Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Heroine's Journey

Last night I watched a Barbie movie (Princess Charm School) with Sylvia and Paul. Having now spent a bit of time listening to people talk about the hero's journey, I noticed that there were definite aspects of the plot that fit that mould.
  • Our heroine, Blair, is an orphan who, at the beginning, receives a call to adventure which she initially denies before ultimately accepting (like every hero's journey ever it seems). 
  • Blair has a mentor who tutors in the feminine arts in which she's deficient, just like a good mentor is supposed to. 
  • She 'meets' her dead parents in the form of a painting of them where her mother looks a lot like her. 
  • In order to prove she is the true princess she and her friends go on a quest to look for the lost crown that will reveal Blair's true identity, eventually venturing into an underground vault.
  • The underground vault is under the control of the primary antagonist, and the girls are locked in there in the climax of the story.
  • After they escape from the vault the girls are chased by the security guard who is in cahoots with the primary antagonist.
Yeah, so I know Hollywood is basically in love with the hero's journey. In some ways I'm glad to see they use the same formula for a girl adventure. Treating Barbie/Blair as the hero(ine) with a path to struggle along in pursuit of her goals is empowering and it's exhilarating to watch Blair (and some other key characters) grow as people.

I just wish the skills Blair and the other girls have to master weren't quite so lame. Supposedly being a princess is the most important job in the realm, yet all the girls learn about in their classes is how to deport themselves in very traditionally feminine ways--with grace, beauty, and modesty. Most of what they're shown doing is learning how to walk and dance and be traditionally (and expensively) beautiful. I don't really begrudge the characters those things, but in my mind those things are the perks of being in the ruling class, not 'skills' you have to master to become part of the ruling class. There's essentially no mention of book lernin' or critical thinking or any of the other, more masculine traits that are characteristic of people truly in the ruling class.

And then there's race. Blair is, of course, blonde-haired and blue eyed ('cause she's Barbie). Anybody else with a speaking part is white. There are some darker-skinned girls shown, notably in the crowd of hopefuls at the lottery, but they're all in the background.

Anyway, not a terrible movie, but problematic in kinda predictable ways.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Good TV, Bad TV

I don't have tons of time to watch television, so I try to be a little selective. Even so, I'm pretty much always a sucker for spy shows and anything science fiction-y.

At my library I picked up a couple of spy shows on DVD: Spooks (aka MI5, I think, in the US), which is a BBC production; and The Protectors (Livvagterne in Danish, where the show was made). You know, I had high expectations for Spooks, but in the end it was just annoying. It felt like the creators couldn't decide if they wanted to make a joke out of the show or not. The characters were very cliche'd, they all had stupid issues, and they really not consistent from one episode to the next. The worst was a romantic subplot in which, in stereotypical TV fashion, once Ellie, Tom's significant other, finds out he's a spy (and not really named Matt) she loses trust in him and turns into a petulant, over-emotional wreck. They finally patch things up in the last episode, but Tom accidentally locks them in his house with a bomb he unwittingly took home. It's a bad sign when as a viewer you're secretly hoping the bomb will go off and remove the idiotic, unbelievable characters from your life.

The Protectors is completely different, in spite of also being a spy show and having basically the same cast of characters. The difference, I think, is that instead of giving characters stupid drama to deal with, and spending a lot of time then dealing with it on screen, we only get to see the parts of their drama that interact directly with the plot. For instance, the only time we see Jasmina, a Muslim immigrant, dealing with the tension between her and her more devout sister is in plot arcs where their conversation can give deeper meaning to greater plot. That happens not infrequently, as several of the plot arcs involve the tension between Muslim immigrants and Danish society. It also does a nice job of showing the diversity in Muslims and Danes. The writers take their characters seriously, and while their characters are stand ins for the broader society, they're also realistic individuals.

These realistic individuals deal with their life dramas in internally consistent ways, which I have to say is also refreshing. The character arcs feel specific to each character. While each character serves a purpose on the show, they evolve and react in ways I can see real people reacting. For example, in one episode in the second series Rasmus shoots and kills a child. It is, in the moment, the appropriate course of action but it haunts him and eventually leads him to leave the protection service. I admit, part of what I love is that he offers to be a stay at home dad, because he realizes he wants a more normal life. Anyway, in the same episode, Jonas kills someone. Again, it's the appropriate action in the moment. Not that we see too much more of Jonas in the series, but it's pretty obvious he hardly thinks about that action. He was simply doing his job and thus is able to completely divorce himself from any serious feelings of guilt. It's all the difference between the characters. Rasmus is always a more empathetic character, which causes him to feel immense guilt over the mistaken killing. Jonas is more self-centered, which is why he cheats on his wife and is able to move on from the negative part of his job.

I could go on, but I've thrown in enough spoilers there. Protectors was a fantastic show. I wish it'd kept going, though I'm happy with where it ended. The second series was increasingly dark and I think dragging it on would have left the more realistic characters of the show dealing with serious PTSD. More than just Rasmus, anyway.