Why The Babysitter is an underrated movie

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The Babysitter is a 1995 movie I randomly came across on Netflix. While the critical reception of it at the time, and really over the years since, has been negative, I found it to be incredibly insightful and refreshing in the delivery of its message.

It was taken literally in 1995 and I really don’t understand why. It seems the only way for a movie to be taken in a non-literal sense, it has to be loaded with metaphors, filled with symbolism and overall be really self-indulgent, pretentious and full of itself.

Which is why it is so nice to come across a meaningful movie that doesn’t do any of those things. With that said, let’s get to it.

In The Babysitter we have a girl who comes in to babysit three kids while their parents go to a cocktail party. This girl becomes the center of attention of virtually all other characters: Mr. Tucker, his wife Dolly, their ten-year-old son Jimmy, as well as the town bad boy – Mark and the girl’s boyfriend – Jack.

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But to say that she becomes the center of their attention is to be willingly dishonest. Nobody is really paying attention to her. Instead, they are paying attention to what she represents to them – a girl. Every one of them sees her for what they want to see her. Their perceptions of her are scarily removed from reality. “She seems a little careless,” says Dolly about the babysitter. A strange assumption and one not based on her behavior or actions. Said about the girl who makes sure everyone of the kids takes a bath and goes to bed on time, about the girl who reads Shakespeare’s Othello out-loud. “I’m pretty sure she had her boyfriend over the other time.”

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From the opening shot of the movie, the babysitter is an object of affection – it begins with a police officer staring at the vent window as she passes by on her way to the Tuckers’ house.

The male gaze is what is omnipresent in the movie. It hangs ominously over every scene like thick haze. We are shown the dark movie playing out in the heads of those who come into contact with her: what they imagine, what they want, what they wish for.

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An object. “She is such a cute little thing,” says Mr. Tucker. “Things like her have to be passed around,” suggests Mark.

Mark, from the very beginning, is in pursuit. What he does is the exact reflection of the cultural mores. He does what a real man is supposed to do in society. Mark is masculinity.

He gets in her way, follows her around and doesn’t take no for an answer.

“Are you deaf, Mark?”

“What?”

“Are you deaf?”

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The boyfriend of the babysitter – Jack – seems like a polar opposite of Mark. Jack is a “good guy”, a “good citizen”. An adolescent male so often idealized in small and big towns alike. Someone who does his school reading while eating a sandwich, someone who plays ball (many kinds of ball, all kinds of ball), a good guy.

Jack meets Mark and Mark, seeing an opening, makes a suggestion to go over to the Tuckers’ house. He uses every argument he can think of to persuade Jack, pushing all the right buttons. Driving home one point really – “It’s kinda hard to know if you really love a girl unless you’ve fucked her.”

The ball-playing, book-reading, sandwich-eating Jack is persuaded in no time by Mark’s artless arguments. Because they make him feel insecure, because they question how much of a man he is.

Meanwhile, the dark movie playing across their brains, continues. We see the babysitter in their fantasies. Some violent daydreams, taking on new forms. Mr. Tucker, for instance, imagines walking in on her taking a bath, walking on her making out with Jack in the living room, imagines having sex with her, raping her, killing her – not necessarily in that order.

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The question becomes – not why the fantasies are there, but – how close will they come to acting on them?

One of the ugliest and most revelatory of the many ugly and revelatory moments that we see in The Babysitter, is when Jack turns up at the house and his girlfriend opens the door.

“Jack – no – means no. I said no and you came over anyway?”

Jack retreats back to the car, but Mark is quick to assure him, “It’s all part of the game.”

“You figure out what you want and go get it.”

The Babysitter proves that the reality may turn out worse than the dark-movie daydream itself. It gets at something toxic and wormy in masculinity. The encouragement of assertive behavior among male children, when it gets out of hand.

The bulk of the movie’s criticism centered around the fact that the character of the babysitter was “underdeveloped”, that she lacked a personality. But the point is that her personality didn’t matter, she didn’t matter as an individual at all. This is the reason we don’t learn her name until the very last scene.

“Jennifer,” Jack says, before drifting off into an uneasy silence.

She looks at him with a semblance of recognition and asks in a voice somehow weaker… “I don’t get it Jack. What were you thinking?”

 

 

 

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Is transracialism a thing?

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I have been interested in the story of Rachel Dolezal for quite awhile, and seeing The Rachel Divide documentary on Netflix only increased that interest.
The documentary aims to humanize Rachel, while also posing an important question of what it would mean if some people really were, like Rachel, transracial, meaning that they identify with a race that is not the race the society ascribes them based on their ancestry.
Identity is a complex, difficult and often hot-button issue. But I don’t suppose it is up for a debate that generally we treat people wrongly when we deny them the option of adopting the personal identity they feel they belong to.
When Rachel was “outed” on national television, people were ruthless in their attack on her over the fact that she identifies as black. While there have been lots of points made, I would just like to address the main overriding arguments that seem to dominate this backlash.
To get to the bottom of things – most people agree that you can’t be black if your ancestry isn’t African, at least to a certain degree. In a society that is so progressive we still view race as being biologically defined and ancestry-based. This misses the point that race – even the word itself – has been constructed as a concept and is defined by society.
People across different societies think about race in different terms. In the United States, it has been historically true for a person to be seen as “black” if they had any African ancestry, in Brazil, alternatively, a person is not “black” if they have any European ancestry.

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So “black” refers to different people in different contexts, with little consistent genetic basis for that. In fact, one does not have to go to great lengths to see that the American view of race is still connected to the one-drop rule and historical race-purity obsession based on pseudoscience.
Of course, it is understandable that the idea of people declaring themselves transracial can seem offensive in light of the fact that race has long been an externally imposed classification.
With that said, people’s racially identity is statistically correlated with their ancestry. But even in so, “race” doesn’t equal “ancestry”. How people identify also largely depends on other aspects of their life: their age, gender and their upbringing, and the people that make up their social circle.
The second argument that has been put forward to discredit Rachel’s claims is that she can’t be black (or anything other than white for that matter) if she hasn’t experienced the discrimination and hasn’t suffered from racism. While Rachel had lived in her identity for over five years before being “outed”, I suppose the argument would refer to somebody who has recently adopted a new identity, hence hasn’t experience the negatives that come with it.
Is this logic then implying that you can’t be part of a minority or marginalized group without experiencing bigotry or abuse? In other words – Am I still a girl if I haven’t been denied an opportunity because of my gender? This argument simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
A similar, but more nuanced, criticism revolves along the lines of, “But she has white privilege which she can go back to”. This assumes that the person ever had that privilege. I do not mean to conflate race and gender , but a similar argument, if applied to the transgender people, fails completely, as a person’s gender identity is not necessarily based on their biology.
I can, however, understand part of the reason why some people think that Rachel exercises white privilege by switching into the black racial category, as this opportunity would not be afforded if the switch was from “black” to “white”. But this argument is not good enough to dismiss the possibility of the existence of transracialism as an identity.
When Rachel went on The Real, one of the show’s hosts told her, “But you weren’t born black.” Which then forced her to say that, yes, she was born white, sending waves of glee through the audience who clapped and cheered.
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Though transition to a different identity is often accepted in the Western society, and really, in many other societies as well. For instance, Cossacks, a self-governing entity of people located in Ukraine. While 140,000 people view themselves as part of this ethnic unit, over 3 million people associate themselves with the Cossack identity in Europe and around the world. Many choose to be initiated as Cossacks, especially if there is a large Cossack population in the area. Similarly, one can choose to convert to Judaism if they strongly identify with the Jewish community. People who wish to do that need to do their homework first: attending classes, learning the history and scripture. Only then are they granted a permission to transition.
This leads me to my next point – by no means is self-identification enough to be the arbiter of identity. How a person identifies is not enough, what is needed is for any given group to be willing to recognize that individual’s sense of identity by granting that person membership in the group. So you have to be seriously committed in your convictions and desires, as Rachel, most definitely has been throughout the years.
She has led many Black Lives Matter protests, spoken out on many civil rights issues, received a justice award, she has taught Africana studies and took on a leadership role at the NAACP.
That in itself causes outrage among many as she has “lied” about who she is. But ultimately no one can say that the way a person feels is fraudulent. Nor can anyone tell another person how to self-identify.

The common arguments against transracialism fail, as there is little logically coherent reason to reject it as a legitimate identity.

Watching the Weinstein Movies in 2018

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Watching movies after the Weinstein secret has been exposed is a surreal experience.

You come across them online. You see suggestions pop up at the bottom of the tab and you click to find out what they are about. The titles sound interesting and they have these seemingly great plotlines and, for the most part, amazing reviews. So you watch.

But then amid the sunlit scenes of the Midwestern countryside or among the big city skyscrapers, you see, “Weinstein Company” splattered across the screen. And then they credit the executive producers, all male names, Weinstein among them. And the way you view the movie changes.

You see, what you would have otherwise perceived as an opinion you don’t agree with but that is nonetheless worthy of being voiced, now turns into something scary and monstrous. You see it as part of an evil plan devised to permit the culture in the image of those people who have undermined, disrespected and abused women in a systematic fashion decade after decade.

It blows my mind that nobody objected to the messages they put in their movies. That the mass public consumed them and adopted them as part of our routine lives.

Consider August: Osage County, there you hear the following conversation play out in a total no-big-deal, all-girls-talk way:

IVY: You’re beautiful, Mom.

VIOLET: I was beautiful. Not anymore.

IVY: You’re still beautiful.

VIOLET: One of those lies we tell to give us comfort. Women are beautiful when they’re young and not after. Men can still preserve their sex appeal into old age. Not those men like you see with shorts and those little purses around their waists. Some men can maintain a weary masculinity. Women just get old and fat and wrinkly.

MATTIE FAE: I beg your pardon?

VIOLET: Think about the last time you went to the mall and saw some sweet little gal and thought she’s a cute trick. What makes her that way? Taut skin, firm boobs, an ass above her knees.

MATTIE FAE: I’m still very sexy, thank you very much.

VIOLET: You’re about as sexy as a wet cardboard box, Mattie Fae, you and me both. Look, wouldn’t we be better off if we stopped lying about these things and told the truth? Women aren’t sexy when they’re old. I can live with that. Can you live with that?

MATTIE FAE: What about Sophia Loren? What about Lena Horne? She stayed sexy till she was eighty. Violet finds something else in the closet for Ivy to try.

VIOLET: The world is round. Get over it. Now try this dress on.

This. Is. Just. A. Drop. In. The. Sea.

How many messages like this one have been put out there for us? How much of it have we been exposed to and played down, and laughed off, and internalized, without even realizing?

Women, whether they are in the public eye because they are newscasters, writers, politicians, doctors, you-name-it, are always judged on their looks, as if that’s more important than everything else. Men in the public eye are allowed to look older, or fatter, or shorter, or hairier that the ‘ideal’ male model. Men can be themselves, but women have to be a sexier version of themselves.

How many girls have been forced into this toxic way of thinking, of worrying about their bodies. How many fell into this trap? Because – make no mistake – it is a trap. It’s one big trick that has been used to keep us quiet, unhappy, under-confident, unworthy, and has prevented us from being what we want to be and doing what we want to do. The people who try to perpetuate this state of affairs – it’s a profitable status quo for them. And they get all the power. “Nothing tastes better than skinny feels”. Nobody is selling that same bullshit to men. “Hey guys, nothing is as fun as ironing! Really! Try it! Have a hike? Okay then.” Girls on the other hand start worrying about looks before they know what “body image pressure” even stands for. We learn to worry about our bodies early on. By the age of ten at least 80 percent have tried to lose weight. It is so much a part of our reality that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, where it is considered a “girly” thing to do.

But you know what? It is not fucking normal. And it is not “part of being a girl”. The world portrays it that way. None of these ideas come from inside us. They come from these movies, and the media, and the people behind them.

How terrifying is realizing that we all, everyone, have heard and seen this poisonous message that has been woven into our entertainment and society? What is even worse is considering what else is out there that hasn’t been rightly challenged. I don’t know what is scarier: what we know or what we don’t realize we know.

Going back to the movies I have watched I find this same narrative underlying them. But at least now we know the truth. And we can call out the bullshit. Because it is pretty much the most rebellious thing you can do – being yourself when the world screams at you that you shouldn’t.

Virgin Suicides – Movie Review

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If you have never seen the movie Virgin Suicides you probably have heard of it before. The name is captivating, it definitely stays in your memory even if you have no idea what the movie is: a drama? a comedy? maybe a thriller? I can see that. In fact, I had come across the movie about a dozen times but avoided watching it for ages because I anticipated some gory blood fest or a melancholic picture with no substance. But when I finally mastered the courage to give a try it turned out to be something completely different.
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Virgin Suicides is incredibly cinematically beautiful and it manages to capture the spirit of youth and communicates an almost palpable feeling of teenagehood.
The movie tells the story of the Lisbon sisters. Five of them live in the suburban utopia of Michigan. Their parents are religious and are also perfect displays of gender roles: the father is a teacher and the mother is a housewife. The Lisbon girls are an object of admiration and fascination of the neighborhood boys. In fact, the boys are the ones relating the story which makes it so much more interesting because we never really get to see what goes on inside the Lisbon house or see things from the girls’ perspective.
One way of another, the girls kill themselves over the course of the year. It starts with the youngest sister: Cecilia. She attempts to end her life but fails and makes a recovery. The girls’ lives go back to normal after that. Cecilia eventually repeats her suicide attempt and this time succeeds. The other four sisters kill themselves in different ways months later, but on the same day.
The question of why they do it is at the center of both the movie and the book it is based on. And neither gives you a direct answer. I was completely baffled after I first watched Virgin Suicides because I couldn’t understand their motives whatsoever. I had to go back and look really closely, read the book, and then the script, and then watch the movie again and then it hit me.
SO let’s break it down.
The Lisbon sisters represent the struggle of being young and female in today’s society. At the ages of 13-17, they are all suddenly faced with societal expectations of what they SHOULD be. On the one hand, there is their family. Their parents impose strict rules on them (mostly religious-based), force then into uniform molds. For instance, the girls pick their dresses at the mall and Mrs. Lisbon makes these dresses look as similar as possible, covering up every part of their body so that the dresses that they pick end up looking like drapes wrapped around their bodies. The girls’ interests, ideas, personalities, dreams and expectations are completely suffocated: they aren’t allowed to socialize with many people, let alone boys, what they watch, read and do is monitored at all times to make sure there is nothing improper going on.
Then the outside world (here represented by other adults, neighbors and so on) treats the Lisbon girls like tokens, not seeing them as individuals but as source of entertainment. We see it in the gossiping, and the news reports.
The other party are the boys themselves, the ones who are telling the story, and the males of the world in general. They view them as sexual objects, forever mysterious puzzles that are ultimately fascinating because of their youth and beauty. The boys deny them their humanity as well. One stark example of that is when the boys are reading Cecilia’s diary, which contains the most matter-of-fact, dry entries like “we had pasta for dinner”, “Lux and I went whale-watching”. Having read that, however, the boys proclaim, “What we have here is a dreamer.” It doesn’t matter that it contradicts reality and doesn’t describe Cecilia at all. All they are able to see is the image of the girls they have come up with, their inner world is unknown to them and they make no attempt to fix it. When they call the girls on the phone they end up playing records for them, instead of talking, which proves their inability to communicate with them, the desire to keep things on the surface.
Ultimately, the girls are being torn apart in two directions: they have to either be pure or be sexual objects for the world. And because they don’t want to be either, they decide not to participate in this and kill themselves, not letting either side win.
“Don’t let it die a virgin,” says one of the boys about a cloud of smoke. I feel like that is very representative of this dual struggle.
Girls killing themselves somehow shatters societal expectations about what girls are supposed to do and to be in this world. For each one of them, their suicide is an act of protest and self-actualization, which is why they all do it in different ways.
Cecilia, the youngest of them, at the age of 13 comes face to face with this reality of being a young girl in the world and having realized it, is the first one who attempts to kill herself. “You don’t even know how hard life gets,” says the doctor at the hospital to her, shaking his head. “Well, doctor, you’ve obviously never been a thirteen-year-old girl,” Cecilia answers.
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Following that, the parents decide to go easier on the girls and throw Cecilia a party, inviting the neighborhood boys. Cecilia’s wrists are covered by about 50 bracelets, her prerequisite sack-like dress is ready and she is expected to have the time of her life. When she says that she wants to leave her mother tells her that they will have fun without her then. Every decision Cecilia makes is disputed, and she is made to feel like there is something wrong with her, deprived of her freedom. Which is why she goes upstairs to her room and jumps out the window.
After that happens, the girls go back to school and are subjected to an even higher level of scrutiny and speculation.
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They are allowed to go to the school ball thanks to the second youngers of the Lisbon sisters who has a crush on Trip, the coolest boy at school. They are expected home by the curfew, but Lux decides to break the rules for once and doesn’t go back that night. She and Trip end up having sex on a football field. She deems herself in love. But for Trip, all of his interest in her dissolves in the air after that. He leaves right after. Here’s what he recounts, “I walked home alone that night. I didn’t care how she got home – it was weird. I mean I liked her, I liked her a lot. But out there on the field – it was just different. It was the last time I saw her.”
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After, Lux, probably confused and heartbroken, comes back home, where she is faced by the fire and fury from her parents. They make her destroy all of her rock records: burn them. And she does, while breathing in the fumes and crying. All of the girls are taken out of school following the incident and are prevented from communicating with the outside world.
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The boys (through whose eyes we see the story) keep tabs on the Lisbon house and see Lux with different men on the roof of the house every other night.
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It is not hard to imagine the desperation and absolute numbness she must have felt towards the world. Trying to find a way to express herself, to reach any kind of freedom, she was locked away and punished for being human and a girl.
As an ultimate act of rebellion against all of the bullshit imposed onto them, the Lisbon sisters invite the boys to “rescue” them one night. They arrive to find the house filled with bodies. Lux is the last one to go: she dies smoking a cigarette in a garage with the car engine running.
The elm trees in Virgin Suicides are a perfect metaphor for what happens with the girls. The neighborhood where the Lisbons and the narrators live is attacked by blight so all the elms are dying. One by one the trees are cut down by the Parks Department. Most families come out to watch the cutting, instead of attempting to help them, they decide to eradicate them to prevent the disease from spreading. Similarly,he girls are avoided after Cecilia’s death and shut away from everyone in their house, where they further buy into the idea that there is something wrong with them.
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When the men come to cut the tree, the girls run across the lawn and, holding hands, surround the tree. They argue with them to leave the tree to survive or die on its own, they argue that the tree won’t necessarily die.
Elm Disease is really contagious too. It can pass from a sick tree to another, which is why the Parks Department wants to take down the Lisbons’ tree—to protect the others. This mirrors how the neighbors view Cecilia’s suicide: contagious in some strange way. And After the rest of the girls die, they believe that Cecilia’s death caused the other girls’ suicides.
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The Relationship Between Ireland and Britain – outsider perspective

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Coming to study to Ireland I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what country Ireland was and what its relationship with the UK was like. And while I viewed Ireland as an independent entity, there wasn’t a partition in my mind between Ireland and Britain. At the most intuitive level I believed that Ireland was part of the UK “family”. Boy was I wrong.
The illusion started to get shattered a few days into my stay. Looking back and reflecting, I am very glad that I decided to take a module called “Understanding the Irish” as an elective. Right away I was faced with the reality: Ireland is not Britain, the Irish are not the British. It sounds quite simple but as the lessons went on a whole history and the layers of complexity of the two nations’ relationship unraveled before me. And at first I found it all a little bit silly. I felt an odd mixture of surprise and amusement as if the Irish were simply indulging into the differences between the two. As an uninitiated observer I wondered, “What on Earth is their problem?”
But as time went on and I learned more about the context of the relationship and the painful history, I realized the significance of acknowledging Ireland’s individuality and not conflating the two countries (ever!).
The truth that is often overlooked is that there is very real history of oppression of Ireland by Britain. And for some it is a matter of dispute, but once you have looked at the facts, it is clear that we are talking about colonialism. Britain forced itself onto Ireland and subjected it to centuries of exploitation and cruelty, diminishing Irish people economically, socially, psychologically and quite literally: murdering millions of innocent people over the course of the years.
There are many striking examples of that: millions of Irish people driven out of their homes by British landlords, the absolutely shocking indifference to the Great Famine by the crown which led to the demise of over half of the Irish population and possibly eradicated the Irish language. Many historians would conflate that with a genocide.
But that was ages ago, why don’t we just forget it? After all, Easter Rising happened in 1916, didn’t it? Yes. However, it would be complete madness to say that Ireland became free from British aggression from then on. What about the Black and Tans, the state-sponsored terrorism, people being thrown into prisons without evidence, lines of heavily armed policemen? What about that?
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Makes one conscious of their nationality I’d say.
The legacy of colonialism has a long reach. It has influenced Ireland in many profound and subtle ways. It instilled an inferiority complex into the Irish which might be slowly lifting. But in many people’s minds the British and the world in general are looking down on them.
True, the Good Friday agreement has improved the relations between the two countries over the past 19 years or so, but isn’t it a bit dismissive to suggest the Irish “get over the 800 years of oppression thing”?
Living in Ireland has made me understand the pain that the past has enshrined in the country. I have gotten a glimpse of this perspective, but I can only imagine what it must be like for the people who have spent their lives here. Can we honestly dismiss their narratives, their experiences and history, let alone their feelings?
Brexit has amplified these feelings. And with the meddling over the hard border, all at once the familiar panic has come to the surface and blew subtlety out the window. It remains to be seen what the negotiations lead to since nothing has been finalized. But I must say that it angers me greatly when I hear people rationalizing on the topic of the border: hmm is it good for the economy? is it going to facilitate illegal immigration? And overlooking or not noticing the bigger issue: that thousands of people died in the Troubles over the border and that it’s more than just a fence. If you so much as reintroduce customs control, you risk going back to the time of an ethno-nationalist guerrilla war, and bombings, and peace treaties, and broken promises.

White Girl the movie

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It’s very rare that you come across a new movie that’s really good. You know the feeling that comes with it. You can’t believe your luck and wonder how come you’d never heard about it before. So I’m going to spread the word and share this with you: White Girl, a directorial debut of Elizabeth Wood, is a masterpiece.
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Leah is a young white girl who moves to The Big City with her friend to start college. Leah has a summer internship at a trendy company downtown. Leah meets Blue, a Puerto Rican guy, and starts dating him. He happens to sell drugs. Leah likes to have fun. Things spin out of control. But “White Girl” isn’t just a “kids gone wild” type of a movie. It is filled with ethical, human and moralistic questions over the lead character’s often reckless behavior – it’s much more than just a cautionary tale party film.
One of the things I loved about it from the very beginning was the fact that the movie is not trying to present Leah as an innocent little girl. She is shown just the way she is from the start: ignorant, spoilt, and frivolous. Does the fact that she has been sheltered from the real world, blissfully unaware of the injustices faces by others make her innocent? No, because she is not exempt from being human. And part of the human experience is compassion, compassion that stems from awareness. Which she simply doesn’t have: she is absolutely free from any awareness of others or self-awareness. What’s worse: it doesn’t bother her one bit, not as long as she can enjoy her life. She bounces off from one bright shiny thing that captures her attention to the next, without the slightest concern about the consequences for the people around her or herself. She has never faced consequences. The reason? She has always been able to walk away clean from everything. “It will all turn out alright, it always does,” says Leah. But this doesn’t extend to her new friends because they aren’t white.
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Elizabeth Wood demonstrates just how shockingly far Leah can push the boundaries of the acceptable and still get away unscathed.
Leah is not a victim, who is becoming corrupt by the world. Sure, she moves to New York and starts a new chapter, but it’s not like she’s flown in from another planet and experiences living for the first time. She should be conscious of what is happening, she should know, “surely she must know,” I kept telling myself, that not everybody is given the benefit of the doubt, that not everybody gets the opportunities she gets, but she doesn’t. Leah doesn’t realize. The worse the situation gets, the less in touch she seems to become with the simple reality: she is the culprit, she brings it all upon herself and others. I think it is a groundbreaking and yet a really subtle point that is being made in the movie: Leah is just as much part of the problem as the non-white people who are more publically accepted as the root cause of the issues like drug dealing. The onus for not knowing (or choosing to ignore) the complexities that exist in the world is on her. She doesn’t live in a bubble, she has access to news, media, etc, she communicates with people, then, “Why?!” I wanted to scream as I watched the movie, why does she choose to be so blissfully unaware of basically anything? By turning a blind eye to her privilege she exacerbates the already existing societal problems.
“I’m sorry! I really didn’t know,” Leah says in exasperation. “You’re sorry?” her friend asks her, disbelieving, before walking away. “I said that I am sorry!” she screams as he leaves.
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In a way, White Girl bears a lot in common with Havoc, playing on the theme of rich white kids looking for adventure and fun on the “dark side”. But in Havoc the premise is a little more straight-forward. Two affluent girls from LA suburbs are bored with their lives where everything is safe and predictable and their fascination with the hip-pop culture leads them to venture out “downtown” to get a taste of the gangsta lifestyle. In a way it is really symbolic: how they appropriate music, clothes and vernacular just as easily as the lifestyle of the East L.A. gang. For them it is just something to try on, a game to pass the time.
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As the main protagonist of Havoc, Allison, says, “There’s a whole different world down there!” ”There’s a monetary zone of geography which we are not allowed to pass,” her friend echoes. See, the difference is that Allison has some kind of a semblance of a realization that the world she lives in and the world other people live in, differ, whereas Leah is unaware of that, completely numb to the idea that her experience isn’t universal.
This is what makes White Girl so fascinating: it elevates everything to another level, creating an individual who is the physical manifestation of everything that is wrong with our society in the process. It’s a stark portrayal of white privilege: white privilege on steroids, taken to the extreme.
Another difference from Havoc is that in White Girl, Leah isn’t looking for an adrenaline rush like the kids in Havoc, she is just going with the flow, simply letting life take her in any direction. This isn’t some well-thought-out plan on her part, she is doing things on a whim. “It will all turn out alright, it always does.”
In White Girl the motives of the main character are ambiguous, hazy. Perhaps because Leah herself is meant to be ambiguous, representing an entire generation of white girls. We don’t know what goes on in her head. At times it’s simply stunning: the sheer stupidity (or spontaneity) of her words and actions. So I can’t help but wonder if anything goes on in her mind at all, anything but a whirlwind of observations of what is going on with her in the moment, since her attention span is that of jellyfish and, as I said before, her awareness ends at the tip of her nose.
Another thing about Leah is that she is utterly blank. And not in a way an underdeveloped character is – no, we do get to see her as an individual, her life, everything about her. But she just doesn’t know what she stands for, she never had to figure it out, what for? “What do you study?” she is asked. “Liberal arts and writing, for now,” is her answer, “for now” being the key part. It doesn’t really matter what she studies or where she goes because her privilege comes with her. Leah doesn’t have anything to say to the world. “You guys! You guys!” she screams off of a stage and pauses for a split second once she has everyone’s attention with a lost look on her face. “Let’s all do a bump!” she recoups.
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The movie could have gotten away with showing off Leah and wrapping things up, it still would have deserved high praise, but it dug much deeper. All the characters first present themselves as real people: people you would see in the office, on the street, passing by, and you wouldn’t think much of them. They seem to perfectly fit in their roles, carrying out their tasks, living up to the prerequisite clichés. But it doesn’t take long for the ugly, maddening truth about who they really are to bubble up to the surface in a way that leaves you speechless and disbelieving. In some odd manner, those revelations are exciting and make for great plot twists, but then you have to give yourself a mental pinch to come to your senses and realize the sheer horror that their acts, however small, entail. As one of the reviews has said, “It’s a fucked-up nightmare dressed as a party.”
I’ve heard many people call White Girl shocking, but it hardly is. What is really shocking is that it doesn’t create anything new, all it does is summon up and piece together everything that has already happened, everything that goes on in the world today. Bringing it all together and giving us a good look, it poses a question, “Where do we go from here?”
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Ireland and #repealthe8th.

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Ireland seems to be at a tipping point on the issue of abortion. The government has announced a referendum that will take place in the summer of 2018 and will determine whether or not Ireland will change its anti-abortion law and amend the constitution which, as of today, equates the life of the woman and the unborn child. The exact wording of the referendum question is still unclear and the changes proposed will have been agreed on by the end of the year.
In 1861 abortion became illegal in Ireland and that law has remained in place. It was further strengthened by the 1983 referendum which guaranteed an equal right to life to the unborn child and the woman.
Ireland’s decision to hold a referendum is a direct result of the report which was issued by the Citizens’ Assembly. Notably, the Human Rights experts described Ireland’s current anti-abortion law as subjecting women to “discrimination and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” The group called for unrestricted abortion access. But it’s unclear to what extent the government will adopt the Assembly’s recommendations when it drafts the referendum. Many don’t think this recommendation would pass in the parliament, let alone in a referendum, in part because in Ireland the public opinion on abortion has long been influenced by the Roman Catholic Church – it has been strongly backing the anti-abortion agenda.
A cause of concern is great uncertainty when it comes to public opinion. The Dublin March for Choice, which gathered tens of thousands of people, is evidence of the change in viewpoints of the Irish, who no longer tie their every opinion to religion.
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But there is no doubt that Ireland’s Catholic history and the strength of the Catholic Church has had an influence on the relationship to women’s reproductive rights. Ireland remains a predominantly Catholic country. However, according to a 2016 census the total number of people identifying as Catholic has fallen by 132,200 in the past five years. And it is visible that the extent to which the religion’s beliefs and practices govern Irish society has undergone a shift. This can be attributed to the weakening of the status of the Church after the revelations of clerical child abuse came to light in the 1990s. This shift was marked by a number of milestones which some view as proof of the adoption of more liberal values in Ireland: from the 2015 referendum legalizing same-sex marriage, to the election of Varadkar, the county’s first openly gay premier. And while there is a sense that with progress comes other progress, the Church has been standing firmly in the way of introducing any pro-choice legislation.
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Catholics in Ireland and elsewhere should, of course, be allowed to follow their convictions in this area, but surely should the rest of the people.
There is a growing social movement in Ireland as a younger, bolder pro-choice generation emerges and is now demanding more radical measures. But the opposition has been energized to respond as well. Youth defense is one of the many anti-abortion groups, most famous for regularly displaying enlarged poster images of aborted fetuses at stalls and demonstrations around the country. They also run national road shows, conferences, nationwide billboard campaigns and schools programs.
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Living up to her surname, Cora Sherlock, a spokeswoman for the Pro Life Campaign, wrote “Once you start changing the Eighth Amendment at all—if you start removing any part of it or changing any of the words…Over time it would lead us to a situation where we would have abortion on wide-ranging grounds. That is what has happened in every other country in the world, and there is no reason to think that Ireland would be any different.”
But just because abortion is illegal in Ireland doesn’t mean it isn’t already part of the Irish reality. According to the British Department of Statistics over 150,000 Irish women travelled to Britain to access safe abortions between 1980 and 2011, just like women did in the 70s on the famous ‘contraceptive train’ to obtain contraceptives. This outsourcing of abortions has been inadvertently brought about by the 1992 ‘X case’, when a fourteen-year-old who had been raped got prevented from leaving the country to travel to the U.K. for an abortion. The debates that were sparked in the wake of the ‘X case’ and the street protests that followed prompted the referendum which allowed for travel with the purpose of obtaining abortion. Women who travel for this reason are not prosecuted on coming back. Granted, those who can’t travel for financial or other reasons, resort to other measures which often involve dangerous, backstreet procedures.
But unfortunately it wasn’t the last episode in the Irish politics of birth.
In 2012, Savita Halappanavar was denied an abortion even though she was having a miscarriage and a termination would have been a proper medical response. “Ireland is a catholic country” was the response to the request, allegedly. The woman died of septicemia: a painful death that involved an infection and multiple-organ failure. Her death brought the issue of abortion in Ireland to light. On the one hand, many were calling for a legislation that would challenge the equal weight assigned to the life of a pregnant woman and an unborn child by the 1983 referendum. On the other, the pro-life side, the conviction to stand in opposition to abortion legislation grew stronger.
Nevertheless, with the combined outrage from within the country and the pressure from the European community, the Irish government had to address the issue: plans to make abortion legal under certain circumstances were announced in 2012 and a 2013 law made abortions legal only in the cases where they were necessary to save the life of the woman (when she is ill or suicidal). Abortion is still prohibited in all other cases, even when there is rape, incest, or severe fetal abnormality involved.
Historically in Ireland there in strong correlation between birth and nation, with the unspoken rule that Irish women act as carriers of the nation’s culture. This can be traced back to the 1943 speech made by Éamon de Valera, then prime minister of Ireland, in which he talked about his vision of Ireland as a land where “villages would be joyous with…the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age.” More palpable evidence is ingrained within the Irish constitution itself: the infamous article 41.2 states that women’s place is confined to the home. It reads: “The State recognizes that that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties within the home.” Needless to say, the clause is based on a slave conception of women as creatures incapable of doing anything remotely worthy of recognition outside of the home. And while this patronizing restriction on women’s freedoms may not be actively enforced in practice, it not-so-subtly implies that “life within the home” is the best option for women, it stresses their “duties”, but never mentions the duties of the men. Furthermore, historically this clause has been used to justify tax and welfare discrimination against women. It also enabled the government to require women to resign from public office positions upon marriage.
These are the most striking examples of how patriarchy has controlled women in Ireland and made their reproduction primary purpose of their existence. A woman’s most important role was to be determined by her biology – her ability to give birth. And since reproduction plays out in a woman’s body what that means is that any woman who doesn’t embrace it as her primary identity, she is immoral, firstly, because she chooses to go against her ‘original design’, and secondly, because she is now in a position to embrace non-procreative sex.
I think that what this comes down to is trust. The trust placed in women in a patriarchal society. “Do we trust women?” is the question being asked. These concerns come from very paternalistic notions of whether or not women are to be trusted to make complex decisions for themselves, without interference from men. The same notions of intellectual capability and moral fitness apply as well. Women are trusted to have children, to drive, to go to war, but somehow can’t be trusted to end a pregnancy. This rings hollow to me.
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