Tag Archives: Lord of the Rings

August Osage County: The Fall of Woman

august osage countyHoly Hannah. Can you spell d-y-s-f-u-n-c-t-i-o-n and m-i-s-e-r-y?

I want to think the main characters in August: Osage County are just cinematic creations—the vitriolic pill-popping Violet and her three daughters—tight-jawed, unforgiving Barbara, quietly wounded, faithful Ivy, New Age escapist Karen. But no.

The film induced too many pangs of recognition, reminders of my own alcoholic step-father and his verbal abuse; the unhappy weirdness of so many of my friends’ parents growing up; Mommy Dearest sitting on book shelves; alcohol and drug abuse statistics; news stories. And from the murmurs, gasps and reactions of the audience it seemed pretty much everyone else in the theater was personally affected too.

“I always wondered if my mother killed my father,” the middle-aged woman behind me stated calmly to her seat-mate as the credits rolled. Really?

“I always knew I’m fucked-up because of my mother,” another woman said, strolling past on her way to the door.

“Holy crap.” Francesca, the friend I’d gone to the film with, turned to me, eyes wide. “Is the world really like this?”

Is it? I’d like to know! Comments please!

For sure the film drives home the point of just how much pain there is locked up in human beings—and how suffering, meanness and abuse are passed from one generation to the next. The sins of the fathers and mothers as it were—not “sin” as in doing bad and wrong, but sin as in missing the mark on life—relentlessly passed from one generation to the next, century after century until?

Until we get to see it.

Sin was originally an archery term that meant you “missed the mark” or bulls eye—your targeted goal. And what is the targeted goal of life anyway? Being a better person? Figuring out how it all works? Having fun? Contributing to the wellbeing of the whole? Having interesting experiences? If so, surely we’re ready to stop seeing this kind of experience as interesting? Like, maybe soon we’ll have had our fill of meanness and sorrow and be ready to call these kinds of people and their drama-filled lives “boring?”

But until that happens audiences will pay to see stories like these. It’s what theatre was designed to do from the most ancient times.

Stories let us witness ourselves. They let us stand (and sit!) safely outside our pain and see how it contaminates and ruins everything—how we unconsciously contaminate and ruin everything—how the bleakness that rules so much of our lives happens. The camera zooms into Violet’s face as she sits on the swing telling the story of her mother’s Christmas present to her and we get it. We can’t hate her. We want to, just like her daughters and everyone else around her want to. But she is us. Her story is our story, tirelessly passed along—the story of the ravening dark Goddess that lives in us all; the maddened Goddess that shows herself most clearly through women.

Beyond doubt, August: Osage County is a story of the Fall of Woman and what has happened to her. The men, who clearly are not without their flaws, mostly move around as loving foils enduring abuse. Even Violet’s husband’s suicide occurs off-screen. It isn’t important. It’s simply the kind of normal fall-out that happens when The Feminine is too deeply wounded to care about anything or anyone anymore.

The image of The Feminine we enjoy seeing and being around does not live in this film. The light side of the Goddess is beautiful, lyrical, self-sacrificing, loving, passionate, compassionate and inspiring—like Arwen, the elven beloved of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. In Violet we see the opposite. Here She is the equivalent of the Orc and the Uruk-hai—the fallen elves, tortured and mutilated beyond endurance until they become a force for evil.

The blessing of August: Osage County is that here evil has a human face on it and we are able to see Violet is not evil at all, just wounded. We are able to see what pain does—how it looks, what it says, how it lashes out—and finally have compassion. We see the light, love, beauty and hope in us all—the young woman in Violet’s wedding picture—marred and twisted into unrecognizability and we feel for her and feel for ourselves.

It’s not an easy movie to watch. But then life is not an easy movie to live. And in both there is hope. One day all of us will get in a truck in our pajamas and move on.

VOD: The Ohio State Marching Band Will Blow Your Mind

People in band have never had the reputation of being the coolest kids in the world – but the Ohio State University marching band may have changed all that. During half-time at the Michigan vs Ohio game they performed a montage of “blockbuster hits.” Watching this video you are going to find it hard to believe these are real people doing this instead of digital pixels. They go from Superman to Harry Potter to Jurassic Park and each transition is more awing than the previous. Trust us, it’s worth a few minutes to see this.

What do you think of the video? If you have a suggestion for our Video of the Day column?

“Big Gay Rainbow”: New Zealand Becomes 13th Country in the World to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage!

RainbowLeave it to a peaceful country in the South Pacific – home of Maori culture, the Rugby World Cup holders, and the magical world of Lord of the Rings – to make a wave in international same-sex equality. On Wednesday, New Zealand became the 13th country in the world, and the first in the Asian-Pacific, to legalize same-sex marriage. Lawmakers voted 77 to 44 in support of marriage equality, and people anxiously watching all around broke out into a traditional Maori love song to celebrate the news.

New Zealand politician Maurice Williamson gave a rousing and witty speech in support of the legislation. In the video, Williamson describes the countless hateful messages he received leading up to the ruling, one of which blamed the marriage equality campaign for New Zealand’s drought. With poignant humor, Williamson points out that all that morning it was raining in his electorate, with a “huge gay rainbow” shining down on it all. “It has to be a sign!” he says. Watch this inspiring video, share it with your friends, and let’s see if we can make some waves for equal rights in our own countries all around the world:

photo by: Benson Kua

Boneshaker: Playing for Team (Feminist) Zombie

 

 

From Stories Are Good Medicine:

I can’t believe it. I think I’ve actually switched teams.

In that age old dichotomy poised by Holly Black and Justin Larabelestier in their edited collection Zombies vs. Unicorns, (ie. which are better, zombies or unicorns?), it seemed the whole world could be divided into Team Zombie or Team Unicorn. And I was sure, SURE, that I was on the team with the pretty one-horned horsies.

Exhibit A: I was a bit of a girly girl. Never a horsie girl. But a bookish, fairy and rainbow loving, team unicorn playing kind of a girl. (And back then, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite and dolls of that ilk weren’t all sexy-ed up like they are today – check out this blog on the phenomenon at Ms.Magazine)

Exhibit B: By the time I figured out there were no unicorns, I transferred my love of unicorns to dolphins. (I blame Madeline L’Engle and her brilliant final book of the Austin Family series, A Ring of Endless Light – I mean, what tween can resist a heroine who has telepathy with dolphins?) The Freudians in the room would probably say I simply transferred my fascination with one phallic object (one horned creature only tamed by virgins — hello?) with another (smooth fish that fictional girls also ride? Double Hello?).

Exhibit C: Even after two decades of my ‘all serious books all the time phase’ – my return to YA was still marked by fantasies of the gossamer-winged, rather than limb-amputating variety. The LOTR series is one of my all time faves, and even my recent fantasy faves are of that ilk (for instance, I adore Diana Peterfreund’s books about Unicorn-slaying warrior girls, Rampant and AscendantPeterfreund imagines unicorns as bloodthirsty and dangerous, yes, but hey, they’re still books about unicorns being fierce. Just fierce in the literal sense, not the Tyra Banks-ian sense.)

And so, when my dear friend J recommended Boneshaker by Cherie Priest for our book club, I wasn’t sure I’d be down for the cyber-steampunk-zombie-pirate adventure. Not sure at all. My only association with steampunk, honestly, was that awful awful movie with Will Smith and Kevin Kline, Wild Wild West, and while I’d heard that it was an up and coming genre, that movie had just set me up to think of it as, well, silly, really. And if not silly, at least dirty. And if I’ve not made absolutely clear from exhibit A, B, and C above, I’m not really a girl who’s down with dirt on my face and grime on my fingernails. (Side note: If you need a bit of a primer on steampunk, here’s a recent Christian Science Monitor article calling it ‘the new goth.’)

For those who haven’t read Priest’s novel, here’s a thumbnail. It’s civil-war era Seattle, only the city has been walled off because of a giant drilling machine called a "boneshaker" which has unleashed a deadly (possibly volcanic) yellow gas from under the earth. Oh, yea, and this gas not only kills people, it does so after turning them into brain and flesh eating zombies. Briar Wilkes and her son live outside the walls, in The Outskirts, a dismal, acid-rain-infested, bleak place. When Zeke goes into the dangerous city alone to discover more about his family’s past, it’s up to Briar to make like a maternal Xena and save him, all the while kicking some serious zombie butt.

I gotta say, I loved the book. My one major hesitation was Priest’s seemingly unexamined use of the term "Chinaman" over and over and over (and the word "Negro" once). I say seemingly unexamined because there were moments I could see she was trying to examine and challenge the characters’ racism, and draw attention to race relations at the time, she didn’t go far enough in that challenge to warrant her use of the jarring word. The Chinese characters remained, in fact, mostly caricatures, since they are present, but not granted MC status (see my previous rant on people of color as support staff/BFFs rather than main characters).

But the dirt, the acid rain, the Blight infested air, the post-apocalyptic feel, the flesh eating ‘rotters’ — all things I was sure would turn me off, actually drew me in. And, issues of race notwithstanding, the reason I think they did was simple: the strong female protagonist and Priest’s ability to portray strong female characters.

What other book have you ever read where a 35 year old, factory working mother is the heroine? The gun-toting, bad-ass heroine who is brave enough to try and rescue her 15year old son into a walled-off, zombie-filled city? The only comparison I could think of was Linda Hamilton’s character Sarah Connor in the Terminator films. But even then, despite Hamilton’s really remarkable biceps, Aah-nold kind of still steals the show, right? Not so in Boneshaker. Briar is the central heroic figure, her son Zeke the person in need of rescue. Yes, there are multiple male characters who assist Briar in her quest to find her son, but there are also two other strong female characters – a one-armed (and even that, mechanical) sling-shot shooting bar owner named Lucy and an elderly, tough as nails but ultimately motherly Native American woman named The Princess. There is a scene near the end where all three women appear – and they aren’t fighting each other, one doesn’t turn out to be a villainess, and they certainly aren’t talking about men (so it passes the Bechdel test). I loved being able to see three strong women portrayed like that – in one single scene.  

I still love stories with gossamer-winged creatures who flit about, committing magic acts of love, but I’m realizing I can also hang with some demented flesh-eating folks as well. Especially when said brain-a-tarians aren’t frightening prom queens and otherwise following the ‘let’s dismember female characters’ sexist patterns of most horror movies. Rather, I’m down with zombies as long as they’re being hunted, stepped on, and otherwise crushed by some female warrior awesomeness.

So yea, with a few rainbow colored caveats, I may actually be willing to play for Team Zombie once in a while. Or, perhaps I should say Team (Feminist) Zombie.

How about you? Are you Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

Samosas and Sensibilty: ‘Bad Austen’ Entry

 

From Stories are Good Medicine:

I love Jane Austen.

She is my go-to gal, my author of choice, my emotional salve, my comfort food… name your metaphor, she’s it for me.

Well, her novels and The Lord of the Rings, but that’s a longer, more complicated story about the obvious overlap of Austen and scifi/fantasy fans. Think about it: The world building (England, Mordor), the nuanced social mores (don’t pay a first social call for more than 10 minutes, don’t ask an Orc to tea and crumpets), and of course the romance! (Elizabeth is to Darcy as : a. Arwyn is to Aragorn b. Eowyn is to Aragorn. c. Legolas is to Gimly d. all of the above)

And I’m not even touching on the fabulous films made of her books – the A&E miniseries of Pride and Prejudice is definitely worth a whole long blog entry at some point of its own (Colin Firth as Darcy in that "oh, look at that! my shirt is wet and clinging to my manly chest" scene still gives me flutterings and palpitations and makes me, like Mrs. Bennett, worked up in a tizzy, bleating "my nerves, have you no regard for my poor nerves?").  

So…  in the great, er, bizarre, traditions of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, I’ve written my own "Bad Austen" mashup, and now you can too, by entering the ‘Bad Austen’ contest here.

Perhaps my story isn’t quite as much like the ‘Miss Austen meets the supernaturals’ tales above as it is like fun and fabulous Bend it Like Bekham director Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice (ruined for me, sadly, by the atrocious acting of model turned Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai), an Indian revisitation of Pride and Prejudice.

In fact, Ms. Chadha, if you’re reading this blog and overcome by the need to make my 800 word story into a feature length film, please feel free. (And disregard my previous uncooth comments, cast Aishwarya Rai, by all means!) Oh, and I REALLY liked your movie Bhaji on the Beach too…

But I digress…

So I’ll excerpt Samosas and Sensibility here for you, dear readers. And if it should suit, please do consider visiting the site and voting for my story. And know that I do appreciate the honor you humbly bestow upon me. There will be crumpets awaiting you in the parlor…

Samosas and Sensibility
By Sayantani DasGupta
 
The Family of DashGupta had been long settled in Parsippany, New Jersey. Well, since Mr. DashGupta got sponsored for his green card back in 1988 and managed to convince INS to grant Mrs. DashGupta a spousal visa, that is. 
Their residence had initially been in the Indian enclave of the Sussex Gardens Apartment Complex off Route 46, but as Mrs. DashGupta was from a distinguished and old, if ridiculously impoverished, Bengali family, the rough society, marked by the sounds of Punjabi bhangra booming through souped up car stereos, was quite more than her poor nerves could bear. Having a healthy respect for his wife’s nerves, Mr. DashGupta transferred his wife and infant daughters posthaste – or rather, as soon as he was financially able, to the decidedly middle class subdivision of Norland Estates. There, for almost two decades, the DashGuptas had lived in an unremarkable medium-sized McMansion, in so respectable a manner as to be completely unknown by their surrounding acquaintances.
 ……
To Read the rest of this story, or vote, or submit your own story, please go here on Bad Austen.com
Even better, curl up with your favorite Austen!

 

Eowyn – “I am no man”: Woman warriors and gender bending in myth and story

 

 

When I was growing up, my immigrant parents seemed to think everything came from India. Like "Mr. Everything Comes from India" on the British serial Goodness Gracious Me, who thinks that Father Christmas is Indian, my parents often pointed out the Western cultural appropriation of all things Indian. (Among other things, Poseidon ripped his trident off of Shiva’s trishul, and Yoda from Star Wars was apparently copied from a sketch from Sukumar Ray’s book of nonsense rhymes Ha-ja-ba-ra-la – I don’t know, George Lucas, take it up with the ‘rents.)

But the other night, watching the tail end of one of my favorite (Western) stories of all time, the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein, I felt like I was channeling my parents. I happened to catch that amazing scene during the battle of Pelennor Fields outside of the White City of Minas Tirith (yes, I am a LOTR geek) in which Éowyn of Rohan confronts the Witch-King, Lord of the creepy Nazgul. She’s disguised herself as a (male) soldier, a helmet over her long blond hair, and she is challenging the Witch-King after he has fatally injured her beloved uncle and king, Theoden. In the film, Mr. creepy Ring Wraith guy says something about how he can be felled by no man, and to that, (haha!) Éowyn sweeps off her helmet and says, "I am no man!" and totally, like, wastes him. It’s pretty awesome.

But the scene from the book is even, I must contend, awesom-er.  You see, there’s a 1,000 year prophecy that the Witch-king will not fall "by the hand of man." To which, Éowyn says,

"But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and king. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."

(I told you. Totally awesome-er. Any declaration that uses the phrase "am I" followed by the phrase "I am" is inherently fabulous. Throw in a "begone" and the word "smite" and it’s a winner, hands-down.)

But then, as I’m watching the film, something begins to nag at me. Where had I seen this particular scene before? Ah, yes, the myth of the Hindu goddess Durga. Which, sorry to say, totally, like, preceeds Tolkein. Being super-ancient and all.

You see, the buffalo demon Mahisa was wreaking havoc on all three worlds. Having received a boon from Bramha (in other versions of the story, from Shiva) that he could be killed by no man or god, he was pretty much indestructible. All the gods were distraught. "What should we do?" They wondered. Soon, there would be nothing left that was whole and unpolluted in this world or any other.

And so, they all got together and did the only logical thing. They made a woman. A warrior goddess to be precise. Durga, ten armed and mighty, astride a fierce lion. Wielding sword, discus, bow and arrow – the best weapons of each of the gods. Mother, savior, warrior – she is still the deity supremely worshiped in West Bengal, the region of India from where my family hails. 

Gender bending woman warriors are actually pretty common in Indian myths and epics. The Mahabharata is chock full of them (along with gender-bending men dressed as women – the heroic warrior Arjun, for instance, dresses as a female dance instructor during the years that he and his brothers the Pandavas must live in exile from their kingdom. For a great book on this see The Man who was a Woman and Other Queer Tales of Hindu Lore by Devdutt Patnaik).

Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s dance drama Chitrangada, has a similar story line to the one of Éowyn at it’s heart too. Based on the Mahabharata character who was the wife of Arjun, Tagore’s story is about the daughter of the king of Manipur, a brave warrior princess named Chitrangada, who is the only child of the king and therefore the heir to the throne. She dresses as a (male) soldier and protects here people valiantly. When the hero Arjun comes to Manipur, she falls instantly in love with him, but fears he won’t love her as she is, all boy-ed up and all. (Sounds a bit like Éowyn’s love for Aragorn, eh?) So Chitrangada prays that she may take the form of an irresistible woman – she does, and Arjun falls madly in love with her. But Chitrangada knows there is something missing – she wishes Arjun could love her for who she really is. When the kingdom is threatened, the people lament to Arjun that their warrior princess is missing. Arjun is moved by their stories about their brave princess and longs to meet her. And of course, Chitrangada appears as herself again, and fights alongside Arjun, who now loves her for her true self. (Take that, Aragorn!)

So, in the end, are my parents right? Does everything come from India? I’m not sure it’s an argument worth pursing, beyond the fact that all writers are influenced by other myths and traditions, and that most world myths and traditions have echoes of each other, or at least, resonate with similar themes.

To me, what’s most intriguing about at least the Indian tradition of woman warriors is a space for female power within the culture. And of course, the space for male and female energies to exist together – think of the Hindu figure of the Ardhanarishwara, half-man, half-woman.  From a more scholarly framework, what’s at work here is also the suggestion that gender, as theorist Judith Butler has contended, is a type of performance with no ‘inherent’ qualities other than the performativity itself. Because what’s happened, at least in Tolkein’s tale of Éowyn, is that gender has been reduced to a semantic. Darkness cannot be defeated (by a man)? Well, then it’ll just have to be defeated by a woman.

But of course the woman warrior in Western or Eastern story does not signal some sort of freedom from sexism or gender. Quite the opposite. This type of gender-trickery only works because we still use phrases like "by the hand of no man" to be synonymous with "by the hand of no one." The moment the male gender stops standing for the universal human is the moment that this slight of (gendered) hand stops being interesting. But of course, that’s not the case yet.  Because we all still gasp when Eowyn removes her helmet, and cheer when she delivers her line. Not unlike that old puzzle about the female surgeon,* the woman warrior is still the exception to the rule. Hopefully, not too much longer. 

[*You know the one, a boy is in an accident in which his father dies. He is brought to the hospital, where the surgeon says "I cannot operate on this boy, he is my son." How is this possible?]

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