Today's reading/watching log is brought to you by the number two. There's two of everything. Two books by Isobelle Carmody, two by Pat Walsh and two by Joanne Harris. There are two books about the cultural impact the Disney Princess franchise has on young minds. Two movies starring Amanda Siegfried (which was a total coincidence). Two Disney movies with a black female protagonist. Two shows with a female lead, and two more that start with the letter B. Okay, now I'm pushing it.
Every now and then you feel the desire to celebrate mediocracy, and how better than to watch the leather-clad vampire franchise with the half-baked Romeo and Juliet subplot and the convoluted-to-the-point-of-incomprehensible backstory?
In all fairness, it's not a bad setup. Underworld has an eternal battle between vampires and werewolves, a female protagonist, a forbidden love story, Matrix-style fights, and a distinctive quasi-noir atmosphere in which everything is awash in a gloomy blue tint. All the pieces are in place for a stylish if not inventive franchise.
But if we're being honest: it's not very good. The mythology is garbled, the fight scenes are unexciting (what's the point of having preternatural creatures if you just arm them with guns?) and the characters utterly one-dimensional. Selene? I couldn't tell you three things about her.
Like I said: mediocre. But sometimes you just want to switch your brain off and watch attractive people in cat suits deliver ridiculous lines with a straight face while British thespians chew the scenery around them. In which case, these are the movies for you.
It's not difficult to see what this giraffe's design was inspired by: the influx of signs and cones that filled the city after the quake, marking out dangerous areas and alternative routes. (Fun fact: the city of Christchurch actually ran out of orange traffic cones and had to have them shipped in from elsewhere).
Titled Safety First and designed by Justine Ottey, this giraffe was positioned (as you can see below) in sight of some of the very symbols that adorn its back and legs. As depressing as it sounds, many remain there over five years later, but for a little while at least this giraffe managed to turn most of them into a work of art.
My favourite detail would have to be turning the giraffe's neck into a crane, and the tiny traffic markers that have been fashioned from its ossicones (I had to look that word up – you learn something new every day!)
It's been quiet around here this month, though not for any particular reason. The shows I write about are on hiatus, and I'm in a bit of a slump when it comes to writing any other type of article (I've plenty of half-written drafts, though).
So I'm taking the easy option and talking about stuff I've seen on the internet recently! You should all know what's going to be first on this list...
Sometimes these entries chose themselves, and with the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking place this year on the 10th March, it was inevitable that she'd be our Woman of the Month. That said, I did reflect for a while on whether to choose Buffy or one of the many, many other great female characters that populated the show and its spin-off.
But it had to be Buffy. It's only recently that I've realized just how important she was, both on a personal level and as a pop culture icon.
There were three great feminist role models of the Nineties: Xena Warrior Princess, Agent Dana Scully and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each broadly filling the roles of brawn, brains and beauty. (Obviously this is a huge generalization and does a disservice to the depth of their characters, but bear with me...) If Xena was played by Lucy Lawless with all the masculine characteristics typically found in an alpha male hero (confidence, authority, swagger), and Scully written as a cool intellect who filled the unusual niche of being the more rational thinker to an intuitive male (it's easy to forget that this was an astounding gender flip back in the Nineties) then Buffy captures a very different type of duality: preternatural strength within a seemingly harmless feminine exterior.
The genesis of the character is well documented: Joss Whedon was watching a horror movie involving a blonde wandering into a dark alley, and began pondering what it would be like if such a character was the story's hero and not its victim. And so Buffy was born: blonde, petite and seemingly vulnerable, but endowed with super-strength and chosen to fight the forces of evil.
It's worth saying that Buffy was also a lot younger than Xena and Scully, lending her a vulnerability that offset her physical prowess. At the start of the show she's only sixteen years old, more worried about fitting in at her new school and making friends than the threat of any dark forces that might be brewing – which is well in keeping with the show's early theme of "high school is hell – literally".
But what made Buffy special was the way she subverted the rules that surrounded her, even as she herself was a subversion of the stereotypical ditzy blonde. Unlike past Slayers, who fought and died alone, Buffy insisted on a strong support system of friends and family that protected her both emotionally and physically, rejecting the "she alone" part of the mantra that defined the Slayers up till that point. She had her own moral compass and she stuck to it, reaching out to social misfits, broken delinquents and even the occasional ensouled vampire – offering compassion just as often as she dealt out death.
This duality was the cornerstone of her character: here was a girl who could be tough-as-nails and soft and feminine, who was self-sufficient and sarcastic in the face of supernatural evil, but needed others to help her through the dark night of the soul. As she grew into a young woman over the course of seven years she made her fair share of mistakes, but the end of her story is its beginning: once again she found a way to transcend the rules and share her true gift (compassion, imagination, inner strength) with others.