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How YouTube & Instagram Are Normalizing the Vegan Lifestyle

Thanks in part to social media, being vegan in America has become more acceptable and even “cool” in some circles. But more importantly, digital vegan activists have made veganism approachable for many of those who may not have access to the movement otherwise. YouTube and Instagram, in particular, seem to be platforms in which vegan content creators can work to normalize the lifestyle, while simultaneously creating a digital social community where vegans can find the support and resources they need to sustain their lifestyle decisions.

Based on current food industry trends, the U.S. vegan population seems to be on the rise, though the exact increase is difficult to gauge since recent reliable data isn’t available. But with major ice cream companies such as Ben & Jerry’s and Dreyer’s now offering dairy free flavors, and a wheat, coconut oil, and potato-protein based veggie burger funded by Bill Gates being served at a Michelin starred restaurant, it’s a safe bet that companies are responding to rising consumer demands for plant-based options.[1] In addition to the recent expansion of vegan food products made available by large corporations, there’s also been a notable surge of vegan content online.

Because there are several approaches to vegan activism, vegan content creators on YouTube employ different textual and rhetorical methods in the production of their work. There are generally seven types of vegan content found on YouTube, including cooking, lifestyle, health and fitness, bodybuilding, raw vegan cooking and lifestyle, explicit vegan activism, and informational content from vegan institutional sites such as PETA, Mercy for Animals, and Farm Sanctuary. Digital content creators who work within the cooking, lifestyle, and health and fitness categories are noteworthy because they often employ an aesthetic and rhetorical approach seemingly designed to appeal to a youthful, mass audience. These YouTubers are predominantly young women who emulate the production and distribution tactics of popular mainstream beauty and lifestyle YouTubers. Such vegan content creators seem to mirror non-vegan beauty and lifestyle production and distribution practices in order to access a wide audience (including omnivores), while simultaneously normalizing the vegan lifestyle. They use YouTube as a platform to spread their vegan message, and as a tool to advance their careers within vegan-related industries. Many of these YouTubers also use Instagram as an extension of their online network. As image-driven social media sites, YouTube and Instagram work hand-in-hand to build and foster each YouTuber’s digital communities, while also creating a space in which vegans have support for sustaining their lifestyles.

In her 2000 essay, “Once You Know Something, You Can’t Not Know It” An Empirical Look at Becoming Vegan, from the journal of Society & Animals, Barbara McDonald examines how individuals learn to become vegan and then continue to sustain their lifestyles. She defines the key steps of the vegan transformation process as a catalytic experience, a period of repression, an orientation stage (in which one makes the decision to learn more), the learning process, the decision to go vegan, and finally, a new world view. This “world view” is essentially the ideology that guides the new vegan’s lifestyle, and is necessary in order for them to remain vegan. She concludes: “…if (individuals) are to be successfully educated about the vegan lifestyle, they must understand the ideological basis for veganism as well as learn the tools for living a vegan lifestyle.”[2] While these vegan lifestyle YouTubers use their platforms to discuss consumption, ethics, animal rights, and the environment, much of their work revolves around making the lifestyle approachable, accessible, and appealing.

Sociologist Elizabeth Cherry examines how vegans sustain their socially conscious consumption practices in two essays – Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach (2006) from the journal of Social Movement Studies, and I Was a Teenage Vegan: Motivation and Maintenance of Lifestyle Movements (2015) from the journal of Sociological Inquiry. In I Was a Teenage Vegan Cherry supports McDonald’s assertion that becoming vegan requires a catalytic experience and learning stage, which results in a transformation in identity and practices. An ideological shift, however, is not sufficient for upholding a vegan lifestyle. She writes, “Participants in lifestyle activism need social support for retention. This is especially important for veganism, which affects many areas of one’s life, including practical aspects like grocery shopping and social situations like eating with friends.”[3] In her research for both essays Cherry interviewed 22 vegans from various backgrounds and found a clear distinction between what she calls “punk vegans” and “non-punk vegans.” About half of Cherry’s participants identified with the “political punk” or “hardcore punk” subculture and she defines their punk practice as “…a state of mind and a willingness to change society. This was accomplished through a DIY movement, characterized by independent bands, record labels, and book presses, as well as a politically progressive way of living.”[4] Punk vegans were found to be stricter in their veganism than their non-punk counterparts, presumably due in part to the fact that they had a strong social system in which their lifestyle was supported. In Veganism as a Cultural Movement, Cherry notes that many of the non-punk vegans she interviewed were not only more flexible in their definitions of veganism (occasionally eating and purchasing non-vegan items), but often didn’t know any other vegans.[5] This lack of social support likely contributed to the non-punk vegan participants’ looser adherence to vegan principles. Cherry ultimately concludes that “supportive social networks (are) invaluable to maintaining a vegan lifestyle and thus to sustaining the vegan movement.”[6]

Based on data provided by three young women who use both YouTube and Instagram to foster their digital communities, it is clear that internet-based outreach attracts a large, youthful audience. These women include chef and blogger Jenné Claiborne of Sweet Potato Soul, and college students Olivia Biermann of Liv B (formerly Liv’s Healthy Life) and Amanda Sevilla of applesandamandas. As evidenced by their channel’s analytics, most of their viewers fall between the ages of 18 and 24, and the overwhelming majority of their audience is female. Based on the focus of their content, non-vegan beauty and lifestyle blogger’s likely have similar audience breakdowns, thus providing a popular aesthetic and rhetorical mode for vegan lifestyle bloggers to borrow from. Common types of mainstream beauty and lifestyle blogger videos include tutorials, daily vlogs, travel vlogs, “hauls,” collaborations, product reviews, unboxings, apartment/house tours, advice segments, and favorites videos.

Vegan cooking and lifestyle YouTubers appropriate many of these same formats, including hauls (grocery related), unboxings (when they receive products from vegan companies), home tours (and kitchen and pantry tours), Q & A’s (including questions related to their lifestyle), collaborations with other vegan YouTubers, and daily vlogs and travel vlogs (focusing on what they’re eating). Vegan YouTubers who cook on their channels produce content in a manner that’s comparable to the verbal and visual design of make-up tutorials – intercutting between highlighting a product or ingredient before it’s used, isolating the act of production, and using a combination of direct-address dialogue and voice over to dictate every step of the process. Vegan taste test videos also seem to emulate make-up product reviews, in which the YouTuber often sits directly in front of the camera and goes through each product individually, voicing their opinion on its effectiveness. Vegan YouTubers will instead taste test and review different non-dairy ice cream flavors, candy, imitation meat products, and new snacks on the market.

A format that’s unique to vegan content creators is the “What I Eat in a Day” video, in which a YouTuber documents what they ate throughout a particular day. They may prepare food or eat out, and they often directly address their audience “vlog-style” throughout the day, giving insight into the requirements of their lifestyle choices. A common thread of all vegan “What I Eat in a Day” videos seems to be the assertion that vegan living can be both doable and satisfying. While non-vegans also produce “What I Eat in a Day” videos, it is a format predominantly utilized by vegan content creators. Additionally, vegans online often mobilize and comment on non-vegan “What I Eat in a Day” videos to promote plant-based eating.

In her book, The Vegan Studies Project, author Laura Wright notes, “Being vegan, no matter where and when, has always constituted a nonnormative position…”[7] Identifying with a fringe lifestyle, and one which certainly exists outside of the norm of American eating and consumer habits, means that sustaining a vegan lifestyle can be difficult for those who don’t have strong social support. By mirroring the aesthetic and rhetorical approach of popular non-vegan beauty and lifestyle YouTubers, vegan YouTubers are able to access an expansive, mainly young female audience. By sharing vegan cooking and lifestyle content on YouTube and Instagram, these women not only expose omnivores to vegan practices, but they assert themselves as an online resource for vegans. Generating content that supports vegan living, as well as maintaining digital spaces where vegans can connect with each other, allows these cooking and lifestyle YouTubers to harbor a digital social community for those who may not know other vegans in real life. By emulating the formats, aesthetics, and rhetorical approach of mainstream beauty and lifestyle YouTubers, Vegan digital content creators position themselves to reach a youth audience of both omnivores and vegans. On YouTube and Instagram these women seek to make the vegan lifestyle not only accessible, but appealing, thus working to normalize the movement in the eyes of mainstream consumers. And on these digital platforms vegan fans from across the world can connect with one another and create an online community of supporters, ultimately strengthening the chance that socially isolated vegans may remain steadfast in their lifestyle commitments.

___________________

[1] Leanna Garfield, “The Bill Gates-backed Veggie Burger That Bleeds ‘Plant Blood’ Is Coming to a Michelin-starred Restaurant,” (Business Insider, February 1, 2017)

[2] Barbara McDonald, “’Once You Know Something, You Can’t Not Know It’ An Empircal Look at Becoming Vegan,” (Society & Animals, 8.1 (200), 1-23), 21

[3] Elizabeth Cherry, “I Was a Teenage Vegan: Motivation and Maintenance of Lifestyle Movements,” (Sociological Inquiry 85.1 (2015), 55-74), 64

[4] Cherry, “I Was a Teenage Vegan,” 59-60

[5] Elizabeth Cherry, “Veganism as a Cultural Movement: A Relational Approach,” (Social Movement Studies 5.2 (2006), 155-170), 164

[6] Cherry, “Veganism as a Cultural Movement,” 167

[7] Laura Wright, The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror,” (Athens: U of Georgia, 2015), 6

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WATCH: “Wearing the Big Heart”

When I started Catch-all one of my intentions was to share short films by artists who I felt had something unique and important to say. I haven’t posted any such work in a long time, and I think Wearing the Big Heart by Tony Carter-Hill is a great place to start again.

Carter-Hill’s film captures the Los Angeles Women’s March, showcasing the march’s complex mood while revealing remarkably intimate moments within an intense and massive public event. That day meant something very special to me, and I appreciate how Wearing the Big Heart paints the historic Women’s March with such vibrant images and sounds. Carter-Hill’s work is abstract, dynamic, rhythmic, and truly compelling.

I was able to ask Tony about what that day meant to him. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

“As people began to walk with their banners held erect and in these colorful costumes, I became more inspired about filming. I thought about reproducing a feeling rather than a narrative, while keeping in mind consciousness and place, national identity, humanistic tendencies, and gesture. Downtown is a personal and private space to many, and I kept that in mind too while collecting images and sound.

I’d never been to a public demonstration before, I’d seen small ones in my hometown – a small group picketing outside of a school addressing local matters – but nothing related to national politics. In the past we’ve seen images of protest in documentary films, like in the cinétracts. These were short montages that were directed by French filmmakers who photographed the civil unrest throughout Paris, France in 1968. They went to the strikes and occupations of the leftist-political movement and simply documented what they saw.

I was guided by them to represent this moment in history on film. I worked on the edit, and the music had been composed by Kevin Robinson. He and his crew developed several sketches very soon after the montage was complete. I wanted the sequence and soundtrack to reflect my experience that day – at first there was particular eagerness and sense of purpose, mixed with spontaneity, and then once the speeches ended the atmosphere was saddening and confusing, I felt alone again. So many had lost their agency. Maybe reality set in, but I didn’t think it would so suddenly, so quietly. People walked around without a sense of direction until they tired and decided to return to their homes. ‘Is this the hardest punch we can throw?’ I wondered.”

Be sure to watch and share Wearing the Big Heart, and follow Tony’s work on carterhillt.com, Vimeo, and Instagram.

A Few of My Favorite 80’s Movies

Oh the 80’s. It was the decade that came and left just before I was born and bestowed us with vibrant clothes, pop music, and Reagan’s regressive policies. It’s the time that my mom refers to mysteriously and with an air of disdain, telling a curious story from her past and concluding with a sigh, “well it was the 80’s.” And when I watch popular American 80’s movies, I think I catch her drift.

Below are five of my favorite off-beat, magical, bizarre, and hilarious movies that are quintessentially of the 80’s. What are a few of yours?

Raising Arizona (dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1987)

Raising Arizona is my favorite Coen brother’s film (followed closely by The Big Lebowski) and a Nic Cage favorite as well. Raising Arizona is charming, hilarious, well written, and perfectly cast and performed. The film’s very particular production design, cinematography, and soundtrack also adds to its magic. And as an Arizonan, I seem to have a warm place in my heart for any movie that takes place there.

 

The Breakfast Club (dir. John Hughes, 1985)

Like many before me and surely more after, I fell in love with The Breakfast Club when I was in high school. Although I never related to any one character in particular, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to their transformations as individuals and part of a greater community. Angst, love, loneliness, honesty, fun – The Breakfast Club has a little bit of everything that makes for a great teen film.

 

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1988)

Today’s movie-goer is used to the most spectacular feats in special effects, but Roger Ebert’s 1988 review of Who Framed Roger Rabbit serves as a reminder that the 80’s film was itself a technological triumph. He asserts, “Like ‘2001,’ ‘Close Encounters’ and ‘E.T.,’ this movie is not only great entertainment but a breakthrough in craftsmanship – the first film to convincingly combine real actors and animated cartoon characters in the same space in the same time and make it look real.”

The truthfulness of every shot – showcasing performances by those both real and animated – is so seamless that I never questioned the authenticity of the image. Roger Rabbit was as real to me as Eddie Valiant, and still is to this very day.

 

Labyrinth (dir. Jim Henson, 1986)

I saw Labyrinth for the first time at The Loft Cinema in Tucson. During the summer of 2011 I spent countless Saturday nights at The Loft’s weekly cult classics screenings and discovered a number of my personal favorites including Wet Hot American Summer, Hausu, and Troll 2. Labyrinth captured my heart (especially Ludo and Sir Didymus) – and who can resist David Bowie’s performance of Magic Dance?

Dance, magic dance!

 

Weird Science (dir. John Hughes, 1985)

Although I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for John Hughes movies for a while now, I didn’t see Weird Science until just a few years ago. Honestly, it made this list simply because it’s so weird and I came across it at an important time in my life. My boyfriend and I were making the move to Los Angeles and stopped in Blythe, CA, – a small and strange desert highway town – for the night. Despite being excited about our journey, I was also extremely scared and anxious. I had never moved away from home and had a horrible feeling building deep within me, like I had made a terrible mistake. While my heart felt like it was draining empty, we turned on the TV to find that Weird Science was starting, and decided to watch. Weird Science was this bizarre treat that distracted me at a time when I really needed distracting, and for that reason I’m grateful for it.

So those are five of my favorite movies from the 1980’s – what are yours?

There’s No Place Like Home

As I captioned the above photo on Instagramthings are always changing in Tucson, but also remaining exactly the same.

I spent 24 years of my life living in the same city. I was born there, went to school there, fell in love there, made friends there, lost friends there, had loved ones be born there and die there. And when I moved away I had no idea what it would feel like to come back home.

When I’m in Tucson I’m bombarded by familiar smells, sounds, and feelings. The air is different, the stars shine brighter, the birds chirp louder. In the summer there’s the smell of creosote and the sound of cicadas. The fall starts off warm, but a coolness eventually rolls in. The winters are chilly and dark and there’s something wonderful about feeling cold in the desert. In the spring the Texas Rangers bloom with bright purple flowers and the smell of sunscreen fills the air as people flock outside before it gets too hot again. While I wouldn’t trade living in Los Angeles for anywhere right now, I’ll admit, there’s still no place like home.

Tucson is so deeply a part of who I am today. My political views, my closest friends, and my favorite music are all facets of myself that I owe, in part, to the city that made me. So when I go home I’m reminded of who I was and how I became who I am. But being transported to a different time in my life also has its downsides.

When I come home I’m reminded of what I didn’t like about Tucson too. The city can sometimes feel small and stifling. Polarizing. Uneasy. There’s only so much I can keep doing over and over again. Driving down the same streets to go to the same stores, same parks, same bars, same restaurants. But there’s a sense of comfort in that sameness too, which is why I’m so grateful that I can come home as often as I do.

I’ll be in Tucson again this week to help my sister move back from Los Angeles. As sad as I am to see her go, I understand that Tucson’s a difficult place to leave and not return to.

Looks, Likeability, & Constant Worry

I used to worry so much about being liked. I wouldn’t admit it to myself at the time, but I spent much of high school, college, and a few years after undergrad stressing out about being a universally well-liked person (though I now realize that person doesn’t exist). Unlike most boys, girls are often brought up to be likable. Being “ladylike” has social capital – if we look and act pleasant, we’re taught we’ll move ahead. Be too loud or bossy or unkempt and you may create some enemies.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling that my likeability (including how I’m perceived physically) was what mattered most. These were feelings that I internalized and battled with constantly. I didn’t want to feel that way, and I knew that it went against all that I felt I stood for. But time and time again I gave into my insecurities and felt that I wasn’t enough. Not pretty enough…not thin enough…not cool enough…not clever enough…not fun enough…not smart enough…

After years of wasting so much time worrying about my likeability, there came a point during graduate school that I decided to say fuck it! I’m done caring! I don’t remember the exact moment or what led to it, but I chose to work to block my destructive thinking. Stressing out about what people think of you not only takes up time and energy, but it’s pretty boringMaybe it was getting older, or the election, or both – but I was done caring.

Although I feel like my transformation took place over night, I know that breaking the pattern of destructive thinking is not that simple. It took years of confidence building and a bit of a wake up call (if he’s president does some of this minor shit really matter?) for me to get to the bottom of my insecurities. I’m also keenly aware that women are socialized to feel this way, and I’m not going to let the status quo bring me down without a fight. So my new mantra is, if you like me, that’s great! If you don’t, that’s okay too. There are still days that my insecurities sprout up and try to usurp all of my energy, but I remind myself of my mantra. It might sound hyperbolic to claim that this new way of thinking has transformed my life, but it has. Feeling free to be myself has empowered me to live a fuller life, and it’s a hell of a lot more fun!

Brown, Kiddo, & Tarantino

OR: Tarantino’s Leading Ladies: Jackie Brown, Beatrix Kiddo, & Women’s Empowerment On-screen

Quentin Tarantino’s body of work – from his feature film debut Reservoir Dogs (1992), to his most recent epic The Hateful Eight (2015) – consists of films that are violent, highly stylized, dialogue-driven, oftentimes problematic, and always provocative. Though each film in Tarantino’s oeuvre is quite different from the one that came before it or followed, numerous qualities of his work remain consistent. In each of his films Tarantino celebrates popular culture by commemorating genres that were once relegated to the margins by Hollywood, such as martial arts cinema, Blaxploitation, and spaghetti westerns. While appropriating genres, Tarantino provides his own authorial stamp by writing dialogue-driven scripts which are benefited by episodic structures. A “Tarantino film,” one can almost always be assured, features revenge at the heart of the narrative and creates pleasure through the irreverent combination of humor and violence. And, with each of Tarantino’s films, the appropriateness of his representations of violence, race, gender, and revisionist history, come into question time and time again.

Though Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s feature-length directorial debut, showcases an ensemble cast made up of entirely male actors, many of his following films feature female characters that challenge traditional Hollywood representations of women. While some of his work supports, rather than subverts, sexism, in the case of Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & Kill Bill Vol. 2, the female leads are exemplified as smart, strong, and complex individuals. The two women leading these films both overcome the dominant men in their lives, who die at their hands through actions of either physical or mental adeptness. The ability these women have in both bodily and cerebral potency, often unfound in Hollywood’s female characters, is placed boldly at the center of Tarantino’s third, fourth, and fifth feature films.

Jackie Brown (1997), starring Pam Grier, tells the story of a 44-year-old flight attendant who gets caught smuggling money to the U.S. from Mexico for an arms dealer. Her options are: go to jail, get killed, or out-smart everyone. Though Jackie Brown is the film’s hero (and is smarter and cleverer than all parties involved) Tarantino strived to construct a character who is undeniably real. In a 1998 interview with Adrian Wootton for The Guardian, Tarantino was asked about his love for Blaxploitation films and the intertextual casting of Blaxploitation star, Pam Grier. Tarantino notes that while Jackie Brown is not a black exploitation film, and that casting Pam Grier in the leading role came with “good baggage,” her character is quite different from those she played in Coffy (dir. Jack Hill, 1973) or Foxy Brown (dir. Jack Hill, 1974). “Jackie Brown is a real human being. She is not a super-bad momma. She does not get razor blades in her Afro, and she is not “Kung Fu-ing” people, and she is not pulling a sawn-off shotgun and blowing a guy’s head off. She is a real lady in those dire circumstances…”[1] According to Tarantino, because Jackie Brown isn’t enacting revenge through hyper-violent means, her character is a stark contrast to Pam Grier’s previous roles in Blaxploitation films. It seems, however, that despite the film’s lack of extreme violence emanating from its heroine, the conclusion of Jackie Brown suggests revenge nonetheless. And revenge, almost always, is a theme designated for male-centric films and genres.

In addition to Jackie’s ability to out-smart all of her male counterparts (and make money in the process), there are other characteristics of Jackie Brown which are distinctly feminist. While Jackie’s beauty is mentioned by various men throughout the film, her appearance and sexuality are not at the forefront of her character, nor is her sexuality used as a means to overcome obstacles. While one could argue that the apparatus of the male gaze is still evident in Jackie Brown, Jackie is dressed in a manner that’s appropriate for her character and she’s never explicitly sexualized for the pleasure of the audience. The fact that the film centers on the story of a black woman in her forties is also highly uncommon. It is unusual for Hollywood films to feature woman leads, especially rare that they be women past their early thirties, and even more infrequent that they are women of color. It is also empowering that Jackie opens and closes the film individually; she is the determiner of her own destiny, which is indicated not only by the narrative, but through the film’s cinematography and use of the recurring song, “Across 110th Street,” by Bobby Womack.

Though Tarantino took great lengths to showcase a character who is resilient, independent, and empowered, by taking a closer look at the production process it becomes clear that his understanding of Jackie Brown as a real woman had its limitations. Concluding his 1998 interview with Adrian Wootton for The Guardian, Tarantino discusses Pam Grier’s “womanness” in the opening scene of Jackie Brown:

“If you are familiar with Pam’s movies, a whole lot of them start with Pam just walking, and [you] beholding the glory that is Pam. I thought, ‘OK, I will make me the greatest Pam Grier opening sequence of all time.’ I think I pulled it off, actually. The structure of it is very interesting. It starts off that she is on the conveyor belt, and you see her, you are drinking her in, you are taking her in, and she is walking through the airport, and she just looks like the baddest creature a guy ever created. She has got all this power and strength – she is Foxy Brown twenty years later, she is Coffy twenty years later – and she has all this womanness, and it is great.”[2]

Tarantino’s description of Pam Grier, particularly when he suggests “drinking her in” and refers to her as “the baddest creature a guy has ever created” is put in bluntly misogynistic terms. While Pam Grier’s character in the film seems to defy the limitations placed on her by her male counterparts, it appears that Tarantino’s construction of her character (which he describes as his own creation) is highly objectifying. And the “womanness” which he designates as a characteristic of her persona and appearance is also debatably built around Grier’s beauty and sexuality (of both the past and present), rather than any non-sexual qualities that may signify “womanness.” Tarantino’s idea of “womanness,” it seems, is defined by decidedly sexual terms.

In Pam Grier’s 2010 memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, she depicts the time she spent working with Tarantino on Jackie Brown as a truly wonderful experience, describing him as “such a gifted director” and a “real maestro.”[3] Despite his talents as a director, however, Grier sometimes questioned Tarantino’s ability to understand the needs of women, or how a real woman may express her emotions. She describes the process of shooting a scene in Jackie’s kitchen with the bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), where her character has escaped death at the hands of Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and must now figure out a way to stay out of jail. In the first take, Grier began to cry quietly, and by the time the scene was finished she had moved the entire crew to tears. While she felt that her spontaneous tears were right for her character, Tarantino was not satisfied. He asked for another take, this time without tears, because he needed her to “look stronger.” In her memoir, Grier questioned Tarantino’s direction for that particular scene, wondering why tears are often interpreted as an expression of fragility:

“Why do men see crying as a weakness? Jackie was in a very vulnerable state, unsure if she was about to be arrested or killed. I wanted to explain that to Quentin and tell him that my performance had been pure. But he was the director, and we ended up using the second take, the tearless one, which he liked, but in my opinion was less effective.”[4]

While Tarantino’s representation of Jackie Brown is fiercely empowering, and the film presents itself as an arguably feminist text, it is clear that Tarantino was working within the framework of his privileged position as a male director. As a result, despite the depth of her character, Tarantino’s interpretation of Jackie Brown the woman was still confined to the limits of his own lived experiences. Subsequently, in Tarantino’s fourth and fifth films (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2), his nuance in writing women’s emotions seems somewhat more developed, perhaps because his lead is able to present herself as traditionally “strong” through her deployment of physical force.

For the remainder of this essay, Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) will be referred to jointly as Kill Bill, since they were intended to be released as one film and were produced accordingly. Kill Bill, which debuted nearly six years after the premiere of Jackie Brown, stars Uma Thurman as “The Bride,” who the audience eventually learns is a trained assassin named Beatrix Kiddo. As Kiddo, Thurman overcomes death on numerous occasions and systematically kills each member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. With their leader, Bill, the Deadly Vipers attempted to murder Beatrix and were to blame for the assumed death of her unborn child. Through the mayhem of her journey, Kiddo overcomes a shot to the head and coma, survives rape, is buried alive, murders dozens of killers (if not hundreds in the climactic scene at the Tokyo restaurant), and is finally, after confronting her arch-enemy Bill, reunited with her daughter B.B. While Kill Bill is quite a departure from Jackie Brown, it is noteworthy that both of these films are carried by interesting and empowering women, and that they were released consecutively. Unlike Jackie Brown, however, in Kill Bill Beatrix Kiddo is given the opportunity to cry, in spite of her immeasurable emotional and physical strength.

In a 2003 interview with Jeff Otto for IGN, prior to the release of Vol. 2, Quentin Tarantino discussed Kill Bill’s revenge narrative and Kiddo’s likeability as a character:

“Her journey is for real, and her pain is for real, and she keeps it on course, and she’s not asking for any sympathy. One of the first scenes in Vol. 2 will be where we actually see what happens at the wedding chapel. I’ve had people say to me after they saw this one, ‘Quentin, I really liked it, and I know you’re saving the wedding chapel for Vol. 2, but if I were to have seen that in Vol. 1, I think that I would’ve cared and liked Uma’s character even more.’ And my response is, ‘You like her well enough. You don’t need to like her any more than you do. She’s fine.’”[5]

Tarantino’s frank reaction to questions of Kiddo’s likeability could be considered reflective of the genres that he employs for Kill Bill. Since it’s a film that’s openly about hyper-violent revenge, and because Tarantino pulls from various masculine genres such as martial arts cinema and spaghetti westerns, the likeability of the lead character seems to be pushed to the periphery for the sake of entertainment. The sentiment is that this is a film about vengeance, and whether or not the lead character is likeable or relatable is unimportant.

It also seems that because Kill Bill was Tarantino’s most “unrealistic” film at the point of its release in 2003, and the fact that the story existed exclusively in the realm of fiction (making it a “movie-movie,” as Tarantino calls it) meant that the audience’s relationship to Beatrix could be formulated differently. In her 2014 essay, “Revenge and the Family Romance in Tarantino’s Kill Bill,” Lesel Dawson explains how Tarantino’s “movie-movie” method is apparent in the characterization of Beatrix, “who is represented as a cinematic archetype rather than someone who constructs her identity in relation to such figures.”[6] She continues to describe how this approach becomes clearest in Vol. 2, when Bill compares Beatrix to Superman: “When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman” – and when Beatrix wakes up in the morning, she’s a “natural born killer.” The powerful comparison – that Bill sees Beatrix as inherently mighty like Superman – fortifies the conclusion of her journey, in which she overpowers the final person who stands in her way. And although Kill Bill is undoubtedly a film about vengeance and honor, it’s also a film about motherhood and, in particular, the mother-daughter relationship.

In Angela Dancey’s “Killer Instincts: Motherhood and Violence in The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kill Bill,” the fifth chapter from Mommy Angst: Motherhood in American Popular Culture (edited by Ann C. Hall and Mardia J. Bishop), Dancey explores two of the rare on-screen examples of the intersections of violence and motherhood in American media. She argues that in both Kill Bill and The Long Kiss Goodnight (dir. Renny Harlin, 1996), violence is portrayed as a threat to the family, but also the necessary means by which the mother-daughter relationship is restored. And she also notes that both films “repair the mother-child unit through the elimination of the father.”[7] What’s especially interesting in the case of Kill Bill, is that while Bill is Beatrix’s ex-lover, he’s also a patriarchal figure to her (she even introduces him as her father at the wedding rehearsal) in addition to being the father of her child. Ultimately, in order to gain guardianship of her daughter, she must also liberate herself from his patriarchal hold.

Despite the seemingly empowering act of liberating herself from Bill, Dancey notes that the reestablishment of Kiddo’s motherhood is complicated and not necessarily a feminist act, depending on one’s perspective:

“Both The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kill Bill transform the single mother – typically portrayed as powerless, tragic, and even pathetic, particularly in the woman’s film – into a violent and destructive force to be reckoned with. However, this potentially liberating activity does little to actually challenge the traditional cultural notions about parenting and gender – in fact, through their melodramatic vilification of the paternal and their emphasis on the reunion between mother and child as narrative resolution, both films reinforce the idea that a child ‘naturally’ belongs with the mother as primary caregiver. Thus, while Beatrix and Charly [Geena Davis’ character in The Long Kiss Goodnight] are subversively violent and self-sufficient single mothers, their actions actually serve to reinforce retrograde, sexist ideas about the nuclear family.”[8]

But while Kill Bill does seem to emphasize matriarchal tendencies as natural and even necessary (concluding with a title card that reads: “The lioness has rejoined her cub, and all is right in the jungle”) Tarantino’s film does give great value to the mother, who’s often marginalized in Hollywood narratives and nearly absent in action-centric genres.

In a particularly fascinating moment, after Beatrix has killed Bill and escaped with her daughter, Kiddo is alone on the floor of a hotel bathroom while her daughter watches TV in the other room. She’s sprawled out on the floor dressed in all white (much like she was as The Bride at the beginning of the film), holding a large teddy bear and crying. At first, she appears to be weeping tears of sadness and regret; maybe she’s mourning the death of Bill, or what could have been if she stayed with him and they raised B.B. together? But quickly, her tears turn to laughter, and then joy. “Thank you…thank you…thank you…” she whispers to herself. In this scene, unlike in Jackie Brown, Thurman’s character is given permission to cry – and her tears are as intense and complicated as the journey she took to get there. Between Jackie Brown to Kill Bill, though just six years had passed, it appears that Tarantino’s understanding of emotion and expression may have become more complex and nuanced. Or maybe he simply understood why a mother would cry for her child?

In a 2004 interview for Entertainment Weekly, Kay Schilling asked Tarantino if he considered himself to be a feminist:

“ET: After seeing Reservoir Dogs, I never would have pegged you as a feminist. But Jackie Brown and The Bride are two of the most multidimensional women ever in genre films.

QT: I almost feel weird about categorizing [myself] as feminist. Not because I am demonizing the word, but I think it’s more of a femininity, and an appreciation for women rather than a label.”[9]

Tarantino went on to describe how growing up with a single mother had influenced his work, and explained that his mother’s best friend, also named Jackie, was much of the inspiration for Jackie Brown. Knowing Tarantino’s own history with his parents (being raised by a single mother while his father was absent) it’s not totally surprising that a film with an intense connection to family and motherhood could be written by a man with such a strong appreciation for his single mother and her best friend.

Though there are complicated ways in which both Jackie Brown and Kill Bill support traditional representations of women on-screen, each film also fiercely challenges conventional characterizations of women in action genres. Not only did Tarantino choose to place women in the leading roles of three of his first five films, but the characters that he wrote for Pam Grier and Uma Thurman are undeniably smart, determined, and formidable. Jackie Brown and Beatrix Kiddo liberate themselves from the dominant and physically threatening men in their lives, and additionally, they come out at the other end far more powerful than they were when their struggles began. Women’s empowerment, by way of emancipation from a patriarchal figure, is showcased in the climax of both films – and while Tarantino’s own “male gaze” is not totally erased from these works, the effects of his gaze are dulled by the independence and power of these two leading ladies. Though Quentin Tarantino has not identified himself as a feminist, and while not all films within his body of work evoke a sense of woman’s empowerment, it seems that Jackie Brown and Kill Bill have been stamped by Tarantino with an unmistakable endorsement of women’s empowerment.

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[1] Gerald Peary, Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, Revised and Updated, (University of Mississippi, 2013), 110

[2] Peary, Interviews, 111

[3] Pam Grier and Andrea Cagan, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, (New York: Springboard, 2010), 243

[4] Grier and Cagan, Foxy, 244

[5] Peary, Interviews, 128

[6] Lesel Dawson, “Revenge and the Family Romance in Tarantino’s Kill Bill,” (Project MUSE, 2014), 125-6

[7] Angela Dancey, “Killer Instincts: Motherhood and Violence in The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kill Bill,” (Greenwood Group, 2009), 84

[8] Dancey, “Killer Insticts,” 85

[9] Peary, Interviews, 134

Growing Into My Tallness

Once my greatest source of discomfort, my height is now my shield, my strength.

In kindergarten I towered over my peers – both boys and girls. My shoe size grew every year, correlating with my age until middle school. Most women will never wear size ten or eleven shoes, let alone many prepubescent girls. By sixth grade I was nearly the height I am today – 5’11”. As a result of my height bracket, I never thought I was cute. My bigness made me feel void of femininity. Now I find great beauty in my stature, but as an adolescent all I wanted was to be smaller. To blend in. To be what boys at that time thought was pretty. It pains me to think of how much time, even as a young girl, I spent worrying about what others thought of me. Feeling too tall, too big, too uncommon.

While I’ve grown to love my height, there are still days when my size feels daunting. Overpowering. Not pretty. Unfeminine. Almost eight years ago I fell in love with a man who is not only shorter, but thinner than me. It’s taken years for me to become comfortable with our size difference, and despite love and confidence and the passing of time, I still struggle with it some days.

When I was younger I naïvely proclaimed to friends that I would only date men who were taller than me. In retrospect, it seems that my insistence was based solely on my fear of feeling unfeminine next to someone smaller. According to Ann Friedman in her 2013 essay for Esquire titled “Why Shorter Men Should Go After Taller Women,” only around 4% of heterosexual couples feature a woman who is taller than her partner. When I was younger I didn’t question social norms to the degree that I do today. Why is it that, as a tall woman, society expects that I only date men who are taller than I am? Because intelligence, humor, kindness, and respect have no height, I chose to disregard the status quo.

I can’t help but feel that heterosexual men who are comfortable with taller partners are more likely to respect women in other ways. My boyfriend – who tells me how beautiful I am each and every day – roots for me in all facets of my life. We are equal partners. My boldness never makes him feel fragile, and his self-assurance empowers me as well. When we first started dating I told him that our height difference made me feel big, almost unattractive. His insistence on the beauty of my stature has fortified my confidence, but ultimately I had to learn to love my height on my own.

If I continued to let superficial norms dictate my life, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am today. I am emboldened by my size. My height is a privilege and I’m grateful to have finally grown into my tallness.

30 Badass Feminists to Follow on Twitter

I’ve discovered so many intelligent, humorous, bold, and inspiring feminists on Twitter. These women are writers, activists, lawyers, scholars, and artists who advocate for a number of issues essential to the feminist movement, including reproductive rights, safety and equality for the LGBT community, immigration reform, combating racism and police brutality, fair wages and the right to unionize, gun control and domestic violence, and the representation of race, gender, class, and sexuality in media – among numerous other issues. Being an outspoken woman online automatically results in a threat to their safety, and these women are berated daily for their unwillingness to be quiet or dilute their words. Be sure to follow them on social media and share and support their work.

Like any online list, this post is seriously incomplete because there are thousands of woman who have not been included. Please be sure to share the names and handles of any badass feminists you follow online in the comment section below.

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Who are some of your favorite feminists on Twitter?

Recommended Film & TV Books | Part 1

I’ve been studying film and television in school for some years now, so as a result I’ve amassed quite a collection of film and TV-related books. Here’s part 1 of my recommended media texts list – and you can expect a number of these posts in the future since there are so many books that I’ve found to be truly invaluable.

Although I’ve linked each book to Amazon, buy locally if you can find them at your community’s bookstore!

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake SnyderSave the Cat! is, indeed, the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need. The book includes information on high concept ideas, genre-play, beat sheets, and even a bit of pitching advice. It contains basically everything you need to know about coming up with an idea, writing your script, re-writing your script, and getting it sold.

Designs on Film: A Century of of Hollywood Art Direction by Cathy Whitlock: There was a point during college when I thought that I wanted to be a production designer, so my boyfriend got me this book as a gift. Whether you’re interested in pursuing design as a career, love classical Hollywood films, or simply like looking at beautifully designed sets, this book is perfect for your coffee table or bedside.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind: As a fan of 1970’s American film (and the filmmakers who made those films), I love love love this book. It’s salacious and gossip-filled, but that’s kind of what makes Easy Riders, Raging Bulls so much fun.

101 Things I Learned in Film School by Neil Landau and Matthew Frederick: I even went to film school and this book still comes in handy. 101 Things I Learned in Film School nearly sums up everything I learned in film school, except some stuff you can only learn on set and actually dealing with people. Regardless, it’s a nice text to own.

TV Peaks: Twin Peaks and Modern Television Drama by Andreas Halskov: I just had to include a Twin Peaks book in my first round of book recommendations! TV Peaks explores the ways in which Lynch and Frost’s iconic series transformed the television landscape, and includes interviews with the cast and crew, as well as television scholars and fans.

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What are some of your go-to film & TV related books? Stay tuned for part 2!

Catalina Island: Facts n’ Photos

Before visiting Catalina I knew nothing about the island except for the fact that it’s off the coast of California and (most importantly) that it was the iconic setting for the end of Step Brothers. After spending a weekend on Catalina Island I learned quite a bit and am here to report back with some fun facts and a few photos I took during my short visit.

1. The Catalina Island Wine Mixer is now a real thing, and it’s happening in September! There’s even a Step Brothers themed costume party y’all.

2. The Wrigley family owns Catalina and has since the early 1900’s.

3. The Wrigley family were known for their gum and numerous other business ventures, including as part-owners of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs even held their spring training on the island from the 1920s until the 1950s.

4. There aren’t many cars on the island. In fact, residents have to spend 30 years on a waiting list before they can even get a Smart Car. Now that’s patience.

5. Instead of cars people use golf carts, and they’re loud, annoying, and everywhere.

6. According to the 2010 census, only a little over 4,000 people live on the island.

7. Most residents and visitors spend time in Avalon, which is a boating and tourism destination. Though the island has a tiny population, over 1 million people visit every year.

8. Santa Catalina Island’s famous Casino is gambling free. According to the Catalina Island tourism website “Casino” means “gathering place” in Italian, though I’ve read elsewhere that it translates more closely to “home.” Any Italian readers care to clarify?

9. Catalina Island is home to many non-native animal species, including deer and bison. Bison were originally brought to the island in the 1920s for a Hollywood movie, and Mr. Wrigley himself decided he wanted them to stay because tourists enjoyed seeing them.

10. Most of Catalina (88% of the land to be exact) is maintained by the Catalina Island Conservancy, a non-profit environmental organization established to protect and restore animal and plant life on the island.

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Know any Catalina Island trivia that I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comment section below!