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HBO’s Terror at the Mall: The Right Film at the Right Time

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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As the world’s attention is focused on ISIS, it’s easy for many to neglect the threat posed by their brethren in less-covered parts of the globe.

It’s also easy for many to dismiss the growth of al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa as a regional threat, even as Americans in Uganda were warned by the U.S. Embassy to shelter in place over the weekend because of an imminent threat from Al-Shabaab. “We remain vigilant to the possibility that some of the attack cell could still be at large, but we believe that it is appropriate to rescind the guidance to shelter-in-place,” the Embassy said Sunday. “We urge, however, that all U.S. citizens maintain heightened security awareness and continue to monitor email and news outlets for any updates.”

It could also be easy for some to assume that Al-Shabaab is significantly degraded after a U.S. airstrike on Labor Day killed its leader Godane, instead of noting how quickly they moved new leadership into place and renewed their fidelity to al-Qaeda.

That’s why the HBO documentary Terror at the Mall, which premiered on the cable network Monday night, is so important.

The Westgate mall in Nairobi, with its patrons a truly globalized mix of races, creeds, nationalities, and ages, was a microcosm of the greater al-Qaeda target. On Sept. 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab moved in on their target. Sixty-seven people were killed and nearly 200 wounded.

British documentary producer and director Dan Reed has experience showing the brutality of terrorism: 2009′s Terror in Mumbai and 2003′s Terror in Moscow.

In Terror at the Mall, he painstakingly pieced together footage from more than 100 security cameras around Westgate as well as the still photos of renowned Reuters war photographer Goran Tomašević, who gives the story behind some of his famous photos from that day. We also see him, in full combat photography gear, drift through security camera footage with plainclothes police as the bullets fly.

Reed sits down with some of the survivors seen in the footage, including Niall Saville, who was eating lunch at a patio restaurant when the attack began. His wife, Moon Hee, is badly wounded and he drags her into the restaurant and behind the counter as a security camera looks on. A terrorist eventually discovers the pair and shoots Saville. The couple lay on the ground in a pool of blood, the husband trying to stay conscious as his wife dies.

In the large adjoining supermarket, Nakumatt, we see a heroic man get ripped by bullets for venturing out into the aisles to get a bottle of water for a wounded man. We hear from his savior, who admits he learned how to put life-saving pressure on the wounds from watching movies. We hear the stories of the mothers with children who went grocery shopping that day only to cower behind the meat counter in a last-ditch effort to stay alive. An Al-Shabaab terrorist comes by and sprays customers with bullets as they try to shield their children.

Katherine Walton, who hid her three children under a mall kiosk table, speaks of her immediate realization that as an American, as a Christian, she would be a prime target for the terrorists. Another survivor from the supermarket recounts that one of the Al-Shabaab members asked a Kenyan mother if she was Muslim or Christian; she replied she was Christian and was immediately shot to death.

Some of the terror was out of the reach of security cameras, like the massacre at a children’s cooking competition on the roof of the parking garage. A few of the hostages were released after telling the terrorists that they were Muslim, but Muslims were also among the dead. Radio host Ruhila Adatia-Sood was one of three pregnant women killed that day.

The film also highlights the people who came to help, including businessman Abdul Haji, who grabbed his gun and joined plainclothes policemen trying to rescue survivors in the mall (he admits he didn’t have many rounds that day, but stresses it’s accuracy that matters most). The disorganized response of Kenyan authorities, including soldiers accidentally shooting at survivors and killing Kenyan policemen, underscores the tragedy.

It concludes with Al-Shabaab’s “message to unbelievers”: “God willing, there will be more Westgates. We have hundreds more volunteers.”

Terror at theMall is stark, unflinching, bloody and terrifying. It also couldn’t be a more chilling reminder at a more important time. It’s not about pundit commentary and lets the footage speak for itself. It will stay with you for a long time. And in a terror fight that has seen its share of fair-weather commitment, that is needed.

“We don’t know each other, we all come from different communities,” recalled survivor Valentine Kadzo, who hid under the kiosk with Walton. “But at that time we were one.”

And that’s exactly the approach we need to take in confronting the growth of Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Al-Shabaab.

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The 10 Most Underrated TV Comedies of All Time

Friday, June 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

10. Sullivan and Son

This working class comedy executive-produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley is fraught with all the non-PC ethnic and sexual humor you’d hear in a working class, Irish-Korean, middle-American bar like the one in the show. Created by Korean American actor/comedian Steve Byrne and Cheers writer Rob Long, the TBS sitcom reminds you that some jokes are still OK to crack. The stellar cast features Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) and comic genius Brian Doyle-Murray, along with Christine Ebersole and Owen Benjamin, who portray the drop-dead hysterical mother-son dependent duo Carol and Owen Walsh. 

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What Influence Will George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Have On Contemporary Fantasy?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 - by Francis W. Porretto

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Editor’s Note: This is a thoughtful answer to last week’s PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Query from one of PJ Lifestyle’s smartest regular commenters. The question: Is Game of Thrones Good Or Bad For Fantasy? Click here for five more sci-fi/fantasy writing prompts to inspire more debate and discussion.

Many currents have run through the speculative genres — science fiction, fantasy, and horror — since they first made their appearance in the Nineteenth Century. When their readerships were small, the writers’ tendency to cater to their readers was muted by the restricted markets and relatively small amounts of money to be made. Many spec-fic writers saw the field as a playground, or, alternately, a stepping-stone by which they might someday enter the larger world of “respectable” fiction. However, as the genres gained acceptability among American readers, that implicit sense of limitation faded away. Writers who started in the genres largely ceased to aim at escaping them. Fledgling talents saw the genres as fertile fields in which to found a career. Even the critics began to pay attention, albeit grudgingly, to the leading lights in the genres, particularly those in science fiction, which was overwhelmingly the demesne of American and British writers.

Singular works by singularly popular writers:

– In science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein;

– In fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien;

– In horror, Stephen King;

…gave birth to significant sociological fads. Their immense commercial success and social influence stimulated the formation of sub-genres. We began to speak of “hard” versus “soft” science fiction; of “high” or “medieval” fantasy versus “urban” fantasy; and of a large number of varieties of horror according to the nature of the terrifying elements and motifs. Publishers’ editors paid much closer attention to those finer categorizations, to the markets they address, and to the peripheral materials that were appropriate to them.

Crossbreeding was inevitable, and inevitably brought us  works that straddled two or more genres or sub-genres. Heinlein’s Glory Road, Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade, and Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light all successfully blended science fiction and fantasy motifs, while Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher amalgamated SF with a particularly grisly horror motif. These accomplishments gave lesser writers new targets to aim at and publishers’ editors further headaches at categorization and marketing. As the crossbred offerings piled up, aficionados of those fields started to conduct lively arguments about where SF ends and fantasy begins, among other things. For a considerable time, the sense that boundaries were dissolving — that the spec-fic genres would eventually become one after some ecumenical synthesis — was strong.

Many writers tried their hands at variations and cross-fertilizations within the spec-fic envelope. As one might expect, not all such attempts produced good, readable fiction. Over time, the proliferation of experiments was dampened by a coalescence of reader interest around a compact subset. Still, the period of “genre diaspora” was an exciting time, during which it seemed that the variations that spec-fic would spawn were beyond enumeration.

Throughout, one genre, high or medieval fantasy, remained essentially pristine, its bloodline uncontaminated by admixtures from other lines of development. It wasn’t inevitable, though looking backward from here at the altitude of the seminal work in that sub-genre, it might seem so in retrospect.

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10 of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s Greatest Hits

Sunday, May 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Editor’s Note: The meaning of the word “feminist” changes each generation. A term that once applied to women fighting for the right to vote and for stronger laws against rape has now been commandeered by progressive activists who want to force religious taxpayers to pay for abortions and contraception under a single-payer government healthcare plan. Where once feminists fought for the right to legally use birth control pills, now today’s so-called feminists demand that they’re being oppressed if the government does not subsidize their sex life. This has led a number of people to make the mistake that feminism itself is the problem, rather than the toxic blend of Marxism and Postmodernism that has hijacked it.

Susan L.M. Goldberg rebels against this — having to do battle with both feminists and the conservatives who misdiagnose the nature of their enemies. For almost a year now Susan has been writing incredible culture critiques taking the rhetorical ferocity of her hero Ann Coulter into the realm of Hannah Horvath, Miley Cyrus, and the angry bloggers of Jezebel. With her Jewish understanding of culture and history Susan interprets modern day feminism in the context of ancient goddess worship:

“As the western world embraced and assimilated what is essentially Biblical Hebraism, adopting a biblical faith in a Messiah and melding pagan practices with adherence to the cultural norms of ancient Israel known as ‘commandments,’ we grew as a society. We overcame disease, poverty, and ignorance in many areas of life. Not ironically, the same forces that demand we turn away from our biblical foundation have also managed to plunge us into a neo-Dark Age. Modern medicine now faces new plagues, radical governments threaten new poverty, and ignorance is more rampant than ever. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the popular branding of Girls as a show that empowers women.”

The Bible is a feminist document — but one can only comprehend that by understanding what women really experienced in the world that existed before it. Susan is doing a fantastic job showing how the ancient world has reemerged in our postmodern age. Stay tuned for more collections of her writings soon. In the meantime, please also check out the previous best-of collections published: 10 of Chris Queen’s Greatest Hits, 10 of Walter Hudson’s Greatest Hits10 of Hannah Sternberg’s Greatest Hits, and 10 of Kathy Shaidle’s Greatest HitsFor more great articles, also check out the list of PJ Lifestyle’s Top 50 List Articles of 2013. - Dave Swindle

March 13, 2013

1. Admiring Ann: Five Coulterisms for Counterculture Conservatives

June 6, 2013: 

2. A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses

June 16, 2013:

3. Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

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HBO Green Lights Men & Capitalism

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Warning: Not Safe for Work (profanity)

In his new HBO series Silicon Valley, Mike Judge turns his cutting sarcasm on the wunderkind of Silicon Valley, issuing awesome commentary on 21st century masculinity.

Thomas Middleditch portrays Richard Hendricks, a developer who creates a miracle algorithm with revolutionary file compression capabilities. He is the anti-Don Draper: a skinny, nervous twenty-something dressed in cargo pants and a hoodie; Hendricks is the lost member of the Big Bang Theory click. He lives with two other computer geeks in “the incubator,” a house owned by the overtly obnoxious yet humorous Erlich Bachmann (hysterically portrayed by T.J. Miller), whose app, Aviato, has turned him into one of the many tech venture capitalists in Palo Alto. 

Hendricks turns down a 10 million dollar offer from his tech guru boss Gavin Belson, owner of the fictional Google-ripoff “Hooli,” who is anxious to purchase the miracle algorithm. Instead, Hendricks elects to accept eccentric investor Peter Gregory’s offer of $200,000 for 5% of his start-up company, Pied Piper. It’s the best argument for capitalism and small business being made on television today. In electing to start his own business instead of running with the cash, Hendricks inspires his fellow nerds and is forced into maturity. Within the first three episodes he transitions from panic attacks to developing a business plan and entering his first series of negotiations.

With his 1999 hit Office Space, Judge issued a powerful statement about the death of masculinity in the corporate world. With Silicon Valley, his declaration is refined into a statement about how the free market can be used to empower men — primarily nerdy white guys and the Asians who hang with them. In the first episode, Hendricks declares:

Look guys, for thousands of years, guys like us have gotten the sh*t kicked out of us. But now, for the first time, we are living in an era where we can be in charge and build empires. We could be the Vikings of our day.

Judge also takes sharp jabs at the men who propagate corporate culture. Hooli’s Gavin Belson is a “global”-minded laughable yuppie with a Messiah complex who is “committed to social justice” and keeps a “guru” around to remind him how wonderful and unique he is. “If we can make your audio and video files smaller, we can make cancer smaller,” he proclaims as he races to compete with Pied Piper’s formidable nerds.

It will be interesting to see how women are treated within the show. In episode 3, Bachmann (who wears a shirt that reads “I know H.T.M.L.: How To Meet Ladies”) orders up an exotic dancer as a “gift” to reward the Pied Piper crew. The guys retreat to the kitchen, anxious to avoid an awkward scene. The one guy who she manages to trap declares his love for her, and is later found hanging out at the dancer’s home… playing video games with her children.

The series is peppered with Judge’s raunchy humor, but unlike Family Guy it is relatively sparse and works to advance instead of interrupt the story. The Big Bang Theory may have ushered in the era of the nerd, but Silicon Valley is taking America’s love affair with geeky guys and masculinity to a newer, deeper, and much-needed level of respect.

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Will Binge Watching Change How We Tell Stories on TV?

Friday, April 18th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg

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Television has finally taken its place alongside film as a widely-acknowledged art form. For the last several decades, many shows have started telling the kind of complex, meaningful, well-crafted tales that are often found in film and literature. When Netflix and other streaming services transformed binge watching into a national pastime, TV critics and technology writers started asking how it would change the business model for shows. But another interesting trend is emerging: how it can transform storytelling.

As I’ve written before, I’ve been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the beginning. While this show pre-dates streaming video, it was an instant cult classic, and fanboys and girls have been binge watching before binge watching was cool, with VHS and DVD sets. As I rediscover Whedon’s most popular and well-known series, I’m also seeing for the first time how cleverly it’s set up to reward two common fan activities: multiple viewings of a single episode, and binge watching. Whedon sets up jokes in the first season that are subtly paid out in the second and third; he rewards attention to detail with little Easter eggs for the careful watcher; and he takes a low-and-slow approach to character development, as Willow grows bolder, Spike grows more sympathetic, Buffy becomes more jaded, and much more. Plus, all of Whedon’s shows display an impressive attention to continuity, another way to reward fans for paying careful attention.

As binge watching becomes more and more popular, more shows are using the storytelling techniques Whedon’s been a master of all along. But other shows prove to be less perfectly suited to binge-watching. Every week for the last several months, I’ve also been watching Lost with family and friends. While the multiple storylines and nail-biting cliffhangers make it addictive enough to watch episode after episode in a row, other aspects of the storytelling are much better suited to spreading out, one episode per week. Many episodes retread the same ground, which is necessary when seven days pass between episodes; but it can get a little wearisome when you saw the same thing just a few minutes ago. Many fans have also complained about the lack of resolution in some of Lost‘s mysteries. From the level of outrage I remember when the show ended, maybe spreading it out didn’t help a lot, but I can see how it’s easier simply to forget some of the mysteries that go unresolved when the last time it was mentioned was months ago, instead of hours.

Binge watching is hard on inconsistency and repetition (without variation). It rewards attention to detail, subtle character development, and ironclad continuity. As binge watching continues to influence new shows (and change our perception of old ones) it will be fascinating to see how TV storytelling evolves in these directions.

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Which Game of Thrones Woman Is Your Favorite?

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 - by Leslie Loftis

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Almost as dreaded as writing a cover letter or the first minutes of a job interview, I was stuck in one of those new group settings that needs an icebreaker. The coach made us each ask a question for everyone to answer. I asked, “Dogs or cats?”

I got compliments for a simple, illuminating question that didn’t risk TMI. Over the years, I’ve become a connoisseur of such preference questions. London or Paris? City or countryside? I think I’ve discovered a new one in Game of Thrones.

Female fans of the show like all of the badass women (who Elle has helpfully summarized and ranked by style) but I’ve noticed a strong preference for either Arya or Daenerys. Those who ship for Arya tend to think Dany is just cool and vice versa. So I started comparing their characters.

Both are women of privilege and duty. They are the younger daughters of two of the houses competing for the throne. They are no-nonsense, take charge women who maneuver over obstacles in their path with courage, cunning, and self-reliance. But Daenerys does it by embracing her femininity. She birthed and nursed dragons after the premature birth and death of her son, an event brought about by magic to revive her husband, a man she seduced to love after her brother traded her to marriage for an army for himself. Men give her their sword. She leads as a mother; that is the name the slaves she has freed have given her. When told by her new handmaid “Valar Morghulis” or “all men must die” she replied, “But we are not men.”

Arya, in stark contrast, overcomes her challenges by hiding her femininity. She escapes and evades capture by cutting off her hair and posing as a boy. She spies on her family’s enemies by posing as a cup boy. She is on course to become a dangerous stealth warrior and fights with a small sword given to her by her brother which she named Needle, a reference to her sister’s embroidery needle. “Sansa has her needle and now I have mine.”

The differences in Daenerys’s and Arya’s characters track with the major fracture in feminism: will women achieve equality by mimicking men or by or by unleashing feminine power?

So Arya or Daenerys?

For the record: London, Dogs, countryside, and Daenerys, unequivocally Daenerys.

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The Girls Season Finale: Second-Guessing Steinem Feminists

Friday, March 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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If there’s one refreshing thing to be said of the season finale of Girls, it’s that Lena Dunham is not a stereotypical feminist after all.

The series finale of Girls opens with Hannah bumping into Adam’s looney sister who is now living with her equally nutty downstairs neighbor, Laird. Newly returned from a hippie commune, the pair are expecting their first child. Hannah asks and is granted permission to touch Caroline’s womb, which she does so with an expression of both doubt and awe. In the next scene, Hannah walks into her own apartment and she touches her own womb in absent-minded contemplation. She is then quickly distracted by an acceptance letter to graduate school in Iowa.

In her typical selfish fashion, Hannah presents her grad school acceptance to Adam minutes before his Broadway premiere. If it wasn’t so sweetly presented you’d think it was a vengeful move. Consequently, Adam feels that his performance has been thrown off. As a result, their relationship goes into full meltdown at the stage door after the show. Adam is outraged that Hannah presented her success to him before he went live: “Why can’t anything ever be easy with you?” he questions angrily.

The well played plot point mirrored Shoshanna’s own struggle at Ray’s rejection. “If memory serves, you’re the one who jettisoned me a while ago,” Ray comments before Shoshanna interjects, ”I want you back,” explaining, “I made a mistake…this entire year of freedom was just f-ing stupid…you make me want to be the best version of myself, and I just want to pretend that I was never not your girlfriend before.” “You pushed me forward in a lot of ways and I’m eternally grateful for that,” Ray explains before finishing with, “but right now, we’re in two different places with very, very, very different goals.”

In the post-episode commentary, Dunham focused on the idea that “relationships aren’t easy,” but the full impact is smarter than that: The episode that begins with the announcement of a pregnancy ends with Hannah’s excited expectations for what Iowa may bring. Embracing second wave feminist legacy, Dunham’s pregnancy metaphor introduces the next battle in the Children versus Career war, questioning the point of male/female sexual relationships.

Rupert Holmes once penned a beautiful line regarding two characters parting in the series Remember WENN: “This is what happens to love when people are in love.” Love is more than a sexual high, a status symbol, or a comfort zone. Love is required work, firstly on the part of one’s self. In their me-driven environment, second wave feminists created the idea that a romantic relationship, not unlike a commune, is nothing more than the temporal cohabitation of two individuals with shared interests. That ideology gave birth to the “Selfie Generation” of which Hannah Horvath is Queen.

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HBO Girls Just Wanna Have Boys

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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The most insightful line in this week’s episode of Girls came from guest star Louise Lasser, playing wheelchair-bound senior artist B.D., who observed: ”I hate watching television because all the old women are shells… and it just hurts to be a shell.”

A female artist with a successful career, bemoaning her state in relation to what she sees on a screen: It really is as pathetic as it sounds, this legacy of the second wave feminist notion that sex is the purpose of a woman’s existence, therefore once her looks are gone, she is nothing more than an empty, useless receptacle. Still, it’s an odd statement coming from a woman with a successful career, right?

Perhaps Girls has debunked another second wave feminist myth: “Career” is not permanent salvation from Friedan’s dreaded boredom and emptiness. Take it from famous French actress/bombshell Catherine Deneuve, who recently remarked on the secret to aging well:

“I think it’s different for men and women,” Deneuve said. “I think for men it has more to do with a fulfillment of what they do in their life, their social life, their work. I think for women, it’s more private. It has more to do with a personal fulfillment with a life, love and children, and work also, but not as the first main thing, I think.”

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Our Bodies, Our Only Sense of Self

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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The MSM’s latest fetish, college girls-turned-porn stars for tuition money, smacks of the rotten legacy of second-wave feminism’s “our bodies, our selves” mantra. Take the story of Belle Knox, a Duke University fresh-girl forced to do porn for the tuition money. While her sleaze-bag of an agent attempts to milk her 15 minutes with stories of a poor girl turned out by multimillionaire parents (a story she later changed when chatting with Piers Morgan), Belle Knox views herself as anything but a victim.

The 18-year-old appeared on front pages across the globe and sat down with Piers Morgan for a CNN interview using only her stage name and claiming that she was not ashamed of what she was doing and, in fact, felt ‘empowered’ by her career.

I’m not being exploited. I love what I’m doing and I’m safe,’ insists the women’s studies major.

Women’s studies major. Good thing she’s in porn, considering her future career choices at this point don’t rise far above McDonald’s worker (and we all know how poorly they’re paid). Seriously, though, paying for your women’s studies degree by doing porn? Has anyone stopped being sucked in by the rich-girl lifestyle to consider that glaring irony? Or the fact that her women’s studies major has justified her career choice?

She told her student newspaper in an interview last week: ‘My entire life, I have, along with millions of other girls, been told that sex is a degrading and shameful act. When I was five-years-old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified, told me that if I masturbated, my vagina would fall off.

‘The most striking view I was indoctrinated with was that sex is something women “have,” but that they shouldn’t “give it away” too soon -– as though there’s only so much sex in any one woman, and sex is something she does for a man that necessarily requires losing something of herself, and so she should be really careful who she “gives” it to.’

The vapid meanderings of Belle Knox illustrate the very scary impact of the second-wave feminist notion that our bodies really are our selves. Beyond our physicality, we have nothing left, no brain, no feeling, to “lose” or invest in a sexual encounter.

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Girls: Take This Tour and Shove It

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Newest SNL actor Sasheer Zamata hosts a Girls walking tour of Brooklyn via Above Average. It’s a tight skit with a lot of great one liners like, ”Cafe Grumpy: It’s where Hannah works and they have a drink there called ‘The Hannah’ and…it’s an 8 dollar cup of coffee.” Funny enough, although the real humor in the sketch is that the black fan of a critically defined “all-white-girls” show is being portrayed by a talented black actress who was brought onto SNL to fulfill the critics’ affirmative action casting quota.

The sketch clashes with reality on another note: For many Brooklyn natives, the Girls have worn out their welcome. Citing an increase in obnoxious tourists seeking photographs of baristas at Cafe Grumpy, the New York Daily News reports:

“The booksellers at Spoonbill and Sugartown on Bedford Ave. are similarly perplexed by the influx of millennials who show up and recreate the show’s seminal kissing scene in the stacks.

…It gets worse. The show has even spawned its own guidebook — as if HBO’s “take hipsterism and add water” needed more explanation.

“The Unofficial Girls Guide to New York” invites struggling twentysomethings to “get to know New York the way the ‘Girls’ know it.”

But real New York “girls” aren’t buying it.

“I hate anything that puts a label on what we’re doing. I came here to live outside of the box, not in one,” says Johanna Hickey, 31, who works three jobs and lives in Greenpoint. ‘It pisses me off.’”

Spoken like a true New Yorker.

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Girls vs Downton Abbey: Feminism’s Body Politic

Sunday, January 19th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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This week both critics and fans of Girls and Downton Abbey sounded off on the treatment of women on screen, highlighting the horrifying potential of 21st century feminist groupthink.

It all began on January 9 when TV critic Tim Molloy stepped in hot water by posing the following question to Lena Dunham:

I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you, particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones, but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.

Dunham deflected the remark with her usual snotty response that boiled down to nudity is realistic and if you don’t like fat bodies, that’s your problem.  Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, the show’s producers, supported Dunham’s remarks with their own politically correct, vitriolic comments about misogyny and female oppression.

Although Molloy’s question never did receive a direct answer, the exchange generated even more critical angst and bizarre philosophizing. For example, Megan Gibson at Time feels the nudity on Girls has nothing to do with “titillation” and everything to do with comedic value and expressions of non-sexual intimacy. It is questionable whether the primary audience for Girls, those “white dudes over 50,” would agree.

One telling thing critics didn’t bother to notice: All the uproar over Molloy’s question, even from Apatow and Konner themselves, wasn’t to defend Dunham’s honor — but to defend awkward bodies, female sexuality, and women’s rights under the umbrella term of “feminism.” In other words, if Hannah Horvath jumped off a bridge naked, she wouldn’t be a pathetic individual who succumbed to her psychoses, she’d be a mere statement about feminism in the 21st century.

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Will Netflix Beat HBO?

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

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That’s from Derek Thompson who asks, “How long can Netflix’s amazing run last?

But I think that’s the wrong question.

The right question might be, Why is HBO’s subscriber base nearly static?

HBO has seen Netflix grow and grow, yet have clung to their same old model. There was some brief excitement here at Casa Verde when they announced HBO Go, but the excitement quickly subsided when we found out it’s a “halfway pregnant” effort. Even at that HBO Go is available only to existing cable subscribers. Their growth model is… well, it’s there on the chart.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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It’s Not Porn, It’s HBO!

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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HBO CEO Richard Plepler is thoroughly amused at the fact that his network’s original programming can be so easily misconstrued as pornography.

No, the laughs didn’t come at a Porn Addicts Anonymous meeting. Rather, it was a blip on the Internet’s radar along with the short that garnered the remark and a few million hits to boot. (It’s so NSFW I’ve elected not to embed the actual video — you can find it here.)

According to Plepler, the video showing a series of actors detailing the parts they landed to family and friends who immediately (and ashamedly) assume they’ve been cast in porn films (until the actors explain, “No, it’s HBO!” to unfolding declarations of “I’m so proud of you!”) is good PR:

The HBO CEO said these sort of videos and spoofs prove that the network and their shows have become part of the “global conversation.” Instead of taking offense to the clip, Plepler seems to think the spoof is a great deal of fun.

“If you’re on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or parodied on Facebook you know you’re part of the cultural landscape. The guys who did this did great work. I laughed. I take it in the same manner in which it was intended, with a lot of humor,” the CEO explained.

Some might call Plepler’s reaction refreshingly open, in which case he’d share a title with one of HBO’s newest additions to the “global conversation” about mainstreamed porn. Described as ”multicharacter exploration of the complex, ever evolving landscape of sexuality, monogamy and intimacy in relationships,” Open is slated to premiere in 2014. No news yet on any planned SNL spoofs that will garner hits on Facebook.

The real story in the porn spoof is that Plepler’s comments barely made press. Why? Since its launch in 1975, HBO has generated original programming “featuring high amounts of profanity, violence and nudity” to draw an audience of premium payers. The kids of those original payers are now parents happily buying Victoria’s Secret undies for their tweens because, let’s face it, “no one wants to be the girl with the ugly underwear.”

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5 Uncomfortable Truths About Girls

Sunday, August 25th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Sometimes what the media doesn’t want you to notice can hurt you. I grew up with Silent Generation parents who held some fairly strong Victorian values, so I heard plenty about the shameful evils of modern media before I entered college to study communications. There I learned the perspective of many critics and behind-the-scenes media makers: “The masses are asses.” While “shameful” has become a subjective quality in our postmodern era, the fact is that the folks bringing you your media think you’re downright dumb, no matter what.

They’re also motivated to do more than entertain you; today’s artists who garner attention are those that encourage you to “think” …just like them and their promoters. This, in essence, is the dark side of Girls. At 26, Lena Dunham stands the chance of becoming the next Orson Welles — a young individual with talent, ability and the right connections to make waves in the media. That is, if she weren’t so damned educated. And before you jump on the “evil liberal universities” bandwagon, be warned: the uncomfortable truth is that you, too, have been brainwashed.

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Full Frontal Equality

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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One of College Humor’s latest videos takes a stab (all puns intended) at the nudity double standard on HBO. Four college-aged girls try to strike a deal with the premium cable network; they’ll quit stealing their parents’ hbogo.com passwords if HBO shows “dong” amid the bevy of female breasts.

Feminist media seems willing to join the pact cut by the College Humor girls. Rebecca Pahle comments via the feminist site The Mary Sue“One of my favorite bits: ‘For every topless background extra, every actress that bears her bouncies but doesn’t even get a line, every minute we have to sit through this dumb double-standard, you owe us an inch of grade-A man meat.’ Truth.” Over at the feminist site Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan notes, ”…male actors on shows like Girls and Boardwalk Empire aren’t similarly exposed; in fact, on the preeminent destination for cutting-edge TV, male actors abound, but exposed penises are an endangered species.”

Taking a slightly more intellectual approach, Refinery29‘s Lexi Nisita begins her critique with a compliment of HBO that also acts as the rather oddball thesis for justifying all things immoral on television in the name of art:

Cursing, sex, nudity, and an admirable tendency to support some of television’s more interesting creations are some of the things that make premium channels so great. While we all love our favorite pithy sitcoms, the raw (if not always realistic) nature of HBO and other premium programming is not only refreshing, but a reminder that cinematic art can happen on the small screen, too.

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Girls: As Famous as their Daddies

Sunday, August 18th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
From left to right: Zosia Mamet (father, David Mamet, screenwriter), Jemima Kirke (father, Simon Kirke, drummer of Bad Company), Lena Dunham (father, Carol Dunham, artist), and Allison Williams (father, Brian Williams, newscaster).

From left to right: Zosia Mamet (father, David Mamet, screenwriter), Jemima Kirke (father, Simon Kirke, drummer of Bad Company), Lena Dunham (father, Carol Dunham, artist), and Allison Williams (father, Brian Williams, newscaster).

Check out the first 10 installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

June 30: Millennial Girls Are Easy: Sex, Power & Porn

July 7: Sex for Girls’ Sake: Porn, Art, or Both?

July 14: Single Issue Goddess: The War on Women’s Intellect

July 21: Her Body, Herself: The Right Size & Shape of Girls

July 28: Girls: Best Friends Forever-ish

August 4: Girl on Girl Action: Girls and the Female Gaze

August 11: Girls on Boys: The Body Politic of Goddess Feminism

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Lena Dunham is probably the one girl in the bunch with the least famous parentage. Nevertheless, she’s super-sensitive to the criticism that HBO’s Girls stars four white girls with super-privileged entertainment industry backgrounds:

“The whole ‘kids of famous people’ dialogue…that is one that I really can attribute to jealousy. Because, why else would anyone say that? Why else would you be so horrified by the children of creative people continuing on to do creative endeavors, unless you felt that there was something you were owed that you weren’t getting that they were getting.”

Her sharp commentary came off as rather, well, “Republican” in this era of entitlement. It also smacks of sheer blindness when it comes to the relationship between audience and auteur. What is it that we the people demand of our entertainment gods and goddesses? And why? After all, thousands of teachers are the children of teachers, as are lawyers, doctors, firemen, and policemen. In fact, inheriting your parents’ profession is nothing new. So, why are celebrities held to a different standard when it comes to making it big in their field?

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Game of Downloads: HBO’s Bad Spin on Media Piracy

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Brace Yourself

According to Time Warner CEO Alan Bewkes,

…if you go to people who are watching it without [subscriptions], it’s a tremendous word-of-mouth thing. …We’ve been dealing with this for 20, 30 years—people sharing  [subscriptions], running wires down the backs of apartment buildings. Our experience is that it leads to more paying  [subscriptions]. I think you’re right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. That’s better than an Emmy.

Bewkes’s comment took the media world by surprise. A corporate CEO actually cheering on illegal downloading? Where’s Napster when you need it?

Bewkes isn’t the only exec praising media piracy:

In April, HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo said that “piracy” should be taken as a compliment. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts. The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

A compliment? Possibly. But piracy isn’t exactly the economic boon these execs would lead you to believe. According to the Record Industry Association of America:

One credible analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation concludes that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,060 U.S. jobs lost, a loss of $2.7 billion in workers’ earnings, and a loss of $422 million in tax revenues, $291 million in personal income tax and $131 million in lost corporate income and production taxes.

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Girls on Boys: The Body Politic of Goddess Feminism

Sunday, August 11th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Check out the first nine installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

June 30: Millennial Girls Are Easy: Sex, Power & Porn

July 7: Sex for Girls’ Sake: Porn, Art, or Both?

July 14: Single Issue Goddess: The War on Women’s Intellect

July 21: Her Body, Herself: The Right Size & Shape of Girls

July 28: Girls: Best Friends Forever-ish

August 4: Girl on Girl Action: Girls and the Female Gaze

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Dustin Rowles writing at Salon recently accused Lena Dunham of “reducing men to walking hard-ons.” His observation is as hysterical as it is true. It is also unsurprising given the huge goddess feminist influence on the show. After all, if women are nothing more than physical objects valued for their sexuality and fertility, men must necessarily be just as flat and lifeless, except for their phallus, of course.

But Dunham’s commentary on men isn’t as simple as all that. Her straight male characters, Adam, Ray and Charlie play off of one another providing a running commentary on the state of the Millennial male psyche. Rewarded with the lead male role, Adam is the goddess feminist’s male archetype embodying all of the alpha-male characteristics goddess feminists have been taught to both lust after and loathe. In the background are Charlie and Ray, symbolizing love and intellect. Having reduced both themselves and their men to nothing more than sexual objects, goddess feminists have no time for emotion, let alone intellect. Therefore, Charlie’s undying love is spurned in favor of Booth Jonathan’s sexual prowess, and Ray the unfulfilled scholar tearfully contemplates his lack of purpose and motivation with an unwanted dog at his side.

Critical of the show’s male characters, Colin Horgan commented: “Put more bluntly, faced with the women, they just don’t know what to do with them. So, they debase and dismiss, categorizing as if browsing videos in a porno shop.” For Horgan, the male/female relationships on Girls are so disturbingly confusing because they’re solely sexual; after all, this isn’t the cast of Friends who happen to date each other once in a while. Yet, instead of encouraging more non-sexually based relationships among the characters, Horgan caves to goddess feminist critique: women aren’t empathetic to men because their need to be controlled is what makes them desirable. That does nothing to address the issue and everything to justify it. It’s as if to say, “Well, we’re all just sexual beasts and that’s the way life is.”

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HBO’s Picasso Baby: Jay Z Raps the Cult of Celebrity

Monday, August 5th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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 I’m bored.

That’s my first reaction to HBO’s latest pseudo-experiment in high culture, Jay Z’s live performance titled Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.

My documentarian eye was jarred by the constant cutting of footage chronicling the rapper’s six hour live performance at Chelsea’s Pace Gallery. Performance art, yes; film, most definitely. This piece was so heavily edited (6 hours down to 11 minutes) that I couldn’t keep track of what was going on most of the time. Look, there he is singing to some well-dressed woman — oh wait, now it’s Adam Driver; now it’s some other well-dressed woman … oh, wait, now its Jemima Kirke, and look … Judd Apatow! The celebrities filtered into the crowd killed the notion that this was art for the people. No, this is art for HBO — so why not plug a few other shows in our lineup while we’re at it?

At one point the velvet ropes are let down and the crowd is encouraged to approach at a safe distance. Jay Z begins to rap about sticking his cock in the fox’s box and we catch a glimpse of one mother covering her young girl’s ears before we cut to a shot of older women dancing with the rap star. How young is too young to be initiated into the cult? When does it become charming to become nothing more than a fox’s box?

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Girl on Girl Action: Girls and the Female Gaze

Sunday, August 4th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
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Nothing says Hollywood glamour like chopping your own locks in an OCD stupor.

Check out the first eight installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

June 30: Millennial Girls Are Easy: Sex, Power & Porn

July 7: Sex for Girls’ Sake: Porn, Art, or Both?

July 14: Single Issue Goddess: The War on Women’s Intellect

July 21: Her Body, Herself: The Right Size & Shape of Girls

July 28: Girls: Best Friends Forever-ish

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In 1975, film theorist Laura Mulvey posited that cinema possessed an inherent “male gaze” that objectified women on screen. This male gaze presumably exists because film (and television) is an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry targeting male viewership. Interestingly, the theory stretches back into the history of art:

“When you look at an object, you are seeing more than just the thing itself: you are seeing the relation between the thing and yourself. …The [Renaissance era] painting of female beauty offered up the pleasure of her appearance for the male spectator-owner’s gaze. But the spectator-owner’s gaze sees not merely the object of the gaze, but sees the relationship between the object and the self. He sees her as a creature of his domain, under his gaze of possession…”

Lena Dunham is one of a small but growing number of women behind the camera being praised by feminists for cultivating the “female gaze” on screen in the 21st century. However, the praise she is receiving from feminist circles isn’t as liberating as one would think:

“After centuries of women being played back to themselves through the male gaze, we are being played back to ourselves through the female gaze,” [Make Love Not Porn founder Cindy] Gallop said. “I love, love, love how much nudity and skin exposure Lena Dunham goes for. That is real world body, having sex with men who find real world bodies desirable.”

Wait. Women have struggled to move into seats of real power in the film and television industry in order to… make sex ugly? That’s the female gaze?

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Girls: Best Friends Forever-ish

Sunday, July 28th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Check out the first seven installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

June 30: Millennial Girls Are Easy: Sex, Power & Porn

July 7: Sex for Girls’ Sake: Porn, Art, or Both?

July 14: Single Issue Goddess: The War on Women’s Intellect

July 21: Her Body, Herself: The Right Size & Shape of Girls

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“A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.” So writes Hannah Horvath at the height of her OCD, somewhere between punching a hole in her eardrum with a Q-Tip and hacking her hair off.

The contrast between seasons 1 and 2 of Girls is apparent down to the aesthetics of every episode. Season 1 was bright and colorful, season 2 was bland and rather monotone. Season 1 featured four uniquely fashion-plated females, while season 2 featured Marnie slugging out, Hannah displaying her rotating wardrobe of ill-fitting shorter-alls, Shoshana in bed and Jessa nowhere to be found. None of this comes as a surprise given the fact that season 2 saw the break-up of the fab foursome of HBO.

But what of the grand drama that is female friendship? How has goddess culture impacted the way we view female friendship? What can a Biblical feminist glean from scripture when it comes to forming lasting female friendships? And what do the friendships on Girls say about how we as a culture should and do approach female friendship today?

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Her Body, Herself: The Right Size & Shape of Girls

Sunday, July 21st, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Check out the first six installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

June 30: Millennial Girls Are Easy: Sex, Power & Porn

July 7: Sex for Girls’ Sake: Porn, Art, or Both?

July 14: Single Issue Goddess: The War on Women’s Intellect

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The majority of critical discussion of Girls revolves around Lena Dunham’s body. Without it or, rather, without her willingness to continually use her body as a plot device, Girls wouldn’t have half the following or 3/4 of the critical acclaim. While the show may discuss a variety of issues facing Millennial women, critics continually revert back to Dunham’s naked antics, turning discussions about body fat into the stuff of high art.

How deeply does the cult of goddess feminism impact our understanding of the individual woman? How does the idea of goddesses, reinvented in our popular culture today, undermine rather than enhance women’s happiness in their practical, day-to-day lives? How do women’s lives fall apart when they choose to idolize aspects of their feminine identity and parts of their body? 

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Single Issue Goddess: The War on Women’s Intellect

Sunday, July 14th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Check out the first five installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

June 30: Millennial Girls Are Easy: Sex, Power & Porn

July 7: Sex for Girls‘ Sake: Porn, Art, or Both?

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Camille Paglia, the liberal feminist professor who staked her reputation as a cultural critic by bucking the tenets of modern feminism has turned her keen eye on the hypocrisy within the Democrat Party. In her latest commentary on women in politics, Paglia once again highlights how current so-called “liberal” feminist attitudes are keeping women barefoot and pregnant in the minds of voters:

“It’s completely reactionary. That women were being defined as being exclusively interested in their own bodies. I think it’s sad that women are even being discussed in this way by the news media …that women are single issue voters that can think of nothing outside the domestic sphere. …I think the first woman president is going to emerge from the GOP because there’s not this obsession. The women coming up in the GOP have this attitude that economic issues and geopolitics are primary, not necessarily the defense of Roe v Wade. Which again I think has distorted feminism. Abortion rights, it’s one issue among many. Women must be encouraged to take the long view, the large view, to think geopolitically. I’m afraid, within the Democratic Party, that is not happening.”

Paglia, a devout renegade feminist who voted for Obama, hit the nail on the head of the War on Women. In the days leading up to the 2012 election, Forbes reported that women, the target demographic of Obama’s campaign, were being stereotypically swooned by-you guessed it-abortion talk:

“It’s no surprise to me that female swing voters are going to vote Obama—he made their core issues the most vocal issues of his entire campaign. Abortion was named the “single most important issue for women in this election” by female voters in 12 key swing states in an October Gallup poll and Democrats have been serving up women’s issues including abortion, access to contraception and healthcare for nearly a year, hammering home a Republican “war on women” that threatens their right to decision-making over their own bodies.”

Only days prior, Forbes published an op-ed by Dr. Scott W. Atlas that included detailed statistics illustrating the ethical qualms the majority of Americans, of every race and economic class, have with abortion. Dr. Atlas also detailed a litany of facts regarding how poorly women will be treated under Obamacare. Nevertheless, the Democrat Party with birth control martyrs like Sandra Fluke, marched on to victory with its War on Women, a battle waged by politicians and stars alike.

Dunham, a five-star General in the battle, cut to the chase in her 2012 pro-Obama ad, comparing voting to sex and saying of Obama “Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody, you wanna do it with a great guy. …Someone who really cares about and understands a woman.”

In the context of birth control and abortion rights, that doesn’t say very much about the guy. But what does it say about women, like Lena Dunham, who believe in the War on Women? How has goddess feminism stereotyped women into an entire bloc of single issue voters? Are women as single issue as goddess feminists would like them to believe?

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