Beside/s: Remembering and Forgetting

Last week I, along with my husband and two kids, took a road trip to Utah. Starting in Minnesota, we drove through Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado to get there. It was a lot of driving. To endure it, especially Nebraska and eastern Colorado, we loaded up an iPod with a lot of Radiolab podcasts. We included a few This American Life’s too.

I’m so glad that we listened to the podcasts. Not only did they make the drives go by faster, but they got me thinking about memory, longing, nostalgia and the tensions between when we need to remember and when we should really forget. I’m hoping to write a much longer essay about these podcasts and how they connected to and enhanced various experiences on the trip, but for now, I just wanted to make sure that I archive the ideas/sources.

In addition to putting these sources beside each other, I also want to put them next to my reflections on and practices of visiting Utah to relive and recreate past vacation experiences. Last year, I attempted to express this through my video, Double Vision:

Besides: The Ethics of Taking a Walk and Paying Attention

Read these sources beside each other:

There must be a way to train the eye to look at socio-economic difference in an ethical way.

Linda Besner

While I don’t have time to comment on these two articles, I wanted to post them here, beside each other. Actually, I’m hopeful that my juxtaposing them offers up a form of commentary….Okay, I guess I can pose one question: How can we bring Linda Besner’s ethical demand to pay attention to socioeconomic disparities to bear on Maria Popova’s discussion of Alexandra Horowitz’s suggestion that we take a walk around the block with 11 different experts?

Taking the time to write that last paragraph reminded me of the excellent documentary by Astra Tayler from a few years ago: Examined Life. Here’s a clip from it in which Judith Butler ponders the question, What does it mean to take a walk?

Beside/s: Why do we tell stories?

As I continue to work on my own storytelling (and possibly a new site…), I want to put these ideas about why to tell stories beside each other:

To Provide a Mirror

Junot Diaz.

You guys know about vampires?” Diaz asked. “You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.

To Craft Worlds Where Everything is Possible

Dorothy Allison.

I talked—story-talked, out loud—assuming identities I made up. Sometimes I was myself, arguing loudly as I could never do at home. Sometimes I became people I had seen on television or read about in books, went places I’d barely heard of, did things that no one I knew had every done, particularly things that girls were not supposed to do. In the world as I remade it, nothing was forbidden, everything was possible.

Beside/s: What is (your) theory for?

Currently, I’m in the process of crafting an autobiography of sorts over at my new site, UNDISCIPLINED. I haven’t written much about the new site on this blog yet because I’ve slowly been working on adding and creating content. My focus for the last few days has been on my experiences with the AIC (the academic industrial complex). As I was revisiting some lectures notes from Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, I came across this passage from Shaunga Tagore in A Slam on Feminism in Academia:

some of us need to engage with feminist theory
so we can ground it in our community activist work
our creative works
our personal relationships
for our families, communities and histories
for our own fucking deserved peace of minds
maybe we need to know how to make sense of oppression
because we’re so heartbroken we don’t want to end up being locked away in psychiatric institutions
or in a hospital overdosed on pills, getting our stomachs pumped
because we don’t know WHY all this shit is constantly driving us CRAZY (Tagore, 40)

Powerful. I want to think more about how this passage resonates with my own experiences and my own increased resistance to the academy and academic thinking/theorizing. But for now, I want to put it beside another passage that I’ve just started writing about, bell hooks eloquent description of the healing power of theory in Theory as Liberatory Practice:

I found a place of sanctuary in “theorizing,” in making sense out of what was happening. I found a place where I could imagine possible futures, a place where life could be lived differently. This “lived” experience of critical thinking, of reflection and analysis, became a place where I I worked at explaining the hurt and making it go away. Fundamentally, I learned from this experience that theory could be a healing place (61).

When taken together, these two passages make me wonder:

what is (your) theory for?

Beside/s: Halloween/Christine

It seems to be turning into a new tradition. During the family Thanksgiving holiday up at the North Shore of Lake Superior, we watch an old movie involving an evil vehicle and then I blog about it. Strange, huh? Last year it was Duel. This year, we watched John Carpenter’s/Stephen King’s Christine. I enjoyed it. Admittedly, the story, much like many of Stephen King’s, offers up a creepy dose of repressed sexual desire and the reduction of women to object (car/”pussy”). Just check out this trailer:

And memorable exchange from early in the film:

George LeBay: Her name’s Christine.
Arnie Cunningham: I like that.
Dennis Guilder: Come on Arnie, we gotta get goin’, huh?
George LeBay: My asshole brother bought her back in September ’57. That’s when you got your new model year, in September. Brand-new, she was. She had the smell of a brand-new car. That’s just about the finest smell in the world, ‘cept maybe for pussy.

But, even though I shuddered at some of the lines and was dismayed by the female characters’ roles in the film (let’s just say that this film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test), I was entertained and intrigued as I thought about Christine in relation to my favorite John Carpenter film, Halloween.  I’m not interested in devoting a lot of time to thinking through the parallels and contrasts in these films. I don’t have time now and I’m not sure Christine really merits that much scrutiny. Apparently I’m not alone in wanting to skip the in-depth critique. Just try googling critical analysis of Christine. It’s slim pickings. Instead of a lengthy post, I’ll post just a few thoughts that arise when I put Halloween and Christine beside each other.

But. before offering those thoughts, here are brief summaries of each movie (SPOILER ALERT!!):

Halloween: Nerdy girl is taunted by her mean friends over her lack of boyfriend. While these friends have sex (or make plans to have sex) with their boyfriends and are subsequently killed by an escaped mental patient on Halloween night, she babysits and uses her wits (and crafty skills as a knitter) to fend off the killer and live to do the sequel.

(bonus summary) Boy kills sister after watching her have sex. Is locked up in mental hospital. Escapes and returns home 15 years later. Kills several teenagers after watching them have sex. Tries to kill the lone teenage virgin, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. He fails and she lives to star in the sequel and subsequent Activia commercials.

Christine: Nerdy, virginal boy is taunted by the tough guys in his shop class, smothered by his mother and pressured by his best friend to lose his virginity. When he buys an old car named Christine,  his luck changes: he gets a girlfriend, eliminates his shop class bullies and successfully pisses off his mother. Only problem: his car is evil. It tries to kill his girlfriend, brutally murders his enemies and turns him (Arnie) into a deranged sociopath.

BESIDE/S: Halloween/Christine

Halloween introduced the classic teenage slasher trope: have sex or express strong desire to have sex, then die. Laurie’s (main character, played by Jamie Lee Curtis), friends die after either having sex (Linda) or planning to pick up their boyfriend to have sex (Annie). It’s easy to read their deaths just as a warning to teenagers (especially girls) to never have sex (because you’ll die). However, when we put Annie and Linda beside Christine and its female characters:—Arnie’s (main character) car, Christine; Arnie’s girlfriend, Leigh; Arnie’s super-bitchy mom, Regina; and the school slut/”sperm bank”, Roseanne, it’s possible to read it differently.

In Halloween, the primary characters are all women who have their own agency and exist independently of the boys/men in their lives. Wow! I just realized that this film passes the Bechdel Test.  And, when they talk about and engage in sex, they demonstrate a surprising amount of sexual agency. In fact, throughout the movie, the female characters are either initiators of or equal partners in the sex that they have or talk about having. They aren’t just objects of teenage boy’s lust or ostracized as super sluts. Sure, they all are killed (boo), but so are the boys that have sex with them. And it seems significant that Annie and Linda are represented as enjoying sex.

In contrast, none of the female characters in Christine enjoy sex or demonstrate a healthy sexual desire. Arnie’s girlfriend is a virginal prude who refuses to have sex with him. And the only other teenage girl in the film, Roseanne (played by a young Kelly Preston), is described as a “sperm bank.” Hmm….it’s the classic Virgin/Whore complex. Arnie’s mom no longer has or expresses sexual desire. She’s just mean and controlling. The movie seems to suggest that her domineering/smothering parenting is a main reason for Arnie’s geeky, loser status. And, Christine, the evil car that’s “bad to the bone,” is all-consuming in her desire for Arnie, body and soul. Her voracious (sexual) appetite and excessive desire for Arnie is his undoing. In crafting this character, I wonder if Stephen King was wanting to refresh the myth of the vagina dentata (the vagina with teeth)? It might be interesting to reread Barbara Creed’s discussion of it in The Monstrous Feminine (chapter 8).

Wow, writing and thinking more about these movies makes me appreciate Halloween even more.