I’ve been writing at Brojakson.com and Fansided.com and wanted to share some of that work:
I’ve been writing at Brojakson.com and Fansided.com and wanted to share some of that work:
Every week I’ll be writing about Mad Men for the kick ass crew at brojackson.com.
Don goes to Hawaii, everyone smokes weed, and Sally is all kinds of sassy: read my recap of episode one of season six!
Queen of Clubs
Part one of a three part trilogy.
Her car screeched to a halt, interrupting the Sunday morning quiet. The birds, perched and tired, sat bored on stucco tiles. Sandra fell out of her car, squinting in the mid-morning sun that always seems brighter south of Austin. She was late. The house, sad and slumped, hid behind overgrown palm trees, out of place in Texas. Tripping over nature’s refuse on her way to the door, she remembered her bag still in the car. She was already late, but she wanted her phone and its lovely distractions. Her head throbbed and even in the shade it felt too bright. She needed water. She needed coffee. She rang the doorbell, black bag clutched to her side. Sixteen bars of an off-kilter melody rang out against the quiet. The giant wooden door opened slowly and she slipped in with a sprinkle of sorry’s and pardon me’s.
Her head ducked, she noticed that her white designer tank top, a remnant of last night’s outfit, had fallen below the edge of her bra. Blithely she adjusted it before finally looked around the room. Fifty pairs of crinkled eyes, couched in fifty pouches of loose skin, stared back at her. She was too hungover to blush. A wan smile and a shrug seemed to satisfy the elderly crowd. They collectively turned their heads back to the rabbi standing in the middle of the room.
She surveyed the room, looking for a place to lose her black leather jacket. Old people were stuffed into every conceivable corner. They lined up on the couches like birds on a wire, each with a different color cardigan and varying shades of dyed hair, curled and piled high. They squinted in a veined attempt to read the photocopied pages in front of them. Walkers, canes, and wheelchairs littered the floor like the aftermath of a geriatric civil war. Despite the stifling heat, Sandra could hear the heater humming along. Everyone was draped in scarves and sweaters. It was like a Luby’s without the Jell-O.
Sandra shifted in her heels. Her legs ached underneath her tight black skinny jeans. On her zombie-like two-hour drive, she didn’t dare look in the mirror, terrified of what she would find. Ignorance wasn’t always bliss, but it was often a lot easier. Though she had become an expert at half-drunk early-morning mascara application, her hair was beyond saving that morning. A thick mane of course dark hair, inherited from her Gentile mother, made typical solutions impossible. Ponytails became horsetails. Tight buns became exploded cinnamon rolls.
“Barbara was special,” the rabbi intoned, drawing out the last word like he was a pre-school teacher. Somehow he managed to emulate warmth in a way that covered up the condescension. Or maybe, at that age, you’re OK with the condescension— when it takes you twenty minutes to walk to the door, you can probably brush off a haughty rabbi.
“She was our friend,” he said looking over to the peacocked ladies sitting on the couch. “She was a loving wife,” he said after a pause and a look to her husband, fifteen years her senior, shellshocked and sad, sinking further into his ill-fitting suit.
The newly minted widower caught Sandra’s eye from across the room. He wore the default look etched into the eyes of the elderly, not defiant or proud, not warm or kind, but wet and bored, full of confusion and boredom. Sandy loathed that look. It was if they had seen it all and had ended up unimpressed with what life had to offer. It was a look of polite conceit. It was a look she wanted to avoid.
“Bah-brah,” the rabbi stated again, drawing out the vowels longer and longer each time. “Bah-brah was the life of every party,” he said to mix of chuckles and coughs.
Sandra, she supposed, had that trait in common with her great aunt.
Someone’s cousin had just bought a house with his medical malpractice money, a botched removal of a herniated disc had left the poor kid paralyzed and rich at 23. He was having a “fuck my legs, i’m rich party” or so said her Facebook invite. 900 people were invited. Sandra never turned down a good party.
She started her getting ready ritual, its length a common complaint by her ex, around 8 in her studio apartment off St. Elmo. Her neighborhood had all the cool bars and restaurants. The salon downstairs did tattoos in the back room. Kids sold off the porch and got high in the park she could see from her window. She was in it. Cocooned in the zygote of the hip, that beautiful embryonic stage of a neighborhood right after gentrification starts, but before the molted magazine articles and luxury lofts.
Naked in her bathroom, she leaned into the mirror to apply a variety of cosmetics to the skin around her eyes. Despite their near-black color, her eyes shone with a cat-like mischievousness. Her parents were convinced this was why her teachers were constantly calling her out in school.
“Detention again? It’s those cat eyes, Sandy, I tell you what. You don’t see that blue-eyed Amy Sheldon getting called in to detention all the time.” The fact that Sandra had been caught, blood-shot-eyed and all, smoking pot behind the portables was of no consequence to Mama.
Dark ink now continued the through line of her eyelid, curling up suggestively and terminating before reaching her temple. An elaborate potion of eye shadow gave her “smokey eyes” as seen in the September issue. She stepped back from the mirror, pleased at what she saw. Her nose, a little too big for her tastes, looked slimmer in profile, so she stood sideways. But after studying her bust, not big enough for her tastes, she turned back to the mirror and started on corralling her mess of hair.
They arrived after 11. The house was as big as it was sparse. Kids of all shapes and sizes congregated near the two kegs floating in trash cans full of ice, situated underneath a dated chandelier in what must have once been a formal dining room. Sandra counted four pieces of furniture: a dirty couch, an equally dirty chair, an IKEA kitchen table, and, the only noticeable post-windfall purchase, an 85 inch monster of a TV, currently leaning against the wall on the floor. One of Sandra’s friends, awash in the unholy light of the television, squatted on the wood floor playing Halo.
Rented speakers thumped out music that, according to his sign, was curated by DJ Remixx, ostensibly a very skinny white kid in a t-shirt and Duke hat. Sandra walked over to the kegs, decked in black skinny jeans and a white-designer tank top. Her black bra peeked out around the corners. She stood tall in high-heeled boots. Not just some kid anymore, not Sandy with the braces, not Sandy that listened to Les Mis with her mom over and over again, Sandra had found her place among the 22-year-olds. The art kids and drama kids. The drug dealers and junkies and trust-funders. She loved them all. They were her flock and her their secret shepherd.
“Her royal highness, the Queen,” a tall boy, with a body looking like it was sculpted from one piece of clay, saddled up next to her.
“Joke on, Joker,” she replied.
“Haven’t seen you around much, kiddo.”
“Then you haven’t been around much.”
“Queen of Clubs. Isn’t that what you lesbo A-E-Pi sisters call you?”
Sandy gave his shoulder a playful shove. “You should talk, Joker.”
He leaned in close for a hug, wrapping his arm, drink in hand, around her neck. “I’m kidding, Sandy,” he said before dropping his voice to a whisper, “I heard the deal you gave Jack. I’ve got some of that too if you ever want to trade.”
Sandy stopped smiling. Jack Condiff was an asshole ZBT mechanical engineer major that sold all sorts of pharmaceuticals on the side. Last week, the week before finals, the whole college had been tapped out of everyone’s favorite study drug, Ninety-Nines, a combination of Oxy and Aderall. The Oxy took the edge off, relieving her of a crippling test anxiety, and the Addies turned her brain into a laser of productivity. 200 multiple choice questions? 2 Nines and an A minus. 5 page essays? 1 Nine and an A plus.
But the town was tapped, all her connects dried up. So, against her better judgement, she texted Jack. A minute later, her phone buzzed.
“Only have 2 for sale. Want some?”
“I need 10! for finals!” she texted back.
“Come over and we’ll negotiate ;)”
Sandra stared at her screen. She knew Jack was an asshole, but she didn’t know if he was a scumbag. She didn’t have much cash, but maybe she could squeeze a few more out of Jack.
She arrived at the frat house, a dump in West Campus, to the sweet smell of stale beer, weed, and a faint hint of body odor. It smelled like college. She made her way up to Jack’s room, the only single in the house, knocked once and pushed the door open slowly.
Jack was studying, shirt off, bong in one hand and TI-89 in the other. Books were splayed out on the bed with graph paper and tiny specks of broken pencil lead.
Without looking up, Jack said, “Queen of Clubs. You may enter.”
“Studying hard I see,” she said, walking to the edge of the bed.
He set down his calculator and took a long hit from the bong. Turning, he blew a cloud of smoke in her face.
“Lovely. Your mom must be so proud of you.”
“My mom’s dead,” he intoned.
“No she’s not. She goes to temple with my uncle. She keeps trying to set us up too.”
His eyes looked her over as she rolled her own.
“My mom’s got good taste then.”
“Jack,” she said, her voice lilting like she was addressing a child, “do you have some drugs for me?”
“I told you, Queen, I got two.”
“I told you, Jack, I need ten. These finals won’t take themselves.”
Jack stood up. Handsome in a lithe way, she liked the way his skin was stretched over his bones. Little black hairs bunched and curled forming a trail from his belly button down to below his shorts. His heavy brown eyes finally met hers. She dropped her purse and stepped close to him, her shoes giving her a slight height advantage. The smell of weed and musk mixed with her perfume. It smelled nice.
“Give me a hit of that,” she said nodding towards the bong.
“Ask nice, Queen.”
“Give me a hit of that, douchebag” she said placing a small kiss on his nose. His lips grew into a smile and he reached back.
She stepped forward and enveloped him, planting kisses, wet and quick, up and down his neck. Off balance, he half-fell, half-sat on the bed, crumpling papers along the way. Silently, they kissed. Textbooks wedged into their backs as they rolled and tumbled. Sandra pulled Jack’s legs around so they dangled off the edge of the bed. She sunk to the floor as her hand moved from his neck down his chest. She planted kisses on his navel as she removed his shorts. His boxers were tented making them more difficult to remove. But she managed, as she always did.
When she was done, she neatly slid his athletic shorts back on, covering his nakedness. She stood over him, watching his listless eyes staring at the ceiling.
“So, about those pills,” she said with a smile.
Her purse stayed slung over her shoulder the entire time.
“Jack Condiff is a fucking liar,” she heard herself saying to Joker over the din of the party. “Fuck him and fuck you too, perv.”
She stalked off looking for people she knew. They were all little lambs shuffling from one keg to the other, from one drink to the next. The house seemed to grow bigger as she traipsed through it. The ceiling above disappeared amid shadows and exposed I-beams.
Sandra sunk down in a corner and pulled a flask out of her pocket. Sipping slowly, she watched the little lambs graze on tequila and blow. Dark except for the strobing white flashes of television slight, she drank and watched the night pass. No one noticed the Queen of Clubs. The life of every party. She sat alone, content in her insignificance. She smiled as she sipped, her lips burning with the taste of whiskey and metal.
She fished out a small plastic baggie from her black leather jacket and held it up to the light. A tiny amount of cocaine lingered at the bottom. She dipped her pinky in, gathering the powder on the underside of her nail. One quick sniff and it was gone. She took a final swig of alcohol and sent the flask clattering along the floor. It banged into the opposite wall, open and leaking its last few drops onto the wood.
The party raged around her, ebbing and flowing like the tides. Eventually, though, she nodded off in the corner, her body pulsating with the warmth of the whiskey, her eyes sunk in a deep drunken trance. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” she thought as she drifted off towards morning.
“Zichrona livracha. May her memory be a blessing,” the rabbi prayed, “And let us all say, ‘Amen.’”
“Amen,” the crowd echoed. As the alcohol sweated out her pores, Sandy made her way to the kitchen for some coffee. On her way, a woman she recognized a bar mitzvah or two stopped her, placing a wrinkly hand on her arm. A heavy cloud of White Diamonds encircled them both. Sandy towered over her and had to stoop down to hear what she was saying.
“I love that jacket. I used to have one just like it.” Her eyes caught Sandra’s and a smile spread across her folded face.
“Here you go, darling,” she said handing Sandra a steaming cup of coffee. “I think you need this more than I do.” With that she gave a quick wink and waddled off towards the living room.
Sandra took a long sip of coffee and closed her eyes as she felt the warmth spread to every nerve.
This season, I’ll be writing about each episode of Mad Men. It’s a special show for me, one I unabashedly love and even its weaker moments have managed to resonate. Thematically, it’s probably the strongest television show ever produced (and, yes, I’ve seen The Wire). We are, however, fast approaching the sixth season. The season premiere on April 7th will be the 66th episode, and nearly 50th hour, of Mad Men. Even the best shows, The Wire, Lost, The Sopranos, The West Wing, had entire seasons that are now considered blemishes on otherwise beautiful creations (the 5th, the 3rd, the 4th, and everything post-Sorkin, respectively). With only two seasons of Matthew Weiner’s inaugural creation now remaining, the pressure intensifies to produce a fitting end to his symphonic treatise on 60’s America.
Last season, Mad Men explored a budding culture shift forcing its way into the lives and offices of the main characters. Re-watching Season 5 back-to-back with Season 2, the line between the office and the outside world has blurred considerably. Seasons 1 and 2 seem insular and quiet compared to Season 5’s rock concerts and acid trips. Considering Season 5 ended in mid-1967, its fair to expect the earthshaking cultural events (RFK and MLK’s assignations, the Tet Offensive, the Chicago Riots) will play a huge part in Season 6, taking the show even further off Madison Avenue. Many of our characters, Peggy chief among them, don’t even work for Sterling Cooper anymore. And with the totemic significance of the end of the 1960s forthcoming, expect to hear more about music, drugs, and free, or free-er, love (although having the series end on the last day of 1969 seems too on the nose for Weiner).
Important to remember is that Weiner has made good on so many promises of earlier season. “Young people don’t know anything, especially that they are young,” Don says in Season 2’s premiere. However, in Season 5, it’s the older people that don’t realize their youth is behind them. And the children on the show, namely, Sally, have proven the most wise. Mad Men has taken characters that were unhappy, yet stable, and plunged them into a fierce, strange world, leaving them scattered, frustrated, and, occasionally, content. Season 6, I think, will stand on its own instead of acting as the nadir of the characters’ arcs, as penultimate seasons sometimes do. However, with so much change happening outside of their control, expect things to get worse before they get better for most of our characters.
We left Don Draper at a bar, which is not uncommon. Specially, he was at a commercial shoot with his young bride, Megan. He wandered away from her fairy-tale-inspired set (in a gorgeous tracking shot) to the bustling bar. A young woman, eyes aflutter, asked him, “Are you alone?” Don continues to wrestle with that question. In truth, he’s always felt alone— with Betty, after Betty— but especially since Anna succumbed to cancer in 1965. While Megan and his children keep him grounded, I get the sense that Don is in constant danger of just drifting away.
With everything that happened in the last three episodes of Season 5, the bombshell of Peggy leaving Sterling Draper Cooper Price (SDCP) sometimes slides by the wayside. Peggy tells Don, and I believe she is only half lying, that it isn’t all about the money. Her first business trip, teeming with fantasies of per diems, hotels, business class cars, and after-hours business, is realized as a dingy Richmond hotel with a view of two dogs copulating. Yet, still, she is so, so happy! It’s one of my favorite moments of a series that so rarely allows its characters to accomplish their goals. But when it does, they feel earned. Season 6 will undoubtedly follow the continued hardships of a strong-willed, independent woman working in a male-dominated field during a male-dominated time.
Because of the powerfully subtle writing and the steady, deliberate work of actor Vincent Kartheiser, the transformation of Pete Campbell from whiney ninny to a force of power at SDPC feels so natural as to be almost imperceptible. The same Pete Campbell that read Don’s mail and tried to blackmail him with knowledge of his real name has now successfully pimped out Joan in order to land a client. After years of coveting everything about Don Draper— his status, his power, his woman, his influence— Pete obtains a passing facsimile of his frenemy’s success. And, just like Don discovered early on, it isn’t nearly as fun as it seems. In Season 5, Pete lusted after a young woman in his driver’s ed class and had an affair with a fellow commuter’s wife. He has a baby, a house, a spouse…and an intense look of dread and despair.
The Silver Fox had quite a year. His relevance at the office continually diminished, Sterling looked for other ways to find what he wants. After continual flirtations, Roger and Joan finally give in among the shadows of street lights and alley cans. Roger watches as Joan divorces her husband…all the while pregnant with his own child. Roger, never concerned with consequences, finally starts heading down a path of his own brand of enlightenment. After a mind-bending acid trip, he divorces Jane. Naked and free, he stands on a chair, tripping his balls off, smiling like a boy that just got an A on his report card. It will be interesting to see if the world leaves Roger behind, or vice versa.
Next week on…
Shut the door, sit down, and join me here every week as I dive in to the beautiful, dark world of Mad Men.
It was the election season of their discontent. House of Cards is salacious and delicious, a Shakespearean soap opera cloaked in political nomenclature. It has convinced itself that it’s different, with the all-at-once release schedule, the direct address asides into camera, but it’s the same tale of power and greed that the Bard was dishing out 400 years ago. House of Cards, then, deals familiar hands to familiar characters with familiar results. Like winding up a bunch of toys and watching as they crash into each other, Cards is fun as hell, but sometimes feels too rehearsed to resonate. And once that initial rush fades, there’s not much left to hang on to.
Cards follows Congressman Underwood, a slippery, amoral, Daily Show skit of a man. He’s Iago without a cause. Despite electric acting from Kevin Spacey, Underwood feels half-baked. He craves power for power’s sake, but that motivation runs thin after a couple episodes. His character doesn’t arc. Underwood is a liar in episode one and a dirty fucking liar by the end of the season. However, like a good Shakespearean villain, there’s a special glee in watching him dismantle his opponents. I watched the show with my dad and every time Kevin Spacey addressed the camera directly, my dad cackled with delight. Bringing the audience in on his schemes bolsters Underwood’s appeal, and while he still isn’t nuanced enough, he’s at least fun to watch. It’s a bold choice to break the fourth wall so frequently, but the dopamine squirt it garners is worth the break in narrative.
House of Cards is full of moments where it goes for the easy choice rather than a complicated, more fulfilling one. It’s like the writers marathoned Mad Men, and came away thinking it was a show about advertising. Cards is a show about politics when it could have been a show about people, power, and hard choices. A bad taste replaces the initial delectability of watching suits squirm as Underwood whets his verbal daggers. In fact, it gets boring watching someone be evil for 13 episodes. Unlike Tony Soprano or Iago, it is damn near impossible to relish in Underwood’s villainy when he actively takes advantage of every person in his life, save a BBQ chef on the seedy side of town. The viewer is left to wonder if there’s any humanity at all inside this man that, by the end of the season, resembles more of a sociopath than a Congressman (insert your “there’s no difference” joke here).
Still, the actors, across the board, are stellar. Even the smallest roles, mostly white men in suits, manage to carve out personalities for themselves among powerhouses Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey. Kate Mara (Rooney’s sister) turns a typical ingenue into the most interesting character on the show, Zoe Barnes, a naive rebel reporter. The writers have sunk their teeth into Barnes, giving her interesting story lines among nebulous moral grey zones. Even Barnes, as she vacillates between naif and hardened woman who will “play the part of the whore” as long as she gets paid in information. She’s a roller coaster, an interesting one, but by the end, again, mostly nausea remains.
The show would benefit from letting us experience amoral D.C. from Zoe’s inexperienced eyes. Narratively, this is an old trick, letting the viewer learn as the character does (think of Lost). Instead, we follow Underwood, an unscrupulous wealthy Southerner and hardened insider, to his beautiful home. We watch him exercise (or, oddly, play video games— another character quirk that could have worked if it didn’t feel like it was written in for the product placement) and exchange monologues with his wife. Yet, Zoe remains a mystery. Does the lack of integrity in D.C. surprise Zoe or did she expect it? Does she regret having to use her sexuality to get ahead or does it empower her? Where does she want to go in her career? All questions that go, not only unanswered, but not even asked at all.
More baffling, motives go completely unexplained here. Underwood’s insatiable lust for power and bizarrely transactional marriage are given no origin. It feels that the only motivation these characters have is to get more of whatever they have. While we know what they want, we are given no hint as to why, robbing successes and failures of any emotional weight. When Underwood finally flubs (a full six episodes in), it lacks consequence. The plot and characters move on with nary a hitch.
What’s frustrating is that House of Cards oozes quality everywhere else. David Fincher’s direction in the first two episodes is fantastic and it made me wish Cards was a made-for-Netflix movie instead. The first shot of the series, the sound of a car crash over a black screen followed by Spacey charging straight up into the camera, tell us, sonically and visually, that he is a powerful man, attuned to his surroundings. It’s all of fifteen seconds, but it’s a mini-lesson in visual storytelling. The set design and lighting are wonderful too, making potentially bland conference rooms and offices take on different moods and tones. The series looks expensive, and considering it cost $100 million, it should. But it’s nice that you can see where they money went— any fears of Netflix producing a cheap-looking Lifetime series were immediately alleviated.
Ironically, Cards would have been better served coming out on a weekly basis. A group of friends talking about the juiciest bits of that week’s episodes would have added more excitement to too-thin plots. Much like the water-cooler buzz helped mollify the more implausible parts of Homeland’s second season, the same could have turned some of House of Cards’s eye-rolls into fun discussions. Marathoning this show only exposes how few notes it truly hits.
This series is made up of such great ingredients, I desperately want to like it more than I do. The show entertains with its gleeful depravity and is chock full of verbal fireworks, drugs, sex and enough lies to make Pinocchio blush. It’s tasty and fun in the way that Entourage or True Blood is, but Cards billed itself, and has the elements to turn into, a big-league show, a la Mad Men or early West Wing. In the end, though, like so many politicians, House of Cards is nothing more than empty promises.
"If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together."
Historians now refer to religious movement Bubastis as the Cult of the Cat. Gaining prominence around 950 B.C. the Bubastis worshipped Bast, the ancient Egyptian cat goddess. They held an annual festival that attracted more than 700,000 people. The penalty in Egypt for killing a cat, accidentally or otherwise, was death. Women would carry medallions depicting Bast and her kittens, praying to their goddess that they would be as fertile as she. Cats go back a long way.
Felines are almost always depicted as feminine in mythology and popular culture. Cats, by nature, are seen as lithe, reserved, slight, cunning, demure, and fertile/sexual (think of “like a cat in heat”), all traits that are archetypically used to describe women as well. Cats are also often associated with women, the Norse goddess Freyja rode a chariot of cats, a witch is often depicted with a black cat, and Oedipus’ Sphinx is almost always depicted as female.
In modern culture, Catwoman came on the scene in Batman #1 (1940) as The Cat. She was later used as a romantic interest and foil for Batman and was styled after the femme fatales seen in then-popular noir films. She vacillated between villain and hero, between a self-possessed thief and Gotham’s own Robin Hood. She is usually drawn with an S&M aesthetic, dressed in a black leather or latex skin-tight suit and carrying a whip or cat o’ nine tails. She is portrayed as a vixen, and in Frank Miller’s Year One, the inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, a prostitute. Catwoman #1, her own book, came out in 1993, 53 years after she was first introduced. She joined other leading D.C. Comics female superheroes such as Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl and…no, that’s pretty much it for D.C.
I recently read the 2002 reboot of Catwoman by Ed Brubaker, the genius behind the noir Sleeper, one of my favorite comics ever as well as the much-lauded death of Captain America storyline. I was struck first by artist Darwyn Cooke’s depiction of Catwoman. Our feline hero is reasonably proportioned, with a modest chest and a cut of clothing that makes sense. More importantly, Cooke focuses on her face, her short hair, her eyes and expressions, rather than her body. Although she’s shown in a bikini early on (they’re in Miami), there’s nary a full-body shot to be found. In 1954, a Comics Code was put in place limiting the amount of violence, cursing, and sex found in comic books. One stipulation was that “Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.” Instead of changing the way they drew Catwoman, D.C. simply stopped drawing her…for twelve years. It was no better when she got her own book in 1993. You can check out the covers below. They make Pam Anderson look like Ellen Page.
Brubaker and Cooke’s version, however, is a refreshing take on a female character perennially written and drawn by men. Various men have written and directed Catwoman’s every on-screen appearance, including the much-maligned 2003 Halle Berry vehicle Catwoman, which Roger Ebert noted was one his most hated movies of all time. Brubaker’s Catwoman (née Selina Kyle) is world-weary, tired, and on the lam after a job gone sour. While the plot is a little close to a cliched “last big score”, the twists, turns, and Selina’s characterization, makes the book well worth the read. Brubaker, smartly, jumped in medias res, sprinkling in bread crumbs of history alongside noir private eyes and modern-day action. More than almost any other major superhero book I’ve read, the story is concise, coherent, and free of Comic Book Guy continuity bullshit.
A friend of mine, after watching The Dark Knight Rises— and not hating it (nobody’s perfect)— liked how Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman exploits expectations. It’s a great observation, Hathaway’s Catwoman is one step and nine lives ahead. Catwoman, the character, uses her sexuality as a weapon, seducing men before subverting them. However, it’s hard to tell if it is the character exploiting her sexuality or the (male) writer exploiting her sexuality. Even watching Joss Whedon, a known and proven feminist, dangle Black Widow, decked out in (you guessed it) black leather, in front of meathead men made me uncomfortable. Both Hathaway and Johansson’s characters use their perceived, but unfounded, vulnerability to take advantage of the men in their respective movies. While this is a more progressive take on powerful women than much of what’s come before, both movies still seemed to say that women have to use, albeit knowingly, intentionally, and without consummation, their sexuality to get what they want. I want to live in a world where we see a variety of female superheroes…and a variety of colored materials for their costumes.
The stories of Brubaker and Cooke’s Catwoman, short hair and all, are well worth reading. While it’s not a feminist perspective by any means, it’s a new, more nuanced take on a fascinating and yet difficult-to-write character. Still, even with all that, the cover of the first issue features Selina in black latex, one leg up, with a good bit of cleavage. And the most recent reboot of Catwoman, launched in 2011, caused controversy when the cover of the first issue was pulled for featuring Selina as almost comically disproportioned. It seems that sexism has nine lives too.
The cover of Catwoman’s first issue of her first book:
77 issues later, not much had as changed:
The cover of her first run’s final storyline:
The first issue of Brubaker and Cooke’s 2002 Catwoman run:
A new artist for the 2002 reboot means a new aesthetic:
The pulled cover (left) and redone cover (right) of her most recent reboot:
Late last night, Diane Ravitch posted a blog entry entitled “The Hero Teachers of Newton.” Ravitch, firebrand and, recently, an incessant blogger, praised the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary for their courage in protecting their students during an unfathomable and terrifying situation. She was right to do so.
She then transitioned into a number of paragraphs about how the teachers were all union and how Sandy Hook eschewed teaching to the test. That transition angered a great many folk and started an ed-reform-sized (read: not as big as ed-reformers think) Twitter kerfuffle. The @’s and retweets were flying. As I witnessed it, staying mostly outside the fray, it seemed that both sides were misinterpreting the other’s intentions. I wanted to break down Ravitch’s actual words, parse out their meaning, and write about what I think she meant and how I think they were interpreted.
I know people on both sides of this debate, and I tried to be as impartial as I could. Sections from her blog post are set off in bold italics.
This much is clear: the teachers and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School reacted with astonishing courage to the unthinkable, the terrifying intrusion of a man intent on murdering them and their students. With no thought of their own safety, they defended their children.
Everyone of them is a hero, those who died and those who survived.
Six of them died protecting the children.
No one had any objection to these words. She continued further, talking about the individual teachers. Everyone agrees, unquestionably, that they were heroes.
Every one of the teachers was a career educator. Every one was doing exactly what she wanted to do. They’ve worked in a school that was not obsessed with testing but with the needs of children. This we know: the staff at Sandy Hook loved their students. They put their students first, even before their own lives.
This is where the kerfuffle started. Particularly the bit about not being obsessed with testing. Ravitch, I assume, was making the point that despite institutional pressures to test the hell out of their students, the staff at Sandy Hook decided to forgo what Ravitch sees as a negative practice, “obsessive testing”, and focus on the “needs of children.” She saw this act as a further example of courage by the Sandy Hook teachers.
In doing so, however, she is saying that testing and the needs of children are two separate things. I would say that as many people disagree with that statement as support it. On one side, many people, I would say mostly “reformers”, believe that assessing what students are learning is an important part of ensuring they complete the year with the knowledge they need. The other side, Ravitch’s, disagrees and says that an overabundance of testing is detrimental to education, mainly because it takes power out of the hands of those who know best, the teachers. Let the kerfuffle begin.
Oh, and one other thing, all these dedicated teachers belonged to a union. The senior teachers had tenure, despite the fact that “reformers” (led by ConnCAN, StudentsFirst, and hedge fund managers) did their best last spring to diminish their tenure and to tie their evaluations to test scores. Governor Malloy said, memorably, to his shame, that teachers get tenure just for showing up. No one at Sandy Hook was just “showing up.”
This is where the kerfuffle hit the fan, as it were. What Ravitch was trying say, however inelegantly she did so, was that union teachers are not the selfish, greedy people that the media has made them out to be over the last two to three years. She believes that teacher bashing is a big problem and was using the example of these union teachers making the ultimate sacrifice to show that they were more Mother Theresa than Judas.
She also took a shot at some advocacy organizations that she feels are particularly anti-union. According to some, this smacked of politicization of a national tragedy. Why are we talking about unions, they asked, when people are dead? So, Ravitch is saying, You bash unions for being selfish, but look at what these union members sacrificed! and others were saying, You are using their deaths to further your own beliefs and agendas. I’m fairly certain that had Ravitch expanded her logic her point would have become far more clear. As it stands, it does look odd to take shots at ConnCAN one paragraph after praising teachers for giving their lives for their students. Rhetorically, many interpreted her slams as Ravitch saying that non-union teachers would not have made the same sacrifice for their students. Yikes.
Governor Dannell Malloy has led the effort in his state to expand charter schools and high-stakes testing. He appointed a state commissioner of education who co-founded a charter chain. He said, memorably, that he didn’t care how much test prep there was so long as scores go up. Sandy Hook is not that kind of school.
Ravitch now takes the governor to task for wanting more charters and more high-stakes testing. I believe that Ravitch was trying to point out that these teachers that gave their lives also stood up to an institutional push for policies, more charters and more testing, that Ravitch believes is destroying public education. This act was yet another example of their courage. However, we don’t actually know how these teachers felt about charters. Nor testing. She mentions at the end that Sandy Hook isn’t the kind of school that would raise scores by any means necessary, but it’s unclear how she knows that.
This paragraph gets further from her original “heroes” argument and further down the path of politicization. Furthermore, this paragraph, perhaps more than any other, made many level the argument that Ravitch was exploiting a tragedy to propagate her own agenda. Double yikes. The kerfuffle is in full swing at this point.
Let us hope Governor Malloy learned something these past few days about the role of public schools in their communities.
What I think Ravitch meant: Governor Malloy has been bashing public school teachers since he got into office. Hopefully he understands, after hearing that these teachers gave their lives, just how devoted they, and thus other union teachers, are to their students. What many people read: A thinly veiled shot that non-union, non-public teachers would not have acted so valiantly as the teachers at Sandy Hook did.
Newtown does not need a charter school. What it needs now is healing. Not competition, not division, but a community coming together to help one another. Together. Not competing.
Many people jumped on Ravtich’s words that Sandy Hook does not need “division” when they, after reading the previous paragraphs, felt that Ravitch was drawing, not a line, but a canyon in the sand between union and non-union teachers, between non-charter and charter schools.
It is also unclear why she included the line that “Newtown does not need a charter school.” As generous as I try to be, I do not understand how charter schools relate to the tragedy in Netwon. Even following Ravitch’s logic as best I can, I can’t make sense of that one. Many people saw this as another instance of Ravitch politicizing this tragedy.
Two groups of people and two wildly different readings of the same blog post. Many people lauded Ravitch for her praise of these teachers. Ravitch has already posted, not 24 hours later, three additional blog posts about her post, including one from Karen Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, all supporting her original post and slamming her detractors.
My question to both groups, to everyone no matter how you read her post: What good comes of this? How does this help our kids? I do think Ravitch’s post could have used more thought and some tempering. I was angry when I first read it, less angry when I read it again, and understanding when I read it a third time. Instead of Twitter, shouldn’t we be jumping on the phone to has this out? What benefit do we get from sniping each other behind our keyboards? I love Twitter, it’s a great resource, but our kids deserve more than 140 characters. I think we can all agree on that.