Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jacket Wrap

I'm back.

Once again, I could not help but notice 2 book covers with strikingly similar jacket designs, and because everyone I know gets really tired of hearing me discuss books/children's literature/literary theory, I had to blog about it so I don't annoy the crap out of my friends and family.

I first read Laurie Halse Anderson's YA nocvel "Speak" when I was an undergrad. I loved it of course, and I watched the film version when I saw it on television (starring a now uber-famous Kristen Stewart and also a personal favorite of mine, Steve Zahn). I remember looking at the cover of the book, and thinking how significant the design on it was in the context of the story and the symbolism of it.

In the novel, the young protagonist Melinda is the victim of a rape. She is outcast from her former friends and her peers and throughout the majority of the novel, she does not speak to anyone. As an art assignment, she must create a tree of some sort, and as she works on the project, she progresses. Just as her tree grows, so does she; one of the major themes is finding one's own voice.

 Here's is the cover of Anderson's novel:

I could not help noticing the cover of another book today as I was neatening the shelves of the library. I have not read this book yet, but here is the cover:

According to Amazon, this book is about a girl named Megan who has to stay with her uptight grandmother whom she wants nothing to do with. She's determined to get through the visit without any drama, but  falls into a twisted love triangle with potentially fatal consequences. I have no idea what the significance of the tree branch on the cover is, but I do find it rather interesting that the book's cover has been redesigned recently so that it looks like this now:

I think the key seems like a more fitting symbol for a book about secrets, because secrets, like locks, need to be unlocked. The trick is finding the right key.

I might have to pick this book up now and see what it has to offer.

.  .  . By the way, I have TONS of secrets, and I never plan to tell them. .   .like Melinda, I sometimes choose not to speak.  .   .

Sunday, October 14, 2012

 I am a librarian.

I am also a newborn comic book geek.

The latter is a direct result of the first. I found out a few months ago that Batgirl's alter-ego Barbara Gordon (daughter of Commissioner Gordon) is a librarian. I thought "That is TOTALLY FREAKIN' AWESOME!"

A superhero librarian! Delivering literature to the masses! Tracking down overdue fines! Filing books in their proper genres in the most accessible way possible! I think all librarians are superheroes, but Batgirl is an exceptionally cool one.

I wish I could pull off that sparkly, purple spandex!

Seeing myself as a superhero (even though I kinda did before) made me think about who my arch nemesis would be. All superheroes have an arch-nemesis, so I need to find one. Then, I realized I already kind of had one. My earlier posts about teeth in popular culture might have given you the hint that I have kind of a thing about going to the dentist. That is, I don't. Or, at least I didn't for about 12 years.

I am not generally a fearful person. I can handle sharks, snakes, spiders, bats, rodents and other creepy crawlers. I am more than willing to climb onto a horse, airplane or surfboard. I never get stage fright. Small spaces and heights are no problem. But, dentistry is like Kryptonite to me. It makes me sick, it drains my strength, and I am pretty convinced it will kill me some day.

Speaking of Kryptonite, I recently found and bought a 1974 Superman comic book that deals with my own personal brand of Kryptonite. Superman versus a dentist!

 Does Superman need novocaine?

 Poor Superman! The evil dentist slipped him some chocolates that were laced with Kyptonite! Then, once they have him in The Chair, they try to brainwash him!

If Superman can't handle a trip to the dentist, then how can anyone else?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

"I don't get it, I mean where all the other dead people in the world?"

With Halloween quickly approaching, I've been watching alot of movies that are related to it in some way. I am not a religious person, but like almost everyone, I cannot help but wonder what happens to us after we leave this world. So many movies have depicted "the afterlife" in so many ways, and I am constantly trying to guess which one could be the most accurate (assuming there IS an afterlife) or which one I would like it to be.

One of the first movies I remember watching that depicts the afterlife in a very specific, and very imaginative way is "Beetlejuice." When Barbara and Adam Maitland enter the waiting room to see their case manager, they see first-hand how personal each person's own afterlife is. Each person appears as an exaggerated version of how he/she looked upon their death. For example, there's the really crispy dude:

He says he's trying to cut down on the cigs, so I assume that he died because he fell asleep smoking and burned hisself up.

And then there's this chick:

A beauty queen of some sort, who slit her wrists. She must have been the runner-up.

I always assumed that these people looked horrendous in the afterlife as punishment for their bad habits (smoking and suicide, respectively). After all, Barbara and Adam Maitland were trapped in their car and drowned, but they look perfectly normal.

So, bad people look awful in the afterlife, but good people look normal. But what about that poor magician's assistant? You remember, the one who was sawed in half, and gets her legs felt up by Beetlejuice:

She seems to have been the unfortunate victim of an inexperienced performer, so why doesn't she get her legs restored to her in the afterlife? And furthermore, how does she get around all those long twisting, tilty hallways if her head isn't attached to her legs? Maybe she does deserve to be sawed in half forever; maybe she revealed the magician's secrets and this is how he silenced her.

So assuming my theory is true, that good people get to retain their normal appearance, and bad people look like a Tim Burton creation in the afterlife, I wonder what I am going to look like. I think I have an idea:

"Tell 'em, Large Marge sent ya!"

I'm not sure which look would be the bigger punishment.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Shall we floss now, or shall we floss later?

So after I shared my ideas regarding Marxism and teeth with a few friends, we had alot of fun coming up with other examples of how a character's teeth symbolize their socio-economic class and/or morality.

One idea that came up was Austin Powers. Now, I didn't necessarily want to pick this one apart, but it is so obvious that I cannot resist saying just a little bit about it. Austin Powers, bless his crushed-velvet encased heart, is a swinger. He enjoys his lifestyle and takes pride in his promiscuity, which in the 1960's is not necessarily seen as a detrimental trait. His famous teeth, which are crooked and comically horrendous, are definitely intended to make a statement.

"Do I make you randy?"

Now, this initially appears to be a statement about inner-beauty, because the audience comes to find out that Austin is a caring guy, and is actually quite attractive to the ladies despite his teeth. But, for the majority of the film, he IS a swinger, BABY YEAAAHHH!!!!

At the film's conclusion, he is happily monogamous and married, and sporting a newly restored smile. His teeth and nice and white and sparkling, because he has rid himself of the decay associated with sexual promiscuity.

This is getting fun.   . .I wish I'd written a paper on this in grad school.  .  .

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Marxist Implications in Popular Culture Portrayals of Dental Wellness

After many months of dental treatment, made necessary by a long sabbatical from dental care, I remarked to someone how devastated I was about how many fillings I needed. I have a much better oral hygiene regime than some people I know, and yet they never seem to have cavities. This person was trying to comfort me, and she told me "Teeth are just teeth. They don't say anything about you."

I didn't say it aloud, but I was thinking "Are you kidding me?! There are so many assumptions we make about a person based on how their teeth look! Are they straight? Are they white? Are there any visibly missing?" Based on how a person's teeth look, we can draw conclusions regarding their upbringing, their financial security, their education, and therefore their intelligence, their employment ('good' jobs often come with dental insurance).   .  . our teeth say a lot about us!

This got me thinking about how characters' teeth relate to them in the context of their story as well as in the greater context of our society and the omnipresence of Marxism in our lives.

 So, without going into a long and detailed description of Marxism as a literary theory, I present here just a couple examples of how a person's teeth represent and symbolize their class status as it coincides with or complicates their moral goodness.

My first example is the new series of Batman movies from Christopher Nolan. Bruce Wayne is a millionaire. He has the intelligence, security and wealth to maintain the health and appearance of his teeth. They are straight and white (especially considering that he is the Dark Knight), and the audience must assume that they are strong likewise, since Batman survives how many fights and tumbles and tussles with nary a chipped tooth.

And, of course the actor cast to play such a picture of perfection is Christian Bale, whose grin makes so many women goofy happy.

On the contrary, his nemesis the Joker is of unknown origins. We do not know where he came from, what his former life was like, or even what his real name is. We DO know that he's psychotic though! His teeth are a sickening yellow color, which implies that he did not have the financial ability to maintain them in his earlier life.

This assumption is supported by his obsession with money- if he had grown up with wealth, then he probably would not be robbing banks and making dealings with gangsters to obtain it. Perhaps the Joker's deep dark secret is that he's from a working class family?

He obviously does not possess the wealth and intelligence that is so often attributed to people with perfect white sparkling smiles.

His discolored teeth also symbolize the moral decay that must be present in a conniving, murderous villain. When we are able to see decay on the outside, we naturally assume that there is more decay on the inside, which is not visible because it is not a tangible flaw that can simply be drilled away and filled in.

The appearance of teeth as an indicator or a character's moral fiber is a concept that even small children can understand, whether they realize it or not. For example, in the Disney movie "Aladdin", our protagonist is a teenaged beggar boy, who has lived his life on the rough streets of Agrabah. This guy cannot even afford to buy a single apple, so we know that he has no money and his diet must be suffering as a result. Obviously, if there was any dentistry available at all in ancient Agrabah, this guy wouldn't have access to it. And yet, look at his smile!

It's almost as good as his singing voice! How could a "street rat" possibly have such a healthy set of pearly whites? His perfect smile indicates the goodness found within him. In contrast, the evil sorcerer Jafar is of the upper class, lives in the palace, is a confidante of the Sultan himself, and oh yeah, he knows magic! He certainly would have the security and capability to have himself a great set of choppers; if a dentist couldn't do it, he could just cast a spell on himself and voila! dynamite dentition!

But Jafar is too concerned with world power to think about his dental health (aren't we all?). When he disguises himself as an old crippled beggar, he purposely makes himself the most cringe-worthy grin Mickey Mouse has ever seen:

His teeth during his disguise communicate his intention to portray a man of the lowest economic/social class, as seen by people of the highest class, implying that this is how lower class people are viewed by anyone above them on the socio-economic ladder. Anyone who has the money and intelligence to ensure the health and appearance of their teeth does, and anyone lacking those characteristics obviously allows their mouth to fall into disrepair.

I think the misalignment of these teeth is a pretty clear metaphor for Jafar being a "crooked" character. His priorities are not in order either: orthodontics versus world power? (once again, can't blame the dude).

As far as cartoon caries are concerned, not even Jafar's smile can compare to one of the most famous characters in literary history.  . .a guy whose physical appearance and malevolence are the subject of a holiday song heard ad nauseum from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Do you know who I mean yet? Let me give you another clue: "he has termites in his smile."

That's right! Dr. Suess's greedy Grinch is a Christmas icon. We are always suckers for stories of repentant villains, and this is the quintessential tale of one. It is interesting to note that in the book, the Grinch;s teeth are never illustrated. Yes, he smiles quite a bit as he steals puddings and gifts from the Who's, but he never shows his teeth. Likewsie, Theodore Geissel's (Dr. Suess's) text also gives no indication of the Grinch's dental health. The song, which was also written by Geissel, is responsible for characterizing his termite-infested teeth. This trait was further expanded upon in the 2000 live action film starring Jim Carrey. In fact, the Grinch's teeth were viewed as such an integral part of his character development that the film employed a "key teeth technician" to design a full denture for Carrey to wear. 
A picture is worth a thousand words, so I doubt I need to say much about this smile.

 In tight competition with The Grinch for Most Popular Holiday icon is a tacky leg-shaped lamp. Anyone who has ever turned on a television on Christmas Day is aware of the 24 hour marathon of the 1983 cult classic A Christmas Story. The film depicts the Norman Rockwell-esque childhood of author Jean Shepherd, and centers on young Ralphie’s quest to obtain a Red Ryder BB gun. Classic milestones of childhood are also included, such as Ralphie’s first fight.

The neighborhood bullies, Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, are introduced into the narrative famously accompanied by the Wolf's theme from Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Ralphie describes Grover Dill as “Farkus’s crummy little toadie.  . .mean, rotten, his lips curled over his green teeth” (A Christmas Story). Grover Dill’s teeth are a representation of his malignant presence in the social world of elementary school. Scut Farkus, the senior bully, shows gleaming orthodontics when he smiles, indicating that his parents must have the financial ability to pay for them. 

He comes from a family secure enough to fix his teeth, yet in this instance they only highlight the fact while his family apparently has money to spare, Ralphie is from a working class family, and wears cracked glasses. This is significant when viewed in the context of Marxist theory because in their climactic fight, Ralphie triumphs. According to Marx, the exploited will take action against the exploiters, and a class struggle will ensue.

I speak from the position of a dentophobic graduate student, which probably makes me the worst patient possible. Not only am I unpleasant and argumentative, but then I make the poor dentist listen to my pretentious, self-important theories. All he wants to do is fix my teeth, and all I want to do is analyze the symbolism and significance of incisors. Reconciling my extreme fear of dentistry with my passion for popular culture has been my ‘crowning’ achievement- pardon the pun, I’m a grad student, not a comedienne.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cover me- I'm goin' in. . .

I am returning from absentia to discuss book covers once again. My library's copy of The Horn Book arrived today, so of course I took a quick look-see through it before it was sent down to the Children's Dept.

A debut novel by Nancy Grossman has a beautiful cover featuring butterflies in a mason jar.

It clearly wishes to express romance and nostalgia, as it has a very country, good ol' days vibe to it. It immeditaely reminded me of the cover of another book, "Awaken" by Katie Kacvinsky.

Obviously, Kacvinsky's cover features flowers inside the jar instead of butterflies, but what is the significance of the mason jars? many people use them as decoration in their homes in order to evoke that same type of country-esque, wasn't-it-better-when-life-was-simpler feeling.

I have not read Grossman's book, but the descriptions of it online reveal it to be the story of an Amish girl who must choose between "going English" and returning to the staid lifestyle of her community.

In contrast, Kacvinsky's book is a dystopian story about  the not-so-distant-future where everything is done on the computer. The protagonist, Maddie, fights "the system" with the help of a small contingent of rebels who also dislike the digital-only world. The book has a sequel, and its cover fits nicely into this thread:

Again with the butterflies! Not that I am complaining about any of these covers, or about mason jars or butterflies, I just find it interesting that these images seem to have such a universal symbolism. Butterflies represent nature, and beauty, and freedom, whereas another creature, say a squirrel or some other thing that is relatively benign, provoke mixed responses from people.

Perhaps this post is pointless- I am sure I didn't blow anyone's mind with any of these thoughts- but I always enjoy a good cover mash-up.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Penguins from Hell

The other day I rewatched The Magdalene Sisters. I've seen this movie more than a few times already, and admittedly it's not exactly uplifting. But films are intended to provoke many responses from us, and laughter does not always have to be one. This film in particular simply makes me reflect on my Irish and Catholic heritage. What does Catholicism mean to me? What does it mean to other Catholics? What does it mean to the heads of the Catholic Church?

The poster for this movie is very deceiving, and shows a smirking Nora-Jane Noone, who plays Bernadette.

She looks coquettish, perhaps like the female protagonist in a romantic comedy about some women with the surname Magdalene.

From this image, the viewer has no idea that the film is going to depict the physical violence and sexual abuse inflicted on residents of Magdalene Asylums: homes for 'fallen women.'

The story takes place in Ireland in the 1960's, but these asylums, which made money by using the residents as free labor in their laundries, had been established in the 18th century. It is horrifying to find out that the last Magdalene Laundry closed in 1996. Also, these places were not relics of fundamental religion in uber-Catholic Ireland either, there was a location in Philadelphia, PA.

So the residents of these places were 'fallen women': aka unwed mothers, girls who were suspected to be promiscuous, girls who had been raped, etc. The nuns tell the girls that hard work and penance will give them salvation and an entrace to Heaven, and they must follow the way of Mary Magdalene.

It certainly sounds unpleasant, but not necessarily horrifying. EXCEPT: these nuns are scary! They have none of the understanding, forgiveness, compassion or gentle humor that characterizes the nuns who taught me in school.

They miss no opportunity to humiliate and hurt the girls. I think the most disturbing scene is one where the girls are in the shower room, anhe nuns play a cruel and perverted game to judge them based on their bodies. (Smallest breasts, biggest bottom, etc)

I have blogged before about my admiration and awe of nuns, and I am fascinated by their position in our collective imagination and the way we portray them. Everything from the caricatured 'boxing nun' toys to nun dolls and calendars that contain humorous images of Nuns Having Fun.

So no matter how many times I watch this film, it is jarring (to say the least) to see these nightmarish nuns.

Monday, April 2, 2012

For the Love of Covers

In my History of Children's Book Publishing course, I was recenly asked to find "the most beautiful book." I had to write a paper defending my choice, and the book could only be a year or two old. This assignment was all based on aesthetics: the dustjacket, the casewrap, the type of paper used, the font, etc.

I had planned to choose a YA book because their covers are so beautiful and interesting so I went to a B&N store to have a look around. I found one book with a cover that looks strikingly like another one I'd seen:

Unlovable was published in January of 2011, and Between was published the following August.

I can't help but wonder the reason between the strong resemblance. I haven't read either book, I just like the covers.

What is it about girls on swings? It should look innocent because of its hearkening back to childhood, but both of these covers are meant to make us somewhat uncomfortable. If the upside down grey cloudy sky in Between doesn't exude a sense of foreboding, surely the swampy cemetery scene in Unlovable does.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

God, Himself could not explain to me why we need to see this ship sink in 3D

Being a History scholar and film enthusiast, I am naturally psyched about the upcoming rerelease of James Cameron’s 1997 epic Titanic.

I saw this movie seven times in the theater, and every time I was still invested in the romantic fate of Rose and Jack. I also was horrified each time upon watching the victims of the tragedy drown, fall to their deaths and freeze in the icy Atlantic. There are so many reasons why this infamous accident has captured the American, and the world’s collective imagination. The Edwardian attitude of man’s infallibility is probably the biggest one. Even now, over 100 years later, people still want to know more about what exactly happened on the night of April 14th, 1912. recently, there was a story that scientists believe the moon’s cycle that year affected the earth in a way which led to icebergs traveling more, which explains why there were so many in the ship passageways.

I enjoy reading and learning about the Titanic, and also watching films about it.

However, when I heard that Titanic is being released in 3D this month, I have to wonder “Why?”. I understand that 3D is a big thing, and it helps ensure that a film’s release will generate profits. I also understand that Cameron’s Titanic was a blockbuster hit (thanks to fans like me!).

But I do not feel that a film that depicts approx. 1500 people dying in such horrifying ways necessitates a huge 3D translation. It’s as if the film‘s new tagline will be “Witness the destruction and death in life-like detail!”

I realize that jack and Rose are fictional characters, but there are a handful of characters based on actual people, but what should it matter either way? I touched on this in an earlier post about our need as a society to preserve every single site/building that has played a role in any historical event; are we already removed far enough so that we no longer view the Titanic as a human tragedy but as a freak accident that makes us gawk?

Would anyone really want to see a film about Vietnam in bloody, 3D detail? What is the relationship between a historic event, especially a tragedy, and the length of time since it occurred that equates when it is appropriate to exploit it for monetary gain?

I “am ready to go back to Titanic” as Brock Lovett asks old Rose, but I am grateful that I did not have to live through this event, so I do not feel the need to pay for the illusion that I did.

Whatever my ticket does cost me, it will be worth it to reaffirm my love for Leo.

"I'll never let go, Jack. I promise."