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F-U-mentary: A look at political documentaries

28/08/2012

I’ve always had a problem with political documentaries. Not because they’re not interesting or thought-provoking, but because (for the most part) they’re not really documentaries. They’re commentaries.

Read more…

My Life In Stats: Moving To Texas

15/07/2012

As some of you may know, I recently moved to Kerrville, Texas in order to start my new job as staff writer at The Kerrville Daily Times. It was a three-day journey that took me across California, Arizona and New Mexico before landing me smack-dab in the middle of the Lone Star State.

I will admit that the three-day move affected me more than I thought it would. It gave me a chance to be alone for a long period of time, traveling hundreds of miles on long, dusty roads with minimal contact with other human beings. In addition, I was able to appreciate the unique (and hot!) beauty of the Southwest, something I had never really experienced before. I really had a life-changing experience; which was fitting, seeing as how it was essentially preparing me for another life-changing experience.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • I went from a state with 65MPH highways to one with 80MPH highways; however, to make Mom happy, I stayed at 75MPH the whole drive
  • Number of semi-trucks that passed me: FOUR (including one that passed me twice!)
  • San Diego’s ComicCon traffic made me (temporarily) hate the famous gamer’s convention
  • I saw wild Cacti for the first time in my life
  • The motel I stayed at in New Mexico (Big Chile Inn) gave me free chips and salsa when I checked in. However, they also were playing Fox News on my room’s TV, which wasn’t as cool
  • I was pulled over by a cop in Texas, because I didn’t know the left lane was “passing only.”
  • Said cop asked if I had any guns or knives; I told her I had pepper spray, which she was fine with
  • I drove through about five minutes of torrential rain pour, which disappeared so quickly it felt like a sad scene in a music video
  • Kerrville is nice, and I’m happy here

Words For My 12-Year-Old Self

07/07/2012

I just came across this video, courtesy of Mashable. It’s a fascinating 20-year media experiment in which a man essentially interviews (and is interviewed by) his 12-year-old self. It’s touching, funny and a little bit painful in its surreal honesty.

Like many others who saw the video, it made me imagine what it would be like to interview my own 12-year-old self. The youthful Beth, in all her home schooled awkwardness; who dreamed of being a writer (or a gymnast), was afraid of vampires in her closet and had a desperate crush on some boy named Andrew.

Everything felt so significant back then. Christmas music came on in October, an eight-line poem about a boy’s eyes was worth more than Shakespeare, buying five CDs at the Dollar Store made me feel like I had discovered the Holy Grail of music.

Looking back at my youth, it’s amazing how many more things make sense now. But at the same time, there are things that have become more confusing than ever. Careers, romance, intellectualism, bills. The simple ignorance of my youth has paved way for a complicated enlightenment that comes with a lot of baggage.

If I had a chance to talk to 12-year-old Beth again, this is what I would tell her:

“I’m not going to lie and say it’ll be easy. It’ll get worse. Then better. Then worse again. But after all the pain of growing up, you’ll realize who you are … without shame.

“You’ll learn it’s okay to be a nerd — in fact, it’s pretty darn cool to be a geeky girl. Reading is amazing, jealousy is worthless and homeschooling will actually be the best thing to happen to you. Don’t worry, you won’t always be a social leper: You’re going to be in a band.

“You’ll have to repair your broken heart more times than you’d like (sorry, you won’t be married with three kids before 25 like M.A.S.H said you would), but the love you give and receive will be worth the cost of losing it.

“But most of all: You are exactly who you’re supposed to be. There will be times you feel out of place, miscast in your own film. However, you’ll realize the person you are is worth all the York Peppermint Patties in the world.

“Because you’re You. And no one else can claim that.”

My parents always said my life may not make sense until I was 30 — and after that, it would be the best time of my life. I think I’ve got a head start.

Little Beth would be proud.

Gender Marketing: A Look At Virgin America

02/06/2012

Gender-based marketing for boys and girls has often been a hot-button debate issue. This was recently showcased by the negative response to LEGO Friends, a new line of LEGO toys marketed for girls that features more realistic body types, girlish locations and significantly less blocks than a traditional LEGO set.

The product and its marketing essentially created a gender separation between boys and girls for  a product that didn’t need it. Both girls and boys play with LEGO, regardless of whether or not it’s marketed to them. It’s largely a gender-neutral product.

Sadly, this trend of gender-based marketing toward products that need no gender separation doesn’t end at childhood. Case in point: Virgin America’s “A Breath of Fresh Airline” advertising campaign.

I’ve had a problem with this ad campaign ever since it came out last year. While I’ve usually found Virgin’s tongue-in-cheek ads rather clever, this campaign really pushed it for me.

There are four commercials I’m thinking of in particular. Two of them are centered around a single male character, while the other two are centered around a single female character. Let’s look at the male characters first.

The first would be a comically overweight man, a la Zach Galifianakis, who is channel surfing through different channels that change his appearance, such as a ballet and ninja video. Finally, he lands on a sports channel and begins cheering, despite the fact that it’s making the people around him visibly uneasy.

Just look at the woman behind him in the second pic. She’s looking over in consider bewilderment at his overjoyed enthusiasm, as if to say, “What the heck is he doing?” But of course, he doesn’t care one bit.

The second male-centered commercial is about a man discovering “Party Rock Anthem” while on the plane, and proceeds to dance; again, despite the fact that it’s making the people around him visibly uneasy.

The common thread in both these videos is the fact that man can entertain himself with the many pleasures of Virgin America’s amenities. Both men do so in spite of the people around them; because, for them, the most important thing is to make sure they enjoy themselves and have a good time during the flight.

Now, let’s look at the female-centered commercials.

The first would be the one where a woman is ordering a spicy chicken wrap — except the spice is coming from the Latin lover wrapped inside it. As she interacts with the spicy man wrap (quietly of course, so at not to cause a scene), she soon goes from bored to saucy and sexually charged, including making kitty scratches and “meows” in response to his advances.


The second is the one where a woman is chatting with a guy who changes appearances drastically as the lights turn on and off. When the lights are off, she is charmed by his handsome looks and charming personality. When the lights are on, he turns into an inhaler-using nerd with frizzy hair and a terribly annoying voice.

Note: This is the only commercial where two people are sitting next to each other. Apparently, Virgin America is only half occupied all the time — at least according to the commercials. 

In contrast to the male-centered commercials, the female-centered ones are about a woman interacting with a man. They are not entertaining themselves; they are being entertained by someone else. In addition, the women are not behaving in a way that garners negative response from the people around them. Nobody looks up or reacts during their activities.

I find these gender differences in the commercials completely insulting to both sexes. It turns what should be a gender-neutral flying experience into one that relies on stereotypes. I’m going to explain my main problems with the commercial in bullet points, because bullet points are awesome:

THE MALE-CENTERED COMMERCIALS ASSUME:

  • Men are loud, rambunctious and without self control at a moment’s notice
  • Men act in a way that annoys the people around them
  • Men don’t care whether or not the people around them are affected by their actions

THE FEMALE-CENTERED COMMERCIALS ASSUME: 

  • Women need to interact with a man in order to enjoy themselves
  • Attractiveness and sexuality are the most important qualities a woman looks for in a man
  • Woman do not act in a way that annoys the people around them

If the commercials had decided to mix it up by having one of each style (one solo and one interacting with the opposite sex), I would have found them much more interesting. After all, they are well-made commercials. A little tweaking would have made them great, instead of offensive.

There is no reason to create gender differences in marketing where there originally are none. Men and women don’t fly on airplanes for different reasons — it’s to get from one place to another. In addition, both men and women find value in an airline’s entertainment amenities AND the opportunity to meet new and interesting people.

Much like LEGO Friends, Virgin America’s “A Breath of Fresh Air” ad campaign creates an unnecessary gender separation. It didn’t make me want to fly Virgin America — instead, it made me actively look elsewhere to book my more recent flights.

After all, Virgin America doesn’t want to entertain me, because it’s assuming a man will do that. A man who’s busy annoying me by dancing around in his seat. Not a good combination.

Crafting For Nerds

29/05/2012

Last year, I decided to get back into cross stitching. I can’t really name any specific reason why, other than the fact that I wanted to feel artistic or crafty in one way or another. Admittedly, I have never been a good visual artist. My art has always been with words. I can’t draw, paint, knit, sew or any number of those things. Trust me, I’ve tried.

The only visually artistic or crafty thing I could do well was cross stitch. I used to do it quite a bit when I was a kid, and I remembered enjoying it a lot. However, there was one problem with it: It was boring. The designs, I mean.

I remember making a cloth napkin with a cornucopia in the corner, as well as a multicolored butterfly. While they were pretty, they were incredibly boring. I mean, there’s only so many times a person can cross-stitch a rose or picture of Elvis.

Or whatever the heck this thing is.

Upon perusing the Internet a bit, I was pleasantly surprised to discover something pretty awesome. Turns out that cross stitching was not only gaining a new crafty following, but it was one I could definitely get into: nerd crafting.

There’s been a huge increase in nerd-based cross stitching designs and patterns. I’ve seen cross stitch products about Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, South Park, Star Wars, Futurama and many others. It’s become a growing community of cross stitchers who utilize an 8-bit style to create fun and unique designs that are totally nerd friendly.

The design featured at the top of this blog is based off a pattern by Dork Stitch about British comedy “The IT Crowd.” It was actually stitched by yours truly as a present for my sister and her husband. I’m currently working on a design based off the characters from Star Trek: DS9, made by *black-lupin. I made one of his previous designs, a Captain Picard, as a Christmas present for my boyfriend last year. Needless to say, it was a big hit!

For all of those who are proud to be nerds, there are many different types of ways to be expressive, artistic and crafty. Finding the one that best suits you is key to ensuring you have a hobby you actually look forward to doing at any time of the day.

For those looking for inspiration, I recommend checking out my new Pinterest board, Nerd Crafting. It’ll be filled with nerd-inspired handiwork suitable for any up-and-coming nerd crafter.

Craft on, everybody. Craft on.

Across The Miles (LDR revisted)

26/05/2012

I hope all of you don’t mind, but I wanted to get a little personal.

This morning, I took my boyfriend, Luke Ranieri, to the airport: He’s headed to Japan for a four-year stint as a Logistics Officer in the United States Air Force. I love him deeply and couldn’t be more proud of him and his accomplishments, but the reality of separation has already started to creep in.

I’ve been in a long-distance relationship once before — needless to say, it didn’t turn out well. The ease of communication via Skype and Facebook was only made more complicated by the physical (and sometimes emotional) unavailability of one person or the other. In the end, it simply became too hard to maintain a romantic connection across a distance that was just as much in our minds / hearts as it was in miles.

Naturally, I was a bit scared to consider another long-distance relationship. I’d been pretty burned in the last one, and still deal with its scars from time to time. But when I thought about it at great length, I came to three main conclusions:

  1. This relationship was different from my last in many ways, especially in terms of how we communicate with one another and express ourselves.
  2. I am a different person than I was during my last relationship. I am (admittedly) less needy, as well as far more secure in who I am and what I bring to a relationship.
  3. I love him.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Luke and me during the next few years. He and I both have things to accomplish in our careers and don’t plan on settling down anytime soon. However, I do know love is a strong and powerful entity, no matter where you are. As long as that love exists, I don’t intend to lose it. Kiss kiss.

Making Parody Funny

14/05/2012

 

Last night, I watched “Not Another Teen Movie,” a film that made fun of the stereotypical elements that existed in teen comedies of the late ’90s and early ’00s. It, along with the first Scary Movie, helped pave way for other parody movies such as “Epic Movie,” “Date Movie,” the rest of the Scary Movie series and the aptly named “Disaster Movie.”

Unlike those other films (first Scary Movie not included), Not Another Teen Movie was actually pretty funny.

I’m not saying it was a perfect movie — far from it, actually. This is no “Best In Show,” people. Not Another Teen Movie had too much reliance on juvenile potty humor that added nothing to the movie but took too way much away. Without those moments of pure stupidity (that bathroom scene comes to mind), this would have been a much better film.

But there were elements that worked, while the other parody films I mentioned had little-to-no redeeming qualities. Here is a short list of those parts, in contrast to other modern parodies:

1. The parodies made sense:

 

In parodies such as Date Movie and Epic Movie, there was a heavy reliance on modern pop culture references that had nothing to do with the subject material. Characters such as Borat, Amy Winehouse, Napoleon Dynamite, Hannah Montana and Captain Jack Sparrow were thrown in simply for brand recognition and had nothing to do with the genre of film the parodies were supposed to be mocking.

On the other hand, just about every parody in Not Another Teen Movie had a reason, an explanation and a purpose. There was no Amy Winehouse; instead, there was Janey Briggs, who was a parody of every teen movie’s modern “feminist” archetype who just needs man in her life. There was no Captain Jack Sparrow; instead, there was the “Token Black Guy,” who served to represent how underrepresented minorities were in teen comedies at the time.

Simply using pop culture references because you think it’ll get a cheap laugh is not how to make an effective parody — every single parody used has to mean something. Without that meaning, it’s not actually parodying anything.

2. The creators respected the genre they were working with:

Let’s look at the follow-up to Not Another Teen Movie: Date Movie. In all respects, this movie should have worked. It had a great subject to parody, great characters to poke fun of and numerous “romantic” situations that could have been exposed for the ridiculous, over-the-top awful things they were. This, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

Why? Because the creators clearly didn’t like romantic comedies.

The thing that worked about Not Another Teen Movie was the people who made the film obviously liked or at least enjoyed the genre they were working with. There were subtle references to teen comedy greats such as John Hughes and Molly Ringwold — not in a way that demeaned or degraded them, but paid tribute to their strengths, while also poking fun at their weaknesses (such as the “Duckie” friend-zoned character).

Date Movie could have done this with romantic comedies, but sadly didn’t. This is the same across many of the other parodies mentioned — especially Disaster Movie, which clearly had no grasp on why its target audience (disaster movie fans) would actually enjoy that genre. By alienating the types of people who enjoy the films they’re parodying, they not only lose a great deal of respect within that community, but also a huge portion of their profit potential.

3. Not Another Teen Movie was funny:

This is perhaps the biggest benefit Not Another Teen Movie has over the other films: It’s actually funny. I couldn’t even finish any of the other films I mentioned because they were so ridiculously stupid, low-brow and bottom-of-the-barrel. If a parody can’t even be funny, it’s not worthy of actually existing.

I’m not saying a parody can’t have slapstick — heck, I’m not even saying a parody can’t be low-brow. I’m just saying it should actually be funny. Throwing in pop culture references for a cheap “laugh” while having no respect for your audience or the genre you’re representing combine to make a film that is in no way enjoyable.

I do hope the disasters that were these films don’t spoil parody filmmaking for the rest of us. I do believe parody films should exist, because they encourage us to poke fun at ourselves and the movies we enjoy. I’m guilty of liking stupid films just like everybody else — as long as the stupidity comes from my own “guilty pleasure” enjoyment, and not from the film itself.

Now I’m off to go put on my glasses, ponytail and paint-covered overalls. Oh, and don’t forget my copy of Sylvia Plath. I am woman, hear me roar.

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