Time just released its list of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World. Some people are very deserving and the mere recognition of their efforts should be lauded. And in the case of others I fail to see what they are purported to influence. Chelsea Handler? Rihanna? Luckily there are worthier entertainers on the list:
E L James: Typing worthier entertainers and then seguing to E L James even makes me question myself a bit…but Fifty Shades of Grey is continuing to grow in popularity for a few reasons. Its most recent success stems from word-of-mouth buzz. The book is everywhere and people are increasingly reading it to join in on the conversation. But more importantly, it has generated new discussion around what women read. I am not talking about the ridiculous misnomer “mommy porn”; Fifty Shades has proven that all kinds of women respond to what is depicted in the book. I definitely would not consider it the best read of my life: it is repetitive, the Britishisms that James employs are very distracting, and it would be better served with edits for plausibility (Ana is an English major WITHOUT a computer?). A few things did hold my interest: the S&M rules and explanations were fascinating; not something I have extensively read about in any novel. The other thing was this: Christian’s inaccessibility. Ana can’t touch him, can’t have him in the way a normal relationship works. And I think many women respond to this, the just out-of-reach guy, and along with Ana we hope to heal Christian, thus we race to the end of the book. The bottom line: hopefully James has paved the way for more writers to approach novels geared toward women in new, innovative ways. I think this is a big opportunity to find new stories to tell centered on romance that avoid the sappiness of a Harlequin paperback; novels about relationships that also teach, inform, and generate discussion.
Kristen Wiig: Bridesmaids is genius. And I think the idea to not do a sequel to Bridesmaids is genius. So, yeah, I can agree that Kristen Wiig is on top of the food chain in the female comedy world. With women writers/performers generating such great material, it is a new dawn in a world previously dominated by the Frat Pack. Unfortunately, this trend towards female-centered comedy is resulting in more misses than hits. I understand that everyone can’t be Kristen Wiig and her writing partner and not every movie will be as surprisingly refreshing as Bridesmaids. I just hope that female comedy is further encouraged, and not hindered by, the onslaught of pretenders to the Bridesmaids throne.
Louis C.K.: If Kristen Wiig is bolstering female comedy, Louis C.K. is revolutionizing the entire comedy scene. I honestly think that people will be looking at his career, years from now, in order to chart the changes in the field. Much credit should be given to FX for giving Louis C.K. what amounts to carte blanche in the industry. Although he has given up some of his original duties for his show Louie, he has simultaneously starred, written, directed, and produced. He has drafted friends to participate and stuck to a specified budget. And he started the trend of releasing his standup special from his own website instead of working with a distributor. Louie is a fascinating show; it can be outrageously funny in one episode and ruminate on Catholic guilt in the next. It is never boring and it is never repetitive. And hey, can’t ignore someone who feels the same way that I do about Ewan McGregor.
Asghar Farhadi: The Iranian film A Separation took Hollywood by storm this year, becoming the shoe-in for Best Foreign Film. Its reception is more evidence that tough topics and messages can be communicated through film beautifully and transmitted on the global level. And yet, I have not seen it because it is not available (to rent) in the United States. Making a good movie is one thing. We have to work on outreach and accessibility. This isn’t the cure to ignorance but I truly believe that promoting films such as A Separation is the gateway to a better informed world.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: In a similar vein, Saving Face brought home Pakistan’s first Oscar. The film raises awareness of acid-related violence against women and Sharmeen is currently touring Pakistan’s towns and villages with an educational-awareness campaign. A talented filmmaker, she has left a trail of award winning films. This kind of large-scale outreach program is exactly what I am talking about: we need more of this in the West. We need to find new methods of mobilizing the populace to watch these groundbreaking films in order to promote global awareness and understanding.
Claire Danes: I nodded my head enthusiastically to the inclusion of Claire Danes and her portrayal of bipolar, anti-hero Carrie Mathison on Homeland. There seems to be a double standard in the television world where audiences eagerly accept our male anti-heroes (of which there are many) but are quick to judge or even attempt to utilize women in similar roles. Carrie bucks that trend by introducing us to her world: she is beyond brilliant but catastrophically impulsive. We get to watch as she implodes relationship after relationship, all in the pursuit of her hunches. She doesn’t let anyone get close, save for us viewers. I think television is getting the hint: we don’t need our ladies to be likeable; we just need them to be compelling. (The overwhelming divisiveness of Girls, however, seems to indicate that the room for maneuver with unlikeable women is very limited.)