Saturday, January 19, 2008

Statistics are sexy

Of course, you probably didn’t think so the last time you had to calculate the probability of picking a red marble out of a basket, run an SPSS regression, or assemble a meta-analysis study of different data sets. Yet, I’ll admit there’s very little that’s sexier than someone objectively good-looking who has an exceedingly strong command of what he or she is talking about, imparting statistical information in front of some spiffy slides or charts. I become thoroughly absorbed, the rest of the world seems to fall away, and my mouth would be ever so slightly open.

In the case of CNN election coverage, it would be in front of some very high-tech LCD or plasma screens, and the reporter in question is chief national correspondent John King. Gasp! Not Anderson Cooper? As much as I loved the silver-haired, blue-eyed anchor, he doesn’t have the same grasp on politics . . . not by a long shot. It is King whose thinking and analyses are shrewd, nuanced, and impassioned.

I’ve enjoyed CNN election coverage thus far. It’s really quite entertaining to see seasoned reporters get worked up about Iowa and New Hampshire, some of the most sparsely populated states in the Union. It’s been engaging to watch them make judgments, backtrack on it, and try to explain where their thinking went wrong (as in the case of New Hampshire). It’s more to appease their shortcomings than for the benefit of viewers.

In the morass of these reporters, anchors, and pundits, there is a beacon of light that is King. He’s done his research. He places the emerging results from the primaries in historical context. He takes the time to explain things properly and thoroughly to the viewer. He delves into the complexity of the predictors of voting outcomes. Sometimes, he gets a little too excited and speaks a little too quickly, but I find this rather charming, as he is usually really quite sedate and level-headed. And wow, is he really good at using that complicated technology CNN has provided him.

Click here to see him in action.


Picture credits: CNN

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...

so expressed by William Congreve in his play "The Mourning Bride."

I was browsing when I came across this book written by University of Vermont professor Hilary Neroni. It's called The Violent Woman: Femininity, Narrative, And Violence In Contemporary American Cinema.


While debating if I should get this book, I did some searching and came across and interview and a book review. The interview is really neat; I'm xeroxing most of it:

INTERview: Hilary Neroni
The author of The Violent Woman discusses film and fur

By Amanda Waite
Article published June 23, 2005

Hilary Neroni, professor of film and television studies, met with the view on June 17 to discuss her new book, The Violent Woman: Femininity, Narrative, and Violence in Contemporary American Cinema (SUNY Press), which explores the recent emergence of violent female characters in mainstream productions. Previously confined to particular genres and historical situations, the violent woman can now be found across genres in contemporary film. The trend began with the release of Thelma and Louise, the 1991 film about two women who run from the law after killing a man who tries to rape one of them. The film sparked a public debate about violent women — a reaction, Neroni says, that mirrors the hysterical public response to real female murderers like Lizzie Borden and Susan Smith. In her book, Neroni explores the disruptive quality of the violent woman, paying particular attention to how the narrative of the film itself is affected by the presence of these traumatic characters.

What is it about violent women in film that inspires you to study the phenomenon?

I think that the reason I was drawn to talking about the violent woman is because she’s an extreme of the strong woman. You could do a similar study of strong, dramatic, women characters in film, but I think that the physicality of violence makes a nice extreme example that shines a very bright light on all these machinations of the ideological workings of masculinity and femininity and how very strongly ideology and Hollywood needs (masculinity and femininity) to be complimentary… Also, I was very fascinated how historically, until this moment, the violent woman had been confined to particular genres and was linked to historical moments of crisis and tension between genders that have been very well documented by theorists and historians, like after World War II or during and after the suffragette movement in the teens.

In your book, you discuss violent women as traumatic and show how films depicting violent women frequently attempt to heal that trauma by forcing women back into more familiar gender roles or by splitting the woman’s violence from her femininity. What do you think this reveals about the status of women in society today?

I tend to look at Hollywood films as the workings of contemporary ideology. There are trends going on socially, and Hollywood is reacting to those trends. Because it’s mainstream and it’s part of ideology, it at times works to contain those trends. But sometimes, by accident or not, it ends up celebrating a trend. I think that it’s not always a one-to-one indication of exactly what’s going on, but it’s an interesting indication of tension and angst. These days, it would be hard to imagine an action film in which a woman doesn’t do something to help the hero, whereas in the 80s, even the first Terminator film, it was very common to have the woman just along; she’s not someone who would help out. Today, I think every audience member starts to be frustrated if a woman is just hanging out — if someone’s in trouble and there’s a gun lying there and she doesn’t pick it up. It’s interesting to see how our expectations have changed. I think film is an important place to look at in terms of what’s happening in society. Gender roles are changing, and the movies are dealing with it in their own way.

Your book offers analyses of the violent female characters in Thelma and Louise, The Long Kiss Goodnight, G.I. Jane, Courage Under Fire and Tomorrow Never Dies, among other films. Are there any films that have been released since you sent the book to press that you would have liked to have written about?

Well, Mr. and Mrs. Smith just came out, and that would have been a great one to talk about…and then there’s Kill Bill, which I have in a couple of footnotes in the book, but I would have liked to talk about that further. Million Dollar Baby, which I was kind of mad at. Three quarters of the way through the film — one of the only mainstream, big blockbuster films with a woman boxer in it — she becomes a complete quadriplegic! You’ve got to be kidding me! Those films would have been fun to talk about, but that’s one of the things about a book like this one when it’s on a topic that clearly keeps going; the films keep going.

It must be rewarding to see that your work is still relevant…

I just keep waiting for mainstream Hollywood to prove me wrong! But it doesn’t.

Moving from the specific to the general, why do you think it is important to study film?

We walk around in our day, and everything presents on a screen. Our computer screens, our iPods, our telephones often, and then we watch television or go see a movie. Our days are so drenched in screens, so I think it’s essential for students to study film and television and be able to analyze video games and internet and film and television as texts and be analytical about the way in which ideology and society is working within these texts rather than just consuming them as entertainment. I think it’s the essential thing to study. It’s our contemporary existence.

Source: UVM publication

To read a book review, click here.


Originally posted at Sthemingway.