Romy Shiller

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Source Code: Or, To be or Not to be

In Film, review on July 31, 2011 at 8:28 am

(originally published April 26,2011)

Now available on DVD / Blu-Ray

For centuries, man believed that the sun revolves around the earth.  Centuries later, he still thinks that time moves clockwise.

Robert Brault

Director: Duncan Jones

Writer: Ben Ripley

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga

I couldn’t resist writing about the film Source Code. It combines two of my absolute favorite subjects – Quantum Physics and Reality. (I’m a geek, right?) This film doesn’t dumb-down or have low expectations for its audience. You do not need to know science to enjoy this film, but if you do you will not feel diminished.

Director Duncan Jones says, “We wanted the audience to be able to enjoy the thriller aspect, and not beat them over the head with the science fiction elements. This is a contemporary thriller that has a few science fiction elements that are necessary to set up the story, but it’s all about Jake and Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga, and then the action that ties it all together.”

The “Source Code” is a computer program that allows someone to enter the last 8 minutes of another person’s life in order to gain perspective on what happened in an effort to prevent future disasters.

Story: An action thriller centered on a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.

Where to start…Duncan Jones. He is the son of David Bowie and the director of the amazing film, Moon (2009). He takes risks and I think that he’s fabulous. Anyhow, he says that this film is a departure for him. “I felt a real responsibility to hopefully deliver something that [fans of “Moon”] could enjoy,” Jones said, “Now I was very, very apprehensive because, although there are similarities between the two films, they’re very different. Pace wise, they are exceedingly different. But fortunately people who loved Moon seem to enjoy this. And I think that they do see that they’re very different kinds of films.”

For Jake Gyllenhaal, it was important to understand the science. “Now, merging consciousness and the synaptic map, the science of that, I don’t know much about. But it was important for me to understand that these concepts made sense and that they could be founded in something real. So it was very important and continues to be. I want the audience to know it’s legitimate, because it is legitimate. It could happen.”

The entire notion of reality is tossed like a salad. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Colter Stevens, thinks he’s in a capsule. He isn’t. So apart from the subject-matter of the film – jumping back in time, in someone else’s body to find the bomber of a train – things are not what they seem.

In my book I write, “I have always believed that we are limited by our senses. We depend on them too much. We imagine we can know “truth.” Curiosity is a good thing, but it’s helpful to acknowledge our limitations. A fish in a fishbowl only knows what a fish in a fishbowl knows, right? I believe we are like the fish. We can only know so much because of our state of being. This does not mean we do not ask the important questions. It just means that our answers might be somewhat skewed. I guess we need to be humble.” (You Never Know: A Memoir pp. 44) Well, this film regards what we can truly know.

Michelle Monaghan is one of the most in-demand women in Hollywood, starring opposite Shia LaBeouf in Eagle Eye and she was in Gone Baby Gone. Monaghan has also starred in the black comedy Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III. In 2008, she starred in the romantic comedy Made of Honor.

In this film she plays the love interest but more importantly she is a constant. Every time that Colter Stevens wakes up in his new body she’s there.

Vera Farmiga plays Goodwin – Colter Stevens’ guide and connection to the ‘outside’ as he attempts to uncover first-hand who bombed a train. An article commented, “It’s difficult enough for an actor to work off of another highly animated actor. It is another thing entirely to have to act the majority of a film off of a camera alone. That is where actress Vera Farmiga (The Departed, Up in the Air) found herself in Duncan Jones’ Source Code.” “Often, I find it hard to be still,” she admits. “Always, when I get stuck, it’s the thought process [of a character] that I return to.” She claims that she and Jake Gyllenhaal were filmed in separate “realities.” It was a lonely and isolating experience for her. In all cases she appreciates Duncan Jones’ mind-boggling twists, and the ideas of time-travel, alternate realities, and parallel universes.   Works for me.

On Rotten Tomatoes Kevin A. Ranson said, ‘Quantum Leap’ meets Groundhog Day by way of The Matrix... aside from a few predictabilities, Source Code succeeds. It does succeed – very well. Yes, we have seen certain elements before but the combination of them makes this film fresh and unique – really.

It’s similar to when you liken a musical artist to another one or you put a type of music in a genre. There is context in this film but it’s pleasantly exploded. We know that it is sci-fi but it’s distinct. I am going to buy it when it comes out on DVD and watch it over and over again, like I do with Dark City and Groundhog Day. ‘Reality films’work my buzz.

I hear that the filming took place where I live – Montreal. If only I had known. Maybe I could have set up interviews…oh, well. In a parallel dimension I do set up interviews. *sigh*

Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Or, I’m a kid, so?

In Film, review on July 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm

See things from the boy’s point of view.
Robert Baden-Powell

Director:  Thor Freudenthal
Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo

Stars:  Zachary Gordon,  Robert Capron,  Rachael Harris,  Steve Zahn,  Devon Bostick, and  Chloë Moretz.

Thismight be the best tween film out there. If I had a young son (7-10 years old) I’d want him to see it.

Plot: Diary of a Wimpy Kidis a 2010 American live-action/partly animated  comedy film and based on the book in the illustrated novel series  of the same title by  Jeff Kinney. The film was released on March 19, 2010. It was released on  DVD and  Blu-ray on August 3, 2010. 

There is tons of angst for young people. We most often do not validate that. In the film 12-year-old  Greg Heffley ( Zachary Gordon) is anxious to start  middle school, confident he will easily become the school’s most popular kid. However, Greg worries about how his “uncool” best friend,  Rowley Jefferson ( Robert Capron), will fit in. While Rowley is a good friend who helps Greg escape his terrorizing older brother,  Rodrick ( Devon Bostick). Greg worries that Rowley’s “dorky” clothes and personality will embarrass both of them.

Greg’s mother buys him a diary that says ‘diary’ on the very front. He is sure this will get him killed. In it he draws cartoons. When his best-friend Rowley wins a cartoon competition against him, Greg is incensed.

The animation in the film is supposedly his drawings. His internal life is represented here: “There’s a fun blend of animation in with the live action to give the film a bit more congruency with the bestselling book by Jeff Kinney. Watching the animation draw itself onto the screen never feels distracting, forced, or overdone. It’s used just the proper amount to remind young kids exactly what they’re watching, and convey certain emotions and actions that work best when told through stick figures.” (

Greg’s older brother,  Rodrick has a band called ‘loaded diaper’ (ha!) and whoa is he mean to Greg. At one point Greg barricades himself inside of his bedroom and re-emerges in full hockey padding because he wants to go to the bathroom.

Will LeBlanc says, Diary of a Wimpy Kidnever reaches past the level of a kids movie. Sometimes there are smart bits of dialog and there’s one or two moments that will have you laughing even if you’re by yourself, but this movie targets little kids, and it hits the nail on the head. It’s fun, witty, and most of all a reminder that no matter how old we are, we were kids once, and most of us went through the same thing … (

Diary of a Wimpy Kidis definitely aimed at kids but parents will enjoy it too.

I haven’t laughed so much in a while. There is something called “the touch of cheese.” Essentially, on the playground there is a moldy slice of cheese. Whoever touches it is treated like a leper. Not only that, but the cheese-touch can be passed on by simply touching another student. I find this hysterical but my sense of humour might not be yours.

Greg’s quest for popularity and year-book acclaim lead him to try various school activities which back-fire and he jeopardizes his friendship with Rowley, his surprisingly more popular “dorky” best-friend. I like that he goes on a self-journey. By the end of the film, he learns stuff.

This film does not ‘train’ boys. There are no sports or violence – it explores identity rather. Many films relegate the internal life of youngsters to the sidelines. Boys and feelings are a no-no it seems. It is nice to see a good film which explores a facet of male youth we just don’t usually see.

I hope that this film enables a dialog between kids and adults. At the very least adults might have insight into the minds of some young people.  See, there is so much baloney out there regarding young men that stepping outside of that is brave in my opinion
Diary of a Wimpy Kid does challenge expectations about male behavior.

I highly recommend this film for kids.

X-Men: First Class – A Commentary on ‘Difference’

In Film, review on July 24, 2011 at 11:27 am

Be Mutant and proud.

– Raven/Mystique in X-Men: First Class

I had to think about writing this. See, it is one thing to watch a film and imagine this is how one would react to ‘difference’ and it is another to be on the receiving end of prejudice, intolerance and utter indifference. Not to get bitchy about this, but most people are gross about disability. I identified with Professor X – I’m in a wheelchair suddenly, and have a PhD. Like Raven, image has become an issue. I feel empowered by this film and the very positive message about ‘difference’ but I’m also realistic and our world just doesn’t value ‘otherness.’

Plot: In 1963, Charles Xavier starts up a school and later a team, for humans with superhuman abilities. Among them is Erik Lensherr, his best friend… and future archenemy.

Magneto/Erik was a very interesting character to me. His back-story includes the Holocaust with its notion of a perfect human race. While this is not a review, but a commentary, I will point out certain elements. This film combines real history with fantasy. That is a part of what makes it so fascinating. The lack of diversity (race, sexuality, class…) however, is truly surprising.

I love that Magneto/Erik continually validated Raven/ Mystique’s true image.  Raven/Mystique keeps altering her image so that she’s not blue but a very pretty human-type. Like Raven/ Mystique I alter my image but through avatars. I use previous photos of myself or other pictures that I like. I am not brave enough to step in front of the curtain.  I know that I want to be thought of as beautiful as-is and Erik embodied a wonderful attitude. On many levels, it is liberating to be oneself. I keep thinking of the boxes we squeeze ourselves into. Frankly, I feel badly for many people.

The philosophy of ‘difference’ that the X-Men films espouse is incredibly important. I embrace my status as ‘other’ in a culture that validates the ‘same.’ Most people really do not get my attitude and if I thought like most people my physicality would be a tragedy and not an opportunity to live a different kind of life. In my book, Who Knew? I say; “I am not living with pain, I do not have cancer, I do not have a debilitating terminal disease. I may not have the same body as you, but I am LUCKY.” Man, I do sound like a Mutant.

Charles Xavier is my hero and role-model. A blog asks, “How can the wheelchair be other than a placeholder for tragedy or negativity?“ ( He would be the answer. I have a four year old nephew who made me a birthday card made up of stickers and crayons.  One of the stickers was of Charles Xavier.  A four year old aligned us. I am very humbled by this connection but honestly, I have also thought about it. I like that this film shows Charles Xavier’s previous state. I share a short film I made and love that it shows who I was ( I’m much more of an evolution or progression person than a before and after type but I’d be delusional not to see a marker of change.

In Who Knew? I say, “I am now a different version of the old me. To move on, it is necessary to accept the present changes… I have agreed to do a documentary, and maybe showing people that it’s possible to get past challenges will help. Going on camera looking and sounding like this is very hard, but it is worth it if I can reach people. In the Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming), a curtain is removed to reveal what the actual wizard looks like. The camera is lifting my curtain.

I do enjoy it when people see what I have done, but I keep thinking that my writing right now is equally and maybe more so, incredible. My physicality is diminished, but in other respects I am achieving quite a bit.”

The ideas in the X-Men films about revealing true identity, the conflict about ‘coming out’ resonates for many groups in our culture.  This is right in front of many people but they refuse to see it. To say many attitudes about certain groups bugs me is a great understatement. I find homophobia, racism, misogyny etc. intolerable. That is partly why the X-Men films are very important. They provide a framework for tolerance and acceptance.

Prequels are very precarious and usually bad. I was cautious about this film. The 60’s aesthetic rocks and the story, acting and cinematography are fabulous. What a great surprise! I found the origins of our characters very interesting. I adore this franchise and this film is my icing on the cake.

Bridesmaids: Or, Familiarity Breeds Contempt

In Film, review on July 22, 2011 at 10:49 am

A friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself.

Jim Morrison

Director: Paul Feig

Writers: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne

I REALLY wasn’t going to see this film. I’m REALLY glad I did. The title was enough to send me running. I tend to avoid that which conforms or validates a dominant system of belief. Frankly, I thought “here we go again.”

Plot: Picked as her best friend’s maid of honor, lovelorn and broke Annie looks to bluff her way through the expensive and bizarre rituals with an oddball group of bridesmaids.

I was thinking that even if you resonate with the traditional notion of bridesmaids, there must be some conflict, something that irks you – maybe not. Anyhow, this is a fun film, full of laughs, and it is subversive. First of all, most of the women in the bridesmaids group are unusual, atypical. A tension exits between our expectation for these women in Hollywood Cinema and what we get. The women are flawed in many ways. There is no glossy perfection that is idealized. The messiness of life, love, and finance is explored not hidden away.

Basically, you have Annie (Kristen Wiig) a failed bakery-owner, who fears that she is losing her BFF, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to Lillian’s new wealthy and beautiful friend, Helen (Rose Byrne). As a fun subplot Annie is having a very cruel and casual relationship with the dashingly handsome Ted (Jon Hamm), but develops a flirtation with an Irish cop named Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). Initially, Annie is asked to be Lillian’s Maid of Honour.  The women who play the bridesmaids include Rose Byrne, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, and Melissa McCarthy.

Kristen Wiig says that the film It does not fetishize marriage and weddings.
“Even in this day and age, if you’re not married, there are people who are like, Awww! Don’t worry, it’ll happen for you someday. Which is fucking crazy. So when we were writing the movie, we were hoping to send the message that you don’t have to be married to be a normal member of society.”
That is the thing with Western identity. We’re told how to be. I know better and even I had expectations for these women. I used to watch Melissa McCarthy on the television show Gilmore Girls.  In that show she was very sweet and loveable. This type of character fit my expectations for her in this film. She was, however, the opposite of her other character – brash, sexual, vulgar. Her large size made her suspect in a culture of gyms, diet products and liposuction. Could she fit into a bridesmaids dress and who told her she could feel sexy?

In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say, “…that is why there is a fascination with Barbie®. Many of us have heard of that woman who had several surgeries to look like her. Cindy Jackson has these quotes on her Web site: “The new and improved Cindy Jackson: A bombshell who wasn’t born that way… she lived a real-life Cinderella story.” (Joan Rivers); “No one knows more about cosmetic surgery – from both sides of the scalpel. She’s living proof of her unique expertise.” (The Times); “A trailblazing pioneer, she did the first and original Extreme Makeover 15 years before the hit TV series. In another 15 years, they’ll be doing what Cindy Jackson is doing now.” (no author attributed).

I do believe an unreal standard exists. The unreachable can be incredibly alluring. A temptation to achieve the unattainable exists. Someone I know very well used to be bulimic. We can take things to the extreme. This is understandable.” (Shiller, pp. 37)

While a notion of ‘difference’ is typically vilified by our society, in Bridesmaids it’s celebrated. Melissa McCarthy says, “… she’s the one getting all the guys.”
It is unique to subvert a very traditional framework. I mean, what a challenge it is to criticize from within. When Iggy Pop (Punk icon) performed on American Idol (Season 10) blogs suggested this was what he was doing – challenging the box. So here’s the thing, yes, you can enjoy the film purely as entertainment but I also believe it moves beyond that.

Women are often put in a box – a beauty box, a behavior box, an intelligence box. To go outside of ‘the box’ is radical.  But it’s just a film, you think. The power of representation cannot be underestimated. That is why there was major backlash to the gay film I Love You Philip Morris. The resistance to ‘difference’ is very harsh in general. (My review of I Love You Philip Morris ) Bridesmaids remains true to the formula on many levels (I can’t discuss this without giving it away – sorry) but it is skewed.

Tom Charity of says, “Bridesmaids is a stiletto-sharp, raunchy, no-holds-barred yuk-fest that stands as a worthy female counterpart to the likes of Wedding Crashers and The Hangover.” I could limit my discussion to these films and a comparison. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, they pay me the big bucks (ha!) to explore ‘meaning’.

I Love You Phillip Morris: Or, What I Did For Love

In Film, review on July 21, 2011 at 10:37 am


For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.

Judy Garland

Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writers: John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
Stars: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor and Leslie Mann

There are issues around sexuality that are majorly resisted in our culture. One biased area is homosexuality and many attempts at hiding that one is gay leads to marriage. Sad but very usual. As a matter of fact, this very issue was on the popular television show Glee quite recently. A homophobic bully is really gay and is called out by another character who says that the gay bully will probably get married and have kids. Popular Culture is full of these kinds of examples.


Plot: Steven Russell is happily married to Debbie, and a member of the local police force when a car accident provokes a dramatic reassessment of his life. Steven becomes open about his homosexuality and decides to live life to the fullest – even if it means breaking the law. Steven’s new, extravagant lifestyle involves cons and fraud and, eventually, a stay in the State Penitentiary where he meets sensitive, soft-spoken Phillip Morris. His devotion to freeing Phillip from jail and building the perfect life together prompts Steven to attempt and often succeed at one impossible con after another. (



I Love You Phillip Morris is based on a real story and book: I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks by Steve McVicker. In this film Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) is married but falls in love with a man. This film had a limited release because I believe, it was too frank. (After original difficulty finding a U.S. distributor, likely due to its explicit gay sexual content, the film was re-edited. ) said, “I Love You Phillip Morris ran into problem after problem due its controversial subject matter and rather explicit way of showing it – almost every movie review makes mention of the surprisingly explicit sex scenes. Despite generating a lot of buzz, the film initially struggled to pick up a distribution deal before landing at Consolidated Pictures Group. After delaying the release date several times and even re-editing the more graphic scenes, the company ultimately shelved Phillip Morris indefinitely. The film was eventually released in several European markets and has “ made approximately $17 million overseas in limited release.” (


It’s on DVD now…There were hardly any sex scenes in the version I saw. They were probably edited out. I used to watch the television series Queer As Folk ( and it was way more explicit than this film.


There is a strong undertow here – the ideology around family and marriage is so ingrained in us. Look, family and marriage is a fine choice but it does not apply to everyone and unfortunately there are punitive social ramifications for opting out of a so-called norm.


As a straight, single woman, I am not immune from the ideology of marriage. In an article I wrote I say, “I was doing a Masters Degree and a PhD. I studied singing at The Royal Conservatory of Music. I had a band. There were relationships and jobs. I acted on film, a TV series and theatre, wrote articles, studied French and took seminars on photography and voice-work. Sorry if marriage was not a priority. I feel like it does not matter what I did – marriage would have been a measure of success.” ( hope to get married some day but if I don’t, c’est la vie.


After his marriage breaks up Steve moves to Florida, has a boyfriend and leads a very extravagant lifestyle which leads him to conning and ultimately jail. In jail he meets and falls in love with Philip. Steve is transferred to another prison and upon his release, pretends he is a lawyer to free Philip. Steve’s conning continues in an effort to provide excess for Philip. Philip abhors lies and kind-of leaves Steve. I won’t give away the ending. I really hope you see this.


This film is far from gritty. It is like a crayon box and when you go to a colouring book you draw outside the lines. It is quirky, funny and over the top but grounded by sentimentality.


Maybe the aesthetic had to be cartoony because the subject-matter is so serious. I think that a balance was evoked. This made it possible to reflect and enjoy the film without feeling like there was a sway in what I believe, is a positive direction. Our main character’s life is full of lies but he is true to himself – in this area he has integrity. What an interesting contrast. Steve’s identity alters but there is no identity theft here.


I can see why the film disturbed religious people. Steve starts out as a church-going family man. He prays with his wife before bed. He has sex with her. They have a daughter. There are references to Jesus throughout the film.


It is the very wonderful Jim Carrey’s story. He is absolutely excellent here. Ewan McGregor completely transforms. He is so brilliant that I would not have known it was him. Talk about versatile!


McGregor said, “I like it because it’s a gay film, which is to say it’s a film about two men in love… I also got to French kiss Jim Carrey a lot, and I quite like that too.” ( Ha!



Peter Howell of the Toronto Star says, “This is the most interesting role Carrey has had in a long while.” ( I would add Ewan McGregor to that sentiment. This film is absolutely unique and even if you are ambivalent about the theme, it’s worth seeing.


‘Nine’ or All That Glitters is not Gold

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, review on July 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

(originally published April 5, 2010)

Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.”

Clare Boothe Luce

[*Entire article is a spoiler alert] Okeedokee (do people still say that?), here we go. I saw the film ‘Nine: “Nine is a musical with a book by Arthur Kopit and Mario Fratti, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. The story is based on Fratti’s adaptation of Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8½. It focuses on film director Guido Contini, savoring his most recent (and greatest) success but facing his fortieth birthday and a midlife crisis blocking his creative impulses and entangling him in a web of romantic difficulties in early-1960s Venice.”(Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.)

The film is not a documentary.

No doubt the talent was there, the fashion was fabulous, there was glitz and glam and Sophia Loren. All the things I adore but the film was flawed – majorly. The context is the 60s when the idea of women-as-objects prevailed. The film was actually made in 2009. Films made in the 60s stand as documents of the time. Films made now can comment on the time. I feel that it is a cultural responsibility.

Film theory has been very vocal about the traditional “gaze:” “In considering the way that films are put together, many feminist film critics have pointed to the “male gaze” that predominates in classical Hollywood filmmaking… Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (written in 1973 and published in 1975) expands on this conception of the passive role of women in cinema to argue that film provides visual pleasure through scopophilia, and identification with the on-screen male actor. She asserts: “In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness,” and as a result contends that in film a woman is the ‘bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia)

I enjoy validating women’s re-appropriation of “the gaze” in a subversive kind of way. I adore power-through-sexuality. An article written in response to one of mine says, “What intrigues Shiller is the gender-bending identification that leads straight women to bond with the love lives of overtly gay male characters (some of whom are played by straight men, which adds yet another layer to the conundrum). She concedes that “hot male bodies in action are a big part of the draw,” but maintains there’s more to this “female gaze” than meets the eye. “Juggling the object-of-desire’s ambiguous sexuality is part of the straight fan’s own gender performance,” she writes. “The object she desires says something about her own sexual play and sexual orientation.” (San Francisco Chronicle) Subverting the traditional ‘gaze” is amazing.

I’m going to resist the strong temptation to turn this article into a film theory lesson. I can only hope that film Profs will use this movie as an exquisite example of “the gaze.” The women here were sexual and used their sexuality to ascertain power but unfortunately all of their power revolved around getting the male director. In no way did they make anything their own. I am frankly exhausted by a notion of straight man/director as centre of the universe. It is insulting to say the least.

You know, in traditional Melodrama and Opera women are punished and are usually killed for being sexual and having desire. Pretty lethal stuff, eh?

The Nicole Kidman character says that she’d rather be the man than the woman behind the man. She also laments that women come off of their pedestals for a mere kiss. But women are still beautiful objects on a pedestal in the film. If what she articulated linked up with the film’s portrayal, well heck, that would make sense but it does not link up.

I wanted the women to own power, be gorgeous, have talent and be sexual. It may be hard to do this in life but on-screen a possibility exists. So when I see recycled, harmful ideology I want to scream, or write an article.

It is incredibly powerful to rework “the gaze” in female terms and I wanted to re-read this film but I could not. I felt pulled in two directions. The aesthetic was great but the representation of women sucked.


Chonin, Neva. “Young Gay Men Having Sex.” San Francisco Chronical. September 12, 2004.
Nine. Dir. Rob Marshall. The Weinstein Company. 2009.
Shiller , Romy. “Why is Queer As Folk Making Women … ?”
The Quote Garden
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia

Twitter: RomyShiller

Alien films and the Maternal

In Film, review on July 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm

(originally published July 1, 2010)


Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one’s own Trojan horse.

Rebecca West

[*Entire article is a spoiler alert – if you are planning on seeing the films for the first time, watch out!] I’m watching the Alien films again. There are four films in the Alien Series (known as the Alien Legacy): Alien (1979, dir. Ridley Scott), Aliens (1986, dir. James Cameron), Alien 3 (1992, dir. David Fincher), Alien: Resurrection (1997, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet). There are so many aspects of these films I could talk about but I choose to focus on the ‘maternal.’

I am certainly not the first person to explore the maternal theme but I do have a unique voice here. “[O]ne of the most interesting additions to the subject of family horror is Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and its first two sequels, Aliens (1986) and Alien3(1992). The idea of the family is particularly present in a distinct form in each of the three films, as is the theme of motherhood.” (Full Sail University Online) There is a contemporary / anniversary edition box-set of the films with director commentary, special editions and a director cut. (cool!)

So, the first film establishes the maternal theme. The ship’s main computer is called ‘mother.’ On the foreign world eggs are discovered. The life-form that first attacks, impregnates the male human host with a deadly off-spring. It rips through the chest in a birthing analogy. Ripley, in a very maternal manner, saves a cat from the ship’s imminent destruction.

Ripley – our sexy, tough, mother-figure hero. “Ellen Ripley is a fictional character and the main protagonist of the Alien film series. She is played by the American actress Sigourney Weaver.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) She has been appropriated by gender specialists. Basically, she kicks ass.

Make no mistake about it. It’s very important to maintain a status-quo in this franchise so our female hero is made maternal and so is the beast. We contextualize “difference” by normalizing. “Science fiction films have become the genre of post modernity and its representation of futuristic worlds, inhabited by cyborgs, aliens and monsters. They highlight the constructed otherness of identity and through the focus on difference, sci-fi challenges the known and accepted categories of identity.” (University of Leicester). We can be scared but we’re safe in contextualizing. We all have mothers after all. Heroes or beasts.

All of the films keep Ripley in her proper place by aligning her with the maternal.

In Aliens, Ripley wakes up to find that she has been in suspended animation for 57 years. Her biological daughter had died in her mid 60s. She meets Rebecca/Newt who is approximately the same age as her biological daughter was when Ripley left – around 10. Ripley becomes Newt’s surrogate mother. Newt’s biological mother was killed by an Alien. Ripley’s new foster daughter, like her, is a survivor. While a biological link is absent there is a connection in sensibility.

Newt asks Ripley if the Alien bursting through the chest is like humans giving birth. Newt also asks Ripley if she has children. Ripley never laments over a husband, boyfriend or partner. We can assume she was a single mother – a role that she continues to manifest. “The battles with the Aliens are interesting if we consider them in terms of motherhood. When Newt is captured by an Alien and taken back to the nest, Ripley is compelled to find and rescue Newt. This situation must be reminiscent of Ripley’s loss of her own daughter (refer to Aliens – Director’s Cut) and serves to reinforce both her attachment to the sole survivor on the colony world LV-426 and her determination to carry out her promise to find her if they became separated … In the final battle scene with mama Alien, Ripley’s motherly instincts remain and she defends her daughter by transforming herself into a cyborg. When the Alien mama is destroyed, Newt accepts Ripley as her mother and refers to her as “mommy”, rather than Ripley…” (University of Leicester)

The Queen Alien is called “mom” by a marine. Ripley incinerates her eggs after Newt is abducted. We can assume this is revenge – Ripley is going to blow-up the plant anyhow. At the end of the film Newt calls Ripley “Mommy.” In your face much?

In Alien 3, “Newt is killed when the EEV crash lands on Fury 161. To check for the possibility of an Alien, Ripley asks medical officer Clemens to perform an autopsy on Newt’s body. During the procedure and later during the cremation of Newt and Hicks’ bodies, Ripley is clearly distressed and obviously misses her ‘nuclear-family’.” (University of Leicester)

In Alien 3 the doctor who finds the shuttle-wrecked Ripley on a prison world asks if the dead Newt was her daughter. In a forlorn manner Ripley she says no.

The birthing metaphor is continued. Just as the humans are cremated an alien is born.

Rosi Braidotti said “Science fiction represents alternative systems of procreation and birth, ranging from the rather child-like image of babies born out of cauliflowers, to monstrous births through unmentionable orifices.” (Womb Invasion) An Alien, bursting through the chest is a horror-birth.

Ripley discovers she is carrying an Alien Queen inside of her. “In Alien 3, the Alien won’t destroy Ripley, as it knows Ripley is its species future (ie nurturing the unborn Alien Queen). The Alien is now the protector of Ripley yet it continues to kill the prisoners – whom it views as a threat to both itself and the unborn Alien Queen. Ripley’s role reversal and transformation to mother /destroyer is complete when she sacrifices herself to destroy the xenomorph growing inside her. (ie Ripley is essentially the Mother of the unborn Alien Queen infant).” (University of Leicester)

She is now a potential mother and rather than unleashing the monstrous offspring on humans, she kills herself. She is finally a mother and martyr.

The end – maybe.

The franchise continues with Alien: Resurrection written by Joss Whedon and with Winona Ryder – interesting…

– I thought you were dead.
– I get that a lot.

Ripley is cloned: “As for Ripley, she is no longer the do-good-motherhood heroine of Alien-films past. With her genetic make-up a scrambling of human and alien genes, she possesses great strength, acidic blood, and a sense of connection to the aliens. Yet at the same time, she is instinctively repulsed by the aliens and unsure of her purpose. Yes, the new Ripley may be physically superior, but she is also emotionally vulnerable.” (Alien Resurrection Movie Review)

In the following this dialog takes place:

– And in a few hours, it’s gonna burst its way through your rib cage and you’re gonna die. Any questions?
– Who are you?
– I’m the monster’s mother.

So ‘difference’ – the monstrous, the un-wed and childless female – is contained, contextualized and re-absorbed. In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “Difference is something that most people avoid. Fitting in becomes a goal. Personally, I think difference is valuable. It is the “same” that irks me. Variation is not the same as inconsistency. One can be incredibly multi-tonal and consistent.” (Shiller, You Never Know: A Memoir, p. 23.)

Alien vs. Predator (2004, Dir. Paul WS Anderson) – “The film was released on August 13, 2004, in North America and received mostly negative reviews from film critics. Some praised the special effects and set designs, while others dismissed the film for its “wooden dialogue” and “cardboard characters”. Nevertheless, Alien vs. Predator was a commercial success, grossing over $172 million against its $60 million production budget. The film’s success led to a sequel in 2007 titled Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007, Dir. Colin Strause) – “Warring alien and predator races descend on a small town, where unsuspecting residents must band together for any chance of survival.” (The Internet Movie Database) – attest to the popularity and longevity of the series.

Oh, mother!


Alien Resurrection Movie Review, Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Full Sail University Online
, “Motherhood and the Other: A Comparative Look at Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3.”
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Shiller, Romy. You Never Know: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2008.

The Internet Movie Database.
Accessed June 1, 2010.

Accessed May 30, 2010.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia
Accessed June 1, 2010.

Womb Invasion
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Double Standard?

In 3rd Wave Feminism, General on July 15, 2011 at 7:36 am

(originally published July 27, 2009.)

When I’m good I’m very, very good but when I’m bad I’m better.

– Mae West

Maybe this is a booty call. Do females do that? Do I care? I think many women are worried about seeming desperate or as being perceived as a slut. Do males worry about those things? defines double standard as “[a] set of principles permitting greater opportunity or liberty to one than to another, especially the granting of greater sexual freedom to men than to women.” 

In an article entitled, “Does the Sexual Double Standard Still Exist? Perceptions of University Women,” we find that “[t]he sexual double standard has been the focus of considerable research since the 1960s. Ira Reiss (1960), the pioneer researcher, defined the orthodox double standard as prohibiting premarital sexual intercourse for women but allowing it for men. This standard evolved into the conditional double standard in which women were permitted to engage in sexual relations only within a committed love relationship, whereas men were permitted to have as many sexual partners as they wanted without condition. In studying the double standard, researchers have generally focused on one of three main issues: sexual behavior, evaluations of men and women who engage in certain sexual behaviors, and personal preferences regarding’ the sexual background of hypothetical partners.”

The bottom-line is that research has found that a double standard still exists.

I was thinking, who would fall for a disabled feminist? For one, there is a misperception that feminists hate men or are anti-men. We are just pro-women. My many disabilities mean I cannot rely upon image to help out. Cosmetic botox and liposuction are meaningless to me. I cannot, like many people, wish I were younger or curvier as if those changes would make a difference. I love that those things do not apply to me – they never did – but it might be nice to fantasize an option. I might have to re-configure. For example, I adore male eye-candy which is as realistic as looking at Playboy. (I was watching the film The House Bunny where it is claimed that to be 27 years of age is really 59 in bunny years. Ha!)

I have been single now for the longest period since I was 16. Yes, I have had to deal with loads. [I had non-malignant brain tumour surgeries and I was in a coma for five months]. I do crave a relationship though. I have major hope. My friend inspired me. She lost her husband more than a year ago and goes on dates now. She has been out of the “scene” for over 25 years but she challenges herself to try. I know she will always love her husband who passed but she is moving on. Amazing.

David Cook sings about being kissed on the neck – dreaming is good… So, what do I want? Sex and a relationship. Both. With someone who rocks my world. I have so much to offer but my physicality…I honestly believe that how I look now is problematic for many men. That sucks, eh? I enable “the gaze” for women in most of my articles. Women are sexual, play with gender-roles and inhabit various subject positions. Women are free. The big fat irony is that I feel constrained. If “come and get it” were an option, swell, but it is not.       

A kind man I know said, “Intimacy is about getting past obstacles, to various kinds of truth, communicating without obstacles or fear…Relationships are difficult enough when you’re a shiny new 20 year old who can take their beauty and intelligence for granted.”

Julia Pearlman wrote an internet article; “Sex when you’re disabled – Being disabled doesn’t mean you can’t have a good sex life, but you may need to make a few adjustments to make things as enjoyable as possible. ” ( Le oh.

There is something very intimidating about having sex in a different body and for someone extremely liberal to say that is something, I assure you. On the one hand it’s an amazing opportunity to start anew, to explore my comprehension of “lessons.” On the other hand it’s incredibly scary. Imagine. 

An article entitled, “Avatars for the wheelchair-bound: The value of inclusion in digital spaces,” (Theory and Research in HCI.) explains what “Avatars” are; “Avatars are the representation of the user within digital spaces, and can range from flat, non-animated pictures to pseudo-3D models that explore virtual worlds.”

I am currently writing a novel where a sexy young woman makes love to her very hot boyfriend (sounds much too Harlequin® ). I can be any character I want and while being virtual is amazing, there are real limitations. Ayn Rand said, “Every man builds his world in his own image. He has the power to choose, but no power to escape the necessity of choice.” (

I adore the dream-world but it’s like the film The Matrix, (Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, 1999) eh?  In an article by Nancy Shute: “Girls With Sexy Avatars Face Greater Risks Online”(May 26, 2009) she says, “Do you know what your daughter’s online avatar looks like? If it’s sexually provocative–more Bratz than American Girl doll–it’s time for a chat. “I’m amazed at the grotesqueness of some of these avatars,” says Jennie Noll, a developmental psychologist and associate professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who asked 173 teenage girls ages 14 to 17 to make avatars, then rated their provocativeness–skimpy clothing, body piercings, exaggerated curves. Girls who created provocative avatars were more likely to get sexual come-ons online, not surprisingly, and also more apt to agree to an in-person encounter with someone they met online. Noll’s study is published in the current issue of Pediatrics. The girls who chose provocative avatars were also more likely to be preoccupied with sex–and, Noll speculates, they might be more likely to try on the role.” ( Okay, I won’t speculate on the meanings associated with “provocativness.” I do want kids to be careful even though I might question the ideology here. A famous Macbeth quote remarks, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.” (Act 1, Scene V)

My “Bratz doll,” that Shute refers to, is hardly “offensive.” I use it on various internet sites. I think it is kinda cute.

I say that “identity is drag.” (Facebook – Facebook is a social networking site.) I’ll often post my profile picture on Facebook as a glamorous Hollywood actress. My author picture is of a way I used to look.  

Most pictures we choose to represent ourselves are inaccurate, right? Most of us cannot stand our driver’s license or passport pictures. May as well be a movie-star or look like the old me. Drag-identity is liberating. As I will often explain, to me “drag” is not “cross-dressing.” “Drag” is about layers of difference. I find “otherness” preferable to sameness. If my disabilities put me on the fringe – great. If the way I think belies convention, so be it. I am glad that I have a Ph.D but I do not fit or follow a conventional model of that at all. My “difference” permeates many aspects of my being. The ways in which I present identities now are not false, they are drag.

I watched the trailer for the film Surrogates (Jonathan Mostow, 2009) and it got me thinking…if I had a “surrogate” not only could I be able-bodied but be blonde, have straight hair, good eye-sight, be super thin etc. The promo states that you feel everything your surrogate feels. Hmmm. Yet, it feels like an evolution of The Stepford Wives (Bryan Forbes,1975) to me. I understand that the film Surrogates problematizes a substitute self which is great. I’m all for cyborgs but an idea of using one as a replacement is anti-responsibility.

In my book, You Never Know: A Memoir I say, “I never felt slim enough or beautiful enough. What a wake-up call, what a friggin’ realization! I know these are issues that many women struggle with, but what a major lesson for me. I used to be good friends with a model. Talk about always feeling like you just do not measure up. She would never make me feel inadequate overtly, but what a standard. Not because of her, I felt fat and ugly most of the time. I still deal with feelings of inadequacy. It is a huge paradox because I was in an industry (performance) that valued looks. She was also married to a model. Getting together with them was so full of meaning. What a stunning family they were to me. Of course, they also had a “gorgeous” baby. Oy. I used to be an actor, so I did have a version of what I looked like beyond my perspective. You do not need to act in order to know what your “reflection” is. I still held on to the belief that I was less than acceptable physically.

Even though I had lovers and people were attracted to me, it was difficult to accept that I was all right. And I knew better on several levels, yet this was incredibly challenging for me. A friend once told me to avoid beauty magazines because of my issues with body image. I knew they airbrushed everything, including bodies to make them even thinner, but they were so compelling. Even if it is all ideology, it’s a bugger.” (You Never Know: A Memoir pp. 35-36)

I like that one can inhabit a fantasy being via an Avatar; there appears to be an awareness that it’s not real, eh? Also the world is virtual. So while the access here is phenomenal it is a construct – which is not good or bad it just is. It is not like in the film The Matrix: “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” There is no hidden world – Avatars are virtual drag. If I want to be an able-bodied Avatar so be it. It is not like a representation of self here (or most places) is accurate. I wonder if people who have plastic surgery consider themselves “real?” The flexibility of identity is truly interesting. Do driver’s license photos accurately identify a person? Do you like your photo? Does it look like you? What about your passport photo? Ugh.

There is a “double standard” separate from the sex of a person. There is a double standard of identity. On the one hand photos are supposed to identify us – but we alter, we change. If I stayed the same I’d look like my author picture but I no longer do. That WAS me at a certain point in time. Even then it was hardly accurate. A make-up artist was used, lighting was dramatic and I hired a professional photographer (Helen Tansey). Manipulation of my “look” occurred.

Ugly or gorgeous we’re looking at mis-identity. I know that my eye-candy is false. My disabilities veil aspects of who I am. I think I have always been “veiled.” In Who Knew? I say, “I truly believe I have been underestimated intellectually my entire life. Because of my investment in image, fashion, camp etc. I have been labeled as superficial or less than intelligent or deep. Someone I know from graduate school was apparently “surprised” by me when he read You Never Know: A Memoir. I still get comments from people whom, I think, relegate me as “vapid.” Someone compared me to Jane Austen’s Emma. I am a big fan of Jane Austen but the character of Emma lacks a gravitas and is often mistaken in her own perceptions of the world around her. That is not me but is the perceived me. I am far from clueless.” (Emma, Jane Austen’s novel is modernized in a film, and given the title Clueless.)

In the television series Battlestar Galactica (Michael Rymer, 2003) there is an entire “race” of cybernetic beings (cyborgs: part person and part machine). An emphasis is if they have “humanity.” There are “lines” which look identical but which have certain anomalies in behavior. One “line” is nicknamed the Sharon’s. One Sharon is in love with a human and has a child with him. A Sharon called Boomer by those in the human Battlestar Galactica fleet to which she belongs, thinks that she is human until she is “activated.” So, even though they look identical to one another their identities differ. Taking it further, the distinction between human and machine is blurred. What we can know by “looking” is put into question. I saw the film Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009.). Talk about questioning identity.  Our appearance does not define who we are.

Layers of unexpected identity are my thing. My doctoral dissertation, “A Critical Exploration of Cross-Dressing and Drag in Gender Performance and Camp in Contemporary North American Drama and Film” addressed that. It is my strong belief that we need to examine the world around us. Donna Haraway’s 1985 essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” in her ground-breaking book Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, develops a political myth around the image of the cyborg, “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (149)

An extremely bright man said, “That interconnection you allude to in passing seems particularly rich, between human and machine, between our minds and the various extensions we now can attach. We have phones and keyboards for sending, various devices for receiving, to say nothing of the many ways our memories and senses are augmented. While on the one hand, you walk and dance slower than you used to, you have other tools that allow you to take giant strides and speak with a fantastically amplified voice, reaching many, many people. In your publishing career and its interconnections through blogs and social networking sites, you’re another sort of cyborg (as are we all after a fashion).”

I do now call part of what I am experiencing cyborg-drag because I have a permanent shunt in my head to drain excess fluid off my brain. In my article Ogre-Drag I say, “Drag intervenes with identity. Gender seems to be a focus. Many identities would be effective tools for discussion and exploration. For instance, I have a permanent shunt in my head to drain excess fluid off my brain. I am taken out of the realm of being human into a new world, occupying cyber territory. I am now a cyborg. To me this is cyborg-drag. “Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (Haraway 181). 

As before, I did not ask for a shunt, but I do have it. I am not making light of my situation by calling it drag. The confusion arises because “drag” is often considered silly. It is serious to me. The idea of foregrounding identities by practical means is substantial. It is critical.”

The cyber or virtual world provides a freeing universe within which one might explore difference or the unknown. In my book Again I say, “Exploring the unfamiliar might invoke a host of emotions like fear. We obviously try to avoid fear, yet haunted houses and roller coasters are pretty popular. The unfamiliar can be thrilling and entertaining. Fear can be enticing. Scary movies make huge profits. Funny, I do not watch horror films or engage in any fearful activities, yet I am more than willing to explore the unknown. My friend Lisa said that she explores the known and I, the unknown. She says, “In school I always loved math, science and history – because it was a known.” She says that I am the yin to her yang: “I need more yin!” (Again pp. 119-120).

What is this virtual world? “The computer accesses a computer-simulated world and presents perceptual stimuli to the user, who in turn can manipulate elements of the modeled world and thus experiences telepresence to a certain degree. Such modeled worlds may appear similar to the real world or instead depict fantasy worlds. The model world may simulate rules based on the real world or some hybrid fantasy world. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions, and communication. Communication between users has ranged from text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, and rarely, forms using touch, voice command, and balance senses.” (Biocca 1995, p. 41,47. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia)

In an article entitled, “Avatars! Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds on the Internet” Bruce Damer says, “When you don your avatar and join thousands of other people who are trying out life in virtual worlds you are joining in a great new experiment in human contact.” (Damer) Human/not human…interesting.

I was invited by a lovely gay man to participate in a site that included virtual sex. I couldn’t do it. Participating would be great for my status as an academic, 3rd wave feminist etc. but my preferences seem to outweigh all of that. Am I simply enacting prescribed ideology, a double standard? I am very aware of the limitations for women and I think that I’m on the outer edge of that. So, there appears to be a dichotomy.  In my book “Again” I say, “Keep one foot firmly planted in your personal beliefs and one foot in the pool of Ideology. You might get a little wet, but it is only water. Water evaporates. It is like a bridge between worlds.” (p. 86) So, that is what I’ll do – bridge worlds.

Predators do exist so watch out, “Young adolescents are the most vulnerable age group and are at high risk of being approached by online predators. They are exploring their sexuality, moving away from parental control and looking for new relationships outside the family. Under the guise of anonymity, they are more likely to take risks online without fully understanding the possible implications.” (webAWARE) 

There are standards for much that are false.



Aardvark Archie

.<> Accessed may 29,2009.

Battlestar Galactica, the television series. Dir. Michael Rymer, R&D TV . 2003.

< > Accessed June 26, 2009.

Biocca, Frank; Mark R. Levy. Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.1995.

< > Accessed June 6, 2009.

Damer, Bruce. “Avatars! Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds on the Internet”. Copyright Bruce Damer 1997-1998. 

<> Accessed June 25, 2009.

Famous Macbeth Quotes by William Shakespeare

<> Accessed June 6,2009.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto:  Science, Technology, and 

Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.”  Simians, Cyborgs, 

and Women:  The Reinvention of Nature.  New York:  Routledge.  


Herold, Edward S., Milhausen Robin R. Journal of Sex Research. Nov, 1999.   

 “Does the Sexual Double Standard Still Exist? Perceptions of University Women.”

<>  Accessed June 4, 2009.

Moon. Dir, Duncan Jones. Liberty Films UK. 2009.

<> Accessed July 5, 2009.

Shiller, Romy.   A Critical Exploration of Cross-dressing and Drag in Gender      Performance and Camp in Contemporary North American Drama and Film.” PhD diss., University of Toronto, 1999,

—————–.    Again. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2009.

—————–.  “Ogre-Drag.”                                             <>

—————–.    Who Knew? Forthcoming.

—————–.   You Never Know: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2008.

Surrogates. Dir. Jonathan Mostow. Touchstone Pictures. 2009.

<> Accessed June 25, 2009.

The Stepford Wives. Bryan Forbes. Fadsin Cinema Associates.1975.

<> Accessed June 25, 2009.

Theory and Research in HCI.Avatars for the wheelchair-bound: The value of inclusion in digital spaces.” <> Accessed June  8, 2009.

The House Bunny. Dir.  Fred Wolf. Columbia Pictures. 2008.

<> Accessed July 2, 2009. 

The Matrix Transcript
Dialogue from the Movie

<> Accessed May 30, 2009.

The Matrix. Dirs. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski. Groucho II Film Partnership. 1999.


<>  Accessed June 6,2009. <> Accessed May 30, 2009. 

<> Accessed June 3, 2009.


<> Acccessed June 5, 2009.’

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<> Accessed June 26, 2009.

POP goes the TEEN

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Film, Music, review on July 14, 2011 at 8:27 am

(originally published June 29, 2009)


As a teenager you are at the last stage in your life when you will be happy to hear that the phone is for you. 

~ Fran Lebowitz

Simply skimming. Images of youth in popular culture. Not Toddlers and Tiaras (2009) about toddler beauty pageants, which makes me sick or the 20-something hot bods in the new Star Trek (2009), High School Musical is a Disney movie that tells the story of some high school students – Troy [Zac Efron], Gabriella [Vanessa Hudgens], Sharpay [Ashley Tisdale], Ryan [Lucas Grabeel], Chad [Corbin Bleu], Taylor [Monique Coleman] – as they audition for, and react to their friends auditioning for, their school’s Spring musical.”

I looked at all three High-School Musicals and the Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert films in addition to many others.  Briefly about Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: “The fictional pop star [Hannah Montana] was created in 2006 for a Disney Channel comedy series about an ordinary teenage girl leading a secret double life. Before long, the manufactured Hannah was very popular with genuine audiences, generating the onslaught of merchandising opportunities expected of a post-Lizzie McGuire hit.” ( In Hannah Montana: The Movie Disney‘s tween sitcom hits the big screen, sending Miley and her dad back home to Tennessee.,…For those not yet in the know, Cyrus plays a fictionalized version of herself on the Disney Channel’s wildly popular series “Hannah Montana.” (Daily News)

In a very utopian way, I imagined things would change for kids. Not only was I wrong but so disappointed. The gender division is enormous. Boys play sports and are ridiculed for being artistic in the High School musicals. Someone discussing gender equity in high school sports on the internet said, “In high school, traditionally, boys’ sports are seen as important and girls’ aren’t. Example: In “High School Musical” the boy wins a sports game and everyone is freaking out but the girl wins an intellectual championship and no-one cares. This way of thinking is all over the country and has existed for as long as school sports. Recently, however, there have been lawsuits over giving equal time and facilities and funding to girls’ sports. Here in Michigan, some girls’ teams won the right to play basketball during the typical basketball season instead of during the boys’ offseason.” (

It is ironic because these films are predicated on singing and dancing yet the subject-matter finds these activities contentious.

The gender division has a metaphor; in the cafeteria the so-called “brainiacs” sit together, same with “surfer-dudes” and jocks. All sing about maintaining the status-quo while one from each group “confesses.” A “brainiac” likes rap, a “surfer-dude” plays the cello and wears a tie, and a male jock bakes. I wanted them to break the rules and escape the mold. No such luck even with confessions.

I watched the uber-delicious, Zac Efron  (born October 18, 1987, behave Romy!!) in  17 Again (2009), where like in High School Musical 1, 2 and 3 he plays basketball in High School. “Zac Ephron — the David Cassidy of the 21st Century — makes his grown-up movie breakout in 17 Again, a movie about a middle-aged guy who’s disappointed in his life and magically becomes young again so he can return to high school and make things right.” (

In High School Musical the following dialog takes place:

Chad: Have you ever seen Michael Crawford on a cereal box?

Troy: Who’s Michael Crawford?

Chad: Exactly my point! He was the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Now my mom, she’s seen that musical twenty-seven times. And she put Michael Crawford’s picture in our refrigerator. Yeah, not on it, in it. So my point is, if you play basketball, you’re gonna end up on a cereal box. If you sing in musicals, you’re gonna end up in my mom’s refrigerator.


We need to validate how fabulous it is for young men to enjoy musicals and for young women to play sports. The divisions we have created are damaging and false. There is a spectrum for femininity and masculinity. Sports do not automatically belong to males and musicals – females. You do not have to be a gay male to like musicals or a gay female to like sports. One can be gay but these activities do not define sexual preference.

“We now must talk about Zac Efron, whom we meet in the first scene [17 Again] as Mike, a high school basketball star in 1989, shooting hoops with no shirt on and preening in the manner of both a high school athlete and a movie actor who is painfully aware of his own appeal: hey everyone, I’m acting. Nice pecs, huh?” ( It is so hard to watch him as an actor when his celebrity status and gorgeousness is so foregrounded. Certainly he can act, but who cares?

I want to discuss sexuality. Teenagers have sex. “The sexual activity took place at a number of places. And probably the two most common places for sexual activity to take place were either at the home of one of the adolescents. A lot of the adolescents had parents who worked, were at home alone, had parents who put in 40, 60, 80 hour work weeks…,” noted Claire Sterk. ( Many of the images portrayed try to contain sexuality.

Miley Cyrus  has commented on the sexual Vanity Fair pictures taken by famed photographer Annie Lebovitz, “The photos, appearing in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, were taken by Leibovitz, a renowned celebrity photographer whose edgy, silver-toned portraits have included subjects such as Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and a naked, pregnant Demi Moore.”Lebovitz said, “I’m sorry that my portrait of Miley has been misinterpreted,” Leibovitz made a statement released by Vanity Fair. “Miley and I looked at fashion photographs together and we discussed the picture in that context before we shot it. The photograph is a simple, classic portrait, shot with very little makeup, and I think it is very beautiful.” ( Sirus said, “I never intended for any of this to happen and I apologize to my fans who I care so deeply about.” ( Get over it, I say. claims, “Some say High School Musical is the young generation’s Grease. With a G-rating, it is definitely a much cleaner version of high school love illustrated through catchy songs and cool choreography.” The image Disney seems to want to portray is of teenagers being mega-clean cut. All three High School Musicals and the Hannah Montana brand are squeaky clean: “The Disney Channel, which airs Cyrus’ TV show “Hannah Montana,” was also critical of Vanity Fair.” [A] situation was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines,” ( and a half.

The emergence of chastity rings speaks to an emphasis on abstinence;

“Selena Gomez (from Wizards of Waverly Place) and Demi Lovato (from Camp Rock) posted a Q&A vlog on youtube and talk about purity rings, being in love with Shia Labeouf/William Beckett, and stuff. oh and then they sing Hannah Montana.” (LiveJournal)

“The Jonas Brothers are an American pop boy band. The band gained their popularity from the Disney Channel children’s television network. Hailing from Wyckoff, New Jersey, the band consists of three brothers: Kevin Jonas, Joe Jonas, and Nick Jonas. In the summer of 2008, they starred in the Disney Channel Original Movie Camp Rock. They have released three albums.” (Wikipedia) The extremely popular boy group   have joined the band-wagon;

“The Jonas Brothers have vowed to abstain from sex until marriage.

The popular band of brothers wears purity rings as “promises to ourselves and to God that we’ll stay pure till marriage,” Joe, 18, tells Details magazine in their March issue.

The rings are “just one of our ways of kind of like being different than everybody else out there,” Nick says.

“I got mine made at Disney World,” Nick, 15 adds. “It’s pretty awesome.”

Oldest brother Kevin, 20, has a ring from Tiffany’s. “It’s pretty rock and roll,” Kevin tells the magazine. “It’s getting banged up a little bit because of the guitar.”

Though Nick tells Details that he loves the trio’s fans – the “screaming girls are awesome,” he says – the brothers have told they enjoy being single.” ( Yup. 

 “Miley Cyrus, 16, says she wants to keep her virginity until she marries, implying her 20-year-old good Christian boyfriend Justin Gaston’s dry spell may last another 10 years!” (SawfS News) Uh-huh. 

Is it too radical too suppose these kids could have education about STDs and have a healthy sex life? In the popular high school film Twilight (2008) the lead characters are in love but do not get it on because he is a vampire and is scared he might kill her. I am sensing a disturbing trend.

There is a gigantic market aimed at tweens and teenagers. “Rock & roll may never die, but you know it’s been eaten by the consumer culture when you see Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert, in which the bouncy diva of prepubescent bubblegum pantomimes every rebel-yell gesture in history, all to exalt girl-power attitude as something you can acquire.” (

Did you know that there is a website that markets to tween girls? It’s called “TV & Pop Culture Fan Gifts for Tween Girls.” Talk about getting them early on many levels. To be a tween girl, according to the branding on this website, is to buy into the following description of items: “Be A Star With High School Musical’s Games, Fashion Angels Crafty Kit, Totally Bananas Harajuku Perfumes, Beautify Your Bratz Dolls for Budding Fashionistas, Hip Disney Fashions for Girls, “The Princess Diaries” Books & DVDs…” (TV & Pop Culture Fan Gifts for Tween Girls) etc.

My impulse would be to show the power young girls have but I think that the gender stereotyping outweighs that. Undoubtedly, that the girls have buy-power is great. However, look at what they can buy. I personally love that stuff but I am fortunate – I can make an informed decision.

Images of teens in popular culture are problematic. The problems have an upside though. They often shed light on what needs to be fixed.


17 Again. Director, Burr Steers, Offspring Entertainment, 2009.

Camp Rock. Director, Matthew Diamond. Disney Channel. 2008.  <; Accessed May 1, 2009.

Daily News <; Accessed May 4, 2009. <; Accessed

May 4, 2009. <,,20175074,00.html> Accessed May 4, 2009. <,2933,352800,00.html&gt; Accessed May 1, 2009.

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour.  Director, Bruce Hendricks. PACE. 2008.

Hannah Montana: The Movie. Director, Peter Chelsom. It’s a Laugh Productions. 2009.

High-School Musical. Director, Kenny Ortega. Disney Channel. 2006,

High School Musical 2. Director, Kenny Ortega. Walt Disney Pictures. 2007

High School Musical 3: Senior Year.  Director, Kenny Ortega. Borden and Rosenbush Entertainment. 2008. 

LiveJournal <; Accessed May 1, 2009.

SawfS News. < aspx> Accessed

May 1, 2009. <; Accessed May 1, 2009.

Star Trek. Director, J.J. Abrams. Bad Robot. 2009.

The Internet Movie Database.

The Internet Movie Database.

The Quote Garden. <; Accessed May 2, 2009.

Toddlers and Tiaras.  Reality-TV. Authentic Entertainment. 2009.

TV & Pop Culture Fan Gifts for Tween Girls. Accessed May 4, 2009.

Twilight. Director, Catherine Hardwicke. Goldcrest Pictures. 2008. <; Accessed May 1, 2009. > Accessed May 1, 2009.

Vanity Fair. <; Accessed May 1, 2009. <; Accessed May 1, 2009.

Wikiquote <; Accessed

May 1, 2009.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia <; Accessed May 2,  2009.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia Accessed May 6, 2009.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia 

<; Accessed

May 1, 2009.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia 

<; Accessed

May 6, 2009.



In Film, review on July 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Ok – here’s what I think about yum-fun ‘Thor’. Cinematography and Audio fabulous. Kenneth Branagh is a good director. Unique story-true to the myth. Severe eye-candy.