If She Only Looked Like…

There are definite benefits to working in a school. I always enjoy talking with my students about the most recent events that happen in our favorite shows. The thing about working at a school also gives me insight to how my students think. One of those insights is how standards of beauty still affect our society.

Just recently I got into a heated, albeit friendly debate with my students concerning the support our favorite ships within CW’s The Flash. A couple of my students were in favor of the current pairing of Barry and Patty, whereas some other students (and myself) were in favor of childhood sweethearts Barry and Iris.

I could say that the conversation focused on the abilities, skills, and attributes of the two women (which is another post altogether), but needless to say when having a conversation with middle schoolers, the conversation spiraled downward pretty quickly into who looks better with who.

Naturally, I was hard pressed to go down with my ship to the bitter end and I was game to take the bait. So I eventually asked one of my students, “How can you not like Barry and Iris? Iris is gorgeous!” She replied, “You’re right, if only she looked like Patty.”

Upon hearing her say that, I was stunned. Now of course, Shantel VanSanten is a beautiful woman and opinion plays heavily into this conversation (I might possibly be reading into my student’s response too much too). The statement made me stop and think. Is my student simply choosing Patty because of the westernized standards of beauty that saturates media or because she likes her character and personality?

The students at my school are predominantly Filipino or Chinese and they are amazing and beautiful in their own right. Unfortunately,  we still see a strong emphasis on the representation of Western features and standards of beauty. Because of such a saturation, it subtly implies that if one does not possess such features, you are inferior.  For society to set the standard and say that if your skin is not the right shade or your features are too big or too small is wrong. It invalidates a person and treats them as less than a human being.

Fortunately, there is hope for the human race. I love how women are becoming more prominent in roles like Supergirl and Jessica Jones. Let’s go a step further to show that beauty comes in all shapes and forms and is not just subject to one kind of perspective.

I don’t want my students to feel ugly. I don’t want my students to feel regret for the heritage that is inherently who they are.

I want my students to feel beautiful. I want my students to be proud of their heritage. I want my students to love the way that they look and understand that they don’t have blue eyes and blond hair to be beautiful.

Aside from being a long time friend and support to Barry she is also his lightning rod-one of my favorite concepts ever for the Flash.  I’m just gonna leave that here. WestAllen forever!

-Will

Food For Thought TV Shows

Celebrate and Embrace

BuzzFeed News recently (is a month and a half recent?) had the opportunity to interview one of the most prolific comic book authors of our time, Geoff Johns. In the article, they covered a varying range of hopes for the cinematic universe as well as the current and upcoming titles for TV shows especially. If you want to see this interview in detail, check it out here. All in all it was exciting to be informed on the direction that they will be moving towards.  The thing that resonated with me most  was John’s response to an interview question for what their intentions were for the TV shows and the feelings that they wanted to evoke to the audience. To which he responded-

 “Celebrate and Embrace” Geoff Johns

Celebrate. I think this idea stems from the very powerful emotive and psychological response of nostalgia. We feel nostalgia when we see childhood homes/areas, find letters from loved ones and past relationships, and seeing friends after a long period of time. The interesting thing is that sometimes even the most random things can trigger feelings of nostalgia but whatever these triggers are it connects with us on an emotional level. Personally I’ve always had difficulty describing and defining what nostalgia is and how it feels partially because it is a mix of emotions. Admittedly, I did have to look it up.

 A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. 

(“Nostalgia.” Def 2) Merrian-Webster.com

When we celebrate, we take time to remember and appreciate using a moment in time to spotlight something that is special in our lives. In the same way birthdays are used to focus on an individual(or individuals if you’re a multiple like me) and focus and appreciate how wonderful it is to be interwoven into their life. As I interact with coworkers my age, every so often we will break into nostalgic things that we loved during our childhood and it is interesting to see how emotionally invested we were with the various things of our generation. One of my personal favorites is the discussion of the cartoons we used to watch as kids. Usually by the end of the conversation, I usually hear, “The old cartoons were way better. Not like the ones we have now.”

The interesting thing is that the kids in this day and age will eventually grow up and have a near similar conversation that I had with my coworkers and will think that the cartoons they had were better that the ones that will be out for kids in that time. We seem to forget that kids are invested as much now as they were when I was a kid. The idea is that these stories and fads build up our childhood and become common threads that bond people together. Regardless, celebration and nostalgia happens across many generations.

Embrace. For us as we become old geezers, it becomes harder and harder to accept the new and the changes that come along in life. It is easy to accept the old ways and the old thoughts and reject the new. If you have a conversation with someone of the older generations, especially in reference to remakes of movies, they will most usually prefer the old to the new i.e. Total Recall, Star Trek, Star Wars (I’m actually on board with IV, V, VI ), and Ninja Turtles. The thing is that it is hard to pull away from the old feelings of nostalgia because of the excitement and wonder they experienced seeing these movies for the first time in comparison to seeing them as adults.

1920's Devil Dancing Music

Dancing leads to hell

1970's Devil Dancing Music

Holding hands leads to babies

Now Devil Dancing Music

Twerking could possibly be devil dancing music

Future Devil Dancing Music

ok…so not the best example, but you get the idea

 

I have students who raved about how good Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) was and I for one love the old ones. You know, the tacky yet hilarious real life rendition where they pretty much were wise cracking and joking the entire time. I remember my excitement as a kid and how I thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. I look back on it and see how dumb the movies are, yet I love them because I remember the fond memories they hold watching it with my family. I recently got the chance to watch Michael Bay’s rendition and I can see the appeal that made it enjoyable for my students. I have to say it wasn’t half bad. There were small parts that paid homage to its predecessors, but there were plenty of elements that allowed it to step forward into its own. I really liked how the turtles individuality was pushed even father into the realm of physicality and outfits rather than just relying weapons and bandana color. Overall, not the best movie ever but it was enjoyable nonetheless. In comparison with new ideas and new stories, we have to let go or at least suspend our nostalgia and approach it with child like wonder again.  When we take the time to embrace the new it allows us to celebrate and appreciate the old while ushering in the new contemporary versions.

Ah yes...nothing's campier than the 90's

Ah yes…nothing’s cheesier than the 90’s

I think Geoff Johns accurately describes what his goal is for DC appealing to new fans while remembering the old fans. Celebration and Embracing are two ideas that work in conjunction together. Without each other they would simply be isolated and empty. You cannot celebrate without embracing the next step forward. I have heard apprehension or choices to avoid certain shows simply because the show didn’t follow the story or the characters don’t totally follow their literary counterparts  or just simply didn’t get “everything right”. Then they find themselves clinging to the past and not embracing the future, which I find rather sad. Embracing the new characters and new interpretations help us to appreciate and celebrate what has been established. We wouldn’t have the new without the old but all repetition and no creative expansion starts to make something feel stagnant and dated. So as the new plans and ideas arise with the advent of more comic book related entertainment, let’s embrace the new and exciting ideas that the studios have to offer so we can celebrate the nostalgia and memories that their previous counterparts left for us.

-Will

 

Follow Geoff Johns website@geoffjohns

 

 

Food For Thought

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I don’t remember a lot of the books that I read as a kid. One that I do remember was Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. The story focuses on this woman who does a lot to help people within her town. (or was it city?) She gets an assistant one day and he ends up spying on her as she cooks pasta from a magic pot. However he doesn’t notice that she blows three kisses to turn the pot off. The woman goes away for a bit and the assistant ends up using the pot to make pasta. Since he didn’t know how to stop the magic pot, it kept making more and more pasta until the town overflowed. The old woman comes back and stops the pot and then punishes the assistant by making him eat all of the pasta to clean up the town. By the end of the book he is stuffed. I know if I ate that much pasta, I’d be sick of it.

The reason I mention this story is because when I was trying to remember what this book was, the pasta flooding the town was most clear in my brain. In a similar sense, within the past several years, there has been an explosion and growth of comic related media flooding pop culture mostly in part because of the Marvel movies that have been so successful. DC Comics is no pushover themselves what with the constant stream of animated movies (check them out they are actually pretty good) and domination of the silver screen with shows like Gotham, The Flash, Arrow, and Constantine making waves of anticipation/excitement and recent mentions of Supergirl and Titans as well. Now I am extremely excited to really see how these shows will play out and I hope that they will connect with their viewing audience, but I can’t help but wonder…

Are there too many superhero shows/movies being released?

Before I get into modern examples, let me present what I’m getting at. I’ll present a blanket overview to art history. Within the art world, there are various movements and styles of art that arise due to an over saturation or an overflow of a style and the resulting response is a pushback and a counter to the resulting over saturation. For an example let’s look at Neo Classicism. This movement focused on presenting the idealized form commonly depicted within Greek and Roman art. The artwork expressed ideas like virtue, honor, and values while mirroring these themes with its clean lines, noble figures and calm demeanor.

Eventually though, there was so much of it going around, that it became tired and overused. Out of that rose Romanticism. This movement was it’s complete antithesis. No longer were figures stoic and graceful in situations, rather emotion was the very epitome of the movement. Brush strokes remained unblended and emotion spoke plain as day on the faces of the subjects. Essentially you could feel emotion and angst oozing from the tones of the paintings. A common theme within Romantic art was the emphasis on the greatness of nature especially that above the fragility of humanity. This rise and fall, ebb and flow happens in so many different areas of our lives that it is not hard to predict that it will happen. Clothing trends (I’m looking at you high waisted shorts), dime-a-dozen novels (remember when vampires were all the rage?), celebrities, so on and so forth. It is inevitable and this is  just a natural part of human thought and progress.

 

For me, I’m waiting for a pushback against this culture that has risen so quickly through the ranks. However, I can see subtle instances of this happening now. In 2008, we had the release of Iron Man. (I know, I know we’ve had various comic book/ superhero movies made before then, but at this moment was the first in this modern generation of superhero movies that we have.) Anyways, as we follow the timeline, all the other superhero movies have pretty much followed the same styles and tropes all the way up until 2014.

Enter, Guardians of the Galaxy. This movie has it all the music, the action, the storytelling, the comedic timing, the perfect cast.  All of these things had a strong hand in it’s success. However, I feel that on a subliminal level, the reason why it was so successful was that because in all the superhero movies that we have seen, this movie is different. It is the beginning of a  “pushback” against the traditional superhero movie in that these characters are not the tried-and-true nor the do-gooders. The group is a bunch of rag tag misfits, rejects, and losers. (Firefly anyone?) But we get excited to see them in action and to root for these characters despite their weaknesses and flaws and social ineptitude.

Consider this, generally at some point, the hero is outmatched and outgunned and it seems as if all hope is lost. For most traditional movies the solitary hero would let the villain monologue and when the opportunity presents itself, the bad guy beat down would ensue. Instead, one of my favorite scenes was when Peter Quill (Star Lord) distracts Ronan. He starts singing and dancing and I was just as shocked as Ronan was. Who dances and sings their way to victory? Apparently Peter Quill does.

Now I have slightly digressed. What I mean to say is that these characters do not fit the traditional mode for our A-list heroes. But we have seen so much of that already that with the established tone of Guardians of the Galaxy, it is refreshing to break from the machine that has been established. This led me to ponder a couple of questions.

Will the world tire of superhero movies?

Will the world ever get tired of superheroes?

In answering the first question. I think yes eventually the world will tire of superhero movies even just for a little bit. Everything has its place in time and everything has a rise and fall, an ebb and flow.  I don’t know when or how soon it will happen, but eventually there will be such an over saturation within pop culture that there will be too much of it. Could I be wrong? I sure hope so. But just like those high waisted shorts, trends always come back. There may be a decline sooner or later, but will the world ever get tired of superheroes? I say never. The thing that I love about superheroes (and comics in general). The characters will ALWAYS be relevant as they are being updated to reflect the time and culture of the era. We’ve seen many changes occurring within the comic world as the stories are not just simply for stories, but a commentary on humanity as a whole. The condition of our minds and how we live. We see steps being taken to increase diversity and equality within comics by including characters of various backgrounds, gender, and nationality just to name a few. Thought they may be small steps, they are gradual steps nonetheless.

In conclusion, though we may have a large influx of various comic book movies and TV shows, superheroes bring what we love to see in comics as an art form, as a story, as a great literary work. For now, I think that superheroes are here to stay. They have great adaptability and staying power and can be multigenerational when applied in the right context. For now I say we enjoy the ride and appreciate the fact that geeks and nerds pretty much rule the world right now.

-Will

Art Comics Food For Thought