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Sunday, Oct 23, 2011

“She functions better under pressure.” Tended by her makeup artist, the newly elected president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, sits quietly. She’s functioning exceptionally well under pressure—and has done so in the years following this moment, captured in Iron ladies of Liberia in 2006. (She is currently enduring pressure again, awaiting results of this month’s presidential election.) Recently named one of three winners of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Sirleaf in this documentary—which premieres on Global Voices 23 October—is resolved to lead her nation out of the darkness of 14 years of civil war, and following the resignation of Charles Taylor in 2003 (he’s now awaiting a verdict in his war crimes trial in the Hague). In the film, co-directed by Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge, President Sirleaf staffs her cabinet with “iron ladies.” Showing the difficulties facing Sirleaf in impressionistic, unforgettable images—kids playing in garbage dumps, demonstrations in the streets—the documentary keeps focused on the president’s good intentions and efforts, filtered through her indomitable personality.


See PopMattersreview.



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Thursday, Oct 20, 2011

Girls can do anything, right? Except that they’re still encouraged to see themselves as helpers, raised, represented, and expected to be wives and mothers rather than independent achievers. This is the primary argument made by Miss Representation. Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary isn’t making a new or a very subtle argument, but it’s one—made emphatically—that makes the film a perfect fit for Oprah’s OWN Documentary Club. Media representations of girls and women as objects are actually increasing. The reasons are various, and include predictable fears and anxieties concerning potential shifts in power and money, and, the film submits, these representations influence how girls and boys think about the world and themselves. As Margaret Cho says plainly, “The media treats women like shit and it’s horrible and I don’t know how we survive it. I don’t know how we rise above it.”


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Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011
A look back at a 1990’s childhood, with “where is it now?” updates!

PopMatters’ Kerrie Mills recently reviewed Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?, a book by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont that looks at the food, TV shows, toys, and other pop cultural milestones that kids grew up with from the 1960’s to 1992.


It sounds like a great idea, but why did they stop at 1992? A brand new generation has sprung up since then, with an emerging sense of nostalgia. Look at the success of Toy Story 3, the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys tour, or Nickelodeon’s heavily hyped decision to add reruns of ‘90s series like All That and Clarissa Explains It All to their late-night schedule.


It’s enough to make you wonder what future generations will look back on wistfully, and how this will influence Hollywood and/or manufactures to make a profit out of it. So here’s a look at a few things that have only recently disappeared from the spotlight, and their cultural impact.


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Friday, May 13, 2011

One half of the Digital Cowboys, Alex Shaw, took recent aim on his show at geek on geek snobbery. In a brief screed against what he perceives as divisions within the geek subculture, Shaw (with his usual passionate but still thoughtfully measured approach) considers the hypocrisy of how folks who feel alienated themselves sometimes all too easily judge others that feel the same sting of ostracism.


For those unfamiliar with the Cowboys, Alex Shaw and Tony Atkins produce a weekly podcast on video games that also sometimes touches on other aspects of geek-related culture.


If Shaw’s rant piques your interest, you can find more of he and co-host Atkins’s musings on video games and video game culture at The Digital Cowboys web site. They are well worth a listen.  Digging in with episodes like their one on death in video games or one on sex in video games would be a good place to start and should give a pretty good idea of what they are all about.  In my estimation, they present some smart, engaging stuff.



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Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011
This wonderful documentary shows the perpetual disjunctions between official history and lived experiences.

“I can’t say that I wanted to be like everyone else,” says Lyubov Meyerson, drawing on her cigarette. “That’s not quite how it was. I simply was like everyone else.” Meyerson’s is one of five Russian classmates’ stories in Robin Hessman’s terrific documentary, My Perestroika. Each recalls what it was like to be born into Soviet-era Communism, and now contemplates middle age in Russia’s new market economy. Through thoughtful and absorbing interviews, the film shows the perpetual disjunctions between official history and lived experiences.


My Perestroika opens in New York 23 March and Los Angeles 15 April. Many other cities will follow.


See PopMattersreview.



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