Mommy Dearest

May 13, 2007 at 5:09 pm (celebrities, movies, politics, stuff)

It’s Mother’s Day, a time we put aside to buy greeting cards for the woman that gave us life. Mother’s Day in the United States became official in 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution making the day an official holiday to celebrate the woman’s role in the family. The creation of Mother’s Day was primarily the work of Anne Jarvis, who sought to celebrate her own mother’s life by handing out white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. Unfortunately, the holiday was co-opted by the florist and greeting card industries, and became a day of commercialism and exploitation. Jarvis campaigned until her death trying to stop what she had created.

I’m not a mother, but I don’t think I’d like to celebrate Mother’s Day when I become one. Maybe it’s the Catholic in me, but the guilt is frankly overwhelming—one day isn’t enough to celebrate motherhood, but it’s just enough to make us reflect on the lack of time we put into celebrating mothers otherwise.

In the spirit of Mother’s Day, Turner Classic Movies is showing a variety of thoughtful and nostalgic films that commemorate the bittersweet sacrifice of mothers—including such films as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Stella Dallas (1937) (both of which I would hightly recommend). But today, in the hopes that we might have an anti-Mother’s Day celebration, here are some films to remind us that it’s not all flowers and puppies.

 

The Omen (1976)

To spare his wife the sorrow of having lost their child at birth, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) decides to go through with the not-so-legal adoption of a child whose mother died in childbirth. Win-win, right? Well, it just so happens that this child is the antichrist. At least his heart was in the right place. As dad investigates what could be wrong with his “son” the apple-cheeked little Damien (Harvey Stephens) enthusiastically rides his tricycle through the house, taking down everything in his path, including mommy; right over the balcony.

 

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

This film brings new meaning to the phrase ‘a face only a mother could love’. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is happy to learn that she and her husband are expecting—and so are her quirky neighbors. But strange things start to happen—like the horrible pain she feels over the first few months of her pregnancy, or the craving for raw chicken livers—and then there’s that pesky nightmare about being raped by the devil. But still, Rosemary gets past all this—after all, isn’t pregnacy supposed to be an uncomfortable situation? When she finally sees her son for the first time, with his father’s golden serpentine eyes and hooved feet, her motherly instincts kick in—she rocks him slowly to sleep.

 

Aliens (1986)

Biologically speaking, there’s only one mother in this film, and she’s just a bit unconventional—her babies need to gestate in the available human population. After saving Newt (Carrie Henn), the last survivor of a colony purposefully settled on the alien-infested planet (isn’t science great?), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) looks for an escape route, and stumbles on the Queen Mother’s birthing chamber. Bargaining for Newt’s safety, mother to mother, Ripley threatens the Queen’s babies with a blowtorn, and, like any mother protecting her children, the Queen gives in. It’s almost touching.

 

Poltergeist (1982)

Just how far would you go for your children? Give them a kidney? Work three jobs? Transport yourself to an alternate dimension to rescue them from the forces of the evil dead? Little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) plays too close to an inter-dimensional portal (her bedroom closet) and ends up the kidnap victim of poltergeists. What is striking about this film is that her mother, Diane (JoBeth Williams) keeps her cool—in a situation where most people would crumble, she goes about her business—doing laundry, caring for her other children, and trying to bring Carol Anne home.

 

There you go–have some fun with non-conventional mothers, and remember: your relationship with your mother could be a lot more complicated—

Rosemary's maternal instincts.

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Guilty Pleasures

May 10, 2007 at 10:25 pm (celebrities, politics, theory, web 2.0)

Guilty pleasures abound in the recent news that Paris Hilton will be having some quality time to herself. In the cult of celebrity we have created for ourselves, it is not simply enough to bask in the stars twinkling light, as the previously well-planned publicity machine of Hollywood would have us do. Now, when celebrity can be as simple as a YouTube video, we take pleasure in the judgment and even hatred we feel toward no-so-deserved ‘stars’. We have created a commodity in stardom, and the media take advantage of that—we read stories about Paris Hilton because we hate her, not because we admire her; and they profit from fueling that hatred. Though at this point, I’m not sure which behavior is worse—reading the juicy details of her ignorance or the fact that her behavior lends itself to such publicity. I guess that’s where the “guilty” part comes in.

Scandal sells nowadays, but, as opposed to the way it used to be treated, (one may recall Ingrid Bergman’s messy affair and her actual exile from the U.S.) we relish in it—waiting for our young starlets to tumble into rehab once again, wondering who will be next to drive drunk, vomit on themselves, or sell a sex tape. I think that more than the scandal, we value our moral superiority over these people.

Mine started simply enough—every so often I’d find a slideshow of terribly dressed celebrities and revel in the fact that though their outfits cost more than my car, and also despite the fact that they had armies of stylists, they still managed to leave the house and be photographed looking like they’d had a nasty tumble down Everest before they reached the red carpet. However, my obsession began to grow—and I now find myself overly concerned with what Nicole Richie is (or rather, isn’t) eating. We like to think we have better sense than them—we value this feeling—so, in a way, Paris Hilton is our fault. She has made herself a caricature for our amusement, and we sit back and think to ourselves, ‘dance, monkey, dance!’

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Barbie 2.0

May 1, 2007 at 6:26 pm (politics, theory, web 2.0)

Mattel announced recently that they will be launching a new product that will allow young girls to connect to a web portal, BarbieGirls.com, a site that will combine a myspace-type community where (according to an article on MSN) girls can “create a character they can name, dress and customize by skin tone, hairstyle and expression [and] shop for clothes and furniture in a virtual mall, using “B-bucks” earned by playing games and watching product promotion videos” It’s Barbie 2.0.

The goal, Mattel says, is to capture girls 6-11 years old, who tend to think that the dolls are too childish for them. This seems to conflict with the space that Barbie has occupied for so long: marketing the idea of being ‘grown up’ to young girls. When girls are young, it generally seems that we are being trained for the future, rather than our current existence. We have an instinct to play with baby dolls and be mothers, and we emulate the fashionable (and recently, career-oriented) Barbie.

However, Barbie is often criticized for creating a false ideal that no young girl can live up to—it’s cited that were she a real person, she would need to be “7 feet 2 inches tall, weigh 115-130 pounds, have 30 to 36 inch hips, an 18 to 23 inch waist and a 38 to 48 inch bust”. But lately, we have to ask ourselves whether Barbie is really that bad compared to other franchises, such as the Bratz dolls, who at their best seem to be either gold diggers or prostitutes. Ah, the joys of post-feminism.

The Barbie doll brings up the age-old nature vs. nurture argument—do we play with Barbie because it’s in our nature as women to desire beauty and fashion, or is it because of Barbie that we are stereotyped this way? I take refuge in a book I once read, called Barbie Unbound: A Parody of the Barbie Obsession that captures what many young girls do with Barbie: annihilate her. My Barbies were painted, decapitated, mutilated, burned and buried. I don’t know if this was a reaction against Barbie, or what she seems to now represent, but it still comforts me to think of her tufts of golden plastic hair scattered on the brown shag carpet.

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