Friday, December 3, 2010


i'm seeing black swan tonight. not gonna lie; i'm pretty excited about this. i like to read reviews of movies that pique my interest, usually from the new york times or the washington post. when a smart publication raves about a movie, it makes me that much more excited to see it (and conversely, when a movie gets panned in that kind of review, it disappoints me that i was even interested in the first place).

but the one theme i keep noticing about this movie is the heavy emphasis all the articles place about the self-injury that runs like a river through the whole thing, apparently. look, folks, this is a movie about the upper echelon of professional ballet. it may look pretty, but that is a brutal, harsh, cutthroat and, yes, painful world. hell, when we were teenagers dancing for fun, we used to have a saying: "the more it hurts, the more you smile." (some of us know this well, don't we? one word: mazurka.) so multiply that by about a million once you get to the top of the top. competitors in physical disciplines hurt themselves. we talk about how honorable football players are when they sacrifice mobility for the final fifty years of their lives to be successful in their twenties. but it's funny how the discourse on ballerinas has such a psychodramatic twist, eh? no one calls what defensive tackles do to themselves "self-mutilation," but doesn't it end the same?

now, in the case of the movie, it's clear that this is supposed to be a descent-into-madness thing. i get it. but the whole women and self-injury thing has me thinking. men, when things go sideways in their lives, always get portrayed as lashing out at others. you know the image: dad loses his job at the plant, gets drunk and beats mom into oblivion. but when a woman is hurting, she's always shown as taking it out on herself. papa roach notwithstanding (and i apologize for even bringing that song up), men are not often cutters. women are. why?

i think it's cultural. we're trained to view aggression and anger as male emotions, and thus only men are "allowed" to express them freely. we all know the cultural vocabulary for angry women: ball-busters. bra-burners. (for the LAST time, NO ONE BURNED BRAS. can someone PLEASE teach sarah palin et al to READ?) bitches. words i won't even use that slur women both straight and gay. so what do we do? women swallow anger. we tamp down rage, frustration, disappointment. finally, though, you can't swallow any more; it's coming out one way or another. and all too often, it comes out with the swift, savage pull of a blade across our own skin. the pain, the blood, the action itself brings a form of release, the only way to manifest the darkest recesses without running up against taboos bigger than ourselves.

we've come a long way, baby, as the old cigarette ads used to say. (and the fact that i remember when cigarette ads provided pop-culture memes shows that i'm getting old.) but we haven't come far enough to allow women to just be mad in public. the whole "mama grizzly" thing back in '08 wasn't real anger; it was a stylized temper fit designed to market an ideology. you ever see those women do anything from a place of rage? nope. that's because it's not allowed. if we really want to claim a victory for fairness for everyone, we can make it okay for every person to be healthily angry in the way he or she sees fit. that way, we can eliminate this whole sad cycle of lashing out, either at ourselves or others. maybe then it won't be an issue anymore.


  1. There's no hope for Palin and her ilk in regards to literacy. I realize that's mean and doesn't help anything, but Christine O'Donnell got a book deal. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL!

    I'm a little intrigued by this movie, if anything because I spent 17 years training with a professional ballet corps. I'm curious to see if the story mirrors the Odette/Odile tale or if it's just a dark trip through the world of an understudy.

    Although, I'm a total wuss when it comes to horror (psychological or slasher) films... Really want to hear your review!!

  2. This made me think...and cry, a little bit. It's pretty close to home...

  3. Yes, review please! I remember my ballet days with a shudder. Who needs self-mutilation when you have bleeding feet and a teacher sitting on your hips to make them turn out? Throw in the constant body image problems and pressure for perfection, and it's totally understandable how someone could go mad.

  4. I had a friend who was a cutter in middle/high school. She was a pretty angry gal. While we lost touch when I moved away, I know she found her joy when she came out. No longer angry, she's called Mama for the love that she shares.
    While men are "allowed" their aggressions, I don't accept that its an acceptable expression either. I used to run/exercise when I was angry, usually ending with tears on my face, and while it provided a release, it isn't always and option and hardly an honest one.
    I don't have the answers but I sure am glad you started the conversation.

  5. When you were writing about the ballet dancers (the more it hurts, the more one should smile), that made me think of the stories I've read about some Japanese women who would either bind their feet on their own, or someone would bind their feet for them, because small feet in that segment of society was 'desirable'... I've seen articles where x-rays were included... the damage done to the feet is irreparable.

    You are right, in that Society does seem to allow men to act out when things go 'South' for them... My role model for everything that was good in my Life has been my Mom. I was always amazed that when things didn't go well for her, she 'buckled up' and took care of business. That's how I tend to be. I am not much of a 'lasher-outer'...

    Great post, Ms Magnolia...


  6. Very interested to see this film as a former dancer. Not ballet, but the emphasis on body and weight and prettiness was still there, which stood in hard contrast to the level of grit and determination and strength it took to succeed.

  7. Beautiful post, Magnolia! I agree with you that women are taught not to express anger or resentment. I also feel as though crying -- a stereotypical female response to a problem -- is viewed as a weakness. So, we can't cry in public without seeming weak or female in a negative sense, yet we can argue or scream without being seen as a bitch? Ugh.

    I look forward to seeing Black Swan, and I used to love that Papa Roach song. xoxo


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