What National Denim Day has to do with that scene from Game of Thrones: why I’m an activist and still a fan

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It’s National Denim Day — when a horrific verdict in Italy that blamed the victim of a sexual assault on her tight jeans. So why do I preface a post about “Game of Thrones” with all this? Because I was set to hate this week’s episode. I am SO TIRED of women victims: The Killing, The Fall, Top of the Lake — name a crime series and almost always it begins with women or teen girls being victimized. (And there was that time an agent told me my head shots had to look for “victim-y” because that’s what casting directors were looking for? “At least a few women a week die on shows.”) You might argue, well, that’s the stats. It so happens that I’ve also been a crime reporter and so I can say to you with certainty that crime series do not follow stats. In “Elementary,”  a show I love but there has yet to be a minority murderer, which falls way too much on the side of improbability simply due to the demographics of New York City (if you want to talk stats).

So, no, stats are not the reason women are victimized. On TV, often assault is gratuitous, a kind of voyeurism or fantasy reenactment in which women are disempowered. It’s used in cheap ways  for thrills or ratings, much like the use of bloody, gory violence in B horror films, or most horror films, that do nothing for a story and instead reinforce a rape culture. When I read that “Game of Thrones,” a show I’ve always admired for its writing and execution was falling prey to the same lowbrow, shoddy resort to cheap thrills, I debated whether to even continue watching the show. I was also turned off by Alex Graves’, the director’s comments about how “it was consensual at the end” (if it’s a rape at the beginning, it’s a rape at the end; that’s the definition of rape otherwise it’s called rough foreplay in consensual sex). As a nod to how society is changing, none of the readers of that article, the author reported, agreed with Mr. Graves. Not one. Even the series’ author, George R.R. Martin was not in agreement with the direction of the show’s taken with that scene.

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Then I saw the show. It was a masterful episode.

My views and hopes for what this scene means within the show’s world was said powerfully and eloquently by one of the best TV critics out there, Maureen Ryan, in “Game of Thrones Controversial Scene: 12 Reasons Why It Matters.” Highly recommend whether you are into TV, this show or the series, it is spot on about the handling of the crime of rape in our culture. (It should always be denoted as a crime, for starters.)

That scene fitted the character of the perpetrator, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who my hub and I both agree nails it as a leading man, as a cross between Aaron Eckhart, Viggo Mortensen (also Danish) and every other handsome, chiseled jawbone actor). Jaime once threw a little boy out a window with the intent to kill but as a silver lining caused paralysis. He’s not a good man. In case the audience thought, look he’s redeeming himself, maybe this was to send him to the bottom of our shitlist. In the scene, Jaime’s a bitter man, robbed of the one thing that defined him as a man, as it were: his warrior skills as a swordsman. He’s being rebuffed by a woman whom he loves and hates to love. Horrific? Yes. Could the story have gone another way? Yes. Gratuitous? Mmm…And this is the litmus test…Emotionally true to the story?  Yes.

In addition, despite Mr. Graves’s comments, the scene was not titillating. There was a cutaway, nothing was prolonged. In the discussion of the episode, the writers didn’t justify it and called it out as a terrifying power play by a man who feels as if he’s lost all power.

As Mr. Martin also noted, the story he had to tell — and is telling (hurry up with the last book, sir!) — he told in the books. This show is not his story to tell. The writers are free to shape it as they see fit. For a while now, the show has deviated from the book and while this same scene was consensual in the book, the context was entirely different. There had been setup and context for the scene as it played out.

The true test is not in how the scene was played out but what will happen in subsequent episodes. As Ms. Ryan wrote, the writers must “give it weight and gravity.” Rape forever alters a person’s life. It can take years to heal and the residual effects sometimes never completely go away. So, as cold-hearted a person as Cersei is, she was shown to have dimension: a mother who loves her children, a long-suffering wife who’s been raped and cheated on and unloved, a chess piece on her father’s board. The one person she trusted and loved betrayed her in the worst possible way. Will she shrivel up further or will she call someone to give some King’s Landing type of justice to Jaime. One person in Deadfleet comes to mind:

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This begs the bigger question of what writers have a responsibility to do, if they have any responsibility at all. We know the impact television and video games have on young minds (and bodies if they sit around long enough) but should that influence a writer’s decisions? How can we dictate a story? If it were up to majority rule, “Huckleberry Finn” would continue to be banned.

If stats show that mainly minority males are arrested for crimes, should writers show that? Or, pull aside the curtain behind the socio-economic reasons for it? Or be politically correct? I find this last reason to be boring as entertainment. It pleases no one by trying to please everyone. Instead of respecting a particular group, it disrespects all groups by not having any cultural or religious or any specificity of any kind to a person or group. Yet, how can we dictate another’s world view which is what a good story presents?

I also learned. If I had dismissed the story based on my politics or personal leanings, as it were, I would have missed an incredible story because that is what it is: a fictional account meant to entertain, horrify, and provide catharsis.

The best part of the inclusion of this scene was the outcry and discussion it sparked. It’s still a rape culture, sadly, but things have progressed. Slut shaming and rape jokes are more and more societally unacceptable. Legislation like Title 9 supported by my representative, Rep. Jackie Speier, whom I am proud to volunteer for and support, are spearheading changes to the approach to and protocols of sexual assault on campus. As a volunteer, I am producing a video that will provide education, resource information, and outreach to college kids across the country through a group of nonprofits who inspire me and are solely devoted to drastically reducing sexual assault and providing nurturing care to victims. Unlike the world of “Game of Thrones,” there is hope and though slow, progress is inevitable.

BEST OF:

Each scene had favorite, thrilling moments that make me long to be in that writer’s room:

  • Tywin’s counsel to Tommen, the young heir to the throne, was superb. I whispered “wisdom” before the young lad did, so enraptured was I with the whole dialogue.
  • Tywin just killed this episode. Allying himself to the most hated enemy, Oberyn, was smart.  This has the added benefit that The Mountain will fall and give Tyrion a shot for a just outcome. Oberyn strikes me as being fair and after the truth. He’s not under Tywin’s thumb.
  • I love Natalie Dormer in everything from “Tudors” where I first saw her to “Elementary.” She nails all her parts. And her chemistry as Margaery with Olenna (Diana Riggs) as her grandmother are divine. Olenna is spot on with another good zinger after Margaery bemoans how her husbands all seem to die, “You did well with Joffrey. The next one will be better.” Romance isn’t dead in the matriarch. In fact, she got misty eyed just talking about her late husband, that old goat, and she clearly loved him. But there’s a time for practicality and a time for love so buck up, Margaery! You got a tween heir waiting to bed you, hurray!
  • Tyrion “Cersei is not involved in a murder in King’s Landing. There’s a first.” I almost cried when Tyrion bid his squire farewell. The show reveals so much ugliness of human beings, and there’s a lot of ugliness in our species, that when true loyalty and humanity is shown, it drives us to tears. Those tears are hard earned, dammit!
  • The only other humane relationship with no agenda is between Davos and Stannis’s daughter, the wretched girl — if ever the word “wretched” made sense, it’s here. But she doesn’t act it and is smarter than she puts on, as do most of the women on the show who survive. Best lines: “they don’t have enough of an army to raid my pantry” (Stannis) and “I tried to convince him the difference between a pirate and smuggler also.” (Davos)
  • Dany throws shackles as the first launch to her enemy. Make the enemy of your enemies your friends is a strategy that works so well for our Dragon Lady. She is the only hope for that kingdom. She’s strong, smart, strategic, pragmatic, just, and merciful. Given this world: she’ll die, alas, and Stannis, with his penchant for attracting crazy ladies, will rule. (that’s me wailing, not a spoiler! I have no idea!)
  • Jon Snow is still hot and brooding more than ever in his Crow furs (though I crushed on Rob Stark more). He will, no doubt, lead the fight against the cannibals, Wildlings, and the Undead. And the Lannisters thought their wars were tough…

 

Game of Thrones: new men, more naked ladies, a new gold hand, and two old swords

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As with any TV phenomenon, it needs to be put into its place so in anticipation of the new season, Buzzfeed’s post, “If the Media Reported on Game of Thrones,” made both my TV writer and journalist hearts melt into one. It was spot on with its branding and the season premiere. No one changed but everything changed, as Cersei pointed out in a rare moment of insight — though she was scolding her brother for being tortured and imprisoned instead of being with her since it was his choice and all.

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(source: tumblr.com/tagged/jaime-x-cersei)

Tywin, head of the Lannister clan, is still a dangerous prick who melted down Ned Stark’s sword, used to cut his head off (moment of silence), and added insult to injury (well, death, really) by having that sword recast and given to his son, Jaime, who played a large part in Ned Stark’s family’s destruction.

As for that son: poor Jaime. An emotion I never thought I’d express. He and Arya may have the strongest character arcs because so much shit happens to them and they change, unlike others. Jaime is practically disowned by his father, rebuffed by his sister (I’m an only child but I’m thinking this may be for the best given the whole incest thing), and even made fun of by that biggest prick of all, the foolish-evil-demon child, Joffrey.

It seems Jaime’s been relegated to the level of Tyrion. A crippled son, no matter what he had been, is just as good — meaning, unworthy — as a dwarf son. Will Jaime be bonding with his brother now? I doubt it as much as I doubt his pages in that Knights book will remain empty. Leopard and spots and all that.

DaarioAnd no sooner can a leopard shed his spots, can a dragon be tamed as Daenyrs is reminded as she enjoys a little cuddling time with her dragons. Some of us like Labs, others like big, scaly lizards but when you’re out to retake a kingdom, you need to be practical. And that she is except when it comes to charming, handsome men.

Sister, I hear you. I was thrown off by having a bit of “Nashville” appear suddenly in a fantasy realm. Though, “Nashville” does border on the fantastical at times. Still, Daario Naharis has been recast from Ed Skrein to “Nashville” breakout star, Dutch actor Michiel Huisman.

No, he’s not the Daario of last season. Hell, he’s not even the Daario as described in the books. But at least GoT always pleases aesthetically for all sexual orientations, so no one quibbles too much. Not even Dragon Lady. As Nicki Minaj so articulately encapsulated all Daenerys was feeling meeting Daario, “when he give me that look, then the panties coming off.” As we see here:

Panties, boxers, robes are all flying off when it comes to the new man to enter King’s Landing. I have great hope for  Pedro Pascal aka Oberyn Martell aka “Red Viper” aka the second son of the House of Dorne who’s a hedonist out for blood. YES. I had to look up him immediately. Riveting actor.

People are making a big deal of his brothel-going, bisexual ways. But I like Oberyn because he is portrayed as our hope to out Joffrey. He has force behind those accented words and hell of a reason to kill every Lannister.

It is time that someone put the Lannisters in their place. Who else could? Any hope of Stark rule is dead, Barotheon is a fool, a tyrant, and weak to a wily woman’s ways even if she is a sorceress or whatever she is. He’s a bundle of weak and horrible qualities. At least Tyrion is a man with substance. And even he didn’t lock up any of his children. Barotheon needs to die just for that. The Dragon Lady will be a fair ruler so I got my hopes on her as queen. Though hope is a very dangerous thing. But I don’t see her ripping the Lannisters a new one as they deserve. Especially Joffrey.

Which is where I see the dark and noble Oberyn doing just that: making Joffrey weep. Bringing Tywin’s army to its knees. Taking the robes right off Cersei and then strangling her with them. That is, If he’s smart and doesn’t let revenge blind him. He can love. He loved his sister, and the Lannisters can swipe away emotion. That’s their brutal strength. We have yet to see.

The brothel scene was powerfully written. It showed how different Dornes are to the Lannisters, showed the intense and complicated relationship between Oberyn and Ellaria (portrayed by Indian British actress Indira Varma of “Kama Sutra” and “Rome”). His hatred for the Lannisters are as palpable as his love for his sister. And not to be underestimated, it showed how spot on of a diplomat Tyrion actually is.

Tyrion continues to be the Ned Stark we crave for. A man with honor who once couldn’t pass by a brothel who now can’t touch a naked woman thrown at him because he is married, even if unhappily and unwillingly. A man with sense, who can keep himself and those he loves alive, even if he has to spurn his true love, Shae (her days are numbered it seems). In this universe, he’s practically — dare I say it — a good man.

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The other contender of Good Man got his head saved by a blind man.The man saving John Snow’s life may not be able to see but he could see the truth in Snow’s words and saves his head — and the Wall possibly by believing all Snow has to say. The blind man’s last words are gold. When asked by the Head Crow how he was so good at detecting lying, his answer: “I lived in King’s Landing.”

The sole survivors able to stand up to the lies are the Stark girls, in markedly different ways. Sansa is a girly girl but no fool. She’s born to be a princess/queen and has all the bearing of one. She was a child up until the latest murders, which has made her grow up in a way that not even impending marriage to sadist Joffrey and her father’s death could do. Yet, somehow she has managed to retain humanity. Though I fear for that necklace she’s been given can bring her no good. I trust no gift in this show.

Arya, oh Arya. That girl saw her sword, Needle (love it), recalled her friend’s gruesome death and in a scene beautifully built with rising tension, little Arya grew up. She had her revenge and got her sword and pony in one fell swoop — and gained The Hound’s trust.

All in all, the premiere promised all of the nudity, orgies, and bloodbaths the show is known for. Yet, most of it (I say most not all) doesn’t seem so gratuitous. In the books when the characters are teenagers, it causes more discomfort, but since I live daily in the “real” world where we all agree to be a little fake for the sake of society, I’m a fan of showing the world beneath its cover. There’s a lot of sex and violence in the world, lot of wheeling and dealing by corporations, politicians, heads of families, and all round generally abusive people that makes the average person its victims. There isn’t a whole lot of the undead, thankfully. But we never know what the next polar vortex may bring…

In short, the season promises to dash your hopes, squirm in your seat, bite your nails, and curse on Twitter. It’ll be fun!

 

Neil Degrasse Tyson confirmed it on Cosmos: We are all stars, TMZ be damned. Between Cosmos and Good Wife: Mind officially blown.

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We are all Star Matter. As Mr. Tyson walks out of the stars saying, “You. Me. Everyone. We are all star stuff.”  I KNEW IT.  Take that to your next pitch meeting, audition, callback, writer’s rooms with you.

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On a separate note, is it me or does Mr. Tyson have quite a bit of swag for a physicist as he jaunts down Italy’s alleys and saunters on oceans. Speaking of minds being blown, drowned out the entire outside world and finally sat down to watch last night’s “Good Wife.”  I feel pretty much the same way when I watch “Cosmos.” Not a ton of science but good theatrics to bring out information that inspired me — alas I sucked at math so no matter how well I did in physics nor how much I loved it, there was always that limitation…

MIND BLOWN

MIND BLOWN

 

Speaking of mind blowing television: “Good Wife” had their own version of a red wedding. Will reveal no spoilers. Watch. And cry. Then comfort yourself with some “Cosmos” that all of human existence is less than a second old.

 

Lupita #Nyong’o of jaw dropping beauty gives a moving speech about how she prayed to be lighter: the ugly truth that dark skin is still devalued

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lupita-2A woman who could easily be mistaken for a Vogue-like model but is in fact a talented actress, Lupita Nyong’o of Kenya, once thought of herself as ugly. If you don’t know her, come out of your rock, Google her and behold her in various fashions looking stunning and then watch the below. In a speech more moving than her Oscar acceptance speech, she tells an audience at an “Essence” dinner of her bargaining with God to get lighter skin as an adolescent.

This comes as no surprise. Almost anywhere that was once colonized — and that’s most of the world — more than poverty and divided ethnic lines have been left behind. The effects of  people from other countries lording it over an entire population for economics alone can also be psychologically devastating. This resonates even today. English is viewed as the language of the educated and upper class (and often it is). Light skin is valued. Eyes which are anything other than brown are coveted. I wrote on this blog about the standard of beauty in relation to Indian mass media, where fashion models and actresses who are successful in the West would never make it within South Asia. The irony. Even the current Miss. America, of Indian origin, would not get chosen as a Miss. India.

Yet, despite the seeming welcome wagon by US and Europe of darker skinned beauties who wouldn’t be hailed as such in their own countries, the truth is that it’s still a mixed pot for women with darker skin. On one hand, this welcome sometimes has an element of exotic that is embraced rather than the person. It’s not true for everyone but it’s sort of like the people who disavow a prejudice because they have one friend who fits a marginalized demographic. Josephine Baker, an African American ex-pat who became famous for her cabaret act in Paris, once said that she knew that at times she was treated as a pet, as a show-and-tell. It just didn’t bother her. It doesn’t have to. There are plenty of people who like to be seen around the It Girl or It Boy and it has nothing to do with race.

On the other hand, the very real fact of Hollywood is that parts for such actresses are still few and far between. It’s great Miss. Nyong’o won the Oscar and great that “12 Years a Slave” won such acclaim, but I would love to see African Americans in roles like in “American Hustle” or in sci-fi flicks or chick flicks or rom coms. I’m not a fan of whitewashing ethnicity (because the default cultural norm is a white, American upperclass one) but it doesn’t have to take center stage.Plots need not be about race to star gorgeous African Americans or Latinas or Asians. Gorgeous has always been the one common denominator in Hollywood: look gorgeous on screen, awesome if you can act also. But what’s gorgeous on screen is expanding. There’s a bit of promise. I saw Viola Davis in “Ender’s Game.” Kerry Washington has rode to the top of the stardom roller coaster in “Scandal.” Miss. Nyong’o may be the turn in the tide, a force not to be ignored no matter what the status quo is.

Now let’s hope the skinny obsession goes and a fit woman who happens to have hips, possibly a chest makes it — you know, women who looked gorgeous but healthy, women like the little known Ingrid Bergman or even the highest paid actress of her time, Julia Roberts. We can bring sexy back, sensual back, raw talent back, dark skin can come roaring in, but let’s leave skinny minnies far away.

Those oddly sexy moments of “Let it Go” weren’t just stereotypical, they were an example of how even a few weak storytelling moments or visuals can take viewers out of a story.

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Frozen_castposterI’m a little late to the “Frozen” train but the whole family is now on fully onboard, including putting on the soundtrack on repeat and pre-ordering the Blu Ray DVD, because what else signifies an act of true love if not that. I’ve been in love with Idina Menzel’s voice for a long time, but the movie’s revelation was that Kristen Bell is as much of a powerhouse vocal talent. Unlike all the other main voices of Elsa, Christophe (Jonathan Groff), and Hans (Santino Fontana), Bell hasn’t been on Broadway or in a musical for well over a decade concentrating on TV and film, yet, she carried that film.  But, like the rest of the planet, my favorite is the movie’s torch song. Here are the top “Let it Go” covers  and here that range from the astounding Christine Bianco imitating of different singers (amazing!) to one featuring Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock to an oddly African-themed sequence where that little girl, like about 10 other little kid singing prodigies, really tears it up. Though one of my favorites may still be the rendition by Bob Herzog, a traffic reporter for a local station in Ohio because I’m a sucker for loving parents and people who carry a sense of humor into their workplaces. (I can only assume he’s loving because he says he knows the song so well due to one of his four kids.) Here it is on Youtube.

That said, what’s up with the last few seconds of “Let it Go”?

As Slate’s Dana StevensBeth Greenfield over on Yahoo Shine, and quite a few others point out, if there’s any female transformation in pop media, it’s always encased in the same old cliche for women: get hot with “hot” having a very narrow definition. I don’t have any  issues with a coming-of-age including sexual awakening, because that’s what happens when people come of age. However, Elsa, while morphing into her authentic self, suddenly dons a beauty pageant contestant persona with a pageant walk. No issues with beauty pageant contestants here (go Nina Davluri!) but  one type of beauty is what’s often associate with a “successful makeover,” a “coming-of-age” in Disney and other movies from teen flicks like “She’s All That” to even serious adult fare like “Mirror with Two Faces.”

While many viewers may not take it that seriously, those moments are noticed by parents and kids alike. My hub and I weren’t the only parents who looked at each other when Elsa became Miss. Arendelle, ladies and gentleman!!  Actually the worst offense of those moments was that it took people out of the story.  The Elsa, of the pageant sashay and makeup, isn’t hinted at earlier nor is she ever referenced again. Whereas her sister, Anna, did want to fall in love, to meet “the one” as she sings in “For the First Time in Forever.” So when Anna falls for the first hot guy she meets once out of her sheltered life, it makes sense. Her journey in terms of romantic love and sexuality is a consistent thread. Elsa’s isn’t and so it’s out of nowhere and goes back into nowhere. Plus, why did she get all sexy when she just planned on living in isolation?

It’s also jarring because it doesn’t follow the magic rules set in the story. We all buy Elsa has these powers. What we can’t buy is when a story’s rules aren’t followed. In all good magic stories, magic has rules. Even the most fantastical of fantasy adventures have rules. So where did Elsa suddenly get the magic to change outfits? Unless it’s made of ice and snow, which it’s not. She never did this before and she never does it again.

Granted, “Frozen” has  more than a few story loopholes — who handled the seemingly thriving kingdom after the parent’s died since two minors were not yet in charge? why did Anna, a rich princess with plenty of resources, go into a polar vortex with just a cloak and no coat, supplies and yet had money for the supplies she later does buy?  We can all put those aside because  there is a part of us which enjoys the simplicity of a moral fairytale without the logistics being addressed too much. But, when there is an element which takes a viewer out of the story — like the adults all looking at each other in the midst of a movie — then something has gone awry.

 For “Frozen,” I doubt those moments were in the script and they were probably more of an animation/directorial/visual decision. As Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the composers of the song put it (Broadway veterans who’s favorite Disney soundtrack, like me, is “Little Mermaid”), they wanted a transformation on the inside and out, “Elsa’s Bad Ass Song” as they put it.  And it was bad ass, sashaying aside.

Which just shows you: as a writer, you may have no control over the final product (alas) but writers, especially beginning ones, don’t have the luxury of making mistakes with loopholes and jarring elements. 

As for “Frozen” and its torch song, even those moments don’t ruin it. It’s wonderful. Let it go!