Hollywood High

Hollywood High

Everything we were preemptively taught about high school is a lie. A lot of unsuspecting middle-schoolers got their information from Blair Waldorf and Cher Horowitz. Top shows like Gossip Girl, practically a celebration of exclusivity, centers around the idea that high school is a battlefield of impenetrable social order. Television led us to believe that hallways were always dominated by a handful of Cool Kids who commanded reverence daily.

That belief has spurred countless variations of the same idea on television. The only differential is which end of the social pyramid the perspective comes from. Bottom up, the outcasts often believe that they are wholly authentic while presenting the popular crowd as fake. It’s the very basis of Daria, Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life. On the other hand, when the Cool Kids drive the narrative, they position themselves as misunderstood and complex, while still occupying every archetypal trope of a simpleton. Whether you identify with them or loathe their existences, One Tree Hill’s Peyton Sawyer and The O.C’s Marissa Cooper gave backbone to the typical Popular Girl. This doesn’t make them fit any less into the Manic Pixie Popular Dream Girl archetype that continues to dominate teen-targeted shows and movies. People have proven to like a little edge to their plastic.  

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Formulaic devices work; those are two of my favourite characters on two of my favourite adolescent shows. But, this dichotomous world where the Cool Kids reign and the geeks always remain on the outside doesn’t actually exist in most high schools. There are cliques, people who you definitely know but who only sort of know you, claimed hangout spots and inevitably, the kids counting down the days until graduation, dreaming of better days in college. But, when you’re in high school, nothing is unchangeable. We all know that one girl who became hot overnight and shot straight up into the inner circle. The one best friend group that broke up. The popular kid who became a social pariah. It’s the natural order of the adolescent universe.

In fact, the only place where the televised static of adolescence actually exists is in Hollywood, among a group of once-unsuspecting, simple folk who just wanted to pursue their art. Otherwise known as the A-list, Tinsel town elite.

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Hollywood, the ultimate Cool Kid’s Club, is made up of a select group of what is promised to be the most beautiful, talented and incredibly lucky of all humans. There is arguably no group whose social membership is more exclusive.

Of course, there will inevitably be a few anomalies that happen to slip in from time to time but not unlike Saved by the Bell’s vanishing character Tori Scott, they are usually destined to be temporary and disappear without even deserving a Where Are They Now? episode.

Though the structure of the inner circle is mirrored almost identically in Hollywood and fictional high schools, there lies a key difference. On TV, the Cool Kids control everything and everyone. But in Hollywood, we, the common folk, the street plebs, the consumers of this neo-intrusive culture we’ve created, so incredibly on the outside, have become the dictators of the Ultimate Cool Kids. This is not to say that celebrity culture has no hold on us. They may govern our behaviours, obsessions, inspirations, idealizations and essentially how we consume humans as products, but we tell them how to dress, what roles to take, what parts of their lives are fabricated (and what fabrications we indulge in), how much of their lives are actually theirs, not to mention who is popular when. While some may argue that there is something wrong with this relationship, most have indulged too much to have any footing in an anti-celebrity culture debate.

We do ask a lot of celebrities. We ask that they be “on” all the time; that they be versions of themselves we’ve pushed onto them. We ask them to make performing a round-the-clock career.  Their sound bites, interviews, characters, scandals, tabloid headlines, tweets and instagrams give us bits and pieces of people that we’ve convinced ourselves we know. We’re very enthralled with these small glimpses, mistaking them for the whole thing.

Essentially, we’ve required them to behave like fictitious characters while still demanding that they portray an “authentic” self to allow the aforementioned plebs – us –  an opportunity to identify. But when they actually do derive from banality, offering us a version of themselves that isn’t solely manufactured by public relations agents or anyone controlling their image, we question them, reject them, demonize them or hyper-consume their idiosyncrasies in anticipation of a mental illness.

We’re making constructs out of people and hoping that they fit into those nice little boxes we’ve mapped out for them. While the idea of celebrity and the individuals themselves may differ in meaning to different people, there is an inarguable grand importance to the way we interact with Hollywood. We are obsessed with both our disdain and our admiration.

The goal of celebrity is to be liked. People make entire careers on the bet that they will be liked by a mass amount of people for a number of years through many different projects. We’ve turned an art into a business where the currency is acceptance.

This, coupled with the high school-esque structure of Hollywood, has positioned the celebrities with the most mass appeal similarly to the head cheerleaders of the TV hallways. For celebrity to work, you need to want to be them, whether outwardly or subconsciously.

We’ve placed a moratorium on authenticity where, not entirely of their own fault, celebrities are required to adopt these personas that give them the best chance for longevity of being liked.

The easiest formula for this is to emulate the structure that has continuously proven itself, at least on TV. Celebrities well over 30 play high school teenagers, and we let them, because they are so used to adopting that persona in the first place. No one is presented as more admired than the typical TV head cheerleader.

When celebrities stray from this persona, it makes it hard for us to believe that this is really them. This is true of all oddball celebrities (or child star-turned pizza enthusiasts) like Macaulay Culkin, Shia LaBeouf, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Cera, Kristen Stewart and other Hollywood weirdos who fail to perform the singular trope of celebrity we’ve craftily created.

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It’s not hard to imagine that these weirdo celebrities were once weirdo high school kids with awkward smiles and big dreams. While I’m not arguing that Kristen Stewart is the Urkle of Hollywood, there does exist a handful of celebrities who remind us more of One Tree Hill’s Marvin “Mouth” McFadden than Beverly Hills, 90210’s Brandon Walsh. They represent the same sentiment reproduced in shows, the idea that life does get better after high school. The season three One Tree Hill quote from *that* episode even says that “the artists, and the scientists, and the poets…none of them fit in at seventeen. You’re supposed to get past it.”

It’s not hard to imagine that most of Hollywood ruled the hallways with an iron fist, or at least were not without a date on Friday nights. The popular kids became popular celebrities. This has made our version of Hollywood look a singular way. We keep recreating this idea of the Hollywood celebrity. Usually white, usually fit, always gorgeous. We position them similarly to the high school narrative: blonde, complex women or dark, brooding men.  

If Hollywood is high school, the awards shows are prom. In the rarity that an off-brand Hollywood celebrity manages to squeak through to nomination, we coin them the “underdog,” like with Jesse Eisenberg’s 2011 nom for The Social Network.

The “underdogs” are mostly celebrities that give us the most candid snippets of who they really are. An awkward interview here, self-depreciating joke there, and instantly, they undermine everything we know about the Hollywood structure.

Perhaps this is why it’s so easy for us to believe that Michael Cera is a jerk, Kristen Stewart is being fake when she’s awkward or Shia Labeouf is trying too hard. Sure, they actually might be those things, but it’s much easier for us to assume that they are or that they’re playing a part because they belong to a social class they were never supposed to. But sometimes, kids who eat paste just become well-adjusted albeit still awkward adults who used to eat paste. Weird kids grow up to have families, full-time jobs, responsibilities, and sometimes, celebrity.

The weirdo celebrities fit in almost neatly into television’s, and also film’s, idea of the outcast. They are awkward, off-beat and sometimes just really strange. If Kristen Stewart was the star of a 90s high school movie, she would constantly teeter on the edge of tripping in front of her crush and the glasses-off-hair-down makeover that would alert the entire high school body that weird girls, can indeed, be pretty. But instead, they are heroines and main characters, attending red carpet events and getting (or trying to get) the girl/guy/goal in every project.

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This trend has resulted in a reverence for inauthenticity and “spin.” This doesn’t mean that celebrities are being fake all the time; rather, that they are always conscious of what their brand has to be.

Brad Pitt might be more marketable than Joaquin Phoenix and Shailene Woodley might have talked about homemade deodorant one too many times but the freaks, geeks, weirdos, nerds and dorks are needed in order to achieve equilibrium. They may be the most authentic part of Hollywood, even if our initial reaction is to doubt this. The slight Tinsel Town outliers are a nod to the impermanence of social status. They remind us that celebrities, They’re Just Like Us.

Review: ANTI – Rihanna

Review: ANTI – Rihanna

This piece was previously published in The Silhouette

There is nothing conventional about Robyn Rihanna Fenty. It only takes a few notes on her newest album Anti for that reminder to set in. “I got to do things my own way,” Rihanna warns in the opening song “Consideration.” This has always been her legacy. More than anything else, Rihanna has consistently come across as real. On Instagram, she positioned herself as a self-governing force with an affinity for blunts and middle fingers. This is the version of Rihanna we came to know — the one who played by her own rules and did so with endless bravado and confidence.

At the same time, she became a hit-making algorithm pumping out songs for neon lights and sweaty last calls. And we danced to it, because it was good. We spent our Friday and Saturday nights with Rihanna bumping to one of her 13 number-one singles. She became the pop star we wanted her to be because she did it brilliantly.

But until now it just didn’t completely feel like the Rihanna we had been shown. Anti, Rihanna’s eighth studio album, feels more like the artist behind the hitmaker, the authentic Rihanna.

It’s not what we expected. If her last seven albums were flashing lights and booze-soaked adventures, Anti is a solo Friday at home with a bottle of wine. It works, because it’s good. With the possible exception of “Work” featuring Drake, this album is devoid of any club bangers. Those songs were for us. Anti is for Rihanna.

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Floating between soul, rock, r&b, and pop, Anti never fully commits to one genre. The grainy, blues adjacent “Higher” sounds like a drunken plea from a scrubbed Rihanna. Each note of “Desperado” drips with the fuck-you attitude she has worked to perfection. The likely hit of the album, “Kiss It Better,” shows introspection absent in past songs. But the most obvious example is Rihanna’s cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” Rihanna lends her voice to a genre not usually belonging to her, echoing instead of re-imagining the song completely.

With the exception of “Work” featuring Drake, this album is devoid of any club bangers. Those songs were for us. Anti is for Rihanna.

While always present on some level, this version of Rihanna hasn’t fully been exposed. There is a confidence in self, an underlying Bad Gal quality to the album that seems more like the yacht partying and blunts in bathrobes versions of her. These are the type of songs that couldn’t have been written for anyone else.

The Rihanna who tweeted “I’m crazy, and I don’t pretend to be anything else” seems very present singing “Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch / Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage / Fuck your white horse and a carriage,” on “Needed Me.”

This album feels like a glimpse at the inner workings of Rihanna’s brain. The off-camera version. From front to back, Anti tells the story of self-exploration, growing up, and coming full circle. With the album already platinum, the understated Anti is Rihanna’s biggest statement yet.

Free the nipple and your gender politics

Free the nipple and your gender politics

In addition to pay gap, catcalling, and general gender discrimination, women-identified folks often have to deal with body policing. From the minute we step out into public, we must be conscious of our body presentation. Are we wearing too much? Are we not wearing enough? Is anything see-through? Are we asking for it? Do we even know what “it” is?

Although fashion is meant to be an extension of identity, women are far too often forced to reconcile the difference between their private and public selves, often choosing to look “presentable” instead of feeling comfortable. The remark “you look comfy” used to make me scrutinize my outfit choice and wonder if it was appropriate for public – as if style and comfort should not go hand in hand. Even though I find myself shopping more frequently in the “male” section of clothing stores, my gender expression can range from overtly feminine, in the normative sense, to androgynous. The complexities between gender, identity, and fashion have forced me to reevaluate my standards of body presentation and wonder why I care about society’s discomfort.

I rarely wear a bra; in fact, the only times that I find myself choosing to put on the cotton equivalent of boob jail is for professionalism or when I feel uncomfortable not wearing one. I’ve also not held a razor to my armpits or my legs since the summer, mainly because I can’t be bothered, somewhat because I’m trying to stick it to “the man”. These actions first resulted either accidentally or out of laziness, but now, my active rebellion and abstention from these societal mandates have resulted in me feeling more in tune with my femininity and less gendered simultaneously.

While societal pressures result in some people getting up hours early to perfect their look, I prefer to sleep until the last possible minute, get up, get ready, and get out the door. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to put time into your appearance, but I wasn’t getting any satisfaction from robotically doing what I felt like I needed to in order to feel desirable according to society’s standards. The first time I went without a bra, a result of a late wake-up and me still being half asleep, I felt exhilarated. After I spent the first half of the day walking like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I relaxed and even felt pride walking.

Through my adventures in gendered rebellion, I realized that feeling proud and being able to walk tall despite the stares was what I had been aiming for since middle school. Deciding to go razor free and braless had less to do with me wanting to appear as a wild feminist, which I am, and more with comfort I found with my body. Once I decided to make like Rage Against the Machine and take the power back, I felt pride in being an owner of cleavage (kind of), areolas, and nipples. I recognize the small-boob privilege in being able to walk without a bra and only illicit a few stares, but this is the problem with society. Breasts are arguably the single most policed body part. Society says when, how, whose, how much, and in what contexts cleavage, areolas, and nipples should be shown. As long as they are small and perky, noticeable nipples are fine but anything bigger should be covered up. Mentalities like this are rooted in shame of the female body, a form that was once highly celebrated in art, literature, and society.

This journey has been constant self-exploration and a test in pushing boundaries. I started off wearing sweaters without a bra, which quickly changed to thick shirts, and now I’ve been known to swear chiffon shirts, both opaque and translucent, without a bra. I went from hiding unshaven legs under pants to wearing a floor-length dress with a high slit and shorts with my hairy legs.

Everyone has a different body, and yet, we are given standards of maintenance that are universal among genders. I love making people uncomfortable; hopefully it allows for self-reflection as to the reason for the discomfort. I have been able to appreciate my body in its natural cisgender female-identified state, which I recognize is not the case for everyone, but I have also been able to transcend gender norms that require me to identify as one, and only one, gender.

The fluidity in gender is mirrored in my disdain for standards that require extra effort or discomfort. I can show off my pride for being an owner of breasts, but I can also wear “men’s” shirts without feeling like my body wasn’t made for them. Not shaving my legs has saved me a ton of money and time, made me feel like a badass body-positive feminist, but it has allowed me to closely align myself to the male form, if I so choose. The expectation in society is that men are to have body hair, thus, this allows me to feel like I’m a part of the boys’ club. Like at any given time, I can lift up my pants and compare my leg hair with the guy next to me.

From undergarments, hair care preferences, and clothing choices, I have decided to value my comfort and choose my own standards of presentation. I realized that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do and no one is going to feel the discomfort but me. Sometimes I want to wear dresses and lift my arms up on the dance floor, sometimes I want to wear bow ties and feel ruggedly hairy. But in both these situations, the most important factor is the “I want.” If I’m walking down the street and you notice my bralessness or hairy armpits/legs, try not to stare. What you’re seeing is a sometimes girl/sometimes boy/sometimes both/sometimes neither enjoying the freedom of comfort. My public self is not dictated by normative standards but by my own values of body expression. Fuck it.

The 6 God is Redefining Masculinity

The 6 God is Redefining Masculinity

This post was previously published on The Silhouette

It’s not quite clear whether our love for Drake is ironic, some sort of patriotic obligation, or if a Canadian, mixed-race, emotional, TV star-turned-rapper simply beat the odds, rose to the top of the charts and became, in his mind anyway, a legend. Regardless of what you think about his latest feat If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, it’s hard to deny that since his first album, Drake has been subverting stereotypes about masculinity without even trying.

Drake has made himself a successful real-life meme with a loyal fan base by rapping about his feelings.He raps like he finally worked up the nerve to challenge his Forest Hill bully to a freestyle battle, but he drops bangers. Aside from the rare critic who claims that Drake is too “soft,” the hyper-masculine culture of hip-hop has welcomed his r&b/hip-hop hybridity.

While previously, rappers like DMX were saying “Pull out the machete, hack off the limbs/ Bag up the pieces, wipe off the Timbs, Drake is saying “I’m scared that every girl I care for/ Will find a better man and end up happier in the long run.” There’s something refreshing about music that appeals to everyone’s emotions in a way that seems almost brave. He may be the punch line of a lot of jokes, but album sales don’t lie. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late sold 495,000 copies in three days and debuted at the top of Billboard 200. Drake has proven he doesn’t have to conform to what the rap game has always been. He’s proud to be himself while also showing vulnerability that prevents him from coming across as conceited as Kanye.

It’s hard to categorize Drake as r&b when he is very clearly rapping with hip-hop beats, but our previous disassociation between hip-hop and emotionality makes everyone want to classify Drake in the same genre as Boyz II Men or Usher. Although like Usher, Drake uses his songs as his diary. Hip-hop has always been emotional, but tears came from rapping about past socio-economic struggles, family members, or fallen homies. Now, Drake is rapping about broken hearts and hurt egos.

Drake either has a huge ego or a tiny one. He’s always quick to laugh at himself and is always cool with being the butt of any joke. You can always expect to see an abundance of Drake memes whenever you are on Twitter but increasingly people are using Drake screenshots and quotes to describe their current emotional state. Although a lot of these jokes are posted ironically, the truth in them is obvious. A lot of teenage boys will post jokes about crying and Drake without feeling a shame to admitting the truth in their post. Those posts are a way of acknowledging that men have emotions without making it a huge deal to say so.

It’s such as easy concept but one rarely addressed in pop culture. Men have feelings. There’s a factualness that exists in song writing; you know that Drake is writing from personal experiences, not just from made-up exaggerations that can never be as interpreted as the truth, like in film.

Drake is the one-size-fits-all-artist. He’s appropriate for pre-club turning up, for laid back nights, or for crying and binge-eating after a break up. We’ve gotten to a point where we can take Drake semi-seriously, while still acknowledging that his music gives us the feels. Some could even say that Drake is the male Taylor Swift. If you hurt him, you can be sure he’s going to put it in a song.

The vulnerability of Drake has changed the game of hip-hop and also redefined what it means to be masculine in the hyper-aggressive culture of hip-hop. Emotional storytelling used to only exist in r&b but rappers like Drake make way for a new generation of people who don’t equate masculinity with detachment from emotions.

The verdict is still out on Drake’s likeability, but he does represent something great. Drake just wants to run through the six with his woes, and we’ve come to the place where we can agree that we really do know how that shit go.

The Selma Snub

The Selma Snub

This article was previously published on The Silhouette

Film awards have been, and probably always will be, rooted in Hollywood politics. From snubs to last-minute bidding, it seems as though the merit of individual films are often overlooked in favour of marketability.

The 2015 Oscar nominations were recently announced and have resulted in many discussions about race relations in Hollywood. Not only were the acting categories all white, many have begun to examine why certain films were absent from the Best Director categories.

Intersectionality is always important, but when examining the lack of Best Director nominations forSelma, a film portraying the Martin Luther King Selma march, intersectionality is of the utmost importance. Ava DuVernay was the first black female to be nominated for Best Director in the Golden Globes’ 77-year tenure.

Despite having a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, higher than the critically acclaimed and widely-nominated Boyhood, the film was glaringly absent from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Producers Guild of America Awards, Directors Guild of America Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, and was snubbed in the Best Director category for the Academy Awards.

Only four women have ever been nominated in the Best Director category, while only one, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker has won. Comparatively, only three Black men have ever been nominated for Best Director in the Academy Awards 87-year history. Had Ava DuVernay found her way into the category, she would have been the first Black female to ever have a place in the category.

In popular culture, movies and television often reinforce values commonly held in society and overlooking talented black women should remind us that sexism and racism, especially in Hollywood, are still highly prevalent. In 2014, 17 of the 250 top selling films were directed by women, and three of those were Black female directors.

In a 2012 survey, the L.A. Times found that 94 percent of Oscar voters are white, and 77 percent are male. How can Black women expect fairness when their voices are overwhelmingly absent from the voting process? While it is important to note that Selma received nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Song (“Glory” by Common and John Legend), we do a disservice by admitting that “at least we have those.” It is not a matter of charity, and it’s not enough to get crumbs; it should be about fairness.

No, Selma would not have won every award category it was nominated in, but that does not mean that we should overlook the lack of nominations. Black women have continued to prove that they are talented enough and it is time that we, and the film industry, recognized this.

Academic Television Writing

The Television Transformation: Comparing the modern television landscape to that of film’s

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WPBss4gd9NaZsNRs8HoN4PH9Yiz7dOOo5Pq1qJhKRXk/edit?usp=sharing

Broad City’s New Brand of Humour: Meanings of gender, culture, identity, and geography in Broad City 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nXpvl_fgxYPfchD_Z0eF8E5TZUSP8D0DM2PJJ6ScvXU/edit?usp=sharing

Crime and Punishment: A qualitative analysis of meanings produced in procedural dramas

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZmwUsKAWhpZ-wZ9TlznHvp_XOgXVRBC2VCNHWn7r63Q/edit?usp=sharing

Good Wife, Better Series: An analysis of CBS’ The Good Wife

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HqF2r0CMvaMbm-Ifal_b5Xb8Q8J-lZeHKpsARddoCZw/edit?usp=sharing