Friday, November 05, 2010

Be Here Now

At the beginning of Tom Stoppard's brilliant, iconic, disturbingly easy to quote Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, idiot savant Rosencrantz is perplexed by a coin he's been tossing. It keeps coming up heads. Through 157 coin tosses, the more pragmatic Guildenstern tries to find logical ways to disprove what Rosencrantz is experiencing. Ultimately, he arrives at a weak version of the transitive property: "He has never known anything like it. But he has never known anything to write home about. Therefore, it is nothing to write home about."

Because Guildenstern cannot justify or understand the thing that is happening right in front of his face, he dismisses it. Numbers-wise, it doesn't make sense. The way he clings desperately to his pragmatism eventually leads to the rather annoyed and finally resigned Guildenstern awaiting his execution.

Tomorrow, Zenyatta runs in what will likely be her final race. She has started nineteen times, and she has won nineteen times. This annoys a lot of people, because these folks are racing pragmatists who depend upon numbers and trends and whatever fancy new handicapping system they have to give them probabilities of how horses are going to run. Like Guildenstern, they use logic, and their logic is speed. Pure speed that is quantifiable and measurable by the speed figures that tell them when a horse is performing at the top of the game.

But Zenyatta is the idiot savant who just doesn't see those numbers. To her, it's not about predicting who is going to win. It's about actually going out and running the race. And so far, she's done that pretty damned well.

There's been a ton of analysis, of course, leading up to the Breeder's Cup Classic. It's been insane, actually. Mostly, handicappers have fallen back on their tools and their tools tell them that it's Blame, and not Zenyatta, who is a mortal lock for tomorrow. Along with this, they take time out to explain why Zenyatta is going to lose. It looks a little like this:

She's too slow: Zenyatta's speed figures are substantially lower than those of the majority of the field.

She's a synthetic specialist: Only two of Zenyatta's races have come on conventional dirt, and both of those races were at Oaklawn Park. She hasn't run at Churchill Downs yet.

Her style won't be conducive to a dirt track: Zenyatta comes from far back, and the word is that speed holds much, much better on the dirt than it does on the synthetics.

She hasn't beaten anything: Zenyatta hasn't faced the top horses in the country all year.

She barely wins her races in slow times: Although she wins, she really does just eke out these victories, and she does it over extremely suspect competition.

These are the reasons the numbers people give. This is why she can't beat Blame, Quality Road, Lookin At Lucky or Haynesfield.

Well, I am a numbers person, too. But I only have one number:

19.

The sheer amount of coverage Zenyatta has received since arriving at Churchill Downs earlier in the week has been unfathomable. There was a 60 Minutes special on her last week. She has a wonderful feature in Sports Illustrated. There have been interviews with all of her connections and stories just coming from all over the place. This is the kind of attention reserved for a champion AFTER a race, not in the week preceding it. But when people are around Zenyatta, logic goes out the window. HOW has this mare managed to win 19 races in a row, including two Breeder's Cup races? HOW did she beat those colts last year with the trip she had? HOW did she win this year's Santa Margarita while buried down on the rail with a sixteenth of a mile to go? HOW did she run down a filly while carrying nine more pounds? Stand in front of her. Just look at her size, and at the way she moves. People who do this become Rosencrantzes. They're tossing that coin, it keeps landing heads, and rather than question how it can be, they accept it and marvel at it. Whenever Zenyatta has gone to the track this week, she's been followed by literally hundreds of people with cameras. People leave their cars in the street to come over and get a look at her as she grazes behind her fence. Even trainers, hardened racetrackers, are taken aback and in awe when they see her. Her owners followed Zenyatta to the track in a sheriff's car, as Ann Moss filmed Zenyatta's van while hanging out of the window. It's bedlam, kids, that would even make the Beatles run for cover.

(remake of A Hard Day's Night with Zenyatta? She DOES love the camera!)

Her detractors, and they are legion, are cynical Guildensterns, always demanding another coin toss, so the universe can be set right. They have set impossible standards for her: She has to win ANOTHER Breeder's Cup Classic to be considered a great horse. She simply cannot be great unless she beats males, at ten furlongs, at Churchill Downs.

That's ludicrous. She already IS great. No other horses are held to this standard. The Guildensterns don't think much of her record. ANY horse, running against Zenyatta's competition, would win nineteen in a row. But her record DOES mean something to racing, and it's starting to mean something to the people outside of racing. Zenyatta has already landed heads 156 times in a row. If she doesn't make that 157th toss, it won't take away from her utterly magnificent accomplishments.

At the end of Stoppard's play, while awaiting execution, Guildenstern is still trying to find reason in the insanity of the play:

Where we went wrong was getting on a boat. We can move, of course, change direction, rattle about, but our movement is contained within a larger one that carries us idly towards eternity without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation.


He still thinks there was a point when he could have made a decision that wouldn't have resulted in this outcome. Guildenstern doesn't understand that fate has put him here. He never had a chance. Rosencrantz, on the other hand, is just as cheerful, if not just a touch more befuddled than usual. Rosencrantz would freaking love Zenyatta. He'd be feeding her carrots, while Guildenstern would be measuring her to figure out how the hell she won all those races.

Tomorrow should be a celebration, not of records or statistics or a biased/non-biased track or pace or speed figures or any of that, but of perfection and honesty and heart. We should be carried along with Zenyatta, instead of worrying or fussing or fighting about what her place in history will be. This will likely be the last time we see this magnificent horse run and no matter what happens, watching this great horse barrel off that turn and charge down the stretch is going to be enough for me.

Heads.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon

No new episode of The Event this week, which is probably good because all I would do is link to Zenyatta videos. It's Breeder's Cup week and I promise you, the madness will end Saturday night. Well, probably a few days later. But soon. VERY soon.

So with no new TeeVee, it's time to talk sexism! Yes, sexism. That still acceptable form of discrimination. When people say "Sex sells," they are generally saying that hot girls doing dirty things makes people buy stuff. And apparently, it does. Because if it didn't, it wouldn't be so prevalent. And when it's time to market to women, we wind up with the Dos Equis guy. Seriously, WTF with that guy?? Who exactly is that ad FOR? Are women supposed to think that skeevy dude is hot? If so, epic fail, my friends. I WILL stay thirsty, because I ain't gonna drink with THAT asshole.

I think part of this sexism business has to do with the fact that we are so bombarded with female objectification that we're pretty well inured to it. You can't fight every fight, or else you will be called an angry lesbian. Not to say that there aren't any angry lesbians, but that's another tired old stereotype, isn't it?

Although, an aside -- I am completely objectifying the husband on Undercovers. I have no idea what his character's name is, even. I don't know what case they're on, what they're trying to find, or where they are. He sometimes wears a tux, and sometimes he is shirtless. So for that, thank you, casting peoples.

Anyway. Mostly, this stuff is just wearying, and not damnably egregious. Which is egregious in its own way, I suppose. A few weeks ago on my beloved The Event, the Hardcore Female Assassin was sent in to kill a bunch of people. I think it was a flashback. It's always a good guess that it was a flashback. Anyway, she goes in with her big, angry gun and... there's a baby. Yes, a gurgling baby, looking at her with his "Are you my mommy" baby eyes. And the Hardcore Female Assassin says to the men who callously sent her in, "You didn't tell me there would be a baby."

Right, because THAT'S WHERE YOU DRAW THE LINE. You're an assassin, but you don't kill babies. You wait until they grow up into adults before you put two in the brainpan. Clearly, obviously, dejectedly, she didn't kill the baby because her Womanly Instincts kicked in. SO dumb for the boys to send her to do this. Women NEVER kill babies.

Well. Hardly ever. And when they DO kill babies, they are instantly elevated to the level of the most heinous killers in history. The psychology isn't hard to figure out. Apparently, a lot of people had nightmares about being smothered by their mothers as children. No seriously, on a certain level this attitude DOES make sense. Mothers are the nurturers. We depend on them. We trust them BECAUSE they are our mothers. But here's the problem -- not every woman is a mother, so GET THE FUCK OVER IT. I can just imagine the guys sitting in the writer's room on The Event, coming up with this Most Awesome Plot Point. Because what happens is, the Hardcore Female Assassin takes the baby and raises it as her son. Ah, NOW we can understand and empathize with her. She's not a killer. She's a mommy! No doubt, this was an attempt to give the character some dimension. And about 99.999% of the time, that involves giving a female character a maternal instinct. It's character shorthand. But it backfires. This Hardcore Female Assassin has been made weak in a way that a male character never could be. And we see this time and time and fucking time again.

This isn't to say that all TeeVee or movie mothers are weak. They aren't. But whenever you have a female character using her womb to appeal to someone's better nature, then yes, that is a weak character. And if another womb is used to make a hardcore female assassin not kill someone, then that is a weak character. Example? Kill Bill. X-Files. Ad fucking nauseum.

Sexism has been flourishing lately. Judd Apatow's machine puts out of of these things about once a week. You know the ones, with the fat, disgusting slobs who are just so sad that the beautiful woman won't have their children. "But wait," you say. "Sometimes the guy IS terrific and the woman won't give him the time of day because he's a bit overweight, and wears a stained Gumby T-shirt."

What's your point?

The woman always loses in this scenario. She's a bitch if all she cares about is how the guy fits a suit. But if it's Katherine Heigl is Knocked Up, then she's not at all a believable character if she isn't totally grossed out by how the Seth Rogen character lives. Because that, my friends, is NOT a believable relationship on ANY level. Yes, SHE IS TOO GOOD FOR HIM. And that has nothing to do with gender. It's just the facts. Appearance matters, because it speaks to who you are as a person. And I don't give a shit if it's a woman who's not good enough for a guy, or the flip side. But what we're seeing almost exclusively is the flip side. Not only that, but these Apa-Shlubs are the only endearing characters in these fucking movies. Don't think so? Tell me which female characters in The Hangover aren't dreadful cliches. The hooker with the heart of gold? Really? Still? Women in these movies are either THAT, or they're ball-crunchers and shrieking harridans. It's not funny.

And when the aforementioned Katherine Heigl says that she didn't think her character would go for the guy who started a porn website with his pals, she gets eviscerated. People say that she shouldn't have taken the part, if she felt that strongly about it. Look, if actresses kept turning down work because they had to play unbelievable characters, there wouldn't BE any work.

It's not that all movies should pass the Bechdel test, but pretending that these Apatow movies are actually socially relevant and, well, FUNNY is ridiculous. Make your bromance movies, but let's not pretend they're good, okay?

You see this sexism in the geek world, too. Geeks are made fun of by people who either aren't geeks, or can pass for human out in the real world. So who do THEY make fun of? Well, since the majority of geeks are guys, they turn their ire towards the Twilight fans. You have not heard a geek go fucking contemptuously crazy unless you've heard him rant about the Twilight fans. When they came to Comic Con a few years ago, you would have thought that the geeks had actually been forced to watch Twilight and wear the T-shirts. They were AFFRONTED. They were PISSED. And they showed it. It reminds me of the Tea Party people, getting outraged at the wrong stuff. The Comic Con geeks really should have been pissed off at the shit movies being made, and at the studios that bought up all the hotel rooms. Be angry at the disdain shown the genre by these huge corporations instead of people who have the same love for their franchise that you have for yours. But because the Twilight fans are women, the geeks feel that now, they can look down on someone other than furries.

Even The Social Network, which is a terrific movie, has some issues with women. As Aaron Sorkin pointed out when defending himself against charges of sexism, that's just how these guys WERE. They're basically geeks, albeit geeks whose families can afford to send them to Ivy League schools. They are angry that women won't pay them the slightest attention. However, Sorkin and David Fincher took a lot of liberties with reality in the film. So why did Sorkin feel so adamantly that the women be presented -- in his mind -- accurately? Obviously, sexism doesn't bother Aaron Sorkin.

Sexism doesn't bother Zach Galiafinakis, whose name I just butchered. He really stood his ground that crazy racist Mel Gibson not do a cameo in Hangover 2 (HANGOVER 2? REALLY??). So Mel's not doing the cameo, and for the most part people are thrilled with Zach for taking a great moral stand. However, wasn't Mike Tyson in the first one? And isn't Mike Tyson an actual rapist? Seems like nobody had any trouble with THAT. After all, bitch was asking for it (men actually say this). So the guy gets applauded for being of such strong moral fiber, and the GUY WHO ACTUALLY SEXUALLY ASSAULTED AN INNOCENT GIRL is just fine.

This is not an awesome moral lesson.

People who write the hooker with the heart of gold, or the girl who becomes a lesbian when she's drunk, or the ball-busting bitch or the female assassin baby lover are truly clueless about what these characters really mean. But these writers aren't evil. They're not women haters. They're not trying to demean women. They're just blind to it. It's just not in their experience. And in Hollywood, unfortunately there are not enough women in power or on a writing staff to make men see this sexism and misogyny. We all have stories about misogyny on writing staffs. And outside of Hollywood, most women have stories about being hit on. We're all keenly aware of who else is walking down the street. We know not to tell some asstard to go fuck himself when he whistles at us from a car (we say it afterwards, when he's out of earshot).

But geez... it would be really nice if we didn't have to deal with this in our entertainment, too.

There's a very funny cartoon about what happens to a woman who makes charges of sexism on the Internet. I would post it here, but I expect that it will actually happen, so why ruin the suspense?

Lastly, yes, there are a lot of great female characters on TeeVee and in the movies. DUH. That's not what I'm talking about. OBVIOUSLY.