Archive for November, 2009

Ben 10: Alien Swarm – CG abounds, but with surprising heart

November 26, 2009 2 comments

In general, I am a fan of animated television. Ben 10 is one of the bigger names on Cartoon Network. It was never on the top of my list of favorites, but it was a fun show with some interesting ideas, although I wasn’t in love with many of the characters.

Then came Ben 10: Alien Force. The spin-off was unique enough to be interesting, although I am not loving the new season. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the live-action adaptation, Ben 10: Alien Swarm.

Apparently set some time after the current Ben 10 series, Alien Swarm finds us with a ~16 year old super-team, their powers including transforming into aliens, absorbing and becoming different materials, and energy pulses. The increased age is a good step over the first live-action Ben 10 movie (but that’s another post). Overall, the move is what you’d expect from a TV flick on a Wednesday night.  The story is fairly common: alien invasion on the way, our squad there to save it. However, there is a surprising amount of character involved.

Enter Elena, childhood-teen friend of Ben. Apparently her dad is in trouble, but Ben’s boss/grampa Max doesn’t trust her. Now, what I expected to happen was this: Ben believes Elena, being the love-struck teen, and so goes against Max’s orders, only to find out that Elena was tricking him, proving grampa Max and snobby cousin Gwen right (not that he would have gotten any sympathy for being the victim of a manipulative girl).

Instead we see a surprisingly sensitive side of Ben, striking out on his own as he does what he thinks is right. He must continue to protect Elena, and in the end help to save her father. He isn’t played for the fool and he always manages to keep his cool, even standing up to the bully-ish Kevin and often domineering Gwen. He isn’t the butt of any jokes and isn’t overly mocked or treated like an inept child.

I was also surprised by how mature Ben is about his relationship with Elena. It is said that he has a crush on her, but he doesn’t go bleating after her. He doesn’t believe her blindly, but he trusts her and he acts on that trust, not on raging hormones.

In the series, I always found Ben to be too much of an egomaniac, but here he is more sympathetic and comes off as much more heroic. He is a capable young man who stands by his beliefs, showing confidence and caring for those around him. He is a good, strong young man, well grounded and in touch with his feelings.

All in all, I much prefer Ben as he is seen in this move to his more childish, egotistical cartoon self. This movie is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fun 90 minute romp with some cool CG. And it didn’t leave me feeling guilty for being male, which happens all too often in today’s media.

Categories: Film, Television Tags: , , ,

The Ellen DeGeneres Show – Andy Zenor – Does this mean I can harass gay women?

November 25, 2009 3 comments

Ah, talk shows!

The above images are from the Ellen DeGeneres Show. As you can guess, the woman is Ellen. The man is a stagehand by the name of Andy Zenor. In the past he just helped move things around and hand stuff out, but it seems Ellen recently took a fancy to him. For some time now it seems that he has been appearing in these short-shorts. And as you can see, Ellen appears to greatly enjoy stroking his legs, often to his apparent discomfort.

Hmm, now isn’t there a name for that?

Oh, yes! Harassment, sexual harassment.

When I was a kid, that was considered something an employer should not do to an employee. Come to think of it, I seem to recall some examples of employers getting in trouble for sleeping with their employees, supposedly promising advancement. But I guess that doesn’t apply, since Ellen is gay (and possibly female, but that is harder to judge).

By that logic, heterosexual individuals could do similar things to homosexual individuals, since they aren’t interested. Lesbians wouldn’t mind a little butt squeeze from a man, since they won’t be sleeping together, right?

No matter what anyone says, such conduct is harassment. Here are some federal guidelines as to what constitutes harassment. I think they apply. For example:

Harassment violates federal law if it involves discriminatory treatment based on race, color, sex (with or without sexual conduct), religion, national origin, age…

Looks like singling out to me.

It doesn’t matter who the employer is, nor their orientation. Harassment is harassment. But then, there seems to be something of a cultural belief that men do not mind sexual or semi-sexual advances, even if they show outward discomfort. This page on TV Tropes is about just that topic. Such tropes do not only apply to television, but real life.

I don’t watch talk shows (I only see them in passing), but if there is one with a woman employee in booty-shorts, I would love to see a picture.

As for the Ellen Show, I think Weird Al summed up my opinion for me:

Or those weird talk shows
About Transsexual Nazi Eskimos
They’re rude, crude and vile
Just for a minute let’s flip down the dial


Disney XD Volcano Promo – That warm tingling feeling is called equality

November 23, 2009 2 comments

I have often had mixed feelings about Disney as a whole. They have made many good movies, but many of those have added fuel to the growing princess-complex so common among American girls. As for television, they have made some good cartoons, but I never watched their channels is any dedicated fashion.

Then came Disney XD.

When I first read that Toon Disney was being removed, I was saddened. I like the toons. Then I read what XD is about, and I was shocked. It was to be about boys. I was skeptical, but I gave it a try. Then I saw this little promo and all my doubts were put to rest:

Now, that video isn’t very good, but you get the idea. Allow me to clarify it.

The actual promo doesn’t start until 0:09. It is a school scene, apparently in science class.  We see a trendy young girl working her magic on a model volcano, all to great praise of her (female) teacher. Then we see a young boy behind her, also mixing up an eruption. As his mountain bubbles, he tries to get the teacher’s attention. Only after some prodding can he get her to look, but she is amazed to see how much more impressive his volcano is. Great spewing of foam ensues as the teacher shows her obvious favor for the obviously superior volcano.

The video does not show it, but the spot continues to show the boy getting a blue ribbon as he stands proudly before the XD logo.

When I first saw this promo I was watching TV with my teenage brother and we were both speechless. In the world of a media which makes it an unbreakable habit to ‘encourage’ girls by showing them that they can beat boys, this is truly remarkable. The commercial is not crude, nor obtrusive or in any way anti-female. It just happens to show a boy succeeding over a girl.

The fact that such a thing comes as a pleasant surprise is a sign of the times.

Positive reinforcement has been at the forefront of feminist media since the ’80s, but such efforts for boys have been sorely lacking. This spot proves that Disney is intent on winning back the male audience from their Xboxs and they intend to do it right, by show boys as actually equal to girls, not as the inferior punching bags we see elsewhere.

This kind of content is made even more important by the continuing ‘boy crisis’ in American schools.

If we want real gender equality, we will need to see more media like this, of course in a good balance. The message should be ‘girls can beat boys’ not ‘girls can’t not beat boys’.

(The above video is fairly low quality. If a better video is found, it will be posted for viewing.)

Hook – Dad can never get it quite right. Never.

November 22, 2009 2 comments

A story of family, adventure and pirates!

And maybe a little bit more, especially in that first half-hour.

Hook is the 1991 Spielberg film re-imagining of the classic tale of Peter Pan. Or rather, the latter two hours or so are that. The first chunk is set in the modern world (of 1991, cell phones as big as toasters included). The star is Peter Banning, orphan, successful lawyer at law and Peter Pan. Besides that, he is also a hated father.

The first part of the movie focuses on what a sucky dad he is. Cell calls at school plays, missing baseball games, etc. Basically he is a workaholic. Then he finds out he is Peter Pan, and that is when the movie actually gets good. He goes to Neverland and has to re-learn everything, including flight, to face down James Hook, Captain at sea. Much mayhem and food-fighting ensues and in the end he rediscovers his sense of adventure and wins back the love of his children.

Too bad he had to become an impossible hero to do so.

Peter is the fairly typical ’90s dad. So obsessed with work that he neglects his family. As usual, this is met with contempt and anger. Now, to be fair let’s have a look at a similar example:

Circa-1950. WWII is over, the men are home. Each household has 1 happy dog and 2.4 joyful children. Fathers work hard to provide for their family while their wives tends the children and home.

Now imagine hearing this pitch for a movie:

Patrica Banning is a loving mother, but maybe too much. While her husband works long hours, Patrica is lounging at home, idling vacuuming and preparing store bought meals as she worries about what to wear to her next tea party. So caught up in her own world that she can not see how hard her husband works, Patrica can not understand why her husband would want her to have a job so she could contribute to the family economy. Her laziness puts her marriage and her own happiness at risk.

Sound about fair? If only. I will eat my beard when I hear that for real. The simple fact is this: men are hated for dedicating themselves to their work and it is they who are expected to change to make their family impossibly happy.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think it is horrible when a parent is away at work all day. What else is horrible is when men who do so are hated for it, even though they are only doing what they have to do to fit in and to give their family everything he can. People say women were victims of a society which forced them to stay in the kitchen. Well now men are the victims of a society which forces them to stay in the office.

Let’s look at an example:

Peter Banning, successful businessman realizes that his over-working is tearing his family apart. Loving nothing above his family, Peter cuts back to part-time work and begins to spend his afternoons at home. He begins to play with his children and even to help with the house work. All is well, for a while.

At first his wife appreciates Peter’s assistance, but he can never seem to get it quite right. He forgot the fabric softener, he missed a spot with the mop, he got the kids dirty playing in the yard. Naturally, she voices her complaints. Then she voices them an extra thousand times. No matter what Peter does, he can’t meet his wife’s expectations of how her house is to be run. Women are more critical than men, fact.

Maybe that office job wasn’t so bad?

But wait! There’s more!

A few months down the line, the family starts noticing the pinch from Peter’s reduced paycheck. They have to give up their timeshare in Hawaii. The kids can’t get a new computer quite so often. Those opera tickets will have to wait. I bet the wife and kids are missing those long hours now, and you can bet they will say so. Even if they hadn’t been used to the big check, I would bet they wouldn’t complain about a bigger one, especially if they know someone whose husband/dad gets paid a nice sum extra.

The fact is this: a man who works long hours to provide for his family is hated for being away. A man who does not is hated for being domestically inadequate (in the eyes of the woman) and for not bringing in enough money. Damned if he do, damned if he don’t. Everywhere in the media you see images of men failing at simple domestic chores, so why should they or their wives think they can do it? Along with that, any man who doesn’t work full time must be a bum. And he probably watches too much TV.

In the continued spirit of fairness, let’s look at a woman in similar circumstances, one we see often: the juggling mother.

A loving mother, working part-time at the local clinic and always there for her family. Everywhere we see support and encouragement for this lifestyle, even in the most common of commercials. The word Super-Mom comes to mind. Now, no one criticizes a woman for leading this lifestyle. Nor would she be criticized for being a homemaker, always caring for her family,  or for working full-time to provide for her family, liberated to the role of breadwinner. In the few cases where the husband does most of the housework, I doubt he would yell at her for leaving the peanut-butter open. Even if he did, he would be sleeping on the couch for the night.

To summarize: a man who works full-time wins only contempt for never being there. A man who balances his life wins contempt for not working hard and wins no respect from his wife at home. A woman who works full-time is ‘liberated’ and would never stand for her husband complaining about her long-hours. A woman who balances her life is beloved for doing so, even though she doesn’t work as hard as she could and she remains the queen of her own home, commanding how all is done.

This kind of double-standard treatment of male-female roles is common and Hook is a good example. While a fun movie, it unfairly portrays hard-working dads as heartless. That coupled with the cultural disdain for part-time workmen and the critical treatment they get at home makes it nigh-impossible for them to find the right place to be standing when the wife gets home from yoga class.

Women are loved whether they work, keep house or strike a balance.

Men are criticized no matter what they do.

The movie should have focused more on Peter’s own unhappiness and on his journey to break out of the cultural restraints forced on him.

As for the real world, men would be a lot more willing to balance their lives if women did two things:

  1. Stop looking at those expensive jewelry/clothing/travel/beauty magazines. You know you can’t afford them, so don’t remind your husband of that every day. Then he might be comfortable with fewer hours and a smaller paycheck.
  2. Let men be men. Maybe he doesn’t fold the towels the same as you or organize the fridge the same way as you, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Be glad when he helps and don’t just point out how he did it wrong.

Welcome to the Beard Reel

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Hello and welcome to the Beard Reel, the blog about masculinity in the media, both how it is shown negatively and how it is shown the respect it deserves.

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