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Monthly Archives: March 2012

I just started watching Rizzoli and Isles in preparation for my “Cops and Courts” class and quickly became intrigued by the ways that the characterizations of the two leads, Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander), express issues of gender and time. Connections between gender and time have been a growing interest for me over the past few years, something I’ve noticed but not yet dug into deeply enough to take further than discussions and outlines. Maybe with Rizzoli and Isles, I’ll be able to take the ideas a little bit futher into the classroom, perhaps with a focus on gender, space, and place in televisual legal mystery.

So here’s what I’m noticing so far in this series. Both characters have profound relationships with the past, but struggle with the present and future. Jane is depicted in a kind of suspended adolescence, a tomboy who may be attracted to men but also identifies more with masculinity than femininity. Nonethless, her relationship with masculinity is as complicated as her relationship with femininity. For example, in the first episode of the second season, she doesn’t want to put on her cop uniform for her own award ceremony because it makes her look like a man. However, her normal detective uniform is a mix-and-match pantsuit, different mostly in color and fit than a regular cop uniform but not necessarily different in kind. Along with this tomboy identity, her family and friendship connections also keep her in the past. Her family, effectively headed by her mother Angela (Lorraine Bracco), is a constant and aggravating presence for her, especially since her mother tries to control her life and personal relationships, again like a child. Rizzoli maintains a competitive and teasing relationship with her younger brother Frankie Jr. (Jordan Bridges), who is also a police officer and tags after her with adulation like a kid. Her friendships are another part of this connection to the past, as old acquaintances keep popping up and interfering with both her personal and professional lives. One example from the first season is Joey Grant (Donnie Wahlberg), a fellow detective who moves from the narcotics division to become Rizzoli’s commanding officer in homicide and also happens to be a childhood nemesis from both church and school. Furthermore, cases from her past keep cropping up to haunt her. In the premiere episode, she’s tormented by a previous case, when the work of the Surgeon, an incarcerated Hannibal Lecter-type, reappears through an accomplice and then continues through his escape. Cases from the past also seem to reappear continually in the series, as the second episode also covers a copycat (or maybe a continuation?) of the Boston Strangler cases from the sixties, and the start of the second season also revisits the continuing impact of the final case of the previous season on Rizzoli and her ability to do her job.

Isles also has an interesting relationship with the past in her role as the coroner. Working with dead bodies, she is constantly in the company of those who have “passed”, even preferring them to those currently present. As she explains in the second episode of the first season, she had to go through an immersion therapy experience to get over her fear of the living. The body of knowledge that she brings to her work is also based on a mastery of the work that came before her. She lives in the present through what she learns from those who have “passed” and can therefore add to that previous “body of knowledge”. In contrast to Rizzoli though, Isles has a “present tense” relationship to her femininity, where her gender expression seems to properly match her age and stage of personal development. Specifically, in terms of clothes, she wears what would be expected as a norm for women in their thirties with her level of education, professional achievement, and income, specifically high-end fashionable items like Birkin bags, plus tasteful jewelry and heels that seem like they could be from major label designers. However, she also looks so polished and perfect as to be a “girly-girl”, a youthful excessively feminine style that seems to contrast with the masculine mastery and messiness of her chosen career. As Rizzoli asks her in the premiere episode, “Why do you always look like you’re going to a photoshoot?” Along with this parallel relationship between fashion and gender development, Isles’ lack of familial or friendship connections also seems to keep her in a constant present. Unlike Rizzoli (so far: I’ve only seen three episodes), she seems to have no present–in time or in place–family relationships, and she claims to have had no real friends from her past. This lack of connection to the past aside from the dead gives her a sense of the uncanny. This relationship to the dead also connects Isles to the future, as death is always lurking out there for everyone.

While death may be a part of everyone’s future–and certainly has its relationship to the regeneration of life–the futurity of both Rizzoli and Isles is constantly in question due to their troubled relationships with men. Neither seems to be able to maintain a consistent heteronormative connection, something that Rizzoli’s mother Angela certainly never lets her forget. However, the inability to maintain these straight relationships are also part of what keep leading them back to each other as their primary, equally matched and complentary relationships with another person, a source of the popular queer readings of their characters. As Dorothy Snarker explains in AFTER ELLEN,

“News Flash: Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are not gay. They’re outstanding heterosexuals who just happen to flirt, sleep in the same bed, touch each other gratuitously, look deeply into each other’s eyes and have crazy, crazy chemistry while not maintaining any long-standing or significant romances with members of the opposite sex….”

I just noticed that Rizzoli and Isles is also taken from a book series, so maybe this is a show that will allow the class to also talk about adaptation as well. I’m also curious to see how place plays out. Boston doesn’t seem as present as it should so far, aside from a few light touches in the score and inserts. I look forward to continuing to see how the show develops over the two seasons, whether it fulfills any of my aforementioned points or not.

I’ve been assigned to teach our Fall introductory production course, so I’m starting to plan the syllabus. The tentative focus is “Television Drama: Cops and Courts”, looking at a variety of legal dramas. The main idea is that the students engage in both theory and practice, watching the shows and studying the form in lecture, then enacting the conventions (or breaking them) in production lab. The short list for screenings includes The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Streets, NYPD Blue, Cagney and Lacey, Law and Order, maybe The Shield, Rizzoli and Isles, The Closer, Southland, or Castle. I’m really hoping I can work in some RENO 911! or Cop Rock. So far the cops are definitely more numerous than the courts. Any other suggestions from folks? I’d especially love suggestions for some earlier television work as well as readings. Thanks for any help!

And everybody’s in a hoodie. It’s a doozy. ICYMI this Monday’s CASTLE, “47 Seconds”, covers a bombing with fatalities at what is called a “Takeover” movement protest in Lower Manhattan.

Of course, the bombing recalls 9-11, with one of the early suspects being someone the show calls a “Middle Eastern man” carrying a suspicious bag. Lower Manhattan seems to have become a symbol for both trade and trauma in our collective memory.

Screen_shot_2012-03-28_at_10

After all, that’s what the 9-11 destruction of the World Trade Center was ultimately about. Most Americans felt this on 9-11, but as others have noted, the Twin Towers and the hegemonic capitalism it represented were a symbol of terrorism to many others before the attacks. This episode highlights and connects the meanings of trade and trauma through the apparatus of the Occupy movement.

The emphasis on Lower Manhattan here is made even more interesting to me since CASTLE is one of those shows set in Manhattan but very obviously not shot there. An Occupy movement could certainly be set in any place, but the Wall Street branch is its symbolic center. The narratological foundation of CASTLE requires an Occupy storyline in Manhattan. However, the anywhere-everywhere nature of the Occupy movement parallels the anywhere-everywhere potential for CASTLE’s production, even though the stroyline structure is sutured to Manhattan.

And now for the *****SPOILER ALERT*****

So who are the ultimate culprits? The movement and the media covering it. The desire for promotion and circulation proves too strong for one of the movement leaders and his college friend, a local TV news reporter. The leader wants more attention for the movement; the reporter wants more respect in her field. The greed for this visual capital is their undoing. Destruction through one’s own devices is not an unusual trope, but certainly avoids the culprits targeted by the actual movement (albeit, media monopolization being one).

Has anyone else noticed any fictionalizations of the Occupy movement yet? The next season of TREME will have some connections. I’ll be curious to see other treatments of the movement on film and television over the next few years.

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to Twitter friends for updates of these shows with Occupy inclusions.

From Richard Dyer, WHITE: ESSAYS ON RACE AND CULTURE

“To represent people is to represent bodies…. (The aspects I consider in this book) involve a wider notion of the white body, of embodiment, of whiteness involving something that is in but not of the body….”, p. 14

“….Black people can be reduced (in white culture) to their bodies and thus to race, but white people are something else that is realised in and yet is not reducible to the corporeal, or racial….”, p. 14-5

“Whites must be seen to be white, yet whiteness as race resides in invisible properties, and whiteness as power is maintained by being unseen. To be seen as white is to have one’s corporeality registered, yet true whiteness resides in the non-corporeal” (emphasis added), p. 45

I’m not really crazy about the title or words like “obesogens”, but I still think that this ATLANTIC article on how chemical sources and production processes might be impacting weight is heading in the right direction. The author uses thoughtful sources that I trust, including Michael Gard, Jan Wright, and Julie Guthman, who are among the few voices in academics or industry that challenge the “calories in-calories out” model. I also appreciate that it has more of a systemic than individualistic approach.

“The 1956-57 Harvard basketball team that was planning to travel to New Orleans was all-white. But the center on the team for the previous three years, Bob Bowman, was black.

“In October 1956, four months after Bowman graduated from Harvard, the basketball team gathered and was told about Louisiana’s new law.

“‘It was presented to us,’ said Philip Haughey, a senior on the team. ‘And our reaction was, ‘So Bob wouldn’t have been able to come?’ There was no debate after that. We weren’t going. Yes, we were now an all-white team, but if that was their attitude, then no one was going.

“Hurley added, ‘It was the right decision, just on principle.'”

From NEW YORK TIMES story on the 1956-7 Harvard basketball team that refused to play when invited to a New Orleans tournament after Louisiana had passed an anti-mixing statute that barred interracial athletic contests

So in completing the last post, I got the news that Posterous has been acquired by Twitter. Of course, the language is all self-congratulatory for the Posterous team, but doesn’t sound so cheery for Posterous users. Lots of “we’ll give you ample time” statements about what might happen to the spaces. Very frustrating.

I chose to move my blog over to Posterous last year because I wanted a better interface and more connectivity with other social networking spaces than Blogger could provide, that allowed for comments in a way that Tumblr does not. I also did not want to feel primarily responsible for finding a host and building a site like I sensed I would need to do for WordPress. I also liked the ease of the email post option. It took me a while to decide what to do when I knew I wanted to move my blog. I didn’t make the decision lightly. I thought long and hard to see what made the most sense for me, and after all avenues were explored, Posterous seemed to be it. So after a year, that all seems for naught.

The best decision I guess I made was to autopost almost everything from this site to my original same-named Blogger site, so I don’t necessarily even have to worry about “migrating” everything over, since most of it should already be there. I also autoposted almost everything to my same-named Twitter account, so there’s a secondary kind of back up. While it’s not all dissertation material, I do tend to think of the blog as my scratch pad. In fact, I opened a private Posterous space just a week or two ago so that I could log internet items for the dissertation not easily posted to Twitter.

In the comments for the Posterous-Twitter “merger” announcement, one user wrote that this is just another reminder for why it’s so important to host your blog on your own server. I wish it weren’t true but I can certainly see why that is. The fact is, even in this world of virtual data, the ones who win are still those who own the means of production, even if it’s more code than material technology.

I’ll continue to post here until further notice, but again, keeping as many back-ups as possible, then likely migrate fully back to Blogger once final word comes down about Posterous’ finale. In the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t here long, but I’m still sad to see it go.