Sunday, January 31, 2010

Revolutionary Road: Spoilers included

I watched Revolutionary Road, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, yesterday. Be warned, spoilers below.

A woman and a man meet at a party; they both have a spark of creativity and the urge to express the greatness in themselves, to dare to be something different. But they get married, have children, and a few years later wake up inside the nightmare of mediocrity that was the US suburbs in the 1950s. The movie conveys the dreariness of giving up your dreams to live in the suburbs because you accidentally got pregnant too soon after marriage. The drudgery of housework on one hand and a mid-level cubical job on the other. Taking out your frustrations on your spouse to avoid acknowledging your betrayal of your own dreams.

The wife plans their escape: they'll sell the house and move to Paris, where she can support them working as a US government secretary in the relief/rebuilding effort. He can discover himself: study philosophy, think, figure it out. The kids will be fine--Europeans raise kids too! She talks him into it and for a brief summer they take steps to change their lives: tell all the friends, put the house up for sale, begin packing.

But she gets pregnant (with a third child), which would make it all impossible. She wants to abort the pregnancy, even gets the instructions and apparatus to do it at home, but when he discovers the means (tucked away in a linen closet) he won't let her--won't agree to it, tells her to give up the dream, that it was a foolish, immature fantasy after all. Work has just offered him a raise and promotion; he'd miss his affair with a secretary there; all their friends and family have ridiculed them for aspiring to be pink monkeys instead of brown ones. In a bitter, desperate, tawdry scene she, too, commits adultery.

And then she performs the abortion anyway. It's past the "safe" 12-week deadline and she bleeds out and dies. He sold out and she gave up.

The acting was excellent, the sets and costumes good. But the story! I'm stunned by how bad it was, how it ignored every bit of analysis and information published in the last 60 years about what life was like in the post-war boom of the 1950s; I'm struck by the pristine naivety of the presentation of these two lives, as if they were extraordinary. I'm frustrated because it ignored the structural social issues that made these two people so desperate.

It was like the backstory for any feminist movie, without ever referencing anything feminist.

Instead it was a purely personal movie, as if these two were just misfits and it was their own fault. Everybody else seemed to be happy. Caving in was rewarded with the good life, in a best-of-both worlds sense: the widower moved into the City (New York City), spent more time with his kids, and yet had a job that paid him enough to do that. And who paid for this? The woman who was wife and mother and more, whose choice field was so constrained by circumstance and the decisions of her husband that the only way out she could find was the way into death. Her self-sacrifice was ultimate: her dreams, her goals, her health, her happiness, and even her life, all burnt into a pleasing odor on the altar of society's order, to keep chaos at bay.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More on fashion and size

At Fashion Incubator Kathleen Fasanella has started a discussion among industry insiders on the question "What if plus sizes made up 80% of the market?" The comments section includes speculation about shapes, manufacturing, examples of businesses exploring expanding their offerings to plus sizes, and how some retailers have changed the range of their sizing already to accommodate changes in their target market.

The discussion continues in a following entry, illustrating many of the challenges through comparing plus size women's clothing with the model of mens' suiting (a range of sizes like 40R or 42L that are assumed to need tailoring at the store after purchase).

Well, what did they wear?

Footpath Zeitgeist asks, what did fat chicks used to wear?

I began to ponder this question when thinking about how I just don't even bother trying on dresses in vintage stores, because I know they never fit me. Whenever I visit an exhibit of historical garments, I never fail to marvel at how small they are. And Hollywood actresses are invariably bird-thin, regardless of the body shapes in vogue during the historical periods they portray.

She's just outlining the bare bones of her curiosity and beginning to plan the research. I look forward to her reports.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Learning to manage

How do you teach students about organizing (government, e.g.) when you don't have much information? How about a scenario game right out of Charlaine Harris's True Blood series, where vampires come out of the coffin and demand to be recognized as citizens with equal rights?

That's what Robert Farley at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky did. The students were divided into groups (like Department of Justice or Department of Defense) and let loose to come up with policy recommendations.

Each group was tasked with developing an organizational response to the imminent public declaration of the existence of vampires. I gave each group a few general questions, then set them lose. CIA and DoD each received a bit of additional information. CIA had been aware of the existence of vampires essentially from the point of its founding, as had most major foreign intelligence organizations. The CIA even employed vampiric agents from time to time; a CIA vampire killed Salvador Allende. DoD's relationship was even longer and more extensive. In its previous incarnations as the Departments of War and Navy, the US military had employed vampires since the Civil War.

They thought of a lot of the same things I would, like reviewing laws for vampire-specific provisions (including human on vampire hate crimes) and some I didn't, like whether to extend the service requirement qualifying a vampire for retirement benefits (because they live so much longer than humans).

In previous years the policy project focused on Godzilla, zombies, and the aftermath of the movie Independence Day.

Hat tip Isegoria.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Finding role models

Watch for the ones who leave your mouth hanging open. Study them, find out what they love and what they fear. Dig the treasure out of their soul and hold it to the light. ... Then be like them.

Ken Scholes, Lamentation (Tor, 2009 hardcover ed., p. 109)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

You might like these, I did.

Best letterhead ever.

"Radiation treatment for a brain tumor left Adam Cohen temporarily unable to read, an alarming change for a Shakespeare scholar who had forged an intimate relationship with words. He soon found, however, that the experience gave him a new way to appreciate William Shakespeare's writings for the stage."

Faces in our stuff.

Wearing your heart on your sleeve.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Word for 2010

I've given a lot of thought to what word to pick for 2010. "Bravery" kept bubbling up out of my thinking, but never fit very well when I tried it on. A few times I thought "Calm" might be a good pick, because I needed a lot of ability to calm myself over the last year, so many things happened that were out of my control. Even the choices I made required frequent calming, because my life and my family's lives have gone through a lot of new experiences. My husband was laid off in the spring, my older son and his wife had a second child, and I was diagnosed with some severe allergies which required a completely different way of eating and a new medication regimen. In addition I took up sewing and learning to play the piano!

I'm going to embrace "change" as my word for 2010. I've resisted most change in my life since I was very little, and made a point as an adult of drastically eliminating stress in my life whenever I could identify a source of stress that I had control over. During 2009 for the first time in a long time I chose to make major changes, over and over. And I've managed quite well, seldom retreating from an overloaded life or breaking down emotionally or physically--in fact I've been sick less often in the last year than any other year of my life.

I'm finally able to change on purpose, with intentionality, and enjoy the effects of my changes. This year of 2010 I hope to claim this trait and make it solidly part of my identity.