The New American Dream

Any American can name the American Dream. White picket fence, a well-maintained, comfortable house in the suburbs, 2.5 kids—a true 1950s vision.

But that vision is decades old, now, and in the years that have passed, the dream has changed. Now it’s colored by the desperation of a new generation that grew up into a reality where the picket fence is no longer a dream to aspire to; it’s a delusion, an impossibility.

In truth, the American Dream has long been an impossibility for many people. The working class has never had access to the middle class suburbs, though a select few have managed to push their way up in to the middle class. Such people have been the exception, however, and not the rule.

When I started college, just a few years ago, I figured that I would graduate and get a job somewhere in the city—any city, really. I’d have a small, modest apartment. I wasn’t expecting anything flashy. A used car, maybe just the one I’d already had for a few years.

It didn’t work out that way. After college, I briefly returned to the job I’d worked during summer and winter vacations, while living at home. I found myself in a position that many people my age share, and our ambitions and hopes have changed.

Not a high powered job—how about any job? McDonald’s? Starbucks? All of the jobs that people are supposed to get out of once they’ve gotten an education are the ones that people with bachelor’s degrees are competing for.

Forget about aspiring to own a house. We’re living at home, and hoping that maybe we’ll be able to afford a studio apartment one day. We wouldn’t even mind living with bugs. It’s the best we can hope for.

And when it comes to starting our own families, that’s a nice idea, but unrealistic. We don’t have the resources. Many of us may never have the resources required to start a family.

It’s a bleak dream. The bare minimum, at best. I’d like to put a hopeful slant to the millenial dream, but I can’t, really. Hemingway termed the generation coming out of the World War I the lost generation, and in some ways, I think we’re a new lost generation. Most of us did not serve in war, but we are but wanderers in life, listlessly moving forward, toward nothing.

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Misogyny, or “You’re Not a Real Nerd!”

Last year, I happened to see the Avengers. It immediately became my favorite movie, and I became interested in finding out more about the source material, especially about my favorite character, the Black Widow, or Natasha Romanoff. It was overwhelming to look at the material, since the Avengers have been around for decades. To make my quest easier, I decided to look for volumes on female superheroes, figuring there wouldn’t be quite as much material there.

I have been pleasantly surprised with what I’ve found. Marvel and DC both have multiple volumes on interesting characters such as X-23, Mystique, Batgirl, and Powergirl. The selection for the Black Widow is limited to three books representing three short series featuring the Black Widow. I fell in love with Marjorie Liu’s In the Name of the Rose, which was beautifully written, with excellent art. So far, I’ve read Batwoman, Batgirl, Captain Marvel, and Spider-woman. I’ve enjoyed all the volumes, and can’t seem to stop ordering more books to explore more female characters.

The female characters are no longer all posed in ridiculous positions, while wearing a bikini into battle. The costumes still have some issues (see Powergirl’s boob window), but I was relieved by the art in what I bought. The point was not sexual objectification of the female character; it was to make a good story.

I’m glad that the comic book world has made its comics slightly more female-friendly, though I don’t doubt there are examples of sexual objectification in other current comic books. And I haven’t noticed all that many women writing or drawing comics. I’m encouraged by writers such as Majorie Liu and Kelly Sue Deconnick, but I am discouraged by the backlash against comic book series featuring female teams, such as Fearless Defenders and the upcoming all women X-Men series.

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Changing the Queer Narrative in Popular Media

Tonight I’m listening to the soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain. The instrumental pieces by Gustavo Santaolalla are so beautiful, but listening to it makes me think a lot about the tragic gay story and how Hollywood tells queer stories to a straight audience. I appreciate the impact Brokeback Mountain has had on mainstream culture, but I think it’s time for straight audiences to support a different gay narrative, one that allows for the possibility of happiness and fulfillment.

I remember first viewing Brokeback Mountain. I was sixteen at the time, and I had already spent several years seeking out gay media–always in secret, as I was not out at the time. Of course, I cried. Some years later I found the short story on my sister’s bookshelf and furtively read it. I loved the short story as much as I loved the movie, and I now have my own copy on my bookshelf.

What I find most interesting about Brokeback Mountain is it’s the only major film about a gay romance that I can recall becoming popular in the mainstream. Sure, we’ve had films such as Milk and Monster (another one that made me cry), but I can’t think of another mainstream film where gay romance was the focus. For that reason, I think Brokeback Mountain holds a unique spot in LGBT film history.

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Out of the Oven

When I set up this blog, I chose to set my header text to “A Passionate, Fragmentary Girl,” because it sounds good and also because I feel it describes me very well. I can’t take credit for the phrase, though; that goes to Sylvia Plath.

Mention Sylvia Plath to most English majors, especially ones from my alma mater, and they’ll probably start to salivate. Personally, I’ve never liked Plath’s work. Plath went to Smith College and briefly taught there, so it was inevitable that I would read her poetry. Ariel bored me, and in a journal entry, I compared reading The Bell Jar to stepping into an ankle-deep puddle to get to the crosswalk–unpleasant, but necessary, as I had to read it for a class.

And yet, Plath haunts me. After I read The Bell Jar, I was required to read parts of Plath’s journals. In class, I heard people discuss how intense her journals were, how they couldn’t imagine experiencing life as Plath did. I was shocked, because when I had read the journals, I had thought, “God, this woman really understands!” I had underlined passages, noting in the margins, “We kindred are.” Reading Plath’s journals was like hearing myself speak.

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In Praise of the Books that Stop Your Breath

Seven years ago, I stood in line for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince. I recall I was wearing a black shirt with bell sleeves and a lace up back–something I wouldn’t be caught dead in these days, but I had a thing for semi-goth, semi-hippie clothing at the time. My mother and I were the first ones at the bookstore, an independent place that I still think of with longing. We’d gotten there far ahead of time, so we went inside to browse the other books.

I don’t know what drew me to it (possibly the lovely cover), but I picked up Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. I knew nothing about Edith Wharton, but the book looked good, and I needed something to read over the summer, for my pre-AP English course. As I waited to get my hands on the sixth book of the Harry Potter series, I stood outside and started to read the book.

Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand Central Station his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss Lily Bart.

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A Bit of Inspiration

Untitled by ¤Annie¤
Untitled, a photo by ¤Annie¤ on Flickr.

I’m the kind of person who has a lot of trouble visualizing people’s faces. Five minutes after I’ve met you, I’ve completely forgotten your face. So I tend to go to photographs and paintings to develop my mental pictures of characters. I spend a fair amount of time on flickr, especially the portrait groups. You have to sift through a lot of photographs that aren’t so great, but you’ll usually find some gems.

I love photographs that capture a moment, in addition to capturing a person. This photograph fascinates me; it’s so moody and interesting. I could build a story around this picture. What is this woman thinking about? What happened just before she sat down on this couch?

There’s no real point to this entry, just wanted to share this photograph.

Overcoming the Anxiety of Influence

In my first year of college, I took an English course that introduced me to a world of intellectualism I had only dreamed of as a high school student. For the first time, I was challenged to push my natural talents for interpretation and writing, and I encountered concepts that fascinated me. Among these concepts was the anxiety of influence, the critic Harold Bloom’s idea that we writers (well, he specified poets, but let’s pretend he said writers) are aware of and anxious over the extensive literary history we have to distinguish ourselves from when we write.

Everyone wants to be an original, but we are all influenced by what has come before. I recall, as a child, wanting desperately to make something unique; I was terrified of only repeating what others had said. It was, in fact, a reasonable fear, as most of the things I wrote in my early youth were entirely unoriginal. It took time for me to find my own voice, and even longer to overcome my anxiety of influence.

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