Essays, Feminism, Humor, Pop Culture

LOL: I Received Death Threats For Saying I Don’t Think Shailene Woodley is a Good Actress

Before I get into the details of the title of this post, I’d like to apologize for my near month-long hiatus from the Sauce. I’ve been getting back into the swing of school, trying to become a legitimate adult who doesn’t smoke weed every day and does laundry on a regular basis, and spending quality time with my boyfriend, friends and family without checking social media every minute. Oh, and I cut off about eight inches of my hair and bleached the ends, and I am LOVING it—but more on that another time. I’ve been meaning to let my readers in on the fact that I consider myself a writer first and a stylist second. I’ve been meaning to write more essays about pop culture and feminism on the blog, and last night presented the perfect opportunity to start.

A while back, some journalist or whatever (it’s a loose term these days) asked 22-year-old actress Shailene Woodley if she identifies as a feminist. It’s something the media wants every woman in the public eye to address right now—not because it’s a crucial topic, but more often because, in a disgrace to the idea of feminism itself, it has, in many ways, become a misguided trend that certain people carry around like a handbag. Don’t get me wrong; society has made some incredible feminist progress lately, but there are also many people who don’t actually know what feminism means (cough, cough, Rhianna) and who seem to say “I’m a feminist!” the same way they might say “I’m wearing Valentino!” Shailene Woodley is not one of those people. Her response to the question was basically that she does not identify as a feminist because she doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to suggest that women are superior to men. Clearly, Woodley was a little confused on the topic, and the media consequently pounced on the opportunity to shame her for this, which bothered me. For one thing, Woodley is quite young—a year younger than myself—and, given that she’s starred in a new movie just about every hour for several years now, I think it’s safe to say she hasn’t had time to take a Women’s Studies course, which is where I came to comprehend the true meaning of feminism, a mere year before the dialogue on feminist issues became the lively, ubiquitous one it is today. Without the luxury of taking that course on gender-related social conflict (a subject that should be required of all liberal arts programs), I’m not so sure my response would have been any better informed than Woodley’s. Secondly, Shailene Woodley is an actress: it isn’t exactly her job to talk about social/political issues or to explain the concept of feminism to the rest of us, and even though her level of celebrity comes with a certain level of responsibility, I still don’t think it was right for her to be cornered or criticized in this way. I also happen to think she’s not a very good actress.

I must admit, I can be a film and television snob. I have my guilty pleasures, but for the most part, I’m picky and critical when it comes to film. Film and television are two of my foremost passions, perhaps in part because dialogue is my favorite component of writing. I literally watch a full movie almost every day, and I’ve gone out of my way to study the subject formally even though I am an English Literature major (Boston University offers some wonderful film/lit combo courses), so I’ve been trained to hold all aspects of film, including actor performances, to a certain standard. I should state that I do understand movies should be judged for what they are: not every movie is made to be an Oscar-worthy, meaningful masterpiece; in fact, most movies simply serve to entertain a specific demographic, but, in my opinion, that shouldn’t affect an actor’s drive to convey their characters authentically. Before I say anything about Woodley’s acting ability, I should also confess that I haven’t seen The Descendants (2011), which was Woodley’s breakout, critically acclaimed movie, nor have I seen this year’s blockbuster Divergent, because, you know, I’m not in high school. (See? I can be a snob.) I did, however, recently watch Woodley’s movies The Spectacular Now (2013), The Fault in Our Stars (2014), and White Bird in a Blizzard (2014), all of which are based on successful young adult novels, and I feel strongly that Woodley’s performances in all three were weak, synthetic, forced, and mechanical. Woodley wasn’t my only problem with these movies. I thought The Spectacular Now was a flat-noted rip-off of an iconic movie called Say Anything (1989). Maybe you’ve heard of it? I also thought Woodley received a little too much applause when she cut her hair for her role as a cancer patient in The Fault in Our Stars, based on the novel by John Greene (which I happened to enjoy). She’s not the first actor to alter her appearance for a role, but she is the only one I can think of whose “team” felt compelled to share a tearful video of the transformation, and, you know, there are actual people with cancer who don’t get paid millions to lose their hair. Anyway, while the book made me cry, the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars made me cringe. Plenty of filmmakers have managed to gracefully incorporate today’s technology into their movies, while the masterminds behind The Fault in Our Stars decided the best way to depict teen-texting in a tale of complex love and intense loss would be…animation? As for Woodley, she can’t be blamed for that flaw, but I felt she made the character seem a bit too apathetic, although perhaps this was her subconscious reaction to her costar Ansel Elgort’s painfully cheesy performance (—acting is reacting!!!). The trailer for White Bird in a Blizzard promised a suspenseful and unique coming of age story, but it’s actually just another movie that perpetuates the notion that husbands “walk out” on their families, while wives “disappear.” (Let us always keep in mind that both men and women are victims of gender stereotyping.) Not to mention, it’s a total bore. The entire movie seems to avoid its own plot (that Woodley’s character’s mother has mysteriously vanished), and is mostly comprised of Woodley and Gabourey Sidibe taking swigs of vodka and having cliché conversations about loss of virginity, as if it is the single most important goal a girl will encounter. The way Woodley and Sidibe read their lines is reminiscent of a high school play, but not of high school itself. Neither Woodley nor I was 17 years old so long ago, and yet, based on her performances in these movies, you’d think she has no memory of that chapter in her life. Well, maybe she doesn’t; after all, she’s been playing the role of an adolescent girl on-screen since 2008, so it’s possible that she never really got to be one. Either way, if an actress takes on a role, I expect her to fulfill it, and I feel that Woodley repeatedly misses the mark. And I know you might think that I’m pompously over-analyzing movies meant for an age group that hasn’t fully matured, but if you compare these current hyped-up teen flicks to classics like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Mean Girls (2004), you might realize that the quality of these newer movies actually patronizes the teenage demographic.

Let me digress for a moment and explain something about myself. There are few things I value more than humor; I love fashion, but I live for laughs. In spite of my stylish social media presence, I spend most of my time in sweats, trolling Netflix, Amazon, and On Demand for fresh comedy that will make me laugh out loud. I have been watching South Park religiously since it first aired in 1997—when I was seven. I have watched almost every stand-up special (and every documentary about stand-up comedy) available on Netflix more than once. I believe that comedy helps us better understand the world and each other, and that it helps us heal. Comedy colors so much of my identity as a woman, as an American, as a person of Jewish faith, and as a human being trying to get through each day with a smile. Making people laugh makes me feel good, and as sentimental as I can be about humor, I also tend to revel in the “mean” kind of jokes that society so badly wants women to avoid. Needless to say, I adored and admired Joan Rivers, and I was devastated by her passing. Sarah Silverman, another hero of mine, put it perfectly when she wrote of Rivers, “She was 81 and she was taken too soon.”  In many ways, Joan gave me permission to be the dynamic type of woman I am today—a woman who can be fashionable and funny without feeling like a contradiction. Joan knew the importance of laughing a little at everyone, including herself. When she died, there were plenty of “haters,” if you will, who expressed bizarre happiness over the comedienne’s death, probably because Rivers had at one point made scathing, but nonetheless harmless jokes about said haters’ favorite celebrities. Part of me wanted to retaliate against those who celebrated Rivers’ death instead of her life, but if I know one thing, it’s that if there is an afterlife, Joan is somewhere laughing her ass off at those negative remarks, and blowing kisses at the people who cracked jokes about the fact that the Queen of plastic surgery died on the operating table. She would have loved that. Anyway, Joan’s particular sense of humor had a major impact on my own, and my sense of humor is something of which I’ve always been quite proud.

So, last night, after Modern Family and South Park, I decided to give Woodley another chance, and rented White Bird in a Blizzard, mostly because I really liked director Gregg Araki’s classic stoner movie Smiley Face (2007). (See? I’m only a snob to an extent.) Unfortunately, I found myself sitting through another one of Woodley’s dull portrayals of a young woman “discovering herself,” and so I tweeted, without hesitation, and perhaps in the spirit of honoring Joan Rivers, “It’s not Shailene Woodley’s job to accurately define feminism. Her job is acting. She just happens to suck at that too.” I gave myself a laugh, and didn’t give it much thought, because my tweets typically get little to no attention, and because it never occurred to me that my stance on Woodley’s performances would matter to anyone. After all, it wasn’t a comment on her character, just on the way she portrays fictional characters…No one in Twitter Land had anything to say about my two prior tweets that day: “I hate when a piece of food I really want refuses to get aboard my utensil and into my mouth. #GetInMyBelly”, and “GAP’s ‘dress normal’ campaign is giving me rage blackout. #BeAnIndividual.” My Woodley joke, however, did make some waves. Within seconds, Divergent diehards were ripping me apart. I was asked not “h8.” I was called a “wannabe hipster” and told to “go do a photo shoot with a pumpkin spice latte” (I don’t drink coffee). I was repeatedly reminded that Woodley has received close to thirty nominations for various awards, which I will admit is pretty impressive for such a young actress. However, in an era where ten films get nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture just so the Oscars will have higher ratings, and since the majority of Woodley’s nominations have come from less prestigious associations that specifically honor young actors’ performances in projects targeting the teen demographic (a Teen Choice Award isn’t exactly proof of notable talent in my book), I’m just…not convinced that she’s so exceptional. I was told, in myriad ways, to shut the fuck up. These comments made me laugh harder than my own, but then I was told that I am “the reason white people are perceived as retards”, which I found especially troubling, because I don’t think my negative opinion of a young starlet’s career to date warrants using the word retard in that ugly, derogatory manner, and because I’m not sure how or why my opinion on Woodley as a professional actress could trigger such racism. (Plus, I’m 99.9% sure that Woodley is white…so I was pretty confused about that particular person’s point.) And then a shocking number of people said they would kill me.

Everyone knows the expression that no press is bad press, and maybe that’s true. Regardless, I have to admit, receiving death threats freaked me out a little—though perhaps not as much as the incalculable spelling errors in those threats. (If you regularly spell words with numbers instead of letters, you should reevaluate your life.) Mostly, I was left thinking, What’s the big fucking deal? I realize that Shailene Woodley is the star of many popular movies based on beloved young adult novels, and that she sits front row at Miu Miu fashion shows. However, as far as I know, she hasn’t actually won any of the more high-profile awards to discredit my opinion (the operative word being opinion—there are plenty of actors with Golden Globes and Oscars under their belts whose work I also dislike); Woodley certainly isn’t making progressive feminist speeches at the U.N. that bring me to tears (for the record, I don’t think Emma Watson’s acting track record is so hot, either), and, most importantly, who the fuck threatens someone’s life for not loving an actress’s body of work? For years now, I have considered social media to be a venue for jokes, and it makes me sad that there are people out there who feel compelled to take this side of pop culture so seriously. If you consider the history of the entertainment industry, you’ll realize that criticism plays an integral role in the fun of it all—and that’s what I was doing: having fun; so I find it highly disconcerting that Woodley’s Twitter fans took such a violent approach to enjoying her work. If you love an actor/actress, do you need complete strangers to agree? Ultimately, it’s not a big deal. I realize that I have a minuscule following, and that Twitter users will be over me and onto the next apparent travesty before I even finish writing this. What does bother me is that I honestly believe that if I’d previously tweeted something about how Woodley was wrongly criticized for her misguided commentary on feminism, no one would have noticed.

If you read my blog regularly, you might remember my angry rant regarding people’s negative Facebook comments about Lena Dunham’s body, and you might be thinking to yourself that I of all people should understand how it feels to be upset by savage remarks about a celebrity one holds in high esteem. There’s a difference, though, between judging someone for their appearances, and judging someone for the quality of their work. I honestly don’t care about Shailene Woodley’s looks, the same way Dunham’s body doesn’t affect my perspective on the integrity of her career. You might also be thinking to yourself, Didn’t Joan Rivers host a weekly show called Fashion Police, on which she eviscerated various celebrities for their appearances, and aren’t I therefore being extremely hypocritical? That’s a very good question! However, Rivers never, to my knowledge, suggested that a person’s outfit choices had anything to do with talent, and I feel that many people discredit and dismiss Lena Dunham’s work simply because they find her physically unappealing. I discredited Woodley’s work solely based on her work itself. Ultimately, I’m sure Shailene Woodley is the wonderful lady her fans so ferociously insist she is, I just don’t think her talent matches the hype, and I really don’t think that’s a good reason to want me dead. And not for nothing, but you know who definitely doesn’t give a shit about my Woodley joke? The young actress who makes millions of dollars and has millions of fans (who are apparently prepared to kill to defend her honor) and sits in the front row at Miu Miu runway shows. So I don’t think Shailne Woodley is a good actress…Kill me!

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Essays, Fashion, Feminism, Humor, Pop Culture

Talking Fashion

During a recent pause my in my anthropology class, a female classmate and I got into an enthusiastic conversation about fashion—about how street style culture in Boston is definitely on the rise, and about some of our favorite designers. One of the boys in class (who, by the way, wears one dangly earring, and in my opinion has a pretty distinct sense of style) interjected to patronize us, saying, “I don’t get why anyone cares about designer labels. I rip the labels off my clothes.” (I guess he’s never considered that some underprivileged children might have worked really hard to sew those labels in. But like, what could be worse than adhering to labels!? Oh, wait—being the person who says, “I don’t adhere to labels” out loud.) I looked at him and asked, “Do you like music?” and because he is a living, breathing human, he said yes. So I explained to him that being a fan of a fashion designer is no different than being a fan of a musician (or a painter, or a writer, etc.). I explained that I wear certain labels because I appreciate their work—because it speaks to me on a personal level. If their work were to become shitty (poor in quality or simply not relevant to my personal style), I wouldn’t keep buying their stuff…the same way people reject musicians or authors or movie directors when their work goes down the toilet. A designer’s body of work is like any other artist’s, and those of us who understand fashion reference it similarly. Specific collections and eras in fashion are just like albums and eras in music, and all other artistic media. (1950s Christian Dior, “Led Zeppelin II,” 1990s Helmut Lang, Picasso’s blue period…You get it.) And I added, “Music, and all art forms, are just as superficial as fashion, and I’m amused by people who think it’s any different.” He shifted his weight awkwardly from one foot to the other and grumbled, “Well, now it’s like that…” as if the music industry was molested by its drunk uncle and then ran away with its already corrupt friend, the fashion industry, to self-destruct and destroy all our souls—as if music hasn’t had a strong superficial side since long before this kid was even born. In my opinion, mainstream music has become more about image and less about artistic integrity while fashion has strived to exponentially push creative boundaries. But because fashion is so directly linked with physical appearances, people constantly assume it’s a shallow and artless industry, and that people who take an interest in fashion are empty, superficial people. This…is bullshit, and an ironically judgmental and superficial point of view.

I was struggling in my sixth grade science class, so the teacher pulled me out of the classroom not to ask how she could help me better grasp the material, but to tell me that I was “just like Cher in Clueless” and that I viewed school as “nothing but a fashion show.” Forget the fact that everyone has a different learning style—I liked clothes, so obviously this was the source of my academic difficulty, right? It’s been ten years, and I have more than a few cute outfits to put on my résumé. And yet, there will always be people who dismiss me for loving fashion—for “caring about designer labels.” Designing clothes, constructing garments, and putting outfits together are extremely artistic, labor-intensive processes. For me, getting dressed is a liberating form of self-expression that’s actually devoid of labels—I can be a different version of myself every day. It helps me get out of bed in the morning, and I’m never going to let anyone put me down for taking joy in that.

Yes, fashion has its superficial qualities: money, intimidation, popularity, sex appeal, harsh criticism, and some other deadly sins play major roles in the whole fashion scene (not to mention the issue of manufacturing), and these aspects of the industry have presented some moral conflicts for me at times. People tend to automatically respect artistic media such as writing or what you might find in art exhibits and galleries because they expect that kind of work to represent larger moral concepts, while fashion is vilified because it presumably only represents “what’s hot right now.” However, the fact that society tells us it’s okay to spend thousands of dollars on a painting and shames those who invest in clothing is problematic—because this has caused me to ask myself, Can I be a good person if I pursue a career in fashion?; If I follow that path, am I automatically anti-feminist? I took a women’s studies course in which we read a book called The Cult of Thinness, which compared America’s obsession with weight and appearances to some of the most dangerous religious cults. The cover of the book was a photo of a fashion show finale (—judging by the nude-colored sheaths, I would venture to guess it was a Calvin Klein ’90s catwalk), and I felt a pang of guilt for knowing more than one of the models by name. I had a momentary identity crisis, and then I realized that feminism means exerting my power to pursue whatever career I want, and that I can have a positive impact on this so-called “cult.” I can remind people that fashion is an art, and encourage everyone to embrace their unique beauty and to wear what makes them happy, not what the media claims is cool. Though fashion may seem like the most exclusive club, it’s actually wildly inclusive: it’s all about celebrating the weird (i.e. that high fashion stuff that is often categorically unwearable), drawing inspiration from different cultures, uniting those cultures, and, of course, unconditional acceptance. What would the fashion industry be without the LGBT community?

There are countless movements within the fashion world to right its wrongs—more and more companies/designers are sweatshop free, make stylish plus-sized collections, and collaborate with stores like Target to offer high-end looks at affordable prices. And everyone who actually understands fashion knows that those who do buy and wear designer labels for the sake of status just don’t get it. Plus, if you’re going to attack the fashion industry for being a “cult” that pressures people into an unhealthy obsession with appearances, you might also want to examine the whole “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” thing…and if you think trends don’t play into music, movies, TV shows, and the whole “real” art scene, well, you’re pretty fucking delusional. Fashion might appear to revolve around trends and putting people down, but I’ve witnessed fashion’s power to raise spirits. I spent the last year working in fashion retail, and helping women piece together ensembles that visibly boosted their confidence was so rewarding, and definitely restored my faith in the positive nature of fashion and personal style. Ultimately, fashion is just like anything else: an exciting and contradictory combination of good and evil. Love it or hate it, fashion brings people together and makes the world a little more colorful. With that said, stay saucy my friends (and watch this quintessential scene from The Devil Wears Prada)…

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