Mermaids, messages, and musings on “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

After seeing it again recently, I have been considering the mermaids in Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides.  I have come up with two points.

1) This franchise continues to be obsessed with kisses.  I noted in the third movie how everyone who kissed Keira Knightley without her permission was pretty much about to die.  If she kissed them they survived.  Stranger Tides seems to have a similar thing going on with the mermaid host.  The sailors lure them by singing about abandoning everything for love.  When the first mermaid arrives she sings some of it back and asks a sailor if he’ll be her “jolly sailor bold.”  However, then the sailor goes on a rant about how he’ll have a kiss from a real, goddamn mermaid!  Clearly, in his head he wants his kiss to be something of his to possess, to control, and does not care for the consent or thoughts of the mermaid.  Therefore, when his kiss occurs it is immediately taken out of his control, drawing his blood and costing him his life.  This seems to be what the mermaids expect-to be taken as objects of lust, in which case they turn the tables (and the boats) on the sailor swains.  You do not kiss a woman without her consent in these films if you want to live.  Philip, of course, has no thoughts of gaining pleasures of the flesh from the encounter.  Hence, a mermaid finds his life worth saving.

2) Philip is actually a foil for Angelica.  Syrena is one for Blackbeard.  Angelica is constantly trying to control her father’s actions in an attempt to save his soul.  Even though she can’t materially change him, Angelica continues to try and turn Blackbeard into a different man through artificial means, hoping that it will take and make him the ‘safe’ father she wants.  Likewise, Philip is constantly taking control of Syrena when she’s on land, in order to turn her into simply what he wants her to be.  Physically, he literally takes charge of her body.  He pronounces judgement over her multiple times-first as a deadly mermaid who attacked him, then as a pure mermaid, and lastly as “surely one of God’s own creations.”   All of this is without the mermaid’s permission.  Because if he wants to love her, then of course she “must be” what he thinks he should love.  She must be ‘safe.’   He even gives her the name “Syrena”, for crying out loud.  Both Syrena and Blackbeard go along with their self-appointed helpers for reasons never fully plumbed.  On the surface, both are getting something out of it.  Blackbeard has someone to get him to the Fountain of Youth and Syrena has an ally among her captors.

At about the same time in the story, the two relationships gain complications in different ways.  Angelica realizes her father might not hold her as dear to his heart as she’d like.  One could argue that since she holds Blackbeard’s soul more dear to her than Blackbeard actually is, he is justified.  On the other hand, Philip realizes there is real affection in his relationship with Syrena.  Since Philip’s been fairly assuming with her, this just shows Syrena’s inner beauty and tolerance.  Both these instances show the real personality of the heretofore subordinate character coming out.  Blackbeard’s lack of heart directly mirrors Syrena’s emotional strength.  Both Angelica and Philip find themselves taken aback, less sure of where they stand in their relationships.

These couples’ endings also reflect one another.  Both Syrena and Blackbeard rise to complete power in these partnerships at the end of the movie.  However, while Blackbeard uses that power to try and manipulate Angelica into giving him what he wants, pretending it’s the way to get what she wants for him, Syrena offers Philip ‘salvation.’  Angelica allows herself to be tricked-by Blackbeard and Sparrow, and winds up alone and unhappy.  Philip, on the other hand, acknowledges that Syrena is now the one with true power, instead of lying to himself the way Angelica does.  Because he is willing to give in to that power and let Syrena take the lead in their partnership, he is awarded with a kiss…and a new world.  Given the Pirates of the Caribbean‘s rules of kissing, I believe that Philip lives.  After all, she kisses him.

 

If you try to force your perceptions of someone onto them, you will wind up at the mercy of their world.  Angelica can’t admit this and had a near miss.  She will need therapy about her family.  If you are willing to change your perceptions, to truly accept that other person, however…what mysteries might you uncover?  Philip makes the change.  As the ultimate message of On Stranger Tides, I like it.  After all, you cannot simply love yourself-even if you do get the opportunity to kiss someone dressed just like you.  But can you truly tolerate someone else’s differences?  Or will you simply refuse to see them?  The real Stranger Tides here are the personalities of people we want to love.  You have to be willing to sail them.

Sexily Dressed on the Subway? Expect Sexual Harassment

Shanghai Subway Publishes Photo Of Sexily Dressed Woman, Tells Her To Expect Sexual Harassment PHOTO.

 

Okay, I’m going to skip right over the implications that the harassment of women is okay if her clothes “ask for it” and the opposing point that the particular outfit in the photo is impractical for most locations.  There are lots of people talking about these things already.  What I want to talk about is how condescending this ad is:

“Dressing like that, it would be unusual for a lady not to be harassed.  There can be perverts on the subway and it’s hard to get rid of them.  Please have self respect, ladies.”

Before you even get to the politics surrounding sexual harassment, you have the Shanghai Subway system telling women what to wear.  When was the last time in your life that someone felt the need to point out to you the appropriate choice of wardrobe?  Mind you, not what outfit is appropriate for a date or a certain dress code, but what things you just shouldn’t wear out?  Because they would show a lack of “self-respect.”  As adults, I’m pretty sure the answer is “A long time ago.”  Until now, if you’re a woman, obviously.  We need to be told.   Part of the subway’s defense was that it is part of their job to warn women about sexual harassment.  That sounds fine…until they presume to tell us what we should do about it.  Until they patronize us by assuming they know best how women can show respect for themselves and thinking it’s their job to inform women of it.  After all, women couldn’t possibly have self-respect without being told what that means, could they?

 

Whatever you think about how people should dress in public, do you really believe that systems should be able to blatantly patronize women?  Women as sex objects should be clamped down, but infantalizing women to the position of children who need guidance in such simple daily tasks as getting dressed is alright?  I can get dressed by myself, thank you.  Because I have my self-respect, and it is not defined by you.

King Richard III Day

Today is the day that Richard III took power!  However, during the Tudor dynasty Richard III became the target of one of the most successful slanders in history.  William Shakespeare could not afford to love the last Stuart ruler while under the Tudors’ reign.  Hence, Richard III became an ugly, vile character, as if Shakespeare decided:

“Since I cannot prove a lover, I am determined to prove a villain.”

 

Of course, good ol’ Will made the king so charismatic that he could use his play “Richard III” for other ends, as well:

Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III, there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.

— E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare. A Study of Facts and Problems (1930), ii. 212
(from John Manningham’s Diary, Harl. MS. 5353, f. 29v, ed. J. Bruce (1868) ).

I just love that story.

 

The real Richard of Gloucester:

1. Was not a humpback.

2. Had nothing to do with the execution of his brother.  In fact, he even resigned one of his posts for a day so he wouldn’t be forced to have any hand in putting Clarence to death.  (Also, by all accounts Clarence was a really bad egg, particularly to Richard’s wife.)

3. Has lots of evidence that he treated his wife Anne well.

4. Was an excellent military commander.

5. May or may not have killed his nephews, the princes in the tower.  For the record, I happen to believe he is innocent, but the debate over who killed the princes is always fierce.  What better day to declare my side of it than that of Richard III’s triumph?

 

 

 

Merida vs. Cinderella

The more I hear/read people talking about Brave, the more I feel she’s still getting too much credit, particularly when it comes to being empowered.  Cinderella seems the obvious person to compare her to as her situation was also dominated by her relationship with her mother-figure.  Cinderella is often viewed as one of the weakest female characters in fairy tales, while Merida was supposed to be a new, more feminist princess.  The more I think about them together, the more I feel Merida makes Cinderella look good.

First off, I have to say that I have never been as down on Cinderella as many people are.  I always felt she developed relationships with mice and birds in order to preserve her sanity and keep from growing embittered.  As a young girl thrust into a lonely, tough situation, choosing to put forth extra effort (which the mice clothes show she clearly does) for these reasons shows foresight, self-awareness, and resourcefulness.  Add to that, she is forced to work long hours, do many manual jobs, and clearly isn’t allowed enough sleep.  In this situation, putting forth the energy to do that much for yourself and to better your circumstances is incredible.  I think it’s courageous of her to try and hold onto her happiness.  It shows that she doesn’t internalize the messages she gets from her family, she still believes in her own self-worth.  The fact that she is doing so while trying not to vilify her family any more than she must is an added effort of will to keep her sane and from the trap of being bittered, again-lots of foresight, lots of willpower.  Many people have a down on her for not getting out and making her own way in the world, or not doing more.  I think Cinderella was already doing more than many real people would.  Compare her to someone in a dead-end job that they hate-they don’t get along with their coworkers, there’s barely any time for them to have a social life, there’s a lot of pressure and demands.  Sure, they’d rather be somewhere else but finding a job is tough-at least they have a place to sleep and enough to eat, and they know enough to appreciate that.  At least they’re better than these rich, lolly-gagging idlers who just do nothing all day.  You have satisfaction in knowing you can get stuff done, even if it’s not stuff you’d particularly like to do.  People might wish these people into better circumstances, but does it really reflect badly on them that they keep going on and doing their job because they feel that they must?  Particularly if they are still working to keep up a rewarding social life and to not become embittered?  That person is the common hero or heroine of today, and Cinderella is a wonderful guiding light from them.

 

To get back to the comparison, look at Merida’s position.  She’s already a princess, she’s clearly well taken care of physically, she has a family who clearly loves her, days of total freedom, and her biggest complaint is that her mom is trying to control her.  Yeah, tell Cinderella about it.  Now, for the crucial point: how they handle their one magic wish.  To be fair, Merida does show more spirit in needing to insist on receiving a wish instead of simply being given magic like Cinderella, but then Merida also had magical wisps giving her the hint to claim something important.  On to the actual magic.  Cinderella wishes for the equipment to get to the ball.  This may seem shallow or short-sighted.  However, after seeingBrave, I see Cinderella’s wish as more self-assured.  She asked for the equipment to accomplish a certain task-she trusted herself to actually see that task through.  Merida, on the other hand, in spite of starting out with a huge advantage over Cinderella, didn’t think she could “change her fate” on her own, even with a little help.  No, Merida only saw that her mother was in charge, not that Merida herself could take control of her own fate.  In terms of control, I think we can all agree Cinderella’s mother figure had far more control over her than Queen Elinor does of Merida, but Cinderella still managed to think of something she herself could do, if just given the opportunity.  Moreover, Merida was entitled enough to put her wish on someone else.  Cinderella, at least, takes all the consequences of her magic to herself, not using the moment to put something unwanted on her family or trying to change them to make her life easier.  That gives Cinderella’s magic the moral high ground, especially considering how much more Lady Tremain deserved a magical alteration compared to Queen Elinor.  This is even before considering that Merida’s desire to change that particular event shows that the educated princess totally missed the big picture and failed to consider the consequences her actions would take.

 

Who would you rather have running your kingdom?  The resourceful princess who was always forward-thinking and only experiments with magic on herself? Or the entitled princess who’s willing to magically ‘change’ family members and doesn’t wonder about the consequences?

I declare Cinderella the victor.  Merida’s a new, more empowered spin on a princess, my ass.

Wild Locks and the three Brave movies

There are too many differing things about this film.  You see, there’s really three different movies all packed inside Pixar’s latest release (expect non-specific spoilers):

The Good Kid-Flick: Brave is a beautiful film.  The soundtrack is lovely.  The attention paid to bringing out the Celtic flavor makes me smile.  The humor with Merida’s triplet brothers gets a bit half-assed at times, but it works for the intended audience, so who am I to knock it?  The family/clan humor works better, if through cliches.  The scene with the witch is wonderful, particularly her old-time voicemail system.  Disney’s trend of making horse companions increasingly helpful until they became the horse/dog/craziness that galloped through Tangled came back to the lovable realm, which I deem very important.  The overall story is cute and the main characters are likable.  Plus, King Fergus is just a really cool dude.

The Bad(ly) Anticipated Movie: My issues with this film began retroactively with the trailers, it turns out.  They clearly misled people to believe that Brave involves a great adventure.  The phrase “A Hero Will Rise” was clear claptrap to draw people in.  This story was about family, teenage/parent relationships, and vaguely one could argue it was about tradition.  What Brave is not about?  What people think of as a magical adventure with a young girl pitted against great forces in order to take charge of her own life.  If I’d known more of what the real plot was I probably would have seen it, but I certainly wouldn’t have been so excited or seen it so soon.  My next issue is the name itself.  Bravery is nobody’s issue here.  It’s not even a big theme.  You could argue that you need different kinds of bravery to do many of the things that happened in this film, but then you could also make that argument about maybe half the movies out there.  It just seems like one more ploy to direct audience expectations along more adventurous routes than what Brave actually delivers.

I also had trouble with a lot of aspects in the film itself.  First and foremost, I hated the way they invoked “fate.”  Frankly, there was no reason to bring fate into any of this-so a typical family squabble got a bit magical, it’s still a simple family trouble.  My main reason for disliking it though, is that it framed the whole story as if this is Merida taking charge of her fate.  I’m sorry, if running to a witch for a spell when you get frustrated and asking her to change circumstances for you is the same as getting empowered or taking charge of your own life, than I quit.  Nothing Merida did after that really had to do with deciding her own life, either.  Those actions had to do with other uplifting messages about relationships, but not freedom, empowerment, or “fate.”  Even at the ending Merida never really thought anything through or stepped up to the front herself, as far as her destiny goes.  Ultimately, that stupid spell thing worked and that, I cannot forgive.  Second, the whole storyline with the actual “villain” was so sketchily done it could lift right out.  It seemed like one of at least a hundred things they could have added to the plot to amp up the drama, that it was drawn out of a hat and none of the film makers really cared about that part.  There was never any real suspense, he’s barely there, and the movie expends no effort on getting us to really care.  Third, I felt like the characters didn’t develop enough.  Only three of them were fleshed out at all.  The two females evolved a little, but it felt like the end just brought them back to versions of themselves they’d been before and the whole thing was nothing but effects of a stressful time.  Fourth, I really did love Merida…as a rebellious fourteen-year-old.  Any older than that and her beginning choices seem so irresponsible and brattish that it’s hard to take seriously.  Particularly for the time period, when even fourteen was old enough to be married and pregnant.  On the other hand, at fourteen for the modern audience the idea of marriage would be alarming enough to appropriately invoke these reactions, but then the queen’s stance would be disturbing.  Merida is a princess, no matter how she feels about acting like a lady, it shouldn’t take so much for her to at least glimpse the big picture here.  Fifth, everything that happened felt like a cliche.  Princess unhappy with life, botched magic wish, family turmoil, princess causes political problems…what’s new?  Not that everything has to be new, but it should at least feel more fresh than stale.  Particularly if it is being marketed as a unique, new brand of princess tale.

The Ugly Feminist Film: As Pixar’s first female lead and a movie claimed to possess a new kind of princess story, Brave has a lot to say about gender issues in our society.  First off, is Merida really a new type of princess?  Chapman’s original idea was to make a new type this way: “Merida is not upset about being a princess or being a girl. She knows what her role is. She just wants to do it her way, and not her mother’s way.”  Well, in the film I saw living under the pressures of being a princess and conforming to the role of a girl/”lady” is pretty much what Merida was upset about.  Moving on, a lot was made of the fact that there is no love story.  The fact that this is a big deal says a wealth about society, already.  While it’s true there’s no romance, did it really leave the building?  The suitors are important, traditional gender roles are upheld, and love is upheld and promoted as the key to Merida’s ending.  Is Merida really an empowered, strong, female protagonist?  In physical prowess, she certainly is.  She’s very strong and stubborn in her choices, but I have doubts as to whether they show real empowerment or independence rather than simple teenage frustration and immaturity.  Bringing “fate” into the equation lends every doubt I have about Merida’s learning and sense of freedom more weight.  If this is the best Merida can do to grab hold of her own life, than I don’t really think so.

On the other hand, Queen Elinor’s habitual control over herself , her husband, and her kingdom demonstrates what a strong heroine can do.  Her relationship with her husband stayed practical and believable instead of being just a stereotype.  Her love of tradition and conventional roles never stops her from doing what needs to be done.  She is a woman of her time and a feminist who believes that a strong woman doesn’t need to break out of anything, she can simply be who she is and still get everything her way.  That, to me, is a much more powerful feminist statement than anything that happens with Merida.  Merida needs things to change around her in order to “change her fate.”  Elinor just makes hers, no matter what.  I really hope that after the events of Brave, she’s able to pass that on to her daughter.  If she’d done so in the movie, perhaps the talk of seeing your own “fate” would have fit in.

After reading http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/movies/pixars-brave-how-the-character-merida-was-developed.html?_r=1 I think I’ve figured out why they had such a hard time trying to make a “new” kind of princess tale.  First Pixar heroine and what do they seem to have spent most of their time on to get across the aspects of “freedom” and “wildness”?  Merida’s hair.  I rest my case.  (Well…at least that hair was awesome.)

The Horns of Ruin

The Horns of Ruin

By: Tim Akers

(shadoth.blogspot.com)

Pyr 2010

A fantasy action steampunk review

Eva Forge lives to kick ass and honor the name of the warrior god Morgan.  The fact that Morgan is dead, betrayed, means that she is the last of Morgan’s paladins.  The fact that her cult now faces deadly, mysterious attackers means that Eva will have to face not just weapons, but secrets, politics, and panic on her own.

 

Eva’s strong voice carries The Horns of Ruin at a good, action-filled pace from cover to cover.  Her supporting cast offers intrigue and humorous relief.  However, no one, not even Eva, can claim a fully developed character.  Akers is particularly short on backstory.  While a couple protagonists do receive some growth, it is more hinted at than realized in the writing.  Arguably, this book has enough to do with explaining the city’s history, current layout, and the workings of the various factions.  The combination of steampunk devices with sword-and-sorcery action adds to the confusion.  The city of Ash contains many complicated details and these are relayed to the reader in a kind of rhythm-chorusing what we already know and steadily adding new verses without losing pace with the action.  This method is not as smooth as it could be, but it’s serviceable and won’t bore or overwhelm.

 

The plot of The Horns of Ruin contains large twists that are actually quite predictable and many small points that are not.  The use of history and knowledge in this world’s logistics is clever without forcing messages on anyone.  Everything builds on a fight scene.  These are written with aesthetics in mind; it’s a shame this story isn’t visual.  As it is, these grew rather repetitive to me towards the end, but it could be a matter of taste.  Nevertheless, the true core of the story is simple: Eva kicks ass.  As such, this is a fun, quick read with cool images thrown in.  The cover image by Benjamin Carré and the chapter fonts are definitely awesome.  But I doubt I’d read any sequels.

Fortune’s Fool

Fortune’s Fool (sequel to Master of Verona and Voice of the Falconer)

By: David Blixt

(http://www.davidblixt.com/)

Sordelet Inc. (April 23, 2012)

An historical fiction review

Blixt’s Star-Cross’d series has always been bursting with secrets, additional flavor for the action-filled plots.  Fortune’s Fool, however, allows secrets the place of prominence.  While plenty of incidents occur throughout this novel, the driving force behind this part of Blixt’s story is mystery.  Pietro Alighieri, Dante’s oldest son, finds his mission to the Avignon papacy opposed by a hidden foe.  Antonia Alighieri and Cangrande both face unknown malefactors.  Cesco encounters a mysterious assailant.  In the midst of grappling with religion, politics, and changing relationships, Blixt’s characters must deal with their personal puzzles and endure their separate trials.

This book differs from its predecessors in many ways.  The shift from action to mystery slows the pace, considerably where Pietro is concerned.  The overall isolation of the characters from each other for much of the story changes the personal dynamics not only for them, but for the readers.  The prior two novels highlighted a couple main characters, while this one’s focus is more spread out.  More significantly, this narrative brings a darker, more raw feel to the story.  While sex, malice, and the message that life is pain have always been a part of this story, Fortune’s Fool throws those elements front and center.  It feels like the middle of a story, where things get sticky and difficult to chew.  The discovery that Fortune’s Fool began as the middle of a longer sequel that had to be split up put this book in the frame I was comfortable with.  Blixt fleshed out this novel enough to hold my attention and build my intrigue, but it lacked that special luster I expect from finishing a Blixt book.  Knowing that there’s another installation to come in this arc explains everything.  The second part of any trilogy tends to offer more darkness and less gratification; if it holds up and builds the story then it works.  Fortune’s Fool certainly achieves that!       

This work contains many compelling pieces.  The verbal sparring remains brilliant, more side characters get a chance to shine, and we get a taste of new love.  The writing style is still excellent, if heavier.  The cast don’t get to play off each other as much, but their individual journeys keep them whole and emotionally connected to their audience.  In short, everything in this book works well.  As the second of a three-part installation, it works very well.  It would be even better if there had been something to chase that sticky, hard-to-chew, filling taste.  When you bite into that candy, you want the filling to be there, working with that sweet outer shell of chocolate.  Without that sliver of sweetness to encase it, the taste is missing an element of satisfaction.  Like a good filling, I enjoyed this book very much, but…now I want my chocolate shell.

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