Friday, May 30, 2014

Some off the cuff thoughts on Disney’s Cinderella (1950)

I do feel the need to preface these thoughts with a reminder to people that  a) I did no grow up with Disney the way that many Americans have, b) for some reason I am slightly biased against animated Disney movies. – I just don't seem to like/love/adore them as much as many or most of my students do. Part of this maybe because I simply do not care for feature-length animated movies in general. On the other hand I remember with fond affection many animated TV shows such as The Bugs Bunny Show (loved Sylvester and Tweety Bird), Rocky & Bullwinkle, the Hanna-Barbera shows like Top CatHuckleberry HoundThe FlintstonesThe Jetsons,The Wacky Races.
Anyway so here goes: my main issue with Disney's Cinderella was/is – who is its supposed audience? Is it a kid’s movie through and through? – or is it a movie geared towards slightly older girls? The large role played by the mice and birds (who I thought were charming in the beginning but got a bit boring as the movie progressed) plus the very broad and caricaturist depiction of the step-sisters and even the King and his faithful side-kick the Grand Duke (Who reminded me a bit of the Little Mermaid’s Sebastian except he wasn’t a crab of course…) all seemed more directed towards younger kids.
And then you get Cinderella herself – who again I thought was charming in the beginning but who began to grate on me as the film progressed—I couldn't help thinking she really did feel she was better than the sisters because how could she not? To me she came off more as a coquettish 1950’s teenager who was trying to be good than someone who was inherently good….And so -- who was or is the audience for the romance part of the movie? — Hubby Bill referred to this part of the plot/movie as “the girly stuff” – which of course he never really liked much. So I’m just wondering what little girls make of that part—does it make them want to be “belles of the ball”? Princesses? Is this where the “anti-Disney” twitter feeds get it right in their insistence on the fact that this part of the narrative frames young womens' expectations in a narrowly consumerist, shallow and heteronormative way? (Along the lines of  “my whole goal in life is to be thought of as pretty by men and nab a handsome prince-like fella?”)  Of course this is 1950 and I know that the Disney movies tweak their narratives to adapt to changing cultural norms and values. (Which is why I’m trying to watch these movies in the order of their release).  On the other hand I wonder how much things have changed. (I’m looking at you The Bachelor/the Bachelorette).

When we discuss the Perrault and Grimm versions of this tale in the fairy tale class (full disclosure—I’m somewhat biased towards the “romantic” yet dark/cruel Grimm version) we do dwell on notions of “inner” versus “outer” beauty—i.e. the fact that the step-sisters in the Grimm version are explicitly described as “schön” – beautiful on the outside but “garstig” on the inside — i.e. where it counts? In the Disney version they’re just silly…they’re not as explicitly cruel as they are in the Grimm. The step-mother takes on the role of the cruelly mean one in the Disney version which for me made her seem disconnected from her daughters.
I did like the opening song and of course bibbidi bobbodi boo is a great "earworm".....  
One last pet peeve--am I the only one who thought Cinderella looked better with her hair down - before she got all gussied up for the party? -I did not care for her up-do.
I’m excited to find out that Kenneth Branagh of all people is directing a new non-animated version of Cinderella, with Cate Blanchett as the evil step-mother—it is scheduled to be released in March 2015 and until then all we have is this total “teaser’ of a trailer for it…

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Planets & pocket diaries: Thomas and Warren De La Rue

A Physics professor from Albion (Hi Nicolle! J) asked about why there was a picture of Jupiter in one of the little pocket diaries belonging to my great-great grandmother, Charlotte Lane.  And so I took a closer a look at it and the answer is really quite fascinating. After some pages pertaining to different calendars (the Hebrew calendar / the Mohammedan Calendar), plus a very detailed Calendar for England that lists such important events as the end of Pheasant shooting (Wed. Feb 1st) or the day the King of Sardinia was born (March 14) and numerous other tables to do with measurements of various kinds there comes a very detailed section entitled “astronomical phenomena”. This part lists information about the planets, eclipses, occultations visible at Greenwich, eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites(!) and then a detailed description of where each of the planets will be in the night sky throughout the year. It talks about other stars too: Algol and Mira Ceti. Then finally we come to a section entitled: “The Planet Jupiter”—which starts out as follows:

“The engraving, which we this year present to our readers is the result of a careful examination of the physical peculiarities of the planet Jupiter made by Mr. Warren De La Rue, with the aid of a fine reflecting telescope, thirteen inches in aperture, on October 25th 1856.”

Warren De La Rue's description of the planet Jupiter.

As it turns out Warren De La Rue was an astronomer known particularly for his astronomical photographs! And not only that but he was the son of Thomas De La Rue, who was the producer of these little diaries and of course to top it all off they were both from Guernsey (or as this youtube video calls it "the stunning Bailiwick of Guernsey") —ground zero genealogically speaking for many of my ancestors. And you thought the only good thing to come out of Guernsey were cows…. ;-) 
It seems more than likely that Charlotte's pal -- "dear Lord Saumarez" who gets more mentions in the diaries than her husband (whom she routinely refers to as Taylor, as opposed to Philpotts....) gifted her these diaries because they too both haled from said stunning Balliwick. I haven't figured out yet how they both came to live within walking distance of each other on the main land--coincidence? 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Introducing my great-great-grandmother - Charlotte Barbara Taylor (neé Lane)

The Lane Pedigree
My great great grandmother was Charlotte Barbara Taylor neé Lane and she definitely was the genealogist in the family. I’m fairly certain she created the Lane pedigree you see here, which has – along with the two other pedigrees that have been passed down to me (and my sister) been keeping me busy genealogically speaking ever since I began pursuing this hobby.  

Charlotte Taylor in the pedigree

Charlotte Lane (whose mother was Elizabeth Le Mesurier – the Le Mesuriers are an ancient family from the Balliwick of Guernsey –a British crown dependency in the Channel Islands. Elizabeth’s brother John was the last hereditary governor of Alderney- the northernmost channel Island) married Philpotts Wright Taylor, whose uncle was Joseph Taylor who founded the Taylor Port Company in Porto, Portugal.
I have found out quite a bit about one of Charlotte’s sisters Louisa Lane Clarke, about whom I will write more in another post.
My sister and I at the bottom of the tree. 

I’m including in this post pictures of three little pocket diaries I have, that belonged to Charlotte. She got them as gifts from Reverend James Saumarez, 2nd Baron de Saumarez, whose father had been an admiral in the Royal Navy and who was the first Guernseyman raised to the peerage in 1831. One of them is open to the page where she documents her son Arthur’s sudden death on the 12th of July 1859. He was only 18. 
Small diary that belonged to Charlotte Lane

Sad news
Inscription: "from dear Lord de Saumarez".
And here's a link to a blogpost all about the Lane's that I happened to stumble upon (I'm sure whilst internet sleuthing my family one day) and that led me to request photocopies of the stash of letters the history man talks about here--obviously I have some information that he does not - but these letters are also a wonderful addition to the family archive that is slowly taking shape. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Rheumatoid arthritis update

So back in March I received the “official” diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. After some rather extensive dental work I got done during the second week of January I experienced what in retrospect must have been a severe flare of rheumatoid arthritis. My hands were the worst: swollen, extremely sore and stiff and more or less useless—getting dressed took a long time. (buttons! pulling on pants!). I needed those grippy things for everything-doors, bottle opening etc. My knees were also not good and at first I also got bad headaches and just generally felt miserable.
A picture of my puffy right hand during the worst of the flare
The day after a follow-up visit with my dentist, where a newly made crown was found to not fit quite right, my left knee became so sore and stiff I had a hard time walking. This of course really scared me.
This was all happening against the back-drop of the “polar vortex” and I'm sure the weather played a factor in the flare.
The slightly odd thing is that even at the time of my first appointment with the rheumatologist in February I was already slowly getting better, i.e.experiencing less pain. And since the lowest of the low which was probably the three weeks back in January (after the initial dentist’s visit) I have been on a gradual trajectory of less pain-a slow upward slope towards relative painlessness.
This is probably why at the visit in March I balked at the idea of going on Methotrexate- a strong medication often used for RA but also for treating certain cancers. It can have strong side effects including vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. I was busy with teaching and the idea of being laid low on the weekends due to this med made me very sad. I therefore decided to not go on it and just continue with taking prescription strength ibuprofen when the pain warranted it.
Now after a follow-up visit I decided to give the methotrexate a try. My doc kind of talked me into it—she poked around a bit and kept saying – this joint is swollen and that joint is swollen. She made me move my shoulder around a bit in a way that hurt. (My most stubborn pain areas have been my left arm and shoulder).

At least now I’m not as busy and can take it easy on the days I take it –which are going to be Tuesdays. I took my first dose last Tuesday and felt quite dizzy and woozy but also mentally quite good. My stomach was a bit upset but I did not really feel nauseous and I did not lose my appetite which was good.  Apparently it can take a while before one notices an improvement which makes sense if one is only taking it once a week. My next appointment with the doctor is in July and I assume she will run some tests to make sure the methotrexate is not adversely affecting the liver. Until then I hope the side-effects will remain tolerable, and that I’ll perhaps notice an improvement in my (already pretty tolerable) pain situation.  Only time will tell…..

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Art and artists in literature

As part of the background preparation for the fairy tale course I teach I've been reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard and enjoying it immensely—Vonnegut is a really good story teller, who keeps things interesting on different levels—plot, bigger themes, and characterization. I highly recommend it!  (It's a fictional first person account of the life of the equally fictional abstract expressionist painter Rabu Karabekian). 
Anyway it has gotten me thinking about what other novels, or shorter fictional texts are out there that deal with painters or illustrators. The first one I just happened to stumble across a review of is one I have yet to read: William GaddisThe Recognitions which apparently deals with a master forger of artists like Hieronymous Bosch.
Another shorter “artist’s story” is Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger, where the main protagonist is a writer (of a sort) but in its fourth chapter he has a crucial discussion with a female Russian painter, who was apparently based on the real artist Elisabeth Iwanowa Epstein.
My final example of a text that focuses this time on a painting itself as a spring board into a meditation on many other topics is Terry Tempest William’s Leap – which is described here as an “unexpected pilgrimage through the landscape of a painting”. The painting at the center of the narrative is Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delight's. 
I'd be interested in hearing of other examples of fictional or essayistic texts that focus on visual artists and or their creations. I'm sure there are many. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

bell hooks, Beyoncé (Jay Z) & the Illuminati

One thing I find myself doing once classes are over is catching up on things I feel I need to know something about in order to keep a bit more in touch with my students and perhaps even the rest of the world. I also like to catch up on reading and watching things I would not otherwise have time for. 

That’s how I stumbled across this really entertaining/interesting edifying panel discussion led by bell hooks at the New School. I was really impressed with all the panelists- and especially with how bell hooks was able to express her – in the eyes of some/many? perhaps- controversial/second wavish? views/issues with the way black women were portrayed in 12 Years A Slave (which I have yet to see) and also with Beyoncé’sTime magazine cover.  

Upon viewing the discussion I decided I know too little about Beyoncé and Jay-Z and so I watched a few of their videos and found out that they have both been associated with the Illuminati and freemasons! Who knew?! I'm probably the only one who didn’t.  

Per usual when it comes to all things "Illuminati"  it’s all extremely muddled and complicated because on the one had it plays into conspiracy and often racist theories that seem suspicious of Jay-Z’s and Beyonce’s wealth/success.  Proponents of these theories therefore think of the Illuminati as some kind of satanic cult. (And it is true that various groups calling themselves illuminati have been associated with occultism etc...A key figure is the British occultist Aleister Crowley.)  On the other hand Beyoncé Jay-Z do seem to like to flirt with certain images/figures related to the occult-for whatever reason. notoriety? branding? style? its perceived edginess with a certain demographic? Maybe at this point they're doing it on purpose to keep the whole "conspiracy theory" contingent on their toes....

The actual historical "Illuminati" were a secret society devoted to promoting egalitarian Enlightenment ideals. This website provides a good overview of the group and its founder Adam Weishaupt. It seems that from the very beginning this group rankled its opponents, who constructed elaborate theories about its overall influence.  A lot more could be said about all of this but not right now.  

Last but not least here's a link to a somewhat older NPR story that talks about Jay Z's occult interests and connections.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A quick note about Disney and fairy tales

One of the many things we discuss in my fairy tale class (which in its earlier iterations was called: "Happily Ever After? The Cultural Impact of European Fairy Tales" and is now simply titled German 231: Folk & Literary Fairy Tales) is how the Disney fairy tale/princess movies are a further step in the institutionalisation of the fairy tale genre.

It does seem to me though that the Disney versions of fairy tales take the popularizing moment that is inherent to the genre to a whole new level of commercialisation/commodification. Case in point: Disney's versus Hans Christian Andersen's versions of The Little Mermaid.  Or the Disney Princess media franchise.

I'm not exactly sure why (age? cultural background?) but I cannot for the life of me get really excited about any of the Disney films I've seen. That puts me at odds with a lot of my students, and probably always will,at least to a certain extent. (That and the fact that I've never set foot in any of the Disney theme parks).  This summer I will try and catch up on some of the Disney classics, and also the newer ones such as Brave and Frozen.