Saturday, February 09, 2013

Fan Theory

I read this fan theory online today that was specifically referred to as a "fan theory" and even more exactly as a "mind-blowing fan theory" about the film Labyrinth. It goes like this: the whole film is a metaphor for a girl struggling with the onset of puberty.

I don't think that's a "fan theory" so much as an analysis of the film's subtext, or a "mind-blowing fan theory" so much as it's totally fucking obvious. It's a fairy tale, and almost every fairy tale that has stood the test of time has been about a girl struggling with the onset of puberty. There's a reason Little Red Riding Hood strikes a chord with people much more than that one about the guy who wears the bearskin to turn into a bear.

I mean, jeez, Labyrinth is one of my all time favorite movies, but it can basically be boiled down to this: Jennifer Connelly has to try and navigate her way through an ever-changing maze (her changing body), evade David Bowie's codpiece's weird advances, learn who to trust, and accept maturity and responsibility. And then she gets a baby at the end of it.

I mean, come on. If you don't get that you either aren't paying attention or haven't seen it since you were 10. It's hardly revelatory. You kind of oversold the "mind-blowing" bit of it.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Simpsons: Season 3

I did only two of these in 2012. Let's see if I break that average.

The third season continues the increase in quality begun with season 2. I felt that season 2 specialized in sweet love stories that grounded the characters and made them three-dimensional. It's because of that groundwork that season 3 is so confident and so willing to experiment with some of the humor and methods of storytelling. They can do comedy premises that resonate harder because we now know the characters so thoroughly and the show has such a heart right at its center: this a family that loves each other and, in the end, sticks by each other, even through all of their faults. The show doesn't have to keep telling us who the characters are; it can instead explore how the characters and their reactions drive the plots they find themselves in.

It makes for one of the most consistently entertaining seasons of television in history.

1. Stark Raving Dad (my rating: 4 out of 5)
The Michael Jackson episode. Well, the Michael Jackson acting episode (he doesn't do his singing). I love the device of having a large, crazy white man who believes he's Michael Jackson; that's a much more creative way to get Michael Jackson on the show than just having Michael Jackson come on and be himself or a thin parody of himself. It's a genuinely sweet episode, and I like the birthday song.

2. Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington (3/5)
Cute episode, not one of my favorites but I really dig the political satire, right down to the cheesy ending where Lisa's faith in the system is restored while justice is carried out in mere minutes. If only. I love how indignant the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is, too.

3. When Flanders Failed (4/5)
Remember when Homer used to be able to redeem his nasty side by eventually doing the right thing? This is a good examination of jealousy and schadenfreude that handles the ideas with surprising seriousness without compromising the show's humor, and I think Homer's eventually doing the right thing felt true to the character: I like that his guilty conscience would (eventually) overcome his darker emotions. The b-story of Bart in karate class feels a bit like filler, though.

4. Bart the Murderer (5/5)
Welcome to the show, Fat Tony. Fat Tony used to be one of my favorite characters on the show before they eventually ran him into the ground, and Joe Mantegna's performance in his first go at the character doesn't disappoint. The Goodfellas references are fun because the show doesn't depend on them to work. And Principal Skinner is really in fine form in this episode, every bit the personification of staid elementary school cliche. I love how what saves him when he's trapped under a pile of newspapers is a fourth grade science project. I find that funnier now than I did in high school.

5. Homer Defined (3/5)
Ah, Lovitz again. Dig it when Lovitz is on the show. It's a bit of a slight episode, but Homer's funny and the Bart plot is sweet, defining some of the power dynamic of his friendship with Milhouse.

6. Like Father, Like Clown (5/5)
One of my favorite episodes of the show, and one of my favorite guest stars: Jackie Mason as Krusty's estranged father, Rabbi Herschel Krustofski. A sweet and touching episode, but also a very, very funny one. My favorite bit is probably just how close Bart and Lisa's plan of having Rabbi Krustofski and Krusty running into each other at a deli comes to actually working. (Rabbi Krustofski thinks he's meeting Saul Bellow for lunch, and Krusty's line--"Can you please show me to President Francois Mitterand's table?"--kills me.) This was a time, too, when the show acknowledged that the religious backgrounds of the characters could be fertile territory for their identities rather than just a source of cheap gags. For instance, Flanders hasn't really been the butt of the joke so far; in fact, the joke about Flanders at this point is that he's just so resiliently happy because of how he chooses to see the world rather than just being preachy. I find that weirdly refreshing after years of every television series sort of smugly refusing to acknowledge that religion is something that gives some people meaning. It's another interesting way to explore the characters and find pieces of character-based humor.

7. Treehouse of Horror II (3/5)
Not quite as much fun as last year's episode, I think, but I think some of it has to do with the sequencing, which is a bit of a letdown. In the first "Treehouse of Horror," they went from the weakest segment to a strong segment to an excellent segment. Here they go from strong to not bad to weak, starting with the monkey's paw story (which is fantastic, especially Homer's turkey sandwich and the return of Kang and Kodos), a Twilight Zone parody which works but doesn't really go anywhere, and finally to Homer's brain being put in a robot, which is just kind of weak sauce. Some good laughs, but a bit of a letdown on this sophomore effort.

8. Lisa's Pony (3/5)
This is one of those episodes I skipped a lot in syndication because I never liked it much, but now that I'm older and the show is what it is now, my opinion of a lot of those episodes has really gone up. Homer and Lisa are probably the most opposite characters in the family, and it's interesting to see what makes them work as members of the same family, and what lengths he's willing to go to when he thinks Lisa doesn't love him anymore. I like that Homer can recognize that he's not a great father and is willing to try anything to make up for that. For whatever reason, that really hit me. This episode also has one of my favorite animation flourishes for the show, with Homer falling asleep and having a Little Nemo-style fantasy of floating in a bed while a very pretty instrumental of the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers" plays.

9. Saturdays of Thunder (3/5)
Now it's Bart's turn. Homer tries to make up for being such a distracted father by helping out Bart with a soapbox derby. Some great visual gags during the derby races; I particularly like Martin's crash, where he comes running out of the flames and the firemen put out the racer instead of him. I don't mind that a number of episodes this season focus on Homer's parenting; it's usually a good well to go to, and I like that Homer wants to do right by his children even though he's not on the ball about it. Maybe I just like knowing that the big, needy loser can redeem himself occasionally.

10. Flaming Moe's (3/5)
I love the parody of the Cheers opening. It's in the same style and obviously a reference, but it's so much more creative a wink than what I'm sure other shows would do, which is the Cheers opening exactly with that show's characters pasted in instead, as though that itself were a joke. I don't have much to say about the episode itself, other than that I found it really funny. This is long before Moe wears out his welcome, and having an episode revolve around him really works here.

11. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk (4/5)
Since taking four semesters of German in college, all I can think is "verkauft! verkauft das Kraftwerk!" I do love the German jokes, the "Land of Chocolate" sequence, and the ways the Simpsons try to save money after Homer is laid off. It's a better examination, too, of Homer's incompetence than "Homer Defined" was.

12. I Married Marge (5/5)
A worthy sequel to last season's great, defining episode "The Way We Was." This one takes place in 1980 and covers Homer and Marge's marriage and the birth of Bart. For some reason, it was lost on me before that Homer and Marge dated for six years before they got married. That's very Homer and Marge; he doesn't get it together until he absolutely has to, and she's patient about it. It's an excellent build on "The Way We Was," continuing to deepen and explore Marge and Homer's love for one another in a way that I just find so affirming. Again, it cuts right to the heart of the version of the show I loved best. My favorite moment is Homer's determination at the end, in which he basically demands a job from Mr. Burns (while promising to be an easily-pushed around employee) and then stands up to Patty and Selma. I love that they even call back to "Marge, pour vous" from the previous episode. It's so genuine. And I thought it was sweet and funny that the story involves Homer telling the kids about it while waiting to hear if Marge is pregnant again, and their being genuinely relieved when she isn't. (We'll find out in a few episodes that Homer is sterile, anyway.)

13. Radio Bart (5/5)
A genuine classic, and one of the episodes I still basically know by heart. I have a nice memory of watching this episode on Thanksgiving Day 1992 (it originally aired in January) at my Aunt Marge's house with her family and everyone just laughing so loud. That was nice; I was told a lot at that age that I was too loud when I laughed, and just having all of that hearty, boisterous, (and, for some, drunken) laughter was really, really fun when watching what was absolutely the funniest show on TV at the time. Sting is hilarious on this episode. Also: "Hey, good-lookin', we'll be back to pick you up later."

14. Lisa the Greek (5/5)
We sort of just went to this well with "Lisa's Pony," but I found this exploration into Homer and Lisa's relationship more satisfying. I'm not sure why, there was just something that clicked a little more with me, with Lisa unsure whether Homer loves her or just loves her talent at picking winning football teams. There's a real emotional dilemma to it, in which we get to see that Lisa really does want to spend time with her dad, and Homer becomes genuinely worried that she might be too disillusioned to really love him anymore.

15. Homer Alone (4/5)
Nice to see Marge focused on in an episode, where she finally snaps from the stress of holding the family together and has to go relax in a spa. They don't always find the most interesting ways to use Marge on this show, but she's an integral character, and this episode shows us exactly why, because Homer crumbles while she's away and the kids are put through hell staying with Patty and Selma. (One of my favorite touches: when Bart asks for a drink, Patty or Selma tells him they only have Clamato, Mr. Pibb, and soy milk. I find that very true to life. Didn't it always seem when you had to stay at a relative's house for a few days that they only had off brands, gross drinks, and stuff you just wouldn't put in your mouth if you could avoid it?) Some of the animation on Marge in the spa is really great, especially the scene where she slowly submerges herself in the tub and comes up with her hair all tousled around her, supremely relaxed. I tell you, this wasn't an episode I ever liked as a kid and skipped a lot in syndication, but I relate to Marge's stress now more than ever.

16. Bart the Lover (5/5)
A real classic, with Bart pranking Mrs. Krabappel with fake love letters and then actually feeling remorse and putting things right. It's surprisingly sweet, and another great episode that's born of one character giving in to their darker impulses and then trying to make up for it when their guilt weighs too heavily. Again, it's a show that once had a heart. The side plot about Homer trying to build a doghouse and getting in trouble with Flanders for swearing too much lends the episode a nice sense of pacing and some great gags, letting the episode as a whole steer clear of the sappiness it could easily have descended into. And the film strip about living in a world without zinc is priceless. Do kids today even get those jokes? They probably don't have to watch the same crappy film strips from the fifties and sixties that I did, right?

17. Homer at the Bat (5/5)
This is easily my favorite episode of the season. It's an interesting departure for this season; the plot doesn't grow out of the characters, but is really a sort of typical guest star episode for a sitcom, focusing on the comedy and the guest stars themselves (nine of the best baseball players of the time, though I think my favorite on this episode is Ozzie Smith and his experience at the Springfield Mystery Spot). But I think all of the great character work they've been doing gives them some leeway to do this kind of "event" episode, one that's just pure comedy. It helps that the episode is incredibly funny and fun. I love the accidents Burns' ringers get into one by one and the endless stream of gags. This is pure classic Simpsons at its funniest.

18. Separate Vocations (3/5)
Oh, those aptitude tests. Did you take one? Mine told me I was going to be a park ranger. I wonder if I could still get into that... Not one of my favorites, but snappier and better-paced than I remember, and I like how it comes out with Bart taking the blame for Lisa to protect her school career. The ending, with Lisa playing the sax while Bart writes on the chalkboard ("I will not expose the ignorance of the faculty" is a particularly brilliant line), is lovely.

19. Dog of Death (3/5)
Again, Santa's Little Helper is not one of my favorite elements of this series at all, but I liked this episode better than last year's "Bart's Dog Gets an F." I guess I relate to it a little more, too, with the stuff about having to pay for the dog's operation (I think one of my favorite lines is always going to be "Lousy chub night") particularly hitting home, because I remember a time when I was worried about how we were going to pay for the operation to fix Thumper's molar occlusion.

20. Colonel Homer (5/5)
This is a surprisingly full and well-written episode, and also one of the best-animated early Simpsons episodes. At this point, the show was still being animated by Klasky Csupo, and I think they did a lot of neat stuff with the show as far as movement and color design went. Almost every animated show on TV right now is static and has perfect lines, and it's kind of boring. Here, the characters seem vibrant and alive, and there are a lot of things the show communicates about the characters through the visuals, like the great scene with Homer and Lurleen Lumpkin in her trailer, which forces a kind of intimate feeling that everyone but Homer gets. Lurleen is a great character (Beverly D'Angelo is fantastic in the role), and I love that so much of this story hinges on the fact that she's in love with Homer and totally offering herself to him and he's completely oblivious to it until the end. I love the finale of the episode, which reaffirms Homer and Marge's love and the devotion to one another that can easily be taken for granted.

21. Black Widower (3/5)
The return of Sideshow Bob, one of the show's best characters, here trying to carry out a plot to marry and murder Selma. It's a nice mystery, and I love Kelsey Grammer on the episode, especially his reaction to seeing MacGyver. The episode doesn't quite catch fire the way I would've liked, but there's a lot of funny gags in it, and Grammer is great. I forgot, too, just how much Patty and Selma were around in the early seasons, how involved they were in Homer and Marge's lives, always trying to undermine their relationship with their little digs.

22. The Otto Show (3/5)
Love everything about the Spinal Tap appearance. I actually bought the album Break Like the Wind before this episode aired, where they partially perform the title track. I like the Otto stuff in the episode, actually, but it's really all the character has, and it's probably for the best that they never did an episode with him as the central character again (or if they did, I don't remember it). I particularly like Homer in this one, especially his glee at finding a can of Billy Beer and singing along with "Spanish Flea." Milhouse's concert attire is truly hilarious.

23. Bart's Friend Falls in Love (3/5)
I'm not really a fan of the Milhouse-falls-in-love story, but I love the bits in the b-story with Homer attempting to use subliminal tapes to lose weight and instead accidentally building his vocabulary; his newly florid speech is a thing of beauty. This episode also opens with the famous Raiders of the Lost Ark parody, which is one of the show's best moments (and is a great bit of pure animation, without any dialogue). The 1970s sex education film is truly wonderful.

24. Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes? (3/5)
It's nice to get some closure on Unkie Herb, so that Homer can have a brother that he never sees ever again. Ah, well. Not as great as Herb's first appearance, but Danny DeVito is still in top form and is welcome on the show. The baby translator is cute; it's a fun, silly idea that we never see again, because it's not that kind of show. I love Homer's vibrating chair, and the way sitting in it is like going through the stargate in 2001. It's a nice little episode, and a nice cap to a very, very strong season of television.

This is the last season animated by Klasky Csupo, so I'm interested to see how the changeover to Film Roman looks now that I've really warmed up to this style again, particularly the show's color scheme and the vibrancy of the character animation.

This season was a nice balance between character-driven and plot-driven humor, taking some chances with its format while rounding out the characters and exploring their quirks. I'm looking forward to more strong stuff in season 4, which has at least five of my favorite episodes, including one that was my favorite episode of the entire series for years...

Previously: Season 1, Season 2.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Basically the same story as the French film Innocence, which I reviewed a ways back, and based on the same source material about young girls at a boarding school. Where Innocence was lyrical, pastoral, mysterious and engrossing, this film takes the same material and instead focuses on darkness, cruelty, and paranoia. I liked the other film much better. *

KON-TIKI (2012)
I first read the book Kon-Tiki when I was in seventh grade, and I was immediately fascinated with it. What this film (dramatizing the story of Thor Hyerdahl's ethnographic journey across the Pacific Ocean to prove that ancient Peruvians with balsa wood rafts could have colonized Polynesia) did for me was to find the place deep inside me where the 12-year old who was full of excitement and wonder about this journey was hiding and pulled it to the surface. This movie made me feel the danger and exhilaration of exploration in the way I imagined it as a child, and it made for a surprisingly emotional experience. ****

Chaplin as an escaped convict mistaken for the new parson in a small Old West border town. Slight and even half-hearted at times; I think he didn't really put the effort in to his last film for First National. It feels more like something made to satisfy a contract and nothing more. Probably he was much more interested at the time in moving on to United Artists and making A Woman of Paris. **1/2

Western spoof with Gary Cooper as an easygoing man mistaken for a vicious bandit. Gary Cooper is pretty likable in it, and Loretta Young is wonderful, but it just didn't connect for me. I didn't think it was bad, but it just didn't catch fire for me, either. **1/2

Powerful film about a Belgian woman who becomes a nun, intending to become a nurse in the Belgian Congo, and the sacrifices she is forced to make. What really captured my attention about this movie is that Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn, in an excellent performance) doesn't just become a nun and then that's it. She struggles with what she has to do, the parts of herself she has to give up in order to be a servant of God. Always, she's torn between her duties and her pride, her will, and even her humanity. It's a powerful struggle to watch. ****

Not what I was expecting. This is a true story about a family of tourists who experience the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I was kind of worried about seeing another one of those movies where a foreign experience is filtered through the eyes of white people, but the filmmakers here make a good choice to make it a story of survival. What struck me most about this film is that it acknowledges the sometimes horrifying reality of our world: that it is not subject to the order we impose on it and characterize it with. What helps us through this is what this film really highlights in an emotionally profound way: love, family, community, helping others, patience. I was not emotionally prepared to watch this movie at all, so it really took me by surprise. It's a beautiful movie, one of the best of 2012, and one of the few films of last year that I saw that was really about anything without being precious. ****

Vivien Leigh is excellent as a stage actress, recently widowed, who moves to Rome before catching the attentions of a young gigolo (Warren Beatty, with an accent that is distracting and occasionally hilarious, but damn, he looks good). Despite some excellent performances (Leigh, Lotte Lenya as the woman using Beatty to get money out of rich widows), I never became truly absorbed in the film. I really can't stress this enough: Leigh and Lenya are excellent, and without them, I think the film would've fallen into sultry, overheated silliness. I think they elevate material that's not really as layered and interesting as the film pretends it is. **1/2

Engrossing documentary about Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee that researchers attempted to teach sign language in the 1970s. The thing that's so interesting about this movie is just how weirdly deluded the project is. Hebert Terrace, who initiated the project, seems so... ineffectual about it. He seems more interested in having sexual affairs with all of his female researchers rather than studying language in apes. He first hands Nim off to a female student who raises Nim as though he were one of her children, as though socialization will somehow magically make Nim start communicating as a human; you can tell this isn't going to bear fruit as soon as you find out that neither she nor her husband nor her children actually use any sign language. Nim is then taken to a facility where he can be taught more rigorously, but he becomes manipulative and goes through a series of teachers who leave one by one after sexual affairs with Terrace and/or repeated attacks by Nim as he matures and becomes more naturally aggressive (some of the people involved seem not to have taken into consideration that Nim, as a wild animal, would not be a house pet). After the project folds and is concluded a failure (the degree to which the project failed is about the only thing under debate here; the whole thing seems like someone's whim rather than a serious scientific experiment), Nim is moved around, is variously lonely or happy, and has a brief time as a lab animal. It's emotionally harrowing; the documentary (by James Marsh, who also made Man on Wire) focuses on the ethics and the emotional experiences of Nim and the people involved. It's honest without being damning (though some of the subjects damn themselves and/or others with their revelations), and it's ultimately very sad. In the end, the project was a failure, but Nim was the victim of that failure. ***1/2

Stuart Freeborn 1914-2013

BBC News is reporting the death of Stuart Freeborn at the age of 98. Freeborn is one of the architects of how I think about science fiction for his work designing makeup for 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Star Wars trilogy. He famously designed Yoda as a combination of his own face and Albert Einstein's. As the designer of Chewbacca, Yoda and Jabba the Hutt, I see his work every day of my life on my own walls. I'm glad he did that. Thank you.

Race, Pop Culture and Growing Up White

Roger has an interesting post up about film and race in which he mentions my recent experience watching Holiday Inn and being profoundly disturbed by a sequence of blackface that I had actually never heard was even in the film.

As coincidence would have it, Holiday Inn was actually on yesterday, on one of the many Encore channels, and was playing as I turned on the television. My wife hadn't gone to work yet, and the film was fairly close to the infamous "Abraham" segment, so we watched it together because I wanted her to see just what it was about the film that had truly disgusted me. She knew she was in trouble when the film's female lead, Marjorie Reynolds, started putting on the blackface and worrying aloud that what she'd hoped for the number was to be pretty... the implication being that, by portraying a black woman, she couldn't be. (And this is before she comes out on stage in such cartoonishly, awfully stereotypical "pickaninny" makeup that she looks more like Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of Oz, than something that's supposed to be a human being.)

My wife was just as horrified as I was the first time I saw it. Bad enough it seems to imply that all black people worship Abraham Lincoln like he's one of the patriarchs of the bible, but it's just so sickening on its own, because it looks at African-Americans as subhuman cartoon characters. It's born of a mindset that genuinely sees blacks as a separate and unrelated (and decidedly lesser) species of human being. It's repellent. Becca echoed my thoughts upon seeing it originally: "This isn't even racist 'for its time period,' this is just sick-minded for anybody, and especially a mere 80 years after there was a war fought to do away with this shit. Do you realize that statistically when Holiday Inn came out, there were probably still black people who were old enough to have actually been born into slavery?"

She then went further, saying: "Every year at Borders, there were classic Christmas movies that people would always come and buy over and over again. We would always sell out of Holiday Inn. I can't believe a movie that has this goddamn scene in it is a holiday classic! And now I feel like... what does it say about those people that this scene doesn't make them so sick that they just don't want to watch the rest of it, but instead adore it, hopefully despite that?"

It made me realize that the reason I hadn't watched any Christmas movies this year after seeing Holiday Inn for the first time--and I'm all about watching Christmas movies in December--was that the movie had made me feel so bad that I didn't want to watch any more Christmas movies. I just wasn't in the mood after that. I actually still have Nutcracker: The Motion Picture and Fitzwilly on my TiVo from December and still haven't got around to watching them because Holiday Inn kind of dampened my Christmas spirit.

Am I overreacting? I don't think so, but I've overreacted before. After all, I saw Django Unchained and I loved it. In his post, Roger mentions a scene of brutality in the movie that's also disturbing, but Quentin Tarantino knows it's disturbing, and that's what makes the difference. The makers of Holiday Inn think they're being cute and funny and other things they are not actually being at all.

But Roger also mentions Song of the South, and I still say what I said when I saw that movie for the first time since I was 4 years old (in 2007, for my Evaluating Disney series): that any thoughts I have on racism in movies have to be tempered by the fact that I'm a white guy in my thirties. Except for occasional comments directed at me, I haven't experienced real racism. I haven't grown up in a country where racism against me has been institutionalized in ways both subtle and overt. So it's not up to me to say what depiction of black people isn't offensive. I'm not going to be the guy who doesn't realize he's an asshole saying "Calm down, everyone, can't you take a joke?" And I'm not going to be the asshole getting overly offended by everything he sees to make up for its existence and show everyone that I'm not cool with that. What I'm clumsily trying to say is: sometimes I just don't know what's offensive and what isn't. Certainly that's still something I tangle with when watching Song of the South, because I love the songs and the animation, and it doesn't always feel racist to me--at the very least, not intentionally racist, but sometimes perhaps obliviously racist--but I acknowledge that there are people who think it is, and their opinion is probably more valid than mine because I'm not black so I don't always realize when something is racist. I just don't, because I never experienced that.

I still remember when I saw Song of the South and talked about it in my 2007 post and said I didn't feel it was racist; Semaj saw the film and had completely different thoughts about that, and I had to concede that, in all honesty, I'm ignorant of a lot of that because I'm a white kid from the suburbs who was never discriminated against for the color of my skin.

Anyway, the reason Mammy Two-Shoes is up at the top of this post--and a point I meant to get to much earlier--is that after enduring "Abraham," my wife and I started talking about other depictions of African-Americans in the 1940s that we may have been exposed to as children. She brought up Mammy Two-Shoes from the Tom and Jerry cartoons and said "You know, when I was a kid and I watched those cartoons on local TV, I didn't think Mammy was a servant, I thought it was Mammy's house. I didn't know what a Mammy even was. I just thought she was a Southern woman and it was her house."

It's funny, but I always thought that, too. I think it's for a couple of reasons. One, I didn't know what a Mammy was, either. Maybe I thought it was a more familiar way of saying "Ma'am" or "Mrs." I don't know what I thought. I didn't see Gone with the Wind until high school, and I don't remember ever hearing the term "Mammy" again until then. Second, when I first saw Tom and Jerry cartoons, I was too young to know what racism was or grasp the concept that some people are treated differently because of who they are or what they look like. That stuff didn't start kicking in until I was in elementary school; before that, any lessons on our physical or cultural differences that had really stuck with me were things on Sesame Street that taught me not to focus on those differences as something negative, but as something to learn from. I still remember seeing, when it originally aired, Harry Belafonte's appearance on The Muppet Show and the fascinating "Turn the World Around" segment and this idea of everyone being connected to each other as much as they're connected to the elements.

Third, I liked a few black sitcoms when I was a kid. So I was used to seeing, say, Florida Evans or Mabel Thomas being mothers and heads of the household (especially Florida after James Evans died, leading to an embarrassingly long amount of time in my life when I thought John Amos was actually dead). It didn't seem unreasonable to me that Mammy Two-Shoes was a housewife, and her dialect didn't make an impression on me as stereotypical, in large part because of Florida Evans, and in large part because I was just too young to know there was a stereotype of a certain way certain people spoke.

I don't say all of this to say that people are wrong to be offended by it if they're offended by it. I'm just saying that it was another one of those things--like having Little Black Sambo read to me as kid--that I didn't understand as racism when I was younger and never internalized to the point where I somehow expected all black people to talk like Mammy Two-Shoes. I can only examine what's happened to me; I can't speak for other people and their experiences.

In doing the biography tumblr that I do, I've been reexamining a lot of the things I remember and revisiting things that I didn't remember at all, trying to discover more about myself and why I am the way I am. So I've been thinking a lot about my earliest experiences and this is just more of that. I'm considering the context of things like Tom and Jerry and Song of the South and Holiday Inn, putting them into the perspective of how I relate to other people and what I'm personally sensitive to. Having no awareness, as a child, of racial connotations doesn't mean those racial connotations don't exist, it just means I didn't know. I know now, and I think seeing the difference and not trying to apologize for it is an important part of growing up.

But, honestly, in any context, Holiday Inn is hugely fucking racist.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Song of the Week: "Spin Me Round"

Just a lovely little piece of music for a Sunday morning, the closer to Roxy Music's 1979 album Manifesto.