The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

Analyzing the Twilight Saga February 27, 2010

Ever since I first gobbled down all four books in one week in December 2008 (I almost ruined my last finals week of college – Thanks, SMeyer), I’ve been dealing with a lot of confused feelings about my TwiLove.

I’m an unabashed vampophile, but in terms of vamp cannon, Meyer’s vampires are definitely a departure in both surface elements and underlying metaphor. The books are definitely romantic, but are they romance novels? Considering that all bodice ripping takes place after an exchange of I do’s and even then tactfully out of the literary frame, I’m not so sure. Don’t even get me started on the whole issue of whether Edward is abusive, Bella is a passive bore, and Jacob is guilty of being a Nice Guy (R). Hello cognitive ambiguity!

As you can see, it’s all a very fraught subject for a hyper-analytical nutjob like me. I can’t just sit back and enjoy. I have to know! If they aren’t vampire novels…and they aren’t romance novels…what the heck are they? Why do grown up women and even feminist academics go gaga over these books? What was up with Breaking Dawn? Most importantly – what the heck do they all mean? What is the Saga trying to tell us about life, the universe, and everything (LU&E)?

With all these questions swirling around in my head, I started hunting down critical analyses of the Saga. After sifting through a lot of “Twilight is so awesome and Edward is so HAWT SQUEEEE!” and even more “Twilight is the stupidest book of all time, not that I read it to come to this is conclusion”, I found a few books and blogs that really got me thinking about the philosophy behind the Saga. This is the beginning of some posts about the latest bit of Twilosophy I’ve been reading, A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins.

Unfortunately I got my hands on this book just after I had stumbled upon a series of essays by John Granger, the Forks High School Professor, that included a serious analysis of the underlying allegories of Twilight (and Harry Potter, but that’s another post). A New Dawn really didn’t hold a candle to Granger’s work.

Instead of dealing with the question “what does Twilight tell us about LU&E?,” A New Dawn examines individual elements of the Saga and places them in context of young adult fiction, vampire cannon, the romance genre, etc. The book is written to the young adult audience specifically, so it’s very chatty and light.

I’ll be posting on each essay separately, as I’ve been informed that my posts resemble Tolstoy’s War and Peace (must be an August 28 birthday thing).

 

Doppelgängers of Facebook February 17, 2010

A few days late to the party, I decided to join Celebrity Doppelgänger Week on Facebook, during which members change their profile picture to a look-a-like celeb and let the flattering comments roll in. As a general rule, I latch on to Facebook trends just as everyone stops paying attention to them. The difficulty of living away from real-time friends is you’re pretty slow on the uptake.

I’ve always had a fair amount of people tell me I look like *insert fair, dark-haired and -eyed celebrity here* or someone they know. I had a classmate tell me I look just like their friend Wendy and then call me by her name the rest of the class. One day on campus I had an entire conversation with a girl I desperately tried to place, before realizing I actually had no clue who she was…and she didn’t seem to know me either. She had mistaken me for someone else.

The BooHooWhatAboutMe part of my brain says I must look pretty generic if I look “just like” so many people. The OhGrowUpNotEverythingIsAboutYou part of my brain says that people are generally just not that perceptive. The majority of the world has no reason to be as interested in me as more intimate acquaintances. We observe in broad strokes, discarding idiosyncratic minutia for a passable short hand (tall, pale, brown hair. Done.). When considering the big picture it’s also interesting to note that the physical limitations on facial morphology for humans mean all of us are going to look like a lot of other people.

After discarding Anne Hathaway (pale and brunette, but totally unlike me in all other meaningful ways) and Sandra Bullock (thanks Dad and random hobo guy outside my office building, but meh…not really similar), I tried the MyHeritage face recognizer. What I got was a selection of stars who neither looked like me, each other, or themselves – the photos were from odd angles or with weird faces or very dated. I suspect that MyHeritage simply cobbles together a random list and hopes you’re so flattered that you’ll just run with whatever they give you.

I also suspect this may be the point of Celebrity Doppelgänger Week. It’s a way for people to have their appearances validated by association with cultural ideals. I’m attractive – see! I look just like So-and-so!

Other bloggers have pointed out the problematic racist/sizeist elements to the doppelgänger game. With the limited number of popular, non-white celebrities, should someone select a doppelgänger that is of the same race, but otherwise unlike them (playing into the “All *people of group X* look the same” stereotype) or should they select a celebrity with similar features who may be of another race (eliding their racial identity). If you are fat, are you required to chose from the minuscule pool of celebrities with a similar size or should you risk ridicule by selecting someone whose features are more similar of yours, but happens to be smaller than you? What do you do when there really isn’t a celebrity who looks like you at all?

Celebrity Doppelgänger Week is simply another way of reinforcing the reductive power of beauty ideals. I look enough like a celebrity to be considered attractive OR I don’t look like any celebrity and thus I must not be attractive. It’s a way of sorting, dividing, and excluding the majority of people in favor of the few who posses prized and rare physical qualities. We don’t really question the dubious connection between physical perfection and perceived intellectual/spiritual perfection, but the implication is deeply ingrained in our communal identity. For myriad reasons, beautiful people are treated as valuable people.

In reality, the vast majority of us don’t look like the narrowly defined and ever-homogenizing beauties that populate Hollywood (taking into account the overuse of Photoshop, neither do they). Which is okay! It really is. Not only because it’s demonstrably false that outer beauty is a necessary condition for inner beauty, but because the parameters of a term like Beauty change based on time, place, point of view, etc – everyone and everything is beautiful to someone.

A lack of celebrity doppelgänger is especially good when you think about what the word “doppelgänger” actually means. A doppelgänger is not a super attractive celebrity that everyone will pretend looks just like you so you can get a self-esteem boost. Although the Facebook meme uses it as a synonym for “twin” or “double”, “doppelgänger” is actually a very old and well-used trope of the horror/fantasy genre:

“In German folklore, a wraith or apparition of a living person, as distinguished from a ghost… To meet one’s double is a sign that one’s death is imminent.”

Sure, celebrity “doppelgänger” profile pictures might not be a sign of imminent mortal peril, but they do seem to be indicative of a certain kind of identity peril, a willingness to discard our unique features in favor of those approved by society as “correct.” It invites the erasure of intimate beauty that lies in the individual nature of someone’s form. Isn’t that a different kind of imminent death?

After climbing out of that philosophical rabbit hole, I decided to change my profile picture to Waterhouse’s “Pandora” instead.

 

Full Frontal Florets February 10, 2010

Filed under: Food and Cooking,theImaginaryHeroine — imaginaryheroine @ 9:06 pm
Tags: , , ,

me: argh
me: I don’t want to do dishes 😦

AuntieE: I’m sooo tired

me: I’m just lazy ; 9
me: and I have a new cooks illustrated

AuntieE: LOL
AuntieE: ah, chef porn

me: there’s a very sexy broccoli on the cover
me:  full frontal florets

 

Yeah, this Blog? It’s one BIG spoiler

Filed under: Rants,theImaginaryHeroine — imaginaryheroine @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , ,

After writing the last post, it occurred to me that I should probably include some sort of spoiler warning on here. I thought about just including it in each post. And then I put up a little text warning on the side bar. And then I got pissed off.

Because, the whole reason this blog came about in the first place is that I have no one to talk to about all these cool media tropes and themes. So, I’m talking to the great and powerful void that is the Interwebz. Or to myself, depending on how you look at it.

I’m really the worst about ruining shows/movies/TV/surprises/you name it. I can’t buy presents early because I just hand them over to the recipient the moment they hit my hot little hands. Happy Birthday…in seven weeks.

It’s the same sort of thing with media surprises. People I can talk to about this stuff are few and far between. Either because most people are totally in the closet about this dorky stuff or they just don’t like talking about it, because I know most of the media covered here are plenty popular.

When someone actually does fess up, I get so excited I usually blurt out something really revealing. I did it a couple weekends ago. I finally met someone who admitted to watching Mad Men and I, having just found out about the whole Sal fiasco, blurted out “I’m so pissed that they just dropped Sal like that!” Only to find out that she hadn’t seen past the third or fourth episode in Season 3.

*facepalm*

Turns out being socially isolated makes you really socially awkward too. Go fig.

I’m just going to come out and say it:

This blog? It’s one big spoiler.

I know what you’re thinking. Wait – you just rained on her parade. You just ruined my TV show experience! What do you have to be pissed off about?

Because I’m so damn tired of this stuff ping-ponging back and forth in my brain with no release. I get my hopes built up that FINALLY someone will talk to me about my why all of J. K. Rowling’s girls suck  or how it was such a bummer when that girl werewolf messed up everything for Oz and Willow in Buffy. And then it’s blown right out from under me. Beyond that, sometimes it’s hard to remember when exactly in the story line something happened. I’m forced to just keep mum and miss a golden opportunity to have a good conversation. It’s just too frustrating for words!

Just as frustrating, I’d argue, as someone ruining the ending to your story.

So, I’m going to try and not be such a brat in the future. I will do my damnedest on each post to include accurate info about exactly which episode/season/book is discussed. Then I’m going to go to town with all the damn spoilers I want so don’t come boohooing to me.

If the title or tags say something about a book you’re halfway through or a TV show you’ve only watched 3 episodes of, come back later after you’ve finished. I’m going to ruin the suspense.

Sorry for the rant, y’all. Back to business.

 

Mad About Mad Men…or Maybe Mad *at* Mad Men

(SPOILERS: Contains info from Mad Men Seasons 1 – 3 and chatter about Season 4)

The nominees for 21st annual GLAAD Awards were announced a few weeks back and AMC’s Mad Men is up for best drama series. Pre-Season 3 Finale, I would have been using this as just more proof of how smart and sexy and awesome this show really is, but now I’m not so sure.

If you haven’t heard of Mad Men yet, it’s your own darn fault. Set in the 1960s, the series revolves around Don Draper, an advertising executive for the big Madison Avenue firm, Sterling Cooper. The set design and wardrobe are gorgeous. The ensemble cast is dense with high-wattage talent. The story lines turn the heroes into villains and back again and weave through plot lines that make you think about racism, consumerism, feminism – all those big, heavy -isms – and makes it a blast.

One of the most beautifully constructed characters is that of Salvatore Romano, played by actor/designer Bryan Batt. As Sterling Cooper’s Art Director, Sal proved himself to be both capable and passionate about his work, which is probably why Sal’s Italian heritage doesn’t seem to be a major issue to the big wigs – he is very good at what he does. Something that would be a big deal to the Powers that Be at Sterling Cooper is that Sal is also a closeted homosexual.

The character is used throughout the show to illustrate the difficulty of leading an alternative lifestyle in post-Korean War, white picket fence America. This is to say, Sal isn’t allowed to lead an alternative lifestyle without destroying his career and social life. Instead he is forced to live a double life, marrying a wife he cares for, but isn’t physically attracted to and playing along with the WASPy Madison Avenue career men.

Sal does have a few romantic story lines. He is propositioned by a client, but turns him down. Later he develops a crush on a coworker. His first real romantic rendezvous is an interrupted make out session with a bell boy. Sadly, nothing really comes to fruition. He is paralyzed by the social climate, unable to create a romantic bond let alone build a functional relationship.

Sal is more the rule than the exception, because on Mad Men everyone is living a lie. Don, Pete, and Roger, also live double lives, playing the married family man, but always searching for a new thrill. Just like no woman can ever look like the pictures in magazines (even the actual women pictured!), no one can lead the life the Mad Men have carefully construct and sold in their advertisements.

Roger and Don’s infidelities are widely known and only served to enhance their reputation. Sal, on the other hand is utterly destroyed not by following his heart or giving in to lust, but because he turned down the aggressive advances of Lee Garner, Jr., heir to the Lucky Strike Cigarettes empire.

Lee Jr. decides to exact revenge and demands Sal be fired. Don obliges, ostensibly in order to save the account and protect the company.

It made complete sense. The Lucky Strike account was huge and losing it could ruin the firm. Don is not in the business of social causes. It’s this same tough-nosed pragmatism that allowed him to promote Peggy. Hiring a skillful woman copy writer would help the firm; firing a gay art director who offended a client would help the firm.

I’m sure you could argue that if Sal had not been a homosexual, Don might have backed him up, but I’m not sure that’s true. Don was pretty hardhearted about an array of personal issues displayed by numerous characters when they got in the way of his work.

When Sal didn’t reappear for a few episodes, I was bummed, but not too worried. Then the Season 3 Finale rolled around and the big hitters of Sterling Cooper peeled away into their own new company: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Our beloved Joan waltzed through the door after what felt like an age of exile. I thought that maybe, just maybe, Sal would be next.

Even after it was brought to my attention that fledgling SCDP hinged on Lucky Strike, I was sure they would find some other way for Sal to come back. Maybe he wouldn’t work for SCDP. Maybe he would be rehired at the old firm. Maybe he would start up that art-driven ad agency he talked about in an earlier season and compete with SCDP for clients.

It was not to be. Filming for Season 4 begins in March and Bryan Batt will not be on that set. And I am heartbroken all over again for Sal, who was not only shamed and punished for being the victim of sexual harassment, but is then required by our modern writers and producers to vanish into the night without a peep.

This brings me back to the GLAAD awards. These are meant to “recognize and honor media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the issues that affect their lives”. I would have been rooting Mad Men for the win…Until now.

Sure the writers deserve recognition for giving us a gay character that hasn’t internalized homophobic rhetoric that all gays are sex fiends or have no character attributes beyond their orientation and fab fashion sense. Sal isn’t feminized, flamboyant, or flighty. He is a guy with dreams and thoughts and motivations that hinge on life issues including, but also beyond, his sexual orientation.

And they dumped him!

I’ll freely admit that Sal could never have a happy ending. He’s a gay man in the 60’s, after all, and Mad Men is not in the business of happy endings. One might say that’s kind of the point. Happy endings are sold to us like Lucky Strike cigarettes – they’re toasted…with a side of lung cancer.

But can GLAAD really reward Mad Men after they let Sal drift into oblivion? I wouldn’t.

 

East Meets West Soup with a dash of Amelia Peabody February 1, 2010

(SPOILERS: Includes an overview of the Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters. Ruins elements of the first book, but doesn’t deal with plot lines or mystery arcs)

Just to prove that I actually do eat and cook foods that aren’t chocolate desserts, I decided I had to make something worth posting for Sunday dinner. I was flipping through some cookbooks and online sites and couldn’t find anything that both sounded good and included ingredients in my kitchen.

I finally settled on making some plain old English potato soup, but when I started prepping the kitchen my eyes fell upon my bookshelf.
After a recent home improvement kick, there are now five bookshelves in the apartment. One in the living room holds classics and our DVD collection. Three in the bedroom house my Middle East books, 7abibi’s sci-fi and Chinese books, and our poli-sci/economics books respectively. The one in the kitchen has two shelves. The bottom shelf holds my cookbooks and food magazines. The top shelf holds my favorite novels: Harry Potter, Bridget Jones, Sookie Stackhouse, Amelia Peabody…
Amelia Peabody, known to many as the female Indiana Jones, was probably one of the biggest influences in the selection of my college degree. Actually, it was her linguist-cum-spy son, Walter Peabody Emerson AKA Ramses, that got me on the Linguistics/Middle Eastern studies track. Huh. No wonder I can’t get an interview… Though the Amelia Peabody series is usually enjoyed by a more mature audience, I was sucked in by the original novel The Crocodile on the Sandbank in eighth grade. The series now boasts eighteen titles with the nineteenth, A River in the Sky, due to be released April 6 of this year.

The stories are a suspenseful mix of murder, black markets, romance, history, and hilarious family drama. Elizabeth Peters is actually a nom de plume of Barbara Mertz, who received her PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago at the age of 23. Which means that a lot of the egyptological methods, theory, and history in these books are real. Many of the characters featured in the novels are also either real people (like Howard Carter, the Pankhurst sisters of women’s suffrage fame, and many more) or based on real egyptologists and travelers in Egypt and Britain during the early 1900’s.

The books usually involve the academic excavations of Amelia and Radcliffe Emerson being interrupted by a murder or theft which our intrepid egyptologists must solve before they can get back to work. The mysteries come to revolve around the character of the Master Criminal, who runs the black market antiquities trade between Egypt and Europe (one can almost hear Indiana Jones saying “that belongs in a museum!”). In the later books, a new generation joins the fray and the action becomes tied up in the unsettled political atmosphere that plagued Egypt during the final years of British occupation and the run up to WWI.

The series is a happy combination of several opposing elements. It skillfully weaves together factual events and people with fictional plots and characters. Though the main character is a female heroine who can kickass and take names, the books still manage to have interesting and worthy male characters. The flavor of the stories combine British, Ancient Egyptian, and more modern Colonial Egyptian elements to create deliciously complex story settings, characters, and structure.

Which brings me to East Meets West Soup.

Looking at my spice rack, I decided plain old potato soup simply wouldn’t do. I started pulling Central Asian spices like coriander, ginger, and turmeric. My general theory being that if Indian spiced potatoes taste good and English potato soup tastes good, then Indian potato soup would taste awesome. This is of course based upon the “good + good = awesome” maxim, as related to me on several occasions by 7abibi.

East Meets West Soup

This is a kind of “throw it in” type of recipe. Not finicky in the least. So if you haven’t got it, substitute your butt off. It’ll be just fine.

Ingredients:

1 large onion (I used yellow, but you can use anything but sweet – Wallawalla/Vidalia/etc)

1 cup baby carrots

6 stalks celery

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large sweet potato

2 large russet potatoes

3 teaspoons broth/stock bouillon base (I used Better than Boullion chicken, but you can make this vegan

with vegetable stock)

3 teaspoons dry ginger (slightly less if you’re working with fresh or minced)

3 teaspoons minced garlic (3 cloves, if starting with whole)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons dry cilantro (a handful of fresh is better, but dry was all I had in the kitchen)

4 cups of water

Equipment:

chef’s knife or utility knife

cutting board

vegetable peeler

large 2 – 4 quart pot

wooden spoon

ladle

Directions:

Dice onions and cut celery and carrots finely and combine in large pot. [Hey look! You just made a mirepoix. Don’t you feel all knowledgeable and chefy now?].

Sprinkle salt over vegetables. Place pot over medium/low heat, stirring occasionally with wooden spoon for 10 minutes until mirepoix is fragrant and vegetables begin to soften. This is a sweat, so you shouldn’t hear loud sizzling or see any browning. If you have that, turn the heat down until it stops. You should simply have steam and fragrance.

While the aromatics are sweating, take this opportunity to peel and chop your potatoes. I like pieces that are fairly large, because they tend to disintegrate as they get softer and bigger chunks means more chunks are left in the final soup. Chop the russet potatoes last, because they will start to brown after the flesh is exposed to the air and that does not look tasty at all.

Place the potato chunks in the pot with the aromatics and add spices (NOTE: if you’re using fresh chopped cilantro, wait and add it to the finished soup after you turn off the burner), bouillon base, lemon juice, and garlic. Stir until all pieces of vegetables are coated and then add water. Cover and let simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Usually celery is the last to go, so be sure to check a big chunk of that to be sure about doneness.

Ladle into bowls and enjoy.

 

Tortillas Florales: Better than Flowers and Chocolates!

Filed under: Food and Cooking — imaginaryheroine @ 1:54 am
Tags: , , , , ,

If the first few recipes on this blog are any indication, I really like chocolate. I love flowers as much as the next girl too. However, my dearest 7abibi has really topped himself this time. This Valentine’s Day we’re going to make a pilgrimage to Rivera Restaurant, where Chef John Sedlar works his magic. Insert culinary fan girl squeeeeeee here.

Well, technically not Valentine’s Day, since those tables have been booked for MONTHS (hey, we’re from the midwest – we’re not really up on that whole “reservations” thing). But Valentine’s Eve, 7abibi and I will be ordering Tortillas Florales and enjoying each morsel.

I heard about Tortillas Florales in a restaurant review on CHOW.com a few months ago and kept a picture in my kitchen inspiration bookmarks for ages. Then I stumbled across this video and had to show 7abibi my latest food fetish.

I think my next kitchen utensil purchase might have to be a tortilla press…