Monday, February 12, 2007

A Word About "Herstory"

Below, an e-mail I wrote to a friend of mine today after he shared with me an e-mail from a local non-partisan organization called the Paradise City Forum, in which the term "herstory" was used in a way that irked me. As you can see, I had a word or two to say about it.

Hi, Daryl,

Thanks for forwarding this one, and congratulations on being part of such a successful alternative forum for dissemination of information--and dialog. I'm so glad the forum exists and that the advisory committee is so committed to its success.

I have a small concern I'd like to raise that has very little to do with the content of the e-mail, but which, nevertheless, is important to me. I was offended by the use of the term "herstory" in the Forum's e-mail, and I would like to make a case for its removal in future correspondence of this nature. Unfortunately, I don't have time to become involved in an extended debate about it; I am not seeking a formal response. But I would like to share with you the grounds of my objection, and perhaps, if you feel it's appropriate, you will take it up with the committee at the next opportunity.

I am offended by the term "herstory" in this context because it is inappropriate and misleading.
For starters, the word "herstory" is based on a false etymology. The word history (from the Ancient Greek στορία, or istoria, meaning "a learning or knowing by inquiry") is etymologically unrelated to the English possessive pronoun his. In French, for instance, histoire means "story," but has no association with men because the French pronoun is not spelled "h-i-s." It's a *coincidence* that in our language the letters h-i-s are a male possessive pronoun and also appear in the word we use for our record of things past. Just as the "m-a-n" in maniac does not imply a maleness to the condition of mania, for instance. (If one traces the etymology back far enough, one can find the word "histor" in Ancient Greek, which means "learned man," but which is connected more to the act of inquiry, which makes one learned than it is to what has become our possessive male pronoun "his.")

The original intent of this neologism ("herstory") was to draw attention to the sexism that was (and still frequently is) both intentionally and unintentionally present in the telling of history. It is appropriate to use it in situations when one is intentionally trying to mock or counteract a male-centric version of history, or when one is telling a particularly feminist version of events.

I am troubled by its appearance in the Forum e-mail, because, as far as I know, what was chronicled in that portion of the e-mail was the Forum's history, not its "herstory." Why insinuate that sexism is at hand?

In 1976, in Words and Women, the authors clarified the meaning of the newly coined term in this way, "When women in the movement use 'herstory,' their purpose is to emphasize that women's lives, deeds, and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories."

Is that what happened with the Forum? Is that the intended meaning of the word?

It is also considered a way to describe feminist efforts against a male-centered canon. But, again--is that what happened here?

I suppose that, put simply, I am trying say that the portion of the e-mail labeled "Forum Herstory" was really just the Forum History. It's not his story or her story; it's your group's history, presumably told in a non-sexist way. Why assert something else? Why alienate persons of any gender? Why imply that the story is only hers, or that some correction needs to be made to a sexist version already in existence? It's a step in the wrong direction, and the misuse of a term that is inflammatory and problematic.

Certainly, you wouldn't change "opinions on many quality of life issues" to "opinions on womany quality of life issues." Or change every use of the word "this" to "thers?"

As I said, I don't wish to become embroiled in a debate over the issue; I simply wish to make a note of my objection and to request that the committee give more thought to the use of the word "herstory" in its correspondence.

I would like to see "history" used in its proper context, particularly since what I believe has taken place here is what we all hope true accounts of history will be--a fair and balanced record of a process that was inclusive of all sexes (and classes, races, etc.)

If the term "history" is really not acceptable to the committee, perhaps you will at least consider using some non-gendered synonym in its place. (Forum Origins, Forum Record of Things Past, Forum Genesis?)

Thank you for your time and best wishes,


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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Must Watch/Must Not Watch List, 2007

Below, my recommendations for things you should definitely see--and things you should definitely NOT see this year. Check back often for updates.

Must Watch

--even though the black characters seem to have all disappeared completely (they weren't even mentioned in the show summary "Survival Guide" backgrounder that aired just before the premiere of this new batch of episodes), this is still one of the most watchable shows on television. Jack may be the best television hero ever. Kate is second only to another JJ Abrams creation, Sydney Bristow, in my all-time favorite tv heroines. The writing is strong. The acting fantastic. My one quibble is that they give too much away in the promos, and they air them CONSTANTLY, so it's hard to completely avoid them.

Who Killed the Electric Car--When you find yourself sobbing over the destruction of a car, you can assume that the filmmaker has done something right. Compelling without being heavy-handed; informative; a story we all should hear. It made me weep--and it made me yearn to own an electric car. Too bad there aren't any.

Six Feet Under Season 3 (DVD)--(warning: spoiler) Because I can't afford fancy cable, I'm just getting around to watching on DVD a lot of the shows that those of you with HBO and Showtime watched a long time ago. But since this is my list of what I watched and recommend this year, that's just the way the basic cable-fueled cookie crumbles. Unfortnately, Six Feet Under is losing its appeal. I can barely recommend season three to you, but I will. From the far too esoteric opening episode, to the drawn out drama surrounding Lisa's disappearance and demise, this season was unsatisfying. The reverse redemption of Nate's character as he loses all the ground he gained in the first two seasons and unravels into a neurotic, selfish, self-indulgent, fucked up bastard leaves me feeling unfulfilled. I liked it better when I could root for him. Now I just think he's a damaged prick. Perhaps season four will be better.

Little Miss Sunshine--I almost didn't watch this because it got so much attention. I had high expectations. But it turns out that my sense of the movie going in was completely wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. How original, how well-done. I loved it. It felt like a truly independent film in all the most refreshing ways. It reminded me of Transamerica and Napoleon Dynamite, in that regard. I love a good road trip movie, and I had no idea going in that that was what this was. Bravo. If you are the one remaining person in America who has not seen this film, I suggest you give in and rent it this weekend.

Must Not Watch

-Props to the costume designer and, well, to props, but this film is a steaming pile of dookie. Unfortunately, it's not bad enough to be entertainingly mockable--it's no Gigli. Despite Adrian Brody's excellent portrayal of an ill-written detective, this script was a massive failure and the film an embarrassment to its top-notch cast. Poor Ben Affleck--he's so handsome, but he just can't act.

24--Dull, redundant, played, tedious, klunker of a show. Reject the hype. Watch Heroes instead. Or just go to bed. It will be more satisfying.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

You Can't Say No One Told You: Corporations

"Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control of your dearest interests have been passed into the hands of corporations."

--President Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837

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Friday, January 19, 2007

"The Definitive Top 20 TV Shows from the 80s"

A disgusted friend recently forwarded a link to this list to me, because he knew I would be equally disgusted. "The Definitive Top 20 TV Shows from the 80s?" I beg to differ.

Its creators call their list "unarguable." I maintain that any such list that includes ALF, Perfect Strangers, and Mr. Belvedere over Hill Street Blues, The Facts of Life, and Cagney and Lacey is, in fact, more aptly classified as "unthinking" or maybe just "unsmart." (Of course, the "unsmart" is also supported by the fact that the listmaker grudgingly added M*A*S*H to the list at No. 4, even though he "didn’t catch too many episodes because I hate Koreans and I hate war.")

My best guess (and my hope) is that these guys were just too little during the 80s to know better. Perhaps they were born in the very late 70s, so that lame, inane television shows starring bad muppets with acronyms for names and an aversion to salad seemed clever or even entertaining.

Perhaps there was something comforting to them about Mr. Belevedere, and so the fact that the show is drivel escaped them. Their choices imply a penchant for shows that were on before their mommies enforced an early bedtime, and shows that didn't include much probing dialogue or penetrating plot lines or character development. Who killed J.R.? "Who cares," they'd say. "Who's the Boss is on."

You can see the list (with video clips) in question here, but I will also summarize below.

Their list:

20. Mr. Belvedere
19. The Dukes of Hazzard
18. Knight Rider
17. Night Court
16. ALF
15. Perfect Strangers
14. Golden Girls
13. Growing Pains
12. Married...With Children
11. Who's the Boss?
10. Magnum P.I.
9. Doogie Howser, M.D.
8. The Cosby Show
7. The A-Team
6. Miami Vice
5. The Wonder Years
4. M*A*S*H
3. MacGuyver
2. Cheers
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation

It seems they would have been better served to simply say, "these are our favorite shows from the 80s. We're idiots. Live with it." Rather than to attempt to present them as the "definitive" top 20. Had they simply expressed a preference, one could leave it alone...but since they didn't, one must present an alternative.

Top 20 Shows That Are Better Than Half their List:
(in no particular order)
[Honorable Mention: The Smurfs (1981-1990)]
20. :20 Minute Workout (1982)
19. One Day At a Time (1975-1984)*
18. Real People (1979-1984)
17. St. Elsewhere (1982-1988)
16. Family Ties (1982-1989)
15. Diff'rent Strokes (1978-1986)
14. Hill Street Blues (1981-1987)
13. Bosom Buddies (1980-1982)
12. The Facts of Life (1979-1988)
11. That's Incredible! (1980-1984)
10. Fraggle Rock (1983-1987)
9. Mork and Mindy (1978-1982)*
8. thirtysomething (1987-1991)
7. L.A. Law (1986-1994)
6. Designing Women (1986-1993)
5. Square Pegs (1982-1983)
4. The White Shadow (1978-1981)*
3. 21 Jump Street (1987-1991)
2. Dallas (1978-1991)
1. Cagney and Lacey (1982-1988)

*best classified as a 70s show, but still running in the 80s and better than ALF for chrissakes.

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10 Favorite Movies of All Time

Die Hard
The Sound of Music
Some Kind of Wonderful
Star Wars
Empire Strikes Back
Wonder Boys
Anne of Green Gables
Dead Poets Society
When Harry Met Sally

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The State of the Union, in Television, rebuttal, technobabble

Received this today from my dear friend (who I would like even more if he weren't a Buffy fan), Eric. I'm sharing it with his permission. For more of his TV rants--I mean, insights--check out his blog.

(My responses to Eric's remarks are italicized.)

>>You are correct in all things you say about the premiere of 24 this year.... except the bit about "attempting to blow something up", as the premiere ended with a nuclear suitcase bomb going off in Venice, CA. (and really, who would miss it)? Higher stakes as Jack avoids the nuclear snow-flakes, even though Jericho (which I've never seen) beat them to it. Plus, there was a fascinating discussion by two CTU agents about how angry they were about the formatting of a database ("I wanted columns, not comma delimited!" "I work best in comma delimited, you clod!"). You also forgot to mention "suburban family will be torn assunder by the works of a terrorists right in their midst" -- which also happened again. But the bad guy Kumar from "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle" so, you know, it was almost to be expected.

And none of that matters, because 24 is a roller-coaster ride rocking good time. Once they got rid of the dumb-ass daughter, it became a masterpiece of plotting on top of plotting on top of plotting. It's the only super-hero show left on the air. Jack Bauer is the nation's personal Batman/Buffy/Peter Parker/Punisher/and Don Johnson era Sonny Crocket all rolled up into one. Its also sadly more plausible than the other "roller-coaster" shows like Prison Break and LOST (tho I'm sure Jack would break out of the prison and I'm sure he'd knife Henry Gale in his cancerous spine if it meant saving the country.) >>

See--I knew "24" would be predictable. And for my money, dull. And yet, here's someone with relatively discerning taste ("Battlestar Gallactica" not withstanding) who calls it a "roller-coaster rid rocking good time." I do NOT get it. At least they got rid of the slutty but annoying daughter, Kim. Did they kill her, or what?

>>If you're going to hate technobabble on a show, Alias always had 24 beat. Marshall was full of shit. None compare to good 90's era Star Trek, of course. >>

The difference is that Alias, at least the first two seasons, was a GOOD show. And the technobabble was entertaining. Marshall was a quirky character inventing amazing gadgets like a bug that looks like a bug or a lipstick camera or a parabolic microphone that looks like a purse. The gadgets--like the disguises--made the show fun and exciting. Tab-delineated databases? NEVER fun or exciting. Never.

>>Best/worst technobabble on the air today: HOUSE. Plus, it's as formulaic as they come. Tho I did enjoy his recent jousting with the obsessed police officer. (Runner up: Numb3rs. Honorable mention: Law & Order.)>>

You've inspired me to add a new category: "Worst Formulaic Show on TV." See below.

What about Brian is still on the air? Christ. I watched the first "season" of six episodes but couldn't come back for more. It's no Felicity, nor Thirtysomething. (I once got to personally yell at Bob Iger for canceling Thirtysomething in its prime. True story.) >>

Dude, seriously--it really is still on the air. My back-up VCR is set to tape it and I haven't bothered to tell it to stop, so I've still been watching it here and there. The hot but smart and totally together stripper girlfriend--I mean, "wife"--is nice to look at, at least. She has such pretty hair.

>>Show that should not be on the air : Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
And What About Jim.
And Two and a Half Men.
And Dancing with the Stars
And Til Death
And ER.>>

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip may have the worst name in television, but it deserves to be on the air. Certainly if Ghost Whisperer can be on the air, that can. Amanda Peet? Love it. And even though the show is basically The West Wing in a TV studio, it's well done.

As for those other shows, I don't have any explanation for shows as bad as What About Jim and Two and A Half Men. They are like JAG or Bob Sagat hosting America's Funniest Videos for all those years--I just don't understand how anyone can stand it. When I talk about television, I just don't even include those shows because I prefer to pretend they don't even exist.

As for ER, talk about beating a dead horse. NBC is desperate, but really--please, let it go already. When you killed Mark Green, you killed ER. It's time to bury it.

>>All shows suck compared The Shield and The Wire and Battlestar Galactica (which is almost completely technobabble free).>>

Yes, cable is where it's at. My new favorite is Weeds. But I don't get that in my TV. I have to wait for the DVDs.

>>Best boobs on TV: Katherine Heigl. >>

Definite oversight on my part, but in my defense, they're always hidden under scrubs.

>>Best shoulders: Evangaline Lilly>>

She's not only got the best shoulders, she's got the cutest face and is in the running for best hair. And I also nominate her for best action hero.

>>Stars most in need of a sandwich: Ellen Pompeo>>

Seriously, although Calista Flockhart is back on the air, you know.

>>The perfect woman: Jenna Fischer. Or, more specifically, Pam Beesly.>>

umm...I'm gonna have to disagree. That makes her all yours.

>>eric "tv addict" G.

PS: And remember, just about ALL TV -- even What about Brian -- is better than most movies these days. (but not What about Jim.) >>

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Monday, January 15, 2007

The State of the Union, in Television

Tonight, in honor of the Golden Globe Awards, (and because I have a deadline, so I'm procrastinating) I present to you...The State of the Union, in Television

Category: Most overrated show currently on the air

The Nominees: "24"; "Ugly Betty,"Two and a Half Men"

The Winner: "24"

The Why: The first season was fantastic television, definitely. It was original and compelling. I watched every episode practically on the edge of my seat. But then, it just got old. The fact that people are still watching this show baffles me. The fact that it's still getting so much praise from so many people—not just people who watched America's Funniest Videos with Bob Sagat and liked it, or people who are prone to enjoying stale plot lines and done-to-death stories, but discerning people--is almost beyond my comprehension.

Here's what I can say about this:

I haven't watched an episode of "24" since I gave up on the second season and that stupid presidential campaign plotline. [Once Nina's betrayal was revealed (a true shocker) and the wife axed, the show just stopped being interesting.] But, I'm willing to wager a fair sum that the much-touted season premiere will involve all of the following:

non-white terrorists attempting to blow something up, probably with a dirty bomb or stolen nuclear device; their plot will be discovered with barely enough time to stop the attack, and the only one on the planet who can possibly stop it is...Jack Bauer; a "twist" whereby some relatively minor but not totally insignificant character turns out to be working for the other side (the audience is expected to be shocked); lame dialogue vaguely referencing hardware, military equipment, or some sort of dull technology crucial to the detonation or transport of said bomb; an explosion; a gun fight; some painfully bad melodramatic acting on the part of victims and CTU staff; the frequent and urgent uploading of data; a constipated-looking hero, scruffy but undeniably handsome, grunting rapid instructions into a radio or cell phone to someone who has to do what he says or they'll die—wait, no, the whole world will die; tension between characters based on something from the past, that something is supposed to pique viewers' interests when it fact it's nearly impossible to care; poorly dressed CTU agents processing data as fast as they can in rooms that seem to be made entirely out of dark concrete and metal; men and women in navy blue clothes; Jack Bauer in a white tee-shirt.; a desperate middle-aged female; desert-like locations, such as scrubby California hillsides or "terrorist encampments" somewhere like Afghanistan; guns; sweat; blood; planes; SUVs; and a threat to the survival of the United States of America, which will somehow--in just one hour--be thwarted until next week, when all of these things will happen again. And again. Until someone finally takes the goddamned show off the air.

The Category: Best Boobs in a Sitcom or TV Drama

The Nominees: Jennifer Love Hewitt, "Ghost Whisperer"; Salma Hayek, "Ugly Betty,"; Felicity Huffman, "Desperate Housewives," Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy"

The Winner: Jennifer Love Hewitt, "Ghost Whisperer"

The Why: This show is sheer crap, but Jennifer Love Hewitt has the best rack in television.

The Category: Most Surprising to Still Be on the Air

The Nominees: "What About Brian," "Ghost Whisperer," "Ugly Betty," "Men in Trees"

The Winner: "What About Brian"

The Why: I began watching this show because JJ Abrams was attached to it. And it stars a single thirty-something person, surrounded by married or coupled friends, which I can relate to. I still watch it every week, but it should have been canceled a long time ago. It's like "thirtysomething," only duller.

The Category: Best New Show
The Nominees: "Brothers and Sisters," "Ugly Betty," "Heroes," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"
The Winner: "Heroes"
The Why:
This is the best new show since "Lost."

The Category: Best Show in Syndication
The Nominees: "That 70s Show," "King of Queens," "Sex and the City," "Seinfeld," "Friends"
The Winner: "That 70s Show"
The Why:
Because I love it. Because I continue to enjoy episodes even after I've seen them three times. Because I'm nostalgic for the basement I spent my teenaged years in. Because its the perfect cast. Because Donna is so hot. Because the writing, acting, sets, costumes, and directing are brilliant. And because I miss having it be on the air.

The Category: Worst Formulaic Show on TV
The Nominees: "House," "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Law & Order," "CSI: New York," "CSI: Miami," "Numb3rs," "Bones," "Crossing Jordan"
The Winner: "House"
The Why:
While other shows, such as "Bones" and "Crossing Jordan" just suck out loud, and CSI: NY is actually painful to watch, primarily due to a shitty casting job, "House" takes the cake because it is the most strict in its formulaic approach, and because it wastes so much great talent in the process. Give us a new approach: stat.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

See Naomi on the Radio

Short video clip of Bread and Roses appearance.

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