Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Saturday, August 02, 2008
Take a chance
Posted by Lis Riba at 2:45 PM

Ian and I went to see Mamma Mia! yesterday and enjoyed it very much.
[I wish I could find a decent quality clip of Christine Baranski singing "Does Your Mother Know" to share with y'all.]

As Kate Harding writes,

[O]ne of the main reasons I wanted to see Mamma Mia! right away was to support the rare film written, directed, produced by, and starring women — women over 50, at that. And the whole thing surely does have a gallopingly feminine sensibility. [...]

So okay, let's talk about Pierce Brosnan — and Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard. It is, frankly, weird to see these three men in supporting roles, while the women completely and utterly take center stage. Though they're playing Streep's old boyfriends, these are categorically girlfriend roles; the guys exist mainly to look nice, drive the plot forward as necessary, and sometimes take their shirts off. How fucking rare is that? Although I was thoroughly sick of the phrase "male gaze" by the end of just one feminist film theory class, I must say, I can't think of another movie I've seen that so unabashedly employs the female gaze. Not just because there's lots of eye candy for straight chicks, but because even male viewers are truly expected to identify with the female characters and see everything through a woman's eyes. Meaning both that there's no male hero and that in a movie set on a Greek island, there are no lingering shots of hot young girls in bikinis. Amanda Seyfried is plenty gorgeous in a fairly demure one-piece, but the point is not to be turned on by her, even if you are. Granted, most of the time she's in a bathing suit, she's hanging out with men who are old enough to be (and indeed might be) her father, but I can't help suspecting a male director would have glossed over that pesky little fact and put her in a more revealing suit anyway — 'cause, you know, why waste that body? Meanwhile, when Baranski rocks a somewhat less demure, blazing red one-piece, we are supposed to think she's hot — but in a way that encourages the viewer to think, "Hey, maybe I'm that hot, too!" not "Yeah, I'd hit that."

For my money, the female gaze is exactly what throws so many male reviewers about Mamma Mia! The movie, as Ebert noted, wasn't made for them. It's not just that the poor widdle straight men are forced to watch a bunch of chicks doing chick stuff to an ABBA soundtrack, it's that they're supposed to identify with chicks doing chick stuff. They're supposed to share in the joy when they hear old girlfriends squealing together, imagine themselves on stage rocking "Super Trouper" in sparkly polyester, and fantasize about what they might do with a shirtless Pierce Brosnan. They're supposed to put themselves in the metallic boots — and behind the eyes — of a bunch of women, taking the same sort of gender-swapping imaginative leap women are expected to make, oh, only about EVERY GODDAMNED TIME WE GO TO THE MOVIES. Seriously, other movies I have seen this summer: Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Wanted, The Dark Knight. If I tried to identify with the female characters instead of the male heroes in those movies, I'd have been bored right out of my fucking skull. Likewise, the man who watches Mamma Mia! and attempts to envision Pierce Brosnan as someone he wants to be, not someone he wants to bang, is pretty much screwed (so to speak). To enjoy it, you've got to want to be Meryl Streep. And men are really not used to being put in that position at the movies because, you know, THEY NEVER ARE.

And, frankly, that's one of the reasons why I went to see the film.

A few months ago, I discovered the Women & Hollywood blog, which has been a real eye-opener.

Recently she's been writing about how professional film critics are overwhelmingly male, and how that affects the reviews given to movies targeted at women. [Consider the following response to SATC, "Rotten Tomatoes presents 139 reviews, 69 percent of which were written by men. Only 49 percent of male critics wrote positive reviews while 51 percent panned Sex and the City. Meanwhile, only 14 of the 40 female reviewers were negative about the box office sensation with 65 percent of women giving Carrie Bradshaw and friends the critical 'thumbs up.'"]

The Hathor Legacy also has a good set of links to read on Hollywood's treatment of women.

I've also been quite pleased to see the blogosphere paying more attention to some of the tropes of feminist criticism. Here's a quick refresher if you're unfamiliar with the terms:

1) Women in Refrigerators refers to a popular plot device in which female characters are victimized (raped, murdered, or otherwise injured), for the primary purpose of exploring its emotional impact on a male character. The term was coined Gail Simone, referring to an issue of Green Lantern in which his girlfriend was killed and stuffed into a literal refrigerator.

Some people have attacked this concept, as if it denies creators the right to put female characters into any potentially violent situations. e.g. "the fact is violence does happen to women IRL. It would be 'unrealistic' for comics not to deal with it at some point."

In my opinion, what differentiates WiR from normal auctorial cruelty to characters is that the subsequent story focuses more on how this event affects a male character, rather than the perspective of the female victim. Consider Lavinia, in Titus Andronicus, for whom everyone else speaks.

2) The Bechdel Test was originally created to evaluate films, asking whether they:

  1. have at least two (named) women, who
  2. Talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man.

It's a measure of the work as a whole, not about the quality of individual female characters.

Competent but isolated female characters are good, but they're also tokens.

While discussing this on Charlie Stross's blog, I came across another useful term for these discussions: The Smurfette Principle.

Coined by Katha Pollitt in a 1991 New York Times article on children's television:

Contemporary shows are either essentially all-male, like "Garfield," or are organized on what I call the Smurfette principle: a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female, stereotypically defined. In the worst cartoons -- the ones that blend seamlessly into the animated cereal commercials -- the female is usually a little-sister type, a bunny in a pink dress and hair ribbons who tags along with the adventurous bears and badgers. But the Smurfette principle rules the more carefully made shows, too. Thus, Kanga, the only female in "Winnie-the-Pooh," is a mother. Piggy, of "Muppet Babies," is a pint-size version of Miss Piggy, the camp glamour queen of the Muppet movies. April, of the wildly popular "Teen-Age Mutant Ninja Turtles," functions as a girl Friday to a quartet of male superheroes. The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys.

And that's what makes the Bechdel Test so valuable.

Because those three simple criteria get straight to the point of whether the women in any particular story "exist only in relation to [men]."

Charlie Stross's followup post and bonus comic strip.

Now, these tests are just two ways of identifying sexist tropes.

And I do enjoy a number of works which fail one or both.

But it was nice to watch Mamma Mia! which passes both.

Friday, August 01, 2008
Two more signs we're living in the future
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:00 PM

The New York Times is running a lengthy profile on trolls.

Weird Tales is holding a spam-based writing contest.

Write a flash-fiction story -- under 500 words -- based on a spam you've received. Send your story, along with the headline that inspired it, to contest@weirdtales.net before 9 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 4. [...] We encourage you to spread this announcement far and wide. But note: entries from Nigeria will be examined very closely.

I wonder if my April 1st entry, Episode IV...I...IX would qualify...

Thursday, July 31, 2008
Shape of things to come
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:40 PM

We live in the future.

I have an account with a 3D printing service.

*     *     *

Medium Large: A funny comic you should be reading.

*     *     *

Even though it wouldn't be good for mixing drinks, I'm hopelessly charmed by FossilIced.


Leave ordinary dinosaur shapes to the massproduced chicken nuggets.

These are freakin' fossils floating around in your drink! via Boing Boing Gadgets

Looking thru the company's website, I see some other cool products, including Gin & Titonic, with iceberg and cruiseship shapes, and Frozen Smiles.

Of course, the LEGO company already offers a mold for making ice bricks...

But there are plenty of other shapes worth considering...

I wonder if Shapeways designs in food-safe materials...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Like a movie?
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:20 PM

This weekend, the Brattle Theatre is having some special double-features.

Friday and Saturday: Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon
Sunday: Casablanca and Play It Again, Sam

I'm more interested in Sunday's pairing, since I haven't yet seen the Woody Allen flick.

Also, a couple other upcoming films that might be of interest.

Next weekend, three nights of Doctor Who on the big screen:

Friday, August 8:  "Genesis Of The Daleks" starring Tom Baker, script by Terry Nation [142 min]
Saturday, August 9:  "The Long Game" starring Christopher Eccleston and Simon Pegg;
"Blink and School Reunion" starring David Tennant [45 min each]
Sunday, August 10:  "Pirate Planet" starring Tom Baker, script by Douglas Adams [100 min]

According to their website:

This is a free event but you must RSVP to rsvp@brattlefilm.org with the following: Your name, email, favorite Doctor, the number of people you represent (max 4), and the days you plan to attend (Fri/Sat/Sun).

I don't feel any great urge to pay for the privilege of seeing those episodes again, but the following weekend they're showing sing-a-long musicals, which do have my toes a-tapping. We're talking about:

  • Grease,
  • Moulin Rouge,
  • The Muppet Movie, and
  • Singin' In The Rain

Lyrics will be provided, either projected onscreen or as handouts.

PS: As far as first-run movies are concerned, I still want to see Mamma Mia!

Posted by Lis Riba at 6:35 PM

Three books seen in the library today, which I want to remember when I have more reading time:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
A Happy Realization
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:07 AM

The Middleman regularly passes the Bechdel test.

Monday, July 28, 2008
Mixology Monday: New Orleans
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:10 PM

I'm way behind in blogging about the panels I attended in Tales of the Cocktail, but it's Mixology Monday.MxMo

This week's theme focuses on New Orleans, and participants are invited to post about one of my favorite drinks sampled at TOTC.

I have two cocktails to share, both from the last panel on Sunday afternoon, Famous New Orleans Spirits, and each accompanied by a brief story.

1) Hurricane

When heading off for breakfast Sunday morning, Ian remarked that for all our time in New Orleans, we hadn't yet had a hurricane. So he ordered one for breakfast. It was okay, but nothing great.

Then, during this Famous New Orleans Spirits panel, Phil Greene quoted a former bartender at Arnaud's who would respond to requests for hurricanes by saying, "We don't make hurricanes. That's the house drink of another bar, and they don't make them there, either."

So here's Dale DeGroff's Hurricane recipe, which is great, and demonstrated how the drink deserved its reputation.

1 oz light rum (Old New Orleans Crystal)
1 oz dark rum (Old New Orleans Amber)
½ oz Galliano
¾ oz lime juice
1 oz passion fruit syrup (Fee Brothers)
1½ oz orange juice
1½ oz pineapple juice
dash of Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice.

Pour into a hurricane glass (or a small sherry glass).

Garnish with pineapple wedge and orange slice, perhaps also a cherry, pinned with a toothpick.

2) Ramos Gin Fizz

As I mentioned earlier, the schwag at TOTC is generally quite nice and sturdy.

When I sat down for this panel, I was quite impressed by the Boston shaker set provided by Bombay Sapphire.

Then I heard that this was an audience-participation seminar, and we'd be using these tools to make one of the drinks under discussion.


I hadn't signed up for this. I'm a librarian, not a bartender! I don't know nothing about mixin' no drinks.

I angsted a little bit to people in the surrounding seats. [After the panel began, I realized that one of the people to whom I'd been angsting about this was none other than Dale DeGroff. <blush> ]

My interest in the subject outweighed my cowardice, so I stuck it out.

So, without further ado, the very first cocktail I actually mixed for myself:

1½ oz gin (Bombay Sapphire)
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz lime juice
1 oz cream (or half and half)
1 egg white
2 drops orange flower water (Fee Brothers)
1 oz simple syrup (Fee Brothers Rock Candy Syrup)
club soda (Fever-Tree)

Add ice to the shaker.

Pour in all ingredients but the club soda.

Shake for 2 - 3 minutes.

Strain into a glass and top with soda.

After the panel, I brought some of it to Ian, who called it the tastiest Ramos gin fizz he'd ever tasted.

I just hope he won't use this as an excuse to stop making me cocktails at home...

Finally, because I am a librarian, one of my favorite facts related to New Orleans alcohol, from The Writer's guide to everyday life from Prohibition through World War II:

To prove how easily booze could be bought, one Prohibition agent in 1923 clocked how long it took him to make an illegal purchase after arriving in various cities. The results:

• Washington:  2 hours, 8 minutes
• Minneapolis:  31 minutes
• Cleveland:  29 minutes
• St. Louis:  21 minutes
• Chicago:  21 minutes
• Baltimore:  18 minutes, 20 seconds
• Atlanta:  17 minutes
• Boston:  11 minutes
• New York:  3 minutes, 10 seconds
• Detroit:  3 minutes
• New Orleans:  35 seconds

Sounds about right...

Zombie Harmony
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:55 AM

because the apocalypse doesn't have to be lonely

Sunday, July 27, 2008
Legen... wait for it... dary!
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:45 PM

Confrontation, between Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel of How I Met Your Mother:

PS: Here's an interesting "what if" -- apparently, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Simon Tam on Firefly.

Change is always the fashion
Posted by Lis Riba at 8:35 PM

I must say, I really like this t-shirt that the Clinton campaign is selling to help pay down the debts incurred during the primaries.

"For everyone who's ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out and for everyone who works hard and never gives up, this one is for you!"

The Process
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:54 PM

What if there were no stop signs... and a major corporation was charged with inventing one?

A Strange Game
Posted by Lis Riba at 1:48 PM

Ian and I went to see WarGames on the big screen Thursday night.

Hard to believe it's been twenty-five years.

So here are my comments:

First of all, an important message to filmmakers:

I know that much of the audience leaves before the closing credits, but please stop putting the behind-the-scenes documentaries before the picture.

I haven't seen the film in ages and would've liked to have preserved as much freshness and surprise for the actual viewing of the movie. I really don't appreciate seeing forthcoming scenes spoiled as much as they were.

As for the movie itself, just a few remarks:

 • The story unfolds at a much slower pace than I'm used to from more recent movies.

 • Can't explain why, but every time David Lightman (Matthew Broderick's character) pulled out an 8-inch floppy disk, it evoked unintentional laughter from the audience. Myself included.
It's so bizarre, considering how much more storage I can fit on a device the size of my pinky.

 • I'd love to hear security guru Bruce Schneier provide a commentary track -- not only for the computer hacking, but for the way Lightman uses social engineering and exploits vulnerabilities in everyday systems.

 • Also reminded me how much of the 1980s involved belief in the inevitability of nuclear war. At one point, Dr. Falken makes this "reassuring" statement:

Oh, it's all right. I've planned ahead. We're just three miles from a primary target. A millisecond of brilliant light and we're vaporised. Much more fortunate than the millions who'll wander sightless through the smouldering aftermath. We'll be spared the horror of survival.

   I was reminded that in those days, my classmates and I knew where the nearest target was located, and in school assignments mapped out the blast radius from that point...

Finally, this release was also timed as a promotion for the forthcoming direct-to-DVD sequel.

Audience reaction was decidedly unenthusiastic.

Been there, done that. More of the same.

On the way home, I thought of a much more interesting sequel concept.

1) Wired quoted Kevin Mitnick on the original WarGames:

That movie had a significant effect on my treatment by the federal government. I was held in solitary confinement for nearly a year because a prosecutor told a judge that if I got near a phone, I could dial up Norad and launch a nuclear missile. I never hacked into Norad. And when the prosecutor said that, I laughed — in open court. I thought, "This guy just burned all his credibility." But the court believed it. I think the movie convinced people that this stuff was real. They tried to make me into a fictional character.

2) I remember a movie from the early 1980s called The Grey Fox. Variety summarizes the setup as "a stagecoach robber goes to jail for 30 years and is released into an unknown world where trains have started carrying the mail."

If handled correctly, the combination of these two concepts could provide the kind of juicy character role that would attract Matthew Broderick back to the role.

Just imagine: David Lightman was imprisoned for his computer cracking activities, and kept in relative isolation for fear of what he might do if given access to technology. His release from jail is only the beginning. Now he's got to deal with future shock and find a place for himself in the modern world.

I'd watch it.



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