Today, I finished reading “Eat Pray Love.” It had been on my radar ever since the inescapable movie trailers and adverts starting popping up around the internet a few weeks ago and this article on female pop culture piqued my interest so I thought it would be interesting to see what all the fuss was about as well as the growing criticism for the film. To be honest, before I read the book I knew it would be something I’d probably dislike and true to my snarky thoughts, I really didn’t like it.
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The prose was fine, it was easy enough to read and there were moments of real vibrancy (mainly whenever food was being described) but I found all my problems lay in the criticisms that had been noted in several book and movie reviews. Everything felt far too neat; it felt as if it had been put together in the way that would garner the widest audience. It felt very well thought out and predictable. I’m finding it hard to describe what I mean here; the book read as if Gilbert had planned out exactly what she was going to write before she had even begun to travel (the fact that Gilbert financed the trip with the advance she received for writing this book also added to my suspicions with the possible artificialness of the story.) I was extremely uncomfortable with the way other cultures were portrayed – especially the people, who all seem to exist to be exotic fridge magnet slogan spouting figures of mystery, ready to soothe Gilbert’s ego – not to mention the fact that I found Gilbert extremely unlikeable. She was selfish, extremely neurotic, and insecure and in constant need of reassurance, which other characters only seemed very willing to give in the cheesiest manner possible, and she spends page after page moping about how terrible her life is. Because no group of people have been as oppressed as professionally successful middle class white women on holiday in Italy.
So the article I mentioned and can no longer find (apologies) mentioned female pop culture, using arguably the three biggest examples of such in the past ten years – Eat, Pray, Love, Sex and the City (mainly the movies) and Twilight. Since I can’t find the article anymore this won’t be a proper analysis of it, rather a brief pondering over the sudden popularity of said entertainment and its appeal to women. It’s such a stereotype to say all women like chick flicks, pink and unnecessary male nudity but all three examples have proven that the simplest things are often the most successful. The Nostalgia Chick described pop culture as appealing “to the lowest common denominator of human intelligence, it always has [although] here are some minor exceptions” and I agree to an extent. While there are many big exceptions (e.g. The Beatles, Star Wars – what? I like it – Nirvana, Harry Potter) for the most part they’re simple things that appeal to people on the simplest level, often becoming popular because it was in the right place at the right time. For example Twilight got a huge boost of publicity solely based on its placing on the NYT bestseller list following the end of the Harry Potter series. I think the three examples used to describe female pop culture became very popular in part because they appeal to the basest instincts possible, mainly that of selfishness and personal fantasies.
I do think it’s unfair and pretty damn insulting that so many elements of entertainment are automatically derided because they appeal to women or are marketed specifically to women. The term chick-flick or chick-lit is pretty much a substitute for crap these days and there isn’t really a male equivalent to that term (guy-flicks? Dude-flicks? Doesn’t really work and I’ve never heard it used in reviews or the media but if anyone has any examples of such a term being used I’d love to see it). Male pop culture can be just as mind-numbingly stupid as the stuff aimed at women but since I lack the proper equipment to discuss male pop culture I’ll settle for this one.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making entertainment specifically for one gender (although I’d love to see more gender neutral stuff with equal amounts of both sexes in them. It’s not hard to relate to a character just because they’re female, honestly) and the most popular stuff is always going to be criticised or mocked by someone, but recent female pop culture has been under a barrage for criticism from both men and women and they can’t all be wrong, can they? I’m a big, ranty, feminist liberal with a lot of free time on her hands so I think it’s safe to say I’m a bit biased, but I can’t help but feel a little bit insulted that I’m supposed to relate to women like Carrie Bradshaw, Elizabeth Gilbert and Bella Swan. Yet a lot of women do and that’s helped to elevate the three to a level of popularity wannabe writers like myself can only dream of. So why is Eat Pray Love so relatable? What is it about sparkly vampires and obsessive love that’s set the hearts of millions of women on fire? And does consumerism really make everything better?
Sex and the City is not a bad show. I don’t despise it but there’s a lot about it I could do without (Carrie Bradshaw’s extreme stupidity, the over-the-top puns and situations more suited to a drag show, the message that clothes will solve all your problems, etc). I admire it on some level because it did a lot to start conversations on female sexuality in comparison to male sexuality, and the close friendships the girls had was really well written. But the 2 movies saw the series take a turn for the disastrous. Some of the reviews for the recent 2nd movie were painfully hilarious and highlighted the real shark jumping moments, especially that whole problematic race and culture issue (watch Mark Kermode’s review for the best laugh you’ll ever have). For a show that had marketed itself on female friendships and sexual liberation, it didn’t take long for it to turn into a worship alter for all things consumerism and boy obsessed. In a way I think Twilight and Eat Pray Love are very similar to Sex and the City, just dressed up and down to different levels. Like Carrie, Elizabeth Gilbert spends and inordinate amount of time obsessing over men yet insisting that she is her own saviour and can live without a partner. Their ridiculous and extremely neurotic demands are resolved happily with little or no consequence and the men in their lives (I’m speaking mainly about Carrie in Sex and the City 2, which I refuse to watch unless one of you pays me enough to, and the many wonderful reviews I’ve read on the film) seem happy to bow down to them. They serve as characters, not as real people. Eat Pray Love may be a memoir but it reads like a novel with little characterisation for the characters other than Gilbert. All the men in the book (bar Gilbert’s ex husband who is modelled as some sort of cruel bad guy when frankly I felt sorry for him) act as fridge magnet spouting gurus (I’m not even going to touch the misappropriation of other cultures in this book because I’m nowhere near qualified for it, so here’s an NPR link) or fantasy figures that live to tell Gilbert that it’s not her, it’s everyone else and she shouldn’t stop for a moment to think that maybe she’s the one at fault because she’s had it so tough recently trekking through some of the most beautiful places in the world. She doesn’t stop to think about how lucky or privileged she is compared to those around her and when she does do something kind (getting her well off friends to donate money to a Balinese woman to buy her a house) it doesn’t come across as selfless or kind, it comes across as (yet again) selfish. Carrie Bradshaw is also on the same level of self obsessed neurosis. Whilst on a free holiday in an exorbitantly expensive Dubai resort Carrie ponders the terrible rut her marriage is in brought on by her husband wanting to settle down and watch old black and white movies with her at home on the big TV he bought her as an anniversary present. This is the relatable, sympathetic heroine, ladies and gentlemen! Forget the huge division between rich and poor in the Middle East, forget actually tackling a seldom discussed topic in film with romance over the age of 40 or anything that may be relatable on some level to the typical movie goer, it’s so much more rewarding to have Ms Bradshaw return home to her husband buying her a black diamond ring and everything is fine because she’s got a diamond and two houses and a walk in wardrobe and that’s what all women want!
Okay, deep breath, Kayleigh. Calm down.
I’m good honestly.
Personally, I think that’s what’s at the heart of all these things; selfishness. It allows the typical viewer/reader/etc to easily slip into that role and live out a fantasy with little or no consequence. Want a man to love you forever? Not just any man, a man who has waited a century for you and will think about nothing but loving you no matter how ordinary you are? Want a love so all consuming and special that it almost starts a war? Then we’ve got a book for you! How about consequence free sex? What about the chance to be a human clothes horse in an exotic location with no worries over bills or any of those real life problems? And at the end of the day your man will still adore you and buy you more things? Grab a box-set of DVDs! Do you want to be special? Do you want to be the beautiful, well off woman who can travel the world on a year long search for herself with no consideration for anyone but yourself and have it end with a literal ride into the sunset? How about doing it under the guise of self discovery and spirituality? There’s a book for that too. At the heart of it, Bella, Elizabeth and Carrie are the same women. They know what they want and they get it with almost no consequences or consideration for others. Some use fairy-tale love, some use Versace shoes and others use a yoga mat. I’m probably being unnecessarily cruel here but even though I’m only 20 and still have a lot of living and dreaming to do, I can’t help but wonder why the entertainment that is supposed to appeal to me is so problematic and filled with such anti-feminist fail, among many other levels of fail. Why do the heroines of our pop culture need to be so selfish and obsessed with the shallowest of things? And why are they the people we’re supposed to relate to and be entertained by? If this is what we were given for the first decade of the century, I’m very interested to see what the next ten years throw at us. Please don’t include uterus chewing.
Wow, I've only got one more Sparkle Project review to write then I'm done. Well, one review to write, two to post but still, eek.
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