Saturday, June 21, 2014

I'm not mad Entertainment Weekly, just disappointed

Nothing spurs me to come out of blogging seclusion quite like a little ranting and this week I'm sad to say the subject of my sputterings is my beloved Entertainment Weekly.

It all started a few weeks ago when this showed up in my mailbox:

Whoa, I thought to myself, Entertainment Weekly is starting to look a little like Maxim what with the dripping, scantily clad Jessica Alba and her lusty stare (not to mention teasers like "PERFECT SEX!" and "STUDS IN SPAAAACE" accompanied by Chris Pratt's shirtless torso).

The special double issue was kind of the magazine's official summer kickoff and so, fine, it wasn't inappropriate to have a lady in a bathing suit on the cover -- especially since she's promoting the much anticipated sequel to "Sin City," which comes out in August. Inside, the magazine devoted several pages to Jessica Alba and her come hithering -- she bit her thumb and ate a snow cone and (oops!) dropped the snow cone somewhere near her nether regions (for those who need a visual there's a gallery here). It's all very hot, sultry, and yes, summery.

I just wasn't used to the sudden swimsuit edition turn in a magazine that normally looks beyond (or at least doesn't spend soooo much time focusing on) all the normal Hollywood T&A. And to EW's credit, the accompanying story discusses Alba's pragmatism when it comes to how she uses her body for business.

"Now, when Alba discusses her sex appeal, it's with a certain detachment, as if she were delineating her company's assets. She's a woman in control of her personal brand: the No. 1 shareholder of Jessica Alba Inc," the reporter writes.

I still ranted to Brad a little about it though. Does it make it any better that Alba is aware how the focus is still on what she looks like rather than what she does? Did EW really have to hit us over the head with all the bikini shots? It felt like blatant and obnoxious pandering. And if the editors were trying to be clever -- winking at their readers and saying "Come on guys, we know what we're doing here -- we're not really that magazine" -- it wasn't working. They were still catering to the lowest common denominator: sex sells. 

That issue quickly went into the recycling bin. 

Then the next week, this showed up in my mailbox:

OK. I guess the editors felt like they were on to something (albeit not anything all that original). Fine. The centerpiece was on the show "Masters of Sex," which I've seen a couple times and is an entertaining show. The nature of the show requires a sexier visual. So here's actress Lizzy Caplan with the seductive eyes and the endless legs getting felt up by a fully-clothed Michael Sheen. Maybe I was primed for annoyance because of the Jessica Alba cover. Or, maybe it was the fact that in the Jessica Alba issue they had a whole feature on how the sex scenes for "Masters of Sex" are filmed. Hadn't the show/topic been sufficiently covered? I guess not.

The next week, this showed up in my mailbox:

Phew, I thought. They got that out of their systems.

Except this week, this showed up in my mailbox:

Seriously, EW? 

I was happy to find that at least one other reader was on the same page as me in the Letters to the Editor section:
"When I received the Jessica Alba cover, I was surprised by how racy it was, but then I remembered it was the Summer Must List and it had been done before (Ryan Reynolds in 2009) Then I got Masters of Sex's equally racy cover. While the occasional pinup isn't a bad thing, having it every week degrades the quality of EW, in my opinion."
 But EW did nothing to redeem itself in my eyes in its response to the writer:

So, it's cool that three different actresses were objectified and sexualized on three covers in a month because you let Channing Tatum keep his shirt on? That's your defense? And just pages back from the cover photo where you had the talented (and beautiful) Anna Paquin pose nude. 

I wonder if Jessica Alba and Lizzy Caplan and Anna Paquin all feel that the caliber of their work still reigns supreme.

I get that I sound prude by being angered by this. That in commenting on the expectation that females in the entertainment business be willing to bare themselves for our enjoyment, I sound like a teetotaling, bible-thumping, disapproving grandma. But I'm none of those things. 

It's not that I'm anti-sex or anti-nudity or anti-raciness, I suppose that I'm just tired of seeing the same old images and perceptions of women being trotted out week after week. It's disappointing coming from a publication I respect. 

And I don't even know why I have such high expectations for Entertainment Weekly. know it's not Tolstoy or The Economist, but for a wannabe novelist, there's some useful stuff in there -- especially when they start talking to screenwriters. The magazine showcases interesting stories, interviews and graphics about the business -- giving us a behind-the-scenes look at how our favorite stories are told, plus their book reviews are usually pretty reliable. But I guess they're in the business of Hollywood, too. And Hollywood is in the business of sex. So what do I know anyway? 

The magazine can write all they want about how it's the talent and the quality of the work they really respect, but when they ask yet another woman to take off her clothes, I'm not buying it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Anthropomorphic noveling and other bits of crazy

Recently, I was talking to my sister Laura about families and whether or not to grow them. It seems that once you've had one kid, everyone feels it's their duty to ask when you're having the next one, and then after you have that subsequent child, everyone wonders about your interest in having a third.

I suppose it's natural for such a curious and social species to make inquiries about future plans for my uterus. And as a woman and mother I should accept this line of questioning with grace, right?

But with my 3-1/2-year-old treating her sister like an adversary in a roll-less roller derby and my 2-year-old  requesting to sit on the potty every five minutes (whether or not she has to go) in the hopes of acquiring more M&Ms, I have to say there are limitations to my grace. (What grace did she have to begin with? Many of you are no doubt wondering.)

And lately my thoughts have been so consumed by the possibility of wrapping up my work-in-perpetual-progress that the thought of a third child is as distant as the next time my kitchen floor will be clean (that is to say, a very, very distant thought). 

"Maybe your novel is your third child," Laura told me as I was confessing to her that maybe I wasn't going to be the mother of a giant wily brood -- the vision I'd always had for myself before I actually started brooding. 

Writing -- and especially writing this manuscript -- has sent me through a gamut of emotions -- from excitement to despair to joy to never-ending anxiety. 

I actually asked a couple of my writing friends last week during a panicked "why do I feel like I'm slowly going insane?" moment if my stress over the project was normal. Especially considering that there are no stakes for anyone but myself if it's never completed. 

Both immediately responded.

"Know that you are not alone," Megan* wrote. "Every single step of this journey is full of anxiety and doubt." 

Well that's reassuring.

"Breathe in, Breathe out. I'm sure it's fantastic" Beth** wrote (Which is exactly what I would've told her in the same moment. 

I've been picking away at this manuscript for so long that it this point, it really does feel like a living, breathing thing. Every day I'm curating bits of conversations I have or articles I read or songs I listen or people I see and trying to figure out how they might help round out a character or help guide the plot or back up a theme. And it's both thrilling and annoying to be constantly on duty as a writer -- you can't for one second stop watching and listening and connecting to the world at large at risk of missing that next perfect scene. Ever vigilant.

So while it doesn't demand cereal at 6 in the morning or won't ever need to be potty-trained, for now, writing is my third child. 

And in some ways, I feel selfish and superficial about saying that. I have children, so obviously I know the stakes are not nearly as high with my pet project as it is with their lives. I am devoted to them first and foremost.

But I'm devoted to this, too. And hopefully, by scraping together the time to pursue this beastly thing that brings me so much joy, I can be an example to them. Who better to show them the importance of doing what you love? 

They'll just have to look to someone else to show them the importance of home maintenance. 

* Megan's debut "Make it Count" comes out Tuesday -- so if you're looking for a saucy beach read -- go here.

** Beth's debut "Pack of Dorks" comes out Oct. 7. I think the title of the book should be on my family's crest. Pre-order it here.