the manic pixie WHITE dream girl

500dayys

(Men still love Zooey Deschanel right?)

Will all my women of color understand the desirability of themselves.

Ae Padilla

Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I can’t say it, let alone write it, without visions of Zooey Deschanel dancing across my head. The brunette with the bangs, the wispy voice and whimsical clothing who serves as nothing more than a muse for the male protagonist of a movie. She is the instigator of passion and adventure the man has always craved (even if he did not know it). More than anything, she embodies everything that is carefree. She listens to indie pop and screams into the abyss, trash bag covering her for no reason.

But the manic pixie dream girl is also white. Almost always white. She’s beautiful, quirky, smart, although hardly ever more financially independent than the man but with a perfect red lip on her fair skin.

I’m not surprised women of color are not the love interest for a white man. They rarely are the love interest of anyone if their race has already not been accounted for as plot, think Guess Who (for those who remember that Ashton Kutcher Zoe Saldana semi-flop). When they are the main love interest in a film the man is almost always not white either (think Hitch). And when both cis heterosexual people are of color, and do manage to engage in romance and sex, the film is usually inclusively “a black film” targeted at black audiences because white people won’t admit they don’t care as much about seeing people of color fall in love in their theaters.

The need for different racial representation has been a heated discussion recently, especially within elite Hollywood and the oh so white Oscars. Romantic-comedies or relationship dramas are usually not the movies that people turn to for said representation, mostly because films about relationships tend to not be heavily favored by critics. Within the context of media, romantic films and novels fall into the same category, a flighty story with minimal merit although exceptions do happen. Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Brokeback Mountain, Titanic. But they don’t happen often, and the idea of women of color being represented in them is pushed to the back burner.

When romance does appear on the screen, becoming the movies we “hate to love” but watch anyway, the woman does not look like me.

Women of color are never able to be the carefree woman that white women are in movies because racism runs rampant on the screen. I give no credence to the directors who would be educated enough to recognize the real reason is that women of color are never given the opportunity to be the exclusionary woman of a (let’s face it) man-child’s gaze. Often, if true to life, they are too oppressed and too busy fighting for representation to be cute for the sake of being cute. That’s a white woman’s privileged world to be the pretty bow wearing optimist who men dream over.

The carefree woman that the director envisions for this role is a “virginal” white woman. Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, Natalie Portman in Garden State, and the ever coveted Summer in 500 Days of Summer hold sexual autonomy, but their sexuality is never vulgarized. It hides behind petite women with modest breasts. Their butt is small, their face is gorgeous. Women of color aren’t allowed to be the object of desire in this area. While I commend most romantic comedies of this sort for not over-sexualizing women, the brooding intelligent men who are drawn to this women eventually want them as a life partner. They can love having sex with these dainty women because they are allowed to love having sex with them. By society’s standards, the man does not have to justify enjoying the curvaceous bodies that are frequently, but not all the time, women of color’s bodies. The thicker lips, thighs, and butt of a woman who considers herself identifying with a black or Latina culture does not make the big screen when the man who is pursuing her is white, especially in the world that romantic comedies set up – a man who surprisingly does not fetishize the woman he wants but loves her as much sexually as emotionally. A man in a similar film would have to defend his love for a woman of that size and of color. And defend his desire for a future with her.

Women of color are fetishized more often in pop-culture. They are degraded as purely sexual for a man’s pleasure in shows, music videos, and even pornography. Therefor as a romantic lead, the man in the partnership cannot see “end-game” with the woman who is perceived as being overtly sexual. Manic pixie dream girls are hot but beautiful. They are sexual beings that have the privilege of not being sexualized because they are seen as people and not as a stereotype of a feisty Latina girl in bed. This woman has never been called “exotic” or been pressured into doing something the world perceives she participates in.

Additionally, the carefree white manic pixie dream girl, by association to the man who pursues her, is supposed to be an influx of cultural knowledge and creativeness the man has almost purposefully avoided throughout his life. Natalie Portman, Sam in Garden State, is a wonderful distraction to Zach Braff’s inner turmoil of his dead mother. She shows him which songs will change his life. She introduces him to the Shins, movies he would never have seen, and a huge hamster maze for no.fucking.reason. Or Kirsten Dunst, Claire in Elizabethtown who coincidentally helps her new-found attraction get over the death of his father by introducing him to mix-cds and scrap books he obsessively pours over which lead him to throw dirt in the air in the middle of a forest for no.fucking.reason.

Women of color are rarely represented as being creative and by being captivated by music, art, and films which are not isolating to white people. The addition of women of color as a love interest in the manic pixie dream girl role would be to convince the audience of two things. One is that a woman of color can be excluded from the box of perceived musical taste (hip-hop/rap/Tejano). This is to say that a woman with dreadlocks, a woman with dark skin could hold up headphones of a band like Spoon and encaptivate a music-snob man in the making. Or worse the opposite occurs too. If that woman of color is someone who identifies with their cultural influences in art then the screenplay writer, producer, etc. would be unable to fully represent and describe that art in a way which would not be demeaning or dismissive. The result is that white women create less work for the writer to flesh out their character which is hardly even given agency at all.

Finally, white women in the United Stare are still seen almost exclusively as the most desirable mate. To the “misguided” racist viewer who makes up a part (but not all) of the American box office, seeing a white love story is the true epitome of a romance. It is a love story that does not fall into “other category.” Interracial, cultural, diversity.

In an industry which struggles to bring in money, alienating viewers who are unable to stick themselves into the role of the man or woman in the film is potentially dangerous. Although the ethnic makeup of the United States points to the fact that black, Hispanic, and Asian population make up a large majority of our country the narrative script remains, rarely shaken up. White man falls in love with white woman. They have white babies. Their white families expect nothing less.

As a person who has subscribed to the American and Mexican-American culture since birth, I find the context of white romance on screen, particularly quirky romance, as containing a slight coating of unrealistic ideas. When almost every couple does not look like you you begin to wonder if the relationships themselves mirror your actual problems and stories. Other times, you insert yourself into the narrative because you have no other choice, because the normalcy of white-only relationships creeps up on you. But it never feels completely your own. You think to yourself subconsciously, whether you admit it or not, that those are white people living a white life. You understand, know, that people are almost always just people at their core. You are also not that naïve.

When manic pixie dream girls are in a film you decide to watch, it feels like a mockery. While I, and other women of color subscribe to the American culture we are not treated the same as all Americans. Women of color in the United States are empowered and active, but rarely are they carefree, because they have not been allowed to be. They are fighting for equal rights, equal pay, the idea of being seen as “equal” itself. Women of color’s sole identity in life is never what they strive for, nor should it be, but it’s important to remember that women of color live in a different world than white women, even if they inhabit the same physical one.

White women do not understand the struggle of the balancing-act which can frequently occur in the mind of an ethnic woman who is dating a white man. It’s some of the same questions ignorant people have already asked us while single. Why do you sound white? Why do you act white? Why do you not listen to the art/music/etc. that other people who look like you listen to? Is it weird not dating someone of your own ethnicity? And the comment:good for you for landing a white guy!

In entering an interracial relationship with a white man, women of color can feel as if they lose some bit of their racial identity to being the token partner of a white man and a lot of the time a group of white friends to accompany him. It’s a constant stream of questions to provoke debates with yourself. How do I deal with the racist friend my white boyfriend has? How do I deal with strangers who disregard us as a couple or who make subtle racist comments they are able to take back if I call them on? How am I supposed to straddle the line of being chill without being complicit to a culture which regularly insults not only my gender but race more often than white men realize? And how do I react to the inevitable “compliment” of fitting in with my boyfriend from others who were cautious about our relationship because of my skin color?

The questions minority women are asked are not that of a manic pixie dream girl. They create too many “real world” problems a film like this wont explore.

Minority women lack the ability to be as self-absorbed as a white female protagonist, who is able to get away with continuing the limited growth of the man she is in a relationship with who often himself has limited goals. Who needs someone to save him instead of taking the accountability to save himself. More women of color than white women are forced to “grow-up” earlier in life on account of being raised in areas and in situations that come from the systematic pull of racism. The experience of childhood, the wonderment that follows white women in musical montage scenes, stops short with others.

Although not all minority women should be grouped into certain experiences, the fact remains that black and Native-American women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and in domestic abuse situations. They are more likely to be living in poverty and making less money. They are faced with obstacles not all other people face.

Minority women are more than the buzzed karaoke going woman who a man stares at, and all time stands still, and he is lost. They have to be.

Sure, the manic pixie dream girl is never a real woman because a real woman has flaws that do not stem from a man. She possesses a personality that does not exist to serve her partner’s need. She lives outside of how she affects a man’s story-line which ultimately ends up being about him rather than them.

In a world where women of color are constantly tossed to the side, dismissed as taking up less space, the hope for representation exists even in this cliché. Perhaps it comes down to being wanted in a way which men fawn over us as the “ideal” women. It doesn’t make us the ideal woman because a man says we are, instead it reinforces to us that while we may not want to be the ultimately stupidly naïve somewhat weak woman in the film (and this is a good thing) we can be a woman in film period.

Perhaps we are allowed to be the “prize” too.

Advertisements

Will My White Friends (Who Claim to be Liberal) Please Stand Up

(You’re doing next to nothing for minorities…this includes your lack of dialogue.)

charlotesville

(so many unimpressive white men, so little time )

My gratitude to those who protested against hatred in Charlottesville as well as Heather Heyer, who paid the ultimate price for her beliefs.

Ae Padilla 

I live in Austin, Texas. A speck of blue in a sea of red. Austin has a reputation of being liberal, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it has a plethora of minorities because of this. Austin is very white, extraordinarily white for the amount of people in an urban area within a very populated Hispanic state. As a result of living here I have a lot of white friends. I have a good amount of friends of color but it’s not uncommon if I find myself on any given night in a room surrounded by only white people.

Most, if not all of my friends, identify as liberal or libertarian. To keep it short, I am acquainted with many individuals who are fiscally conservative but as far as I know I am not knowingly friends with anyone who does not believe in equal rights, and I wouldn’t be friends with anyone anymore if I did find this out. I can’t believe I have to say this in the year 2017 but if you believe that because you are a white person or a man you are better than me, a Hispanic woman, you are a horrible human being and the earth would probably be a more tolerant place without you in it.

But for the love of God I am so sick of the complacency of some of the white people I hang around with both in a private and public setting.

I don’t know what it’s like to be white. I assume you watch a lot of Mad Men and write a good amount in moleskin notebooks and in between those activities you live as great of a life as you can. You engage in the world around you (Twitter, Reddit, Facebook) and sooner or later you become aware of what’s happening in it that doesn’t affect you. The fact that black people get shot in the country daily by cops or that women who wear Hijabs are attacked on the subway as they go about their own lives.

I assume that like my friends you care, you find this to be one terrible ordeal after another. You do not condone the violence. You distance yourself away from people who look like you but who spread hate speech they feel is protected under the first amendment. You vote for someone who isn’t Trump. You maybe, maybe, donate to Planned Parenthood.

But in all honesty it usually ends there. White people’s actions commence and end at being offended for someone else, while still never being as offended they should be. Including people I spend time around, too many white people I know shake their heads (understandably) at the idea of active Nazi’s in our modern world, the rise of the KKK, the “alt-right,” the resistance to accept Black Lives Matter but these white people do absolutely nothing productive about it.

I don’t even mean that in the big acts of activism way, where you have to pause your Netflix and move your body off a couch. Still hardly any of the white people I know engage in organized protests or call their senators to change laws (laws which effect transgender, women, and other marginalized groups in their state.) These deeds require the bare minimum of physical action that they could do, along with clicking a donation button to the ACLU or NAACP, but still they do not do it.

It’s hard, I understand that. I have, since Trump has been president, cried almost on a weekly basis from something in the headlines which has threatened a fellow American – almost always a minority. I have had true anxiety at the possibilities of what will happen to those I know who are immigrants, who love someone of their same sex, for the people of my hometown who will have a literal wall separate them from their family. I have suffered so much frustration about the sexual predator in our oval office who devalues women tweets at a time. But I have also been frustrated with myself for not doing enough. Because I know I am not doing enough. I write blogs, donate, and call local offices sporadically. I listen to political podcasts until I am blue in the face, but it seems stationary. It seems like as much as I try I can’t do enough. I can’t fix Washington and I can’t fix hate. I can’t even buy out the tiki torches of the world.

In all seriousness not a day goes by where I don’t think to myself, what did I do today to help the resistance? To help my people? Both women and people of color. I feel constant shame in my immobile helplessness.

I am almost positive however that most of my white friends do not ever think this. How much of a blessing it must be to not have to, to see something horrific happening, recognize it, but have no inclination that you are responsible for fixing it as much as someone like me might be. It’s ironic given that the perils minorities encounter are caused mainly by white people.

There are those in my life who I assume do feel this way. Minorities and white people alike. (Because not all white people right?) But the burden falls to people who look like me, who relate to that crippling feeling that their country is moving in a direction which will ultimately betray them (even more than it already has.) It is very rare that I can connect over this shared feeling with those who do not identify in any way with a minority or are not actively searching to be educated and empathetic to minorities.

But the education is out there. In this day and age the accessibility of helpful and informative articles about race, particularly in relation to how the “alt-right” (or rather pro-racist movement) view minorities are in excess. The ways we can teach people about race and defeat this movement (and with it Trump) do exist on our walls, tweets, and trusted news outlets. If we take the time to make sure these texts are verifiable and written by people who have survived struggle themselves (or those who have researched it sensitively) we should indeed go about sharing them with those around us.

It’s a touchy situation, but we need to let go of this idea that we are bothering people with political posts and talk. The time we live in does not call for it. Maybe Facebook started out as a way to engage happily with your friends about your latest beach vacation, but why must that mean that there should be a moratorium on the real news we share aside from that? We live in an extraordinary age where we are able to share instantaneous information and yet people, white people specifically, are more ignorant than ever.

Because I’ve come to realize something telling about race in the United States that plays across my computer screen. It’s my minority friends who post the articles about Heather Heyer and Eric Garner. It’s my minority friends who keep me updated on if a ridiculous bathroom bill is dead. It is my Indian, Black, Hispanic, Transgender, Gay and Jewish friends who respond to stories, who engage in not only online dialogue but who create their own with thought out posts about how they feel about the current political climate. They are the ones who text me at the end of the day “Did you see what that clown said today?”

I do want to say that some of those minority groups I mentioned are white themselves, but as white people who have faced their own, even minute, struggles they understand a form of oppression that exists around them and this possibly allows them to see greater strife in others. Are there some white friends of mine who are amazingly open to learning more about the racism that occurs presently in this country? Absolutely. Some of my white friends seem as passionate about the resistance as I do. But they are few and far between. If I sat down and really thought about it, they might make up less than five people.

It’s not that my white friends, or white people, don’t try to play the part. They “like” my posts, they read extensively about politics, they could probably out politic talk me. But they fail to understand the deep-heartedness that comes when race becomes personal and not political. As white people who are surrounded by different races than them they are placed in the unique opportunity to learn more about race in their nation from someone who experiences it, they choose not to for reasons that vary from it being too much work to just not caring enough.

I’m not saying I am not privileged myself, that I do not share some of the same privileges of growing up as an American citizen in an upper-middle class family as many of my white peers do, but being a Mexican-American woman does lead to an awareness (and hardship) that some people in my life have never faced.

I know this because a wonderful thing happens when I talk about race with different races, those hardships and ideas I experience are validated.

I can think of nothing less productive than having a conversation about race with a group of white people, sometimes even those I am closest too. And I know that I am not the only minority who feels this way. An amazing energy and discourse occurs when a group of people who are not white discuss race openly. There are arguments, regardless of what people might believe not everyone agrees that we should all just condemn white people and that would be the end of it, but the arguments are not rooted in white validation.

When I have a discussion of race in America, like I did recently with only my Indian, Middle Eastern, and two Black friends, I do not need to worry about offending my non-existent white friend sitting among us. Every sentence does not need to be prefaced with “not all white people.” I do not have to, as minorities always do, cater to the emotional feelings of a white person who believes they are being attacked because they are in a position where for the first time they are being told devastating things people of their race do. I rarely ever get questioned: are you sure that wouldn’t happen to a white person? I am not told: I wouldn’t consider that a race issue, that happens to me too. Or aren’t you making something out of nothing? Most of all, a conversation without white people does not become proving something to white people, thereby turning the conversation back to them – again. Conversations like the one I had with minorities, predominately minorities of not one race, allow me to grow because I see the problems within my own ways I view a racial construct. And most importantly I know the conversation will continue, I won’t have to worry about a white person emotionally exhausting the room, and then wrapping it up with the status quo of “I don’t see you any differently than any of my white friends.” It’s a good sentiment, and most people mean well when they say this, but it also takes away the agency of someone (me) who knows they are talking about a battle that not everyone has to fight. A conversation with only people of color, other ethnicities, eliminates the unavoidable white person who needs to feel they are more educated about a subject simply because they have read about it.

My liberal white friends and most of your liberal white friends need to accept that their conversations about race or discrimination of any kind are usually not good ones. They need to recognize and not flee from the inevitable feeling they will experience of being “uncomfortable” when someone suddenly gets serious about wanting to talk personally and not flippantly about something they saw in the media that effected them. They need to realize we (I) have to actively work to be comfortable in our body every single day. White people need to realize that if a conversation about a politician or riot feels like a restraint on their happiness at a dinner party, gathering, etc. then they are living in a Candyland of partly their own doing.

Hating people who hate black people does not give them a pass. They need to share articles. They need to not make jokes about the resistance, or buy into the false idea that the people who lead these organizations and the political leaders we elect to represent us do not know how to govern. They need to think, and evaluate themselves, every time they utter a statement that alludes to the fact that being a minority in no way effects poll numbers.

They need to get over themselves as their own white savior, the false belief that if they united more white people then and only then could they accomplish more. White people can accomplish more only with the help of minorities leading them.

White friends and white women can stop pretending that we are both sitting on the same seat of the struggle bus. White people need to understand that my body is seen as disposable because I am dark, it has not been proven to be acceptable to a passerby because I live a more culturally white lifestyle than people of my own race.

But whites, particularly white men, can do something about all this. I hate that this is how it is, but it is this way. White men are automatically shown the most respect, by default, in our society. They live in a world I have never lived in, where anything they say is accepted, on face value, as the truth. They live rarely being questioned, especially by people who adhere to the same socioeconomic lifestyle. Its white men who can easily continue a revolution into a broader scope. It’s a white man who can say that people of color have a voice that needs to be heard, and then hand the microphone over to that man or woman ready to speak.  It’s a white man that has the power to continue a revolution into a broader scope by protesting against protests. It’s a white man that another white man in office would want to talk to. I guarantee a male white politician would take a meeting with a constituent who looks like him before he takes one with me.

So all the liberal white men who speak about how they hate the current administration or who at the bare level think that our country is running itself into the ground the men (and women) who would wear a Black Lives Matter shirt if it was given to them but would never think about buying one themselves, you are the problem. Your access to the loudest voice in our country you decide to mute is a problem.

Because the revolution doesn’t start (even if it is furthered) by the white race in this instance. It hardly ever does. It starts with the minorities. But the white people who are like-minded need to work. Because it will take us a long time. And they need to listen to me when I say this.

I don’t have to convince you into thinking I should have equal rights. But I do need to convince you to help me attain them. I don’t have to tell you to care about me or people like me. But I do need to convince you to care more.

I just don’t know whats going to have to happen at this point. What event, what riot, what moment is going to make you want to see something differently. What’s going to make you fall of your high horse. I hope it starts with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Anyone be Iconic Anymore?

midnightinparis

(“F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway” hanging out in a sweet ass car in the film Midnight in Paris)

The real question is would Hemingway be as obnoxious as Jonathan Franzen on Twitter?

Ae Padilla

I had this conversation a while back with a fellow writer after I had seen, what I refer to as a writer’s wet dream, Midnight in Paris. For those who don’t like to view Owen Wilson add to his YouTube supercut of “wow,” Woody Allen’s 2011 film is about a screenplay writer Gil who visits Paris with his gorgeous but garbage fiancé (Rachel McAdams) and stumbles upon a secret street at the stroke of midnight that transforms him to Paris in the 1920’s. It is here where he meets his heroes. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, and Picasso who take him through a world of booze, partying, and beautiful prose. On the journey of inspiring and helping Gil with his own novel, the elite wrap him in the nostalgia of flapper dresses and Underwood typewriters. As a result he never wants to return to his mid-2010’s present life, back to a time he has deemed colorless where people fail to connect to each other. Even if it is Paris.

He longs for a world of awe, successful people circling around him at every moment.

It’s a world I am envious of, it looks exciting and promising. The better Beat Generation. It’s filled with writers whose eccentric personal lives are only overshadowed by their work. Similarly, that’s the trap Gil finds himself in up until the climax of the film when he realizes nostalgia will always be at play no matter the decade you live in. People in the 60’s were nostalgic of the 20’s. People in the 20’s were nostalgic of the renaissance, just the way that some now talk obsessively about how they wish they lived in the age of drive thru movies and poodle skirts. (For me of course the grunge music and slip dresses of the 90’s.)

Gil ultimately decides to live in the beautiful modern world, capable of beautifully romantic moments he had with his 1920’s girlfriend.

But maybe Midnight in Paris is right about one fact it does not explicitly address which does not carry into the present. These group of inspiring miscreants (I mean really, truly how the fuck did they all know each other?) are – iconic. I couldn’t care less if the only book you have ever read from any of them is The Great Gatsby you were forced to skim in high school. This pact has the timelessness of Audrey Hepburn or Charlie Chapman mixed with the intelligence of DaVinci or Edison.

They do possess the abilities and influential nature of people today, those in the neighborhood of Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela. Junot Díaz or Mark Zuckerberg. But no matter the work of those we presently admire, the people we see as iconic now are unable to live up to this reputation today, and the further we advance into a society that uses technology to bridge the gaps between humans the more prevalent this will become.

Technology has united families and strangers together across countries, blessing us with a place to find our icons, famous people we wouldn’t normally be able to have any access to. More than just interviews on websites and information about upcoming album release dates or films in pre-production, we have been thrust into a unique situation of directly reaching out to our heroes ourselves, through a medium that eliminates a liaison. What this comes down to is that I, a self-published female writer living in Austin, Texas, can tweet at J.K. Rowling every. single. day. She may never respond to me, but it is still direct access with the person I admire. Even if the chances of a response are slim, the possibility is still always there.

In our modern world moved by telecommunication progress a popular point of view is how inspirational this truly is to people that might get replies from those they too admire (which can greatly affect their own career.) As someone in the arts, the simple “you can do it” from someone who actually did it works wonders. To feel as if you are in a writer’s brain by not just reading the magic but witnessing the thought process behind what it takes to create it is ground-breaking. Even seeing struggle as well as success and motivation makes people, well real. I feel more greatly comforted when Stephen King says he just can’t get the ball rolling on a project or lacks some motivation (assuming he says these things from time to time) then if I myself just assume every writer goes through the same shit I do, or worse, does not.

But by that same token, the constant interactions we have (by virtue of just reading 140 characters thoughts) gives us the ugly side of our icons that are also, firstly, human. Does it mean anything if Eve Ensler states that she doesn’t like tuna fish sandwiches? (Unestablished) Or that Kanye doesn’t like waking up with a water bottle next to him on a flight? (Established) Probably not.

But what happens when we find out Dr. Seuss cheated on his wife while she had cancer, and as a result killed herself? And then we leave the confines of a personal situation and follow that up with Teddy Roosevelt’s comment about Mexican’s being a weaker race which pose a threat to the good of humanity. When these people’s flaws are revealed, some of them lending to more forgiveness than others, what do we do with them? How does it affect how we look at these people? And does that matter to how we look at their art?

On a simpler level, it’s hard for someone to be iconic in any way if they are still alive, if humans have not had enough time to miss them and study the impact they had on the world. It’s easy to look at the past, in that trap of nostalgia, as not even being a better time but being inhabited by better people, who emulated a greater command than anyone today. But we do that because of the information given to us about the people we love today.

It is easier to forgive a person from a different sociological time because they themselves are not held to the scrutiny that we bestow on everyone who has the opportunity to mess up in a mild or major manner, whether that be via a tweet, interview, conversation, or action. It doesn’t excuse what people say, if you are sexist or racist then you will be more prone to say more racist/sexist things thus exposing yourself, and you should be held accountable for it, but contradicting this, there are moments when people are caught up in an ignorant mindset they are permanently lamented into which ultimately stilts room for growth not in just the individual but in how society perceives them…despite how much they might try to learn and redeem themselves. America only likes a certain comeback story.

The constant idea of being excessively connected to our world (if there can be such a thing) now threatens how we look at figures that we have been told are immaculate. Gandhi and Mother Theresa, both deeply flawed but revolutionary figures (I will leave you to Google yourselves) become tainted if we search for it.

But where do we draw the line? Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is so iconic I would venture to say that if you threw it in as a reference at whatever dinner party your grandma, best friend, and parent happened to be at, all three would know what it is. But Dahl spoke openly about his anti-Semitic views. Not to kill your love for him, but he did. Does this mean that now we should ban our children from reading it at school? Preface everything we say about it with “I don’t condone the personal thoughts of the writer but his work is imaginative, humorous, and refreshingly fun.”

Can you be based only on the work you do or does the baggage of who you are come with it? Or does that apply only to people we are allowed to forgive because they have helped so many people tainting them would be tainting ourselves?

As is the case with Steve Jobs who I mentioned previously and who was, by most people’s definition, an asshole. He created every electronic device you find yourself glued to now, he has had multiple films chronicling his stupendous success shockingly quick after his death but by all means everyone in his personal life would not want to be at a table with him unless they were able to ask him questions on how he feels about the new iPhone. For goodness sake the man denied he had a daughter for years.

But we let it go because he contributed to society and more importantly to us. He is iconic to most but not to me. And it’s not because I wish more than anything that we all still used Motorola RAZRs, it is because I recognize him beyond the sepia filter and it taints my vision so that the person is not iconic, only the person’s work is.

This is sometimes a hard line to balance because too many people are sensitive to the idea of liking something in spite of their reaction to those associated with it. In some way it proves to be great. We do not want “iconic” politicians or leaders being people who might lack a moral compass as they work on behalf of us and our own code of ethics, but to subject that to others makes way for complete isolation of works that move us in ways only creative outlets can do.

The work of artists, writers, and actors are not themselves, as they write away from not their own interests but their own thoughts that might inhabit a faulty compass.

I have written about iconic as being inherently good, synonymous with great and untouchable. Others might find this problematic – to even idolize anyone at all. But icons are untouchable. They should be. You should not be allowed to go thirty weeks into their internet history and find out they were upset about a new bottle of wine they tried that did not live up to their expectation. Icons most be lost to a mystery which inhabits its greater ideal. You know something without knowing too much. Like a work of art the reader or viewer will find their own interpretations based on the art itself and then work backwards to find out more about the person, thereby making the idea of deciphering works more intricate.

One last view of iconicism lies in the fluctuating world of art (particularly fiction) once it is defined as revolutionary within the creator’s life.

A perfect example is author of the Harry Potter series J.K. Rowling who continues to add onto her works with prequels, sequels, and Hogwarts textbooks. Some of it is a brilliant addition to the books, an added text that establishes more of a formed world. Other times she is pulling a George Lucas, unable to leave behind a story that she loves and not being forced to do it either. But when does it end? When does questionable tidbits of what the trio is up to after the final battle become fan service? Is J.K. Rowling allowing herself to be lost to the fame even while not being lost to the greed?

Does she (and others) ruin the influence of iconic work by killing it? Does she (and others) sense the idea of her own iconicness that goes beyond the generation she lives in, making it difficult for those who come after her to take her work seriously? Where does she begin and end? And her work? What constitutes as what we know to be her?

It might not matter. Maybe. Maybe not. We can be influential, we can be both artists and people but we can only be iconic now in moments, in the future photo-shopped versions of ourselves.

I could be wrong, but it’s good to know if I am I will never find out.

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About that Sex Scene (or Lack Thereof) in Wonder Woman

wonderwoman

(Above: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman)

All thanks to the spectacular women who made and starred in this film.

Ae Padilla

It’s an amazing moment when a film passes the Bechdel test in the first few minutes of run-time. It reminds me that I am about to a view a movie that remembers women make up half of the population and should be represented as such. But when it happens in the superhero universe, a male-centric environment, it is even more fantastic.

Wonder Woman, the biggest block-buster of 2017 showcases actress Gal Gadot as the iconic Diana, Princess of Themyscira. Gadot, brings to light the impressive qualities that make up Wonder Woman, intelligence, strength, perseverance, independence, empathy, and of course beauty.

Make no mistake about it Gadot is gorgeous, distractingly beautiful even. Despite the troubling naysayers (or rather idiots) who have devoted time to online posts about Gadot’s “less than impressive cleavage,” Gadot is nothing but breathtaking, the type of human you just want to stare at. And Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman knows this. She is very much aware of the sex appeal that Gadot and Wonder Woman embody, the male attention and the male gaze that could easily erupt when the sexual appeal of a main character becomes overly sexualized – especially within the context of womanhood. There’s a reason why Jenkins didn’t get binding tape and try to reenact a Kiera Knightly Pirates of the Caribbean moment and also why the sexuality of Wonder Woman never dips into a “costumey” costume.

In Patty Jenkin’s Wonder Woman the costume serves a point, and that point is not to illicit sexual feelings but to showcase the strength and fluidity that Wonder Woman needs to fight. Similarly, every decision Jenkins makes tells us that our protagonist is in charge of her sexuality, and she is in charge of how the viewers see it too.

The most stunning example of this is Diana Prince’s and Steve Trevor’s first kiss and night together.

Although there are those critics and viewers alike who have spoken with distain about the need for a romantic plot at all, I stand with Jenkins. Wonder Woman should be able to live in a world in which she is able to save the world and get the guy (even if that be for only a short time.) Like any superhero film with a male as its lead, Diana is allowed the right to have sexual feelings for a ridiculously attractive secondary character.

Where Wonder Woman strays is in the organic development of the relationship between Diana and Steve, the compatibility addressed between two people who feel like outsiders, who hold firmly to justice and are equally brave. Attraction to each other is a small piece of the puzzle which seems almost inevitable with two insanely good-looking people.

What is so important is Wonder Woman takes account of her own sexuality early in the film. She needs no “saving” from any man, even for the “pleasures of the flesh.” She does not need a sexual rescuing, a male to make her climax. In a comical boat scene Diana and Steve speak about reproduction and Diana’s knowledge of men and physical gratification from men. Diana claims “I’ve read all 12 volumes of Clio’s treatises on bodily pleasure…you would not enjoy them…they came to the conclusion that men are essential for procreation but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” Plain and simple, leaving aside the unclear sexual relations of the other Amazons (all women on the island) Diana can reach an orgasm by herself, making the bedroom scene later in the film even more layered and complex.

After a tumultuous battle brought to an end by Diana, both Diana and Steve find themselves dancing underneath the falling snow. Diana looks up at it, calls it “magical” and has what can only be described as an utterly romantic moment with Steve. But with no kiss, Diana makes a decision. After the night comes to a close, Steve walks her up to her room and stops at the door ready to close it, leaving her alone. When he glances once more at Diana he hesitates. Diana stares at him seductively, almost with a “come hither” look. It is this gesture that serves as a catalyst for Steve to make his way to her where ultimately both of them embrace in a sensual kiss that cuts away gracefully but suddenly to the outside of their building, snow still falling down.

As a woman, you get the idea that from the time Diana asked Steve what a “normal” world looks like, amidst hearing the piano and watching others “sway”, she decides that she wants Steve both sexually and romantically and as a beautiful and fierce woman with someone who has possibly expressed as much interest in her as she has with him she is inclined to get what she wants.

It’s a strong and realistic testament to the power women have with sex that is repeatedly stripped away from them in films, especially superhero films in which the woman is often portrayed as the prize the man earns for saving the world. This presents itself in scene after scene where a woman is almost violently and passionately taken after a heated conversation that usually revolves around a man claiming how much he needs her in a moment but then also how he must leave her because he does not want to endanger her, thus exhibiting that power balance in which the man has the upper hand.

Diana in her kiss with Steve, and her un-coerced decision to allow him to stay with her in her room is both a mixture of vulnerability and power that most sex scenes fail to adequately portray with women. We know that Diana does not have the past experiences of sexually being with a man, so it’s a pivotal point in her personal narrative when she chooses him as the person she wants to have sex with, particularly given that the context we do know about Diana is that she is in charge of her own sexuality through presumed masturbation. Diana is a virgin, but not a stereotypical virginal character, and if the sex scene did continue for more than the few seconds we were given Diana would be knowledgeable and assertive about what to tell Steve in regards to pleasing her if he was not performing the way she wanted (although in my fictional world I am sure Steve is perfect in bed.)

However it’s important to discuss some of the reasons why the scene did not extend past that initial kiss. On one hand I believe Jenkins did everything in her power to stop the destructive male gaze. With groups of men upset about the political correctness of a woman superhero (never mind that the heroine has been around since the ‘40s) to men threatening to sue movie theaters for having women only screenings (while co-ed ones were available at the same time) the fragile ego of males has notably showcased itself. The ignorant persona of this man is a man who would love to objectify Gadot’s body, displaying that male gaze as something which does or does not satisfy what he wants to see on screen. An active sex scene also allows Wonder Woman to be demoralized by preconceived notions of promiscuity and purity in females, E.g. a woman who “puts out” is not as valuable any more and in some way weaker. Jenkins prevented clips uploaded to YouTube of the sex scene not because it arouses others and is a plot distraction but because it sexually commodifies Gadot as “the hot fuckable superhero.”

So the viewer does not get the whole sex scene; like a private moment we are not supposed to be watching we get ushered away. The director paints in broad strokes and it works, the romance of the previous scenes continue through.

In most sex scenes the scene does extend past the act itself. In the PG-13 version of the rendezvous the woman lazily has a sheet covering, just perfectly, her breasts the following morning. In the R version the woman is sprawled across the bed, chest exposed, as the man either kisses her or gets up to begin whatever pressing job he has to attend to. He however is rarely seen in any vulnerable state that the act of sex he just partook in demands.

In Wonder Woman this never happens. But believe me I waited for it. In the following scenes I waited for the knowing look that I am accustomed to watching in films, that moment where Steve looks at Diana and she smiles shyly thinking about what they did the night before. That time when they hold hands, initiated of course by the male, when they speak about how being intimate together changed or is about to change whatever they have.

It’s quite possible within the world of Wonder Woman that both Diana and Steve felt more emotionally bonded within their relationship, but since it’s something we can only assume the precedent is that the act of sex forming or not forming that bond does not matter. Instead in the final moments of the film Diana is again resilient, strong, brilliant and equal in every way if not superior to Steve as a sexually satisfied woman.

Her relationship, and her sexuality do not become a focus of the film even as the relationship reaches its most charged moment and as such Jenkins sets out to accomplish what she wanted, creating a character full of emotions, strengths, and flaws that recognizes love is a great and intricate revolutionary power in humans.

If Wonder Woman represents what an incredible woman hero should be in multiple aspects of the ordinary and extraordinary then she sets a perfect example of what powerful female sexuality is – making you not weaker but stronger, allowing you to find and explore another part of your being. It is Diana who unapologetically speaks about sex, and its bizarre way it is treated in the modern world, and it is her who saves the world, not the day, and it is her who gets the man on her own terms.

 

The Video I Will Show My Son

(And the talk I will have when I tell him not to rape anyone)

All respect goes out to the victim of this crime, Jane Doe. “Not all men” blah blah blah.

Ae Padilla

As of now I don’t want children. I want a marriage with lots of adventure, sex, and waking up at 3 pm on a Sunday because we both just can. But I have at some points thought about the “what if.” What if I wake up one day (early) and do want a child?

And in that fantasy, the fantasy of wanting a screaming little tiny creature, it is always a boy. Not that girls aren’t amazing in their own right, sorry. But I picture a beautiful little boy. Dressing him up in baseball uniforms (or theatre ones if he takes after me more than his fictitious dad.) I picture us, him and me, inseparable mom and son, watching whatever Star Wars film is out then, eating greasy burgers, and being crazy close.

I never had a brother, so I blame all my need for male bonding partly on that.

I picture me finally understanding why people brag so much about their children it makes me want to pull their eyes out. And of course I picture the not so fun stuff. Spending more money on groceries than I would if I had daughters, smelling farts that are supposed to be “funny”, and having “the talk.” And no, I don’t mean the sex one where I turn my chair around with my hands on my chin and try to act like a sitcom-dad. I mean the talk where I tell him not to rape anyone.

Bet you didn’t think I was going to go there did you?

I know the internet and our culture has spoken greatly, but never enough, about sexual assault. We live in a time where more people are discussing the crime that statistically men mostly impose on women. There are think pieces after think pieces about the ramifications of rape, from those who have been raped to even those who have been a bystander to a rape. There’s a dialogue about what is happening at parties, college campuses, in relationships, and with random people who exert their power to commit one of the most significant crimes one can commit. And this is good, this dialogue, I never doubt that for a second.

I even have read one very brief article which is similar to this one, but still it needs to be said.

The biggest part out being a parent is instilling values and a sense of morality and responsibility in your children. I wish it was sarcasm and good taste and a thirst for news, but at the end of the day if my kid never has a subscription to the New York Times I need to remember that what is really important is that he is a good human being, that morality can indeed be taught the way we teach manners, and that he as a man is responsible for the well-being of women when he is not only alone with them but in the company of them with other men.

He is responsible for not raping women and he is responsible for not letting men rape and talk casually about rape, which in itself can be a harder thing than not participating in the act.

That is because no parent I know ever thinks their son will grow up to be a rapist just as no parents live their lives believing that their sons will commit grand theft auto, battery, or even murder. The conversation of parents even allowing themselves to say the words to their (otherwise responsible smart funny and charming middle/upper middle class) sons “don’t murder anyone” is such an insane and frankly ridiculous idea no one would think twice about it.

Rape is not the same. Rape is not the same as the above mentioned crimes, because rape is grey where rape should not be. Rape is coercion. Rape is when your son is very drunk and he wants to “get it in”, and he decides that if he persists enough with the drunker girl that she will go back to bed with him and then he will have earned his sex the way his parents and teachers would be proud of him earning his grades. Enough dedication and a hell of a lot of wanting.

Except sex involves someone else, and as said before it lives in that area that is too often murky when it need not be. But who are the men raping women? I’ll tell you this, it’s not the same five men who hang out in dark corners waiting for women to come home so they can overpower them with a knife. Yet again, statistically, it is the sons of all the people commenting on Brock Turner’s early prison release with “I hope he rots in hell one day.” “He didn’t get enough time for this crime.” “What a shitty human.” I guarantee you that these people are fueled (justifiably) with their anger, and are expressing it in the most sincere ways. I never doubt this for a second. I do doubt however that if they themselves have a son of Brock’s age that they have ever uttered the words: Don’t rape a woman. Don’t take advantage of a woman. Don’t let a woman be raped and do nothing about it.

Because it goes against the core being of a parent that a child of theirs could do something they themselves would never do while simultaneously feeding the false idea that if a parent loves their kid enough than that kid would never do anything that would ruin themselves, their family, or another family.

But once we start believing and implementing the idea that children can learn that assault, rape, is something bad that they can do themselves than we can eliminate the idea of a rapist as “another” and not one of our own, as rapists are brothers, friends, and relatives. In turn this will allow us to treat assault and rape as something that is yes, damaging, but also something that can be discussed the way that stealing from a candy store is. It is of course in no way the same severity of a crime but it is a learning lesson that does not make the parent’s feel as if they are having a conversation that does not need to be had because “their kid would never do that.”

Which is why I will show the infamous video of the Steubenville rape case to my son, as there is not a single piece of “appropriate” video which so perfectly encapsulates what exactly rape culture is while also highlighting how men who feel uncomfortable with a reported rape still fall victim to a toxic culture. And this toxic culture is of men who dismiss their concern with laughs, disgruntled looks, and removal from something they know is wrong but feel they can do nothing about.

For those unaware, the Steubenville rape case occurred in Steubenville, Ohio on the night of August 11th, 2012. Making national headlines, the case involved a high school girl who had become unconscious after attending a party where alcohol was present. She was repeatedly sexually assaulted by fellow high school men that she knew who took to documenting the event via photographs posted on Twitter and Instagram. These shared photos and videos included the offenders digitally penetrating the victim and attempting to get her to perform oral sex on them without her consent. When she woke up the next morning she was completely unware of what had transpired the night before, and it was not until she discovered her own body being dragged around like a doll on social media that she realized the severity of the crime inflicted upon her.

The men involved were sixteen year olds Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays who were found guilty and sentenced to one/two years behind bars in juvenile detention (they have since been released.)

The video I mentioned that was posted by group Anonymous online does not include the perpetrators. And that is the most important part of this piece.

The video instead includes Michael Nodianos as the star of the twelve minute buzzed tangent his friend records on his phone at a house in the early morning hours of that same day.

In a video that is so disturbing I watched it the way one watches a disgusting horror film (one hand covering my eyes unsuccessfully, me grimacing), I still attempted to power through. I was in the first few minutes curious about Nodianos and his involvement in the crime, as there are those who have said that he was responsible for a sexual assault the year before (although there is nothing to definitively prove this.) After minute two I changed my tune. I was hoping for Nodianos to recognize just how horrifying his words sounded. I ended with hoping that someone, anyone, would tell him to stop whatever he decided was a funny comedy sketch. Because it was not funny. And it was not drunk talk. It was a promotion of rape that started before the video itself.

By all accounts Nodianos was present at the party where the assault occurred. Posting one of the photos of victim Jane Doe, he captioned his Instagram with “some people deserve to be peed on.” He, concernedly, received many re-tweets within the next few hours of that photo. After he left Doe, or the party she was incapacitated at, he sat down and vented to his filming friend about what he had witnessed.

As the twelve minute video stretches on he makes comments about how “raped” the victim is.

“”She is so raped,” he says. “Her puss is about as dry as the sun right now” and then “they raped her harder than that cop raped Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction.” He continues speaking, fully believing that she might be dead. “She’s so dead, she’s so raped” he proclaims almost with glee, never once feeling any remorse for his, at very least, callous remarks as he sits comfortably in a chair looking at the camera like he is auditioning for a reality TV show.

And he might as well be, because as much sincerity he does possess he is also performing. It’s not an “out” or excuse to what he said but it is evident. You can see it when he asks his friend if he is still filming. And that same person affirming him, recording his monologue, asks for more. He begs for it with his giggle every time Nodianos makes a new statement about how much she was raped that night, laughing hysterically after as if he is the over-enthusiastic audience member of an improve group.

Is this your son? Is this my son one day? Is Noadianos with his generic pale skin, brown hair, and sports t-shirt my son? I sure to hell hope not. I hope that more than anything I have ever hoped.

But Nadianos never went to trial. Nadianos never actually did anything illegal, or at least nothing he was charged for. He might have been there and displayed tasteful photos and vulgar language but he was never in a court of law defending his video, and to this day the court of public opinion might hate him but as far as the records show Ohio State did accept him into their school on an academic scholarship in 2013, although he did leave after a semester (but whether or not it was of his own accord is still not known).

Nadianos does however represent the relative we could all one day have, a relative who lives in a world (further implemented by his closer circle) that understand the concept of human dignity enough to not rape but not enough to not joke about it. And this is troubling because it belittles the assault in every which way, blames the victim for drinking too much, contributing to her own “dead” and wiping away any agency that the women has in life because she had no physical agency at that moment. It’s shocking and revolting and a thought further drilled into your brain that people will find any common interest and unify around it the more you watch the unfortunate video.

In fact I could not get that hypothesis and this video out my head for hours after I stopped watching it, an appalling truth for someone who watches true crime murder documentaries like their favorite sitcom before going to their bed alone.

It’s important to mention Nadianos is a waiting predator. You get the feeling that he would have done something to if he had the time and opportunity and ironically maybe not a camera filming him. You get the idea that as much as he liked documenting the assault he might also like to be one of the “stars” of it.

But somewhere close to the 4:15 mark of the infamous video someone we recognize enters the narrative. A voice from outside the film (we never see him/them.) He’s all of us, and he’s the son that everyone wants if he, for any unfortunate reason, had to be one of the characters occupying this terrible night.

The male voice off camera states, as Nadianos is still laughing, “”That’s not cool bro” and “That’s like rape. It is rape. They raped her.”

Nadianos has a moment to understand what exactly he has been joking about for the past four minutes, a moment where he could recant and turn a new leaf. Instead he turns it into a joke. “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!”

The “voice of reason” (unseen) tries again. “”What if that was your daughter?”

“But it isn’t,” Nodianos replies “shutting him down” for good.

And just like that you hear with half-hearted sighs the distaste in the other men’s demeanor off screen. They are the ones who realize how sickening these statements are, but who have “done enough.”

They mentioned how it was “not cool” and then tried to appeal to a more realistic side of how men in our culture view rape, the familiar but misguided idea: what if that was someone who was close to you. They mention the daughter he does not have, even his sister. But Nodianos ignores them all because he has a person behind the camera (phone) validating him in every way he wants. He continues filming and continues laughing and Nadianos is unaware that what he is doing is wrong because those reprimanding him are not standing up any more than if he had cheated in a game of beer pong. In all honesty, they might be more upset about an unfair game of beer pong. Their anger about the assault, warranted, was most likely forgotten in conversation as they ate whatever they could to soak up their alcohol.

But those teenagers off camera, the ones who objected and went on to live their lives never once in the following months hunted by media, those boys are my son. They are probably most people’s sons. They know something is wrong, they understand a crime has been committed that goes beyond something as trivial as property damage, they feel it within the depths of the person that they are. Whether they have realized the legal ramifications of what has occurred or whether or not they believe anyone will be held to that crime is insignificant. Yes it might be possible they are “saving skin” so to speak, because being witness to someone saying something so irresponsible they were fearful it might come back to bight them in the ass, but in reality they felt that incredible uncomfortable feeling that boils down to knowing they are witness to something wrong but they feel completely lost as to what to do next.

Everyone has been there in life. I have to. But I haven’t been there for a case like this because as a woman my chances of being in this situation dramatically decrease based solely on my sex. That being said, the real person who we have to worry about to make the greatest change in this case might be the one capable of the greatest change at this point. The off-screen anonymous teenager who does not want to get involved and be perceived as “sell-out” if he calls the police and tells them he believes a rape occurred.

This is our son who will do nothing wrong but not do anything right either. Is it good that he stuck up to the Nadianos (whoever that might be in the future)? Yes. But it is not enough. And it’s our fault that rape continues to be an unsolvable problem because we believe that our children are not a part of it, even the ones who “just” hear about it.

We must give them the tools to talk about rape and expose rape to those who have the power associated with their employment to legally stop it and charge those responsible. We must form a union of those who speak to their sons so that rape and assault is “uncool.” So that people like Nadianos find no joy in making videos because they will have no audience that finds disappointing fulfillment in it. More importantly, we must tell our sons that their voice is capable of reaching further if it continues to speak, speak, speak against.

The alternate video would be our sons off screen who take it further, who confront Nadianos on-screen (unable to confront the convicted rapists themselves) and who ask him straight to his face the questions that they asked before. It’s not that the questions themselves do not have merit, rather that they are dismissively thrown around without true conviction because “keeping the peace” is still a background priority (whether they realize it or not.)

Once we change the narrative in “the talk” that rapists can possibly be our son’s very good friends and that the responsibility of stopping that falls to friends then the narrative of preventing rape changes from “others” being accountable to young men being accountable. Because if young men can rape then young men can stop rape. All of this would stop the casual conversation and humor around rape that contributes to a rape culture.

And so I will never be that person who thinks to myself “my son would never rape someone” if I do not tell him that having sex with a girl while she is conscious and not saying no but not saying yes is rape. If I do not tell him that if he is in a relationship he is not owed sex. If I do not tell him that alerting someone to rape is absolutely required.

Too often parent’s worry about what a talk like this would say to their world, how it would show that their sons are full of aggression and debauchery and that this is in their genetic makeup or inevitable life plan to assault someone. But in ignoring the problem we contribute to it.

The Steubenville rape case is a story about how football players in a small town are favored, women are chastised for drinking too much and sadly called sluts because of it, but it is also a strong story of the bystanders that mocked but also those that tried and who, because of us, did not try enough.

I challenge you to make it through the entire fourteen minute video without once attempting to turn it off because you want to believe it does not exist. The wonderful thing is that we can fix it. Slowly. It will start with some talks. It’s going to be awkward for sure, but we will get through it. I will get through it. The birds and the bees talk will seem like a piece of cake.

Millennials, Sincerity, & Titanic

titanicc

(“Jack, are you periscoping this?”)

NOT ALL Millennials are incapable of forming relationships that would make their own B list screenplay. Or something like that. When a Baby Boomer calls me entitled and lazy, I’ll fight back for us.

Ae Padilla 

I was hanging out with a guy friend I hadn’t seen in months. There was no reason for us losing touch, but when you don’t go to the same college anymore it just happens. I don’t make these rules up.

When we finally had a moment alone, over some drinks, I looked at him and said what I had been thinking about for the past couple of hours. “I miss you kid.” With a half eye roll he got flustered and laughed it off, like my comment was some dumb quote from a movie I didn’t quite nail and he was sparing me the embarrassment of lingering on it. Oh well, I contemplated, gulping down the last of my margarita. I tried.

To give a bit of context though, I didn’t say this statement because I missed him romantically or because something bad had happened between us and I needed to patch up an argument. My miss you, not laced in one hint of sarcasm (a mind-blowing feat for me!) was genuine. I missed my friend. Our conversations. Our hang outs. Simple.

But the sincerity behind that simple statement made him feel uncomfortable. And I venture to say that is the case for most Millennials, who struggle with the truest forms of sincerity that fostering an authentic relationship, both romantic and platonic, need.

In our desire as Millennials to make everything ironic, as well as our obsession with a stimulating, exciting (but also fleeting) culture, we are left craving more of a connection than we might have ever wanted. We jeopardize our emotional happiness. And I’m not taking the easy way out by saying that we do this because we are glued to our screens and do not know how to have face to face interaction anymore. I say we do this for a multitude of reasons, the first being that we are conditioned to think that emotions are the currency of some type of weakness; caring for someone can only be expressed verbally if our partner or friend does it equally. Intimacy is only applicable to one person in our life. We were sold the idea that everyone cares less than us about feelings, and we should aspire to be that same way – if we are smart enough

Millennials, in both the friendship and dating vacuum, weaken every tie they have because they are subconsciously afraid of being true to any feelings, as they have been told they are not going to help in our world. These feelings are a distraction at worst, or at best a potential manipulative tactic one can use to “get ahead.”

But so what if we can’t achieve that same sincerity that relationships had before us? Long romantic kisses, grand romantic gestures, talks between friends that last hours which are not riddled with talks about how they last hours. Does it really affect us? Does it matter, that the only truly “moments” in our lives are few and far between.

Yes. Yes, I think it does, as the lack of moments is not a lack of closeness, love, or inclination for romance, it is instead an inability to express it, stifling a part of us which desperately wants to reach out in whatever way we would if our anxiety was not preventing us from doing so. Be that a flower, a romantic kiss, or touching our friend’s hand.

This can easily translate to wholesome feelings being misconceived as stupid or a hindrance to our daily lives. I.E. I do not like the physical reactions that I am feeling right now so it must be a result of what I am thinking, which of course in relation to our psyches can be concerning.

But the result of that anxiety might actually have to do with the internet, (sorry, sorry, sorry) the constant flow of information we both seek and do not seek out, a place where our feelings are taught to us so excessively they become our own. It is here where we are instructed that emotions are unfortunately currency we barter with, they are not anything pure. The less chips you have in your bag the better.You can care about people but care fucking less than you do now. I mean, really thinking about it, how many countless articles are there directed to Millennials that say the person who cares less in a relationship always has the upper hand; be like that person.

Whether we realize it or not, despite even telling ourselves that those articles are stupid, they sink into the way we look at our friendships and partners. Idiotic memes, “this could be us but you playing”, reinforce that the ideal couple is not attainable because someone else is always not being authentic enough to their wants or needs. And if they are not being authentic, then being authentic alone is simply humiliating.

Feelings into action, wanting someone or wanting something with someone, is embarrassing. Unless it happens to be with one specific person in a secluded moment, vulnerability is something we get embarrassed for for other people. He or she is too much. He or she is “extra” and there is nothing worse than being “extra.”

Even in the safe space of a romantic relationship that has been established for some time, a desire to never show all of your cards becomes synonymous with never having to worry about experiencing that fuzzy romantic moment (or if you are like me, being more upset that this will not take place). This is because true romantic moments, special times not filled with sarcastic self-deprecation or apologizes, only come when people are candidly vulnerable. It is because during that occasion that there are no more cards to hold onto, taking a leap of faith for something you want becomes a lot easier when you cannot run backwards in anyway.( Or if you are trying to spin a more positive outlook to this idea, giving something your all with your partner becomes extraordinarily easier when you let go of personal judgment.)

And we Millennials are afraid of the judgment of those who surround us. It practically suffocates us. I can again point to the internet (sorry, sorry, sorry), not because the internet is filled with grade A critics of politics, religion, or celebrities but because large groups of people gathering together in one common space (no matter that the space be both expansive and virtual) know how to rip apart the cheesiness, embarrassing, cringe-worthy event or person impeccably. Hating something, especially hating anything corny, has brought people closer together than loving something. That rise of “hater” culture is a bond that is almost so unbreakable in our generation that it’s a wonder people bond over anything they do like.

Which brings us to the film Titanic, and a peice which explores the growth of hater culture due to the movie’s 1999 release. Owen Glieberman wrote an article for Entertainment entitled, appropriately enough, ‘Titanic is a great film. It’s also the movie that gave rise to hater culture.’ in which he speaks about how successful the film was, from performing well at the box office and the Academy Awards to how the film quickly faced a backlash. The claims from those less eager about the film were that Titanic was an audacious soap opera written by a man who had no idea how “real people” spoke. But most of all people who despised it enough to flock to online boards and express that emotion, were upset by its cheesiness and its attractive leads tangled in some bit of spectacular romantic fate. Glieberman concluded the article by writing about how the haters of the film Titanic claiming that only a teenager could love both the plot and dialogue are living in a weird delusional reality they created. In short, they are foolish

And yet it makes so much sense with the rise of Millennials, internet, and haters. If movies are a showcase to how people live their lives, then our reactions to them dictate whether or not we approve. In the case of Titanic, sincerity is questioned at every moment by a modern audience. Yes, I can understand some of the backlash, there are some lines I wish would rather have not made it to the final cut including “something Picasso, he won’t amount to a thing.” But the moments that irk people are arguably the most iconic ones. “Draw me like one of your French girls,” “I’m the king of the world,” and the unforgettable “I’m flying Jack.” It is these moments, the most “cheesy” ones in the film that people have no problem claiming as “cheesy” – the result of this stamp is that Titanic is beneath their movie watching taste and above their embarrassment threshold.

But not me. I love it. As one of the most sarcastic cynical people I know, I find the moment in Titanic where Rose and Jack are stretching their arms out at the bow of the ship to be one of the most iconic and breathtaking scenes in cinematic history. My God it’s beautiful. And it’s not beautiful because of the cinematography or the score, or because two beautiful people are in it. It’s captivating because it is the most authentic moment you can possibly have privilege to spy in on.

Just imagine if someone who had never seen this film tried doing that today with their significant other on a cruise. How quickly would we die of secondhand embarrassment? How quickly would we take out our phones to record this and post it online? How much would we snicker about how someone desperately wants to get laid? How easily would sincerity be wiped away from a moment that’s not even ours?

For those who hate on Titanic, the irony is delicious. The hatred on a film for being appalling inauthentic comes up short when you realize that Titanic was perhaps the first movie to ever use, what would become later, very famous tropes. We hate Titanic because it unashamedly highlights what we have been told, or told ourselves,we do not like. Over the top vulnerability, tender lines we scoff at because we believe no one would ever say that in “real life” (when perhaps people actually would).

Because in the history of humanity feelings and love continue to live on. This will never change. Ever. How much we allow ourselves to be able to express what resides in us does though. And when you suppress it long enough, it makes it almost shameful.

Titanic is so in your face with all of what it is because it does not apologize. Jack does not take Rose’s hand and says “this is cheesy but do you trust me?” He does not say “well, you don’t look like any of my other French girls” (insert laugh here) when he draws her portrait in arguably their most erotic moment together. He is the best, most genuine version of himself, which even if it makes for a whole lot of heartache makes for so much more earned happiness.

This openness, this transparency, does happen nowadays but it seems to be that it is the property of others as opposed to the people involved. “Is this too much? What would other people think if they heard this? Am I being pathetic?” are questions dancing too close to the perception from people who do not matter to the relationship that the person cares about. But when sincerity, black and white make out sessions, and lines reserved for Cary Grant were dubbed as “a thing of the past that no self-aware person partakes in” then people had to listen to this narrative and follow it.

Sex is a loophole, or on the opposite end maybe, the most honest time for communication that produces “realness” in our modern environment. This makes sense because what other time can you exclaim the genuine passion you have for someone in your life then when you are inside of them? If you didn’t, and it was more than just casual sex, you wouldn’t probably be able to do that again. Sex, being a physical act, is an easier way to showcase emotions.

But I worry that if authenticity only follows sex then this resistance to express one’s self will trickle down to every other person that they are not having sex with, like friends, who become not as close as they could be because again dependable exposure is a rare commodity. (And our friends don’t have orgasms in the back of steamy cars with us.)

Then again maybe some personalities don’t call for over the top movie moments, although I argue that our lives do call for some moments we should most certainly not deny ourselves of. The most amazing times in my life, the lines that make it to books, are the ones I embrace not shy away from. The times when I am not afraid as most people are. When I realize that we have such little time in life that to not be as genuine as possible at every second is a waste.

What this really comes down to, the lesson of this all however, is if Leonardo DiCaprio (or anyone for that matter) wants to take your hand and help you to fly over a magnificent sunset, don’t fight it. And tell them to take off their shirt while they do it.

Stop Making Martyrs Out of Mass Shooting Victims

How filling the void of heartache with religion is detrimental

masey-mclain

Above: Masy McLain as Rachel Scott in I’m Not Ashamed

All respect to those who have dealt with that heartache and those who feel as if some part of their faith is being attacked.

Ae Padilla

When I watched the trailer for I’m not Ashamed, I cringed.

And that’s not because it was another God’s Not Dead in the making, some religious propaganda film filled with terrible actors, a cheesy script, and a high dose of jabs at those who are not religious.

I cringed because I realized the weight of religion, conversion therapy, was being handed down to a girl who died when she was seventeen and has been dead for almost twenty years.

For those unaware I’m Not Ashamed is a film about the late Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School Shooting which took place in Littleton Colorado, in 1999. The film follows Rachel’s life a year and a half before the shooting takes place, where her faith in God is examined, tested, and ultimately strengthened as a result of the high school woes that she encounters. The film also follows Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, caricatures of the real perpetrators who rant more heavily than they ever truly did about the perils of religion and how much they hate Christians.

But Klebold and Harris mean nothing in this film, it is Scott, portrayed by newcomer Masy McLain, who is the main character. She is the one seen interacting with Klebold, speaking to him passively about the strength of compassion that can come from Christianity. She is the one seen dismissing drugs or alcohol of any sort from her peers because of her religion. And she is portrayed as so unbelievably sweet and nice that the sparking personality of the real Rachel Scott is hidden beneath the veneer of a smiling girl whose only trait is that she follows Christ.

The film concludes with what is arguably the most controversial story to arise out of the massacre. Harris shoots Scott in the back along with her friend Richard Castaldo. As she struggles to catch her breath and move, the filmmakers and many people alike, claim that Harris reportedly asked her if she believed in God. When she answered in the affirmative with the words “you know I do,” Harris reportedly shot her again, killing her, thus making a martyr.

The problem with this story is that while Castaldo (who lived but is now parlayed) has wavered about whether or not this interaction took place, the FBI and Jefferson County have concluded that this exchange never happened. The timeline simply does not add up.

But Rachel Scott became a martyr anyway, along with Cassie Bernall another student who is believed to have been asked whether she believed in God, and when answering yes was killed again by Harris in the library. However this too was proven to be unreliable from witnesses. Instead this exchange actually occurred with Valeen Schnurr who was spared by Klebold because she answered that her reason for believing in God was because her family did.

But facts mean nothing. And to this day Scott and Bernall are seen as modern day martyrs, the definition of what teenagers (teenagers who are of course viewed as rowdy and lacking morals) should aspire to be.

Religious propagation is nothing new but with mass shootings becoming more prevalent since Columbine occurred, religious heroes from mass shootings have arisen, threatening how we speak about victims and ultimately ruining their legacy with a tarnished view of their persona.

Rachel Scott was, by all definitions, brilliant. She was a talented student and artist. She was an actress who had recently chopped of all of her hair and dyed it red to play a character in her school play who harbored a more grunge/alternative style. And she did write extensively about her love of God, and even her thoughts about his existence. She journaled frequently and left behind her amazing ideas about the chain reaction that can occur from love.

By all accounts Scott was a Christian. As was Bernall. As were some of the victims of the Umpqua Community College shooting and the Red Lake massacre who were actually asked about their faith and murdered. But those victims were not murdered because they were Christians, they were murdered because someone had access (easy access most likely) to a firearm. They were simply a number, a person who happened to be eating their lunch on a school lawn or taking an English class at their local college. They were killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because they wore a cross or followed any certain religion.

I say this not to be insensitive, I say it because it is the truth. To tell people how to mourn the death of their own children or their friends is not something anyone can do lightly, if at all. But when the families of these people, and by extension the media, paint these young victims as being killed for the greater good, a higher power thereby making more people believe in God, they denounce the entire act of violence.

In their effort to give it a purpose for themselves, to make sense of a senseless situation, they paint their own caricature of their loved ones, even unknowingly. And then they dismiss, whether they mean to or not, every other victim who they do not deem as a martyr.

This is because in placing their loved one on a pedestal, as a religious figure, they state that their life was inherently more valuable because it was given up to God. But in the situation of their death, which is most likely eerily similar to that of someone else who died in the same shooting, those other unpopular victims are not given that same recognition. What this boils down to is: one victim was killed by God for the sole reason of reaching more people, to become a pillar in the community of worshipers, and one victim was killed for absolutely no reason, a less prophetic kill.

Fate, what is attributed to these killings and then these makeshift saints, ruins the possibility of us being able to help stop these mass shootings from continuing. When you have the people who are supposed to be the most upset, the families of those killed, accepting these deaths as nothing more than divine intervention then the real issues that form this problem in our country do not get fixed. Gun control, mental health, even fragile masculinity take a back seat to the fact that the killers who go on these rampages are deemed not as a threat because they are mentally unstable, instead their anger to the world is a direct result of not having prayer in school or not being as accepting of the Lord as some of the selected victims were. If you do not believe me just look at the reactions of Darrell Scott, Rachel Scott’s father who speaks adamantly at schools across America and in the days after Columbine gave a statement before a house committee on crime referring to not only Rachel but his son Craig Scott who pretended to play dead in the library amidst the massacre. “As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes — He did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right!”

But the worst thing about the martyrdom of these victims is, as stated before, the effect that it has on the legacy of said victim and not politicians or news viewers. I can’t speak for the people who have died, but I am pretty certain that those who did would not want their entire lives condensed into a single byline about their affirmation to God. And if they did want their devotion publicized, I argue that they would want both the good and the bad that comes along with being a religious figure. Doubt is as important as faith. Making mistakes is as important as correcting them and asking for forgiveness.

Rachel Joy Scott’s life is a tale that she will never unfortunately be able to tell herself, but the story I want to see depicted on the screen is not the lie given to the world that she was murdered for faith in Jesus but rather that her faith made her a more giving and loving individual, perhaps the type of person who might forgive her killer. Some see it this way too, including friends of Scott who boycotted I’m Not Ashamed because they felt it was an inaccurate portrayal to the way that she lived her life. She struggled like everyone else did. She was not a saint but she was a believer and it is that which would make a movie I want to view.

Religion, like always, is not the problem. But the way it is used, especially in this instance, does not bring people together but rather divides. When a lack of actual truth is at the basis for a film or story then anything that is added to that narrative cannot be trusted, and therefor the religious message lacks validity.

Speaking about mass shooting victims as people who lost their life for no good reason is the saddest but most truthful thing we can do, because it allows us to work for that not to happen again. It’s not inspiring, romantic, or sensational in any way. But maybe the lives of the victims by themselves, the daily struggles of going to class or the fact that they liked to watch certain movies or hang out with their dog should be inspirational enough.

Let’s stop making up stories for these people. Martyrdom aside, maybe those who died didn’t hold open the door for others to run before them. Maybe they didn’t save the person next to them. Maybe they said they didn’t believe in something they did to get spared. Maybe they fled instead of fighting. Are we to blame them, someone who was put in the most frightening situation of their life for doing that? Are we to tell others they are better for doing that? We must stop saying these things as our own non-religious martyr stamps. It’s not comforting, it’s cruel.

And we would do well, like Scott said, to be a little nicer in this world.

Don’t let your character change color with your environment. Find out who you are and let it stay it’s true color.

-Rachel Scott