‘Heathers’: An oral history

Originally posted on Inside Movies:

[ew_image url="http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/i/2014/04/03/heathers-01.jpg" credit=" Everett Collection" align="left"]

“Do you think there’s ever been another movie like Heathers?” Winona Ryder asks in her tiny, forever-a-kid voice, and then listens quietly. She’s genuinely curious. Your brain races through the obvious choices. Mean Girls, Clueless, Jawbreaker—teen-girl comedies with a drop of caustic in their lip gloss. But in 25 years, no high school movie has ever come close to the bloodthirsty wit and sweet-faced nihilism of Heathers, the 1989 satire about an Ohio high school where suicide becomes a scrunchie-level fad. “I looove this movie—to the point where I talk about it like I’m not even in it,” says Ryder. “If it’s on TV, I watch it. I’ve probably seen it 50 times. Like, I can do it by heart.”

She isn’t the only one who feels that way; fans have turned the box office flop (total gross: $1.1…

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Don’t Trust the B– Therapy: Episodes for 5 Struggles

Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23 is like my security blanket. It’s weird and immature, but it makes me feel better. When I can’t sleep at night or when something is bothering me, I put on an episode and it soothes me. In case you missed this gone-too-soon comedy, you can catch it on Netflix. Here’s the situation, via my friend Megan’s review: “Sweet, optimistic, Midwestern June (Dreama Walker) moves to New York City to pursue her dream job of working on Wall Street, only to watch that job (and her perfect apartment) collapse within a matter of minutes. Desperate and penniless, she takes a position as a barista and finds herself rooming with Chloe (Krysten Ritter), a swindling, sailor-mouthed lush who tries to take her for those few things she has left. But little does Chloe know that June doesn’t give up too easily, and a very strange, and incredibly delightful, friendship blooms” (Instant Gratification). Also, James Van Der Beek is Chloe’s BFF. Something about June’s Indiana niceness and naivete speaks to me (probably for obvious reasons) and Chloe’s sociopathy makes me laugh more than it should. Plus, I love the literary aspirations of Luther (Ray Ford) and watching James VDB play himself. It was hard to narrow it down, but here are my five…well, six…favorite episodes for five moods that might keep you up at night. Don’t take my word for it. Watch them.

1. Everybody Feels Insecure Sometimes

http://31.media.tumblr.com/a6c168b44d50233170f7278c4e140e23/tumblr_n0n9ipy1571qzssdlo1_500.gifThe Episode: “The Wedding”

The Struggle: You feel insecure.

Best Line: “If you have the right attitude, you can do anything and go anywhere. Now walk up to the front of the line like you have George Clooney between your legs…and when you’re on the dance floor, pretend you’re getting up on Jamie Foxx just enough to make Clooney jealous.”  Also, everything June says when drunk after the vodka launch party.

June feels down about herself when she receives a joint invitation to a friend’s wedding, her first big social gathering since breaking up with her fiance. Chloe takes her out on the town to teach her how to be more confident. “New June” gets free drinks, hotdogs, offers to be in a hair commercial, and goes out to parties with James Van Der Beek. Jealous of James and June’s new friendship, Chloe acts out, crashing the wedding with Kevin Sorbo. And there’s more shenanigans from there.

The take away: Confidence can take you a long way, but even cartoonishly confident people like Chloe feel insecure sometimes too.

2. There’s Always Jam Porn

The Episode: “Making Rent”

The Struggle: You’re dead broke.

Best Line: “You’re such a good Korean.” “Christian.” “What am I saying?”

June can’t make her rent. Chloe usually pays her rent by running scams, but June is too wholesome for that. When attending her Korean church, June’s pastor raves that her jam was a big seller at the church sale and she realizes that’s the key: “No one can resist my hot, hot jam.” She and Chloe go into business making the jam to sell at farmer’s markets. At least that’s what June thinks. Actually, Chloe set up a fetish site featuring video of them making the jam. June has it shut down, sticking to her morals but then stumbles into a scam on her own. She learns a lesson about moral gray areas. Chloe learns…something…maybe…

The take away: No matter how poor you are, at least your roommate won’t put you on a fetish site. I hope.

http://cdn.uproxx.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/tumblr_mcebvvWwEI1ql20kxo1_500.gif3. Don’t Look Back. Don’t Compare.

The Episode: “A Reunion”

The Struggle: You’re down because it seems like all your friends are doing better than you are.

Best Line: “You have to walk away from the past in slow motion as it explodes behind you like in a John Woo movie.” Also: “Your sweater looks like a pumpkin mated with a turd.”

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mceb47Ja381ql20kxo1_500.gifJune’s feeling depressed because of everything she’s lost in the last year (her dream job, apartment, fiance) and because it seems like all her friends are doing better than her. She tries to convince James to do a Dawson’s Creek reunion show so she can have something positive to call her friends about. Unfortunately, the letter James receives from Katie Holmes, Michelle Williams, and Joshua Jackson each year asking to do the reunion is forged by Chloe, who is hell-bent on keeping James from doing the reunion because reunion shows are always lame. With a little help from Mark-Paul Gosselaar, both James and June learn to move forward. Plus, James accosts Frankie Muniz in a grocery store.

The take away: “You have to walk away from the past in slow motion as it explodes behind you like in a John Woo movie.” Also, gauge your life based on your own satisfaction, not on how you compare to others.

http://cdn.uproxx.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/tumblr_mg6m242x041s2r1abo1_r1_500.gif4. Fake It Til You Make It

The Episode: “Sexy People”

The Struggle: You need to feel powerful.

Best Line: “I’ve taken over a bunch of companies before…You’ve just gotta walk in like you own the place. Fire the first person to ask you a question. Fire the second person to ask you a question. And then gaze out the window and draw a peen on the board. It’s the traditional Intimidation-Confusion-Submission technique. What, didn’t they teach you that at State University Business Tech College School?”

James is offended when June, a devotee of People Magazine, doesn’t think that he’s Sexiest Man Alive material. Determined to prove to June that she’s a sheep and would think Fozzy Bear was sexy if People put him on the cover, Chloe takes over People and puts James on the cover. Unfortunately, once he’s on the cover, June thinks he’s sexy and it jeopardizes their friendship.

http://cdn.gifbay.com/2012/11/smackwich-12469.gifTakeaway: There are so many situations I have jokingly applied this episode to. Job interviews, teaching, conflict resolution. If you need to feel powerful, just walk into the room, fire the first two people who ask a question, then draw a peen on the board. Just do it. Take it over. It’s stupid, but just a fraction of Chloe’s can-do attitude could majorly boost your confidence.

Plus, I learned the term “blue tubes.” And–the Smackwhich was born.

The Episode: “Monday June”

The Struggle: You need to feel vivacious…or something. 

Best Line: “June you are ruining brunch, the most fun meal of all the meals and you are completely ignoring your friends who came to visit you all the way from who cares.”

Chloe feels like since June got her Wall Street job, she hasn’t been around enough to listen to her crazy stories. So, naturally, she doses her with a powerful drug over Sunday brunch and the next thing June knows it’s Tuesday. The day after she had a big pitch at work. Fortunately, Monday June had so much charm and wild energy that she pulled off the presentation and a bunch of other stuff. Missing the point of what Chloe did, June continues to do zaney things to prove that she can be Monday June without the drug.

Takeaway: You have everything you need inside of you. You were Monday June all along.

http://images.tvrage.com/screencaps/119/23727/1065254405.jpg5. Mean Girls

The Episode: “Paris”

The Struggle: You have a nemesis. Or, more likely, someone at work or school is making your life harder with their attitude.

Best Line: “One day you’re making cupcakes, the next you’re stabbing a girl in her Fred Flintstone. Good for you.”

June is trying to get off on the right foot at her new job, but the woman in the next cubicle is out to get her. Chloe sets out to scare off June’s nemesis, but she and the other sociopath have too much fun together and June is left to her own devices. Sometimes killing someone with kindness doesn’t work and June has to find that out the hard way.

The Takeaway: Looking for the best in people is noble, but sometimes you have to go the the mattresses if you want respect.

See Also: “Mean Girls” in which June tries to make friends and ends up in a game of “Murder Chicken” with Chloe.

Did you watch Don’t Trust the B–? What’s your favorite episode or favorite line?

Stress and the Writing Process

Tonight I’m taking a break and indulging in some R&R, basking in the satisfaction of having turned in my approved dissertation prospectus and edits on an article. But just yesterday I was in a stressful, ugly place with my writing and with myself. It’s lead me to think about how I approach my to-do lists and my writing process.

I have had a pretty stressful string of weeks. I’ve been sick for weeks on end and the deadlines piled up. It’s not exactly a newsflash that grad school is stressful. And when it comes to writing on a deadline, this isn’t exactly my first rodeo. The difference this time was that the level of stress and the sickness put me in a tricky head space. I’m normally self-critical, but I was so in my head that I got myself stuck. Way, way stuck on an essay I was revising. The changes I needed to make were significant, but, because the essay was already pretty polished, it shouldn’t have taken me a month to do them. But it did. Over the last two weeks I spent a lot of time revising my dissertation prospectus and cover letter, which are now turned in, but when I wasn’t doing that I was mostly starring at my computer screen trying to make writing happen or sleeping off the aforementioned illness. Last weekend I pulled a  pointless all-nighter trying, and failing, to finish the essay. At 5:00 a.m. I had a to take a step back and think about what I was doing. Because of the stress I wasn’t taking care of myself, which lead to the pressure building up, which added to my stuck-ness on the essay. But why?

I did some soul searching and some writing to try to work my way out of my writer’s block. Here are some of the strategies I came up with.

Manage the Pressure

Mostly to Myself

Aside from fatigue, the biggest problem was me. I put a lot of pressure on myself on top of the routine pressure of grad school. In my conversations with other women in graduate programs, that seems pretty normal. It’s so easy, however, for the narrative that goes along with that pressure to run away with itself. In my head, I was turning the revision process into a do-or-die scenario, as though these changes to these essays would make or break my career. It sounds so stupid as I type it out, but in the moment when the deadlines were looming and I was struggling to piece things together, the pressure felt real. Learning to manage the voices of self-doubt, catastrophizing, competitiveness, and worry is terribly difficult but important.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests writing three stream-of-consciousness “morning pages” to help move beyond the voices of our internal critics and help us focus our creative energy first thing each day, tuning out the thoughts that cause us to get blocked by self-doubt, worry, or other obstacles. That is a practice I’ve tried and failed to take up for a while and I think as I move into my dissertation I am going to seriously commit to making it part of my day. Continue reading

Geena Davis at Miami, on Gender and Media

1656406_719639831401777_146265126_nThis week Miami is having a Women in Leadership Symposium, “Making Our Mark.” The keynote speaker is Geena Davis, so you can bet I jumped all over that registration.  In my work on the representation of girls and women in literature and other media, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media has been such a great resource. I loved getting to hear Davis talk about her work and how it stemmed from her film career (you may recall she’s been in A League of Their Own, Thelma & Louise, and played the president on Commander in Chief). The talk was full of a lot of useful information and Davis’s sense of humor kept us laughing. When I saw her in the hallway ready to walk out, I felt like “Hail to the Chief” should be playing, but I was really surprised by her use of self-deprecating humor in making her points. It went beyond the normal “I’ve made it but I’m still humble” schtick to actually making fun of the idea that she’s a role model in the service of her argument.

Davis started by discussing her start in acting and some of the roles she’s done. She joked that if you forget about Earth Girls Are Easy, she’s only played empowered women. In discussing some of her film roles, she gestured toward how they opened her eyes to the importance of media images in a couple of ways.

For her role in A League of Their Own, she had to learn how to play baseball. She remarked that she had always been the tallest person in her class and so she spent a lot of her girlhood feeling gangly and trying not to take up so much space. Even though the girls’ basketball team hounded her, she never played sports. But, she said, learning to play a sport at age 36 dramatically changed her life, giving her more confidence and making it feel okay to take up space in the world.

After that film, Davis got involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation, working with girls and women to make sure that their Title IX rights were protected. She also became more aware of how much media images affect what girls see and think they can do as many, many young women would come up to her and tell her that they played sports because of that movie. She drew attention to the Miami women’s softball team and joked, “You play sports because of me, right?”

The point, though, was the power girls seeing something had on realizing that they could also do or be the same thing. She asked us to “imagine if there were more sports movies that are about girls. Imagine if they were seeing in newspapers coverage of women’s sports that were even a quarter of that given to men’s sports” and joked that women’s sports are given about as much coverage as dog racing and fishing.

As a big fan of baseball movies, I also found her comments about learning to play a “movie sport” really interesting. She recounted how her many homers in A League of Their Own were really just balls being slingshotted over the fence. In fact, when the cameras were on them, they didn’t even hit real baseballs. They hit foam balls that looked very much like the real thing. She said that they would take these hard swings and the ball would make this little puff sound and it was really dissatisfying.

Anyway, after learning to play “movie baseball,” as well as pistol shooting, tae kwon do, and ice skating for other roles, Davis said she wanted to learn a sport the right way and took up archery, in which she eventually made the Olympic trials. She noted that she learned that if she started something new she was probably going to want to go to the Olympics in it, and that tenacity became a recurring theme in the talk. Continue reading

On Not Banning Bossy

Rather than call our little girls 'bossy' we should say, "My daughter has executive leadership skills." #feminismI, too, was called bossy growing up. I am still sometimes called bossy. Sometimes I call myself bossy. Sometimes I am bossy. Now that the seemingly required disclaimer about my own personal history with “bossy” is covered, I would like to say this: I think “Ban Bossy” is disempowering.

This is not to say that I love the term bossy or how it is used to imply that girls and women are overstepping the bounds of what is conventionally accepted as appropriate leadership from a woman. I actually think how “bossy” is used is pretty indicative of a pervasive problem. Educational Psychologist Linda Kreger Silverman argues that in children and adolescents, girls are called bossy when they are demonstrating traits that would be called leadership in their male peers. Worse, she found that girls are more likely to attribute their successes to luck, easy assignments, or teacher preferences and their failures to lack of ability (13-14). There is clearly a problem with the gendered implications about leadership there. And I think any assessment of the glass ceiling in American business, politics, media, education, etc. shows that it’s still pretty much in tact. I think early on, in promoting Lean In, when Sandberg started talking about the idea of not calling girls bossy, she was hitting on our perceptions of who a leader is rather than getting up in arms about a single word. I agree that there is work to be done on sexist ideas and rhetoric about leaders and leadership. I think it would probably do a lot of good to talk about leadership differently, more inclusively, with the girls and women, boys and men, people we know. I just think banning bossy comes of as petty and tries to do a lot symbolically when there’s practical, hard work that could be done instead.

“The main reason I can’t stomach a bossy ban, though, is that it represents a feminist strategy that’s failed in the past, and it plays into a negative characterization of feminism more generally. The movement for gender equality is at its best when it emphasizes expanding choices for everyone.” –Ann Freidman, NY Mag

Furthermore, and to me most importantly, I think the campaign plays into a “Save the Girls!” rhetoric that portrays girls as victims who need to be saved, in this case from a mean word. If you watch the video embedded below, not only does the narrative heap a whole lot of cultural baggage on a single word, it implies that girls will just be shut down by being called bossy. On one hand, the problem is more far-reaching than “bossy,” on the other, if girls are going to be effective leaders, they’re going to have to be a bit more resilient. Making progress, leading, is about overcoming obstacles, isn’t it? I’m a pretty sensitive, nurturing person and even I think that “Ban Bossy” comes off as coddling, implying that girls aren’t tough enough to let bossy roll off their backs. There’s a lot of institutional sexism that women in leadership positions–women in any walk of life–have to overcome. If they’re not calling you bossy, they might be calling you a different b-word, or paying you less, or objectifying you, etc. Instead of banning bossy, we could do more to encourage girls to lead and to teach American culture how to embrace women as leaders.

“The chance of stripping “bossy” from anyone’s vocabulary may be small. Instead, the best prospect may be to make girls less afraid of that, or any other label that implies their assertiveness isn’t valuable or attractive. As Leslie Knope puts it jauntily: “I’ve gotten to know the city councilmen pretty well because of my campaign. If you hear them talking about ‘that blonde pain in the ass,’ that’s me.” –Alyssa Rosenberg, Washington Post

Ban Bossy does provide leadership tips for girls, parents, teachers, etc. (and I will say, the tip about not apologizing before you speak is important and seems pervasive, even for women in grad school.) That’s helpful, but it’s not getting the attention. Instead of focusing on banning bossy, then, we could  more productively dedicate time and energy to teaching and mentoring girls on how to lead, how to tell what is/isn’t constructive criticism, how to be resilient, and how to persevere. Moreover, we can promote media coverage of female leaders while calling out gender bias such as focus on the appearance of female leaders rather than their work. Miss Representation did something like that when they started the #AskHerMore trend on Oscar Night, pointing out how little women in film were asked about their achievements compared to the men.

And, like Hillary Clinton once said, “You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance — as opposed to her ideas or actions — isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all you. Insulting a woman’s looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, an inability to engage in high-level thinking. You may think she’s ugly, but everyone else thinks you’re an idiot.” I think a similar attitude could be taken to bossy. Girls, if they’re calling you bossy either you’re (probably) getting somewhere, or you’re (possibly) outreaching your authority or credibility. Learning to tell the difference between the two can help girls be better, stronger, more resilient leaders in a way that I don’t think “Ban Bossy” can.

Further Reading:

The Actual, Helpful Aspects of the Ban Bossy Website <–Why rhetoric is important, because this is not the part highlighted by the message getting all the media attention.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Got a Bigger Problem Than Bossy-Gate

I Don’t Give a $*%& If You Call Me Bossy

The Problem with Ban Bossy

Sheryl Sandberg, Beyonce, We Need To Embrace Bossy, Not Ban Bossy

‘Ban bossy’ and the bossy women in pop culture

Kreger Silverman, Linda. Who Cares If I’m Smart, Am I Thin Enough? Proc. of European Council of International Schools, The Hague, The Netherlands.

Veronica Mars Movie: Return of the Pixie Spy Magic

I saw the Veronica Mars movie and I wanted to write about it, but I couldn’t find my way into what it was that I really loved about it. Then, I was walking the dog and something not that uncommon happened–two dirtbags yelled something really disgusting at me from their parked car. In my quaint little Midwestern town, home of a scenic college campus populated by a large number of wealthy adolescents, I get yelled at by bros in cars frequently enough that I consider it part of living here. Today’s incident was more aggressive and prolonged than usual and it came on the heels of getting a random text that I was being stalked last night.

Normally, I don’t respond to harassers at all. I continue whatever I’m doing as if they don’t exist, because I assume their behavior is about power and I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of making me blink, much less react. But on this day, I had seen Veronica Mars and I’m sick and tired (literally, not just figuratively). More than usual, I wanted to take a bat to their headlights, get the PCH Bike Club to chase them away, or find any way to make them pay for being the sexist assholes they were. I flipped them off and kept walking.

This is all to say that one thing I love about Veronica Mars is the rage. One of the genius elements of the series is the way that Veronica, in her petite, blonde, prettiness, acts on the rage that can be such an intense, but unspeakable part of being a woman. Women, girls, are not supposed to be angry, but so much of the bullshit (or worse) we put up with can make us angry. Enraged. And justifiably so. Veronica is a hero of mine because she doesn’t suppress the rage; she’s motivated by it to seek justice. Veronica is Batman, so to speak. (My friend Megan and I write more about Veronica as a feminist killjoy in Veronica Mars and Philosophy.)

So, what I especially loved about the Veronica Mars movie is the way that the story continues to treat Veronica’s anger about Lilly’s murder and the class warfare in Neptune as an origin story for her as a PI, but further explores the costs and the stakes of carrying that anger. The film picks up nine years after the show left off, with Veronica a graduate of Stanford and Columbia Law School, interviewing for big lawyer jobs in NYC. She’s long given up on sleuthing because of the destruction it caused in her relationships and the lives of those she loves. But then Logan Echolls is the prime suspect in the murder of a pop star who used to be Carrie Bishop and Veronica gets sucked back into the world of Neptune. Veronica is not the angry young woman she used to be. She’s a marshmallow, but she still dresses-down men who try to objectify or harass her. And when she goes back to Neptune, she still has to deal with the consequences of her rage and she comes face to face with plenty to be angry about, from the continued idiocy of 09ers to widespread police corruption. That anger may not be as intense as it used to be, but it still motivates her to fight back and help out.

The film frames Veronica’s struggle between continuing her new, tamer life or sticking around Neptune and all its potential for destruction as a struggle with addiction. It positions her struggle and her choices in a way that deeply resonates with the film noir roots of the series (see also: Neptune Noir) but also makes Veronica seem sort of like a superhero. At one point, when getting out her old PI gear, he refers to it as going to the “Bat Cave.” I think this is an important narrative move for a couple of reasons. As others have written, pairing the noir conventions of the reluctant or anti-hero with the conventional femininity of Veronica messes with traditional gender norms. I think the movie one-ups this dynamic from the series by taking Veronica out of Neptune and positioning her to think critically about her compulsions, her anger, what it cost her, and what it gained for her. Not only is the film then portraying an incredibly strong, smart, powerful woman as the lead, it does so while also portraying the emotional complications of her life and framing her story in a way that parallels how male leads of blockbuster franchises are framed. (Studio Execs, take note. Women can carry a movie without you dwelling on them being women or ignoring it completely.)

To me the movie felt darker, more intense than the series because the characters are older; they’ve sat with the hurt of the events of the TV show for years and their feelings have mellowed and/or complicated. The stakes are also higher. I think for much of the TV show, Veronica and company still had an air of invincibility because they were teenagers, and teenagers on a TV show, no less. Some pretty terrible things happened, but there was reasonable belief that everything would be okay.  In the film, Veronica is facing choices that could change the course of her life. She’s a woman now. Somehow more confident and steady, but also risking a lot more. In true Veronica Mars fashion, however, the choices are complex. No matter what Veronica decides, she’s hurting someone or letting someone down. Rather than situating the female lead between the respectable life and the free life, as often happens, Veronica’s decision is more akin to that of a cowboy or a superhero: stability or a life of fighting for justice. I can’t tell you how much I hope there’s a sequel.

But, balancing out all this noir stuff, the film was also full of joyful moments. I’ve always enjoyed how much love, respect, and affection some of the characters on VM have for each other. In the movie, that comes through clearly, amplified by how excited the actors were to reunite with each other. The quippy banter sings and it’s just fun to see the gang back together again and find out what happened to people like Weevil, Mac, and Wallace. I’ve never loved Dick Casablancas more. Sadly, though, it seems that Backup has passed. My expectations were not super high, because although I love Veronica Mars, I feel like movies based on TV shows, especially hour-long dramas, often just feel like an extended episode. As a die-hard fan, I found the movie really satisfying.