Saturday, July 31, 2010

My snark has left the building.

I hate it when I want to be snarky, but I can't find anything to be snarky about. Snarkiness is kind of my stock in trade. I feel like everyone relies on me to be snarky because they think I'm funny, and then I feel bad when I let them down. I mean, it should be easy to find stuff to snark on. But even I have to be inspired.

And the line between cynicism and snarkiness is becoming thinner and thinner. For example, I find that I'm completely cynical now about politics and Lindsay Lohan. I can't say anything funny about either of those subjects. And this worries me, because if I can become cynical about those two sources of formerly endless amusement, can't I become cynical about almost everything?

A depressing thought indeed. I don't ever want people to call me "the cynical one." I want to always be known as "she's so funny."

Come on, Paris Hilton. Do something effed up so I can make fun of you. Something more effed up than partying on some ugly rich dude's yacht and letting people think you're getting paid to do it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: The Help

I had The Help recommended to me by several friends who read it earlier, and it was actually one of the first books I downloaded to my kindle when I first received it. But I didn't read it right away, and then actually kind of forgot I had it (that's the danger of not having an actual physical pile of books to keep track of). So it was a nice little surprise to find it hiding back there on page 10 of my book list. And it was an even nicer surprise that it was such a good read!

In case you've not heard, The Help is a story about two African-American women who work as maids in the home of white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, and one young white woman who decides to tell their stories. Each chapter is written from the point of view of one of these three women. Their lives are just on the edges of the civil rights movement, and they are all affected by the Jim Crow laws of the state of Mississippi. I say "all" to include the young white woman, because she too is hindered by these laws -- they hinder her ability to be herself, a decent human being, and prevent her from standing up for what's right. But stand up she does -- by quietly telling the stories of the "colored" women who raise the white children of wealthy families.

There have been some complaints about the (white) writer using African-American dialect for the two black main characters, but I suspect these complainants are those kind of overly politically correct people who are so concerned about being perceived as racist that all they ever do is worry about what color someone's skin is, and therefore circle back around to actually being racist. I thought that the dialect was really well done -- not mocking in any way, but just the right amount, and soothing in its cadence. The differences between the voices of the two maids are subtle, but they are there -- one is more educated so she doesn't write in dialect, but when she's recapping conversation, she'll show herself speaking in dialect; the other had to leave school after 6th grade, and her written communication shows it, as she does write in dialect. However, both women are clearly shown as being of above-average intelligence and strength.

It's hard to say anything bad about this book -- it's not heavy handed with its message; it's well-written but also simply written; I really liked the three main characters, and I really despised the characters I was meant to despise. The rest I mostly felt sorry for. I was pleased to learn that my mother's book club had a discussion about how they all really learned a lot from reading this book -- most of them having grown up far from the American south, and (it must be said) far from very many people of color. They didn't know that this is what it was like before integration and busing, and the banning of Jim Crow laws. It's easy for someone in my age group to by cynical about this book, but if a book can open the eyes of just one person who reads it, I say it's a job well done.

In the end, it's a pretty light read, although there are some really serious topics covered that will give you pause for a while after finishing it. I do highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It takes a diversionary tactic to know a diversionary tactic.

I just read this uber-annoying article in today's Washington Post about how Sarah Palin has taken great exception to the NAACP's recent move to condemn the racism prevalent in the Tea Party movement. She was all, "It's just a diversionary tactic to avoid talking about the real issues." And digging further, the Tea Party is all offended that anyone would accuse them of racism among their ranks and blahdee blahdee blah. Nevermind the fact that the racism is blatantly obvious to anyone with half a brain -- we're all insane, and to accuse them of racism is -- you guessed it -- a diversionary tactic.

First of all, Sarah Palin is a fucking bitch. I can't even begin to tell you how much her mere existence makes my blood boil. In fact, until she turned up on the political scene, I'm not sure I ever really knew the meaning of "makes my blood boil." But now I do. It's anger with a passion so fierce that it literally makes your insides feel like there's heat running through your veins.

So thanks for that, Sarah Palin, you halfwit nimrod.

(Maybe that's redundant, calling someone a halfwit nimrod? Whatever.)

And then as for the Tea Party in general -- these people make me angry because they get so much airtime with their ludicrous scare tactics and lies to the American people. And they are clearly a loosely organized, poorly educated modern day mob. And for the media to pretend that this is some sort of well-organized, mobilized legitimate political force is disturbing way past irresponsible journalism.

But I think what really grates is this notion -- that Palin and the Tea Partiers would have you believe -- that racism is over in America because we somehow managed to elect ourselves a black President.

Uhhh, yeah... dream the fuck on. Dry that one out and you can fertilize the lawn with it.

Maybe it's where I live -- in the middle of the country, not at the edges where politics seem to happen in a weird vacuum. But racism is alive and well and happening every single day, all around us. Having a black President of the United States hasn't changed a damn thing. And if I see it -- me, a white girl from the suburbs -- you can bet your ass that anyone with less than pale skin tones sees it and feels it every single day.

Please don't let these people fool you. Don't fall for their latest con. Racism is sadly alive and well. Don't let Sarah Palin and her ilk trick you into thinking it's not.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

My Dumbledore is better than your Dumbledore

We hardcore Harry Potter fans get into the dumbest raging debates. Most of them center around the movies, although a personal favorite of mine has to be the whole Harry/Hermione "ship." I recall on one forum seeing the words "To me that's the cannon ship!" typed out by one fangirl with such gusto I could practically hear the shrillness of her voice as if she'd actually said it standing right in front of me. And the word "canon" was always misspelled and abused by these people. So my friends and I started a very amusing little fanfic of our own once about pirates on a cannon ship coming to blow up a bunch of annoying fangirls. Or something like that. It was all very snarky and nerdy and fangirly in its own way.

But the biggie that's ongoing is the whole "Who's the better Dumbledore, Richard Harris or Michael Gambon?" A great number of people prefer Richard Harris and actively despise Michael Gambon (who took over the whole after Harris died); I submit that the Harris preferers don't really know Dumbledore. The Dumbledore described in the books is ancient but quite spry up till the 6th book, at which time he's suffered a terminal curse wound; even then, he still manages to maintain his sense of humor -- a sense of humor that was always a bit on the melodramatic and campy side. There's a moment in Prisoner of Azkaban when Dumbledore is described as having "bounded up the staircase." This is how Michael Gambon's Dumbledore behaves in the movie, and I have to say, watching how close to the end of life Richard Harris clearly was while filming the Chamber of Secrets movie, there's no way in hell he was going to be "bounding" anyplace during a third outing as the character. There are times when it feels like he can barely speak the lines in his scenes. I can't fathom him having made it through four more movies after that.

Harris gave us a regal, intimidating and vaguely mysterious Dumbledore. Gambon gives us the twinkle-eyed aging wizard of the books with the sense of humor only eclipsed by that of the Weasley twins. There are a couple of moments when he's downright ditzy or even doddering, just like he's described by his detractors in the books -- the bit in Azkaban when he pats Ron's broken leg absentmindedly while waxing rhapsodic about the wisdom of listening to children springs immediately to mind; this is a moment that the haters hate and the Gambon lovers love. And this is where the debate comes in, because the two actors play Dumbledore two very different ways. There is a camp of people whose view of Dumbledore is the view of Dumbledore Harry has in the first two books, and whose view of Dumbledore didn't change and grow with Harry's as they made their way through subsequent volumes. These are the people who claim Dumbledore is acting out of character in the 5th book, Order of the Phoenix, when he avoids contact with Harry throughout the school year, believing he is acting in Harry's best interest; but these same fans reserve the right to be angry with Harry over his (well-placed) anger at Dumbledore throughout that book.

To me, Harry learns in his journey from year one to year seven that Dumbledore is just as Percy Weasley describes him on Harry's very first night at Hogwarts: "Brilliant. The best. But a bit mad, yes." In the end, Harry accepts Dumbledore just as he is, warts and all, but it takes him a long time to get there, because in the beginning, he sees Dumbledore as a hero, infallible and worship-worthy. He doesn't see him as just a man like everyone else, with foibles and quirks and the ability to make mistakes. Gambon portrays Dumbledore as Harry's Dumbledore at any given moment. By the 6th movie, early on, we hear Harry say to Mrs. Weasley with a shrug when she asks what he's doing at the Burrow unexpectedly, "Dumbledore." Leaving unspoken what we're meant to empathize with -- "Who knows why Dumbledore does anything the way he does it? We're all just along for the ride." And this sets the narrative of the movies up neatly for what's to come in the final films -- Harry's quest to find the Horcruxes combined with his quest to understand, really and truly, Dumbledore.

My biggest problem is that I can't envision Richard Harris playing a vulnerable Dumbledore. I can't imagine him with the catch in his voice in the 6th movie when Gambon as Dumbledore says his final words: "Severus, please." And Harris was so elderly and tired-seeming in the first two films that I've never been able to imagine him visibly aging in front of Harry's eyes from movie one to movie four, when Harry first realizes just how old Dumbledore actually is. And by the same token, I can't picture Harris capable of the crackling, palpable anger Gambon carries off in his battle with Voldemort at the end of the fifth movie.

I think the thing that annoys me the most about the debate though is the whole ability of pro-Harris people to forget that Richard Harris is dead. That left precious few actors capable of fulfilling the role. Legend has it that Gandalf himself (Ian McKellan) turned the role down; since he is the only other actor the pro-Harris brigade ever cites as being able to portray the Dumbledore they envision, I think there comes a point where you just need to get over it and accept and appreciate what you've got. And what we've got is a better, more true Dumbledore. Harry's Dumbledore. JK Rowling's Dumbledore.