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iskierka's blog

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Final web event: mental illness in film as influenced by politics of colition

My brother is fifteen years old, and for several years, Forrest Gump was his favorite film. One of the most prominent films featuring a mentally disabled protagonist, if not the most prominent in modern Western film, my family fell in love with it because, no matter what Forrest lived through, his disability rarely managed to impede his progress. He fought in a war, became a national figure, and had a child, all while totally aware that he was not like most men his age. Better yet, he retained almost complete autonomy over his life during the entire film: he never relied on anyone else at anything more than a friend or family level, and rather than searching for ways to bypass his condition, some sort of miracle cure to restore him to a normative existence, he allows himself to live with his disability for better or for worse. However, most mental conditions are not given the same caring regard that Gump’s is, with psychopathy and schizophrenia being almost expected of horror films. Because these conditions are not physical, like cancer or a damaged limb, they are difficult to portray on screen accurately, and screenwriters sometimes fall into media-bound expectations of mental illnesses capitalizing on the unknown for drama’s sake. Anxiety disorders are some of these illnesses, with social anxiety having a rampant but unacknowledged presence in numerous films.

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Web Event 3: The Detriments of Strong Female Characters

For years, one of feminism’s great quests within pop culture has been the call for stronger female leads – for women who have a life of crime-fighting or crime-perpetrating or otherwise some sort of death-defying singular agency. It’s evidenced in the current trend of fiction-derived films released – Catching Fire gives us Katniss Everdeen, hellbent on destroying the oppressive system that forces her to kill again, and Thor 2 in turn supplies Lady Sif, ruthless and deemed by Thor himself as stronger than most of the male warriors. Of these, I chose to see neither – they’ll be on DVD someday, I can save myself the movie ticket now and watch it later. No, when I left campus to spend some time with a friend before buckling down to work, we instead went to see a movie that had been causing me internal conflict since its inception: Frozen. I braced myself for the worst, the complete elimination of the original tale’s feminist qualities for the sake of a traditional Disney template. When I left the theatre, however, I found myself pleasantly surprised, as well as questioning what comprised a female character. I entered the theatre wishing for a protagonist who would gladly take up the burden of a fight without necessitating any outside assistance, accepting the responsibility as her own, and I still thank the directors for taking the opposite direction.

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Judith Butler and equality of death

While I understand the point Butler was trying to make, that everyone dies at some point and that we are all equal through that (I can't help but think of Gavroche from Les Miserables: "Here's the thing about equality - everyone's equal when they're dead!"), I'm not entirely sure I agree. We constantly try to quantify the weight of a death based on proximity, how they died, how old or young they were. We may all be equal once we are dead, but death in itself is hardly an equalizing platform. Determining any level of sensitivity is to turn death into something measurable and quantifiable, something affected by gender and race and class. While, in theory, Butler should be correct in that death should be the one thing that makes every human equal and should be the basis for relationships, death is soiled by contexts and legacies that do inevitably lead us to question the value placed on certain deaths over others.

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I'm really intrigued by the points Butler makes in this chapter. The train of grief -> vulnerability -> dehumanization really caught my interest, and while Butler relates it to intersectional cuases and the view of Third World women's stuggles and efforts, I personally thought of the 'Save Second Base' campaign. While of a completely different scale, it shows a different angle of the same -  women are put at risk until a third party takes advantage of their situation. They are degraded to the means to an end, in Afghanistan as a 'liberation movement' to put US troops in the Middle East, and on United States soil as a pair of breasts meant to be saved for the enjoyment of others and to sell pick and white trinkets with ribbons. The failure of such movements can be seen through Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy - faced with such a high chance of breast cancer, she removesthe cause and is chided for not thinking of her appearence. Butler is right: Americans have been desensitized to death. Death happens; it is normal and unavoidable and can only be put off so often, and is put off minds because of its unpleasantness. But to imply the importance of a segment of tissue over a human life demonstrates another failure in our culture.

[cancer survivor and BoingBoing editor Xeni Jardin reporting on 'Pinktober']

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re: Wendy Brown

The idea of tying feminism and revolution together definitely intrigues me, especially considering Brown's parallels to the fall of socialism in eastern Europe. One idea that stuck with me was in the final paragraph, where Brown, stating revolution as a 'paradigm of transformation', tries to imagine what movements would come about with the abolishment of revolution (which, paradoxically, seems a revolution in itself). While I cannot envision a revolution in the connotated sense, with fighting and barricades, I do wonder how else one might achieve certain end goals. Brown also states earlier that feminism, unlike some political and economic based revolutions, has little effect on the means of production in society, implying that such an act would hardly disrupt the status quo after the initial uproar. However, because of the cultural nature, I'm not sure anything but force powered by occasional legistlature would be able to establish a permanent change - the Czech Velvet Revolution was a successful example of a quiet transition, but it was also primarily political, and I struggle to imagine the same being true of feminism on a large scale. I would, however, love to see examples of non-revolutionary cultural shifts that would be able to support the idea of a similarly-structured new feminist wave.

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Right to silence, right to thoughts, and ethical application?

I was really struck in class over the idea of one's right to another's inner thoughts. The constrast between a right to knowledge and a right to silence particularly caught me - at one point does one's privacy begin to supercede on what could be accomplished should they speak up? I almost felt myself turn to this side before the comparison to wire tapping complicated matters further. On the one hand, the practice is done with the intent of criminal investigation. On the other, it constitutes a MASSIVE invasion of privacy, bearing so much personal information that could be wholly irrelevant and yet must still be sifted through (I keep thinking of The Lives of Others, a film about an East German home bugged by the Stasi and one man's struggles with the responsibility because he grows so attached to his target). When put in a crime context, I feel as though those pertinent have a right to speak regarding any part they may have taken in this crime, but we also have safeguards in place (for example, Miranda rights) to allow these people to protect themselves, as well as to avoid further incriminating those tried for the wrong crime. Put in this context, I do feel like while there is an obligation to speak out against injustice, there is an ever present right to silence, lest we fall into a French style of guilty until proven innocent that forces one to speak. 

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Power feminism & economic adjustment of languages

Last class, we met in our groups and tried to come up with an economic approach to whatever topic we had chosen for our web event, and having chosen gendered pronouns, I struggled for a while trying to figure out a practical application. After talking it out with one of my partners, though, she helped me realize that a business-centered pronoun could potentially solve the issue. If you use a pronoun unrelated to either gender (possibly deriving from pre-existing gender-neutral pronouns), the terms come without any subconscious connotations, then until one is face-to-face with the individual, there's a preconceived notion of how they operate their business. And even then, using identical pronouns can force the speakers into operating on a subconscious equal playing field across genders, stemming from the idea of male pronouns being action takers (and a point I didn't realize until after the fact, female pronouns being applied to possession - ships and cars - while stereotypically female jobs like secretaries and nurses are seen as subservient to male positions).

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Eva's time

Since class I've been thinking a bit more on the passage of time, and my group's conclusion that Eva's time was spent. Because of the format of the novel, we don't see Eva go anywhere, only where she came from and where she is. Because of the circumstances that led up to this point, she is stuck, her time sufficiently queered to the point that she effectively has none left. Left in prison, her life has reached standstill and is unlikely to go anywhere. Is this an overarching consequence of queering time and eliminating reproductive time? If you destroy the need for productivity and the value placed on it, is productivity actually productive (could Eva's time actually be productive in that we hear her story, thus giving her a normative timeline again), how free are we without queer time? We expressed difficulty applying queer time to a hypothetical school schedule and found it difficult to actually accomplish anything without timelines and aligned classes. Is Eva's being 'stuck' a product of her non-normative timeline?

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Gendered pronouns across cultures - web event #2

In Don Kulick’s Travesti, he introduces a subculture of Brazilian prostitutes who, despite self-identifying as male, dress in a feminine manner and adopt feminine pronouns. As Kulick joined his new companions in their daily lives in Brazil, he found a culture where feminine language was practically requisite, where the only male pronouns among the group were shot as insults, and where designated-at-birth females were seen as ‘lesser’ because of their conventional methods of having sex. These prostitutes, called travesty, appeared to Kulick as gender outliers, falling between man and woman and integrating aspects of both while remaining entirely a separate category. Given the nature of the Portuguese language, they found it simple to evoke a feminine nature by altering the genders assigned to listeners that they were, in fact, women. In English, similar systems do not exist, and while one would imagine a simple ease into a genderless mode of speech, the language still resists adopting a comprehensive third-gender pronoun and grammatical usage. While far from the only language with difficulties in integrating third-gender/agender pronouns, English lays a simple foundation for gender pronouns, and fully moves to, outside of pronouns, eliminate gender unless speaking about a specific individual.

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Prioritizing Accessability

Since the discussion on Tuesday, when Kevin mentioned how accomodating everyone's needs ended up disasterously for a number of the students, I've been wondering to what extent accomodations should be made and in what order. For example, when he mentioned the lack of deadlines, I thought of an article I'd read some time ago on the Summerhill School. Controversial in its image as a school where lessons were optional, it nonetheless turned out high grades. Because of its loose guidelines, it feels like a complete counterpoint to their results. Of course, it's a school in service for nearly a hundred years rather than a one-off program - but how did they come to perfect it? On the other hand, what accomodations take precedence over others? I had a short-term injury that made it difficult to go to classes, but a friend has deathly allergies that make eating in the dining hall nigh impossible. While this is a very grand-scale example that hardly overlaps (as opposed to learning techniques, like fast-paced and slow-paced classes, visual versus audio learners, et cetera), when you're in a position when accomodating everyone starts to hold people back, how do you decide who to cater to? Does it depend on the severity of the condition, or of the number of people with a similar disability? Does a disability mean a person is fully disabled? How do we decide that, and how do we act upon that?

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