We all know how it goes when a friend compliments you and you deflect the compliment back:

Thanks, Servetus, for the heads-up about this awesome clip!

I haven’t watched Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer — have you? do you like it? This hits that great sweet spot of being both brutally funny and eerily accurate. Maybe I need to look into it….

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This is a manifesto about crying onscreen. Because if there’s anything that makes a film lose its authenticity for me, it’s a crying scene.

Picture this: a man and a woman on the big screen, having an emotional moment together. In close-up, a single tear runs out of the corner of her eye (or his). No matter how much people at TV Tropes make fun of the Single Teardrop Trope, it appears un-ironically throughout film today.

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These moments immediately take you out of the story. I immediately think, “How convenient that this tear won’t mess up the actor’s makeup!” And I imagine a makeup person standing nearby with an eyedropper, poised to put one more teardrop into the actor’s eye for the next take.

Sometimes the camera cuts back to the actor and he/she sheds another tear. Argh. It’s as if directors worldwide have collectively decided, “If I’m going to have to pay the eyedropper staffer, goddammit, I want the audience to notice that my actor’s crying!”

Here’s a recommendation: when someone needs to cry onscreen, have someone on set give them a pinch or poke them with a pin so we can get an actual tear instead of this fake stuff.

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codyWhen I see the single tear, I think of the classic anti-littering commercial from the 1970s, in which an Indian watches someone hurl some trash out of their car. Prompt: single tear.

Do I need to add that the actor in that Keep America Beautiful campaign wasn’t a real Indian? He was Italian-American, from Louisiana.

Do you see the layers of fakeness, all prompted by the single tear?

Now, as someone prone to cry during sentimental commercials, documentaries, and every single viewing of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility (1995), I’m well-positioned to explain everything wrong with movie crying.

When real people cry — even a single tear — they wipe the tears away. Who the hell just lets one’s tears just sit there? No one onscreen wipes their tears away, because someone in the theater might miss the bathos. (Also: makeup smudge.)

To be sure, crying onscreen isn’t limited to the single tear method; sometimes we see tear-streaked faces (which they also don’t wipe away). Those tears look fake, too — what, do makeup artists use some kind of vaseline? Half those tears lie there like some kind of glop. No wonder no one wants to wipe it away. Fake, fake, fake!

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Not to mention those scenes in which an actor sobs mercilessly, only to have not a single tear fall from their eyes.

Let’s face it: when white people cry, their eyes and noses get all red and bloated, and the whole scene gets ugly quickly. (Again, I speak from experience.) Between all the snuffling and nose-blowing and one’s mouth and chin contorting unattractively, well, it’s just … Tonya Harding.

Which, of course reveals why we don’t see a lot of realistic crying in films. The best movie crying I’ve ever seen comes from Michelle Williams — and that’s because of what she can do with her mouth, as I’ve discussed before. Otherwise it’s crap.

But it also reveals my core feminist point: we don’t show real crying because we don’t want to see actual women and men.

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girl-crying_l2A single tear — or maybe two — is pretty. When used with women, it appeals to sexists’ worst natures: it aestheticizes women’s emotions, giving us pleasure in her sorrow. It places her in a position of weakness and shows it to be visually attractive.

When she fails to wipe away that genteel tear or two, it begs for a man to do it for her.

And all those dudes out there who only want one kind of woman — the Hollywood kind, whose entire raison d’être is to support a man, and who’s always hot and awesome except when she’s helpless and vulnerable — well, they can keep believing that real women with their messy ugly crying are just big failures. You can imagine how such a man responds to real crying.

Men crying onscreen are just as stylized, although the sexism isn’t so appalling. Which is why Johnny Depp in John Waters’ Cry-Baby (1990) was such a great satire: it’s the same aestheticization, except in this case it simply makes a stone-cold heartthrob more “sensitive.”

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Ladies, in case you still fantasize that your dude will cry prettily like Johnny, be warned that real men cry with the same sloppy, ugly abandon that women do. What I can’t understand is how we can see male actors express the ugliest, most terrifying rage and violence onscreen, but never have I seen men crying with abandon as actual men sometimes do. And this hurts both men and women.

Thus, my manifesto: I want a new Dogme 95-style movement — or those animal rights vows taken by modern filmmakers to oppose any form of animal cruelty or pain — that opposes fake crying in film.

A small point? well, maybe. But I think it’ll move mountains.

Because whoever has put together Office Hours are Over and My Life as a College Professor have basically provided a public service for the rest of us. To wit, a post with the heading, “Department Meetings”:

tumblr_inline_mm1tlvt0td1qz4rgpOr, When It Is the Last Day of Classes:

tumblr_inline_mjr9lfla0p1qz4rgp_zps8bc5baf8I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so understood.

Sure, those VIDA statistics showed that lady writers don’t get reviewed — and nor do they serve very often as reviewers. Pish! I mean, can we really trust women and math? The Washington Post‘s Ron Charles reminds us that he once taught a class that had Elaine Showalter’s “Towards a Feminist Poetics,” so … wait, what were you talking about? So hard to pay attention to those shrill, bitter lady-tones.

Great satire:

Less satirically and on a similar topic, Amanda Filipacchi wrote this week in the NY Times that she’d discovered that Wikipedia had re-categorized us lady writers. No longer are we included under “American Novelists” — rather, we are segregated into the convenient and totally equal category of “American Women Novelists.” The rationale appears to be that the list of American novelists was too long. (Isn’t that the thing about information?!)

Isn’t that a relief? Because when I searching for a list of American novelists, of course I mean male novelists.

I would only hope that they further tidy up the lists by separating out the Black American Female Novelists into their own happy (and, again, totally equal!) page. And the Gay American Female Novelists, and Working Class American Female Novelists, and Latina and Possibly Undocumented American Female Novelists. And, oh yeah, Disabled American Female Novelists. Now that would be convenient.

Not.

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As much as it gets a big grin from me, using these universal/unisex/ “international symbol” figures makes sex seem a little clinical, doesn’t it?

How to grade papers

13 March 2013

“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” — some brilliant person from history

Actually, compared to grading student papers, writing is easy. You want blood oozing out of your pores? Try grading.

Just recently we received a plaintive letter from one of our avid readers:

Dear Feminéma,

I am grading my students’ papers. Is it possible I could die?

Sincerely, Agonized

Never fear, Agonized. I have advice!

1. Let’s get this over with already: the problem of procrastination. Watch this video:

…but only watch it once, because otherwise you’d be guilty of procrastination. Also: do not allow yourself to do anything else, even those things you ordinarily hate doing (cleaning the house; emptying the litter box) which now suddenly look awesome because they are not grading.

2. Let yourself indulge in your oral fixation of choice. I grade papers while consuming an bottomless pot of tea, glasses of water, and a bowl of almonds. I have an entire drawer full of non-drowsy herbal teas for this purpose alone. (Favorites: Good Earth Herbal Sweet and Spicy; Peet’s Hibiscus C Blend.) Why, you can consider a long day of grading to double as a kind of flush of the toxins in your system if you drink enough of this stuff.

Note: Beware of caffeine. It does not help to finish grading if your hands start shaking and/or you find yourself wondering if your heart is beating too fast, and whether you need to visit the emergency room.

Exceptions to my oral fixation rule: all fixations that would actually be nice and helpful, like cigarettes and alcohol. Also street drugs. DO NOT ABUSE NARCOTICS WHILE GRADING. Alcohol only works for approximately 30 minutes as you go through the very first paper; after that it ruins you (i.e., me) for the entire evening.

On my wish list: some kind of prescription drug that removes the pain/distractions from grading. Preferably (but not necessarily) legal.

Higher up on my wish list: a grading Rumplestiltskin (attention such individuals who come in the night to finish all this on my behalf: I have no problem offering up my first-born child).

3. Sit down in your designated grading area, far away from any device that can offer you electronic/internet escape from the horrors about to ruin your day.

How long it will take to grade one longish paper if you ignore your devices: 45 min to 1 hour

How long it takes to grade one longish paper if you do not ignore the Internet: 4+ hours

4. Just shutting off devices is not good enough; you need additional restraint. Let me recommend one possibility, designed by erstwhile American inventor Benjamin Rush for teachers everywhere:rushtranquilizer

Unable to realize the full tranquilizing brilliance of this helpful design? Yeah, me neither. So I opt for a hoodie. Yes, that’s right. I close the door to my office, pull up the hood on my hoodie, and settle in, as if I am a horse with blinders on.

Warning: anyone else in the house will mock you, sitting there miserably with your hoodie up. Try very hard not to feel shame for your weaknesses.

5. Start with low expectations, no matter what.

My trick is to start with a paper by a student who I think might do okay. NOT my favorite student. Definitely not the dumbest student. If the first 4 sentences do not leave me wanting to shoot myself, I consider this a major triumph.

On the other hand, I once asked a student if he had a spam-bot write his unintelligible paper.

6. Offer yourself rewards for completing a good day’s work in grading.

Like alcohol. But only after a significant number of essays have been completed.

Do not promise yourself a horrible reward like cleaning the cat litter, which will not look fun at all if you can have a nice glass of wine (or three).

Common Pitfalls in Grading

1. Do not let yourself think, “Next time I will grade these papers the minute they arrive rather than wait till the last possible second before I have to return them!” You are lying to yourself. Again.

2. Do not let yourself think, “These papers are awful. Therefore I must be a terrible teacher/ person.” This is the gateway to the hopeless pit of grading paralysis.

Related: do not let yourself think, “These papers are so awful because higher education is being destroyed by the United States’ lack of investment in education overall, by parents’ emphasis on education as purely instrumental, by students’ poor attention spans …” and so on.

Also: do not start taking notes on the op-ed you plan to write on these subjects.

3. Do not let yourself get angry at the students. I know they deserve it. (Oh, sweet Jesus, how they deserve it.) But it will only make you want to post snarky things on Facebook and/or send snarky emails to your professor friends.

What is worst? the factual errors, the utter ignorance (“I suspect Samli is not a Jew because she is raising a pig for Christmas and Jews don’t eat pigs”), the nails-on-chalkboard grammatical clunkers (“After the investigation, her and Geertz traveled to Bali”), or the overall inability to develop strong and logical arguments? Kill me now!

4. Do not start grading and then think to yourself, “Hey, why don’t I write a silly blog post about how to grade papers?”

[Fuck me.]