This is a gross understatement, but there are a lot of Ice Bucket Challenges circulating the internet right now. From innumerable athletes enduring the cold, to celebrities like Chris Pratt taking multiple buckets from their laughing wives, to that girl from elementary school you forgot you were Facebook friends with until you saw her screaming and racing circles around a yard for charity. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a veritable epidemic of good Samaritanism, and while I applaud these brave souls drenching themselves to support ALS patients, some critics note that because the trending sensation focuses primarily on the dousing and successive nominations, many participants may not know much about the cause they’re freezing for.
That’s why, when my mom sent a nomination my way, I decided that in order to steer clear of the desensitization taking place for many internet acolytes who merely scroll past the deluge of watery videos filling their newsfeeds, I’d have to conduct my own IBC very differently. With a humanitarian fire lit beneath me, I set to work learning all I could about the cause itself, researching ALS on various medical forums, catching up on Pete Frates biopics, and looking into the history of chilling challenges in general. It was and continues to be important to me that both those happy to take a bucket to the head and those quick to roll their eyes at “yet another viral campaign” understand why it’s important to keep spreading the word about ALS.
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease for the New York Yankees’ Iron Horse whose career ended with his diagnosis in 1939, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that impedes the brain’s motor neurons from sending impulses through the spinal cord to the subject’s muscle fibers. This neurological disease gradually atrophies, or decreases the size and in turn strength of the muscles that engender limb movement, swallowing, speech, and even breathing. There is not yet a cure for ALS, but aids and therapies exist to maintain degrees of independence and prolong survival.
As for the Ice Bucket Challenge itself, its inspiration Pete Frates began his crusade against ALS by calling for more attention and action on the Food and Drug Administration’s behalf in the ongoing search for a cure. Once team captain and outfielder for Boston College, Frates’ recession into immobility has necessitated the aid of a full time nurse, a feeding tube, and a computer for communication.
While the Team Frate Train helped skyrocket the Ice Bucket Challenge to this year’s biggest viral sensation and catalyzed a hugely successful fundraiser for ALS research, shivering for charity has been an altruistic tool for numerous awareness campaigns. Since 1904, people have been plunging into icy waters for polar bears, dousing themselves for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, laying in freezing tubs to garner fundraising for Madi Rogers, a victim of severe juvenile diabetes, and participating in Cold Water Challenges to induce philanthropic action for clean water, hospitals, and housing in Liberia.
Armed with this new knowledge, I set about dusting off my speech writing skills and spent an entire day crafting and then trying to memorize a four minute soliloquy that I hoped might educate viewers on ALS and the challenge taken in support of its victims. As the light of day waned into early evening, I tore around the house looking for ways to actualize my message. The only place I could conduct the challenge without damaging the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling was in the shower; I no longer have a tripod so I’d have to stack packing boxes on top of a mini fridge to support the video camera; I’d need not one but two buckets to achieve my vision; and in case I forgot anything from my speech, I needed my laptop to serve as an amateur teleprompter and my boyfriend’s assistance to operate it.
Finally ready, I called action, started my speech, and began to pour. What I hadn’t anticipated was that four straight minutes of slowly dousing your skull with ice negatively impacts your memory the way the pretty lifeguard affected Squints in The Sandlot. Not to mention the fact that ice in your eyes makes it impossible to recover your forgotten material from the faux teleprompter that wavers between blurriness and brief clarity in the distance. I was able to get a lot of my speech out, but the moments where I had to stop and start over or spit out a watery word resulted in an editors nightmare, and I would never subject my Final Cut-savvy boyfriend to that torture. So I ended up having to scrap the project and conceptualize anew, devising a different approach to filming my speech that I looked forward to completing in a couple days’ time.
Two days later, I woke up with the fingers of the common cold drumming at my throat. No stranger to sore esophagi after enduring them for eight years before realizing I was allergic to my mom’s cats, I spent the rest of the day self-medicating with colloidal silver, cup after cup of tea, and day-long parades to bathroom. Regardless of my efforts, I drove to work the next morning sick as a dog, and despite my boss’ repeated instructions to keep drinking water, I left unable to ingest anything without feeling like I was going to keel over and face plant my already fragile laptop. It was official: I had the flu.
I spent 48 hours being sicker than I’d been since last Valentine’s Day when ol’ influenza decided it wanted to attend the surprise getaway my boyfriend had planned. This time around, I ended up missing a day of work and had to conduct the next from home to keep my contagions to myself. DayQuil and NyQuil became my new best friends and the food I usually admire for its incredible versatility and piquancy was deemed an enemy. The heat of the Los Angeles summer made sleeping in bed with a high fever akin to sleeping in a muggy, half-filled kiddy pool. And bed-time became an ambiguous, all day affair.
When the flu finally began to subside and the virus returned to my throat–bringing along an inflatable bouncy house based on the scale of my swollen glands–I thought the end was in sight. Usually, my ailments start in the throat, escalate according to the virus I’ve contracted, and culminate in a day’s worth of coughing. That’s why when the coughing began and I traded my various Quils for Halls and vitamin C, I could have praised Allah: finally I’d be myself again in one last 24 hour cycle of hell!
But the weekend saw to it that I wouldn’t get off the hook that easy, and as the days passed the cough increased until I was hacking up phlegm in a performance art homage to my fifteen year old do-si-do with pneumonia. At fifteen I held out against a trip to the doctor until I’d been afflicted with the illness for three months simply because my family believed more in vitamins and orange juice than professional care and pharmaceuticals. This time around I kept naysaying my boyfriend’s wise suggestions that a medical opinion was warranted because I knew my Obama-ordered Oregon health insurance wasn’t applicable in my new state of residence and copays are steep enough as it is.
On the morning when my coughs tried suffocating me awake, blood poured faucet-like from my nose, a very bizarre rash broke out all around my neck, and I’d somehow contracted pink eye on top of everything else, I gave in: it was absolutely time to visit Dr. Stranger. Per usual, the doctor was incredibly nonchalant about all of my symptoms, causing unnerving flashbacks to the time my consistently incompetent pediatrician misdiagnosed my bout of flesh eating bacteria as a temporary skin irritation (thank God for the Urgent Care doctor who thought to actually perform a biopsy). According to Dr. Stranger, my illness had started out as a run-of-the-mill viral infection contracted when a good friend’s cold and my boss’ fever of a week before combined to create my Super Flu. With my immune system weakened, bronchial bacteria had easily hopped on board to join the party and now I’d have to fill an antibacterial prescription to rid myself of bronchitis by the end of yet another week. The rash, he said, was totally unrelated and most likely an allergic reaction to… something. For this he prescribed Benadryl and Hydrocortisone and sent me off with the promise that I could come back for a real checkup should the rash persist or spread.
So here I sit three days after diagnosis and almost two weeks after those precursory inklings of a sore throat, my bedside table weighed down by a water-filled Tervis Tumbler, tissues, cough drops, multiple Vicks cold and flu remedies, Sovereign Silver, allergy medicine, anti-rash cream, Azithromycin that I pray will kick in soon, and floss. I myself am weighed down by phlegm and the regret that by failing miserably at my attempt to complete an educational version of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I’m letting down my mother, Pete Frates, and Chris Pratt.
That’s why I’m glad there are still hundreds of people out there bolstering the internet’s incredible ability to spread awareness and simultaneously proving that philanthropy is alive and well. While my personal icy contribution has been delayed, I hope that other participants go beyond the bucket to educate themselves and others about both the fight against ALS and all the charitable movements that people have been freezing for over the decades. Spreading not only nominations but new knowledge will add a whole new element of significance to the thousands of pounds of ice that have been dumped since Frates’ recently deceased friend Corey Griffin first took up the challenge in Pete’s name. Even if bronchitis or another ailment is keeping you from joining the soaking phenomenon, take a minute to find a new, creative way to support the research for ALS and other diseases that have yet to behold a cure.
I live in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, capital of progression in entertainment. As such, I don’t know if I could possibly be more saturated in a trend that future decades may well identify as the zeitgeist of our era. In the way that the 80s are stereotypically characterized by teased hair and overzealous synthesizers and the 20s are remembered for board-thin flappers and sexual revolution, I think our period might be historically defined by the beginnings of the technological takeover George Orwell prophesied. Only rather than relying on technology for every facet of both survival and comfortable living (as science fiction likes to predict) our era seems to utilize the majority of our technological strides for the very concept that makes my current hometown a tourist Mecca: entertainment.
In this day and age, we spend so much time sapping entertainment from our televisions, computers, and cell phones (more aptly known as “cellular devices” due to the increasing antiquity of actual phone calls), that it makes the deeply repressed wild child in me sick beyond Pepto-Bismol relief. So much so that I resorted to college-ruled paper for the crafting of this entry, just to spare my eyes the LED glare of my laptop as long as possible.
When I was a child, long before the invention of Smartphones, Rokus, iPads, and Netflix, I technically had far less access to information. In order to garner new knowledge via the answers to numerous queries, people and books already possessing said wisdom had to be sought out–and this process of learning could take far longer than tapping into your Wi-Fi and posting a thread on Yahoo Answers. But despite the hefty girth of old school dictionaries and the time it took to navigate them, the pre-MP3 world I was brought into was far more wondrous. For entertainment, we looked to nature to provide us with sand to sculpt, rocks to climb, mud to throw, trails to explore, and water to paddle. We looked to our toy box for blueprint-less Lego castles to build, Barbies to direct in plays, and whole worlds to fabricate from disparate pieces. We looked to our friends and relatives for tag between the cherry trees, trampoline acrobatics, and lava monster on the stairwells. And in the pursuit of new knowledge, where wise people and books were scant, personal experimentation in pursuit of an answer thrived. In all, it was a time when imagination and the endless joy you could glean from it ran rampant.
Now I’m not saying the child of my youth doesn’t exist anymore. Trying my hand at teaching elementary and middle school art for several years has proven that there exist many amongst the post-millennium babies who still get a kick out of seed-spitting contests, capture the flag, and playing the time-resistant “house.” But my observations have also yielded a great number of children taking cues from the modern adult: riveted with their iPhones, Angry Birds, Facebook, PSPs, and cable television. Sedentary hobbies that I fear may continue to escalate in child popularity.
Frankly though, I’m one to talk. My sister and I may as well have ushered in the child cell phone craze when at ages 9 and 11 we were envied by our peers as the only two children in school to possess brick-sized, antennae-toting Nokia 5110s. The year was 2001, Snake was one of the few 8-bit games a cellular device could support, and cell phones were still such an up-and-coming phenomenon that instead of confiscating mine when it went off in class one day, my fifth grade teacher merely laughed. But even as early prototypes of elementary school cellonistas, my sister and I only had them as safety precautions for the long, unsupervised walks home from school, not as idle distractions. And when cell phones began to proliferate throughout school systems by the eighth grade, my dad decided our exponential texting warranted the cancellation of our family plan, an act that may have deemed us social pariahs throughout high school, but ultimately did us and our eyesight a world of good.
Nine years later, sitting in a Hollywood apartment with my laptop blinking at me sleepily from the bed, my Smartphone sedate on the table, and my image reflected back at me on my boyfriend’s flatscreen TV, the thought of pre-adolescent children fixating on their digital devices with the same vim the characters of Her demonstrated with their Operating Systems is a frightening notion. I’m 23 years old, living in the age that witnessed the birth and demise of CDs, DVDs, and Blackberries; an age in which the rapidity of technological advancement grants our lifestyles increasing facility on an annual basis. And yet rather than celebrating the ease with which I can archive my music or send my sister messages via satellite, all I really yearn to do right now is ditch the muffled television conversations that eek through every Hollywood wall, throw my phone and its tempting crossword puzzles to the wayside, bid adieu to the computer that served as my life support and safe haven throughout college, and take up residence in a remote, mountain-ringed field somewhere.
For as an active participant in the age of intensifying technological reliance and reproduction, it’s nerve-wracking enough pondering ways to go about shielding my future children from the comparably substandard Harry Potter films long enough for them to read the books. With this and similar obstacles amassing by the day, it’ll be a wonder if I can convince these pending Moon babies that racing you to the other side, climbing to the highest peak, and letting your imagination run away with you provides entertainment that simply can’t be found by poring over an iPhone.
Many people utilize blogs as a means of archiving life, the same way a chronic photographer observes experience through a pinhole and bisects it into truncated moments printed in silver or ink. But when life intervenes with these mediums of examination and reflection, the hobbies of writing and photographing are forced to clamber into the backseat and keep quiet while the driver attempts to navigate a slippery reality without these artistic chains fortifying their tires.
In less analogical terms, due to an adult-sized helping of work these past several months, my artwork–including the writing that I swore to revive via daily practice–has been sorely neglected. This blog and the numerous saved drafts in my post repository were put on hold in favor of tearing my hair out trying to transcribe inscrutable Welsh accents and rephotographing what seemed like an endless procession of holiday menorahs. Apparently that’s the life that happens when we’re too absorbed with our individualized distractions, so to all you ornery teenagers whose parents heckle you about your technological obsessions, simply retort, “Would you rather me join the real world and get a job trying to make photos of Peter Max’s comeback collection look decent?” Cause even your parents know you’ll get more enrichment out of “practicing your grammar” updating Facebook statuses than staring at something like this all day:
Thus, I owe this incredibly latent blog entry to a Las Vegas vacation that both commemorated my sister’s birth and ushered in the free time necessary to dust off my artistic skill set–just in time for the New Year. As such, I concede to the hackneyed tradition of auld lang sine meditation and dedicate this entry to the year 2013.
In my adult life I’ve taken a cue from the Chinese calendar and assumed the habit of naming each year that passes based on its overarching character. For example, the year one of my houses was burglarized, my mom broke her leg on Mother’s Day, and my childhood home went up in flames was deemed The Year of the Happenstance Shit Fest. Likewise, the year I immersed myself in the stress of college, endured a nightmarish relationship that culminated in an equally inimical break-up, and met a N’awlins-scale parade of freshmen jackasses was christened The Year of Building Character Out of Tears, Eraser Shavings, and Godawful Cafeteria Food. As noted in a previous entry, zeitgeist symbols of misfortune seem to have an inverse effect on my family, and the thirteen attached to the end of this year’s moniker was no different. Thus, as 2013 comes to a close, I hereby declare it The Year of the Lucky Bastard.
For some reason, 2013 was all about close calls and seemingly unfortunate situations that miraculously paid off. Sure there were some irrevocable bumps along the way, such as the Transportation Security Administration damaging a plaque that served as the lone reward for my tireless four-year pursuit of a 4.0. And all those cockroaches that liked to host evening soirees under the sink of my very first apartment? That too was unpropitious. But beyond the fleeting disappointment of fruitless job hunts and undercooked pasta, I’ve been remarkably lucky, and figure I ought to thank the Fates in writing to hopefully remain in their favor.
At the very opening of 2013, I found myself illicitly holed up in my friend’s dorm room after her roommate unexpectedly transferred schools and invited my room change request to hang in the slow-paced limbo that is bureaucratic decision making. With a Residential Assistant just several neurotransmissions away from discovering my ploy and a roomful of my actual assigned roommates starting to ask incriminating questions, I was undeniably in one of Ulysses Everett McGill’s reputed tight spots. But somehow, a horde of angels must have possessed the pen that finally checked off my room application just before my fugitive fever could reach a critical degree and Dave Matthews (because that was actually the RA’s name) could sniff me out like a Tommy Lee Jones-bloodhound hybrid and hand me over to the authorities. It was my first utter relief of many to come this year, and as if one heavenly miracle wasn’t enough it segued into what will most likely be the nicest living situation of my adult life and the cherished friendships of my Peruvian-Chinese bosom friend and what has got to be the sweetest, golden-eyed girl in both Arkansas and the whole country over.
Thus, my college career came to a close on a very positive note. I managed to secure all the classes I wanted, I got to reap the mental benefits of working myself to the bone one last time, I got to accumulate some funny anecdotes about the unnerving process of valedictorian interviews, and I got to gaze proudly upon a shiny graduation plaque, sans the impending scratches it would procure and the future realization that Los Angeles employers don’t look at your summa cum laude portfolio unless you happen to know Jim in accounting. The last few months of college were a gloriously bittersweet time in my life, and somehow, despite the anxieties, the few atrocious professors, and the awful consistency of Southern grits, it all worked out perfectly.
The next big risk that I took in 2013 was the decision to move out to Los Angeles as soon as I graduated, despite the fact that the only thing I’d secured in that town was a mere interview with a digital teching company in need of unpaid labor. Thus, with no apartment and no assurance that said potential internship would even be worth while, I packed my bags, kissed my family goodbye as soon as I got home, and headed south to the city of opportunity, my boyfriend, and smog.
And there she was, Lady Luck waiting for me in the guise of a 2000-car pile up on the I-10 East. Within two days of the big move I’d secured my first internship and within two weeks my very own back seat of a sedan-sized apartment two miles from the Arts District of downtown LA. My situation certainly didn’t merit boasting on the SCAD alumni forums, but I had a home, I had resume-worthy responsibilities, and I had a tan. Based on the numerous post-college alternatives, things were definitely coming up Milhouse.
The rest of my time in Los Angeles was speckled with an array of auspicious occurrences: from the fact that my brand new and wonderfully endearing step-cousin just happened to live several blocks away from my boyfriend; to the instance in which a club owner eschewed his own rule of no open-toed shoes and welcomingly admitted me into the bar he’d hidden behind a barbershop storefront; to the glorious sunshine that beat down on us while we waited in line to see Flight of the Conchords and Dave Chappelle at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival; to the unprecedented ease with which we moved my boyfriend to Hollywood; to the remaining tickets for Nick Offerman’s stand-up book tour that we learned about one day in advance; to the miraculous parking spots I always found after work in my boyfriend’s reputedly over-crowded neighborhood; to the incredibly friendly corporate Christmas party host who invited four of us strangers in and gave us the huge roll of remaining free drink tickets; to the fact that we always got front row seats at Upright Citizens Brigade’s free Sunday show; and to my boyfriend’s friend’s sister who just happens to know Hugh Hefner’s chef and got us an exclusive free tour of the Playboy Mansion and the cutest monkeys centerfold money can buy.
And that doesn’t even begin to cover everything that went so well in Los Angeles. Sure the basement of my apartment building was covered in literally thousands if not millions of dead flies, like a scene from a Dario Argento film, but there was something nice about the simplicity of living with naught but a bed, fridge, armoire, and hotplate. And when a new job called for me to stay with my boyfriend in Hollywood (another stroke of luck, considering the beau’s very graciously accommodating roommates), the hardest part about breaking the lease–an unnerving concept considering my stingy, suspicious landlord–was sitting in three hour’s worth of traffic to get from Inglewood to downtown. Even more surprising still, Mr. Conniving Landlord even uncharacteristically called me “sweetheart” when he signed my ending contract with a kindly flourish.
Finally, when spending more than two days with my family for the first time in a year became a priority, I was lucky that my dad and sister’s Las Vegas vacation timed perfectly with all my settled LA arrangements so that they could simply shuttle me home upon their departure. And even if we did run into massive ice-storm traffic just outside of Medford and sit at a standstill for the duration of a whole movie and three-quarters, we’re all very lucky that my dad’s skillful driving kept us from sliding off the side of the Siskiyou mountains. Thank the cliff-side ice gods.
So even with the ups and downs promised to accompany life after college, some deity with a thirteen fetish has looked kindly upon me yet again. I may not have discovered the secret to post-grad billionaire status, but the overarching sentiment of 2013 was one of providential happiness. I’m no where near to surfacing victoriously from this transition into adulthood, but with a little luck-overflow and the same sense of positivity that carried me through the major changes of the past twelve months, perhaps 2014 will prove to be just as felicitous.
If George Lucas had fleshed out Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr.’s lineage beyond Sean Connery’s loveably aloof character, then Indy’s grandmother would be a fictitious interpretation of a real woman named Kathleen. My grandma is an adventurer of Raiders of the Lost Ark caliber, but with the added facets of socialite, food and wine connoisseur, avid supporter of the arts, and incredibly learned intellectual, it’s hard to decide if 007 and his cultural suavity wouldn’t be a more fitting metaphoric descendant.
Born first in an Irish-Swiss family of seven, young Kathleen spent what free time she had traveling the world via the medium of books, a pastime that never petered out and instead manifested itself into an adulthood of constant globetrotting, international charity, and (especially in regards to ornithology) ethological discovery. With a passport that sports the insignias of countries all across the globe, it’s become commonplace to expect that any random visit to her Facebook will yield that she’s in Honduras, Brazil, Vietnam, Canada, Belize, Chile, France, Japan, Trinidad, Australia, Argentina, China, Morocco, Ecuador, Ireland, Thailand, Mexico, or chartering her way via boot, bike, or kayak up and down hiking trails, canyons, and rivers that span the entire United States from Alaska to Hawaii and Washington to Florida. And to be quite frank, that list doesn’t do justice to the expansive escapades that would comprise my grandma’s autobiography.
A Renaissance woman through and through, my grandma’s life of excursion has resulted in a cosmopolitan artist, fascinating conversationalist, and superb chef whose inherited penchant for flavor only increased with the influence of multicultural cuisine. With a sophisticated palate for meals like salmon hash with tarragon and poached egg, asparagus, and huckleberries; a love for symphonic choirs and NPR; and the ability to appreciate the serenity of her peaceful woodland homestead complete with deck recliners and couches, wide-open glass doors, and interior décor amassed by a great eye, my grandma is the well-rounded adult who’s unintentionally instilled a reverence for seniority and retirement in both myself and my friends.
My grandma is the woman who escorted my sister and I to innumerable operas, plays, ballets, museums, contemporary dance performances, musicals, and galleries. The woman who effectuated our educations in classical singing and ballet, and helped organize and attended every performance. The woman whose review I seek whenever I want to introduce anyone to the delectable gastronomy of Portland restaurants. The woman who taught us rewarding, hands-on work in her garden whenever we started feeling out of touch with nature. The woman who sheltered my whole family in her enormous house of sunny windows and hardwood floors, invited us to play in her even larger yard of cherry trees, willows, and evergreens, and later designed a smaller home to be just as inviting. My grandma is a woman who can travel the world, be abroad for months at a time, and still be synonymous with the hometown she’s so assiduously immersed us in.
A far cry from the frail, blue-haired, nightgown-clad grandmothers of the media in both demeanor and personality, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my youthful, energetic, and warm-spirited grandma is to make things happen for yourself. Actively pursue adventure, actively surround yourself with loved ones, actively seek knowledge, actively volunteer your aid, and actively approach life with a sense of wonder. There’s so much out there to explore, so many experiences to partake in, and so many people to learn something new from that whether you’ve borne witness to 79 years of life on earth or 17, get out there and carve your path, embrace the excitement, affirmations, and comforts this world has to offer. Employ cartography to chart your own life and go revel in the firsthand experiences that a television set could never impart.
By way of the media-sharing, social networking, and stalker-encouraging faculties of a little web sensation known as Facebook, my attention was recently directed to an article written by author Sophia McDougall for NewStatesman entitled “I Hate Strong Female Characters.” Initially perceived as an odd subject for a woman in full advocacy of female heroism, the article reveals an author’s vexation with the fact that the few female characters Hollywood’s male-dominated industry engenders these days are whittled down to mere “strong” women.
As if to pacify the contemporary consumer’s deterrence from the antiquated “damsel in distress,” screenplays today produce a myriad of women who not only serve as the male protagonist’s necessary love interest, but who also pack a punch. To illustrate the media’s attempt to reverse the princess hype of bygone eras, McDougall cites kung-fu-savvy Fiona from Shrek, trigger-happy Peggy Carter from Captain America, Buffy of vampire slaying fame, and Black Widow from The Avengers (am I sensing an anti-Joss Whedon trend here?), all of whom resort to violence to establish their auras of sexually intriguing power. While there’s no denying these kick-ass women have right hooks and roundhouse kicks in heels down to a T, McDougall’s article surmises that this modern cinematic woman may be nothing more than a convenient rouse to keep the idolatrous masses at bay–to paraphrase Walter Benjamin. In today’s big Hollywood blockbuster, women have to be purveyed as strong in order to receive the respect their male counterparts garner, even though a man can be prone to addictive neuroses à la Sherlock Holmes, and still be considered a hero. Ultimately, McDougall asks for equality between male and female characters. Instead of one gal and five guys in a super hero posse, why not level the gender playing field? And instead of emphasizing nothing beyond that one female character’s strength and sexual magnetism, why not add the dimensions of reality afforded to male protagonists like Spider Man, Hamlet, and Daniel Craig’s James Bond?
After reading this opinionated plea for equality (akin to the egalitarianism my inner, scale-toting Libra is always intent on), I got to thinking. On the one hand, I could rabble-rouse this cinematic platitude as reverse discrimination: a Hollywood ploy so keen on eradicating the helplessness of damsels past that it’s catapulted the blockbuster heroine into a predictable facade of strength, as if to suggest that while men are expected to be strong and therefore require ulterior characteristics to be captivating, women are expected to be weak, and therefore easily transition into compelling characters when caustic gun-wielding comes naturally. But is The Avengers’ Black Widow, with her monotonous, expository lines and repetitive harnessed flips, actually a compelling character?
On the other hand, I realized as I pondered this crux, that I myself am at fault for the fact that the sheer number of male protagonists–be it in The Avengers, Inception, or even The Smurfs–tend to exceed the number of female characters. I haven’t written recreational fiction in years and have honestly evolved well beyond the anti-feminist, male idolizing yahooligan of my youth, but back when I was able to document the adventures of my imagination on a daily basis, I was undeniably responsible for the adolescent egocentrism that results in one primary female character and a horde of dudes. Yes, there was the Holes fan-fiction from middle school that introduced a cast of female equivalents for each of the male Green Lake inhabitants, and yes, the three women featured in my story “Pampa” outnumbered the two men, but generally, my writing enveloped a sole heroine based off some constituent of myself and a host of male characters based off of other personal facets. Blame it on latent, inapparent tomboy-ism, but as a girl who found herself easily relating to a male mindset, it just felt more natural to translate my sardonic voice through a male medium and reserve my sense of teenage trepidation about body image, boys, and school for my female characters.
But just because the men outnumbered the women in my writing, didn’t mean my female characters ascribed to classic Hollywood’s helpless maidens or today’s revamped sword-brandishing pseudo-mutes. My characters may have been uncertain about a lot of the things life presented them with, but some of them certainly emanated natural strength, a couple of them had pulled through harrowing circumstances hardened but notably wiser, many of them could riposte circles around their male companions, and all of them had individual perspectives, experiences, and a distinctive voice of their own. None of them used kung-fu to merit respect (in fact, one character hid her penchant for violence as a hired gun in order to assimilate into the new identity she’d devised), and while a couple of them (my sister’s analog in the Holes fan-fic) had the men drooling, most of them deviated from the stereotypical sex symbol that makes a female character profitable in the eyes of Hollywood.
In fact, as I pondered the subject further, I realized that even though hero movies (generally inspired by comics made by men and produced by men for men) have created the Disney princess foil via their violent, “strong” female archetype, women have come a long way in the media. Just look at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, idolized for their hilarious goofiness and witty intelligence without having to step into a leather catsuit or be raised by a pulley to conduct Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-esque combat. And even in the realm of tough cookies, Arya Stark combines the honest vulnerability of youth with an adult desire to aid her family and fight because it’s inevitable, not because it’s sexy. While these multidimensional women offer hope to irritated consumers like McDougall, I won’t deny that they’re a long ways off from representing the schema perpetuated by our summer blockbusters–that of the disposable, hyper-sexualized Bond girl or the infamous “strong female character.”
I suppose that when you reside in a country where female politicians still don on pantsuits to be taken seriously, it’s no wonder Hollywood imbues strength in its female characters to elicit respect. While rugged gals can punch a chauvinist into silence or shoot their loved ones with fifty arrows out of unverified jealousy, you know our blockbuster screenplays have a few reality checks in order when the closest fictional woman I can relate to for her perseverance is Liz Lemon (that, or I just really like ham).
I’m a proud proponent of the fact that Hollywood has come a long way since Snow White lay in entombed waiting after a gullible run-in with an apple, but I can also recognize the validity in McDougall’s sentiments. Hollywood seems to be opposed to the notion of a female hero chartering her own film (and headlining a movie poster rather than standing behind Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth) because, quite frankly, they haven’t figured out how to make her compelling enough yet. Personally, I don’t want them to make that movie until they learn to do it right–two hours worth of Scarlett Johansson’s blank expression while she pulverizes villains with the powers of… karate would make for a sure-fire box office flop. Perhaps the secret lies in employing female writers, girls who, like my adolescent self, dreamt up women who equalled men in battle but possessed senses of humor and honest queries about life to boot. Maybe Hollywood just needs to hand over the reigns to the female script writers and guys in tune with their feminine sides, thereby enabling those underused artists to revel in a little geeking out of their own.