On Writing Disability

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 09:57 pm
amarie24: (Default)
I asked this a few days ago at Ana's, but I could really use some help here. Thanks a lot!

Trigger Warning: Disability, Possible Erasure of Disability, & Ableism Language, Abuse etc.

I’m about to talk about the Batman mythos and I will do my absolute best to be as thorough as possible for anyone that’s not familiar with Batsy Boy’s universe.

Alas, I have fallen in love with the Batkids, better known outside the fandom as Batman’s sidekicks (i.e, all the Batgirls, Robins, etc.). And one of his sidekicks that I have fallen in love with is often called the Forgotten Batgirl. Her name is Cassandra Cain.

To share briefly about Cassie’s history, she was conceived, born, and raised only to be an assassin. Her abusive-ass father (David Cain, a BAMF villain assassin in the DC comics universe) raised/trained her to read people’s body language perfectly. In order to do this, he raised her without talking, reading, writing, etc. So Cassie knew (and still does) when someone was sleepy or going to throw a punch or going to drop kick, etc. She could read it with pinpoint accuracy and respond accordingly. Perfect assassin.

Then, she ran away from Daddy Dearest after her first killing at the age of eight. And she is mute and illiterate. Throughout her series, we see that she has terrible difficulty with learning to read, write, and talk, though she is capable of doing so. And because she is mute, I (and a lot of other Cassandra Cain fans) took her for disabled. Learning disabled, specifically.

But then I happened upon this blog that stated that Cassie is not disabled: she simply speaks another language-body language. You can read it here.

The blogger in question makes a compelling argument that Cassie simply knows and understands another language and that language is body language. I have no confusion with the blogger stating that Cass isn’t stupid: I am in complete agreement with that. Calling anyone stupid-especially if they’re (possibly?) disabled-is shitty as all fucking get out.

Yet at the same time…if we say that Cassie, who is mute and illiterate and has difficulty learning, is not disabled, then…neither is Barbara Gordon (the first Batgirl, and Cassie’s mentor/mother figure). Because Barbara Gordon was shot in the spine by the Joker and paralyzed. And now, she is permanently paralyzed from the waist down and is in a wheelchair. Yet, are we not supposed to say that she is disabled? Are we supposed to say that she simply has a different method of movements (via wheelchair)? Isn’t that disability erasure?

But…I want to write Cassie. I love that she’s Asian. I love that she has difficulties. I love that she’s Bruce Wayne’s (Batsy Boy’s) only (adopted) daughter. I love it. I already have about…three different fanfictions for her planned in my head. But I haven’t yet started writing or even drafting/outlining because I want to make absolutely certain that I am not erasing her disability and that I am checking my own able-bodied privilege.
My overall question is this: how do we distinguish between characters that…may have difficulties, but may not be disabled and characters that are absolutely disabled? How do we keep from erasing disability?
amarie24: (Default)
I’m a 90’s baby and I’m proud of it! One of the things that I don’t do much is gush about all the shows, music, trends, etc. that I grew up with and remain close to my heart. And, of course, now that I’m older, I see where problematic elements are as well as Epic Win moments are. Then there’s also the respect that must be given to people that were not born in the 90’s, but absolutely love and reminisce about what they grew up with as well.

So! Does anyone remember or has anyone at least heard of HBO Family’s Happily Ever After Series? It was a series that ran from 1995-2000 (1). It was narrated by the phenomenal Robert Guillame and was made of three seasons. Famous actors, actresses, and singers that helped to voice the show range from Whoopi Goldberg and Gladys Knight to B.D Wong and Maria Conchita Alonso. Here’s a little summary/refresher straight from the website itself, lovelies (2):

"Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child" is a series which retells the world's most famous fairy tales with a cast of animated characters from many ethnic backgrounds. For the first time ever, children of different races will find themselves represented as the royalty, fairies, and folk of the fairy tale world. The charm and mystery of the original tales are enhanced by this diverse spectrum of cultures. As the title suggests, these are truly fairy tales for every child.

And that’s basically the gist of what Happily Ever After (I’ll abbreviate it HEA from here) is all about: respectfully and enthusiastically taking ethnic-as well as female-minorities and putting them in the spotlight that has long-since been granted only to white majorities. Here are just a few of the wonderful examples:

Robin Hood is a Mexican female: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAh4A1oe7nc

Ali Baba is female. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib3xlMr9HV0

The Little Mermaid is an Asian. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DG0m6wif36U

The Twelve Dancing Princesses are African. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gyNwGlG3Mo

King Midas is African, as well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLGkkTwjCcs

Did I mention that Robin Hood is a Mexican female?

Even where representation of race and gender isn’t a problem, HEA still changes it up. For example, Aladdin is traditionally an Arabic male-he is a minority. But HEA shows his story in the form of an Asian male: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8wRxyCi_eQ

One could easily say that HEA is showing all kinds of ethnicities in all kinds of fairy tales (over thirty-nine have been adapted by the show) to keep the audience engaged and coming back for more.

But I believe that there is a deep message in there. And I believe that that message is very, very deep and very, very wonderful.

To explain what I think that message is and where I think that message comes from, I’ll step outside of HEA and into mainstream culture for a moment. From a very, very young age-deliberately or not-our culture tells us that because we look a certain way, then we must be a certain way and, by contrast, we can never expect to step out of being that certain way. We had been taught that this is law over and over again.

If you’re a white female you get to be a princess. If you’re a black female you get to be belligerent and sassy-mouthed. If you’re a Hispanic female you get to be round, chubby, short and having five kids and a husband. If you’re an Asian female, you get to be a squealing Harajuku girl. If you’re an Asian male, you get to be a Kato to the Green Hornet. If you’re a Middle Eastern female, you get to be sexually, politically and socially suppressed in a hijab or burka. If you’re a Middle Eastern male, you get to be a foreign terrorist that Tony Stark has to take down.

And if you’re a white male you get to be front and center as, well…anything you can possibly imagine. The doors are all open for you and damned if anyone-least of all Hollywood-is going to tell you ‘no’.

These examples that I mentioned, whether they make you laugh or make you cry (or both) all relate to stereotypes brought upon us by society. Or, better yet, we can only be the sum of how society perceives our skin color, our race, our ethnicity, our gender, our age, our socioeconomic class, etc. We are never allowed to be the sum of what we dream and/or choose to be.

People of color and non-male status are especially burdened with this expectation. I remember that as a child, I couldn’t imagine myself discovering and exploring tombs like Indiana Jones. I couldn’t imagine myself vanquishing energy-stealing, Earth-hating villains back to the Negaverse like Sailor Moon.* I couldn’t imagine myself owning a big red dog named Clifford like Emily Elizabeth Howell.

I couldn’t imagine myself being and/or doing any of those things because the people inside that TV and on that movie screen didn’t look anything like me. People that were like me were so easily put into a tiny little box where they had to act out their stereotypes while being either accessories to the main [white, often male] characters, breathing background props that had to be saved by said main characters, or villains against said main characters. The excitement that I felt upon seeing a fellow minority character was often quelled because, even from a young age, I could almost guess what role that minority character would be filling.

And so I didn’t believe that I could go on adventures and rescue someone and build a company and gain superpowers and wear princess dresses and fly a space shuttle…

…Because none of the people in the media that were doing those things looked anything like me.

And so, therein laid an implicit but strong message: we who are not white and not preferably male can only be limited to that which society perceives and stereotypes us. We are only allowed to be content with being part of a stereotypical monolith that must be at the whims of the privileged group that is allowed more room for diversity in their representation.

The damage that this paradigm has caused has been far and wide. It has caused everything from lack of and/or low self-esteem to fluctuating crime rates and drop-out rates to broken families.

Media and its messages are incredibly powerful-often much, much more powerful than we’re comfortable accepting.

And this is where my message to HEA comes in. This is where I want to say thank you to HEA. My thank you is endlessly deep, sincere, and heartfelt. And the thank you that I so deeply give neither is nor ever will be enough for what you have done.

I thank you for acknowledging, addressing, and, in your way, correcting the problem of underrepresentation and misrepresentation of colored and female people. You did so in the most creative, imaginative, revolutionary way possible. You did so by targeting the audience that is most vulnerable to sometimes-subtle, always-powerful mainstream messages-children.

I thank you for asserting an often forgotten reality in place of a too-easily-accepted fantasy. That is, the reality that our dreams and aspirations and goals and interests and general personhood have nothing to do with our ethnicity/race, and/or gender. You have asserted that reality over the fantasy of the cage-the cage that makes us believe that we are no more than the sums of qualities and attributes that we cannot help (race, ethnicity, gender, etc.), though they are qualities that, nonetheless, we should be proud of.

I thank you for showcasing and uplifting non-white cultures, rather than appropriating and stereotyping them. You have centered people of color and asserted that they are more than worthy and capable of telling their own stories. More than that, you have asserted that they are worthy and capable of telling and being in any story. You understood the difference between the grievance of whitewashing characters (Lawrence Olivier’s “Othello”) and the progress of diversifying characters (HEA itself) to prove the point about misrepresentation and appropriation.

I thank you for showcasing that to be female and to be powerful are not mutually exclusive things. You have shown female characters that are innovative, resourceful, creative, and badass. You have shown those strong female characters to revel in and embrace their femaleness and, in doing so, to reject the notion that maleness is the standard of strength and femaleness is the standard of weakness. These female characters may wear lipstick, have long hair, walk in high heels, and/or wear jewelry as they take the world on; they do not Dress Up As Men in an attempt to denote their worth in a misogynistic society. And you have shown them doing that with pride and fearlessness.

I thank you for showcasing that females of color are beautiful. More specifically, that females of color with different body types are beautiful. You have shown females that are wide-hipped, tall, thin, short, large-breasted, curvy, long-armed, and the like. Curly hair, long hair, dark hair, frizzy hair, natural hair, short hair, and the like. You have shown women’s bodies with respect and within the context that all bodies are real bodies; one woman is not A Real Woman compared to another just because she happens to be a bit bigger (or smaller, as some would argue).

I thank you for asserting that people of color are worthy of and capable of love. You showed close, loving, nurturing familial units at every chance you got. As needed in stories, conflict may drive apart these families, but they come back together. You have shown that love can be-and is-expressed in a variety of ways through unique familial dynamics.

I thank you, overall, for doing what you have done for colored and female children all across the world. You have been-and are-a voice that has advocated for them to feel important, centralized, capable, achieving, and human. You have humanized these children into people that have the rights and capabilities to dream and go wherever it is that they wish to go. Anyone can be Cinderella. Anyone can be the Princess and/or the Pauper. Anyone can be Robin Hood. Anyone can be The Little Mermaid. Anyone can be anything they want and the way they look should not be a barrier to that. Rather, those attitudes and paradigms must be transcended and you have asserted that wonderfully.

So thank you, Happily Ever After Series. In the year 2013, thank you so, so much.

*Please, no one get me wrong. I love Sailor Moon more than anyone. But I have to go to http://www.dolldivine.com/sailor-senshi-maker.php to create a black sailor scout for myself. Seriously.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happily_Ever_After:_Fairy_Tales_for_Every_Child (1)

http://www.hbofamily.com/programs/happily-ever-after.html (2)
amarie24: (Default)
Oh, dear. It’s happened again. Abercrombie & Fitch has caused a stir and an uproar (1 & 2). This time, the uproar has resulted in a petition for the massive retailer to include plus-sizes (3).

In summary, CEO Mike Jeffries made comments saying he only intended for the “cool kids” to shop at his stores. Meanwhile, the “uncool kids” are simply incapable of fitting in his retail chain’s clothing, much less fitting into the culture/atmosphere of Abercrombie & Fitch. This was in a 2006 interview and, since, he has given a…non-apology. Or at least, that’s how many interpret it (2).

As a response, the petition occurred. One man has even suggested that people give any clothes that they own from the giant store chain to homeless people.

*Derail Commence*

…Give the clothing to homeless people. I’m not sure of…the Unfortunate Implication of this. Now, perhaps I could get behind the idea if it was given to homeless people in a more indirect, traditional way-such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill. In that way, perhaps, it could be said that the people hurt by the store (and are permanently declaring themselves former customers) are taking something negative for them and turning it into something positive for others. That would be a good thing.

But the context of this doesn’t make that explanation ring true. To begin with, the context is more that people want to get rid of anything of Abercrombie & Fitch’s than anything else. If this was really about giving for the sake of turning a negative (“This store has hurt my body image and wasted my money!”) into a positive (“Here are people that truly need clothes, no matter what the brand/label is!”), then the clothing’s label would have to have a positive meaning for the giver in order for it to have a positive connotation for the receiver. This is the problem: the meaning of the clothing is negative for these people and, therefore, is odious as a gift to those that truly need it. So you’re left with the Unfortunate Implication that to give the clothes to the homeless-rather than selling it at a high price to the Cool Kids-is to demote and degrade the clothing by way of the very people that are receiving it. Trash gets trash. Dust collects dust.

I wonder if they would’ve felt they were doing any differently than if they had simply burned the clothes and/or tossed them into a dumpster.

So here’s my note to finish this derail: If you are going to give anything at all to the homeless/needy, then please (read that: Please) be sure that you give in a positive connotation that is not born of-to begin with-an intent to punish a corporation.

*Derail Finis*

Now! Onto the issue I actually wanted to talk about: the pervading culture of Abercrombie & Fitch and the petition/outrage.

Mike Jeffries noted that his target audience is a very, very specific audience: white, preferably male, heterosexual, thin, young, exclusive, and of an upper socioeconomic class. In turn, he has noted that those outside the realm of his target audience include: non-whites, preferably females, homosexuals, non-thin, older, inclusive, and of a lower socioeconomic class. And here’s the main thing: he’s right. He is absolutely, one-hundred percent right. His store has made it very, very clear who is welcome and who is unwelcome. He has touted that horn for quite a while and his business has remained successful throughout the years.

But to soften the blow, I’d very much like to introduce the Wonder Woman for today, a Ms. Amy Taylor from the Huffington post. She has penned a letter to Mike Jeffries named An Open Letter from a ‘Fat Chick’ to Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch (4).

In the letter, Ms. Amy Taylor says quite a lot of Awesome Sauce things, but I will quote some of what I feel are her most pivotal parts. The first, if you will, highlights why I don’t generally agree with the petition:

You got me, Mike! I don't wear a size 4. You should probably also know that my middle fingers curve ever-so-slightly outward and I have a Morton's toe. I'm terrible at long division and I'm not that great at parallel parking. But I'm a good person.


This is the core of why I don’t believe in petitioning or suing or boycotting corporations like Abercrombie & Fitch: if you do not see that the value of a person lies in their explicit and unique personhood rather than aesthetics they may or may not be able to help, then you have already lost much, much more than you could ever hope to gain. You have already burned yourself far hotter than any petition ever could.

In other words, if you do not see people as human beings worthy of basic respect and dignity and, instead irrevocably categorize them into Acceptable and Unacceptable castes, then you are philosophically beyond help.

I say ‘philosophically’ simply because I do not know the mind of Mike Jeffries and/or the employees of the store; I do not know if the correct adjective would actually by ‘psychopathically’. I do not know what drove this CEO to say such horrendous things and without any sugarcoating, either. Miserable? Psychopath? Sociopath? Insecure? Egotistical? Avaricious? Vicious?

Maybe all of those or maybe none of those. Maybe it depends on the day of the week or on how sweet his coffee is. I don’t know and I don’t care.

For the side that cries foul against Abercrombie & Fitch, this rings of a personal matter to me. Because, seriously? I understand this. I get it. So does Ms. Amy Taylor:

I have always struggled with my weight. Big-boned. Plus-size. Thick. Curvy. Voluptuous. Padded. Pick your adjective. Over the years I learned to deal with it in different ways. I learned to ignore it. Compensate for it. Deny it. Dress it up. Cover it over. Like everyone who struggles with something physical, I wear my battle on the outside for the world to see. There's no running from it, because there is no hiding it.

Mike (can I call you Mike?), I'm not only a fat chick, I'm also a "not-so-cool" kid. Always have been, always will be. I've had 31.5 years to come to terms with that. Along the way I have been bullied, tortured, teased and harassed. Somehow I came out the other end better for it.

There are quite a few Great Hurts in this world, and one of those Great Hurts can be explicit and/or implicit exclusion and oppression. Children can be cruel and whoever said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” has not yet been born and I wish them and their mother a safe journey through the birth.

It’s especially worse when, as a child, you have neither the resources to permanently get away from the abuse nor the mental capacity to see through the bully’s message and understand that there’s nothing wrong with you and everything wrong with the bully.

I, too, am a plus-sized female-a size 18/20 or 2X, to be exact. I am also black. As such, I have “two strikes against me” and the world has made sure I don’t forget it. Though I have healed and learned to see myself as a whole person rather than an [sexualized] object to be criticized, ostracized and physically policed as Public Property Gone Wayward (5).

So I completely understand where the people petitioning and suing and boycotting Abercrombie & Fitch are coming from. I do. People have been through hell and back; they have struggled with anorexia and bulimia and depression and suicide and low/lack of self-esteem. Girls are struggling to fit into a narrow definition of attractiveness and boys are struggling to fit into a narrow definition of [adult] manhood. Even now as I type this, there is someone considering dangerous body manipulation in order to fit into one of the tiny shirts or one of the skinny jeans.

Yes. Right now, that’s happening.

Abercrombie & Fitch has caused serious harm to America-particularly its youth. So what better way to invite deadly backlash than to try to deal a significant blow to the company?

And now to play Devil’s Advocate to Abercrombie & Fitch. For this, I only have one thing to say: what exactly is the point of marketing to a broader audience if our current, specifically-targeted audience more than keeps us afloat? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Besides! Why is this store chain being singled out? They’re not the only ones that do this: look at Victoria’s Secret, Hollister, American Eagle, and Sephora, to name a few.

But now onto my actual argument, lovelies.

I do not believe that taking legislative/financial action against Mike Jeffries’ clothing chain because, again: the philosophy is simply beyond help. To believe in and advocate for the concept that human beings should be seen in a ranked caste system (based on appearance, no less) is embarrassingly juvenile at best and Neo-Nazi at worst.

So what do I propose? What do I suggest?

Firstly, I think we need to understand and acknowledge that this is not simply one company’s problem. Rather, this is an entire cultural problem. There is an entire cultural narrative that Body Polices and Fat Shames and Exclusively Excludes among other things. It has been around since before the time of corsets and after the time of skin bleaching. Both genders have been targeted, but women more so than men have shouldered the burden of being seen as a Public Ornament That Must Conform or Else.

Once we acknowledge that bigger, painfully problematic cultural narrative, then we may begin to have an honest conversation on it. And, preferably, that conversation will be headed by the people most hurt by this culture-the people made to feel ousted and subhuman. This is the core of why I don’t think that forcing the store chain to put in plus-sizes would work; just because clothing my size would be available does not mean that I would be treated with respect. I would actually put good money on the bet that my sizes would either be, a) towards the back and/or b) always suspiciously on backorder from the main warehouse. And heaven knows if I would even get any eye contact, much less a welcoming smile. By the way? These are all hypothetical situations assuming that I would even want to go into Abercrombie & Fitch.

Secondly, I think we need to understand that the culture and attitudes that Abercrombie & Fitch and co. advocate can be summed up in one word: toxic. Absolutely toxic.

Now, is this to say that all Abercrombie & Fitch employees and employers share this toxic attitude? Of course not. There are certainly those that merely needed a job and the store happened to have an opening. Hell, there may even be employees that have been fighting tooth and nail from the beginning for the place to have a broader market.

But the fact of the matter is (again, without attacking specific groups of people) that the overall cultural attitude of the store chain is simply toxic.

What do we do with people and concepts and expectations and paradigms that are toxic? I believe that we do only one thing:

We leave them behind.

We ignore them. We forget them. We avoid them. We disassociate from them.

Because they are toxic and that which is toxic is mutually exclusive with the life of a healthy individual. They have no place in the life of someone that wishes to have self-acceptance.

They are toxic. And so we must leave them behind.

In their place, I believe we must work to surround ourselves with people that will uplift us. Ms. Amy Taylor says it best once again:

Funny thing about wearing your struggle on the outside: it makes you stronger. It teaches you how to adapt. It forces you to dig deep and do more. And while people like you are sitting at the cool kids table intent on holding others down, the ragtag team of not-so-cool kids is busy pulling others up...and we've become an unstoppable force driving the world forward.

Now, surely grade school is a world that is much, much smaller than the “real/adult” world. Therefore, it is much, much more difficult to pick and choose the people that will help to enrich your life, rather than to degrade your life. But as Amy Taylor says, those battle scars can help to make you a stronger, smarter and savvier person. Those battle scars allow you to see other people as people and always remember how much all you ever wanted was for someone to be kind to you-and not for the way you look, but for the simple fact that you are a fellow human being.

When you do get out into the world, you surround yourself with people that uplift you and, in turn, people that you will uplift. Yes, these will include the blacks and the lesbians and the Muslims and the plus-sized and the Hispanics and the disabled and the impaired and Everyone Else That Can’t Belong. You know what else? The people that would usually be in Mike Jeffries’ target group should be included too because not all of them advocate for the same things that he does; they, too, can be allies and supporters. They, too, are scarred with the expectation to see their fellow human beings in such a horrible and shallow light and they are not sheep. With the increased system of support and acceptance, we then decrease the system of degradation and exclusion.

And that, more than anything, rings more true and useful than any lawsuit or boycott or petition ever could. It involves healing and maturity and the discrediting of those that would seek to obstruct that healing and infantilize that maturity.

So I say that we shouldn’t give Abercrombie & Fitch any more of our time and attention by any means at all. Instead, we should be leaving behind their toxic culture to muddle in their own toxicity and focus on bringing other people and ourselves up.

Because that’s just what the Real Cool Kids do.

http://shine.yahoo.com/fashion/petition-launches-urging-abercrombie---fitch-to-change-it-s-anti-plus-size-stance-190830257.html (1)

http://omg.yahoo.com/news/abercrombie-fitch-ceo-mike-jeffries-apologizes-cool-kids-214000187-us-weekly.html (2)

http://www.salon.com/2006/01/24/jeffries/ (3)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-taylor/open-letter-fat-chick-mike-jeffries-ceo-abercombie-fitch_b_3249798.html (4)

http://targetingteens.blogspot.com/2012/08/women-and-girls-arent-public-property.html (5)

Repost #3

Monday, November 26th, 2012 05:24 pm
amarie24: (Default)
Repost #3! Arghhh...I don't have the specific address on Ana's blog to link back to. BUT! I at least have the link to her blog overall, so I don't remember the specific prompt (but, yes, it's related to Twilight). Besides, you should all get a taste of her awesome-sauceness in the long run. ;)


Apologies ahead of time and much love to one and all!

Hmmm…I think I just came up with a new theory about Bella’s snark, whining, etc…

For my theory, I’m going to go with the assumption that Bella is an idealized self insert for Stephenie Meyer. Now, Mrs. Meyer herself grew up in a place where being a ‘good girl’ was not only expected but considered natural, right? And with the Curse of the Good Girl, you do not speak the way Bella does to everyone in her life.

And this is where I think her snark is part of a fantasy: it’s the gift/ability to be able to speak and act as Bella does…and not have any consequences that come with it. You can hold your hands up to your dad in ‘warding off’ manner and slam his cruiser door; he won’t say an admonishing word to you, much less slap you in the mouth. You can act like you’ve got PMS with your future boyfriend/husband; he, too, won’t do/say much but storm off in a rage similar to your own. You can basically refuse to comfort and reassure your mom over the phone; hell, she’s never done/said anything to you for your behavior in the first place. So what is a threat over the phone going to be? And besides, she owes you more respect than you do her; you’re the one that was bringing the bread and butter in. And then you even had to be the one to cook that bread and butter. What power does Renee have? None. Overall, I think we’re looking at a fantasy of someone who was taught to bear the Curse of the Good Girl all her life.

Therefore, Bella’s neuroticism isn’t meant to be seen as immature, childish, or unlikable. We’re meant to see her as Stephenie Meyer probably sees her: empowered. Very, very, very empowered. In this fantasy, you answer and bow to no one. Yet despite your lack of amicability, you’re still loved and made the center of everyone’s universe.

Now, as Neytiri says, I think this is sad. Very sad, only. Bella Swan isn’t the first female protagonist to be ‘empowered’ in this way, and she certainly won’t be the last. This trope that females are only so powerful as their ‘bitchy’ or ‘like a diva’ is taken by many as one of the main keys to feminism. Now of course, this is terrible and clearly not even close to the definition of feminism and empowerment (at least, for me). Like Ana said, it only makes the character appear immature, childish, petty and overall selfish.

I think this also ties into Charlie and Renee’s apparent lack of proper [non-hesitant] communication. Again, this is part of Bella’s empowerment; Charlie and Renee’s communication is in the backseat because everything that is said and done is on Bella’s terms. If you think about it, most parents would burst out laughing if their child started demanding that they fork out about ten grand (that was your estimate, right Ana?) to go back and forth between Arizona to California and Washington to California. Yet, it seems that Bella gets her way in that department-and others-seamlessly. And I think the best part for Stephenie Meyer is where you don’t even have to say thank you or consider what the costs of accommodating you when you ‘put your foot down’ are.

Essentially, you get to turn that strict, parental-centered environment on its own table; the parents become the children and the children become the parents. That’s what I read when Bella mentally refers to her parents as ‘Charlie’ and ‘Renee’. They’re not really her parents, just overgrown children that have given her power. Therefore, they forgo the honorifics and affections of ‘mama’ and ‘daddy’.
amarie24: (Default)
Well, what can I say? You guys know me and background first. (1)

Fifty Shades of Grey came to my attention when it was just rising to fame on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and the like. Sales have since skyrocketed all over the globe and, well...it looks like sales will continue to skyrocket.

It's also worth noting, I think, that the origins of this book by British author E.L James started out as a Twilight fanfiction. And when the fanfiction's content was took mature/disturbing for Fanfiction's site, Mrs. James too it down and, well...now we have the fanfiction in book form. A book form that people seem to either love and hate.

But either way, it's caught everyone's attention and even the great Stephenie Meyer herself has had to say something about it. Bless her for being kind and congratulating to Mrs. James.(2)

I would put several links here, but we don't want to overwhelm ourselves, no kiddies?

And, in doing this deconstruction series (which, to be brutally honest, I think this will mostly turn into a reaction series), I understand that I have a lot of my work cut out for me. There are explicit, BDSM themes, [anti-] feminist controversies, the disturbing comparisons to Twilight, the question of consensual sexuality vs. abuse, others' commentaries, and well...a whole lot more.

However! I will not tarry too much in the introduction. Rather, what I want to focus on is the point of view that Mrs. James decides to take with her book. Indeed, upon the first paragraph of the book, I find that, like Twilight, it is told in first person. The protagonist is Anastasia Steele, the loverly lady that is destined to fall in love with the loverly Christian Grey:

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair-it just won't behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet.Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable.

Now, I am not an author (I write in roleplays on another website...but I'm not sure if that's relevant). I am not a journalist. And I am certainly not a publisher/editor. But I, as a blogger, I will go on and put my head in the oven by saying, well...

...I would never recommend writing in first person. Ever.

My point of view on the matter (haha!) comes from the fact that, as an avid reader, I've always seen point of view as a kind of camera. Third person omniscient point of view is a bird's eye that never swoops down. Second person point of view is a bird's eye that occasionally swoops down for in-depth thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. First person point of view is a bird that's permanently grounded with whichever character(s) that it is showcasing.

In essence, I just feel that the camera of first person that's provided is much, much too insular. That's not to say that it's impossible to do a good job with first person; actually, one of my favorite books, The Book Thief does an excellent job of showing Death's point of view during World War II and the Holocaust specifically.(3)Of all the people/entities that you could do first person with during the Holocaust...what better one than Death Himself?



Anastasia isn't Death and Death isn't Anastasia. So there's a whole wealth of difference here. Now, I may be nitpicking by stating fundamental problems just by the first paragraph, but I'm afraid that this Amarie has a list. Here is what I personally feel an author can run into with first person...and what I personally feel has already been run into in "Fifty Shades of Grey":

1.) As I mentioned before, The Camera Is Too Insular

I feel kind of trapped in Ana's mind. She's relatively...small so far. I said that I haven't gotten past chapter three and part of the reason for that is that Ana has a such a small scope of the world. And right now, there's nothing much except that her eyes are too big for her face. Her hair won't behave. She's damning Katherine for being ill. She's unhappy with the fact that something is going to distract her from studying for her exams. She's rolling her eyes.

And, yes, that's giving me detail. But there's so much that I don't know. What room is she in? The bathroom? Her bedroom? Maybe there's a mirror in the dorm living room? What does it look like? Did she design parts of the room herself? Is the design supposed to remind her of something?

What day of the week is it? What month? What year? What else is coming up besides final exams-or has already passed-in this time frame? Is any of it significant or insignificant to our protagonist? Why or why not?

How is Katherine? What is the cause of her illness? Stress? Flu season? Bad immune system? Is she going to be alright within a few days time? Does she need immediate medical attention, or at least, a quick visit to the doctor's office next week? Has she gotten it from Anastasia herself some time ago? How does Katherine feel about being sick?

And so on and so forth.

Realistically, I know that there's little to no way for any author to (stylistically) include all of that in just the first paragraph of their book. Hell, it would be a feat just to include it all in the first chapter alone while still being able to interest and not overwhelm the reader. Every single little detail need not be shoved down the audience's throat from the very beginning (*stares pointedly at Game of Thrones*).

But I am saying that I don't feel like we're going to get any of those details at all because the text is too busy with Anastasia's Big Blue Eyes That Are Too Big For Her Face. And I can't see anything outside of her disdain for her physical appearance; the camera is just too insular.

For me, as a reader, it's a lot like being blinded because I'm not allowed to see anything outside of the protagonist. And it is this problem that, in my opinion, can make it extremely difficult for an author to paint the picture that is the story.

First person was a wonderful choice for The Book Thief because Death is just the perfect compliment to World War II. During such a time, he's required to be everywhere and anywhere and sees all of the desolation and carnage and loss and destruction and everything else that comes with one of the biggest wars in history. So, to me, The Book Thief is an excellent case where first person couldn't be farther from insular if it tried.


Again, Ana isn't death and Death isn't Ana. I still can't see anything.

By the way, why are we blaming Katherine for being ill?

2.) The question of interest

I don't think it's uncommon for [un]interest in a novel to closely tie in with the audience caring about the novel. And, right now, am I interested? Did the author hook, grab and keep me with this paragraph? Am I sitting on the edge of my seat as my eyes struggle to move as fast as they can on the page? Do I want to smack Katherine upside the head for putting our protagonist through such trouble? Am I practically bouncing and vibrating to flip to the next page and see what happens immediately?


Indeed, no this Amarie is not.

And I'm going to go ahead and cheat (I'll probably be cheating a lot) and say that, as of chapter three, I'm still not hooked. I'm blinking. I'm yawning. I'm shifting.

I'm waiting.

The problem, for me, is of a lot of things. It's very, very clear to me that, in terms of physical appearance, Ana is either:

1. genuinely distressed at the fact that her struggle to look presentable is failing
2. melodramatic at best and extremely negative at worst

With the first option...I can kind of understand this, to be honest. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I'm a black female. And I live in a place where the climate is very, very hot and very, very humid. We're not exactly Breathing Water In An Oven around here, but it's close enough. And so I have to admit that I know what it's like to not have your hair behave and to think your eyes are too big for your face (my sister calls my eyes 'marbles' and asks if it hurts when I blink...all with love, I assure you. ;) ) and your skin too dark and, well...

Everything is Just Wrong and you have to go now and you just wish that you looked at least "semi-presentable". Whether we like it or not and whether we acknolwedge it or not, the appearance is one of the very first things taken into account when first impressions are made. The saying "Dress to Impress" is not to be taken lightly. Of course, we can always change a possibly negative first impression around within a matter of minutes, but I think most of us would like to err on the side of making that Strongest Impression one that we'd like to proudly own. I can understand that. Really. And, just so we're clear, Ana is struggling to look "semi-presentable" because she's leaving to do a very, very important thing. *winks*

So I get it. I do. Though it's not the worst feeling in the world, walking out of the house feeling less than immaculate (in our own way) is not a good feeling.

But what I don't get is...why so much reaction and focus on Anastasia's part? No, seriously. She repeats a mantra of not sleeping with it wet. She rolls her eyes. She scowls. And to top it all off, she damns Katherine for becoming ill...which is no doubt her fault. *cue unladylike gigglesnort*


I suppose it stands out to me because that's quite a lot of reaction/body language for a whole lot of, well...nothing. I'm looking at it like a correlation chart. Significance of wayward, physical appearance: 2; Significance of Ana's reaction: 12.

And this brings us back to the second option: Anastasia is either terribly melodramatic or extremely negative. To cheat again, I'm three chapters in and I'm still not too sure which is which. Or rather, if there are other options. There has been serious talk about Anastasia's identical state to Bella Swan...and, in the very first paragraph, it's not hard to see why. With this introduction to Anastasia Steele, I can't help but feel that she's overwrought, childish, and small-minded.

How exactly am I supposed to be interested in that? Again, the correlation between Ana's 'dilemma' and her ensuing reaction doesn't speak to me in the throes of logic. As a result, I shut off from the very beginning of the first chapter. Because I find myself dealing with a character here that has a problem that doesn't interest me. By that extension, she has a reaction that, well...turns me off.

3.) Who am I supposed to agree with?

This, for me, is possibly the most daunting question the I often can't answer when I encounter first person. Instances like these are why I feel that an audience can become so confused. The way I see it, when you have first person, you have three 'inner' cameras:

a. the actual protagonist (Anastasia Steele)
b. the world building/canon of the text
c. the author (E.L James)

Now, I suppose we could say that in an ideal, first-person novel, all three of those cameras would show much the same perspective. By that extension, it could be easy for the audience to understand which side is the correct side, per say.

With every apology and due respect to Mrs. James, I sincerely think that there is-and will continue to be-a dissonance between the three cameras. And that all starts with this simplistic, overly-used cliché of Anastasia looking into the mirror to describe her appearance to us. To break it down:

a. With the actual protagonist's perspective, I'm pretty sure we're meant to believe that Ana is slightly unattractive at best and outright ugly at worst. Her hair doesn't behave and her eyes are too big for her face. Hell, she's probably even classically Gangly-Lanky With No Boobs.

And...perhaps I should give credit where credit is due and say that this is probably one of the (many) aspects that has so many women across the globe tuning into Fifty Shades of Grey? I'm a strong, firm believer in the fact that women all around the world are cultured to feel ugly and, by that extension, they are pressured to throw heaps of money and effort into the unachievable pursuit of absolute beauty. So maybe we could say that it's...considerate of Mrs. James to give us a protagonist that genuinely believes she's unattractive, like so many real-life probably women do? Just as we could possibly give Stephenie Meyer credit for making Bella Swan much the same way?

...I can see that issue would be another discussion for another day. Onwards!!

So, with 'inner' camera A, we're told to agree with Anastasia: Anastasia is unattractive.

b. With the world building/cannon of the text, I'm going to cheat again.(Are you keeping up with the score, kiddies? Anymore cheating and this Amarie will fail her certification test for the pure lack of integrity alone.) Further ahead, not even three chapters into the book, and we're treated to Mary Sue Universal Attractiveness. That is, like Bella Swan, Anastasia has a slew of suitors just waiting to line up and compete with Christian Grey.

Again, therein lies another discussion for another day. But, from the world building, we're shown that something about Anastasia is attractive to the local male population. And from Ana's point of view (again, cheating), there's not very much to suggest that their interest is based on something else entirely (like monetary gain, simple boredom, raging/uncontrollable hormones, etc.).

So, that leaves us with the fact that, according to the canon, Anastasia is wrong. We should not agree with her. Instead, we are told to agree with the world building/canon: Anastasia is attractive.

c. With the author, this one gets a bit difficult because we may fall into the trap of psychoanalyzing. The only real way that I can respectfully say this is by paraphrasing a dear friend and mentor of mine, Kit Whitfield at Ana Mardoll's blog: A lot of us believe that we're unattractive, and sometimes even ugly. But, more often than not, we don't genuinely believe that of ourselves. Generally, such internal dialogue extends from the desire to avoid [excessive] vanity and/or a superiority complex. But at the same time, most of us would like to believe that we are attractive and, by that extension, have others be attracted to us. It's one of the rare instances where human beings hope they're wrong and they abandon self-serving bias for a while.

Love you, Kit. *winks*

To get back to the point, this is the mindset that I think Mrs. James is trying to convey. That is, Ana's belief that her physical appearance is lacking is completely wrong. Again, maybe we could give points for the author possibly hitting a note on beauty with real-life women. Maybe. But the bigger picture is that I'm not too sure if this is exactly the lens that the author's camera wants to convey. Because then we're looking at a few different plots that are either...

1.) Truly Ugly Girl gets Truly Attractive Boy
2.) Truly Attractive Girl That Doesn't Think So gets Truly Attractive Boy
3.) Truly Attractive Girl That Secretly Thinks So gets Truly Attractive Boy

If it's the first, then we should be agreeing with Anastasia: her eyes really are too big for her face and her hair really is unmanageable.

If it's the second, then we should, in a nutshell, be completely disagreeing with Anastasia and agree with the world building/canon of the text: she is attractive, but just doesn't know/admit it.

If it's the third, then we should be agreeing with the author in that this is a story of Beautiful People That Are Smexxxxeh An' They Know It. All of the SparkDust Happehness goes to them.

But either way, it's hard to discern what exactly the author's purpose is here. By that extension, with point C, it's hard to discern who I'm supposed to agree with.

4.) The question of tone

This is probably the most self-explanatory of them all, but you know me and Walls of Text. And you know you love me.

I believe that one of the most difficult things about establishing a novel's world with first person point of view is the question of how do I want this to sound? That can be tricky because the way the protagonist views a situation is not always the same as how the world's canon and/or the author views the situation. For example, Ana may very well believe that her hair is hopeless and untamable. Therefore, as we see, her tone is largely negative. But the text/author could disagree with her and believe that her hair is beautiful and unique. In which case, the tone could be praising and positive.

But the brick wall that's run into is that we can't get to that hypothetical, praising and positive tone because we're still in Anastasia's head. Because we are in Anastasia's head, we are only subject to Anastasia's tone. It is that tone that is going to set much of the course for the book.

This also kind of ties in with the issue of being interesting. Again, so far Ana's head isn't interesting in the least; the fact that her inner tone is much like a perpetually tantrum-throwing two-year-old doesn't help, either. By that extension, I believe that many of us-myself, included-have an inner dialogue that's somewhat repetitive. For example, I'd say that I can be pretty negative like Ana (i.e, when I'm driving behind someone that doesn't believe in turning signals) and, other times, I'm so cheery and bouncy in my head that I swear I could scare Carebears off (i.e, when I finally post something that should have been posted long ago).

And that's repetitive. Very, very repetitive.

Therefore, I wouldn't have someone do a first person point of view story of me. It's just that my head doesn't change all that much no matter what situation I'm in. My mood does. My perspective does. But my voice pretty much stays the same; it's merely the vehicle with which I convey everything. Therefore it would be the only voice that an audience would be subjected to no matter what.

From three chapters in (count the cheating!), all we're getting is a tone that's not all that...agreeable. It is negative, petulant and moody. I have to say the tone of Fifty Shades of Grey is what makes it so difficult to read, much less enjoy even on a minimal scale. If I'm going to give E.L James some credit, I'm going to say that she managed to nab the inner snark of Bella Swan to the nth degree with Anastasia Steele.

O, how terrible art I?! I disguise a jab within a compliment!

To top this negative tone off, I'm still not sure exactly why Ana is so negative. It could be depression. It could be low self-esteem. It could be genuine immaturity. Beyond that, what exactly is the fiat, authorial purpose of it? It could be a number of things that are up for a another discussion at another time.

I'm still not recommending writing in first person.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifty_Shades_Of_Grey#cite_note-7 (1)

http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1685954/fifty-shades-of-grey-stephenie-meyer.jhtml (2)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_Thief (3)

*And so, dearest kiddies, this concludes my first (and long overdue) deconstruction/reaction series of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James. Questions? Comments? Critiques? Give them all! I need to learn!!!!! :D
amarie24: (Default)
Whew!! Alrighty, I didn’t expect to get so many positive responses; pleasant surprises are always pleasant! I feel so loved, guys! Especially when I inadvertently convinced someone to make an account just to read what I write. Err…I read your comment correctly, right redwoodr? *BLUSH*

But, a couple of things…

1.) I am a terribly irregular blog poster; I am a college student (yes, I attending summer session, as well as spring and fall) and an employee so believe me when I say that my posting is sporadic at best. Sometimes you may have to wait to hear from me for two to three weeks at most. In all honesty, I do wish that I could keep to a set schedule that would have you guys reading so many entries that your head swims. Heck, I’d be happy with posting something at least once a week. But…I struggle. School and work frequently get in the way and, for that, I sincerely apologize.

2.) I am going to do my absolute best to follow Mrs. Ana Mardoll’s Deconstruction Guidelines (At the moment, I can’t find the link…I’m currently sneaking in the computer lab at school in between classes…shhhh). Those guidelines include, but are not limited to:

a. Being respectful as possible of the author and fans
b. Remembering the fine line between attacking the work and attacking the author (although, the temptation is there sometimes…don’t get this flawed human called Amarie wrong)
c. Being mindful of the ‘little details’ while still keeping to the big picture
d. Encouraging discussion with and among my fellow blogsters and, therefore, being mindful of the difference between, “Oh! I never thought of it that way before…let’s see why we have a different perspective.” Vs. “No! You’re wrong, idiot!! Grrr!!”

3.) I understand that Fifty Shades of Grey supposedly had its origins as a Twilight fan fiction. And let me tell you…the similarities are quite…jarring and saddening, to be brutally honest. I picked up the book with the hope that the “rumor” was simply just that: a rumor. But I can’t ignore several facts within the text and on the Internet. With that being said, I acknowledge that a lot of what I have to say is going to sound like a lot like what I had to say about Twilight in Ana’s blog. By that extension, you should know that I whole-heartedly agree with Ana more than half the time. Consider me plagiarizing off of her with love and respect. However! I will do my best to deconstruct Fifty Shades of Grey as an independent book, rather than a knockoff of Twilight. I believe that will make it much, much more interesting, yes?


I pretty much think that’s it! Please let me know if I left anything vital out! Hopefully, I can get something posted by the end of this week, if not next week. I’m already on chapter three, which is proof that I have some perseverance. *Snerk.* But, of course, I will skip back to chapter one and begin my deconstruction from there. It’s currently undecided if I will continue on through the rest of the trilogy. And to be brutally honest with you, I don’t say that because of possible time constraints as I continue on with my education; I say that because it is genuinely a chore to get through this one book right here. But I think I love you guys enough that, if you convinced me, I’d suffer the intellectual torture for a little bit longer. *winks*

On a side note, Mrs. Levy’s Essential Questions will continue and I have another post about the constraints of beauty on women in a…particular setting (See? There’s a spoiler for you. Enjoy it while it lasts, kiddies…enjoy it while it lasts).

Other than that, see you guys either this week or next week! Much luvvles and huggles!!

*sneaks back off the school’s computer before my professors catch and kill me* >.>

amarie24: (Default)
I looked at my receipt.

I spent $17.07 of my hard-earned money. You see that, kiddies? That's seventeen dollars and seven cents that I spent.

On a book.

Called Fifty Shades of Grey.

Now...I had been wanting this book for quite a while. I believe that I first saw it on Goodreads (in fact, it was a Finalist for best romance on the site) and I was immediately intrigued. My curiosity and excitement was even more piqued when I went to the official website. Heck, it was gaining hype and, well...an avid reader like myself can't help but wonder what everyone is talking about so much.

Seventeen dollars and seven cents.

So, I went to Barnes & Noble with my mommy (yes, I still say mommy at 20 years old...anyone that has a problem with it shall get tickled!), saw the entire trilogy on several stands, and, well...

...Bought it.

Seventeen dollars and seven cents.

I don't know if disappointed is the right word. Or if boredom is the right word. Or deja vu (I'm a former Twilight fan...enough said). Or digust.

Either way, I was less than happy with what I was reading. I am currently on chapter three and I have already asked my mom if she knows how a book-return works; I can barely keep my eyes open.


I paid seventeen dollars and seven cents.

In addition to that, I have this disorder where I think taking back a book, burning or a book, and/or throwing a book in the trash is shitty. Now, I can readily donate to the library, so I'm afraid I can't say what this disorder is at all. Please pardon me my inarticulation.

So, with that being said...I believe that I shall avenge my seventeen dollars and seven cents with a series of deconstrution posts.

What do you all think? ;)
amarie24: (Default)
Warning: I am not a religious person at all (I consider myself non-denominated or agnostic at best), but I am a very, very, very big fan of The Prince of Egypt.

Disclaimer: Because I am not a very religious person, and therefore not religiously well-educated, please do not hesitate to inform me if I’m offensive, ignorant, etc. in this blog post.

Onward! :D

Now, as usual, a little background first. The Prince of Egypt was, in my opinion, one of Dreamworks’ greatest masterpieces. In essence, the movie is a kids-friendly rendition of The Book of Exodus*; the film’s chronology goes all the way from Moses being saved by his mother via the Nile River to the Hebrews’ journey to the Promised Land. It premièred in theatres on December 18, 1998 and includes voice actors Val Kilmer (Moses), Ralph Fiennes (Rameses), and Michelle Pfeiffer (Tzipporah). Of course, since it’s a musical, you have singing-voice actors as well: Ofra Haza (Yocheved), and Sally Dworsky (singing voice for Miriam), among others. It’s considered one of the most expensive animated films, with a budget of over $70 million. As far as box office success goes, worldwide, it grossed over $218 million. (1)

*ahem* Well…that’s enough bragging and used-car advertising from me.

I suppose that, for starters, one thing that some people (or quite a few) intensely dislike about the film is that it’s edited quite a bit from the original Bible’s story. For example, in the Bible, Moses actively kills an Egyptian guard and hides the body; in the movie, Moses accidentally pushes the guard over a platform and runs far, far away. In the Bible, Moses is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter; in the movie, Moses is adopted by Pharaoh’s wife.

Now, when I first watched The Prince of Egypt, I didn’t quite understand what I liked so much about it anymore than I could understand the true, underlying story. Heck, I don’t even think I knew that it was a religious adaption. Oh, I liked the colors. I liked the animation. I liked Moses and his constant jocularity. I liked Tzipporah and her fierce, protective nature. I liked Jethro’s teddy bear-esque cuddliness. And dammit, I even liked Hotep and Huy’s sleazy dynamics.

And that’s the beautiful thing about getting older and, with that age, a little wiser: you can go back, look at something that you already saw when you were younger and just understand in a way that you didn’t-couldn’t-before. To me, it’s an incredible experience because you see the exact same thing but in a completely different way.

So it was upon going back to watch The Prince of Egypt that I realized what I liked about it: the humanity.

I like the humanity in each and every single second of this movie. I like how it saturates every line, every dialogue, every scene, and every song. And it is that bold, blatant humanity that, in my opinion, has allowed so many who are not of the Jewish/Hebrew faith to enjoy this movie for what it is.

Most obviously, there is humanity to be found in the Hebrews and their plight. And this is, in essence, the main way the movie works: the audience isn’t really going to care about whether or not the Hebrews get to their Promised Land if their suffering isn’t highlighted every chance there is. Therefore, it is in the opening scene that we immediately see the plight and suffering of the Hebrews. We see the scars on their backs from the whips. We see that huge, hot sun and that huge, hot desert with not an oasis on sight.* We hear the Egyptian overseers’ verbal abuse (Faster!) coupled with the physical abuse (their whips). We hear the creaking and groaning of the ropes as the Hebrews struggle to be human pulleys for statues, monuments, etc. that are several thousand pounds heavier than they are.

These are not scenes of loving, devoted slaves happily working under loving, patient masters; the creators of this movie aren’t pulling a Stepford. These are scenes of human beings being victimized and objectified by another group of human beings. And, realistically, they aren’t happy with their subservient role in the least. The entire portrait of human suffering is stylistically completed by the music:

[Egyptian Guards]
Mud...And lift...Sand...And Pull
Water...And raise up...Straw...Faster!

With the sting of the whip on my shoulder
With the salt of my sweat on my brow
Elohim, God on high
Can you hear your people cry
Help us now
This dark hour...

Deliver us
Hear our call
Deliver us
Lord of all
Remember us, here in this burning sand
Deliver us
There's a land you promised us
Deliver us to the promised land... (2)

With that sensory combination, we can almost begin to feel the Hebrews’ struggle. As an audience, we can almost feel the blazing hot sun and the sting of the whip and the berating of the overseers and the squelch of the mud and sand.

And, a few minutes later, the scene shifts to the Hebrews’ homes (the Land of Goshen, yes…?), which are symbolically desolate-looking against the huge, imposing backdrop of the Egyptian’s empire. Yocheved’s singing voice is the perfect sad, desperate accompaniment to the Egyptian sentries literally going from house to house to kill all of the newborn boys while their mothers all but watch helplessly. Now, I admit that I’ve always had certain…numbness when watching this part. Mainly it’s because I could never comprehend grown men finding it in themselves to kill babies anymore than I could comprehend how the mothers-and fathers, for that matter-survived such trauma.

But then, that’s the question, isn’t it? More so than the intense struggling of the men working in the fields…you see the heartbreaking and impossible dilemma of the Hebrew women as well. What would they do? Which is better? Insist and fight for their children’s lives as much as they can? Well, they could certainly do that…and they have seen-and lived-first hand what happens to a living Hebrew. Should their children have lived, they could have watched them toil and sweat under a hot, desert sun while they’re mercilessly beaten, berated, and I would sometimes imagine, worked to death. Or, the mothers could easily just stand by and allow their sons to die. In that way, they won’t suffer the fate of being a slave like the rest of the Hebrews. Rather, by the Israelite belief, they’ll go to Heaven where they’ll have such a hedonistic second life under God that their cute little faces will be sore from smiling so much. Still, they could always go the Yocheved route and literally place their son in a watertight basket, set him adrift in the Nile, and Just Hope For The Best:

Hush now, my baby
Be still, love, don't cry
Sleep as you're rocked by the stream
Sleep and remember my last lullaby
So I'll be with you when you dream

River, o river
Flow gently for me
Such precious cargo you bear
Do you know somewhere
he can live free?
River, deliver him there...

Now, assuming that the basket safely makes it past the crocodiles, swinging oars, and fishing nets (among other things), it’s highly likely that they would never see their son again, wherever he landed. By that extension, once he landed he’d be officially out of their hands and, well…whatever happens would happen. Should the mothers try to intervene, the child would be found out as a Hebrew and most likely meet the same fate as the other babies. And, most likely, the mothers would be killed themselves for Going Against Pharaoh’s Orders.

So, what would they do? Which one is best? Which one hurts the least? I personally can’t answer that question because I can’t even personally consider that question. So, consider this my first blogging cop-out.

And that’s why, as an audience, I believe that I sincerely don’t mind the religion when I think about it. By that extension, not once have I felt that the movie is trying to convert me. The reason being is simple: we quickly see that the Hebrews don’t have anything else. Much like with the black slaves in America several thousand years later, religion and the hope that comes with it are worth practically priceless. Because, otherwise, the Hebrews truly have no money (or at least, that they can use outside the land of Pharaoh’s reach), no titles, no power, and no voice. Collectively, they aren’t even given the gracious identity of ‘humans’ or even really ‘Hebrews’ by their owners; they are ‘slaves’ and nothing more.

After visiting with Pharaoh Rameses (in the movie, his adopted brother) and turning the Nile to blood, Moses seeks to calm and reassure his fellows. He couldn’t have said it better:

“Yes, Aaron, it's true. Pharaoh has the power. He can take away your food, your home, your freedom. He can take away your sons and daughters. With one word, Pharaoh can take away your very lives. But there is one thing he cannot take away from you: your faith. Believe, for we will see God's wonders.”

Faith is one of those intangible concepts that, because it can neither be really seen nor proved, many take for granted. Some even completely disregard it. But there’s something to be said-and said respectfully-about religion when it’s shown that that’s the predominant way an entire group of people psychologically and emotionally survive.* Or, at the very least, respect can be given upon The Prince of Egypt’s display of the strength and tenacity of the human spirit when it wants to survive. Hence the song “When You Believe”.

And now a word on the movie’s portrayal of the Egyptians…

One of the greatest-and, probably the most difficult-accomplishment of the filmmakers was to make sure that the Egyptians are humanized as well, in my opinion. From the onset, we would think that they’re monstrous psychopaths, wouldn’t we? They’ve taken their fellow human beings and all but turned them into disposable cattle for their pretty little empire. And you know what? As The Prince of Egypt is a kids’ movie, I’m assuming that they did a lot of outtakes in terms of what the Egyptians did to the Hebrews. I’m pretty sure that they whipped the working men to death just for the fun of it. I’m pretty sure that they raped the Hebrew women whenever they pleased. And I’m pretty sure that they tore into the Hebrew’s homes, demanded food, gave life-threatening warnings if it took a while to cook the food, ate the food, and left without so much as a belch as thank you.

That sounds like monstrous psychopaths in the making…

…But the movie never once takes that approach.

Rather, from the very beginning, we see that the Egyptians have a coping mechanism for justifying what they do. And it’s quite a simple, but powerful coping mechanism, indeed: wording. Repeatedly, we hear many of the Egyptian characters-from Pharaoh Seti (Moses and Rameses’ father) to Rameses himself-use the word ‘slave’. The word ‘slave’ is constantly used to overshadow the word ‘human’ and therefore justify the choice to build the great dynasty of Egypt on the labor and suffering of the Hebrews. Take, for example, this exchange when Moses first goes to Rameses to free his people:

Moses: “Do you still not understand what Seti was?”

Rameses: “He was a great leader.”

Moses: “His hands bore the blood of thousands of children.”

Rameses: “Hmph. Slaves.”

Moses: "My people."

Or, earlier on, when Moses finds out that his adopted father, Pharaoh Seti, was the one that ordered the slaughter of all those newborn Hebrews. Seti comes in to comfort Moses and justify his actions:

Seti: “The Hebrews grew too numerous. They might have risen against us.”

Moses: “Father, tell me you didn't do this.”

Seti: “Moses, sometimes, for the greater good, sacrifices must be made.”

Moses: “Sacrifices?”

Seti: “Oh, my son. They were only slaves.”

And those scenes right there showcase the danger to be found in cognitive dissonance. Because it makes sense for the Egyptians-especially their pharaoh-to verbally and repeatedly erase the human status that the Hebrews hold. Because when you dehumanize an entire group of people, then it’s much, much easier deal with the fact that you’re actively victimizing them. You don’t have to think about the fact that those ‘slaves’ have thoughts and memories and fears and desires and hopes and dreams and opinions and ideas and flesh and blood and muscle and bone and brains and everything else that comes with being human. So it’s not ‘easier’ to eat your entire plate of food, go to sleep at night, and give genuine smiles; it’s easy, period. In a twisted way, as the Hebrews use their faith to survive, so the Egyptians use their word usage to survive. Or at least, to keep their Privilege Blinkers on to the highest setting so that they can remain blind.

Indeed, privilege can be very blinding. It doesn’t take much work to ignore the fact that the polished, stone steps that you’re sitting on and the huge, imposing pyramid that you’re admiring were built by human-err…slaves. Why care about that when you’re so nice and cozy and secure in the richness of your own life? Besides which, if you did try to advocate for the Hebrews’ freedom-or at least, try to advocate for them to have better working conditions-you would most likely be heartily laughed at, patted on the back and told to go and enjoy yourself at Pharaoh’s next banquet.

Then that brings us to the villain of the movie, per say: Pharaoh Rameses, adopted brother of Moses. I remember that when I was younger, I used to all but yell at the screen with how stubborn and cruel Rameses was. No matter what kind of havoc and destruction The Ten Plagues wreck on Egypt, the new pharaoh remains unmoved. So, at the time, I thought of Rameses as a Big Meanie Butthead that doesn’t care about his people anymore than he cares about the Hebrews.

Again, there’s that wonder of getting older; you see the same thing, but in a completely different way. Therefore I saw that Rameses, too, was painted as a human rather than a monstrous psychopath. He, too, is vulnerable like the Hebrews…maybe more so. From the beginning we see the seed planted for his tenacity; his father calls him the ‘weak link in the chain’ of pharaohs. It is this degrading moniker that seems to have resonated with Rameses strongly; if he lets the Hebrews go, then he destroys ‘centuries of tradition’ and there goes the great and mighty dynasty of Egypt. And all of that would have been under his name…just like his father predicted.

To add salt to the wound, his continued enslaving of the Hebrews isn’t just a matter of tradition; Egypt is literally built on the efforts of the Hebrews’ labor. This is proved when we compare the time when Moses is a young man and is living under Pharaoh Seti’s rule and when Moses is a bit older and comes back when Egypt is under Rameses’ rule. Now, under Seti Egypt is…classically beautiful. There are huge buildings, temples, monuments, pyramids, etc. And the Hebrews, as previously mentioned, work tirelessly and thanklessly to build and decorate his empire. Then we fast forward to the time of Rameses’ rule…and the Hebrews obviously have it worse. Much, much worse. There is a scene of a very, very young man being pulled up by his hair by an overseer right after he tripped over rocks. There are other scenes of (I’d like to think) grown men pushing at a wall while the camera does nothing to hide the numerous scars on their backs. Meanwhile, Moses and Tzipporah are allowed entrance into the Pharaoh’s throne room (I’m guessing that’s what it is) and immediately, we see that Egypt is bigger and better. The designs of the Egyptian Gods are more sophisticated, the halls are longer, the walls are bigger, and everything is just more advanced in Egypt.

From there, we see a direct correlation: the harder and longer the Hebrews have to work, the greater Egypt becomes. By that extension, the audience knows that if Rameses does let the Hebrews go…there goes, more or less, the entire foundation that Egypt is built on. Once again, we have an inverted way in which the Egyptians are very, very much like the Hebrews; they, too, are enslaved by their own system because they built that system on the laboring and suffering of other people.

Now, of course…we could say that the Egyptians could just train themselves to build their own empire. And I’m pretty sure that there are Egyptians that are farmers, carpenters, etc. But the thing is, I have a very, very strong feeling that what the Hebrews are forced to do day in and day out would require several kinds of specialized training. Even before that, Rameses would have the great burden of trying to get his people to willingly volunteer for such work. And then you have the fact that-if people do, in fact, volunteer-those people would most likely expect to be paid and paid well. Then you have to account for the fact that they’ll be working in near intolerable conditions what with the desert heat…so sufficient, protective gear may be in order. So, totaling up the wages and the protective gear, Rameses would have to allocate huge sums of money for those purposes alone. Those workers would need and expect lunch breaks, bathroom breaks, dinner breaks, and holidays, so there would be times where construction isn’t going to be completed in time just because Pharaoh Said So. The overseers would probably even have to shed their physical and verbal whips for tools to help work, since, without the several hundred-thousand (and easily disposable-and-replaceable) Hebrews, man-power would be incredibly decreased. Eventually, there would probably even be a divide between the Egyptians in terms of The Lucky Ones That Don’t Have To Labor vs. The Unlucky Ones That Got Caught In The Labor Trap; human beings often love to feel special and exalted that way.

And you get the point. Rameses heeding the call of “Let My People Go” reasonably signals to him “Uproot and Topple Egypt Immediately”. Add on to the fact that this is his brother that’s constantly giving him this decree, and you have a pharaoh that’s understandably clinging to everything and anything that’s familiar. And that goes from Rameses’ obstinacy to keep the Hebrews under his control to his sporadic, but heartfelt pleas to Moses for ‘things to be the way they were before’ between them.

Then that’s where the story hones in on the relationship between the two brothers, Rameses and Moses. Once again, the focus is on humanity; just because Rameses has a role as Egypt’s pharaoh and Moses has a role as the God’s Deliverer doesn’t mean they stop being brothers. On the contrary, they struggle and gripe with the fact that, no matter how much they love and miss each other, their respective paths are in direct opposition; unstoppable forces are meeting immovable objects here. Just as the Hebrews’ position of powerlessness doesn’t make them lose their humanity, so Rameses and Moses’ positions of power don’t make them lose theirs. The inevitable distance between the two brothers is made all the more heartbreaking to me when I look at Rameses’ son…because that’s a very, very funny and warm uncle that cute kid could have had.

And even outside of Rameses…it’s impossible not to note the terribly painful irony of Moses’ adoption into the Egyptian royal family. That is, the story highlights how a Hebrew child doesn’t look all that different from an Egyptian child that Moses and Rameses pass for brothers. No one suspects a thing and the queen cuddling Moses is, sweet as it may be, is a very, very harsh backdrop against the current slaughtering of all of the other Hebrew babies. By that extension, the king and queen can easily order the slaughter of several thousand children…and lovingly adopt one of those children as their own at the same time. It’s one of the moments in the movie where the careful humanization (in this case, the Egyptian royal family’s immediate acceptance of a newborn Hebrew) takes on a very, very painful hue.

Then you jump to the Ten Plagues and, once again, the movie’s creators show that the Egyptians are not all monstrous psychopaths. Rather, we see their fear, suffering and anguish just as we saw with the Hebrews in the opening scenes. Through the music, Moses himself notes his deep, internal conflict upon seeing the Egyptians being tortured, terrorized and killed by his own God:

This was my home
All this pain and devastation
How it tortures me inside
All the innocent who suffer
From your stubbornness and pride...

Now, the audience could decide to feel triumphant that the Egyptians are Getting Their Just Due. But, again, the movie takes the humanizing approach and actually shows a scene where two young children are trying to hide and protect themselves from the rain of fire, which is part of the Seventh Plague. Then you have the Tenth and Final Plague where all of the firstborn sons in Egypt are killed…and “a great cry/wail goes up in all of the land”. Once again, it’s tempting to point the finger and laugh because Karma apparently bleeds satisfactorily into Judaism. But we can’t because, just seconds after hearing the wailing and sobbing, we’re treated to a scene where Rameses is carrying the body of his son to a platform for burial. Though his words are the goal that the Hebrews have strived for all this time, there is no immediate celebrating; children had to die for it to get to this point. Innocent children whose worse action was probably not doing their chores on time.

Once again, this goes to show that the filmmakers are aiming at yet another very, very realistic parallel between the Egyptians and Hebrews: they, too, cry at the loss of their children. And the loss of those children was due to being enslaved by pharaoh in terms of his “stubbornness and pride”. Enslavement is a two-way poison and no one is safe.

The human struggle on either side isn’t diminished. So the Hebrews wanted to have their Exodus…a price had to be realistically paid. And that price literally made Moses, the leader of their journey, crumble into a fetal position and cry. As Moses, Tzipporah, Miriam, Aaron, and all the other Hebrews leave, the mood is originally somber and quiet; no one really wants to have won freedom at the hand of innocent deaths. Now, we go back to the humanization of the Hebrews; yes, they wanted to leave, but no they didn’t want so many to die.

Still, there’s something incredibly cathartic and rejuvenating when we watch the animation of several hundred thousand Hebrews finally making the journey out of the now-damaged Egypt. In the background, we see a few of the overseers humbly discard white headdresses and join the Hebrews in their Exodus. And this is where the humanity of the Hebrews hits its peak for me: you plainly see and feel them taking a deep, deep breath of air and a calming, comforting voice in their head saying “It’s Over”. They finally, collectively have the respectable moniker of human and dammit, I feel good right along with them.

Because, even when you don’t have a religion, there can be miracles when you believe, because, well…sometimes Hoping and Believing is all you have. And, like the characters in “The Prince of Egypt”, you hold onto that and, hopefully, you get to the place you want to go. For me that’s at the crux of what I love so much about the movie; I don’t really see the religion because I’m too busy marveling at the strength and dexterity of the human spirit.

*Yes, I understand that, in the Book of Exodus, the Hebrews actually end up suffering in the hot desert. Heck, a whole lot of them blame Moses and want to kill him. But don’t rain on my parade, or I’ll tickle you.

*To this day, I still have to have something to drink when I see the working conditions of the Hebrews. I couldn’t imagine my Privileged American behind toiling day after day in such a place…and I wouldn’t even get paid. @____@

*Of course, I imagine with the religion, a strong, interconnected and supporting community has to be a survival tactic of the Hebrews, as well.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120794/ (1)

http://www.stlyrics.com/p/princeofegypt.htm (2)

October 2017

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