr. Peltzer’s great idea to produce more Gizmos so that every kid in America can have one–even though he knows that there are strict rules (don’t get them wet, direct sunlight will kill them, and don’t feed them after midnight) for caring for such creatures (which don’t seem to bother him a bit–especially the last rule, of which at this time he has yet to experience the effects) [P.S. Mogwai means devil in Cantonese, and Peltzer might have known better than to multiply the little devils if he knew that.]
  • The gremlins’ uncanny ability to manipulate technology, caricature human vices, and simply be utterly selfish and destructive
  • The sheriff and deputy’s attitudes and mockery of Billy
  • Their selfishness when they see the guy dressed as Santa being attacked by gremlins (they roll up their windows and drive off)
  • Kate’s story about her dad who had to prove his Santa chops by crawling down a chimney and breaking his neck (i.e., capitalism and the performativity of Christmas)
  • Mr. Wing’s concluding statement to the Peltzers as he comes to collect Gizmo about how they (as representatives of Western society) are not ready for the responsibility of taking care of the mogwai, and–most important–how (white?) men have no respect for nature. “You didn’t listen!” Mr. Wing says. “You have done with Mogwai what your society has done with all of nature’s gifts!” As he leaves the Peltzers’ home he reminds them of the value of listening.

Check out this final scene:

There are surely many more things to discuss regarding the film’s obvious critique of American patriarchy. How about the film’s first death: the Black school teacher, Mr. Hanson? (Do with this what you will. You know what I’m thinking.) Surely I should say something about the relationship between Stripe and Gizmo, or Stripe and Billy. What would you add? Let me know what I missed.

Let me also say that the women in this film are kick ass. Mrs. Peltzer is a beast! She defends her home, almost to the death of herself, and takes those gremlins down! Kate works one job for the pay and other for free, and when the volunteer gig puts her in harm’s way–I mean she is basically trapped by a horde of gremlins who want to be fed and served booze and cigarettes, and some of which actually shoot at her with a gun–she is smart and quick on her feet. She also helps Billy take down the gremlins en masse while they are watching Snow White, and then when Billy asks her to find all the light switches in the store she shows no fear. She goes for it. I should also say a word about Mrs. Deagle. Clearly the film’s human villain and the worst representative of capitalism, you gotta appreciate that she is not falling for anyone’s shit. She’s playing her part through and through, and she’s a crazy cat lady.

To be honest, I like the character of Billy. He is genuine and kind, and it’s refreshing to find a positive model of white American masculinity in an 80s movie. At the end Mr. Peltzer doesn’t try to stop Mr. Wing from taking the mogwai back, which is a sign of improvement. I still blame him for all of the chaos and deaths that occur in Kingston Falls, though. If he had not insisted on giving his son the mogwai, none of this would have happened. His desire to give a grown man (Billy) a fuzzy pet is odd and IMHO a sign of his vanity.

Anyway, I’ll end here and say Merry Christmas. Just watch out for COVID and carolers.

11 holiday movie tropes Gremlins turns on their heads 11 holiday movie-isms  Gremlins turns on their heads

Killer Santas and Why You Shouldn’t Get Married on Christmas Eve

The Runaway Bride (Doctor Who) - Wikipedia

Last night I decided to watch a Doctor Who Christmas episode: “The Runaway Bride” from 2006 featuring David Tennant (my doctor) and Catherine Tate. This was Tennant and Tate’s first pairing, but Whovians know it wouldn’t be their last.

This episode features a bride, Donna Noble, who is walking down the aisle to wed her beloved beau and suddenly evaporates before the wedding-goers’ eyes and ends up in the T.A.R.D.I.S. For those of you who don’t know what that means–it’s the Doctor’s time machine spaceship thingy. πŸ™‚

The Runaway Bride (TV story) | Tardis | Fandom

I won’t spill all the details for those of you who haven’t seen the episode and want to watch it, but I will say that I learned a few valuable lessons from this episode:

  1. Watch out for hordes of Santa Clauses playing random Christmas music in public areas.
  2. Watch out for Santa Clauses who are actually Killer Santas because they are alien robots.
  3. Watch out for men who are willing to make you coffee every day at work.
  4. Don’t get married on Christmas Eve.

Well, there you go. The more you know!

Gallifrey!" The Doctor vs Empress of the Racnoss | The Runaway Bride |  Doctor Who - YouTube

Merry Christmas from the The Doctor.

White Christmas and the Problem of Whiteness

White Christmas Archives - The Ribbon in My Journal - Phyllis Hoffman  DePiano

Let me start by saying that I like a lot of things about the 1954 film, White Christmas. I love the sisters song (shown above), first and foremost, and I like most of the music. I like Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. I like the dance numbers. I like the sweetness of loyalty.

I don’t like the fact that the only person of color in this film is a waiter/bartender, and I don’t like the implications of one of the dance routines and corresponding songs. I have been watching this movie for years, but in the wake of Black Lives Matter this film feels more problematic than I had previously recognized. Before talking about this, I have to say something about the film’s predecessor, Holiday Inn.

You won’t find the 1942 Holiday Inn airing on public television or streaming on Netflix or Amazon for free as you will White Christmas. Why? Because it’s racist AF. The blackface scenes–plural–are horrific and almost beyond belief. FFS, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds, you really shouldn’t have done those numbers. You shouldn’t have said those words. No. Just no. Here’s the big number:

But it’s more than the songs. The scene where actress in blackface is worried about looking ugly is jaw dropping. The scenes with “Mammie” and her children are patronizing. Take all of that out of the film, and it would be OK (this site disagrees)–but you can’t take it out. You have to watch this film knowing that it represents its culture through those scenes. So, I cannot enjoy this movie.

I thought that White Christmas might be safe to watch, but as I was watching it again this weekend I realized that it is not. Holiday Inn might be said to be the mama of White Christmas, for in the former audiences are introduced to the now class song “White Christmas.” But it might also be the ancestor of the latter film’s racism, and I’m not the first person to notice this. Watch this clip first:

Seems harmless at first, right? Just a bunch of white people dancing around. Nothing sounds racist–nothing looks to be racist (no blackface at least)–but the fact that this scene is labeled a minstrel show and includes elements of a caricaturist nature (the banjo, the cartoonish hands of the props, etc.) bring me right back to the latent racism embedded in this white, white, whiiiiiiite Christmas. This scene is a whitewashing scene.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, hey, don’t ruin my favorite Christmas shows for me. I heard that when I blogged about the stop motion animation and gender. But you know what…I am not ruining these shows for anyone. I’m pointing out what they are and what they do. You can still enjoy the other scenes, but you can’t overlook the ones you don’t want to think about because they cut through the fantasy to show signs of a harsh reality.

Am I being too harsh? Merry Christmas! πŸ™‚

Stop Motion Animated Christmas Shows and the Problem of Gender

Hermey and Rudolph
TV: Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Hallmark Christmas movie | Raleigh News  & Observer
A Young Santa
Heat Miser & Snow Miser: The Year Without a Santa Claus - See the song and  get the lyrics! (1974) - Click Americana
Heat Miser and Snow Miser

I hope you recognize these TV stills because they represent some of the best Christmas programming ever. I’m not even joking. Stop motion animation is so very cool, and if you don’t think so I don’t think we can remain friends.

I grew up with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and it is so dear (deer? 🦌) to me. πŸ˜€ I still watch it ever year. This year I watched it twice…in a row…on December 20. I was grading, too. Christmas shows help me grade for whatever reason.

I didn’t see Santa Claus is Coming to Town until I was an adult and had cable TV. Same goes for The Year without a Santa Claus. I’m not as keen on the former, even though it has some wacky stuff in it, but I love Snow Miser and Heat Miser so much. Like, I adore them. I could do without the people (except for the Clauses, of course–are they even people?) and elves, but I guess you gotta have them in the show. πŸ˜€

On the 20th, I watched about a 1/3 of Santa Claus is Coming to Town before turning it off and moving on to some other task. I actually was multitasking while watching The Year without a Santa Claus, but as soon as my boys (Miser bros.) came on, I stopped what I was doing to enjoy the show.

After so many years of watching shows you know and love you might think there’s nothing new to see, nothing new to hear. Well, let me tell you otherwise.

Let’s start with Rudolph. While I’ve always been so confused about what is wrong with that Misfit doll, I won’t get on my high horse about it. Yeah, right. Of course I will. Wtf is wrong with that Misfit doll? She doesn’t have a nose? Her hair is the wrong color? What??!!

Oh, wait. The producer finally revealed in 2007 what was wrong with this 1964 doll: she has psychological issues. She feels abandoned and unloved. She is depressed. WHAT? So I fell down the rabbit hole with this one.

First I learned that the show is based on a 1939 story by Robert Mays. Then I learned (if this site is to be believed) that the 1964 version started out with toys only for boys, and by 1965 someone decided, oh, hey, we need a doll for a girl. They forgot about girls watching the show? While I don’t love the implication that girls can only play with dolls, and I hate that gender norm (girls have to be caretakers and mothers so let’s only give them dolls to play with), I am even more troubled by the fact that they didn’t think about this originally.

But there are a few more gender issues in the show.

Only boy reindeer get to train for Santa’s team, and the girls get to watch and look pretty. This sets up the romance with Clarice, but it’s so heteronormative.

Hermey is shown to be too feminine (which means in this world he wants to be a dentist–no seriously he is too caring and is sick of being an elf robot), while Cornelius, daddy reindeer, and even Santa are shown to be too masculine (which in 1964/5 means that they like weapons, don’t care about their kids, or are just plain old jerks at times).

Don’t get me started on the Abominable Snowman.

Abominable Snow Monster | Antagonists Wiki | Fandom

They pulled out all his damn teeth, and I feel like this must be Freudian! It’s either about repressed sexuality or castration. The monster becomes a pet who can put a star on a tree. Big whoop! I love Bumble, actually. He’s one of my favorite characters–despite the fact that he was ready to eat those reindeer. πŸ˜€

OK, enough criticism of a show I actually love! I’ve been teaching a course on monsters and a course on gender this fall, so I have so many thoughts that I didn’t have before. I hope I will forget them all so that I can enjoy the show next year. πŸ˜€

No, really. I’ll move on….I’m going to breeze over the 1970 Santa Claus discussion. There’s some weird gender stuff in this one that is all medieval knight-in-shining-armor shit. There’s the bad guy and the good guy (Santa) and of course there’s a girl. As I didn’t get that far in the show this time, I’ll stop there and move on to the 1974 Year without a Santa Claus. [Note: both of these shows were created by the dynamic duo, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., and they created more than these two, by the way.]

I’m not sure how I never noticed this before, but there’s a feminist fantasy embedded in this one–and it’s Mrs. Claus’s.

I Could Be Santa Claus | Christmas Specials Wiki | Fandom

Santa’s all oh, I am sick and can’t deliver presents this year. Mrs. C is like ok, you go rest…and I’ll do your job! She puts on his outfit and says anyone can be Santa Claus! Damn right, Mrs. C. (What’s your first name, again?) Check it out.

What did you notice? I noticed that she suggests that being Santa is playing a part. She is saying that even a woman can play Santa–sex and gender don’t matter–it’s all about the clothes. Calling Judith Butler! Santa = performative. Santa = gender. Gender = performative. “Anyone can play Santa,” Mrs. C says, “I’ve fantasized about it a lot!” Then she puts on the outfit and there’s a gender transition. Mrs. C becomes Mr. C, and, oh, shit! It’s brilliant.

But, it’s only a fantasy. When the elves show up and see her in the costume they recognize her and she takes off the garb. Then she takes charge by trying to find a way to make Santa Claus believe in Christmas again; this includes sending elves to Earth to report back how much everyone still loves him and eventually takes her, along with the elves, to see the fearsome Snow Miser and Heat Miser. (To be honest, they aren’t scary. Snow Miser is kind of funny and sweet, while Heat Miser is just a guy with a bad attitude.) This woman is smart and brave!

***

I did not scour the internet to see if anyone has written about gender in these three shows. Surely someone has. If not, now someone has. πŸ™‚ πŸŽ… 🀢

The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop's Wife - Wikipedia

I first watched The Bishop’s Wife over ten years ago. I remember liking it when I saw it, and as I was scrolling through Amazon Prime’s holiday offerings looking for something not-horrible, I saw that it was available. I watched it on the 19th, and I really enjoyed it this time. Maybe I was multitasking the first time I watched it because again I remembered very little about this movie.

The Bishop's Wife (RKO, 1948). Photos (3) (8" X 10.25") & Trimmed | Lot  #54043 | Heritage Auctions

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, so I won’t tell you what happens in the movie. I will say that you should watch this movie. It’s well acted. The plot is interesting. It’s cute. It’s funny. It’s got Cary Grant in it. What’s not to love. I am Cary Grant fan. You?

The Nitrate of the Hunter on Twitter: "We are all Elsa Lanchester looking  at Cary Grant in THE BISHOP'S WIFE.… "

But there’s another reason to watch this film. There’s an actress playing the maid that might look familiar to you. As I was watching it this year I thought, huh, that actress seems familiar. As the movie progressed it came to me. She plays the Bride of Frankenstein in the 1935 film. Whoa! Here she is in the 1947 film looking nothing like her monstrous self from the previous film, but she has such amazing eyes and eyebrows, and the contour of her face is remarkable. I was so happy to see her.

I also noticed a few other familiar faces in this film. Two of the child actors from It’s a Wonderful Life (IAWL) are in this movie. The girl who plays Zuzu and the boy who plays a young George are in the film. The woman who plays the piano in this movie I think is also in IAWL. Again, pleasure. I love intertextuality, and it felt like an intertextual moment to see the stars from the 1947 film showing up in the 1948 film.

If you haven’t watched this film, it’s a must-see. If you have seen it, watch it again. It’s a delight!

Charlie Brown and Vince Guaraldi Trio

From December 13-17 I didn’t watch any Christmas shows. Why? I was Zooming every day (Monday through Friday of last week), and I was wiped out. I still had the Christmas spirit, but I decided to listen to it instead of watching it.

GUARALDI, VINCE - Charlie Brown Christmas - Amazon.com Music

I listened to a lot of Xmas music last week, but the one album I put on repeat is Vince Guaraldi Trio’s 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas. I love this album, and I could listen to it all year long–but I don’t because I have a post-Thanksgiving Christmas music policy. πŸ™‚ This is seriously one of my favorite albums of all time. I always listen to the album with the bonus tracks, as shown below.

Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas (Doghouse Edition CD) –  Craft Recordings

This album is my kind of jazz album. I love the music apart from its attachment to the cartoon, but I won’t lie–the attachment to the show makes it all the more enjoyable for me, for I also grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. I didn’t really appreciate the album until I was an adult.

Good grief: 50 things about 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'

On Friday the 18th after a rough day I decided I needed some comfort viewing, so I put on Charlie Brown. I loved it as much as I always have. I like every scene in this show, but there are a few that stand out. One is shown above–the stage dancing is something I actually do at home. I try to do each of the characters’s dancing. I don’t attempt to play instruments, though. πŸ™‚ Another is Lucy’s The Doctor is In scene and the moments when Snoopy is mocking Lucy.

Here’s my favorite scene, and this may surpise you:

“All I want is what I have c-coming to me. All I want is my fair share.” Classic Sally, and I love it. She represents capitalist, commercialist Christmas culture, and she has no reservations about it. I could write an essay on this, but for the sake of this blog I will just say that while I recognize that the girls in this show fall into stereotypical gender roles, I also appreciate Lucy and Sally’s gusto and willingness to go for what they want. πŸ™‚

Sometimes I am a Lucy, sometimes a Sally. Sometimes I’m a Snoopy, sometimes a Charlie Brown. I love how this show gives us so many character types that I can identify with. Whose your favorite Charlie Brown Christmas character? What’s your favorite scene, and why?