Saturday, February 2, 2013

Notable women in the two of the male-oriented books I've read somewhat recently

I am extremely impressed by the ways in which the works I have read, while ostensibly about men, treat the female characters with which they deal. I've already written about In the Heart of the Sea, which devotes a whole chapter towards a group of the population that won't even leave shore with the focal group, the crew of the whaleship Essex. The Limits of Glory and Mornings on Horseback were similarly impressive and made concerted efforts to examine, in a complimentary way, the female characters of the stories.
Anyway, here are a few strong female characters I've come across in books, movies, and tv shows ostensibly about men. I recommend checking these out. They're not, in most cases, why I read the books or watched the movies/tv shows. But I give credit to the creators of these works for squeezing in strong female characters not to make a point or pat themselves on the back but simply because in their minds these women were people of substance, like the male characters covered, whose stories deserved to be heard.
Magdalene De Lancey in The Limits of Glory: In a book about a famous battle and the men who fought in it, author James McDonough devotes a considerable amount of attention to Chief of Staff William De Lancey's young bride. And, as the author makes clear in the introduction, he considers her bravery and sacrifice to be no less great than the men on the battlefield. This is a novel, and De Lancey writes that she "Played a part as meaningful as any in the drama" (McDonough x). That part was not in killing men but in taking care of people, specifically, her husband. Because McDononough writes of war "In the end it was just killing and dying" (can't find page yet...), it is clear that he finds her restorative caretaker role to be as noble as those in the battlefield. Now I didn't read this book for Magdalene De Lancey, I read it for Wellington, Bl├╝cher, Macdonell, Napoleon, Ney, and the rest of the military leaders. That is, I imagine, why most people would choose to read this book (it's like the Killer Angels, also an outstanding book as evidenced by the fact that I read it 10 years ago and still rave about it).
Anna "Bamie" Roosevelt and Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt in Mornings on Horseback: David McCullough's book isn't just a celebration of Teddy Roosevelt as an individual. It's also a look at the family and background that created such a remarkable man and President (I am an unabashed Teddy fan, which likely colored my interpretation of this book). Mittie Bulloch is an interesting character because she grew up in the slavery era South in a high society family and dealt with the unsurprising amount of drama that accompanies marrying a man from the slave-free North who disapproves of the practice. While you, like I, may have some trouble sympathizing with rich slaveowners, McCullough also makes sure to note that it was Mittie, not Theodore Sr., who inspired Roosevelt with thrilling stories at bed. These piqued his curiosity and inspired his imagination. I would also like to take this moment to register a complaint with Sports Illustrated for writing an entire article about how Kobe Bryant didn't get his fire from his father and throwing in briefly that oh by the way Kobe gets his fire--his defining personality trait--from his mom. And they had the nerve to publish it the week of Mother's Day! Moving on... Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt is clearly an interesting character, but I found Teddy's sister Bamie to be even more so. While the book is a biography of Teddy, known as "Teedie" when he was little, and the medical struggles he endured, McCullough also makes clear that Bamie endured trials of her own because of spine curvature issues (it's in the first chapter), but writes of these with admiration, rather than pity: "Bamie was strength. Bamie was good sense, the one to lean on, to turn for help" (35).
To say that these women were the reasons I read or enjoyed the books would be disingenuous. But I did appreciate the way these works paid close attention to their characters and I can out with a great appreciation for all of them (though again, admiration is a bit strong for a former slave owner like Mittie, though I recognize the conflict the war brought to her). I wonder if this attention derives from the historical nature of these works. (Technically The Limits of Glory is a novel, but McDonough makes clear that he keeps to historical facts and only fictionalizes feelings.) We make a big deal about the need for strong, interesting female characters in the media, and I agree with this push, but in our own lives perhaps we should be looking not to imaginary worlds but to the worlds of the past. For the most part, the girls and women we read about in history books may not have had the career opportunities we would hope for ourselves and for our friends, but they do demonstrate strength of character, uniqueness, and complexity--exactly the kinds of things you would expect from real, interesting people. Perhaps, rather than focusing so intently on how the media portrays us (us human beings, not members of a given gender), perhaps we should look at the ways nominally powerless individuals were able to be influential in their worlds and use it as inspiration for how we might use the qualities we possess in a world in which we do have real, tangible opportunities. To quote Teddy himself, "Do what you can with what you have where you are."
And yes, you really should read Mornings on Horseback and The Limits of Glory.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

This book is AWESOME: The Limits of Glory

As the title suggests, I am working my way through James McDonough's The Limits of Glory. I still have about 100 pages to go so this is not meant in any way as a review of the book. It's likened to Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels (you should go buy that book now if you weren't lucky enough to have been given a copy in 7th grade English): it tells true historical facts of a legendary and important battle but with imagined thoughts of the generals. McDonough is an Army colonel, a West Point graduate, and Director at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth. So his ideas of what these generals were thinking is probably pretty accurate. Moreover, the structure enables him to engage in an interest dialogue about war without having to refer to his own personal experiences or in any way critique US military policy. Brilliant.
The following passage stood out:
"It was his duty but he did not feel noble about it. War was a form of murder after all--mass murder. These young men--boys, many of them--would go to their deaths on his orders. That he himself might die did not diminish the suffering they would endure, did not lessen the responsibility he felt for their lives. But his duty was to command and he would see his duty through" (McDonough 104).
I particularly enjoyed the third sentence (bolded) because it makes you think about the people who have the power to declare war. What gives someone else the power to tell you what is worth sacrificing your life toward? Does one's willingness to risk his or her own life entitle him/her to demand that of others?
Basically, I'm really enjoying The Limits of Glory because instead of just being a thriller-type book, the author really makes an effort to use this famous battle to examine the implications of a serious topic and highly relevant topic (war) with which the author has much familiarity. I'm really excited to see what he does with the rest of the book.
And on a much lighter note, here is a link to the Abba song "Waterloo".

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Rush Hour: The Running Backs Post (A.D. for MVP)

In honor of Adrian Peterson (The A.D. stands for All Day) being totally deserving of the NFL MVP award, I decided to post a few fun facts about running backs rather than devote the entire post to a debate about why exactly Peterson deserves MVP over Peyton Manning.
(Reasons that come to mind are: Broncos made playoffs and beat Steelers with Tim Tebow, Denver didn't beat anyone especially good in its win streak, Denver has good defense, Minnesota's defense isn't particularly good and its offense runs around Adrian Peterson, Vikings were 3-13 last year and made the playoffs this year, Peterson had nearly record-breaking yardage and was 3rd in touchdowns, Manning was 6th in the league in yards and 3rd in Touchdowns and had more picks than Brady and Rodgers, and as a side note I tend to think articles about "intangibles" and "leadership" are shortsighted when they assume that only quarterbacks can have such qualities--throwing such words around isn't evidence, it's a feeling, it's fine, feelings are great, but admit that it's nothing more.)
Jim Brown: two sport GOAT?
Brown ranks as high in the lacrosse world than he does in the football world. Growing up with a stick in my hand, I knew more about Brown's exploits on the lacrosse field than the gridiron. When I read an article in Lacrosse Magazine a long while back that said some people considered Brown to be the greatest running back ever, I thought it might just be the lacrosse world trying to support its own. Now, of course, I realize the error of my ways. (Thank you, NEJ, for this video.)
Now if you actually believe Brown to be the best running back ever and the greatest lacrosse player ever, where does that place him in all time athlete rankings? How would he compare with, say Michael Jordan? Or someone like Jim Thorpe or Bo Jackson A lot of your opinion probably depends on what your opinion of lacrosse.
But if you're wondering what Brown thinks, he said "I'd rather play lacrosse six days a week and football on the seventh."
Check out this interview as well
And am searching hard for a Jim Brown lacrosse highlights video. Haven't had much luck yet.
Two Greatest Americans?
At Pittsburgh International Airport, there are statues of two great men: George Washington and Franco Harris. It's hard to say which one has had a greater influence on the course of our nation's history.
Okay, maybe not, but from what I hear, Harris is a super nice guy. And for those of you who haven't seen the Immaculate Reception, I'm not even judging, just sorry that your lives haven't yet been enriched by this feat of athletic brilliance. You can rectify that now.
Adrian Peterson is an inspiration.
Rather than give some short quick summary, I'll send you to this Sports Illustrated piece. It's not very long, so I recommend the whole piece.
A few lines that proved to be prophetic:
He's a young Eric Dickerson. And this guy runs angry." [Said a scouting director]
The comparison with Dickerson, the Hall of Famer who still owns the NFL's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, isn't restricted to personnel circles. Current players also see it. "He's big, strong and fast--and he runs with passion," says Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman. "That's a hell of a combination, and I definitely think he'll succeed."
Wherever Peterson goes on draft day, this much is certain: He'll take on his next challenge the only way he knows--running headlong, fast and furious, plowing through the pain. 
I really hope Peterson wins MVP not only because his on-field performance demands it but because of how he's persevered through his life.
Ray Rice is an incredibly positive role model
So Ray Rice is from my area, so I had heard of him before he became an NFL star, back when the local papers were covering him at Rutgers and people were wondering if it would be possible for Rice to make it as a pro despite his size.
Well, that question's been answered. What I really admire about Rice, though, is his commitment to giving back to his community and to being a positive role model. I am legitimately jealous of middle schoolers when Ray Rice day goes around, and local middle school boys and girls get a free football tutorial from Rice and his Ravens and Rutgers teammates as well as tons of free things and autographed pictures. Additionally, Rice's facebook page (which I "like" by the way) is always promoting kindness and positivity, and condemning bullying. Rice makes a great effort towards serving Baltimore and New Rochelle and being the kind of guy that gives athletes a new name.
On the complete opposite side of the moral spectrum, OJ Simpson is a terrible, terrible human being. Also, he was in The Naked Gun.
This of course raises the question of who the best athlete to appear in a Neilsen film was: Simpson or Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
From Airplane!: "Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes."

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why Moby Dick is Better than the Great Gatsby

Ads for the movie version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby coincided with my reading of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. I read only the former in high school (I bought Moby Dick on a whim and ended up loving it) and find myself much more likely to come across people who have read Nick's account of Jay Gatsby than Ishmael's of Captain Ahab. This is too bad, because Melville's work is, in my opinion, far superior. Probably because it's a far more hardcore book, and Melville actually worked as a whaler, giving him the real life legitimacy to write such an epic story that is based on a true shipwreck that actually happened.
Reasons why I prefer Moby Dick (as Collin points out, I have much more to say on Moby Dick than on The Great Gatsby but whatever I wasn't going to reread a book from jr year of hs just for a blog post):
Fascination with Whales > Fascination with Rich
Well, for starters, I find the "The Hollowness of the Upper Class", as the theme is described on SparkNotes to be somewhat generic: our society has always been obsessed with following the rich and charting how their lives are incomplete, how they aren't superior, and how money doesn't bring happiness. I'm not saying it's not true, but to me the setting is hardly exciting. Elites aren't uninteresting, just a known quantity.
The whaling industry, on the other hand, is a historical topic that easily merits more discussion than it typically receives. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Puts into historical perspective dependence on oil. Nantucket and New Bedford were hugely important when they were able to bring in oil. Now I know more about Nantucket's history than New Bedford's, but I do know that both of them saw a dramatic decline in their prosperity and relevance when they were no longer suppliers of oil. Nantucket reemerged as a tourism hotspot, as the islanders discovered that relics of the whaling age were interesting to outsiders. (This is a huge oversimplification.) I find this fascinating given oil's role in policy discussions in areas such as international relations, economics, and conservation.
2. As the book's opener shows, the whale has long inhabited the imaginations of mankind, and Ishmael frequently references Biblical interest in the Leviathan. In Moby Dick, whales are great powers of nature and God with which men must struggle, and the book's title character proves to be too strong for Ahab and the Pequod to handle. This powerful whale is part of what seems to be an invincibile sea. In the book's closing line (not nearly as famous as "Call me Ishmael"), Melville writes, "the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago" (Melville 551). The notion of the invincibile sea is one that permeated the minds of many, even Rachel Carson, who later reversed courses. In an era in which the sea occupants' vulnerability is increasingly evident, we struggle to detach ourselves from the notion of the sea's invincibility. At the same time, what Ishmael says remains true for those who deal with water more closely. The sea cares naught for our trials, and we must be very cautious when facing its dangers.
3. The culture of whaling is fascinating. The killing required in whaling contrasts with the Nantucket Quaker culture from which many whaling ships, captains, and mates hailed. Moby Dick shows contrasting views towards whales through the characters of Captain Ahab  and Mates Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. Ahab, of course, is the raving lunatic, hellbent on revenge against the whale who took his leg. His bloodlust is made clear through every interaction he has throughout the book. Starbuck, meanwhile, is a principled Quaker, who whales for profit, rather than out of any sense of personal grievance. He provides the voice of reason throughout the book. For this reason (and perhaps because of this line "it's a coffee-pot, Mr. Starbuck; he's coming off to make us our coffee, is the Yarman" (Melville 340)), he makes an excellent inspiration for Starbucks coffee (that is where they got the name). (I'm too lazy to write about the others--hit up this Spark Notes article).
Ishmael > Nick
Nothing against Nick, really. He's a smart, moral, open-minded guy, AND he's from Minnesota. But Nick just hangs out with rich people, while Ishmael shares a bed with a cannibal he doesn't know and then becomes best friends with him, goes on a whaling voyage led by a madman, learns everything he can about the history and mythology of whales, gets a tattoo of a whale, and survives a shipwreck on a coffin his cannibal friend built. Ishmael is way more legit.
(If you're curious about what happened to the survivors of the boat Essex that played a major role in inspiring the Pequod, read In the Heart of the Sea. Seriously.)
Moby Dick (the actual whale) > Daisy
Not sure what it says about the state of female characters in literature that I find myself comparing a woman with a whale. But both Moby Dick and Daisy are objects of desire of their books' iconic eccentric men and both "smash things up". But whereas Daisy is shallow, and her unattainability doesn't make her seem strong, just too easily coerced by material comfort, Moby Dick is simply too powerful and awesome to comprehend. Ishmael can't even completely describe the whale to the reader, no matter how many chapters he devotes to it.
Ahab > Gatsby
I actually liked the character of Gatsby back when I read the book in high school and of all these comparisons, I'll concede that my preference of Ahab is the weakest of these. But Gatsby tries to be smooth but is awkward. Gatsby doesn't go by his old name of James Gatz. Ahab never tries to be anything other than the absolutely insane person he is. Having read plenty of books in high school English classes where characters have internal personas I have to annoy myself with trying to piece apart, I find it refreshing to deal with a character who is exactly who he appears to be.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women Who'd Make Great Biopics (I find yet another excuse to talk about the Godfather)

In "This Year’s Best Actress Race: A History of Inequality", Keith Dodge has outlined what he perceives to be problematic inequality in how stories of men and women are treated by the movie industry and the Academy, and he opens with thoughts on biopics. People who study movies methodically have attempted to measure this inequality, and I'm not in the mood to compile sufficient data to argue one way or the other. The truth is, however, that I like some of these "men's stories" a lot. So I decided to take a look at some famous movies about men and see how similar stories might be made about real life women. Here are three (an extremely incomplete list, but bed is calling):

If you liked Gladiator or Lincoln, what about a movie about Harriet Tubman?
Escaping from slavery once is an unbelievable triumph of the human spirit. Returning back to the South to continue to lead more and more slaves out is simply unbelievable. Now maybe there wouldn't be any gladiator-type fights in it, but when you watch Gladiator, it's not really the violence that's captivating. At least not for me. The violence in the movie was necessary to show how truly brutally harsh the life of a Gladiator was. That movie succeeded because of the convictions of Maximus won over the crowd. Surely, Tubman's convictions could as well? Harriet Tubman is one of the most remarkable figures in American history--probably in all history, and seems to be remarkably underrated. Brave, caring, principled, smart, and strong-willed, she is a hero in every sense of the word, and--perhaps more importantly for movie makers (though obviously not to the countless lives she changed at the time)--her story involves an incredible amount of suspense, danger, and (presumably) countless interesting interpersonal relations. Our obsession with the wrongs of slavery have led to an idolization of Lincoln, of which I have certainly participated. I haven't seen the Daniel Day-Lewis movie, but as history informs us, Lincoln didn't start trying to free the slaves until the middle of the war, whereas on-the-ground emancipation was Tubman's business from the get-go (after that was successful, she worked on women's suffrage). I greatly admire the work Lincoln did in politics and recognize the fortitude that is required for that field (more on that later). Since Lincoln was born free and worked to free others when it was militarily advantageous and Tubman was born a slave and had to free herself through her own skill and chose to liberate others through great personal risk, it seems inappropriate that her narrative has received so little attention in pop culture.

If you liked The Godfather, what about a movie about Angela Merkel?
This fall, a book was released that compared the German Chancellor to Vito Corleone. While it's not really fair to equate this real-life, legitimately elected, currently-in-power government official with a fictional Don, The Godfather is a movie about much more than organized crime. It's also a movie about power and priorities. It's a movie about having people who depend on you. One character (you know who if you've seen the movie) even says, "My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator". So while I would take great objection to calling Merkel, whom I greatly respect, a criminal, one could certainly make a thoughtful movie in that vein about any political figure with that kind of power. In "Why We Love Politics", David Brooks writes "Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the public good...Politics involves such a perilous stream of character tests: how low can you stoop to conquer without destroying yourself; when should you be loyal to your team and when should you break from it; how do you wrestle with the temptations of fame". These are some of the many themes discussed by The Godfather and are presumably some of the Merkel's concerns, as she is tasked with determining what is best for Germany, what is best for the EU, and, if she finds the answers to be different, whom to prioritize. While the account would, of course, have to be fictionalized because that part of history is very much still in the making, necessitating either a fake history and future of Germany or some fictional character meant to approximate the German chancellor. But you'd have to presume that kind of decision making, drama, and responsibility would be seemingly made for the big screen.
(On a side note, you could, I suppose, make a movie about the real life cocaine "queen" nicknamed the "Godmother" who named her son Michael Corleone Blanco.)
Oh, and for the record, I agree with Bill Simmons that "there will never be another 'Godfather.'"

If you liked movies like Troy or ones about Hercules, why not a movie about Athena?
Okay, so Athena isn't a historical figure in the way these others are since she's not real, but the Greeks did literally worship her and named their most important city after her. Back in the day, I used to be very well versed in Athena mythology, but unfortunately I'm a little rusty right now. But she played a great role in guiding heroes to great successes. She also beat out her uncle for the right to claim Athens as her own (aren't there tons of movies about competing for power. Glengarry Glen Ross, though not a commercial success, was critically well-received, and that was a movie about competition in real estate. This would be similar. Except the competition would be between gods with superpowers and they'd be competing for a city whose prime we still idolize.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nantucket's Influential Women in Nathaniel Philbrick's In The Heart of the Sea

I recently finished Nathaniel Philbrick's In The Heart of the Sea. Subtitled The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, it tells the true story of the boat and whalers that served as the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick (just bought the book--anyone want to read it with me)? For those of you with a strong stomach, I highly recommend it.
In an era in which we constantly discuss whether or not women can "have it all" (can people have it all?), the women of early Nantucket should not be forgotten. And before the Essex leaves shore, Philbrick makes a point of mentioning these women--even in a story about an all male boat. For that he deserves credit. Here are a few highlights:
--Nantucket Quakerism, a defining part of the island's identity, was only possible because a woman allowed it: "It was Mary Starbuck's conversion to Quakerism that established the unique fusion of spirituality and covetousness that would make possible Nantucket's rise as a whaling port" (Philbrick 8). Starbuck (there is a connection to the coffee company) had refused similar efforts, as Philbrick notes: "Throughout the seventeenth century, English Nantucketers resisted all attempts to establish a church on the island, partly because a woman by the name of Mary Coffin Starbuck forbade it" (Philbrick 8). For a woman to wield the power to choose a society's religion and by extension its culture and, ultimately, its economy, is remarkable. Men may have gone on the whaling missions, but they owed their livelihood to a woman.
--"With their men gone for so long, Nantucket's women were obliged not only to raise the children but also to run many of the island's businesses. It was largely the women who maintained the complex web of personal and commercial relationships that kept the community functioning" (Philbrick 15).
On pages 15 and 16, Philbrick describes how the island's Quaker faith (which, as you recall, was allowed by a woman) gave women a status and equality that the would not have received on the mainland, a point that was acknowledged by the Nantucket feminist Lucretia Coffin Mott (15-16).
Yes, In the Heart of the Sea and Moby Dick focus on an all-male voyage. But those voyages were made possible by the hard work of women. And the Nantucket Quaker culture found the roles played by women to be of equal value to those played by their male counterparts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

HIMYM Thoughts: I really don't care who the mother is

How I Met Your Mother is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I've been watching this season with interest. But not in "the mother". Instead, the intriguing plot point for me is the relationship between Barney and Robin and how it evolves. Here are a number of reasons why I'm not holding my breath for Ted's future wife's identity to be revealed:
1. By the title of the show, I kind of always assumed we'd just meet her in the last episode in some final scene, Ted would say "and that's how I met your mother", and we wouldn't need to know more about the mother, because well, the kids already know who their mother is, there's a good chance they've heard stories about their mom and dad's dating life from their mother or from Ted's friends or from Ted because he's obviously so interested in sharing intimate details of his own personal life.
As I understand it, HIMYM isn't the story of Ted's relationship with his wife--how could it be if we've gone seven full seasons without meeting her, and if Ted were actually telling the story of that relationship, she'd be more than a minor detail.
2. The story of Barney and Robin is much more compelling.
To me, this is the key reason. While I like Ted and think he's a nice guy, he's just not as fun to watch as Barney. While Ted seems to genuinely fall for every girl he meets, Barney and Robin are more cynical, which makes their connection more powerful on a screen. Yes, their relationship does to a degree fall under the cynical-man-falls-for-smart-driven-passionate-woman branch with Casablanca and Star Wars. (Many thanks to Grantland's Brian Phillips for making that connection.) Yes, it's been done before, but there's a reason people like it. Neil Patrick Harris is a better actor than Josh Radnor, and his relationship with Robin is one that has been developing throughout the course of the show, whereas we haven't even met the mother yet, so it would be hard for the relationship to be as meaningful as one that's been there all along. Some people don't like Barney and Robin, but I do. I find them both to be dynamic characters with interests much less straightforward than Ted's "I want to get married and have babies" philosophy.
Aside: The more I think about it, the Star Wars analogy that posits Ted-as-Luke, Barney-as-Han, and Robin-as-Leia actually makes a ton of sense. And who's to say the creators didn't consciously make that way, since they reference Star Wars all the time. Just like in Star Wars, the self-interested character ends up becoming a good person as well as everyone's favorite character. Robin works as Leia because they're both feisty, independent, and motivated by some very important non-romantic passion (Robin wants to become a journalist, and Leia wants the Rebellion to win.) And Ted and Luke are both good guys, but Robin/Leia just isn't happening for them. That's okay though, because they get to succeed in other ways.
3. I feel like the level of anticipation that has greeted "the mother" is setting fans up for failure.
This last one is me just being pessimistic, but I think it will be hard for the creators to envision a character that pleases all of their fans. And as of late, they haven't been doing very well. Victoria in season 1 was well received. She had her own personality and career ambitions, she was nice and not stereotypically jealous, and she was strong and intelligent. Stella was a well done character as well. You know, for someone who doesn't like Star Wars. I thought Stella and Ted running into each other, and her giving her thoughts on how there's a "one" out there for Ted was great and continued that general philosophy of the show that certain people are meant for each other. (Whether or not you believe this to be true in real life, the show relies heavily on the notion, and it was therefore good for Stella and Ted's meeting to confirm that.) Zoey, meanwhile, was not well received (and I didn't like her either), and Victoria's season eight persona felt much more contrived. I actually like Quinn a lot, so I haven't given up on the show's ability to create new, interesting female characters. That being said, I'd much rather spend my viewing time rooting for characters I already know that I like. And Barney and Robin happen to be my two favorite characters in the show.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How the Corleone Brothers are Voting

Fredo: Fredo hasn't been watching the debates, but he's pretty confident that he'll be able to make a good decision come election day. A Fredo voter resents his lack of influence and is overeager to show how smart and important he can be. He tries to do things, such as getting the car with his dad, that he's not ready for. He's also easy to manipulate, and we all saw how his initiatives turned out in Part II.
Sonny: Santino is the most passionate of the Corleone brothers and gets very worked up about politics. He's well informed, which would make his views convincing if he weren't so hotheaded. Instead, his quickness to anger makes him very vulnerable. Sollozzo says of Santino "You can't talk business with him." You can try to talk politics with a Sonny voter, but you won't convince him of anything.
Michael: Michael might know who he's voting for, but there's no way you do unless you're Tom Hagen, the only person Michael trusts. Michael is a cold blooded realist who won't vote on one issue but will carefully weigh the pros and cons of each candidate. He's not concerned about making the moral vote; he'll vote for the guy whose policies will help him personally. While he has no interest in bipartisanship, he can feign one pretty well. He keeps his true views to himself while convincing both Republicans and Democrats that he believes their version of the story. Just as he did with Frank Pentangeli and Hyman Roth, he'll hear how you defend your story and use that to make a decision. Michael is the most respected and feared among the brothers. Politicians, even the ones who disapprove of him such as Senator Geary, work hard for his approval.
Tom Hagen: Tom is much more idealistic than Michael and wants to see the two parties working together to improve the country. He's very smart and extremely well versed in the law, which makes his opinions highly valuable. He's not spineless and is more than willing to stand up to a Sonny voter. There is a great level of mutual respect and trust between Tom Hagen and Michael, but Michael holds all the power, and Tom will ultimately vote for whomever Michael chooses.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Case for Robin Scherbatsky

How I Met Your Mother's Robin Scherbatsky, played exquisitely by Cobie Smulders, is on the very short list of my favorite female characters ever. Some of this is has, as personal preferences tend to, a lot to do with me: I'm also into sports and highly competitive, and I spent three years on a college newspaper and worked at a tv news station one summer so I enjoy hearing about Robin's career in news.
But from a less individual standpoint, I think Robin is a unique female character who displays strength of character without being perfect, ambition without being heartless, and moments of struggle and doubt without being weak.
A few highlights:
1. While Robin is ultimately successful at her job, we appreciate her for her personality and character long before her journalism dreams are reached. What this means is that her career path is  presented as an important part of the show. While some (e.g. here and here) have criticized the show for making Robin struggle so much in her pursuit of journalism greatness, this has a lot to do with the fact that Robin has chosen broadcast journalism, a very difficult career in which advancement comes not only with persistence but also with a lot of luck. Don Frank, for example, only got his job because the more qualified and more professional Robin turned it down. Moreover, Robin's struggles make her ultimate success even more of a testament to her perseverance and her ability to act with confidence even when she herself feels great doubt.
Moreover, the fact that we meet Robin long before she has much success in her career or personal relationships means that we actually come to respect and admire her for her strength of character and strong sense of self. Imagine appreciating female characters not because they're more successful than others but because they are people with convictions and thoughts and feelings.  Additionally, and this is very important for me, Robin is consistently portrayed as at least as intelligent as any of the male characters in the story.
Finally, the portrayal of Robin's coworkers in journalism suggests that it is easier for men to make it in her career than women. Nora is the coworker we know best because she dates Barney. Like Robin, Nora has very strong sense of self, morality, and conviction. Meanwhile, Robin's male coanchors, Sandy Rivers and Don Frank receive great opportunities despite being unprofessional and far less motivated than Robin.
2. Robin doesn't want to have kids, and this isn't portrayed in a way that makes her uncaring, unattractive, or robotic. Even before Robin connects with a little kid in "Little Boys" in season three, she shows her nurturing side by taking care of Barney when he is sick and looking out for her little sister when she comes to visit. She's very committed to her friendships, even caring about Ted greatly as she rejects him.
In "Symphony of Illumination", Robin is shown to have a more complicated relationship with the notion of children that she had previously thought and is actually saddened when she finds out that she can never have any. But when Kevin notes to her in "The Drunk Train" that there are other ways of having kids, she reaffirms her commitment to not having children.
Whether or not a character wants kids can be a sensitive subject, especially since the pop culture has been criticized for assuming that all women want children, and not surprisingly, Robin's character has drawn criticism from some who resent that the show might somehow imply that a life without kids cannot be full (apparently not sold by Ted's description of Robin's incredibly full life at the end of "Symphony of Illumination"). This, however, is unfair. Because so many tv characters are shown as wanting kids, no single character is tasked with representing the entirety of mothers. It's seen to be a nearly universal experience, and each character represents just one take on it. Robin's feelings similarly should not be seen as a representation of the emotions all women experience when they decide that they do not want children. As this blog post shows, Robin's spectrum of emotions was relatable to at least some.
But to me, whether or not Robin's experiences speak a universal truth is secondary. More important is the fact that Robin is shown as a full character who contemplates the issue thoughtfully and with an independent mind and because her decision is not shown as placing a limit on her potential for happiness.
3. So what if Robin has "daddy issues"? Four of the five characters have major issues with their parents. Jason Segel's Marshall is the only one who does not seem to have any emotional residue from his upbringing. His family is mocked extensively but for their quirkiness and wackiness. Moreover, Robin emerging as confident as she is despite her traumatic upbringing is a tribute to her strength of character.
4. While Robin is very strong, she's not perfect. Robin is a realistic character because she doesn't do everything right. She smokes (though she will eventually quit), she can have a hot temper, she makes bad decisions sometimes, and she shows occasional signs of trauma from her upbringing. Yet it is her strengths that stand out more than her weaknesses, a credit to the show and to Smulders' acting. Robin is independent, intelligent, thoughtful, and loyal. And that strength is what makes her a great character.
5. Oh, and this:
Let's Go to the Mall!
excerpt from show
full video