Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Unrealistic Outcome: The Sad Truth About Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"

Welcome to my Christmas essay of 2012! I originally thought of this idea and began writing it in January of 2012, but since it was after Christmas I didn't want to post it, so I decided to work on it for this Christmas instead. It's funny because I have other ideas to write about when it comes to A Christmas Carol, such as the different film versions and how they each tell the story differently. I may still do that, but I also want to point out this observation I have recently made.

Alastair Sim as "Ebenezer Scrooge" in the 1951 film version
We all know the story of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, right? An old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is pretty much the world's biggest jerk. It isn't until he is visited by four ghosts, his old business partner Jacob Marley included, that he changes his ways and is a good man all around come Christmas morning.

It's such a heartwarming book, film, and Christmas classic, guaranteed to make your spirits bright and give you hope for the world. But what if I told you that A Christmas Carol isn't necessarily as heartwarming as we think it is?

This change in Scrooge's character isn't realistic and we shouldn't necessarily be proud of him. A Christmas Carol has such a happy ending just because it's a Christmas story ending on Christmas Day. Christmas is supposed to ignite happiness, so it would be blasphemous if a Christmas story, especially one that ends on Christmas Day, has a negative outcome.

This sudden 180 in Scrooge's personality is not natural even how it is done. How many of us want to make changes in our lives but find it difficult to do so? We can't expect flaws to leave altogether and never return. That would make us perfect, and we all know that perfection doesn't exist. It's a process and it takes time. We also all know that famous phrase: "Things don't change overnight." And yet, this is what Dickens leads us to believe, or at least tries to. Scrooge changes very quickly and we're supposed to assume that he never commits a bad act again and from here on in he is a good guy. All of a sudden he has a heart of gold and we're not supposed to question it.

Also, Scrooge is reluctant to change throughout the story until the point in his dream and ghostly visitations where he sees Tiny Tim and begins to sympathize with him. If a person is indeed going to change, the want to change also has to be there throughout the process as well. Here Scrooge changes without even having the desire to do so at first and throughout the story. It also seems like he gets off too easy. He doesn't want to at first, but yet it happens for him anyway. That's not fair to others that try to change but struggle with it.

So apparently at the end of the story Scrooge is an angelic man for the rest of his life, but who's to say that he didn't go back to his humbug ways the following days? The story ends on Christmas Day, which is when people are just automatically happy. Then again, this is the first time in his life after a long period that Scrooge is actually celebrating Christmas, so in that respect we can say that his reaction to it is genuine. However, a person doesn't make such a big shift that quickly and stay that way. First we are to assume that he does change, and now we are to assume that this change now lasts without any slip ups because the story concludes idealistically.

And finally, Dickens is trying to convince us that the life altering event that changes him so drastically is a bunch of dreams consisting of four wacky ghosts? Come on! If anything should change him, it should be an actual realistic event that he has to live through because that's how real life works. Even The Grinch from Dr. Seuss's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" has a change of heart when he hears the Whos of Whoville singing, and he's not even human! Now that I think about it, Scrooge and The Grinch have a lot in common. They're both grumpy guys that isolate themselves from the rest of their worlds at Christmas time and then at the end learn to truly appreciate the season and everybody around them. We can argue that The Grinch's transformation is even quicker and less fair than Scrooge's, especially in the original 1957 book and 1966 cartoon version where all he has to do is hear the Whos sing and then realize that Christmas isn't about the presents but the people with whom you share it. It isn't until the year 2000 when a live action film version of the story came out starring Jim Carrey and provided us with a backstory and motivations for The Grinch, kind of like how the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge and the reader and audience his past. Past occurrences, and the fact that he isn't human, are the reasons why he hates Christmas. He meets little Cindy Lou Who and Martha May Whovier, his love interest, who help him along the way throughout the movie to make his changes and give him reason to do so. Sure it seems like throughout the movie he doesn't want to change, much like Scrooge, but there are moments where he does cave and seems willing. Also, keep in mind that in the movie the Whos ostracize him because they consider him a monster, making him feel unwelcome.

But the difference with Scrooge is people actually want him around to celebrate with them. Unlike The Grinch, who is pushed away by people because they make assumptions about him, Scrooge is the one that does the pushing away his entire life and it is ultimately his choice to be isolated whereas it may not be The Grinch's choice in his story necessarily. So The Grinch's story changes in the live action version to give him more to work with, but A Christmas Carol has never changed its traditional story too much (thankfully, because I made it clear in my Christmas essay last year that I don't really like that), so basically we have to work with the same thing we've always been seeing for years, which are his dreams. Also, we're supposed to relate to Scrooge more than The Grinch because Scrooge is a human being living among others in society whereas The Grinch looks like a distant relative of Oscar the Grouch and lives in the mountains by himself. (I've never noticed this before, but they look and act a lot alike, don't they? LOL.)

Sure the ghosts show Scrooge real past and present occurrences, as well as peeking into the future and how dire it is going to be if Scrooge doesn't change his ways, but these happen in dream sequences and you know how we humans are with dreams. When we first wake up we still feel like we are in the dream, so therefore Scrooge waking up fearing that he missed Christmas and dancing around in his pajamas in his first waking moment makes sense. He is still in dream mode, that limbo between being asleep and being awake. In this moment too he asks the kid walking by his house to buy his employee Bob Cratchit a huge turkey for his family using his money. All of a sudden he now trusts little children with his money.

This is all being done right after Scrooge wakes up because he didn't even have any time to register anything. He does all of this so hastily. When we wake up from such realistic dreams, aren't we shaken up too? Don't we have trouble thinking straight and critically? As we gradually wake up, the dream starts to make no sense at all. We even start to forget it until eventually it totally disappears from our minds and we come back to reality, thus returning back to our regular routines. After a couple of days, or maybe even later on in the day, since the story seems to conclude on Christmas MORNING, Scrooge could look back on his dream and ghost encounters that Christmas Eve and consider it a bunch of malarkey, returning him back to his old, nasty self.

Looking at it now, I'm actually pretty shocked that his belief in his dream seems to last the entire day, because there are versions of the story where he attends dinners and parties. I've always wondered what exact time he wakes up actually, because the little boy answers that it's Christmas Day, not Christmas morning. If he does wake up in the morning, time moves pretty fast in the final minutes of A Christmas Carol.

I know it's supposed to be fiction so therefore reality shouldn't really matter, but all of this makes me question just how joyful and moralistic this story really is. He supposedly learns his lesson after only ONE night of dreaming, but does he really? He dreams about his rough past and how currently people don't really like him, which actually brings up some unanswered questions on Dickens's part. Knowing Scrooge, why would he care about people liking him anyway? Also, why does he all of a sudden change his tune upon seeing Tiny Tim and how the Cratchit family struggles? He almost presents himself as a misanthrope not caring much about the well being of others, so how does all of this initiate change in him?

How sincere do you think Scrooge is at the end of A Christmas Carol? After reading what I have to say about it, do you still consider it an appropriate Christmas special? What about "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Carousel Review!

(I sent this to The Montclarion to be published online, but they haven't done so
as of yet, so I decided to post this here in the meantime.)

Every semester has at least one Broadway classic delivered by the Department of Theatre and Dance. In Fall 2010 it was Sweeney Todd, in Spring 2011 it was Sweet Charity, Fall 2011 A Chorus Line, Spring 2012 Kiss of the Spiderwoman, and now, Fall 2012 we have Carousel, quite possibly the most original classic of them all. The department still continues to deliver these gems of shows to the best of its top-notch ability.

With a gigantic cast, beautiful music conducted by Gregory J. Dlugos and produced by the tireless orchestra, and memorable dance numbers, which is a majority of the show, choreographed by Mimi Quillin, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, directed by Evan Pappas and brought to us by the Department of Theatre and Dance and John J. Cali School of Music, will be playing at the Alexander Kasser Theater until November 18.

The story is about a young innocent woman in late 1800s Maine named Julie Jordan, played by senior Haleigh Adams, who has caught the attractions of lead character Billy Bigelow, played by senior Christopher Cannon, an ex-Carousel barker who is down on his luck money wise. Charmed by how different and witty Julie is, Billy marries her, though proves that he is not the best of husbands by never finding decent work and hitting her once out of stress and anger. However, he shows that he has a heart of gold through his excitement for his future offspring when Julie reveals to him that she is pregnant. Because of this he discovers even more motivation to get some loot, but with the help of his friend Jigger Craigin (sophomore John Caliendo), his determination ultimately drives him to his downfall and he must try to make things right for his daughter Louise (senior Allison Steinberg), who engages in the ballet sequence of the musical. Carrie Pipperidge, Julie’s best friend (senior Brandy Kostick), and her betrothed Enoch Snow (senior Gabriel Rodrigues) provide a foil to the lead couple by being the comical duo whose troubles are not meant to be taken entirely serious. Throughout the musical you see that every single character has his or her flaws but also retains some redeeming qualities.

Audience members will really appreciate Carousel if they go for anything “cutesy,” for the songs and dances are cheerful and fun and the love stories are gushing with adorable moments. These can get somewhat overdone and a little too cute, but there are also very powerful depressing and heartbreaking moments to balance it out, mainly in the second act, for the way they approach the story of family love is very deep, leaving audience members in tears.

"The story has so many universal truths,” says Cannon, “It touches everybody's heart. I never felt so good to be in a show."

Cannon displays Billy’s suavity, anticipation, and desperation very well while Adams portrays Julie as a strong female character that takes a stand in her life and yet shows some restraint and composure to remain ladylike in society. The ensemble definitely puts a lot of hard work into their performances, for they do so much throughout the musical and steal the show with their constant stage time. In regards to special effects technique, one very great moment is how Carousel presents the afterlife with the use of smoke, bright lighting, and echoes.

From set to score, to gifted singing by the cast members, this version is a terrific one. Just like the characters share love for each other, you will fall in love with Carousel. For more information, please check out this website: http://www.peakperfs.org/performances/Carousel.

There are other things I want to discuss about Carousel that I have not in this review, so that might be another blog post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Look at What I Just Received in the Mail! :D



I'm so happy and excited because I just received this in the mail today in very nice packaging after much anticipation:













If you remember from this blog post, Attempts on her Life by Martin Crimp has been one of my favorite plays on campus. To me it is difficult to find a copy of the script and I thought I wouldn't be able to read it because it is one of those rare gems, but then I found a great deal on BarnesandNoble.com! I am so proud of myself. I ordered it before Hurricane Sandy hit, so I think that's why it took longer for me to receive it, other than the fact that I set it for the longer shipping time, but it was well worth the wait! I consider this a birthday/Christmas gift to myself. :)




Here I thought the closest thing I would get is reading it at a library or borrowing a copy from someone. Now I have my very own copy!




For those of you who are curious about how the actual text is written (I know I was!), here's an example:













This is the first page of my favorite scene "Untitled (100 Words)". It is so amazing what people can produce with such a simply written script.




Here's something interesting. When I saw this scene, "Jungfrau (Word Association)", in the book, I didn't recognize it and figured that they just cut it out and thought maybe I was forgetting something but then I realized that it was replaced with the "Communicating with Aliens" scene that I saw and that the "Communication with Aliens" scene is missing from the book I have. I wonder why. Is there another version out there with the "Communicating with Aliens" scene in it or is this supposed to be the same thing? I wonder what the deal is with this. I wasn't aware that there were other different scenes. I was thinking maybe word differences but not necessarily scene differences. I'm interested in learning about the history of this play now. Why the scene change?













Well this kind of disappoints me though. I want the same version my school used. I think there might be other versions of this play and hoped that I was ordering the right one. I did see another book of it on the Barnes and Noble website, which could be the more updated one.




I just checked now as well. There are other copies of the seemingly newer version on Amazon.com and other sites (I saw a version with "Communicating with Aliens" in the Table of Contents on a Tumblr site actually). Looks like there are other versions I should maybe try to obtain. ;) I have to check who is in stock and which versions are which. It would be good to have the version I just received as well as the other one.




Then again, maybe the "Communicating with Aliens" scene is not that much of a loss to me and maybe it's a good thing to have a different version. It feels more intricate to have the original (if that is indeed what I have).




Everything else in the book looks pretty familiar and it brings back memories. I can't wait to read it some more and am glad to add it to my collection! :D




Well, I'm off to reading (and perhaps purchasing)!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

First Theater Review for The Montclarion of the Semester and My Final Year at MSU! :D



You know, it is a tough world out there for us theater critics sometimes. It is sometimes difficult to plan on writing a review of a play and then sitting there watching it having no idea what is going on and what to put on paper. It's actually kind of nerve wracking when you have made a commitment and don't know how you are going to deliver when you have no feasible knowledge on which to base your critiques. It also does not help when your two companions joining you cannot provide any additional insight either lol. :P So what is a theater journalist to do?




This being said, the play Attempts on Her Life, which is playing until October 27, has been one of my favorites so far, and you will see why when you read my first theater review of the semester and my senior year here. I really love it. It is so unique and takes on so many ideas. I am so glad and grateful to have had the opportunity to see and write about it for The Montclarion. I love seeing my article published in there!




The more I thought about my confusion, the more I realized that I had much to say. This review is in my opinion one of my best work and I am very proud of it! Enjoy! :D

Monday, September 24, 2012

Peak Performances Update :)

The Department of Theatre and Dance 2012-2013 season lineup is now hanging in Life Hall!

Hey, look! There's Equus again!

The  pamphlet for the students productions are also available in the Alexander Kasser Theater. They are now stored in the newly added shelves instead of the table they used to be stored on near the Box Office. I believe you can also get them in other locations on campus or even in the mail.


For tickets to these shows and more, click here. This is another place where you can find the lineups of shows.

Throughout campus the shows are advertised with posters like these and more.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

"The Red Balloon": A Retelling of the Crucifixion

I've made some pretty strong claims on this blog in the past. I mean, I once even had the nerve to say that the movie John Tucker Must Die is better and more feminist friendly than Mean Girls. *Gasp* However, I believe that the claim of this post surpasses even that one.

On the first day of my "Intro to Screenwriting" class, our professor screened the film "Le Ballon Rouge" ("The Red Balloon"), which is a French short film from 1956. I invented my own conspiracy theory about this film based on a comment my professor made when we discussed the film afterwards. You might want to watch the film now so you will be able to understand the rest of this piece and not be spoiled, so I will conveniently place it here for you:


When we discussed the ending in particular, my professor said that the balloons all carried the little boy because they knew he was good in his ways of nurturing The Red Balloon, so carrying him around is how they show their gratitude. As soon as he said "nurturing" I thought about Jesus Christ because Jesus is both a nurturing human being and deity in many ways and believed that the little boy represented Jesus and that the crowd of balloons were representations of angels carrying his soul to Heaven, like the Ascension. But that was where the similarities pretty much rested. This was definitely taking the film to a whole different level entirely and my theories were forming in my mind vaguely, but I still knew that I wanted to think about it further and write about it. However, as I began to think about it more and more throughout this whole week, especially one night when all of these ideas rushed into my mind at once, somewhat keeping me up, I realized that there is even more to the film in regards to Jesus Christ and His death. In fact, it appears to match up very well, and the film is not just about the idea of friendship that we agreed on in class.

The Fact That the Balloon is "Red"
This balloon could have been any color, but for some reason, red was chosen. Throughout the film there are other balloons with minds of their own showcasing all different colors, but the main balloon is red. Why is this? Was it just a random color chosen by the director, or something more?

Well, there could be a Catholic connection to this. Red represents a lot of things that Jesus also represents. Blood is red and Jesus shed a lot of blood when he was crucified. Jesus's sacrifice for us shows us how much he loves us, and love is also often symbolized by red and shades of it. Then there's the idea of royalty. The color red also symbolizes royalty and Jesus just so happens to be often referred to as the "King of Kings".

Acceptance and Rejection
Throughout the film we see various reactions towards The Red Balloon, some positive, some negative. These kind of varied reactions also prove true when people react to Jesus Christ. There are those that regard a balloon following around a little boy a normal occurrence, but yet there are those who react to the balloon with such distaste that they kick it out of the quarters or refuse it entry to begin with, symbolizing how there are people who reject the teaches of Jesus Christ and the good news of God that He tries to spread. There are times when the little boy gets in trouble because of The Red Balloon's presence, so this represents how people who believe in God, and Jesus, who claims to be God, are sometimes cast out and persecuted for their beliefs. Regardless, Jesus never gives up his preaching or who He is and continues to show up, much like what The Red Balloon does throughout the movie, though of course The Red Balloon never exactly "preaches." There is even a time when The Red Balloon rescues the little boy by following the principal of his school to release him from the locked room where he is being punished for The Red Balloon.

The little boy is a loner that travels a lot on foot. This could also resemble Jesus, but Jesus never really was alone much and the kid does use the trolley once. The beginning and middle of the movie consists of The Red Balloon's adventures, which represent Jesus's life and His many experiences and miracles. There also seems to be a high demand for this balloon, for every time someone sees it, he or she tries to grab its string for whatever reason, whether it's because the person wants the balloon or the person wants to get rid of it. This could illustrate how people react to Jesus in two different ways. Some could be reaching for Jesus to feel His warmth while others are reaching for Him to challenge Him and shun Him from the world, finding Him a threat in some way that might overthrow the working system of things, which He does. The people in the movie never seem to want The Red Balloon around as well, which is odd because it is just a balloon and a peaceful character for the most part, much like how Jesus is peaceful, but just like Jesus was and is considered a threat for some, maybe they find The Red Balloon a threat just as well.

Another thing is that the little boy runs into a little girl with her own lifelike balloon. The balloons take to each other, but the little boy wants nothing to do with the little girl and goes on his merry way to do what he has to do. This can somewhat be a connection to Jesus too. From the Catholic understanding (other scholars may tell you differently), Jesus never had a romantic relationship with a woman, but rather just focused on His teachings and healing others. This may or may not explain why the little boy does not place more of a focus on the little girl, for at first you believe that this is where the movie will end, the balloons and the kids coupled off in an adorable little double date set up. 

Then again, this scene could simply just show that the little boy is too young to be interested in girls and prefers his balloon and agendas, but it is an interesting theory.

The Setting
In addition to the somewhat morbid characters we have a very dreary setting and The Red Balloon stands out a lot with its rich color next to the bland grayish town, which is another thing that was brought up in class discussion. If The Red Balloon does indeed represent Jesus Christ, this symbolizes how life on Earth is rather dark, dull, and depressing without Him in it.

The Little Boys
After random moments portraying the relationship between the boy and his balloon, we reach our climatic moment. The little boy goes to an all-boys school and throughout the film these other kids are always fighting each other to get to The Red Balloon. Towards the end there is this extended high-speed chase sequence (believe it or not) where the boys are relentless and will not stop until they finally capture The Red Balloon and destroy it, which is their intention. At first I thought they just wanted it for themselves to play with it, but the story proves that these kids just want to be cruel with unnecessary violence.

There's something that must be said about these pursuers being all boys. There was no such thing as female Roman soldiers in Biblical times, the male ones being the guys that tortured and killed Jesus, so perhaps the choice was made to have the protagonist attend an all-boys school for this reason. The young lads follow suit to this, especially with the unnecessary violence. When they eventually capture the balloon, they don't just pull it down to pop it and be done with it. They make sure they torture it beforehand, throwing rocks and sticks at it as it floats in the air bound to them, for they had tied it down with an additional string. This very much resembles the scourging of the Lord before he is taken to Calvary, when the Roman soldiers tied Jesus up and flogged him, also placing a Crown of Thorns on His head. After much humiliation, much like what Jesus endured before His death, they take The Red Balloon up to a hill, much like Calvary/Golgotha, the hill where Jesus was crucified. As all of this happens, and throughout the movie, it is heartbreaking because the little boy who is trying to retrieve his Red Balloon and protect it from the dangers of his world finds himself alone and outnumbered by the rest of the kids and people in the town, much like how Jesus and His followers felt alone and outnumbered by the Jews, high priests, and Roman soldiers at the time of His death.

The Red Balloon is finally deflated by the kids, probably from a sharp object. Sharp objects, nails, are also used to nail Jesus to the Cross. This is the one scene in the film that has complete silence, with no background noise or music, except for a dog barking in a distance. As the balloon deflates, the camera's focus is only on The Red Balloon getting smaller. Sometimes the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is portrayed in this same solemn way, giving us a chance to mourn and really reflect. Suddenly, the angelic balloons all react and all travel to the area when The Red Balloon gives its final exaggerated puff, just like the people at Jesus's death react mournfully to knowing then that He was truly the Son of God after He forces out His final words "It is finished." and breathes His last breath. It is when both The Red Balloon and Jesus Christ die that their followers and non-followers believe in them more and more and come to them.

The Ending
When I saw the final scene, I thought the little boy died and that the crowd of balloons were bringing him to Heaven before I even connected him to Jesus, but my professor's "nurture" comment is what then made me compare him to Jesus during the class discussion. But, it was technically the balloon that "died" so this doesn't really make any sense. But it does. I was thinking that perhaps the deflation of the balloon and the carrying off of the little boy served to connect both characters, saying that they are the same being and when one dies, so does the other. The balloon died and gave the little boy a paradise life in Heaven because of his good deeds. The Red Balloon's deflation is the little boy's actual passing OR the little boy was simply The Red Balloon's soul or human form the entire time.

Then after awhile I began to think about the connection this makes to Catholicism and trying to figure out which of the two characters actually represents Jesus Christ, and began to think that this portion of my theory, though at first seeming a little bit far-fetched even for me because I couldn't really find a way to prove it and I thought I was making it up out of nowhere, makes a lot of sense. This is what I finally came up with: Even the Catholic religion teaches that God isn't just one Being. There are three persons in one God, known as The Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this film is trying to prove this same thing. The balloon and the little boy are the same "person" in a religious sort of way. The little boy is the Father in one aspect because he's the one who trains the the balloon, which is Jesus, the Son, because it undergoes the most humanlike suffering and death and is trained by the "Father," often making mistakes and protecting itself from the dangers of the town because those are human qualities. The Red Balloon is also always by the little boy's side, much like Jesus is always by God's side, never denying his identity as the "Son of God" and preaching His word. Finally, it circles back to the little boy being the Holy Spirit because he is the soul of The Red Balloon that is whisked away to Heaven by the "angels." We could also look back to the first scene of the movie when the little boy "rescues" The Red Balloon, which is tied to the streetlight, depicting how God is always there for Jesus Christ and to rescue us when we are stuck. 

I realized that throughout this piece I kept calling the protagonist "the little boy," not really bothering to get his real name because it doesn't seem that important to the plot to have it matter to mention and I wasn't even sure if he even has one, but I decided to look it up anyway. I just discovered this now, but according to IMDb, the little boy's name is "Pascal," which is actually another word for "Easter" and often associated with it, such as referring to Jesus as the "Pascal Lamb" or "Lamb of God" and Easter as "Pascal Sunday". The lamb is a symbol of Passover, which is what Jesus celebrated with his twelve apostles on Holy Thursday before He gave Himself up for death. Easter is the celebration of when Jesus resurrected from the dead on the third day and is always celebrated on a Sunday, which is today. The little boy, whose name in real life is Pascal Lamorisse, appears to be the son of the director and writer, Albert Lamorisse. Perhaps Lamorisse is a Catholic director that wanted to tell the story of the Crucifixion in this way, maybe using his son as the main protagonist to teach him about it. Perhaps he is so much enthralled by the Crucifixion and Easter that he decided to name his son Pascal in the first place.

I could be wrong about all of this, but the stories are just too similar to ignore. I actually looked for some clues in regards to the resurrecting in three days concept, which is pretty much the most important detail of the Crucifixion, like maybe The Red Balloon's deflation scene and little boy's lift in the sky by the balloons scene is three minutes apart, but I couldn't really find it and don't think that is the case. Then again, Jesus lived on Earth for forty days after His Resurrection before He actually ascended into Heaven, so maybe it is forty seconds apart...

Okay, so maybe not every little detail matches up, but it is very close to it. Hopefully this entire post can help prove my theory. It could just be a cute movie about the values of friendship and hope in a dreary society, but perhaps this film is a commentary about religious intolerance and an allegory about the greatest moment in Christian history, which takes the original idea to a whole other deeper level.

I think I am one of two English majors in my class (I know, right?) and I am definitely in English major mode. 

(I wrote most of this last night and decided to post it today because it is Sunday, for religious reasons lol.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Department of Theatre and Dance Student Productions at MSU 2012-2013 Season Lineup

The Department of Theatre and Dance this season at MSU is a bit behind in advertising the student productions of this season, so I took it upon myself to personally get permission to help out and advertise the shows on this here blog. :)

The following is the lineup I was given by request. :)

Hey, look! There's Equus!

There you have it! Now you're informed! Enjoy the shows if you are able to see them! Also, look forward to some reviews of these shows written by me! :)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Stef's "So Good You Can't Put It Down" Book Reviews: End of Summer 2012 Reading Challenge Book List and Comments

You'll be happy to know that my Summer 2012 Reading Challenge was not a failure. I did sample a nice handful of books this summer. Those are the following:

Equus-Peter Shaffer (Finished in two days)

Northanger Abbey-Jane Austen

The Abstinence Teacher-Tom Perrotta

Summer-Edith Wharton

The Grapes of Wrath (Play Version)-Frank Galati (Somewhat read)

Seminar-Theresa Rebeck (Finished in two days)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-Edward Albee (Finished)

Steel Magnolias-Robert Harling (Finished)

Dirty Blonde-Lisa Scottoline

A lot of these I bought from the Annual Lacordaire Academy Book Sale and are listed above by order of which I began and/or continued reading them. This is the basic order I remember. I would alternate between books throughout my reading experience. I already wrote pieces about Equus and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so I will just give a few words about the rest of the books I read. What all of these books have in common is that the all have a strong female lead character, which is probably why I like them and what drew me to them in the first place. What's interesting too is that the female characters are each an evolved form of another or previous female character, each woman representing a different form of feminism, so that is how I am going to list them in my reviews below while also incorporating the order in which I read them.

AND you don't have to worry about spoilers from me, because I don't know the endings of most of these works either! :P

Northanger Abbey
This is the main novel I attempted when I said I wanted to tackle more classics. I had been familiar with this novel since I was a kid and saw the "Wishbone" episode in which it was featured, so I had been interested in the back of my mind in reading it ever since.

I always appreciate a story with a lead heroine, only in this book Austen makes it a point to say that her lead female Catherine Morland is not yet a heroine and is pretty much not heroine material. She is described as goofy and not very attractive. She is pretty much what you would expect from a quirky female character whom is still discovering her world and is not ready yet to be taken seriously because of her youth and innocence. It is because of her that the book is cutesy and light-hearted, understanding the romanticism of younger women, which is nice because not every book should be heavy and it's nice to relax and read a cute novel, but on the other hand...

The thing about this book is that it is extremely slow moving and the characters portray themselves as very snooty and Catherine is just trying to fit in this snooty, wealthy society. It is very repetitive and does not seem to go anywhere, the characters complaining and making comments about the same things more than once. It is just her vacationing at Bath with these people, but there does not seem to be a specific plot yet and so far I am at least a quarter or a third in the novel. I like that the story plays around with gender stereotypes, which is refreshing because it is set in a time period where gender roles were set in stone and Austen is writing in this time period and scoffing at it. I was told and read that this book is supposed to be a parody of gothic novels (but to me it is also a parody of this time period and society), so this makes sense.

Summer
I didn't read a lot of this one to really comment about it much, but it does have a quirky yet strong female lead and she stands up for herself more than Catherine would or maybe even needs to. This plot appears to be slow moving as well, but it seems to be one of those books that you take in stride as leisure reading. Like Northanger Abbey, it is a seemingly calm, not-so-heavy book. The book is described as depicting a young woman's sexual awakening, so that's why it grabbed my attention. Even so, the book hasn't really grabbed me in yet fully. It does look like it has the potential to build into something bigger though. I actually really like this one.

The Abstinence Teacher
As soon as I began reading this one awhile ago I liked it because it is very modern in the writing style and takes place in New Jersey, so I can relate. It is up there as one of my favorite books because of the style, familiarity, and subject matter. What the book does is argue Christianity and the controversy that surrounds it, such as abstinence-only education. The lead female character, Ruth Ramsey, is an abstinence teacher, but she also believes in forms of contraception and not keeping the kids in the dark about these alternatives. However, the institution at which she teaches and resides pulls the reigns on her and prevents her from doing so, for she gets into trouble because of it. Homosexuality, sexuality, priesthood, church, parish picnics, infidelity, conversion, misconstrued beliefs, beliefs, etc., are other themes that the novel discusses and believers versus non-believers is a huge part of the conflict in the story. This type of stuff interests me enough in everyday life, which is how the book initially got my attention in the first place and why I liked the book since the beginning, but yet because these are things I often see in my own life, I don't necessarily want to read about it in fiction and get further irritated about it because these topics also have a tendency to stress me out a bit. I am halfway through it, but there are times I do have to take long breaks from it because it can be a little bit too much.

Steel Magnolias
Because my reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was such a success, I decided to look in the library for another play to read this summer. This one jumped out at me on the library book shelf in the drama section, partially because I remember that it was performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse. This play isn't as gut-wrenching as the others with deep meaning as it is plain entertainment, with witty one-liners and some sad discussion points. The cast is all female and movies have been based on it, so it is always great to see a written work dominated by interesting women (even though it was written by a man, which is something I didn't quite understand or appreciate until later). It's just a bunch of women having conversations in a hair salon with one central character. After I completed the play I read in the book jacket that this was Harling's tribute to his mother and sister (for a mother/sister duo are the main characters of this play) and after I read this the play made more sense to me. It is considered a gift to these two family members of his and reads that way. It isn't meant for anything else to be explored.

Dirty Blonde
The title itself of this book spoke to me, because I myself have dirty blonde hair, and the description on the back of the book jacket further clenched my interest. A blonde woman, Cate Fante, becomes a judge and is not taken seriously by some because of the way she carries herself. After she makes a judgement on a case, the aftermath of her judgement spirals out of control and soon her own personal life gets involved in the works and hangs in the balance.

This actually might be my favorite one out of this list, because I literally got halfway through the book with flying colors, feeling myself apart of the action, but like with The Abstinence Teacher, I kind of had to take a break from reading this one too. The story takes a turn for the more annoying much like that one, basically making a big deal about a woman and her sexual exploits and her whole world toppling down because of it. An argument that is made in the book is whether or not any of this would be a big deal if she were a man. As I was reading it I saw that the book provides you with book club discussions in the back, so I think that is interesting and take them into account as I read.

However, I still have a lot of positive things to say about the book regardless. What I do like is that Scottoline always ends her chapters with a cliffhanger. I always loved this about fiction books as a child so I am glad to see this style of writing again. These kinds of chapters keep you reading, wanting to learn what happens next, so you know that this is a skillful author who knows how to captivate her readers. Even when I was really tired and did not want to continue reading because of my heavy eyes, it made me briefly read ahead anyway and skip ahead sometimes just to ease my wonder a bit. It is suspenseful, a favorite genre of mine, and somewhat mysterious, which can send chills down one's spine. 

And so my Summer 2012 Reading Challenge comes to a close. I'm not saying that any of these books are bad. These are just the impressions they give me and I am still willing and determined to complete them at some point. I am even considering to read them leisurely during my school and work life. This might also be my last blog post for a little while so I can focus on school and other things, so I think I can safely say that I accomplished the summer blog posts I had planned. Thank you so much for reading!

Oh, and Happy Labor Day! This day can be considered the final day of summer, so coincidentally I am posting this today. Haha.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reflections about...Jonah Performance at Sight & Sound Theatres Tuesday July 31, 2012 at 1 PM

A month ago my younger cousin Michael was up from North Carolina visiting us and so one of the things my aunt planned for us to do together is Sight & Sound Theatres, which is something she had been wanting to do for awhile since her friends from Bible study told her about it a few years ago. Sight & Sound Theatres showcases the stories of the Bible in the form of musical theater. "Where the Bible comes to life" seems to be its motto. Sight & Sound Theatres has two locations: Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Branson, Missouri. Naturally, because it is closer, we went to Lancaster to see Jonah.

This is the outside of the theater. It looks like a palace inside and out!

Jonah is a young prophet in Biblical times whom loves the Lord. One day the Lord gives Jonah a message that greatly troubles him. He wants Jonah to travel to Nineveh to ask the people to repent their sins to gain salvation. However, Jonah does not believe that Nineveh deserves this salvation because they are horrible people and when he was a child they killed his father, so it is personal for him. Jonah runs away from his prophet duties, but God always manages to find him, ultimately using a sea mammal to help Jonah come to his senses.

The Love of God

This just might be the first play I've seen where agape (the unconditional love of God) is the main focus. In other plays, normally the love that carries the plot is romantic love, or perhaps a relationship between family members, but you rarely see a play totally focused on religion, God, and Christianity. Religion and Christianity actually inspired the earlier forms of drama, such as the Wakefield Mystery Plays (which is actually the first thing I learned in my Early English Drama course in my Fall 2011 semester), but as time went on with drama, this trend seemed to no longer be as popular or existent at all. Sight & Sound Theatres seems to be only current theater so far to be trying to "resurrect" this trend in this way and taking it one step further and making musicals out of their interpretations.

The Best Parts

For the Kids
This story is told in musical form and is fit for all ages. What Sight & Sound Theatres does is take a Biblical story and make its own spin on it, adding humorous moments to help tell the story better, some specifically for children. For example, at one point a skunk sprays Jonah because, ahem, sin "stinks." Jonah is sinning because he is running away from God. This is literally written in the program and it literally happens onstage, the animal played by a real live skunk, but of course special effects playing the actual "spray." One of the highlights of Sight & Sound Theatres is it uses live animals in its cast.

Another part that is really cute is when Jonah is on the run and a bunch of kids want to play Hide and Seek with him. Trying to get rid of them, he counts and they all run away to hide, except a young girl. He reveals to her he will not be searching for them, but she replies with something like, "They will forever be lost. How will they be found if you don't search for them?" This symbolically brings up a valid point of the musical, for Jonah must also help the people of Nineveh to no longer be lost.

Music
I never really get the soundtracks of shows as souvenirs, but this time I did. That's how good the music is.

My favorite song, which is one I often play on my iTunes, is the song "The Ocean Sings." I've been using this song as inspiration to write this post. This is the part when Jonah sets sail with a bunch of pirates to further avoid his Godly duty. (Well, they refer to themselves as "sailors" but I call them pirates because to me they all resemble Johnny Depp's "Captain Jack Sparrow" and speak with accents. Plus, calling them "pirates" just makes them sound cooler, which they are. They are some of the best characters in the musical.) I think the reason why I like this song is because it is the one song in the musical that isn't necessarily religious-related. Jonah's mother has a verse praying to God to keep him safe on his voyage, but other than that it is just a song sung by a bunch of "pirates" about what it's like to set sail. This song could be sung in any musical about pirates or sailors and the big blue sea and still work. Another reason is that I have a tendency to enjoy a song sung by a chorus of men more than other types of chorus. It's just a really fun song and it's one of the least emotional ones, because plenty of the songs in this are very heart-wrenching, and I like songs that aren't necessarily going to make me cry.

Another song I really like is "Everyone Has A Nineveh," sung by Jonah's mother once again praying to keep Jonah safe, which always reminds me of Nala's solo "Shadowland" from The Lion King Musical just because of the way it is sung and the subject manner. I know. That's odd, isn't it? Well, maybe not. Both songs talk about how certain locations are giving the characters hardships to overcome and both characters who sing them have hope that they will. What I like about "Everyone Has A Nineveh," other than her voice, is that it speaks so true for everyone in the audience and not one member of said audience can't not relate. Everyone has his or her crosses to bear.

I can't talk about music in this musical without talking about "I'm Free." This is the main song that makes me cry. It is sung by the people of Nineveh (and then Jonah with the Nineveh people) who are grateful for God's grace and the opportunity to reflect on themselves and change for the better, even if their town does not survive. It is a celebration of how when you get closer to God, you feel great about yourself. It is a very beautiful moment and you truly feel the Lord's presence.

The Whale
The whale is the highlight of the musical. I sat in anticipation waiting for the whale scene because we have heard so much about it and how enormous it is. I don't want to give away too much about it because I want you to experience it for yourself, so here's all I will say about it: I kept saying "Oh my God" when it finally made its appearance. The scene with the whale is very intricate because there is no dialogue, for the only character involved with this scene is Jonah, and he doesn't start talking until his is finally swallowed by the whale. As an audience member, you feel like you are underwater and an actual whale is swimming right in front of you. You then feel like you are inside the whale with Jonah! The special effects are amazing!

The whale isn't real (you'll have to see for yourself what it looks like, for I'm not telling! :P), but there is a whole slew of cast members in the animal kingdom that are...

The Animals
Like I said, the animals in this are a highlight of Sight & Sound Theatres and one of the first things my aunt told me about this theater a few years ago, and therefore was one of the main parts I was looking forward to the most.

Normally when animals are incorporated in a theatrical production, they are only kept onstage and don't really do much but walk across the stage. However, the animal cast members of Sight & Sound Theatres walk in the aisles with their human counterparts and do some acting of their own. They know their cues and play along with the scenes very well!

Something That Confused Me

Even though the musical is family friendly and no violence is really incorporated, there is no secret that torture goes on in this world. When Jonah finally gets to Nineveh and delivers God's message that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days if they do not change their ways, at first the people don't take him seriously. No surprise there. The soldiers go to take Jonah away to blind him, which is something they're accustomed to doing to their enemies, until something very strange happens...

One of the soldiers tells them to stop because he believes Jonah is telling the truth. Why? He "just knows." He literally gives no explanation as to why he believes Jonah. Then he starts praying for forgiveness. The other people of Nineveh suddenly do the same ("Repentance"), eventually leading into the song "39 Days," one of the better songs of the musical.

Here's why this is weird. It happens WAY too fast. The people of the Bible are never this quickly convinced. And the fact that the guy never gives any reason to why he believes Jonah makes it weirder. In the Bible there are always people who need proof, but here they just listen to the one soldier, who does not have any proof nor does he seem to want any himself, and they start praying. If these people are as barbaric as Jonah was making them out to be throughout the entire musical, then this doesn't make sense because they aren't the type of people to totally give in right away.

The scenes with the Nineveh people are the most powerful when it comes to the power of God, and actually quite scary. Not scary in the way that kids will be scarred by it, but more so feeling the tension of being under God's mercy. There is desperation in their tones and you could feel this tension along with them, because this is something to which plenty of people can relate as well. It is the fear of the unknown future and not having any control over it, knowing that a higher power deity that can control anything, does.

However, the coolest part involving the Nineveh people is when Jonah is taken to their king, whom he is told by the soldiers is questioning why all of a sudden his people are praying and he doesn't like it. You think he is going sentence Jonah in some way, but instead he is extremely grateful, preparing to join his people in their prayer. He says that his kingdom has been having issues and he's been praying to all of the gods for help, and the ONLY ONE that responded was Jonah's God.

Now THAT is cool.

The Lobby

You know, I spend a lot of times in the lobbies of theaters, often taking photos of them, but this lobby takes the cake of all theatrical lobbies, so it deserves its own section in this review. It is gigantic and there are a number of gift shops and food stands. In it (and outside of theater as well) blasts music from the show, which got me in the Jonah zone. When I got home I recognized the music of "The Ocean Sings" as one I kept hearing in the lobby. That makes me happy.

Will You Like It? 

Well, that really depends. The musical speaks to a certain demographic and yet it doesn't. If you are religious, particularly Christian, you'll definitely get more out of it than a non-believer. It speaks to believers more because the musical promotes faith in God and Jesus so much and expects its audience to share in the same beliefs. As I was sitting there watching it, I kept wondering if anybody other than that demographic would take it seriously or even feel comfortable watching it.

Then again, if you are a non-believer with an open mind, you just might appreciate it. The musical makes you think about your relationship with God and Jesus more and it might help non-believers to believe considering how positively it portrays the love of God.

One thing we can all agree on is relating to Jonah. As I was watching it, I couldn't help but constantly agree with Jonah on his position in the manner. It is difficult to do good things for those we dislike. We travel the story pretty much in Jonah's shoes and share in the same fear and feelings he is experiencing, for Jonah is a very understandable character. But it's also pretty interesting how judgmental he is. He doesn't realize that his attitude towards Nineveh can be just as sinful.

This is one of my best, most memorable theater experiences of my lifetime. I haven't quite seen anything like this one before. There is more than one set and stage in the theater, so the extensions of the stage makes the experience that much more different and big as well. The following is stated on the website, which pretty much sums it up in a nutshell: "Sight & Sound Theatres is the largest faith-based live theatre in the country and has been described as 'Christian Broadway.'" We were thinking this ourselves, but my aunt and I agree that we believe that it is actually better than Broadway. ;) It is a very phenomenal show and very well done.

You have plenty of time to check it out if you want to share in the Jonah experience! The show runs until December 29, 2012! :)

We're already planning to see Noah next year. ;)

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Play Has Been Accepted into the New Jersey Playwrights Contest!

I just found out today that my play Miss Communication, which I wrote this past semester, has been accepted into the reading process of the New Jersey Playwrights Contest at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ! This means I am a step closer to possibly winning!

This is such an honor! I literally gasped when I saw the new e-mail in my inbox. I've been wanting to enter a playwriting competition and made it my goal to do it this summer, and so I entered it this past early July. Here is the background story of my play I wrote for my cover letter submission part:
 
This past Spring 2012 semester at MSU I took a course called Intermediate Drama Workshop where we workshopped our plays throughout the semester and the final day we had a play reading of our plays. An issue with mine is that it was too long for the reading. Each of our plays had to be 10 minutes long for the reading but the one we hand in to the professor could be as long as we wanted. The ones for the play reading were excerpts or edited versions. The biggest challenge for me was to cut my play down for the Actor's Script to be used in the play reading because I felt that the play had a lot of good material I didn't want to give up. Of course, they couldn't read my full play for the reading even when I cut it down more and it was something that I was disappointed about throughout the semester because I wanted to see it come to life in its entirety so my goal is to enter it into a play contest just so I can see the full thing so I can determine myself how I can improve the play itself and my playwriting skills. This is actually one of my summer 2012 goals. I feel like it might need more scenes though to make it more complete, for because of the time limit I wrote my piece trying to tell the story concisely and I even ended up cutting the full version down as well, but I'm also a perfectionist. I'm the type of person that feels like her writing is never ready to be read, seen, etc., so there comes a time when I have to just let go and see what happens. I guess it is a process.

The original full piece draft was 18-20 pages I believe. I rewrote the piece and worked with it more during this summer to make it more solid. Because I am not working on this piece for class, I now have more of a freedom to play around with it as time goes on even more and add more to it. However, I don’t want to change too much of it, but I did change a lot of my play since my class ended. It is now at 26 pages. This particular play always seems to flow perfectly ever time I write it. Great ideas just work their way in. I may also make more changes after I submit this to you.

And here is a screencap of the e-mail I just received:

Click to read better

So right now they have to narrow it down from the reading process, so we'll see what happens! This is so exciting! :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stef's "So Good You Can't Put It Down" Book Reviews: Are Plays Considered "Books?" (and Briefly Discussing Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

My Summer 2012 Reading Challenge is still underway. Recently (a few weeks ago) I finished reading Edward Albee's full length three act play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It is a very interesting read that kept me engaged. It's one of those books where the reader is so into the what is going on in the story that he or she is not often interrupted by outside distractions. Like when I complete most books, I felt accomplished when I finally finished this one in only a few days. It's pretty long and very heavy. It was written by Edward Albee after all. Edward Albee is the most well known American playwright of our time and he is still living. Albee has a tendency to write plays where he takes a normal situation and eventually makes it creepy. For example, in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, an older married couple that is constantly at each others' throats, George and Martha, invites a younger married couple, Nick and Honey, over for drinks one late evening, early morning after a party at a college at which they work. Of course, this set up sounds normal, but then there are plenty of psychological revelations throughout the play through the interactions of the characters that could send shivers down your spine.

Albee does well with suggesting certain things towards the beginning and then explaining them later on, making these explanations climatic. He keeps you interested in wanting to know what the secret is and who is going to find out. That's all I'm really going to say about this one, for this is a play I've been wanting to read and I enjoyed the journey of reading it and discovering these revelations on my own without any truly important prior information, so I want you to do the same if you are interested in reading it. This book, along with Equus, is the only book I finished reading this summer for my challenge. The last time I went to library, figuring that reading plays is a lot more successful for me, I took out the play Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling and am in the process of reading that.

This got me thinking about something I have been wondering for awhile now. Does reading plays in book form count just like reading actual fiction novels do? I say this because reading plays was always a lot easier and enjoyable for me, mainly because I am a theater person. Also, they are structured differently and mainly consist of dialogue whereas fiction consists more of narration and descriptions. I always felt that the story occurs quicker in plays whereas fiction drags out sometimes.

However, I feel like I am cheating in a way when I count a play as a book I have read because the story is simpler to picture in my mind on a stage as opposed to the setting of a novel and also because when one thinks about "reading a book" it's normally fiction and plays are normally supposed to be seen and not read. Is it still an accomplishment to read plays even though? Rather, is it still an accomplishment equal to that of actually getting through a novel, or is it less of an accomplishment? Or, is it an equal accomplishment, but just in a different way? I could ask about reading material being easy. Is it considered a better accomplishment if the material is more difficult to complete, or is it just the fact that you completed any book that counts? I personally find reading plays easier and more enjoyable, but then there are others who could have a more difficult time reading plays just because they don't understand how to read them. Regardless, I still finished reading the book, so it should not matter whether or not it was easy for me. But I could also bring up the question of reading children's books, which is the simplest of all. Does reading a whole children's book count as a reading accomplishment equal to reading a whole novel? It just seems as though fiction is the constant and the other forms of literature branch off from that.

Then again, this is like saying that plays aren't true writings whereas fiction writing is, downgrading them as if plays are second to novels when it comes to literature. Drama, fiction, poetry, and even screenplays are all equal forms of literature, but they are also different. I could also ask if reading a full book of poetry counts as a reading accomplishment. Poetry can also be considered "simpler" considering that poems are shorter. But, the meanings of poems could be much deeper, considering how poetry is often symbolic and metaphoric, and in turn make the reading that much more difficult to get through and understand and that much more rewarding when you actually do so. However, drama, fiction, and screenplays can also definitely have their own symbolic messages that their readers must discover as well. If meanings don't exist, then there probably is no point to the piece anyway.

Does only what you take from the material matter? Should the length of the material be taken into account when it comes to finally completing a book to determine how much of an accomplishment it is or is it just the message and what you ultimately get from the material that counts?

Or, is reading a book from beginning to end (without skipping ahead of course) the only thing that should determine a successful reading accomplishment?

Have you ever thought about this? If so, what are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why John Tucker Must Die is Better Than Mean Girls

Yes, I understand that I am making a very strong claim.

And yes, I am going to prove my claim correct.

A lot of people would probably disagree with me on this considering Means Girls (2004) is pretty much the cult classic of my generation and has plenty of quotable lines, but I finally watched John Tucker Must Die (2006) in its entirety on TV like around a month or two ago and it actually is a favorite film of mine now. I even like it more than Mean Girls, which was never entirely up there among my favorite films to begin with, but I do still like that movie as well.

As I watched it, I noticed that it bears a strong resemblance to Mean Girls. Both films portray modern day drama in a cliche high school setting, making me believe that these kinds of films deserve their own genre since there are so many of them out there, but what else do these two films have in common? Without further to do, here is a compare and contrast of Means Girls and John Tucker Must Die.

The Leading Ladies

Lindsay Lohan as "Cady Heron" from Mean Girls and Brittany Snow as "Kate" from John Tucker Must Die

First of all, isn't it kind of ironic how both girls pretty much have the same first name? When I write a screenplay like these, I know what to call my lead girl now. (Sarah, of course.) Maybe that's why the spelling and pronunciation of Cady's name is a running gag throughout her movie. It's poking fun at how common this name is among lead female characters. Though I'm not entirely sure how often this name is used in film in this way...

When we first meet our leading ladies in their voice over opening scenes (Yes, they both have one), both girls are socially awkward and outsiders, though one reason is more understandable than the other. Cady's awkwardness comes from living with her family and being homeschooled in Africa and because of this isn't used to the social setting of high school drama and is sometimes taken advantage of because of it. Kate, on the other hand, throughout her film claims she is "invisible," though we don't really know why or how this happened. Unlike Cady, she is used to the high school setting. According to her hot mama, played by Jenny McCarthy, she chose to be invisible. In fact, a good reason for her invisibility is that she is often hidden in her mother's shadow, considering how attractive her mom is, and the fact that they often move to another location after her single mom breaks up with yet another one of her loser boyfriends, so that could explain why Kate never formed any friendship with others. But still, just how does a teenage girl become invisible to her peers in the first place? We're told that she is in the prologue, but are never given an exact reason. Both Cady and Kate end up befriending the popular students and get more and more invested in the plots these students invent as their respective movies progress, up to the point where their personalities and styles change and they ultimately become the popular, somewhat mean girls themselves.

What's interesting here too is the relationships these girls have with their mothers. Cady's mother is hardly involved and has no idea what antics her daughter is up to half the time. We rarely see her in the film. Kate's mother is more involved with her daughter because she is fully aware of the master plan Kate and her new friends are putting into motion and even tries to talk her daughter out of it at one point. She knows all of this because the girls mainly hang out at Kate's house whereas in Mean Girls the girls mainly hang out at Regina's house.

Cady's and Kate's motivations for actually getting involved differ as well. Cady gets involved mainly because she does not know what else to do when her new friend Janis vows vengeance against Regina because of an eighth grade fallout between the two of them. She just goes along with everything because she is not fully aware of how things work in, as she puts it, "girl world," and she just goes along with things. Cady gets deeply upset when Regina steals Aaron Samuels, Regina's ex-boyfriend, back from Cady and Janis uses Cady's sadness and naivety of being a new girl straight from Africa to her own advantage and Cady becomes her pawn, not necessarily realizing it right away, for she feels that Janis is doing this to help her. Kate, however, throws herself right into the action and implants the idea of getting back at John into the minds of his girlfriends, knowing exactly what she is doing. In a way, Kate is more like Janis because she is the one kind of using the other girls to get back at John because John's actions remind her so much of what her mother's boyfriends would do to her mother, so the motivation for Kate is a lot more personal than it is for Cady. Kate gets involved to avenge her mother's numerous heartbreaks, lashing out at John to do so, and quite possibly to make herself more visible by mingling with the popular girls. Like Janis, these popular girls also use Kate, who is also the new girl in her film, as well. Another difference between Cady and Kate is that Kate normally looks like she's having fun throughout her movie whereas Cady often looks irritated with her agenda.

The Target

Rachel McAdams as "Regina George" from Mean Girls and Jesse Metcalfe as "John Tucker" from John Tucker Must Die

A distinct and very important difference here is gender. Regina George is the ultimate mean girl of her film and she fits her archetype well. She's blonde, she's frightening, she runs the place, she's popular, but nobody really truly likes her. She's the type of girl that makes the lives of those beneath her on the social ladder not so pleasant, so therefore she must be taken down a peg or a million. She represents the typical storyline about how girls have a tendency to clash with one another.

On the other hand, John Tucker is well loved by everyone in his school and never really gives any of the characters reason to hate him except for when his girlfriends Heather, Beth, and Carrie realize he is dating all of them at once unbeknownst to them. One of the reasons why I like John Tucker Must Die is because the concept is different and has never been done before. Normally in this situation the girls would always fight each other and never include the guy on the battlefield to let him play a part. Even in Mean Girls Cady and Regina fight over the same guy, but the guy is never involved with the actual impact. Here, John is, and he's not just involved in the fight. He's the enemy. Not the other women. Him. What we have here is somewhat a battle of the sexes whereas in Mean Girls the battle is one-sided, within one gender. However, the difference between him and Regina is that Regina is a rotten female we love to hate whereas John is a guy we just love to mock and watch suffer, and under the tactics of women no less. There's just something about guys getting the brunt of attacks that makes it a lot more hilarious than girls getting it. Maybe it's because we as a society associate goofiness and hilarity with men more than women. Kate and the other girls may look like they are having more fun with their antics in their film because men are a lot more fun to mess with whereas there is more anxiety involved with messing with girls. Guys are more laid back whereas girls are more vicious. It's always fun to watch an arrogant guy get his just desserts but arrogant girls have a tendency to just be annoying.

Their offenders target them out of revenge to ruin their lives and ironically both films use voice overs dictating warfare terminology to describe their techniques of defeating their enemy. Some of these techniques somewhat resemble each other between films, the offenders continuously coming up with more and more material to incorporate into their plan.

Stereotypes...Or Not...

Some of the many stereotypical and not-so-stereotypical characters of Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die

First, let's look at Janis and Damian, Cady's first friends when she goes to high school. They are the outsiders of their high school setting and stereotyped as such. One is a chubby homosexual guy and the other is an emo-styled girl whose sexuality is actually questioned. In addition to them, all of the students of the Mean Girls high school are stereotyped from the beginning of the film. They are literally introduced that way. Perhaps this is a ploy to show that Mean Girls is not necessarily meant to be taken seriously but rather is a parody of most high school scenarios, so this is the film's way of mocking how people are automatically labeled.

Now let's look at some black characters from John Tucker Must Die. Normally, when there is a black character among white characters, that black character is mainly there to serve the black person stereotype. The same goes for a white character in an all black character setting. However, Heather from John Tucker Must Die, played by singer Ashanti, doesn't exactly do this. First of all, she's the cheerleader captain for the school. When was the last time we saw a black cheerleader captain in a high school drama or comedy? Normally when one thinks about the popular cheerleader captains, we think of someone that resembles Regina George. Not in this case and it is very refreshing.

The thing with Heather is that she doesn't stand out as the token black girl but rather meshes in well with the white girls. Now, it can be argued that this isn't necessarily a good thing because black people have a tendency to feel like they have to mold themselves to fit the white person persona in order to be accepted into society, but I don't really think that is what they are trying to prove here.

Another black character from John Tucker Must Die is John's friend Tommy, who is on the basketball team as a water boy I believe. Not only is Tommy black, but he is chubby as well. Now John Tucker is THE top jock at the high school. He is a young, attractive, well built, white teenage guy who is popular with everyone. He is what one would expect him to be as the "Don Juan" character. The only difference is he's not a jerk, which is another trait these types of guys normally showcase, but he is actually a pretty friendly guy. Well, he does do certain things to anger the girls, but this is the point I am trying to make: He still associates himself with a chubby black guy like Tommy all the time. You never really see that in film or TV, especially with a character like him.

The Popular Girls

"Gretchen Wieners" and "Karen Smith" from Mean Girls and "Heather," "Beth," and "Carrie" from John Tucker Must Die

There's this ongoing stereotype that women aren't funny. Mean Girls and John Tucker Must Die prove this theory wrong. However, both sets of female characters are funny in different ways and the ladies of John Tucker Must Die are a tad bit funnier.

Karen and Gretchen are two of the crowd pleasers of Mean Girls due to their funny one liners and wit. Interestingly, even though they are members of "The Plastics" along with Regina, neither of them are very mean, which is something I realized when I watched the movie for the first time. Even if they do say mean things, their comments aren't meant to intentionally hurt, unlike Regina's. These two fit the stereotype of the tag-along dumb white girls in a typical high school mean girl clique. Sure they're funny, but they're funny because they are the stereotypical tag-along dumb white girls in a high school mean girl clique. We've seen these characters before and they for some reason have always been funny so therefore Gretchen and Karen are funny. Whenever they or Regina utter an insult, it's funny because it is so offensive and mean and audiences laugh out of shock. Mean Girls makes this funny on purpose because it is a parody of the mean high school girl lifestyle. We laugh because we know girls can be very cruel. It's all too real for us. Gretchen and Karen are there to serve the dumb clique white girl stereotype, but yet they are also there to make fun of this stereotype.

Even though Heather blends in with the white girls in her movie, she is still an individual because the white girls are individuals as well. Unlike Gretchen and Karen, who sometimes blend in together from time to time and more or less serve the same function, these girls each stand out because they have such differing personality traits and these are all brought to the table for their mission to succeed. Beth is an activist and Carrie is a broadcaster, and their distinct personalities play throughout the film and even set up a few jokes. Remember what I said about men being goofier than women? Well, there is this stereotype that guys are always in trouble as they try to pull off their plans so the women wouldn't find out and we laugh at their mishaps and women are the straight characters who are always the voice of reason that ultimately catch the men in the act. Watch TV. This practically happens in every comedy. In John Tucker Must Die, however, the girls are the ones always in trouble and enduring mishaps as they try to pull off their plans. Heather, Beth, and Carrie prove that women too can also be a little immature and goofy.

The best thing about the girls in John Tucker Must Die is that they aren't very mean. To each other, I mean. You think they are possibly going to be a problem for Kate eventually but this never really occurs. Well, they start off mean to each other and Kate because they are all in different cliques that oppose each other, unlike Regina who gives Cady a false sense of security at first. In Mean Girls, the girls automatically turn on each other because of a guy and that sets off the fireworks for the rest of the film, but in John Tucker Must Die, after some brief typical cattiness, the girls band together towards the beginning of the film and turn on the true problem: John Tucker. They actually form a friendship over their animosity towards this guy. They bond together as strong women instead of being divided because of a guy, which is what often happens in fiction and in real life. You never see a bond like this in any love triangle in TV or film where the women are fighting over the men, so that is why I feel like John Tucker Must Die took this idea and made it fresh and new, making it a feminist film. I'll even go as far as saying that Kate, Heather, Beth, and Carrie using their skills to defeat John Tucker (and for Kate, her mother's boyfriends as well) is symbolic of how women should come together instead of being catty towards one another in order to smash patriarchy.

Well, you can say that Mean Girls echoes this sentiment in the scenes where the female students are given pep talks in the gym and participate in improvement exercises, but these scenes don't really seem to solve anything and are done because their male principal had enough of their shenanigans. They are lectured here to be better women whereas in John Tucker Must Die the girls do their thing because they see how men sometimes mistreat women and want to put a stop to it. To put it simply, like most activists, they see an injustice and want to change things, their actions somewhat protesting tactics. In Mean Girls they don't necessarily see the problem of how women mistreat one another and have to be told that there is one.

It seems as though Mean Girls is a representation of girl warfare meant to expose both this concept and cliche film technique, whereas John Tucker Must Die takes itself more seriously with the points it tries to get across and the fact that it is different.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Necessity of Social Media: An Introduction to my own Accounts

I just found something else to write about! :D

Ladies and gentlemen, a brief rant about social media. 

For a while now I've been kind of having writer's block for this site, considering I am currently on the job hunt during the summer. Also, you might have noticed that I've placed more of a focus on my YouTube channel during this break to do film reviews on there. (See what I did there? I FILM my FILM reviews.)

And, to increase my professionalism, due to some encouragement by my freelance writing father, I also created my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. However, some of these things may not last very long. I'm just trying them out.

The thing is, every time I create a new account, I get a little anxiety, like I shouldn't be creating it and that I'd be better off without it. There are also times when I create something and then delete it because I don't feel that I am ready for it. Other times I consider it but then put it off. Every time I create one of these accounts I feel like I'm not ready for it or that I should create it at a better, more special time. I'm normally not the type of person that creates an account with one of these sites right away. I felt that way when I got my Facebook and this very blog as well. I figured I'd start off slow just in case I wish to delete them, but it turns out Facebook and Blogspot have been very successful additions to my life, but it also feels like Facebook is overdone because my activity is kind of broad on there and I want to tone it down. I often try to clean out my activity, friend lists, pages, etc.

I am a very private person, so that's why I always question myself every time I create a new account on a new site. I always get nervous because I feel like we as a society are relying too much on technology and that I am just joining the bandwagon, doing what everybody else is doing just because it's popular, which is not something I make a practice in doing.

I was never one to care too much about how many followers or subscribers I have, but it's nice to know that I am not creating these accounts for nothing, and I ultimately do end up caring a good amount, so I definitely appreciate them. It's always so exciting for people to see that number increase one by one. I wonder why this excites us so much. It just helps us to know that we are getting noticed. This proves to me that what I do online has a purpose and that people actually care about me, what I have to say, and want to hear more. That's always a great thing.

From what I see, everything has AT LEAST a Facebook and a Twitter. I often wonder if only one of these sites would do the trick, so what's the point of having more than one account that ultimately has the same purpose as the others? That's my issue with Twitter right now. Twitter is my newest addition. They all seem to have the same functions. What's difference between Twitter and Facebook? Between YouTube and Vimeo? Etc.? What are the benefits of each site? Perhaps some are more professional than others. I liked certain things on Facebook, so does that mean I should or should not follow them on Twitter too? I like being a person without certain accounts and feel proud of myself because when I create these accounts I feel like I am meshing into the rest of the population. Another thing is I always kind of found Twitter odd for the lingo and mascot alone.

I've aired my concerns to my family and friends, and they all agree that these sites are very useful for business, depending on how I use them. Times have changed, and such technology is needed to get my name out there. The thing with me is, I want to get noticed, but yet sometimes I don't want to get noticed. I mean, I do want to get noticed to build my successes, but I am still kind of a private person, after all. I sometimes don't want people to know stuff about me. Why should I post my information for everyone? Then again, I can't necessarily be invisible either in this age of technology. For professional reasons, this needs to be done, and perhaps it isn't much of a big deal. It's not like everything about me is accessible.

I remember once talking to Kelly about how technology is taking over and perhaps life was better back when we didn't have all of this technology, like perhaps things shouldn't have changed and life was better with our "traditional" ways. She said that even if computers and such didn't come around, something else would have. Technology is always changing and improving, which, I agree, is a good thing. Social media is just a new way we communicate with each other. Her words always resonate with me when I start thinking like this. Recently my friend Sammie told me that we use cars and cell phones even though others use them. These sites are just ways we communicate now, just like phones, radios, and televisions were invented. Yeah, but that doesn't mean people need all different types of cars and phones. Only one or two should suffice depending on the circumstances. Why should social media be any different? It just feels like everybody has one of each of these sites, and I wonder, is there a point? Is it good that we are doing this? I understand the more accounts we have the more we branch out to others and the more convenient and better in the long run, but it still makes me question.

I was so proud of myself for being a person who did not have a Twitter account because that is a rarity in today's society, and I like being different. I have been considering it though, and I am kind of happy for finally having one because now when I see Twitter as an option on other sites, I can actually use it now! But then I think, if I like these things on Facebook, what is the point of following them on Twitter? The same goes for me vice versa. If I am connected to people on one site, is it necessary to connect with them on another? Also, I can always go to websites for information as well. Couldn't I just Google things? I'm guessing social media is needed to make contacts easier because it helps to build certain communities.

Oh yeah, and I'm also on Stage 32. This one I don't feel as odd about because this social media site has a theme of theater, TV, and film, which is my field, so naturally it would be good to join it. Plus it's different and I don't know a lot of people on it. My dad sent me this one and I jumped on it.

It's just that I don't want to drive myself crazy with all of these accounts and go nuts trying to make sure they're all connected with each other. Right now I am juggling five, including Facebook. I am trying to get away from my computer and here I am creating additional accounts? That's contradictory, isn't it? Are they even necessary to be in my life? Shouldn't one or two suffice? Are they all needed? Then I feel incomplete that I don't have one of them.

It's not like I have an account with every site imaginable. There are plenty of others sites where I don't have accounts, so I shouldn't feel too bad about the ones I have. And there are plenty of people that have plenty of accounts to help them branch out. See, I don't want to be one of those people that has an account with every site...but is that necessary for business, to have an account with a good majority of these sites? That is what I am asking.

I know I am kind of repeating myself, but this is my stream of consciousness questioning and it is something that is currently on my mind.

Right now, since I am a beginner on Twitter, I am starting off slow and just pretty much using it for business. The more I learn about it, the more I am discovering its benefits. But, I don't want my activity on Twitter to turn into my activity on Facebook. I like how empty it is, starting from scratch. Then again, my Facebook page is pretty empty itself, so that's good.

I just want to be organized with these things, and I think I am, for the most part. :)

I will admit though that it is fun creating and using them.

I'm probably over thinking this like usual.