Category Archives: Movies + TV

How the 13 Reasons Why Response is Reshaping the Conversation about Trigger Warnings

13 Reasons Why trigger warnings PTSD
On May 1
st, Netflix issued a statement explaining that they will be adding a trigger warning to their hit series 13 Reasons Why, acknowledging the danger of exposing audiences to “graphic content” such as suicide and sexual assault. This decision was in part a result of pressure from mental health advocates, school administrators, and psychologists who fear that the show’s depictions of suicide could result in the contagion effect, in which publicizing suicide increases suicide attempts. Although suicide and sexual assault trigger warnings are guarding against vastly different reactions, as one attempts to prevent a person from taking their life and the other alerts the viewer to potential PTSD reactions, putting them in the same disclaimer is powerful.  By putting suicide ideation trigger warnings beside sexual assault trigger warnings, Netflix is taking the  PTSD responses of assault survivors seriously, and publically acknowledging that these can have serious physical repercussions.

In a society that constantly delegitimizes the magnitude of sexual assault trauma, seeing a major force in TV voice concern for sexual assault victims is a step to a public recognition of sexual assault as a devastating crime.  Just as suicide ideation is dangerous, being unexpectedly triggered is not just emotionally upsetting; it’s physically harmful.  Teenagers are the target audience for the show, which arguably makes the call for trigger warnings more pressing. For young people who are susceptible to self-harm, media that triggers suicide ideation could pose a real threat.  This is the main reason why Netflix received so much pressure to add trigger warnings to 13 Reasons Why, while much of their triggering content targeted at adults remains trigger warning-free. Although much of Netflix’s content still lacks trigger warnings, placing a warning on 13 Reasons Why is a step in the right direction, as it sets an example for adult television and teaches a new generation to acknowledge that sexual assault has real repercussions.

This conversation is far cry from the adamant rejection of trigger warnings of just a year ago, and marks an important cultural shift. Fox’s Greg Gutfeld’s 2016 article “The Ultimate ‘Safe Space’ is a Coffin,” for example, called calls trigger warnings on college campuses “psychological bubble wrap” and safe spaces “ball pits for babies.” This rhetoric was not just sequestered to right-wing media, as academic institutions classified trigger warnings as the unnecessary coddling of young adults, from American University officially discouraging them to the University of Chicago banning them completely. “We do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’” University of Chicago’s Dean of Students John Ellison told the class of 2020 in their admissions letter. “We do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”  Here, Ellison is equating trigger warnings with censorship. Safe spaces, to Ellison, are places to retreat and hide from ideas, as opposed to places to find literal bodily security. Continue reading

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How Girls See Girls: A Closer Look at Pretty Little Liars Before Its Final Season

Pretty Little Liars feminist
There’s a lot of gossip but a dearth of good scholarship about Pretty Little Liars, or, familiarly, PLL. Why is this? It’s true, PLL is dumb. The show—the final ten episodes of which begin airing next week on April 18th—revolves around four or five girls, each a different shade of Disney princess, each from improbably wealthy families. The drama begins when queen bee Alison goes missing; a year after her funeral, her friends start receiving texts that threaten to expose them as liars, lesbians, precocious Lolita types and/or former fat kids. Occasionally they get group texts, like this one: “I’m still here bitches, and I know everything. -A”

Spoiler alert: this show gets so fucked up, I don’t know how it was ever on television, let alone ABC Family. A, the anonymous author of these texts, will eventually break into their Chinese takeaway, fill it with dirt and worms, then text: “This is what live bait looks like.” In a separate episode, A will extract the fortunes from their fortune cookies and replace it with a note of their own: “Liars and tigers and bitches, oh my!” A will sneak into their cafeteria and tamper with their Alphabits, replacing all 25 other letters with A. (This episode is called “Touched by an A-ngel.”) A will sabotage a memorial fashion show with heavy metal guitar and flame graphics, screaming over the PA: “THE BITCH IS DEAD!” In their final coup, A will build a dollhouse in the middle of nowhere, with fascimile replicas of the girls’ rooms, then submit them to psychological battery. One will wake up covered in blood; another will get her hair cut short. A is that unpredictable.

Who is A? It doesn’t matter. Like Twin Peaks, Pretty Little Liars is most enjoyable when it meanders, when the lead character gets lost in the woods or stuck in a strangers’ cabin. The comparisons end there. Twin Peaks was sexy and cool; Pretty Little Liars is not. It’s a flaming circus tent of tween vulgarity, a Sweet Sixteen cake that’s pink, black, and mostly fondant. Adam Lambert makes a cameo as himself. Every week is either Halloween or homecoming, and every dance is a masquerade ball. Actually, every day is a masquerade: no one needs an occasion to wear fascinators in earnest or corsets as outerwear. If you find the Dresden Dolls cringe worthy, you’ll find Pretty Little Liars disgusting. Trust me, I do. Continue reading

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On Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, Mental Illness, & the “Ugly Cry”

Carrie Mathison Homeland feminist mental illness

It was in my couples’ counselor’s office, after a breakup, where I first realized I identified with Carrie on Homeland. The therapist was smart, Buddhist, queer, and clearly of the opinion we should have broken up much earlier. Even though he had told us both he would only see us as a couple and not alone (because we fought over him) he had agreed to see me solo once to debrief.  We wound up talking about Homeland.

Carrie Mathison is not a beloved character. The trolls hate her, especially what they refer to as her “ugly cry.” When Carrie cries, it is a mix of anguish and outrage; she does not get doe-eyed, while a tear gently rolls down her cheek.  Her face twists; her lips quiver; her voice cracks… she embodies what the artist Louise Bourgeois once said about her emotions, “they are disproportionate to my size.”  Carrie is played by Claire Danes, formerly of My So Called Life. Her character on Homeland is a CIA agent, a single mother, and bipolar.  What I love about the portrayal of mental illness on this show is that it does not separate her gifts from her demons; it does not lock a part of her in a box and label it crazy. While it causes pain to her and those she loves, it is Carrie’s mania that sometimes allows her to find the truth.

I’m not a spy but I might have the skillset—a combination of passion, paranoia, and a propensity for relentless obsession. When I want to find something out, I usually do. Driven by both heart and humiliation, I can usually tell you what all my significant exes are up to, no matter how many ways they block me. These days, I mostly temper these impulses in my personal life, but reading the news can feel like an invitation to uncover the secrets of a Russian spy movie. I have to make myself turn it off and watch something soothing before sleep. Homeland decidedly does not fit this bill, but, like Carrie, I don’t always do what’s good for me. This was driven home recently, by season 6, episode 7, when Carrie’s young daughter is taken away by Child Services because she is seen as being in imminent danger. This is, of course, a triggering fear for any parent, but for me, it felt disproportionately personal. Like Carrie, I’m also a single mom (although I’m lucky to have a great co-parent). Like Carrie, I also reside in Brooklyn.  Also like Carrie, I have been diagnosed with bipolar illness.  Continue reading

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A Love Letter to Single Mothers & Their Daughters — For the Gilmore Girls and the Rest of Us

 

I’ll confess that I was excited to write a piece about the Gilmore Girls reboot. The idea of course came before Trump happened. I was not anticipating the reboot to be a racist, misogynist, body-shaming, ageist, and flat out weird piece of garbage, but I guess it’s fitting, since so is Trump (badum ching). I was ready for it to be a capitalist fetish fest but not like that, not an excruciating series that confirms that Lorelei lost the struggle to save her daughter and herself from bourgeois entitled nonsense. Remember when Lorelei wouldn’t let Emily buy her daughter extra skirts for school because she doesn’t need them? I know this battle was already done with the appearance of Logan, but the reboot—with its sad, bizarre, and uneven writing—confirmed for me that Gilmore Girls is a cautionary tale for women and girls who want to imagine and create their own homes, their own joys. And it is for that reason that I want to write about Gilmore Girls—especially now considering Netflix talk of a possible second revival.

Gilmore Girls came out when I was just out of high school (a shocking fact because I think of it as a backdrop to my high school years). I was working at a chain restaurant where I had to sing about sombreros while I attended community college full-time. I was driven by getting out of my particular small town, driven by the strangely abrupt alert feeling that coming out of family transition and trauma rattled in me, driven by my mother who would drape a blanket over my shoulders as I typed away on an aged computer late into the night, me smelling of “faquitas” (Really it was butter that they’d drop on a skillet so that it’d look sizzling hot, so yes my skin was great then) and coffee. My mom was working like she’s always worked (a lot) and created her own spaces like she always had—waking before the sun and sipping coffee while slowly walking her garden. We were coming off of four years of rebuilding and creating home. We would watch Gilmore Girls between hurried dinner and homework and ironing tomorrow’s clothes and washing dishes and talking about that person at work and wringing out stockings and feeding the dog. Continue reading

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Gusbands, Gusbandry and Gunnymoons: An Interview with Alicia J. Rose


The Benefits of Gusbandry

Last month, Alicia J. Rose’s comedy series The Benefits of Gusbandry went live on the web in conjunction with a crowdfunding campaign for new episodes. We had a chance to talk to her about her anything-but-vanilla gay comedy.

Sarah McCarron: Where to start. There’s so much to chat about.

Alicia J. Rose: I’m plucking my eyebrows while talking to you.

SM: I love it. So, “Gusbandry.” Why don’t we just start with the term actually. Is that a term you made up or is that a term that existed before?

AJR: Well, the term “gusband” has been around for a while. I think that it has always been a term of endearment, but “gusbandry” is a term that I did make up. I don’t know of another word to describe the relationships I have with the gay men in my life. I mean, they’re not just friendships. They are comprised of emotionally enriched in-depth relationships that for me have lasted a lot longer than my romantic relationships because, I just blow those up really bad.

SM: Aw.

AJR: Not on purpose, but I feel like I was just born with a shitty picker. The show was born out of my relationship with my most recent gusband, Lake, but I’ve been having these relationships my whole life with gay male friends. Once I put that together, that’s when I realized that I had to make a show.

SM: Are your relationships with gusbands exclusive?

AJR: Well, I like to call myself “polygusbandrous” because I can’t have just one, you know. If I attracted straight men like I attract gay men, life would have been a very different journey for me. The relationships with my gusbands are the most powerful and have been more consistent in a way. I had to make a tribute to them somehow.

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Shhh: I’m a Black Woman who Watches Gilmore Girls

I was Rory Gilmore. I spent 9th grade at a high school where I was woefully unchallenged. Like Rory, I transferred from that school to a rigorous college prep high school (complete with knee-length multicolored skirts). I was an outsider who couldn’t quite figure out how the privileged system worked, at first. I too had my sights set on the Ivy League and eventually realized those dreams. I struggled my first year at Princeton by taking on more than I could handle, and even took part of a year off. For me, like Rory, reading was as natural, as necessary, as breathing.

Gilmore Girls was the family-friendly show that I could watch with my mother, as we both wished our relationship was more Lorelai and Rory and less Emily and Lorelai. I took pride in understanding more and more of the show’s obscure pop culture references with each round of reruns on Netflix. It never occurred to me to be frustrated by the stark lack of diversity on the show. The differences between Rory’s privileged suburban life and my ‘hood and poverty-adjacent life did not bother me; I ignored them in order to solidly place myself in her world. 

When news of the revival hit the internet, I responded with squeals and over-the-top Facebook statuses filled with exclamation points. It was meant to be a reunion with old friends. I built it up in my mind to be everything I wished seasons 6 and 7 (after the departure of Amy Sherman-Palladino) would be. I imagined Rory and Paris conquering the world, harnessing the passion and focus of their Chilton days, and directing it with the maturity of lessons learned. 

I reflected on the various ways that I still was Rory Gilmore: Since the series ended in 2007, I have become a freelance writer and gotten an MFA. I’m a writer, like Rory. I’m an Ivy League graduate, like Rory. When I sat down with a friend I met at the VONA/Voices workshop to binge watch the revival, I went into it with the hope that it would be the mirror I had imagined the show was. 

Admittedly, my hopes were, dare I say, a bit ridiculous. It was unfair, and yes, maybe even naive to expect that Rory—with her white, upper-class Connecticut background—would reflect my life back to me. I have changed—I am Rory Gilmore, but not. In the years since my first Gilmore Girls viewings, I have seen myself in Grey’s Anatomy’s Miranda Bailey, How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating, Scandal’s Olivia Pope, and Queen Sugar’s Charley Bordelon West. Black women in media like Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay have spoiled me with strong black female leads, and challenged me with deeply flawed, complicated, real characters.  Continue reading

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Space to Roam: An Interview with Kelly Sears

Kelly Sears is one of my favorite filmmakers. Using animation as her primary medium, Sears animates cut up and collage appropriated imagery focused on American politics and culture to create interventions of the history found within each frame. In New York City this week, where Sears was in town to screen a body of her work at Anthology Film Archives, I had a chance to ask her a few questions.

Kelly Sears

Cathy de la Cruz: How long would you say you’ve been operating at the vanguard of non-commercial cinema? What lead you to begin making experimental moving image work?

Kelly Sears: I saw my first hand cranked 16mm camera at Hampshire College and just thought this little apparatus could do so much, all powered by me cranking it! Movies can be made by large teams – or movies could be made by one person experimenting and asking a lot of questions. It was the first time that making films seemed like something I could do as an individual. This was at the time where digital video was taking hold and it was all about progress and technology. I was really captured by smaller, individual experimental films I was seeing in my classes. I’d loved the abstract films, animations, essayistic work and strange narratives that were screened and I wanted to make all of the above. I also took a video class as Smith College and got my first introduction to feminist moving image communities.

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The Strongest Girls in the World: A Review of Wigs

Still image from WIGS

Writer/performer/director/artist/professor Lindsay Beamish thinks about rooms a lot. Some of her earliest art projects show a fascination with women in abandoned rooms. Ms. Beamish likes to make jokes while alone in her bedroom, and she once locked herself in a motel room in the middle of nowhere Wyoming to write her Master’s thesis, which garnered her the Iron Horse Discovered Voices Award in 2011.

Beamish describes her current project, Wigs, as being about “two captured preteen girls locked in a room.” Wigs is a two-woman theatrical piece written, directed and starring Lindsay Beamish and Amanda Vitiello, and is currently showing at the New York International Fringe Festival. The origins of Wigs began with Beamish and Vitiello, in an empty room. According to the Wigs Artist’s Note, it began with “the impetus of challenging ourselves to work in ways that we hadn’t before; ways that were uncomfortably outside of our typical modes of creating original theater.” Rehearsal for Wigs began with Beamish shouting commands at Vitiello, who only brought with her to that initial rehearsal space The Flo Rida featuring Sia song, “Wild Ones,” which is prominently featured in the final piece.

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I Feminist <3 Harley Quinn: An Apologia. Kinda.


Yeah, I feminist <3 Harley Quinn
. I just saw Suicide Squad. I know little about the other Harley Quinns—the many versions in DC comic books and animated TV shows and video games–so I can’t really speak to those. But I can say what I noticed about the Harley Quinn in the movie.

The movie doesn’t know who it wants Harley Quinn to be. But I don’t care—I still feminist <3 her.

No, that’s a lie. I totally care. I care about the mess of contradictory characterizations and the abusive version of BDSM* that Harley and the Joker’s relationship represents in the movie. I care so fucking much that I want to blast my way through the shitshow of David Ayer’s narrative with Harley’s LOVE/HATE pistol and make it my own, take that text and chew it like gum and blow it back out in a big pink bubble that is sticky sweet and strong and whole. Continue reading

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So Wet: Crying & Gender on The Bachelor

Artwork exploring female tears, the romance plot, and the fantasy of reality in the Bachelor franchise.

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The Whole Package - The Bachelor artworkThe Whole Package, 2016, Fabric, thread, packing peanuts, 35 x 29 x 6″

 

Please Accept My Rose - The Bachelor artworkPlease Accept My Rose, 2016, Fabric, thread, dye, gesso, polyfil, 19 x 21 x 14″

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