The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

The Imaginary Heroine’s Fictional Boyfriends March 25, 2010

As promised, here’s a list of my fictional boyfriends.

Harry Potter, the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
I know a bunch of people are going to skeeved out when they read this. Let me just say, I started reading Harry Potter in junior high, when we were about the same age in book time. As the gaps between books widened, I aged faster than Mr. Potter did. All of this is moot though, because Harry’s birthday is July 30, 1980. So, he’s seven years and about a month older than me anyway. So there.

I didn’t really feel romantically attached to Harry until the much-maligned fifth book came out (I was still two months shy of sixteen when it came out in 2003, so I was still in non-creepy territory. Thbt!). A lot of people have complained that they couldn’t stand Harry in book five. He was a whiney pain-in-the-butt, always on about how unfair life was and losing his marbles to the Dark Lord.

Here’s the thing…that was just how I felt too. High school pretty much sucked for me. Like Harry, I spent a lot of time at odds with not only a large number of my closest friends, but also several teachers and my high school. Throw in some metallic maroon combat boots and the inevitable teenage cry of “no one understands meeeee!” and you’ve got the wretched disaster that was sixteen year-old me.

When Harry was shouting down Professor Umbridge in class and forming secret resistance societies, my bolshy (and, yes, whiney, pain-in-the-butt) sixteen year-old self just swooned. When he wasn’t defeating evil, Harry was just trying to get by and do right by people. He also had a mischief streak a mile wide without being an obnoxious “bad boy.” Something that really appealed to this goody-two-shoes. Harry also has great taste in women, as evidenced by his proximity to smart gals like Hermione and Ginny. Add in dark hair and some glasses…I’m sold.

Just like Harry, I ended up dropping out before my senior year and heading off into the world. Sure he went to look for Horcruxes and I went to college, but we can’t all be “the Chosen One.” I will always think of Harry Potter as my partner in crime, my brother in arms, and my only high school boyfriend.

Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, portrayed by David Boreanaz
This one gives me pause now. I used to think Angel was, like, the be all end all of hotness. I definitely blame him for giving me a type: dark eyes, dark hair, straight brow, tan skin, buff shoulders…. Which is basically 7abibi all over, now that I think of it…

Now I realize that it’s pretty creepy for a 240 year-old guy to be sleeping with a seventeen year-old. Even if the 17 year-old in question is a vampire slayer. Plus, all these vampire romances sound good in theory, but the lack of body heat just…ew. Ew. I have a feeling a physical relationship with a vampire would be kind of icky, actually. Who knows what kind of nasty diseases a vampire might have lurking all over their body – they’re basically invincible!

That aside, Angel won my heart and stomped all over it again and again in college. And I loved him for it. It gave me an escape from a crazy class load, 3/4 time job, and roommate angst. Buffy and Angel on DVD definitely helped me survive some grueling semesters.

Yes, he spent some time saving Buffy, but he didn’t mind when Buffy saved him. And she did. Quite a lot, actually. That is what made Angel awesome. He loved a girl who could kick his ass. He even loved her after she killed him, for goodness sake. That is one man who knows the value of a good woman.

I ended up following Angel to his spin-off show and liking him the better for being a bit darker and a bit funnier than he was in BtVS. I have to give the writers and Boreanaz credit, because the Angel/Angelus duality helped me hash out a lot of feelings about good and evil inside myself and finding a moral compass after you realize you aren’t and never will be all good all the time.

Seeley Booth, Bones, portrayed by David Boreanaz
I followed David Boreanez on to his next project, a TV show called Bones. I had never been into a crime drama before, but I was willing to give it chance if it meant I could see his pretty face again. I was prepared to be bored or grossed out, but guess what? Bones kicks all kinds of ass.

Yet again, we see David Boreanaz sharing face time with a kick-ass woman and doing it well. Sometimes he plays the blue-collar, Catholic straight man to her intellectual, atheist jibes. Other times he plays the wise guy and urges her to listen to her heart to find the answers she’s searching for. The show achieves a delicate balance by giving the female lead traits often considered masculine and giving traditionally feminine traits to the male lead. The inversion leads to both humor and illumination as they work together to solve the crime du jour.

I would argue that Boreanaz must be a vampire in real life, because I swear he’s gotten better looking with age. He’s able to carry off both the manly man shell of FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth while staying true to an inner core of intuition, love, and harmony. He’s the thinking woman’s heart-throb.

Ramses Emerson, The Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters
I’ve talked about him before on this blog. Walter Peabody Emerson, a.k.a. the Brother of Demons, a.k.a. Ramses is totally hot.

Ramses is the scholar of the bunch, with several degrees and near perfect fluency in myriad languages, dead and alive. Don’t let that fool you though, because he’s also a master of disguise with a wicked sense of humor and enough mischief to match Fred and George Weasley. Plus he “doesn’t fight like a gentleman” whether he’s faced with drunken British Officers or Turkish spies or his dastardly cousin Percy. He’s not afraid of personal injury if he thinks it’s in the service of good, as evidence by his damaging pacifist cover for an extremely active career as a secret agent. He’s also an unabashedly adoring husband and loving dad. Swoon.

Ramses is another guy who is attracted to smart and determined women. How can he not be with a mom like Amelia Peabody? It’s an aphrodisiac, I swear. Show me a man who loves smart women and I’ll show you a milliondy-twelve women of worth willing to love him back.

Honorable Mention:
Mr. Knightly, Emma by Jane Austen
I sort of surprise myself on this one, since my favorite Austen is definitely Sense and Sensibility. But Edward Ferrars just can’t stand up to Mr. Knightly (or really anyone, come to think of it). Mr. Knightly was always trying to boss Emma around, but still loved her and sought her opinion even when she stood up to him or refused to take his advice. Sure his constant nagging could be interpreted as paternalistic and icky, but I choose to read it otherwise. Emma was written as such a stubborn and self-assured character that she needed a powerful counterpart. Someone who was willing to tell her when she was full of crap or being a bitch to Miss Bates. Someone who urged her to be better, because she could and should. That’s why I would say Mr. Knightly has the edge over everyone’s favorite haughty-to-hottie hero, Mr. Darcy.

I find most of Austen’s heros fairly tame. The guys with real spark end up being huge jerks, like Wickham and Willoughby. What is Austen saying here? Is she pulling a Gottleib and telling us to settle for Mr. Dependable-but-dull? Is she telling us that a happy marriage means turning your back on fun, exciting partners? Although Austen gives her heroines a traditional happy ending, the fact that she herself never married and her quotes on the subject of marriage, spinsterhood, and female worth are indicative of a deep skepticism of marriage and men.

Fred/George Weasley, the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
They’re a ton of fun, that’s for sure, and plenty brave. They also seem to be appreciative of powerful women. Fred took the Angelina Johnson to the Yule Ball for cripes sake! Don’t remember her? She was a quidditch chaser who was good enough to make captain and a witch talented enough to try for TriWizard Champion. I hear she married George after the Second Wizarding War! My admiration for the twins is somewhat limited by their secondary (tertiary?) character status. There’s not much to go on here since the Harry Potter series is mostly limited to Harry’s POV. What did they get up to when Harry wasn’t looking? I’m betting they were “up to no good,” of course.

Eric Northman, the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris and True Blood, portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård

This is a fairly recent one for me. I just started reading the Sookie Stackhouse books this year. If I talk about why, I’ll be giving up a crapload of spoilers about the book series and possibly the TV show, so I’ll just zip it. He’s definitely got the high mischief factor going on. I can’t like Eric all the way since he’s definitely a selfish jerk. On the other hand, he’ll tell you so up front. Points for honesty? Being a former viking, he definitely goes against my normal physical type. I’ll stay tuned on this one. The jury is still out.

Who are your fictional boyfriends? Have they changed over time? Want to fight to the death over Angel? I’m dying to know!

 

A New Dawn part 10: “A Moon…A Girl…Romance!” by James A. Owen March 22, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

Eerily similar, no?

Although romances make up over half of all book sales, James Owen couldn’t find a single friend or colleague willing to admit that they read them. They actually became offended when he suggested that not only do they read romances, but they read them frequently.

How does he know this? Because they’re all Twilight fans. Owen’s main thesis is that Twilight, when boiled down to its essentials, is really an old-fashioned romance novel.

According to Owen, the only reason the Twilight Saga is considered a Young Adult book is because a Young Adult publisher was the first to like it and pick it up. He argues that due to the characters’ ages alone, Romeo and Juliet would probably be published under this banner today. The label doesn’t define the book – just the publisher.

Twilight actually bridges several worlds, including horror, fantasy, and, of course, romance. How well it performs each genre varies. Clearly Meyer’s monsters are not quite up to snuff for horror. “[T]he anomaly of Stephen King’s classic Carrie aside – I’m unable to think of a horror book deserving of the name in which the denouement takes place at the prom,” Owen remarks. Fantasy is, in his opinion, also not the essential point of the Twilight Saga. Sure vampires and werewolves are interesting literary devices, but they’re mostly window dressing. The real focus of the books is the characters and how they interact. The main action of the novel involves a girl meeting a boy and trying to make it work against all odds. It’s a romance.

Owen makes a great point about why we’re so resistant to admit that we’re reading romance novels. The term has become so narrowly defined that all we can think of is cheesy Fabio men named Dirk clutching some swooning ninny while her heaving bosom tumbles from her ripped bodice. It’s a pretty suffocating genre label.

In my personal experience, adult genre labels are getting narrower and narrower all the time. When you do find something that combines several different genres, it’s difficult to explain to someone else what kind of book it is that you’re reading. Is it a mystery if there’s romance? Is it a fantasy if it’s about catching a thief? Giving book recommendations labels is a loaded proposition.

Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling’s Harry potter series has transformed the Young Adult label into something much more flexible. Young Adult books are allowed to dabble in sci-fi, fantasy, horror, romance – whatever!

As readers, we’re looking for wonder and excitement – things Owen notes were part of the romance movement and its literature in the first place. The publishers in the adult section are taking themselves so seriously, their books have lost a lot of their hypnotic powers. It’s no wonder that some of the most wildly popular books among both teens and adults right now are Young Adult novels.

[Aside on the New Moon book cover: I recently heard someone call Bella’s pose (head and hand against man’s chest/shoulder/neck, depending on respective height) “dialing in Tokyo.” The phrase tickled me so much I just wanted to pass it along.]

 

*Everything* is Toasted March 21, 2010

While streaming the disastrous catastrophic demoralizing infuriating basketball game yesterday, I happened to catch a Mercedes-Benz commercial.

“Isn’t that Draper?” says 7abibi, the indifferent victim of second-hand Mad Men viewership.

And so it was!

Apparently, Jon Hamm is the new voice of Mercedes-Benz. Their logic being that Hamm is both extremely popular from Mad Men and his recurring role on 30 Rock, NBC’s Tina Fey vehicle, and because he has a “terrific, very resonant voice with a lot of gravitas to it.”

It’s true that Hamm’s a mega hunk with buckets of talent. I’m glad he’s getting the attention he deserves. I’m just not positive that the commercials are going to have the exact effect Mercedes-Benz is going for.

Sure, talking points about eco-conscious engineering drip like glistening ambrosia from Hamm’s well-molded lips, but all I hear is Don Draper pulling another one over on us, “it’s toasted” style.

Go watch the clip. It’s short and important. Go.

Back? Okay. This is the first episode of Mad Men. How could I not be hooked? For those of you who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, I really do urge you to give it a shot. The sets, costuming, hair, and makeup are outdone only by the superb writing and acting.

The down side to watching Mad Men? Well, you start to feel like EVERYTHING is toasted.

Like Don says, advertising is all about telling the story that affirms the consumer. If an ad can do this well, it generally leads to consumption of the advertised product.

More often than not, the story that we’re being told about one product, is actually just as true for the competition. It’s simply that one company has been more successful in branding.

Sometimes the story being told is true but irrelevant. Like “natural botanicals” in shampoo. Sure they’re in there, but they may be included in such tiny amounts they have no effect whatsoever on your hair. The active ingredients are probably a mix of unappealing things like detergents, preservatives, fragrance, and dye. But, hey, slap in some technically present “tropical essence” and your customer feels like they’re washing their hair with shampoo made from fairy lights and tropical fruit. Don’t even get me started on “chemical free” products. Uh…what is your product made of then? Dark matter?

Think the Lucky Strike ruse is old news? The rebranding is eerily similar to this company’s attempt to change the name of prunes (image: old people with constipation) to dried plums (image: hip foodie in search of exotic delicacies). The product is the same, the words and the story we tell ourselves has radically changed.

As you know, I love stories. I even like to be told stories about a product that someone wants to sell me. Heck, I even tell myself stories about the products I’m buying sometimes. I hunted down the exact brand and shade of red lipstick used on Joan in Mad Men. Why? Because we’re both fair, I love lipstick, and when I wear it I can tell myself that I am a capable and feisty professional woman like Joan.

I use my Imaginary Heroine powers and try to tell myself a story to make me feel differently, act differently. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But other times it does. That little bit of lipstick makes feel just a touch more ready for Monday.

Laura Mercier creme lipstick in Mistress, an office maven's best friend

As immersed as we are in media culture, we need to be hyper-aware that the story we’re told by advertisers (as well as politicians, professors, journalists, novelists, etc) is by no means complete. Mostly because no human is omnipotent or infallible, but also because some humans seek to manipulate others. Sometimes for innocuous reasons and other times for malicious reasons, but almost always for reasons that benefit the teller and not the listener. Not to go all Professor Moody (who had his own agenda, especially whilst being impersonated a murderous Death Eater*), but we need to have constant vigilance on this issue.

Take for instance, the commercial blitz for the 2010 Census. That joyful man in his bathrobe is “being counted!” and in doing so he’s funding after school sports, fixing roads, and saving pregnant ladies in labor.

However, that story ignores some of the more ugly uses of the Census in the past. Like rounding up Japanese Americans for internment in the 1940s or giving information on the concentrations of Arab Americans to the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 and 2003. Not to mention the more recent identity theft that resulted from the Census Bureau misplacing 672 laptops as well as Census workers posting respondents’ data on a public website while testing software. These aren’t fairy tales of civic duty, they’re nightmares of government excesses and ineptitude.

And if you’re thinking of using the above reasons to skip the Census, forget about it. You’re required by law to take part if you’re over 18. The Census Bureau is able to levy fines of $100 per blank answer, $500 per willful wrong answer, and $5,000 for non-compliance. So, fill out your form and hope that Bathrobe Bob is right this time around, okay? If that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, follow-up mailing your letter with a screening of O Brother Where Art Thou and cheer when Little Hogwallop says “I nicked the Census man” and Delmar responds “Now there’s a good boy.”

I guess all we can do is listen to the stories we’re told and try to think critically about our responses. Where does this story come from? Who is telling me this story? What do they want me to take away from this story? What do they want me to do and why? Should I take their advice or should I decide to act differently?

Because if we don’t, we’re all going to end up toasted.

*Ever notice how we all seem to attribute thoughts and actions to Professor Moody that were expressed NOT by Moody, but instead by Barty Crouch, Jr.? Even Ron, Hermione, and Harry, who would have reason to know better, continue to quote Crouch-Moody and take his advice. Weird. I don’t know if this is JKR’s subtle comment on how much people resist the notion of betrayal or if she did such a good job with Crouch-Moody that he hoodwinked not only the Potterverse, but also its fans and author!