A decent introduction and overview of the series and Buffy studies. If you're just getting into the criticism of Buffy then this might be a nice placeA decent introduction and overview of the series and Buffy studies. If you're just getting into the criticism of Buffy then this might be a nice place to start. I like the brief overview of female heroines on film and TV to help show where Buffy Summers joins the pack. Billson adequately highlights broad themes and how Buffy subverts, mixes, and otherwise plays with multiple genres to create something altogether new. This doesn't mean Buffy is perfect or easy to compartmentalize - it has its faults and moments of weakness.
Where Billson's book falls short for me is in her rather flimsy criticism of some of the "weaker" supporting characters. Billson basically doesn't like Riley, Tara and Dawn. She then verbally abuses them for being not to her taste and considers it criticism. It's not. Calling someone boring or dumb doesn't count as analytical criticism of the kind I expect from a book of this nature. I expect such benign criticism from aintitcoolnews, not from a BFI book.
Billson also spends a little more time summarizing each season than I thought necessary. An introductory text like this is most likely to be read by people who already have watched and know the storyline and just want a light dose of criticism to supplement their own thoughts. Still, her criticism is pretty good. Billson's examination of season one nicely shows how economical and well executed season one is and how it stands on its own quite well. I liked this part because the most general criticism I hear from people discovering the show now is that season one is more something you get through before getting to the real good stuff than a season to be taken seriously. The show remains remarkably loyal to that first season throughout its run and people would be well served by watching that season with as much generosity as they give to the other seasons.
Overall, this is a flawed but nice book. It's a really fast read and has moments of good, perceptive criticism. The supplemental section of websites and other Buffy studies texts is also useful. ...more
A flat read that's only use is in providing lots of mummy, vampire, and zombie film titles from the 30s to the 60s. This is just a fast overview of thA flat read that's only use is in providing lots of mummy, vampire, and zombie film titles from the 30s to the 60s. This is just a fast overview of these undead monsters, with threadbare to non-existent criticism. London's tone is often so condescending that I wonder if she likes any of these films at all - why is she writing about this when she seems to hate almost everything? She makes no attempt to examine these films through any lens that, while not redeeming the shoddy quality of many of the films, may explain their existence and their historical significance to the horror genre. Instead, it just feels like she hates stuff and is so uninterested in the subject that she doesn't even bother providing an index or list of films referenced. Like many of the films she derides, this book is a real dud....more
Robert Flynn Johnson's collection of anonymous photographs makes the case that collecting anonymous photographs is as much an art (or at least a skillRobert Flynn Johnson's collection of anonymous photographs makes the case that collecting anonymous photographs is as much an art (or at least a skill) as many of the photographs themselves. While many of these photos really do show artistic and technical skill, their potency is enhanced, or at least expanded, by their inclusion in this collection. Alone, many of these are fine photos, but together they create something even more fascinating - the collected comments and observations of photographers unknown, showing people now (mostly) passed away.
It is an odd feeling to be looking at a moment (staged or spontaneous) in a person's life, when you know that the subject of the photo as well as the photographer are now gone. It reminds me of Ossian Brown's brilliant collection Haunted Air, though in the case of The Face in the Lens the focus is much broader. But the feeling of looking into the past and seeing the photographic ghosts of anonymous people is somewhat eerie, but also intriguing. Photos say a lot, but they leave a lot up to the viewer, as Alexander McCall Smith's somewhat quirky introduction demonstrates. We're seeing history, but it's a history full of gaps, where we insert our own ideas and feelings from our perspective today. Johnson, through compiling these photos as he has, has created his own individual version of history, which is not bad, but is just the nature of telling history.
Part of the joy of this collection is in how varied the photos are and the noticeable lack of artistic aspiration in so many of them. Often the goal was simply to capture a significant moment for documentary, genealogical purposes rather than to do something artistic. What's cool is that sometimes both happened, which Johnson attributes to the nature of photography as an art reliant on technology - the camera can sometimes really help you out, even when you're totally ignorant of how to properly use it. Likewise, the subject of the photo can sometimes be as 'artful' in their body language and manner than any performer or model, suggesting that people really do have a natural impulse and feeling for what is aesthetically pleasing and/or what is genuine and real - this is true even in some of those stiff, posed photos where people were having to stand waiting forever while the picture was taken. Real life often presents the best performances you've ever seen.
Johnson has compiled a fine collection of anonymous photos and makes me wonder what he has in his collection that didn't make the cut for this book. What pictures does he have that still remain unknown to people and what pictures are floating around out there yet to be uncovered? I start feeling a tad weird thinking about my own photos being collected like this. What stories would people create about my photos? What would that say about the subject and what would it say about me? And what about you?...more
This lovely collection of engravings was interesting to me because angels have such varied significance, depending on which story you're hearing. We mThis lovely collection of engravings was interesting to me because angels have such varied significance, depending on which story you're hearing. We mostly associate angels with protection and comfort, but sometimes they're bad news, too. The collection of engravings from the Bible show both comforting, guardian angels ("Elijah Nourished by an Angel," "The Agony in the Garden") as well as destroying angels ("The Firstborn Slain," "Destruction of the Army of Sennacherib"). The engravings from the Crusades also show angels leading European forces to war ("The Road to Jerusalem," "The Departure from Aigues-Mortes").
Dore doesn't try glossing over the fact that angels participate in some really troubling and horrific tales, especially in his biblical engravings. But he doesn't seem to be passing judgment on whether or not that was good or bad, but is simply illustrating the story as he sees it. There is a lot of discussion out there about the horrors of the Bible and the Crusades and all the violence attached to religion. I don't think we have to approve of the Crusades to admire Dore's skill in illustrating them, nor do I think his illustrations are him stating his approval of them either - look at all of his Crusades engravings and you'll see mostly the horrors and sorrows of war, where both sides committed atrocities and that people on both sides deserve our sympathy.
This collection really is a great mix that really captures the varied functions of angels in our mythology, theology, history, and literature. My only wish is that Dore's closing image from London: A Pilgrimage, "The Angel and the Orphan," had been included in this collection. It's perhaps the most tender angel image that Dore ever did and it's a shame it isn't included here. That aside, Dore fans will not be disappointed with this collection....more
The short answer: Baudelaire is fine, but he never really latched on to me and drove me to keep reading. I liked him, but don't feel much need to retuThe short answer: Baudelaire is fine, but he never really latched on to me and drove me to keep reading. I liked him, but don't feel much need to return to him. Maybe it was the translation? ...more
Volume two of The Walking Dead might be better than volume one, but not by much. The most effective part of this whole volume came in the last three pVolume two of The Walking Dead might be better than volume one, but not by much. The most effective part of this whole volume came in the last three pages. Before that there were signs of things becoming more interesting and maybe they were, but mostly it just felt like a bit more of the same: issues treated less intelligently and responsibly than I felt they should be, not enough character/relationship development to make me care as fully as I should. But I did think this volume slowed things down just a bit and lingered a little more than in the last volume. So that's nice. Overall, I was not hugely impressed and would only read volume three because of how this one ended....more
I wanted to really like volume one of The Walking Dead. Most people do like it. They like it a lot. I didn't, which doesn't make anyone better or smarI wanted to really like volume one of The Walking Dead. Most people do like it. They like it a lot. I didn't, which doesn't make anyone better or smarter than anyone else, we just have different tastes.
I appreciate Robert Kirkman wanting to write a social commentary and not just a horror story, but I don't know that he needs to state this in the introduction - all good zombie (and horror) stories are dealing with more than just the surface material, so Kirkman emphasizing his social commentary sounds more like him trying to convince everyone his stuff is smart and deserving of our attention and praise; why not let his graphic novel prove its merit on its own?
I didn't feel that the character development was that deep. The greatest transgressor here was Lori, who is very one-dimensional. She's the most incompetent woman in the whole story. To me, she is just the whining wife character who tries to frustrate Rick's chivalric heroism by not wanting him to go to the city, or she's the over-protective mother figure who doesn't want their son, Carl, to be taught how to shoot a gun (silly women, not letting their boys become men). She's helpless, submissive, and mostly just obnoxious.
I didn't feel that Kirkman explored some of the issues of survival very thoroughly. For example, gender issues and the division of labor is raised when some of the women are going to wash the clothes. But the issue is opened by Donna's shallow complaints about women doing the washing and men doing the hunting. Her argument is bland and Lori's response is equally so, she claims it "isn't about women's rights . . . it's about being realistic and doing what needs to be done." This is a convenient response to shut down Donna, who is very obviously constructed as a whining, judgmental character (we're not supposed to agree with her, but are supposed to discard her opinion as rapidly as Lori does). The problem is that if you're wanting to survive in the apocalypse (or if you just wanna be able to live in our regular supposedly non-apocalyptic life), everyone should be learning as many skills as possible. Kirkman has the opportunity to examine gender roles here, but chooses to reduce the issue to a series of bumper sticker statements that don't really say anything.
This becomes even more of a problem for me when later the women are taught how to shoot. After the argument over who washes and who hunts, it seems silly that women are expected to learn so-called "manly" skills like shooting a gun but men are allowed to remain ignorant to washing clothes. It's a man's world, zombies or no zombies. Obviously, women should learn how to shoot to protect themselves and to catch food, but domestic chores are also important for survival and the men should learn those too. Is this a small detail I'm picking at? Perhaps. But it happens so often in our culture and our stories that it really annoys the hell out of me. And I don't think this is the characters being ignorantly sexist, I think it's Kirkman being ignorantly sexist.
Another instance of cheap dramatics used to show Lori's helplessness and Kirkman's lame gender use is following the laundry washing when the women are attacked by a zombie and Dale beheads it with his axe. The zombie's head is still "alive" which logically means they have to shoot the head to kill it, even though Dale is holding his axe and we see many zombies dispatched with axes and hatchets (including right before this moment when Rick kills the zombie feeding on the deer with his hatchet). Using the gun to kill the head is a lame move, creating bland dramatics to get Rick and Shane to come running back to camp, where Lori cries on Rick's shoulder, completely beside herself with fear - "Oh, God, Rick . . . it was awful." This isn't interesting or exciting, it's an attempt to make a story exciting because the more action, the more cool the story, the more readers.
Gender studies issues aside, The Walking Dead just moves too quickly a lot of the time. A story focusing on the day-to-day challenge of surviving in a blighted landscape should dwell on the monotony of survival, at least some of the time. Kirkman wants the story to drag along and take its time, but it just felt rushed to me. It's like he wanted to have dead time where not much was happening, but then got bored with it and just rushed us on to the next zombie scene where we can be thrilled by Tony Moore's grisly art - mundane chores don't sell stories, but violence does.
Moore's art is pretty good, especially the zombies. But this is an emphasis again on grotesque body horror and violence. There are lots of close-ups of heads getting hacked at and shot. The gore abounds and while that isn't always a bad thing because we are reading a fantasy and zombie stories are a violent, nasty subject, I wonder if Moore was a bit too enamored with killing things.
As I said, I wanted to like this graphic novel, but in the end it was just okay. It coulda, shoulda been brilliant and there are nice moments and signs of real quality. But the effort to make it stellar proved too difficult, so Kirkman and co. chose the much easier, safer route of superficiality....more
The latter half of this collection impressed me more than the first half, but overall this collection left me rather mystified and uncertain about whaThe latter half of this collection impressed me more than the first half, but overall this collection left me rather mystified and uncertain about what Hughes was getting at here. There were impressive moments that make me want to revisit some of these poems - I'm sure there's something happening here, I just haven't quite caught the vision yet. This is not the Hughes collection I would read first, but for those already familiar to Hughes and who like him, you should get to this one eventually....more
I like that we follow the story through Annemarie's eyes, ever aware that we're a little person in a big, dangerous world. This perspective seem appliI like that we follow the story through Annemarie's eyes, ever aware that we're a little person in a big, dangerous world. This perspective seem applicable to both little and big people, since adults seem equally quick to see themselves as little, insignificant, powerless figures in the global theater. But Number the Stars says that young and old people can make a positive difference in the world, mainly through how they view and treat their neighbors. Instead of seeing helpless children and adults, we see adults and kids helping each other overcome obstacles and dangers. It's a good message, supported by the historical records of how many Danish citizens helped save their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis.
My primary concern with this book is that the Germans were overly demonized. This is a tricky subject since it's true that many Nazi soldiers did terrible things during WWII. But not all Germans were terrible people, not even all soldiers were. War makes people do awful things, but that's true of all sides of the conflict. Lowry makes a rather flimsy attempt at the beginning of the novel to humanize a Nazi soldier, but after that every Nazi is basically a devil. I understand this is a children's book and is strongly influenced by fairy tale narratives, but I still think more effort could have been made to avoid painting an entire people with such broad brush strokes. Unfortunately, too many holocaust stories (children and adult alike) fall into this trap.
Still, this book can be a really good story for kids just learning about the Holocaust. The primary message of the story is a good one and kids can gain a lot of reading this book and talking about it with their parents. Just don't let this be the only story you or your kids ever read about the Holocaust. ...more
Gail Dines’ Pornland is the first book I’ve read about pornography and I think it was an excellent place to start. Using very clear language and thougGail Dines’ Pornland is the first book I’ve read about pornography and I think it was an excellent place to start. Using very clear language and thought-provoking analysis, Dines breaks down porn in ways that I found convincing and accurate. Admittedly, my personal layperson thoughts about porn and its effects on popular culture, business, sexuality, race and gender were often quite similar to Dines’, though obviously in a less-informed, critically organized and researched form. Pornland has confirmed and expanded my own thoughts and concerns about pornography, which I guess makes me a biased reader inclined to read her book with less critical rigor than I should. But I didn’t read this for a class or to become a pornography scholar; I read it as a thoughtful, concerned citizen who believes pornography might best represent everything wrong with modern society.
Dines’ historical account of when porn was first brought into the mainstream via Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler illuminates how the porn industry operated then and now first and foremost as a business intent on making the highest profits possible. As a business, it represents everything wrong with capitalistic business practice, for it focuses solely on profit margins at the expense of people – profits supersede the interests (health, safety, well-being, etc.) of both the consumer (mostly men) and the employees (female performers). They are selling an industrially manufactured product from the assembly line, where churning out as many units as possible is the order of the day. This mass-production method debases people and sexuality, reducing them to mere objects and mechanics. No deeper social, emotional, psychological, or spiritual connection is desired.
According to Dines, the industry works really hard to sell its product and garner customers. How porn is advertised to the public is crafty indeed. Playboy capitalizes on their sleek, debonair approach, which has served Hugh Hefner quite well. The sleazy humor used by Hustler claims porn consumers are greasy white trash when in fact their main consumer isn’t that at all; nor is founder (and millionaire) Larry Flynt. When it does portray itself as a prosperous celebrity occupation, as with porn star Jenna Jameson, it conveniently omits any indication that being a porn star is actually a terribly miserable occupation. Porn survives, like so much of consumer business today, by advertising their product in an intentionally deceptive package – basically, they lie to us. Since people are always influenced by the culture in which they live, it is no wonder we begin listening to and believing porn’s messages, which come in all forms: Cosmopolitan and Maxim magazines, child clothing lines designed to make prepubescent girls “hot” and “sexy,” Carl’s Jr. ads containing messages so sexually explicit you wonder if food even entered the advertisers’ minds, or music videos of scantily-clad divas writhing around in some form of orgasmic ecstasy. These are a few examples of how porn has seeped into our culture. Sex sells, and porn has taken full advantage of this fact, with their primary objective being money and rabid consumerism.
21st century consumerism has reached terminal levels of gluttony, with porn being one of the grossest transgressor and supporter of rabid consumption. The point of the product is to get you to consume more and more, and with pornography addiction numbers piling up it seems that the industry has been wildly successful. What Dines successfully shows is how the harsh treatment of women, the open and unapologetic racism, pseudo-child porn’s manipulation of women to look younger, to name but three, all show that pornography, in a very real and rather literal way, consumes people. People are the product and while these raw materials are abundantly available, due to their savage exploitation their shelf life is very short.
Dines’ descriptions are vivid and explicit, pulling few punches as to the aggressive, racist, sexist, sadistic aspects of the industry. She also doesn’t avoid naming large corporations benefiting from porn – amazon.com & google.com are getting quite a bump from searches and sales; hotel chains like Marriott and Holiday Inn generate quite a sum from providing porno movies. And Dines points out the flaws in arguments that porn isn’t so bad because it can’t be proven that watching porn causes men to rape women – like rape is the only crime against women worth caring about. She is (rightfully) an unapologetic feminist who argues that feminism is about gender equality, which is completely absent in porno movies, and that so-called female sexual liberation celebrated by Cosmopolitan and Sex and the City is actually about pleasing and being subservient to men – something that would make those second waves feminists who fought for sexual liberation roll over in their graves.
Dines’ arguments and analysis show contemporary society to have reduced sex to nothing but the physical appearance and performance, with the brunt of the pressure and pain put to women, though men are obviously damaged by this reductive view as well. I'll add that this is true at my own university, BYU, which claims and at least appears to not have a porn or promiscuous sex problem to the degree of other universities, which is not to say there isn’t a problem – there is, but hopefully to a lesser degree than elsewhere. BYU has (unacknowledged) problems with sexist attitudes and beliefs that exist within the porn industry in more radical form. But women still aren’t spared the suffocating pressure to be physically attractive – the hot and sexy factor is still a huge determinant in whether a woman gets dates and is accepted into male circles. Women constantly have to live up to the expectations of the men (and strangely the expectations of other women) around them, which naturally leads to the problems Dines addresses: eating disorders, unnecessary plastic surgery, excessive exercise, depression, poor grades and general feelings of inadequacy.
In conclusion (“finally!” you exclaim), Pornland is an excellent read. My only wishes were that the book’s conclusion discussed solutions to combating pornography in more detail. As it was, the conclusion was mostly an advert for the group Stop Porn Culture, which she helped found. And I had wished for some discussion about what she felt a healthy sexual relationship entailed – the book after all is about “how porn has hijacked our sexuality.” Aside from brief statements about sex being wonderfully important for strengthening a couple’s relationship, there is no in depth assertions of what couples can do to have a healthy, porn-free relationship. People need positive reasons to pursue the type of relationship I believe Dines wishes people to have. Identifying and proving that porn isn’t good for us is an important message, and she does it really well, but some encouragement on the other end would have made this already good book that much better. But as it is, this is a fine examination and condemnation of pornography....more
Invisible Cities basically has everything I want out of a postmodern novel. Its philosophical dream narrative is delightfully sophisticated, but lacksInvisible Cities basically has everything I want out of a postmodern novel. Its philosophical dream narrative is delightfully sophisticated, but lacks any pretension. Italo Calvino dismantles the 'real' world and notions of certainty and absolutism with great charm and sly precision. Calvino refrains from elevating himself over others, either through self-praise or by diminishing others. Through his whimsical descriptions of the fantastic cities populating the great Kahn's kingdom, Calvino acknowledges that the world is a big, complex place, where no two cities, cultures, or people are alike. Consequently, Marco Polo's examination and description of each city reveals that to require every city and people to follow the same system of imperfect rules, designed by people incapable of creating a perfect system, presents serious problems.
What most impresses me with Invisible Cities is how it pushes postmodernism without turning obnoxious, arrogant, lazy, mean, or stupid. Calvino's objective is not to destroy everything and declare there to be no god, no purpose, no center, and no reality. Instead, he seems to be amazed and delighted by the possibilities of a world unhinged from centralized, linear philosophy. He collapses time into one great now, wherein it becomes the individual's job to actualize their life and determine how they are to proceed. Truth becomes an elusive, tricky thing, but not absent from the world. If anything, Calivino seems to believe that our postmodern world creates more room for truth to exist, despite the bulk of mainstream thought (intellectual or otherwise) being saturated with over-determining half-truths and falsities. Finding personal truth becomes an obtainable challenge, where the first step is to recognize the limitations of our understanding, but to not then just throw in the towel and spout relativistic platitudes as over-determining as the allegedly irrelevant philosophies of past ages. To say nothing's real or true is just a lazy logical fallacy that Calvino avoids, which wins him big points with me. Instead, he writes one delightful piece of dream fantasy that is always smart and humorous, with a depth of feeling and compassion for humanity and the stumbling world we live in. ...more