This is an interesting approach to the story of Marilyn Monroe - not so much a biography of her herself, but a biography of her biographies. Perhaps mThis is an interesting approach to the story of Marilyn Monroe - not so much a biography of her herself, but a biography of her biographies. Perhaps more than any other celebrity or star, Marilyn Monroe's life has become myth, archetype, symbol. We no longer see her, if indeed we ever did. We see in her what we want to see, what we want her to be, what we want her to represent. We like to imagine that the character of 'Marilyn Monroe' was a construct, a shield for the 'real' Norma Jean underneath, the Norma Jean that her biographies set out to reveal - an approach that, as Churchwell points out, no-one ever does for other celebrities with stage or changed names, like Martin Sheen, Judy Garland, Elton John and many many others.
Churchwell sets out to deconstruct how Marilyn's life has been told, cutting through the myth and the hyperbole, highlighting the many many inconsistencies and varieties in the various 'lives' of Marilyn Monroe, the details no two biographers can agree on. On the way she exposes the misogyny and sexual obsession that so many biographers, male and female, display in retelling Marilyn's life - after all, don't we all remember Marilyn Monroe visually, the hair, the pert bottom, the lush voluptuous figure, the red lips and the white skin? Who remembers anything Marilyn said? This obsession with Marilyn's body spills over into the obsession with her dead body - to quote Elton John, "all the papers had to say / was that Marilyn was found in the nude" - and the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding her death, all of which have to do in some way with her sexuality and her rumoured affairs with one or both Kennedy brothers.
Reading this book, I felt tremendously sorry for Marilyn Monroe. Not just as a result of her wretched childhood, hard-scrabble upbringing and tragic death, but for the way throughout her life she was constantly belittled, patronised and disregarded. No-one gave Marilyn credit for having a brain or a will of her own; she was that breathy 'little-girl-lost' in the knock-out body of a sexually voracious woman, every man's fantasy. And that's all she continues to be, in every book and biography - the lost little Norma Jean, subsumed by the artificial construct that was 'Marilyn Monroe'. Because that's who we need her to be, we need to believe that the real struggles against the artificial, that no-one can lead two lives, that her death was tragic and pre-ordained, that Marilyn Monroe's life fits the archetype. Because, as Edgar Allan Poe once said, "The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world." Marilyn Monroe, the most beautiful woman in the world, one again reduced to a trope....more
One of the defining characteristics of Star Trek, through all of its various incarnations, has always been the way it used its futuristic setting to sOne of the defining characteristics of Star Trek, through all of its various incarnations, has always been the way it used its futuristic setting to shed light on the events of humanity's past and present, to use allegory and parallels to tell stories that were alien enough to be entertaining but sufficiently recognisable enough to teach something about our own lives and cultures and history. Whether it was Kirk, Spock and McCoy visiting planets whose culture was modelled on the Chicago gangs of the 1920s or Nazi Germany, or the optimistic diverse and integrated society heralded by the presence of an African-American woman, a Russian and a Japanese man on the bridge, Star Trek always had something to say that was relevant to its audience, whether that audience was watching in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, or right up to today.
This collection of essays explores a variety of historical aspects of Star Trek, discussing elements from all five television series and all the movies, including the 2009 reboot. The essays range from discussions about Star Trek as a sci-fi Western, exploring the Vietnam War in four TOS episodes, the depiction of Native Americans in Star Trek's Federation of Planets, the role of classic literature, the depiction of historical settings on the holodeck, the casting of the Klingons as the Soviets and the Cardassians as the Nazis.
Some of the essays seemed a little out of place, and I couldn't really see how they quite fitted into an anthology about Star Trek and history - the essay on technology, for instance, or the portrayal of women in Star Trek. Interesting topics, but the historical connections were, for me, tenuous. Still, it was a light, entertaining read, although few of the essays really contributed anything especially philosophical, thought-provoking or unfamiliar....more
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This book just goes to show the very truth of that statePlus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This book just goes to show the very truth of that statement. Two thousand years and mankind is still obsessed with weight, still obsessed with unattainable images of beauty, still desperate for fad diets and 'guaranteed' weight loss pills, lotions, clothing, equipment - particularly women, held hostage to societies fixated on ideal images of womanhood and yet blamed for their gullibility and desperate obsession to be thin, blamed for the fatness of men, blamed for the fatness of their children. Hell, just blamed in general. We're women, we're used to it.
Foxcroft gets on her soapbox a little bit on the last issue, but she's not wrong. This box exposes just how ridiculous all the press articles and political attention on the current 'obesity crisis' are. It's nothing new. About the only time in the last two or three hundred years there hasn't been an obesity crisis was during WW2, and I guess rationing and mass-starvation will do that. Hell, back in the 16th century critics was arguing that more people had died from fatness and overeating than from the plague. Quite a claim in the 16th century.
The tragic thing is how little we learn from history. Each new fad diet that comes along - Dukan, Hollywood, South Beach, Low-Carb, High-Carb, Low-Fat, High-Fat, Paleo - are all the same old story, repackaged for a new generation. What today we call the Atkins Diet was known in the early 1900s as the Salisbury Method, for example. And truly, if any of these diets really work, wouldn't the other fade away? If anyone truly came up with a fool-proof guaranteed weight-loss plan, well, they'd be shooting themselves in the foot, wouldn't they? Killing the golden goose. The diet industry is worth billions, to the press, to the quack doctors, to the advertising industry, the pharmaceutical industry, to fast-food and diet-food manufacturers, even the politicians who like to jump up and down about the issue.
Dieting is here to stay, Foxcroft argues, as long people are more concerned with image than health, as long as people want a quick fix, as long people want results without effort, as long as society forces a standardised image of female (and male) beauty that is utterly impossible for the vast majority of those who aspire to it, as long as we are gullible enough to believe what anyone with a flat stomach and an authoritative voice will tell us. People have been that way for two thousand years. I don't see it changing anytime soon....more
The 'Roaring Twenties' was such a wild, fascinating decade in American history: the Jazz Age, the Harlem Renaissance, the emergence of the 'talkies',The 'Roaring Twenties' was such a wild, fascinating decade in American history: the Jazz Age, the Harlem Renaissance, the emergence of the 'talkies', Art Deco, Prohibition, gangsters, 'It' girls, the latter exemplified, of course, by the 'flapper'. We all know what we picture when we hear the word 'flapper' - tall, willowy women, with knife-edge cheekbones, rouged lips and cheeks, a black bob, in loose-fitting tube dresses, dropped waists, low backs. She smoked, she drank, she slept around, and she didn't care.
Zeitz's book is a fascinating look at a figure that really paved the way for modern American women, the flapper who shed the last of the Victorian strictures and moved into a more modern conception of womanhood. He looks at some of the key figures who most seemed to embody the concept of the flapper, those who helped to create and shape it - women like Zelda Fitzgerald, who more than anyone was probably the first flapper, Coco Chanel, Louise Brooks, Clara Bow.
Along the way the book looks at the relationship of the suffrage and feminist to the flappers, the former thoroughly disapproving of the latter as vapid, empty-headed and utterly unconcerned with politics and propriety, the evolution of dating, the movement of women into the workforce, the influence of the media on the image and conception of women, the rise of consumer culture.
I could have done with a little more of a psychological insight into the flapper, why she evolved the way she did, why she behaved the way she did. And there is very little look at anything other than white flappers; the odd aside concerning Chinese-American and African-American flappers is little more than throwaway detail. But it's a fascinating book nonetheless, a real page-turner....more
I started out really enjoying this book, but it started to drag about two thirds in and I have to confess I largely skim read from there on.
The premisI started out really enjoying this book, but it started to drag about two thirds in and I have to confess I largely skim read from there on.
The premise is certainly interesting enough - tracing how sport has developed from being at first nothing more than a form of physical exercise, through the Arnold/Coubertin ideal of sport as a form of morality, embued with a meaning and nobility all of its own, on into the modern day. He covers a fascinating array of sports, from football and cricket, tennis, Formula 1, snooker, the Olympics - but sometimes the transitions from a discussion of one sport to another is a little jarring, and the segues aren't always entirely clear.
Nowadays the idea of sport simultaneously represents the best and worst of mankind, where the ideas of 'playing the game', 'fair play', 'not the winning but the taking part' sit very uneasily alongside sport as a money-making enterprise, a business, a commodity to be bought and sold. It was when Bose starts talking about the business aspects of sport that he lost me. The tangle of politics, backroom deals, business ventures and financial entanglements just bogged down the text, and I found it all a real slog to get through.
However, those who are perhaps more interested in the politics and economics may find it fascinating; my own interest has always been more historical, so I found the sections on Thomas Arnold and Coubertin's establishment of the Olympics especially interesting. ...more
I'm not a comic book fan, and I can take or leave most superheroes. I like the comic book movies that have been around in latter years, like X-Men, ThI'm not a comic book fan, and I can take or leave most superheroes. I like the comic book movies that have been around in latter years, like X-Men, The Avengers and Batman, but most of the time they leave me cold. I get put off by the fanboy craziness, the convoluted storylines, and let's face, I'm a bit of a literary snob and I like my books without pictures. No judgement, that's just me.
That said, I love Superman. I couldn't tell you why. There's something about Superman that elevates him above most superheroes, a steadfastness and a nostalgia, a representation of all that's good in the world. Most superheroes I associate with fighting crime, with death and destruction and evil, but somehow Superman seems to rise above what he confronts in a way that, I feel, the others don't. And that makes him fascinating. One of his nicknames is the Big Blue Boy Scout; how does he manage to continue that image without being insufferable, smug, goody-two-shoes?
This is a really interesting look at why Superman has lasted so long, how he has come to represent 'truth, justice and the American Way', what Superman tapped into that made him such an enduring popular culture icon. Tye charts his history from his creation by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, through the radio plays and early TV serials with George Reeves, through Christopher Reeve and the movies, Lois & Clark and Smallville, all the way up to the present day. You can really feel the affection for Superman that Tye feels, and it reawakened my own love for the Man of Steel.
Whilst Superman began as a comic figure, he's now transcended the material he came from and seems to exist outside of any form of entertainment media. Part of this is, no doubt, because he has come to represent something more than himself, he has come to represent a trans-generational icon, something that each new generation can reinvent anew. Because Superman always stayed above the evil and the strife, because he wouldn't kill, because he had an instinctive sense of what was right and strove to do it, because most crucially he wasn't human, he could exist as something greater than ourselves, as something and someone to emulate. And yet he was never too far above us, never too superhuman, because there was always Clark, the everyman, the bumbling, awkward dork just like so many of his fans. Fans could identify with Clark in a way they couldn't with Bruce Wayne, for example.
I think Supermans are a bit like James Bonds and Doctor Whos; you always love your first exposure the best, despite how many came before, or how good the others were. My James Bond is Pierce Brosnan, and my Doctor is Christopher Eccleston. And my Superman is Christopher Reeve....more
Who'd be sixteen again? Not I, certainly! Reading this brought many painful memories of life as a teenager - and even though this book is specificallyWho'd be sixteen again? Not I, certainly! Reading this brought many painful memories of life as a teenager - and even though this book is specifically about American high schools, I think the lessons apply pretty much across the board.
In this book Robbins looks at the way teenagers label both others and themselves, the way they create cliques, 'in'-crowds and on the flip side, outcasts, unpopular kids, geeks. She argues that the teenage years are those when an individual's creativity and imagination is at their height, when kids are struggling to define themselves and their place in the world, and this is also the age when the desire to be 'in', to be part of a group, to conform, to belong is also at its heights. Some kids conform, and others don't.
Robbins' argument is that the kids that don't conform in high school, the kids with some kind of definable 'quirk' that sets them apart from their peers, are usually the kids who are more likely to succeed after high school, because those 'quirks', whilst not valued in high school, are precisely the qualities that will help them succeed as adults, that will make them stand out from the crowd.
One of the most interesting things for me about this book was the view on the educators, the teachers and school administrators, and how they can fall prey to the same kind of cliquish behaviour and stereotypic labelling - how the popular kids get away with more, how the geeky students are mocked, how higher esteem is placed on athletic success than academic, how so many schools seem to view equality with homogeneity.
My heart broke for some of the kids in this book, and others made me want to stand up and cheer. To have the self-possession and confidence to be yourself, regardless of what others think, at such a young age...Robbins is right, those are the stars of the future. I'll take the outcasts anyday too....more
The title of this book really ought to read 'The Secret History of Single [American] Women in the [Late Nineteenth and] Twentieth Century[s], since thThe title of this book really ought to read 'The Secret History of Single [American] Women in the [Late Nineteenth and] Twentieth Century[s], since that's actually what it's about - because I can forgive the author the omission in the interests of brevity.
It's a very good read, incredibly comprehensive, although the author does seem to spend much more time on the early part of the 20th century, from the turn of the century up to the 50s and then somewhat skims over (comparatively) the years between 1960 and the present. Indeed, there's hardly any focus on the present at all, which I found a shame. This book was crying out for some kind of comparison of present-day singletons with those of earlier eras - how single women today differ from their earlier sisters, where they are similar, what kind of struggles and attitudes and dilemmas do they share?
From the vantage of a (relatively) progressive era, it's fascinating to see how far attitudes have come, from the days when single women were considered abnormal, subversive, a threat. These days I don't think anyone considers single women to be 'diseased' or a corrupting influence, but I do still there is a stigma attached to being a single woman that is not attached to single men. In fact, one of the common threads that runs through this book, to me at least, is the sheer amount of vitriol and anger directed at women daring to take control of their own lives, to chose their own path, whether sexually, professionally, financially. The fact that, even today, single women can be viewed as a threat, condemned as sluts or frigid or man-haters, says something about how far we still have to go in search of equality....more
I identified with this book to an almost embarrassing degree, as I suspect do a lot of women who read it. It's tough to make new friends, and it seemsI identified with this book to an almost embarrassing degree, as I suspect do a lot of women who read it. It's tough to make new friends, and it seems harder the older you get. It seems so easy when you're young; you catch another kid's eye in the playground or on the beach or in the park, and within minutes you're friends. At school and later at university so much of life is geared towards the social aspect; it's almost impossible to go through those experiences without making friends.
I've recently moved back home after a few years away, and I'll admit it, I'm lonely. I've lost touch with a lot of friends who live here, and a lot of others have moved away. I went to boarding school so I never really knew that many people in the immediate environment anyway. And now I've come home and I'm lonely. And this book I think has really inspired me to get out there and try and make those connections, instead of waiting for friendships to magically drop into my lap. As Rachel argues in this book, we don't judge people who go out and actively find dates, who speed-date or online-date. Actively looking for love is socially acceptable - why should actively looking for friendship be any different?
And I think she's right, most people are flattered when you show interest in them. Very few people would turn down an offer of friendship. It's just a matter of being the first to reach out. So dammit, that's what I plan to do. Starting today, I'm going to get back in touch with some of the friends I've lost touch with and make plans to meet up. Who knows what might happen after that?...more
Whilst somewhat lacking in the outrageousness and salacious detail of his previous book, 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls', this is a more than worthy folloWhilst somewhat lacking in the outrageousness and salacious detail of his previous book, 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls', this is a more than worthy follow-up. It details the rise and fall of 'indie movies', movies made outside of the studio system, often by unknown or first-time directors. Many of these movies were championed and sold at the Sundance Film Festival, which was initially set up to give these directors a pulpit and a place for their movies to be seen and sold. And many were bought by Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Miramix.
This book is really about these two organisations, Sundance and Miramax, and their role in first creating an atmosphere where indies filmmakers could flourish, and later, pressuring those same filmmakers into 'going commercial'. For many directors, their first movie was the only true 'indie' movie in their filmography, because once they'd had that first score, once they'd had a film hit the big time and their name become known, there was intense pressure on them to then make something big, something commercial, something that could draw on that cachet and make mega-bucks.
Slowly but surely, Sundance became a place for the studios to find the next big thing, and the indie world became almost a 'farm' for talent. In effect, Sundance sold out, betrayed what it was originally set up to nurture and protect. And Miramax moved away from the movies it had made its name with, edgy, daring, sexy movies like Pulp Fiction, and became just another studio, all the more so after it was bought out by Disney....more
I always wonder how this book ever got published, because I don't think there's anything good in it about any of the directors and actors highlightedI always wonder how this book ever got published, because I don't think there's anything good in it about any of the directors and actors highlighted therein. Not Coppola, not Bogdanovich, not Ashby or Lucas or Spielberg or Scorse. To a man, they are portrayed as selfish, ruthless, megalomaniacal, self-destructive. I almost wonder just how accurate this book - surely they can't all be this nuts?
Leaving aside the salacious details, and boy, are there some, this is a quite fascinating look at how the 'New Hollywood' directors set out to overturn the old studio system, to bring back power to the independents, to create their own system; and how they almost all self-destructed or ended up only reinforcing that which they aimed to destroy, largely as a result of their own over-the-top, out-of-control behaviours and attitudes.
The studios are even more powerful now than they ever were; there's precious little space in the cinemas these days for indie, independent or arthouse films - and the movies that make big-bucks are all pre-fab, much of a muchness: explosions and sex and violence and plots that can be summed up in ten words or less. Only George Lucas ended up with the financial clout to create his own movie empire, and even he is enslaved to Star Wars....more