Dropping the F-Bomb: Reflections on Feminism

A reflection on my own experience with feminism, with a healthy dose of sci-fi

As I write this, I’ve just returned from a screening of the acclaimed documentary Miss Representation. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it (actually, I think everyone in the country should watch it); it made me laugh, it made me cry, but most of all, it made me question how I conduct my life. It’s the kind of film that takes such a clear-eyed perspective on the world that you can’t help but come to all sorts of revelations.

For many years, I’ve identified as a feminist. Do I think women and men are equal? Yes. Therefore, I am a feminist. Yes, it’s really that simple. I’ll be completely honest, though: sometimes, being a feminist is exhausting. It’s hard to stand against the societal structures that systematically oppress women, mainly because those structures are incredibly insidious. They’re so engrained in the fabric of our culture that sometimes, you don’t even see them. Not even a 22-year-old well-educated self-proclaimed feminist does.

As the aforementioned documentary discusses in 90 brilliantly crafted minutes, you need look no further than the media to catch a glimpse—a skin-exposed, perfectly airbrushed glimpse—of how American society tacitly accepts female inferiority. God, just look at advertising. Alcohol ads, perfume ads, jewelry ads, even cleaning ads (for fuck’s sake, the 50s were SIXTY YEARS AGO, we do not have to look sexy when or if we clean): everywhere we look, sex sells. But beyond that, it’s what we don’t see that hurts us the most. We don’t see women in strong film roles. We don’t see intelligent, ambitious women receiving praise for their accomplishments. We don’t see some of the strongest real women in America gain recognition for their strength. One of the strongest quotes in the film: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Think about it.

Until tonight, I thought myself pretty well aware of the media’s reduction of women to ultra-sexualized man-craving lustful creatures. I considered myself a critical consumer of media; hell, I can barely even stand to watch television, it’s so infuriating. I’m a reader of Virginia Woolf; I’m one of relatively few women Economics majors at my university; I love Hillary and Wendy and smashing the patriarchy. But tonight, I realized that—in spite of all that—I’ve fallen into the same trap as so many other women. I see myself as inferior.

I’m actually going to digress with one example of how clearly I’ve begun to understand my application of feminism to daily life, using one of my favorite shows. It’s going to hurt, because I love this show and it has so much to offer. But if I’m being honest, the last season of Doctor Who has left me uneasy—which is unsettling, because it’s an incredible show with so many other fabulously progressive aspects (hello, River Song). Anyway, the most disturbing thing about the most recent season is the way in which Clara, the Doctor’s companion, is defined against the men in her life. She is no longer quite the same motivated, driven, slightly rebellious, incredibly empowered woman that she had been with Matt Smith. But with the introduction of Peter Capaldi as a new Doctor and the appearance of a romantic interest, Clara became all about the men; look no further than the finale for that. And that change had some really powerful messages about love and so on, but it got a bit…tired, after awhile. And a bit too familiar. Because Clara began to focus her life on a man instead of on herself—something with which, I think, many women struggle. I know I do.

One of the beauties about storytelling is that you can put yourself in another’s life for a short time. Tonight’s biggest revelation about this show: I cannot see myself as the Doctor. I can only see myself as Clara, or Rose, or Donna, or Martha. I can only see myself as the perennial helper, always trying to save the world but unable to do so without the help of someone more “powerful.” Problematically, this is painfully accurate in how I live my life. I like to do leader-ish things, but I’m always desperate for approval, for guidance, for acknowledgement that yes, I’m doing the right thing, keep up the good work. I think I’m uncomfortable leading because I have subconsciously internalized the message that women can’t lead. Men are powerful. Women take supporting roles. Men get the credit.

How is this acceptable? When I realized that even I buy into it, I was kind of shocked at myself. I’m an intelligent woman who can certainly surpass many of her male peers in matters of intellect; why do I lower my eyes and defer to them when we’re at odds? I’m ambitious, talented, and sensible, so why do I apologize in almost every single one of my interactions with men, as if I’ve overstepped my bounds by coming toe-to-toe with them? The women of America have been burdened with an inferiority complex that the media has perpetuated for decades. It’s high time that ended. Change will be slow, but as we use our voices—as voters and as consumers—we will assert that it is unacceptable to hold women back. It’s unacceptable for women to hold themselves back. We should be able to hop into the TARDIS and wheel through time and space to save the universe, just like the Doctor. Fight the good fight, ladies—and gents—and stand against the discourse that perpetuates gender inequality. It will improve lives all around. We should all be feminists. Feminists, like bow-ties, are cool.

Miss Representation is on Netflix. You should watch it. Also, look up The Representation Project, the group behind the documentary, because gender equality isn’t just about women. It’s an issue for all of us at any locus on the gender spectrum.

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For the Love of Literature: A Top 10 List

Recently, a couple of my lovely fellow English majors challenged me to post a list of the top ten books that have influenced me. They’re calling it the Book Challenge or something on Facebook. Well, I compiled the list, and I posted it, and as I wrote each title into that little status bar, I realized this list was incomplete without exploration and discussion. What good is sharing the title of a book if I don’t describe why it made the list? Plus, ten is clearly an inadequate number. I’ll add a few in an “Honorable Mention” section, just for the books that didn’t immediately come to mind. Here we go!

Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown

My first excursion into Rushdie did not, as one might expect, include Midnight’s Children or his Satanic Verses. Instead, on the suggestion of a friend, I delved into this fascinating novel that leaps from contemporary California to Kashmir in the 1960s to World War II and back again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so incredibly shattered by an author’s ability to portray loss, heartbreak, violence, and the many other themes that contribute to the agonizing tale of Shalimar. Rushdie’s sheer delight in language shines in this richly textured novel; on more than one occasion, I wanted nothing more than to tear my eyes away from the pages so I could escape the suffering within them, but Rushdie’s language captivates. It’s luxurious. And so Shalimar the Clown made me fall in love with language all over again.

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

My first attempt to read this Faulkner great (or at least the Benji section; I didn’t even reach the Quentin section before starting over) was miserable and painful. My second attempt ended in awe and admiration. See the previous post for the most profound reasons for this book’s impact on me; but beyond that, Faulkner’s stream of consciousness delighted me with its simple brilliance. I will always love Virginia Woolf above others, but Faulkner’s style is equally—and, in some ways, more so—impressive, especially in his ability to convey the impressionistic mind of developmentally-delayed Benji. Faulkner showed me that language can do far, far more than simply tell; it can show.

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

I don’t even know where to begin with this one; it remains one of my absolute favorites after several years. Egan is a beautiful writer with an impressionistic, transcendental style, in that she lifts you out of her story’s disjointed timeline only to drop you back into a new place, time, and life. Plus, I’ve never seen anyone write music as well as Egan—and by that, I mean she writes about its relationship to life and soul with startling dexterity. When I had the pleasure of studying Goon Squad in a class last semester, I came to the rather pompous conclusion that music is “the great unifier of humanity.” By this, I meant that music—as Egan tells it, at least—provides a common theme to life and its meaning: constant change. Goon Squad made me realize that we aren’t supposed to pinpoint the essence of life, as it were. We’re simply supposed to accept constant change and live. Hell of a message, isn’t it?

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway was one of the first literary works I tackled on my own. In retrospect, that was a poor choice, but it has given me the added benefit of discovering new heights of meaning every time I read it—if only because I read it so poorly the first time. Woolf introduced me to stream of consciousness, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Encountering that mode of writing has made me more aware of my own processes of consciousness. Beyond that, though, Mrs. Dalloway is just a beautiful book. Woolf’s delight in language is even more powerful than Rushdie’s, considering the quotidian nature of her subjects; her ability to reveal so much significance in the everyday is powerful and inspiring.

Margaret Atwood, the Maddadam Trilogy

Atwood’s trilogy combines hilarity, pain, destruction, loss, and survival into one wild, shockingly realistic dystopian tale. I won’t go into specifics here. I can say, though, that this trilogy left me with the most profound feeling of despair for the future of the human race. If that isn’t impact, I don’t know what is.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

This book has the longest-lasting impact of any on this list: it inspired a six year old to tackle a proper book on her own for the first time, triggering a lifetime of literary passion. I never tire of returning to this book; it’s like an old friend, and I know I’ll continue to adore it for years to come. I will shamelessly maintain that I probably received much of my moral education from Harry Potter, and it started here.

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Thanks to Rushdie and Roy, I gained a powerful introduction to South Asian literature, which has become a major area of fascination in my studies and personal reading. Roy has an incredible ability to write from children’s perspectives, and the gravity of the story she tells is only heightened by her young characters’ perspectives. With all the confusion and suffering in this small, beautiful, painful novel, Roy still managed to leave me feeling optimistic with the promise of “tomorrow.”                       

Pablo Neruda, Collected Poems

Neruda’s one of the sexiest poets around. Also: odes to random things like artichokes. He’s brilliant and quirky and passionate, and he showed me that poetry defies restrictions. His poem “Horses” remains one of my favorites.

T.S. Eliot, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”

The beginning of my masochistic descent into Modernism. It takes an excruciating amount of effort for me to analyze Eliot (this one’s more straightforward, actually), but it’s so satisfying and thrilling to do so. Such brilliant language—I mean, I consider this brief moment one of the most powerfully affecting lines I’ve ever read: “Midnight shakes the memory / As a madman shakes a dead geranium.” Fantastic. “Rhapsody” began my love affair with Modernist literature.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Oh, Ulysses. I’ve never viewed a book with the same mixture of adoration, fear, and loathing; but I can’t deny that I overwhelmingly feel a great deal of affection for Joyce’s masterpiece. Of all the books I’ve studied during my undergraduate career, this novel has demanded the most intellectual effort. After Ulysses, I think—dare I say it?—that I have learned to read intelligently and discerningly. Also, I can’t deny that I absolutely revel in the madness of “Circe.” Oh, Leopold Bloom. Yes I said yes I will yes.

There are many more works that have left me with profound impact: Love in the Time of Cholera, 1984, any number of Emerson essays, the Communist Manifesto (only joking, honest), A Farewell to Arms (possibly the only book I’ve ever flung across the room while sobbing my heart out at 4 a.m.). To detail each one would take more time than I have, considering I’m preparing to publish this at 2 a.m.; perhaps another descriptive list waits in the future. For now, though, I’ve given you the first ten that came to mind in the moment. Cheers!

Quentin and Me

A tale of a budding English major, a literary encounter, and the meaning of stasis

During my freshman year of college—a time of less cynicism and more youthful curiosity, if you will—I had the pleasure of reading The Sound and the Fury with a certain lovable and enthusiastic English professor. I say “pleasure” in hindsight; at the time, I found the novel both a torturous slog through the quagmire of Faulkner’s stream of consciousness and a revelation in language’s intricacies and symbolic capabilities. But something clearly went right, because I ended up adoring the book and majoring in English—an early sign of madness? Anyway, to the point.

I remember with rather impressive clarity—impressive because of the soporific state that plagued my brain in the post-lunch hour—a single focal point during our discussion of The Sound and the Fury. We had reached the novel’s poignant, wrenchingly beautiful second section: the Quentin section. I’ll be honest; I had no idea what was happening. Well, I caught the plot, but I had to read the entire section twice to get any deeper (I was a freshman; what can I say?). I entered the lecture with an open and slightly confused mind, professor presiding imperiously over us at his ever-present podium, microphone at the ready, watching his students entering the hall with that unique expression of wisdom, mischief, and superiority I’ve come to know well (and, let’s be honest, I admire that blend a lot—it appeals to my inner narcissist). The hall filled; the class waited.

“STASIS!” thundered that paragon of fierce literary opinions. We jumped. Honestly, it was shocking. That man has impressive lungs, and the aforementioned microphone was not unused. So we sat, rather dazed, waiting for an explanation of that introduction, which was unusual even by the standards of that class.

What came next remains one of the most moving lectures of my college career. First, a quick definition: stasis indicates a state lacking change or progress. Now, Quentin Compson’s state of stasis, marked by his profound inability to grapple with the conflicts that plague his psyche and drive him to suicide (spoilers, sorry), enthralled me, opening my thoughts to the psychological elements of literary analysis that would become my favored method of exploration. Of equal importance, though, is the effect that discussion of stasis has had on my own psyche. This is not a literary analysis. This is a reflection.

I found Quentin’s plight deeply disturbing, if fascinating. That sense remained with me for a long time, and I don’t think I quite understood why—I mean, it’s obvious why, considering that he has some serious repressive issues, a tendency to fixate, and a life ending at the bottom of the Charles River; but it was deeper than that (now that’s a bad pun)—until perhaps a year later. I had entered my own period of stasis: something that had been lurking at the gate to adulthood, held at bay by ambition and optimism for only a short time until it burst—not with a bang, but a whimper—into my life. For a long year, depression immobilized me, and I felt the meaning of stasis. There was no “change or progress” in my mental state; depression is less a state of misery than a state of nothing. But I’ve talked about that before, and it’s boring; I’ll keep moving. Point: my mind was basically in stasis.

Depressing as The Sound and the Fury is, it left me with a preoccupation with Quentin Compson that had the opposite effect. Reading Quentin’s section fills me with pain for his pain—Faulkner writes pain incredibly well, you should check it out sometime—and it scares the shit out of me to realize that his struggle really isn’t that uncommon. Fear can be a good thing; fear is not the nothingness of depression, and fear forces the mind to adjust instinctively. I was afraid to descend into a similar struggle (not that I’m anywhere near on par with Quentin), so that fear pushed my mind into action. I kept dwelling on stasis. That’s my problem, I realized. So logical. Find the source of the problem; fight it there.

And so I fought stasis. Honestly, I continue to do so; sometimes my brain feels stuffed with honey or sludge or some equally sticky immobilizing substance for weeks on end (let’s go with honey, shall we?). Most of the time I can’t even write. But that fear of stasis—that glimpse of what stasis did to Quentin Compson—always pushes me to counter it. I won’t discuss how; for one thing, that’s a constant work in progress but it’s also not the point of this reflection. The point is to acknowledge a static state, because awareness is the first and most important step to a solution.  I feel it especially clearly at this moment, in between internships before the beginning of my senior year. The words “worthless layabout” describe me effectively at the moment. But I know that—and I know I need to fix it.

It’s a pretty odd anecdote. Studying a powerfully depressing novel that helped convince me to choose what might be the most depressing possible major ultimately gave me a handy little tool for pushing back against depression. Weird, isn’t it?

But now, when I feel it creeping up—when I feel that horrible sense of immobility paralyzing my mind—I catch myself. I bellow “STASIS!” at my mind. And I jump.

Here’s to keeping your mind jumping.

Rock n’ Roll Sent Us Insane: The Irresistible Intrigue of Kasabian

While working in the library, trying desperately to fight the soporific effects of writing up a case analysis, I hunted through my music library in search of some tunes that would wake me up. I happened across a band I hadn’t listened to in quite some time, and I figured I’d return to them for the evening. And as I listened, I recalled precisely how much I enjoy Kasabian, a British band with some weird fusion of rock that I won’t try to define. They’re kind of weird, occasionally a bit aggressive, and always—always—interesting. Their music runs the gamut of electronic to orchestral, spending a solid amount of time in straight-up rock territory but never letting us get too complacent with their sound. So I thought I’d write a bit about them, because I think they’re really legit and everyone should at least check them out.

Kasabian-album

They’ve had four albums out to date. Each one has some incredible songs; the band’s lyrical quality is top notch, and there’s no lack of throbbing, hypnotic bass lines and entrancing melodies. The two singers switch off occasionally on singing, and each has a very distinctive style; the more rock-oriented songs are sung by frontman Tom Meighan, and the stranger songs (incidentally, most of my preferred selections) come from Sergio Pizzorno, who now also writes most if not all of the band’s material. Their eponymous debut is more electronic, which I originally thought I wouldn’t like—but I was surprised by how well I took it. Top recommendations: “Processed Beats,” “LSF,” “Butcher Blues.” That last song has an incredible bass line; with an endlessly rolling rhythm, it’s the kind of song you just start to flow with.

Kasabian_-_Empire

The second album, Empire, is more my speed; it was my introduction to Kasabian, and it’s definitely what got me hooked. Some more ballad-type songs in this one; you still get a touch of that original electronic flair, but it’s now fused with a more Oasis-type sound. The group tackles some pretty intense themes in this, too; it seems to center on war, and their way of going about it is delightful—they explore the people behind the conflict. It’s hard for me to choose, but here are some of my favorites: “Empire,” “By My Side,” and “The Doberman.” If you listen to a single song on this album, listen to “The Doberman.” The first time I listened to this song, it hit me halfway through the bridge: this is a band with ambition, the kind that wants to sweep you up on a wave of sound and throw you into the song’s thematic depths. The tension of those primitive background vocals, the incessant rhythmic throbbing, suddenly bursting into a gloriously crafted blend of brass and guitar. It builds you up and drops you back down. Quite possibly one of my favorite bridges of all time.

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Okay, don’t be turned off the odd name, but the third album—West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum—is incredible. It’s quite possibly my favorite of theirs. It’s got some solid rock records with “Underdog” and “Fire,” both of which were well-received singles, but the real gems are the slower songs. The band really starts to switch up its sound on this album, with songs like “Secret Alphabets” adding an almost oriental flair and the ever-beautiful, quasi-orchestral “Take Aim” using strings to great advantage. The two strangest songs on the album—“West Ryder Silver Bullet” and “Vlad the Impaler”—couldn’t be more different, but they really are brilliant. The former is an incredibly stripped-down, lyrically luscious ballad; the latter combines a bloodthirsty 15th-century Eastern European ruler with an irresistibly throbbing dance beat. Weird, but wonderful. The sheer creativity of this album is incredible. Its lyrics reflect on some complex themes of humanity and love and nostalgia, and the music rises to that complexity with great success. If I were in the business of rating albums, this would get a 10/10.

kasabian-VELOCIRAPTOR

And now we come to the final album in my far-too-short examination of Kasabian’s body of work: Velociraptor! Yes, that includes the exclamation. It’s not quite as great as the third album, but that’s a very high standard to meet—and Velociraptor! is still wonderful in its own right. The instant the album opens, it begins to entrance. Here’s a hint: it opens with a gong. A gong. How brilliant is that?! And followed by a delicious brass fanfare, too. “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To” is simply irresistible, and the body of the song follows that clever opening with perfectly timed syncopation and even more brass. This album is quieter in some ways than the previous efforts, a bit more introspective and—no surprise—a bit weirder. That weirdness adds character, though. Highlights are “La Fee Verte” and “Acid Turkish Bath,” two rather long ballads. Pizzorno’s eccentric, complex, and brilliant fascinations are especially evident in these songs. They’re irresistibly odd. My other top choice, from which I drew the title for this post: “Goodbye Kiss,” which feels like a classic rock love ballad but weaves in striking elements of nostalgia and heartbreak. I’ll be honest; this song can make me cry, it’s just that subtly powerful. Its effects are unexpected. And that is the way with much of this band’s music. Unexpected brilliance, unassuming yet incredibly ambitious. And the themes—I could write an entire paper on those, but I won’t (I kind of already did for a seminar a few years ago…). Pay attention to the lyrics, that’s all I can say. Their sound is constantly evolving in excitingly varied ways, and I devoutly hope that rumours of a new album ring true. So there you have it: a brilliantly odd band, one that you won’t want to miss. Open your mind to their innovative lyrics, complexly developed themes, and intriguing blends of sound, and you will not be disappointed.

On Westerosi Weddings: 4.2

The second installment in my collaboration with Mason. Here, we take on “The Lion and the Rose” in all its gory glory. Enjoy!

R: Well, last Sunday’s episode was a shocker. Having read the books, I knew what was coming–and I thought it was about time–but, as usual, HBO raised the bar set by George R.R. Martin’s writing (but that’s another rant for another time). I shall, of course, address what is now being called the “Purple Wedding,” but first I’d like to mention the incorporation of some other plot threads, which was admirably done considering the overwhelming climax of this episode. I’ll limit myself to one and let Mason bring some others in!

The Bastard of Bolton proved himself as horrifyingly disturbing as ever, but the interactions between Ramsay, Roose, and Reek (formerly proud Theon) added an interesting element of tension. We hate the Lord of the Dreadfort after the Red Wedding–if you don’t shudder at his appearance, you have no soul–but he showed a subtle, slight regard for Theon that shows some cold remnant of morality. And his fury at his bastard son establishes the possibility of even more conflict in the Northern leadership. This element of tension lays a subtle foundation for events to come; I’m interested to see how HBO plays it out.

Anyway, let’s talk about the most exciting–and, for some, shocking–event of the episode: the demise of a certain boy king. I have heard some fellow viewers express their shock that Joffrey was killed off, considering the level of drama and gore his supremely sociopathic nature lent to the show. But–and this is a rare compliment–I think Martin was wise to eliminate him at this time. While Joffrey was indisputably a madman, the proclaimed legitimacy of his rule as the heir of Robert Baratheon did provide some manner of stability to the Seven Kingdoms. An odd claim, perhaps, considering the strife and chaos of waging two wars against two other claimants to the throne, but Joffrey clearly came out on top. Were he to continue his rule, the Seven Kingdoms would potentially find its way to–could it be true?–proper stability. And what would the Song of Ice and Fire become with stability? With Joffrey’s death, the realm will plunge into even greater chaos, and the Game of Thrones will continue at an even more vicious rate than ever. I’ll go into greater detail on the scene itself (Lady Margaery, anyone?) in a moment, but for now, it’s over to Mason.

M: Rachel, your lovely opening statement reminds me of a topic we forgot to broach last time ‘round. Since you’ve read all the available tomes in Martin’s Song of Ice And Fire saga (the final two remain to be released), you know an awful lot more about future goings-on in Westeros than I do. Since I merely tune into the show every Sunday, I’ve no idea what’s going to happen to these character’s after each week’s episode. Our respective situations afford us some unique insights, I think.

Anyhow. Yes. Ding-Dong. The King is dead. Which old king? The most hated one in the history of television, the only monarch real or fictional who stood to give ol’ Henry the VIII a run for his money. Indeed, the entire episode was centered around Joffrey’s poisoning. Yes, I know, the episode caught us up with Ramsey/Reek and Stannis/Melisandre prior to that Purple Wedding, but I think that even those scenes are there to sort of pre-emptively set up the new villains in a universe that has, by the end of this episode, lost its Big Baddie. In a show shot through with moral grayness, we need a few characters we can unambigously hate. Ramsey and Stannis’s loony wife are nowhere near as hateable as Joffrey, but their increased presence will help fill the emotional void left by his absence.

Not surprisingly, Rachel, I agree with you in that said absence is a big deal. I like how you remind us that Joffrey’s death is not just cheapie fan-service, but a way for Martin to shake things up yet again. Joffrey was a contemptuous inbred monster, but his cruel rule might have put an end to the endless jockeying for the Iron Throne—and the loss of life and limb that such a struggle entailed. This is part and parcel with Throne’s chief message—every decision has complex consequences. The sadistic death-dreams of a mad Joffrey Baratheon may sow seeds of peace, while the honorable attempts of a man like Ned Stark may let loose the dogs of war. Joffrey’s death is probably a net positive for those who knew him and suffered by associating with him, but God knows how much havoc it will wreak on the realm as a whole.

But all of that is for later episodes. This episode is, first and foremost, about a royal wedding that turns into a stage for Joffrey’s most depraved desires, and then into the site of his untimely death. The build-up to said death was, I think, too much. Rather than going for a subtle sense of mounting dread, a la the Red Wedding, the screenwriters resorted to dropping heavy-handed hints (“Killing a man at wedding? What sort of monster would do such a thing?”), and shoving in plenty of portentous close-ups. Once the sword hit the pie, however, Thrones returned to the type of nuanced emotional explorations that is one of its strong suits. Jack Gleeson has always played Joffrey as a monster driven purely by fear, abusing his power as much as he can in case it is one day taken away from him. It is appropriate, then, that in his last moments, the sheer terror in his bloodshot eyes pierces us like a blade.

It is a powerful performance, topped only by Lena Headey’s incredible work as Cersei. This woman has lost has both her official power and her beloved offspring within a matter of hours, and, in the episode’s final moments, Headey plays out the entirety of her dizzying emotional turmoil on her face. As she always has, Cersei takes her animal pain and turns it into useful rage. We have seen this process before, but never with such horrifying clarity. Cersei now stands where Catelyn Stark did in the moments before her death—a woman adrift, her life’s work undone in a matter of minutes.

Finally, I’ll just note that the Thrones slow-crawl technique was used to excellent effect in this episode. That movement towards Tyrion’s face as he realizes what deep shit he’s in allowed us to reach this realization alongside him—all without a single word spoken. The episode ended with another powerful, silent shot: a still frame of our young demon-king, who was dealt the fate we wished for him in a manner we would never wish on anybody.

R: I’m so, so very glad that you mention Cersei, and that’s a fascinating comparison to Cat; we love to hate one, loved the other, yet they’re  two undeniably similar women. Thrones forces us to see parallels we’d rather ignore.

In terms of the wedding feast scene itself, I certainly think you’re right to call the buildup to the climax a heavy-handed–ostentatious, almost–treatment of something that could have had even more shock value had those hints been less obvious. I’ll admit, however, that I rather enjoyed the way the episode manipulated our feelings during the feast. With its quick progression from encouraging disgust at Joffrey’s depraved choice of entertainment to inciting horror as he chokes to his poison-induced death, the episode juxtaposes two extremities of emotion in a very short time. And it left me reeling, even though I already knew the plot; that alone is testimony to Thrones’ incredible dramatic capacity.

Now, on to my favorite part of the wedding scene: the magnificent, ever-diplomatic, and brilliantly cunning Lady Margaery. We know that Margaery does not love Joffrey–but neither does she fear him, as has become clear in our glimpses of her conversations with Olenna and Sansa. Natalie Dormer is, as always, incredibly adept at showing us Margaery’s skillful navigation of Joffrey’s unpredictability. During the wedding ceremony itself, she appears demure, suggesting that she’ll fulfill her expected submissive role as wife and queen; but immediately before the ceremony begins, when the two mount the stairs in front of the priest, her face flashes with triumph and ambition. She’s got Joffrey where she wants him; Margaery Tyrell has no intention of playing the role of docile queen. Here, we see the realization of her earlier, incredibly powerful statement: “I want to be the queen.”

I’d like to discuss in greater detail one of the show’s most exceptional qualities: its neverending capacity to build tension to a breaking point. “The Lion and the Rose” was absolutely bursting with tension, and not only during the wedding. In the aforementioned scene with our favorite flayers, the tension between Roose, Ramsay, and Theon plays a palpable role. When Theon shaves Ramsay, that tension reaches an almost unbearable peak; I was almost convinced that HBO was about to abandon the plot line of the show and have Theon slit the Bastard’s throat. And, surprisingly, it’s simultaneously an incredibly subtle moment. For a few seconds, the razor pauses on Ramsay’s throat; we see Theon shaking, we see the razor pressing into Ramsay’s skin; and then it flicks up, continuing the simple task of shaving. So much physical and emotional tension.

The wedding feast practically runs on tension; you don’t need me to tell you that. What I want to highlight, though, is the manipulation of that tension, the way it comes and goes, the way it breaks and rebuilds. And no one is better at those manipulations than Margaery Tyrell. Throughout the feast, she works to diffuse the tension inevitably created by Joffrey’s cruelty. It reaches its highest point when Joffrey, in his usual efforts to shame Tyrion, attempts to force his uncle to kneel before him as a cup-bearer. As usual, noble Tyrion stands his ground while Joffrey becomes increasingly incensed. I began to fear either of two things: one, that Tyrion would give in and break my heart, and two, that Joffrey would reprise his earlier show of chopping things with his new Valyrian steel sword. Luckily, Lady Margaery eased my fears with her immortal exclamation: “Look! The pie!” Such an adept, non-confrontational method of shattering that tension. If Westeros were a democracy, Margaery would definitely have my vote. She’s diplomatic, effective, and incredibly clever, and I’m ready to see more of her in the future.

All in all, “The Lion and the Rose” was a delightful romp through the increasingly chaotic scenes of Westeros–well, delightful if you thrive on tension, as I clearly do. I worry that the title will mislead viewers as to the nature of the interactions between Lannister and Tyrell, as it seems to imply an adversarial relationship, but that’s not really my concern. You’ll get no spoilers from me! A warning, though: by now, we know that nothing in this particular game can be taken at face value. Joffrey’s death is no exception; do not make assumptions at this early stage. We’re making a descent into unprecedented depths of intrigue.

 

Watch The “Throne”: 4.1

In one of the greatest moves in the history of paldom, Mason and I have begun a collaborative weekly review of Season 4 of Game of Thrones. Here you have the first of our many thoughts.

So Beautiful or so what?

Well, friends, I’m excited to introduce you to a new feature on this here website. For several years now, I have been discussing and debating HBO’s Game of Thrones with my dear friend and fellow writer Rachel, who blogs over at Rising Above The Clouds. As Thrones enters its fourth season, we’ve decided to make our discussions about the show into blog posts, so as to share our thoughts. Think of it as a public service—or as a rather frightening display of narcissism. Up to you. Oh, and while I’m addressing you (yes, you), I’d like to encourage you to comment on these posts—especially if you also spend a disproportionate amount of your life in Westeros like we do. That said, do try to keep it spoiler-free, as only one of us has read the books. Finally, since we’re starting this a few weeks into the show, we…

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Speaking Up: #NoKXL

I suppose the time has come for my first politically oriented post (it had to happen eventually, right?). I’ve held off because I don’t necessarily like broadcasting my views for the Internet to see; I prefer acting to talking in this regard. But the controversy surrounding the potential approval of the Keystone pipeline has fired up my environmentalist sensibilities, and I simply must speak up. As a leader of a campus social-activism group, I conveniently have the capacity to bring such concerns to the forefront of my campus community–which I did. As a student of the environment, an activist, and especially as a Texan, I devoutly hope that President Obama will decline to approve Keystone XL. My concerns include the environmental, of course–let’s preserve our groundwater, shall we? Innumerable Texas communities rely on aquifers to provide drinking water; these sources will be put at risk of contamination by a pipeline that is likely to leak, and the result would certainly be devastating. Texas already faces water shortages. This problem must not be compounded by a threat to the water we do have. Also, the nation’s willingness to throw itself behind a new source of oil only highlights its relative unwillingness to move to renewable energy. We need to expend resources on enhancing our access to sustainable energy sources, not on perpetuating old habits that are not only environmentally threatening, but are also unsustainable. This resource will run out; perhaps not in the short term, but certainly in the long term. I have a host of other concerns with the pipeline–not restricted to environmental fears, either–but these are my main worries.

Are we going to keep naively draining our resources, hurtling down a path of destruction thanks to a lack of foresight? Or are we going to assume responsibility for shifting our habits and improving not just our own nation, but the world? By this time, it is not enough to rely on policymakers to do the work for us. As a people, we must commit to shifting our habits; it’s the only way to successfully foment change. Enough with the complacency.

I voted for a president who promised change I could believe in. I did not think he promised climate change that I could believe in. This moment could define the future of our nation’s stance on the environment; kindly keep your promise, Mr. President, and help us change.

Members of Trinity Progressives and the San Antonio community at a candlelight vigil protesting Keystone XL

Members of Trinity Progressives and the San Antonio community at a candlelight vigil protesting Keystone XL. (photo credit: Anh-Viet Dinh)