Saturday, October 26, 2013

Take Me Or Leave Me: RENT from a Feminist Perspective

The cast of Forbidden Planet Productions' RENT performing "Seasons of Love." 
Photo credit: The GW Hatchet

As a student at The George Washington University, I am actively involved in the student-run theatre organization, Forbidden Planet Productions, and I currently serve as the company's Executive Producer. FPP is known for putting on musicals and straight plays, as well as its annual production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," I have performed and/or worked backstage in 13 FPP productions since my freshman year, but the past eight weeks have been the most meaningful, as I got to work on my all-time favorite show, RENT.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show (shame on you!), here's a little background on it taken from Wikipedia:

RENT is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La bohème. It. tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive and create in New York City's Lower East Side in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.

RENT has connected to millions of people since it first premiered on Broadway in 1996 and is the ninth longest-running Broadway show in history, closing in 2008 after a 12-year run. The show has not only connected to people suffering with AIDS or people who know others who suffer from the disease and/or died from it. The show connects to artists, loners, LGBT people and allies, as well as people of all ages, races, classes, and sizes from all over the world.

I was a little late on the band wagon, as I did not fully discover the show until my sophomore year of high school. I had been familiar with the songs from an early age since it was my mother's favorite show and she would play the soundtrack all the time, but I had never seen a production until I saw the movie when I was 16.

That first time that I watched the movie was around the time that my grandfather died. He was the first person close to me that had ever died, and RENT helped me to cope with my grief. To this day, I cannot watch or listen to "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" without thinking of him.

Another reason as to why RENT means so much to me as that it is considered by many to be a feminist work of art. With cross-dressers and LGBT characters, RENT celebrates freedom of expression and praises openness. In "Modern Feminism: Taking a Cue from Broadway's RENT," Yahoo blogger Kaira Williams discusses why the character Joanne Jefferson is "one of the strongest female characters on stage and film." Williams writes:

Joanne Jefferson is a character that stands out as really breaking out of the typical Hollywood gender, race and sexuality restrictions. Joanne is a successful black, lesbian lawyer who comes from a well-to-do family and constantly comes through for her friends and life-partner throughout the film. She exhibits characteristics of any protagonist male character that one would normally see in a Hollywood movie, and she accomplishes these feats with her clothes on. Joanne is a strong woman because not her race, sexuality or gender is touched upon as being an issue in the movie. She is female to the core, and does not hesitate to show more "female aspects" of her personality, but never wavers in her strength throughout those moments.

Joanne is pretty kick-ass and is one of my favorite characters in the show. She sings the duet "Take Me or Leave Me" with her girlfriend, Maureen, and the song is one of, if not the most powerful female duet in all of Broadway. 

All in all, RENT speaks to me not only on a personal level, but also on a broader level, as it is a work of art that works towards a cause that I care deeply about: feminism. I am beyond proud of the cast and crew of Forbidden Planet Productions' RENT and I am honored to have been a part of the production.


In this spoof of Bad Lip Reading, the cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" performs "Out Tonight," from RENT!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Is Teach for America Really the Best Way to Fix America's Education System?

A lot of my friends are applying for Teach for America this year. I see why they want to do it. It's a great cause and it gives you another two years before you have to enter the "real world" and throw yourself into the scary job market. However, I am not sure if working for Teach for America is really the best way to help our country.

Though I believe that the organization has great intentions, I do not think that it is truly solving the problem of educational inequality in America. Children in inner-city schools need special attention and I find it hard to believe that a person who is straight-out-of-college and who has only been trained in teaching for five weeks is more qualified to teach children than a person who has done hours upon hours of observational training and who has a masters in education.

Yes, years of training does not necessarily make someone a great teacher, but how would you feel if it was your child who was being taught by a teacher who was not certified?

I know that not every one will agree with my opinion and I really do not mean to offend anyone who is applying, but I strongly recommend that those of you applying or considering applying for the program read a very insightful piece by Katie Osgood. She discusses how TFA has a history of busting teachers' unions and that the organization uses archaic research to determine which schools need help, and that the schools are almost always ones with predominately black communities.

Another great piece on this issue is by Catherine Michna, who is a former TFA corps member herself. She discusses how the organization de-professionalizes teaching and that the schools who hire TFA corps members often fire their professional teachers for TFA's cheap alternative.

We certainly need to reform education in America, but I do not think that Teach for America is the answer to our problems.

But what is the answer? First of all, we need to stop corporatizing education. Teach for America is funded by giant corporations, including Walmart, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase. As a student at GW, I have seen first-hand how private universities love to jack up tuition in order to fund their president's $1 million salary. Only once we start treating education as a right and not as a way to make money can we actually begin to fix educational inequality in America.

So to all of you applying to Teach for America, I know that you have only the best intentions, but please consider this: Is working for an organization funded by some of the most corrupt organizations in America and that encourages schools to fire their professional teachers really the best way to make a difference in the education system?

This cat for sure wants to ensure that all children in America get access to quality education!

~ Corinne

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Malala Yousafzai: Teenage Heroine

Two days ago, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner was announced. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen activist who made headlines last year when she was shot in the head by the Taliban, lost the prize to The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Even through she lost, the fact that she was nominated gives great hope to women and girls worldwide. At age 16, she would have been the youngest recipient of any Nobel Prize. 

Since age 11, Malala has risked her life fighting against the brutal Taliban. She is also a strong activist for women's rights, working hard to fight for a girl's right to education.

Malala was an international favorite for the prize, but just because she lost this year does not mean she has lost forever. Malala is an inspiration not only for girls and women, but for people of all genders worldwide. I would not be surprised if she gets nominated again in the near future and wins.

Check out this amazing interview with Malala on The Daily Show this past Tuesday.

Congratulations on your nomination, Malala!

~ Corinne

Friday, October 4, 2013

The End of "Breaking Bad" And Why Skyler White Rocks

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you don't want to know the ending (yet)!!

This past Sunday, my favorite show came to a close. I am referring to "Breaking Bad," of course. Since 2008, "Breaking Bad" has changed the way we look at protagonists. Walter White starts off the series as a nerdy high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer, and he ends the series with his well deserved death. At first, he is a sympathetic protagonist, and at the end, you cannot help but find yourself cheering for his death. He is the ultimate anti-hero.

Many people will disagree with me. One of my friends told me he cried when Walt died. I personally cried tears of joy. What started off as innocent chemistry in a van with a former student turned into Walt becoming an evil drug lord who took many lives. I lost all sympathy for Walt when he watched Jesse's girlfriend from the second season, Jane Margolis, choke on her own vomit and die.

Since Walt is the main character and originally gets himself into the meth business for good reasons (to support his family), many people could not help but sympathize for him throughout the entire series. Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman (Walt's original partner and junkie-turned-into-meth-cook) in the series, said in a 2012 cover story with "Rolling Stone," "I mean, he does so many horrible things and yet the fans are still like, 'Yeah, Walt! Fucking poison that kid! You're dying of cancer. I understand!'" He is referring to when Walt poisoned Jesse's ex-girlfriend, Andrea Cantillo's son, Brock in order to convince Jesse to help him kill their former boss, Gustavo Fring.

As a result of fans' ultimate devotion to Walt, many have viewed his wife, Skyler White, to be the series' antagonist. Yes, I will agree that at times Skyler's actions have frustrated me, yet I do not understand why she gets such a bad rep. Many times I found myself on Skyler's side. She was disgusted by her husband's actions and his dirty money, but she still managed to stay by his side for most of the series. Yes, she cheated on him for a very brief period, but that was when they were separated and can you blame a woman for cheating when her husband refuses to stop engaging in dangerous, highly illegal activity?

Fans' hatred of Skyler got so intense that many "I Hate Skyler White" pages surfaced Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social media sites. This hatred for Skyler even turned into hatred for the actress who plays her, Anna Gunn. In fact, Gunn received so many threats that this past August she wrote an op-ed in the New York Times voicing her concerns that perhaps the reason that so many people hate Skyler is just because she is not the stereotypical submissive wife.

She wrote, "I finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn’t conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender."

I completely agree with Anna Gunn and I do not understand how so many fans can love such a horrible main character and hate the strongest female character in the show just because she does not fall for his crap.

To all of you who hate Skyler White, I want you to consider this. Skyler stood by Walt's side even when she hated his actions and was disgusted by his money. She stood by him, but more importantly, she stood by herself and her children. Walt did not deserve the wonderful family he had. In the final episode he admits that he did it all for himself, not for his family. And let us not forget that he was responsible for 32 deaths, including his own.

Skyler doesn't seem that bad now, does she?

Even though this cat does not have the most favorable opinion of Skyler, he's still pretty funny.

Also, this: