clsloan's blog

What's Haunting Dove's Real Beauty Campaign?

Image from Dove's Real Beauty Campaign. Unconventional models of various body types, ages, and races stand, smiling, against a white background

Image Credit: People's Lab

Every image is haunted by the excluded. Every social movement is haunted by flaws. After reading Avery F. Gordon's Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination and Nivedita Menon's Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law, I became a bit haunted by the possibility of subversion. These two texts tell us that ghosts, in various forms, are absolutely everywhere, and after ruminating on their content and methodologies, I started to see ghosts, too.

Erasing Wyldstyle: Heteronormativity in the LEGO Movie

artist's depiction of the anatomy of a LEGO figure. Part of a skeleton and some organs are visible

Artist Jason Freeny's LEGO Anatomy Model

Image Credit:

In my last post, I laid out the theoretical groundwork of biopolitics for a critique of the subversive potential of the LEGO movie. Biopolitics, or the epistemological and sociopolitical forces that determine how individuals understand bodies and “life,” lets us examine both the LEGO movie's own critique of social constructivism and comment on the movie's failure to adequately separate itself from static models of gender and sexuality.

The Building Blocks of Biopolitics: The LEGO Movie, Empire, and Multitude

A post for The Lego Movie, featuring main characters Emmett, Wild Style, and others

Image Credit: Forbes

Not only did seeing The Lego Movie (2014) lodge the parodic pop song “Everything is Awesome!” firmly in my skull, it also sent me scrambling for a way to intelligently theorize the film's highly sophisticated commentary on politics, capitalism, gender and the body. I emerged from my search with a brief history of biopolitics firmly in hand, and, with “Everything is Awesome!” still running through my head, I will now start assembling the theoretical pieces needed to construct an insightful critique. Part 1 of my ruminations on The Lego Movie, then, provide an introduction to the theories I'll be using in Part 2. Stay tuned, all, because EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. Hopefully these posts will nicely compliment Scott's awesome thoughts on how The Lego Movie capitulates to some disturbing movie cliches in the name of creativity.

Questioning the Gaze and Studying Ballroom Culture

cover of Paris is Burning, depicting smiling ballroom participants

Image Credit: Wikipedia

I was initially going to begin this rumination with the pretty dull introductory phrase “In Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary film Paris is Burning,but before the virtual ink had dried on the virtual page I was struck with pretty massive doubts. In what sense could Paris is Burning really be solely attributed to Jennie Livingston when the movie's energy, its drive and message, clearly came from the lives of the New York City ballroom scene participants Livingston interviewed? So would calling Paris is Burning a collaborative documentary effort solve the issue of artistic attribution? Well, kind of, but that seemed to somewhat cheapen the lived experiences of the ball culture community by reducing them to stylized components in a cinematic production. Calling an interviewee an artist leaves over some troubling remainder, a residue of “real life” that doesn't make it into the credits. Even more troubling was the threat of de-centering Livingston's gaze as the focusing lens of the documentary. If it felt wrong to implicitly give Livingston all the credit for the film, it felt worse to call the piece a purely collective effort when Livingston's preferences, questions, decisions and selections dictate the entire film.

Scopophilia in A Game of Thrones

Headshots of female characters from A Game of Thrones

Image Credit:

An incessant struggle for dominance. A never-ending vigil against opposition. A fierce match of razor-sharp wits. A game, one might say, of thrones. Wait, no. I meant a game of feminism.

Nudity, My Dear Watson: Sherlock and The Woman

Text gives information Sherlock gleans from the type of suit a man wears: left side of bed, horse rider, public school

Image Credit: Personal Screen Capture from Amazon Prime

BBC's ongoing show Sherlock is a present-day adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's nineteenth-century detective stories, and it gleefully delights in its modernity by incorporating new technology and polishing up old visual tropes associated with the rationally-minded crime solver. Whether it's confronting viewers with just how resistant Sherlock himself is towards the popularity of his infamous deerstalker or transforming a first-person narrator's short stories into fodder for a personal blog , Sherlock 's self-referentiality invites its fans to think about the implications of these alterations. The alteration of the media used to tell the tales of the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes also introduces some arresting issues. If Sherlock's deductions were shrouded in mystery or only available to readers through Holmes's own explanations, the show actually allows viewers to “see” the detective's thought processes by stylistically superimpos i ng text onto the show's images.

The Visual Scandal of Freeing the Nipple

Image Credit: Huffington Post

In 2005, the artist Jill Coccaro was arrested in New York for exposing her breasts in public. In 2012, Jessica Krisgsman was arrested in New York for topless sunbathing in a park. In 1992, New York courts ruled that banning female toplessness in public violated equal protection clauses and, as a result, it became legal for women to bare their breasts in the state. Apparently, the memo about the legal rights of topless women is still in circulation. Social activist and actress Lina Esco is slated to release her film Free the Nipple in June of this year. The movie will explore American cultural discomfort with the alleged “lewdness” and “indecency” of women going topless. Esco has written several fantastic Huffington Post progress reportsfor her project, chronicling the struggles she has faced in the composition of her movie , struggles like police involvement during filming and battling social media networks that have banned her accounts for putting up pictures of partially nude women. Esco also beautifully captures her own bafflement about what she sees as bizarre standards of American morality, asking why “acts of baroque violence, killing, brutalization and death are infinitely more tolerated by the FCC and the MPAA, who regulate all films and TV shows in the US.” Shooting a film about breasts has proven more difficult that shooting a film about, well, shooting. The Free the Nipple campaign has attracted the attention, and largely benefited from the patronage, of celebrities like Miley Cyrus, whose December tweet on New York toplessness laws generated quite a bit of internet buzz. Her tweet was accompanied by a photo of her flashing the camera, breasts colorfully covered with photoshopped hearts.

Consuming Images of Black Friday

 A line of people wait outside of Best Buy for the store to open 

Image Credit: Huffington Post


This past Thanksgiving/Black Friday combo gave me some time to reflect on (read: be befuddled about) some of the paradoxical impulses these distinctly American holidays encourage. On Thanksgiving day, as I finished cobbling together the world's simplest casserole to take over to a friend's, my partner was snoring the next room, trying to catch a few proverbial Z's before heading in to work for a midnight shift. I muttered my frustrations into gravy that stubbornly insisted on being lumpy, desperately trying to mobilize holiday vibes and feel thankful about the jobs my partner and I are lucky to have. No dice, though. The fact that someone I love had to miss out on dinner with friends in order to be awake for a middle-of-the-night work day made me all sorts of spiteful. Increasingly, more and more people are in this terrible boat.

One-Dimensional Issues and Characters In Orange Is the New Black

 Pennsatucky from Orange Is the New Black

  Image credit: Orange Is the New Black Wiki


Remember when I said there weren't many things about Orange Is the New Black that made me cringe? Well, I recollected one. The show's ability to construct multi-dimensional, psychologically complex, believably flawed characters is one of its primary successes. One of its primary problems, however, manifests when the show occasionally forgets just how well it does create dynamic characters.

Bathroom Stalls In Orange Is the New Black

 Poster for Orange Is the New Black. Various inmates look out at the camera from bathroom stalls without doors

Image Credit: Heroine TV


Given my fascination with what's visually acceptable and what's considered outré or even repulsive about women's bodies, I'm personally shocked that I haven't yet made time to talk about Orange Is the New Black, a semi-new Netflix Original Series. Season 1 appeared en masse on July 11, and I, for one, lost a few days of my life greedily devouring every single hour-long episode. The premise at first gave me pause. An upper-middle-class white woman, Piper Chapman, is incarcerated years after the fact for helping an old girlfriend smuggle drug money across some international borders. Trials and tribulations for her ensue in a women's prison. I was a bit concerned that the show would make light of its own topic and elide very real health, safety and human rights issues facing minority women serving time. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful, sympathetic way with which the show attempts to deal with sociopolitical issues. The cycle of poverty, drug use and LGBQT discrimination all get decent airtime, and, though I'm a bit removed from the experience, I can't recall many particular moments that made me cringe (though I do plan on using a later post to discuss the show's treatment of abortion).


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