Monthly Archives: March 2010

Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Part 2

Actress Gabourey Sidibe wowed people during the awards season, including at the Oscars, but in typical fashion, the media has decided to treat her as another kind of alien in a pretty dress. First came shockjock Howard Stern blasting that Sidibe would never get another acting role after Precious because of her size. That Sidibe has already done another movie and has a major role in a television series was of course easily discoverable to anyone on the Internet, but Stern has made his living for decades making controversial, misogynic comments for press coverage, currently to prop up his ailing sattelite radio network. Whether he’s right or not has always been irrelevant.

Then came some rinky-dink diet company hacking acacia pills offering to make Sidibe their spokesperson and help her lose that horrid weight, which the media relayed with gleeful delight. A couple weeks later, we have rumors all over the media of insiders at Vogue Magazine saying that Sidibe will never set foot into the domain of Anna Wintour, the lady who has done more to have stick aliens in pretty dresses than perhaps anyone. Apparently they were under the impression that Sidibe had any interest in appearing in Vogue at all.

Hollywood needs and has always needed heavier actors for a variety of roles, or just because that actor is damn good in the part, but the collective culture now seems to freak out whenever someone who isn’t a size 6 takes a lead role and is actually rewarded for it. Heavier male actors have it slightly better, especially if they are comic ones like the late John Candy and Kevin James, but plus size women tend to be regarded as some kind of strange fluke when they’re the ones in the spotlight. Roseanne changing the landscape of television, Camryn Manheim winning an Emmy, Jennifer Hudson an Oscar, Queen Latifah building a multi-media empire and hawking cosmetics with her skinny colleagues — these things are often greeted in the media as if they were visitations from Mars that must be puzzled over and analyzed for the hidden conspiracy. That Sidibe works on her health and weight, but regards herself as beautiful, ambitious, and strong upends the world of Botox and bulimia that is somehow supposed to be women’s chief aspiration.

As was evident in the ads in magazines, the problem has only gotten worse with young actresses finding it lucrative publicity to hook up with the fashion world, get paid to do events, market their own rags, and destroy the muscles in their arms. The culture is turning these women into aliens, while claiming women like Sidibe are the unusual outsiders. Explain that the average size for women is size 14 and the media will dutifully report it while wondering if Sidibe shouldn’t go on a liquid diet and get her stomach stapled so that she can look like poor Heidi Montag.

Long may actresses like Gabourey Sidibe continue to confound them with their alien visitations. Perhaps one day she will be joined by her slimmer colleagues who finally stand up to movie studios, fashion designers, advertisers,  and the media to say that no, they aren’t going to starve themselves anymore so that they can look like they’re dying — and ten years later, if they make it, announce that yes, they did actually have the eating disorders they always denied, like the stars on Ally McBeal. Sidibe may horrify the Howard Sterns of the world, who make their money off of pretending to be horrified, but to millions of us on the planet, she is not the one who doesn’t belong.

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OK Go Goes Again

I love these guys, both their music and their videos. Their latest video for the single This Too Shall Pass off their new album is once again taking the Net by storm. They hired an engineering firm that works with NASA and others to build their infernal machine:

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It’s Not the Age, It’s the Rejection

I was kind of amused to read a Boston Globe feature piece on author Michael Zadoorian’s second novel, The Leisure Seeker.

Seems Zadoorian had the novel rejected by 35 different agents, then found an agent who loved it and sold it to HarperCollins and got it optioned for film no less. The thrust of the article was that Zadoorian had to endure the difficulties of getting to such a fortuitous deal because The Leisure Seeker is about an elderly, dying couple who ditch their concerned kids in order to travel in a mobile home, and twenty-something agents don’t want to deal with novels about old people because publishers and the American people don’t like novels about old people, and one agent said that maybe Zadoorian should write about younger people instead.

Now I’ve got nothing against Zadoorian at all. In fact, his novel sounds terrific and I’ll definitely be checking it out and probably it will make a good movie. And it’s certainly hard enough for any fiction author to get any press coverage, so I can’t begrudge the attempt to paint the novel as an underdog that beat the odds. But the claim of rampant age discrimination in fiction publishing in the article does unfortunately ignore a lot of the realities of fiction publishing. To whit:

1) An author writing about characters who are older than him or her is considered challenging and therefore interesting and therefore an actual plus in trying to get publicity for a book (like with the Boston Globe.) The majority of fiction readers are middle-aged to older and publishers have long understood that they can sell books with older protagonists to a quite reliable audience, and consequently, adult fiction publishing is not, like Hollywood, fixated only on teens, and certainly not on prettiness. Books like the bestselling comic romance Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray, Louis Begley’s acclaimed drama About Schmidt, Epitaph by James Siegel, thrillers like On the Warpath by Gerald Hammond and Tricky Business by Dave Barry,  and mystery series like Getting Old by Rita Lakin and Kate Kennedy Senior Sleuth by Nora Charles, pop up regularly and are often successful.

2) Getting rejected by 35 literary agents or more before finding one who connects with the material is extremely common, whatever the subject matter of a novel. It happens to thousands of authors, and many of them eventually find an agent, but don’t get a sale to a publisher. Thousands of authors never get an agent or a deal with a big publisher like HarperCollins, instead managing to get published by small presses. There are also many authors who do get an agent and a sale right off the bat; in fact, it’s probably as common as getting rejected by 35 literary agents before finding one who will take you on. But that doesn’t change the fact that getting rejected by 35 agents is not unusual or likely propelled only by the age of the characters. I’m sure several of the agents Zadoorian dealt with told him they didn’t like it because the characters were old, because those agents found such subject matter boring. An author going out in the market with a mystery is likely to run into agents who think mysteries are awful, or an author may be told that he should have a woman protagonist instead of a man, or any number of other suggestions because the agents were just not that interested. But other agents, such as the one who took Zadoorian on, will be, and the same goes for publishers — HarperCollins seems unafraid of the age issue. The same goes for your writing style and how you structure your story’s framework. If you are going to try to sell your work in fiction publishing, the likelihood of large amounts of rejection is a given.

3) While there are younger agents, the average age of literary agents tends to be a good bit older than twenties. Late thirties to forties is more the norm. Literary agents with AARP cards are not unusual. The idea, again, that fiction publishing operates like Hollywood, looking for youth and only trusting the instincts of the young, has little basis in reality. That the Boston Globe embraced that idea so readily says more about the media’s fascination with youth than it does about fiction publishing.

It is very tempting, when receiving 35 rejections, to try to come up with some grand conspiracy reason why your novel didn’t fly with those people. But the truth is that rejections happen, and very seldom for the same reason each time. Again, I wish Michael Zadoorian well, but I hope that the next piece I read about his novel will be about how great it is, and not about how literary agents are scared of old people.

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Marva Wright

Several years ago I got the chance to spend a few days in New Orleans, Louisiana when my husband had a conference there.  One night we were walking past a bar that had all its doors and windows open and we could hear music and an amazing female voice singing. We went in and found the place packed, standing three deep at the bar, and on a small stage was a band and a magnificent, effervescent woman singing her heart out.  The handbills in the bar  told us that she was Marva Wright, who had begun her singing career at age 40, and who had traveled to jazz and blues festivals all over the world with her group, the BMW’s. Because we had walked all day and were standing, we didn’t stay forever, just under an hour, but after, I felt I’d really gotten some New Orleans jazz. The next day at one of the open air markets that sell things to tourists, I found her CD, Marvalous, with Mardi Gras Records, and the vendor who sold it to me told me that Wright was a local legend. I’ve listened to that CD often since then and always meant to try to get more of her recordings. I was sad to hear that after struggles with diabetes, that she passed away on March 23, from complications from a stroke, at the age of 62.  She is a reminder to me of the wonderful range and treasures that exist in the world of art so successfully and she will be missed. Below is a video from a performance last year, and because the sound quality is not ideal, here is another video that just gives a really good audio recording of the same song:

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Oh, the Horror!

Heard about an interesting store out in California, a horror specialty shop with books, graphic novels, collectibles, etc.  — Dark Delicacies in Burbank.  Been around for awhile and they ship orders, including outside the U.S.  To check it out, click on:

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This one’s for Kevin. You know why. 🙂

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Aliens in Pretty Dresses

I’m too old to read fashion magazines, or even often women’s magazines for that matter, but when you’re stuck in a doctor’s office, they’re fun to look through and see what horrors will trickle down the pike into stores when you try to clothes shop. (Currently, it’s been amusing to watch the 1980’s be regurgitated, to my daughter’s dismay.) When I did so this time, however, I was struck by a perfume ad that featured a picture of French actress Audrey Tautou standing, arms lifted,  in what might have been a train car, wearing an evening gown, from the side. Now, Tautou is a small, waifish woman, a lot like Audrey Hepburn, with very skinny legs, but this picture had clearly been altered (or Tautou is seriously ill). From the top part of the torso up to the head and arms, it looked like Tautou, but below that, it looked like a strange, stick-like alien who had put on a dress and attempted to disguise itself as a human being but hadn’t quite managed it. 12-year-old girls don’t have a waist like Tautou was given, and her butt had been reproportioned out of sync with the pose they’d put her in.

Alterations to actresses and models in these shots is nothing new, nor the attempt to make models look as young and pedophilic as possible, including using baby models. But it’s gotten so bad and has been accompanied by so much anorexia in the real world models (and problems for teens,) that there’s a PSA guerilla campaign that hired an ad firm to essentially harass the fashion magazines over their distortions of body size with various stunts.  It’s gotten so bad that they don’t even bother to do it well anymore, like when they cut off Emma Watson’s leg in a recent coat ad. It’s gotten so bad that they make Audrey Tautou, who is supposed to be selling romance and Old World European charm so that you want that sophisticated perfume, into a scary stick-alien, and they think that’s attractive to either gender.  Which starts to make you wonder what sort of mental state the photo editors or those who order them around have ended up in. When the models in pictures look like concentration camp victims or mutated freaks, it might be startling art — and startling art can sell by attention getting — but it doesn’t seem to match the actual campaigns they are trying to do to get men and women interested in buying perfume, clothing or jewelry. You kind of wonder if the photographers are trying to pull a giant prank on the fashion industry.  Or if the fashion industry is trying to pull a giant prank on the populace by seeing just how much weirdness we’ll tolerate. (Next up — lizard scales!)

In any case, the Tautou ad did not make me want to buy the expensive perfume and made me feel sorry for the actress. And muse that SF really is taking over all the culture.

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Charlie Stross explains it all

Science fiction author Charlie Stross, who gave perhaps the most cogent information about the Macmillan-Amazon e-book battle, decided the easiest thing to do was to take people on a tour of fiction book publishing with a multi-part series on his blog. This is excellent, basic information about the subject. For all the installments, click on the link to the blog:

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These Things Called Books

Walked into a chain music store in a mall not that long ago to buy a DVD and discovered they’d done something new — up at the cashier counter and in the display case across from the cash line, so that you have plenty of time to browse them as you wait to pay, the store had books,  not just one or two but a heap of them very carefully arranged.  Some of them were books that were then paired with their DVD adaptations  in display — Twilight, etc. Some of them were non-fiction on music and music history, and a bio from Tracy Morgan who also has a new comedy CD out, and such, and then there were just a random set of books, such as Douglas Copeland’s novel Generation X. These books had obviously been packaged as a display with rotating titles for the music store chain specifically through some sort of distributor.

This is yet another sign of an expanding, renewed wholesale market for books in non-bookstore venues that has been going on the last couple of years. After the collapse of the wholesale market for books in the 1990’s, books became very concentrated in bookstores for sales, with the other wholesale outlets much reduced, and that’s had a bad impact on the growth of book sales, not to mention their visibility in the market. But now, books are getting a bigger push in department stores (which are engaged in retail and online price wars,) and being sought as inventory in a wider variety of stores. That a music chain would decide to add to its floor merchandise with books and tie-in books is a remarkably positive sign. (It should be noted here that 70% of music sales are still physical CD’s sold in places like music stores, so adding books isn’t a last ditch effort by the music store.) It’s also a more aggressive approach to take advantage of the interest in titles that comes when they get a movie adaptation, putting books and DVD’s together to make a more interesting potential package. But again, it wasn’t only books that could be easily tied in to DVD’s or music CD’s that were in the display. It will be interesting to see if similar display packages start popping up in other retailers.


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We Forgive You Even Though You Sound Like an Idiot — The Mad Hatter Awards

Actress Sigourney Weaver, who among her many roles has earned a legendary place in SFF for movies like Ghostbusters and the Alien franchise, spouts nonsense at her fans in a recent USA Today piece about her recent mega-film Avatar and its Oscar chances:

“Jim was telling someone about how sci-fi had always gotten a bad rap, and that maybe now that would change,” Weaver recalls. “And I thought, ‘Science fiction? Really? Is that what this movie is?’ Because to me it’s just a great story that happens to take place in another time…

“With that label, ‘sci-fi,’ I think it’ll be tough,” she says. “But of course, to look at these movies with that label is to miss the points they are trying to make. These movies ask us to look at what it means to be human.”

British writer Mark Ravenhill and theater director Melly Still, who adapted for the stage Terry Pratchett’s fantasy novel Nation, insult their audience when asked to comment on Pratchett’s wildly popular Discworld series, in an interview with the Telegraph, giving us the following pieces of illogic:

Still: “”They don’t appeal in the slightest I’m afraid, although I admit I don’t know very much about them. I’m not a follower.”

Ravenhill: “That fantasy world isn’t really my kind of thing.”

For giving us “jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today” philosophy about SFF, the three of them get my first Mad Hatter Awards.

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