Author: Larissa Banitt

“Exclusively gay moment” creates controversy

The live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” has been out for less than a week, but even before it hit the silver screen it garnered worldwide praise and criticism for one thing: Disney’s decision to make LeFou canonically gay.

The decision to give a side character in the story an “exclusively gay moment” has already caused the film to be banned from at least one Alabama drive-in theater and made Disney pull all screenings from Malaysia entirely when the company found out that censors had cut the moment from the version that would be showing in the country. It has also caused Russia to restrict those under 16 from watching this movie that was made in large part for children.

Activists and actors like Sir Ian McKellan, a gay man himself, have spoken out against the censors and critics.

“People who don’t like the idea of gay characters appearing in fairy stories should think what they would think if they were gay themselves and why they should be excluded,” McKellan said at the film’s New York premiere.

His point gets at the heart of why so many members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are praising Disney for this move. Despite an upsurge in the cultural acceptance of LGBTQ+ folk, the community is still very under-represented in the media, especially in the realm of complex characters who are not stereotypes or the butt of a joke.

Hopefully, the Lefou in this version of “Beauty and the Beast” is the beginning of more explicit representation from Disney and other production companies that may follow suit. Explicitness is crucially important in LGBTQ+ representation. It is easy to watch the animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” and speculate that Lefou might “play for the other team” and have a crush on Gaston. There is plenty of subtextual evidence suggesting that.

The problem with having potentially not-straight characters’ sexualities only hinted at subtextually is that people who don’t want, say, animated Lefou to be gay don’t have to see him that way, and thus production companies can deny his identity to dodge controversy by telling fans of subtextually queer Lefou “you’re reading too much into it.”

Is Lefou the perfect first explicitly gay Disney character? No. He’s the side kick of the main villain of the story. While many think of Lefou as a sympathetic character, he is still in many ways an antogonist, so making him queer is perhaps uncomfortably reminiscent of the tradition of recent films to queer-code their villains.

Essentially, queer-coding means that villains were given affects or lines that suggested they were queer to enhance their deviancy. Scar from “The Lion King,” Hades from “Hercules” and Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” are examples from Disney films alone.

In a perfect world, there would be queer heroes and villains and everything in between. People would not make a distinction as one being more problematic than the other, because in real life queer people are just as complex as non-queer people and film roles would just be reflecting that.

Consider the state of underrepresentation of explicitly queer characters and the tradition of queer-coding though, it would have been nice for a character who is clearly a protagonist to have gotten the first “exclusively gay moment” in a Disney film.

I was personally rooting for #GiveElsaAGirlfriend or for a budding romance between a certain Rebel Alliance fighter pilot and Stormtrooper deserter to be Disney’s first crack at explicit representation (Although I refuse rule out either of these for the future).

Given the international controversy a minor character like Lefou managed to stir up, it may have been prudent for Disney to start small. Making Lefou queer may not have been the perfect first choice in my book, but he certainly appears to be a step in the right direction. Provided, of course, that Disney and companies like it continue to make an effort to make queer people visible in their stories and give them roles that go beyond caricature or side kick.

banitt1@stolaf.edu

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Deep End APO to close season with two outdoor plays

Deep End APO, the student-run theater production company on campus, has two more shows this season, and despite being very different in subject matter, they have something big in common: they will both run outside.

The first of these two plays will be Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind. The drama follows a woman caught between the imperfect real world and an ideal one of her own imagining. Look forward to an incredibly intimate performance.

“The whole play takes place in my char- acter, Susan’s mind. So you get to see what she sees, hears what she hears, and, I sup- pose, feel what she feels, in a way,” said Christine Menge ’18 .

Woman in Mind, performing Thursday, May 5 and Friday, May 6 at 7 p.m., will use the labyrinth on the lawn between Boe Memorial Chapel and the Christiansen Hall of Music, in part to symbolize Susan’s struggle to find reality.

The members of the production also plan to make use of the space being outdoors in a way that goes beyond the landscaped labyrinth.

“We are going to try and time it so the end of the play happens at sunset, so you can see the light literally fade as the play ends,” said Aaron Telander ’19.

Cast members recommend audience members bring a light spring jacket in case of showers or cooler weather.

Deep End APO’s final play of the year

will be a rendition of William Shakespeare’s comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. This play, directed by Chaz Mayo ’18, will be performed Saturday, May 7 and Sunday, May 8 at 4 p.m. – also taking advantage of an unconventional space.

“One of the most exciting parts of this show is the location: the front of the theater building has a really dramatic arch and the railing is so fun to play with. It’s a very unique sort of place to act in, especially with all the people who are walking through the area, unaware we are using it as a stage. It’s a great time,” said Bjorn

Long ’19.

Its unusual location is not the only thing

that promises to make this final production of the Deep End season memorable, though. The cast and crew of The Two Gentlemen of Verona have been intentional about bringing the play to life through technical and theatrical means.

“This experience has been unlike any other show I have ever done. The element of recreating history adds a certain gravi- tas, which infuses the show with a different kind of energy,” Nolan Richard Bedward ’17 said. “It has been amazing working with talented actors like Ian Sutherland ’18, Bjorn Long ’19, Annika Isbell ’19, Ellie Fuelling ’17, Annie Halloin ’18, Lindsey Bertsch ’19 and Kim Sesvold ’18, which makes all the difference in making a cohe- sive cast. Chaz has been a steady guiding force who has helped steer this production towards its destination.”

Whether you are looking for an evening of witty puns and happily-ever-afters or something more psychological and per- sonal, the first weekend of May will have a theater production for you. All you have to do is go for a stroll.

banitt1@stolaf.edu

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Professor dissects “Bohemian Rhapsody”

On Friday, April 8, St. Olaf hosted a lecture by Jack Boss, a visiting professor of Music Theory and Composition from the University of Oregon, entitled An Analysis of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.

The event started at 7 p.m. with Boss playing the Bohemian Rhapsody music video in its entirety. Despite being an academic lecture, the room was full of the toe-tapping and restrained head banging of attendees who couldn’t help but be infected with the rhythm and vitality of Queen’s iconic hit.

From there, Boss began by explaining that this song had an immense impact on him when it was released in 1975. Though, being only in high school, he said he could not put a finger on it then what exactly it is was that drew him to Bohemian Rhapsody. He claimed that after 40 years he finally had nailed down why it was he liked listening to it and hoped by the end of the lecture that the audience would know why too.

The first aspect of the song that he analyzed was the lyrics. He gave a compelling reading of them, saying that the famous line “Mama, just killed a man” was not describing someone confessing to his mother about committing murder, but in fact was describing Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, coming out to his girlfriend, Mary Austin, and killing the idea that he was just a heterosexual man.

Boss further expounded upon this reading when he pointed out that the song’s defiant tone with lines like “so you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?” and repetition of “nothing really matters to me” indicates the character in the song’s desire to transcend oppression and legitimize the gay experience.

The second, and longer, section of the lecture was an analysis of the theory behind the song. While Boss at some instances did link how what the music was doing complimented the overall message he was arguing Bohemian Rhapsody conveyed, for the most part he merely went through and explained what the music was doing in terms of music theory.

This part of the talk was much less accessible for the casual music lover who may have been in attendance. Boss did cover the basics like discussing the chord progressions and key changes that those with any music theory would have understood, but any non-music majors would have become very confused once he jumped into discussing how this rock song loosely mimicked sonata form and how to understand the structure of Bohemian Rhapsody using Neo-Riemannian theory.

Unlike his fascinating explanation of the lyrics, it was hard to find an underlying theme or point to this part of the talk. Part of this may have been the complexity of the theory he was delving into, but even so it would have been nice to see more of how that contributed to the song as a whole, whether aesthetically or in terms of how it conveyed the message.

In the end though, Boss was able to share with his audience what he loved most about this rock song: the multiple layers of meaning in the lyrics and the complexity of its form.

Though many of those at the lecture will walk away to return to thinking of Bohemian Rhapsody as an eccentric, unique product of the hard rock genre and continue to use it as a preferred song to sing in the shower, doing all of the voices à la Wayne’s World, they certainly will have gained a new appreciation for the song and a recongition that there is more to it than meets the eye.

banitt1@stolaf.edu

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“Ungendered” attire preserves patriarchal norms

Clothing retailer Zara recently released a new line of clothing labeled “Ungendered” comprised of jeans, sweaters, sweatpants and shirts. Each product is only available in one color, which varies from grey, white and navy blue. Despite the baggy fit that would accommodate a variety of body types, the overt masculinity of the clothing is immediately striking; this line of clothing could easily have been marketed as men’s aparrel. To be fair, however, the clothes are not so masculine that the female models of the line look out of place. In fact, if Zara had thrown in a sundress or a jumpsuit, it could have just as easily been marketed as a line for women.

That is the interesting thing about this line of clothing – it is undoubtedly gender neutral by today’s social standards. This apparent gender neutrality highlights several of clothing line’s problematic aspects. It demonstrates that what we consider “gender neutral” today is still incredibly masculine. Additionally, by calling the line “Ungendered” instead of “Gender Neutral,” there is an implicit promise of a more gender inclusive variety of clothes that is not fulfilled.

Zara cannot change the first of these issues on its own alone. Gendered clothing and gender roles are have been incredibly rigid in most cultures for thousands of years. In medieval Iceland, it was considered grounds for divorce if a man or a woman was found cross-dressing. Even as recently as a hundred years ago in Western culture, a woman wearing pants would cause a scandal.

This standard of dress began to change in part when professional women demanded to be able to work in clothing that allowed enough mobility to do their job safely and effectively, a change that coincided with other movements for equality. This change was certainly a big step towards society seeing men and women as equal, but it did not put the masculine and feminine on equal footing.

While the need for mobility during work may have been a catalyst for women to start advocating for a change in standards of dress, the impetus that propelled this movement forward was the patriarchal idea that women have to emulate men in order to be respected in the workplace. This is why there was not an equivalent movement that involved men wearing dresses to the office. For men to become “equal” to women in this way, they would be giving up societal power, not gaining it.

This dichotomy continues today, evidenced by the stigmatization of men cross-dressing. This taboo exists perhaps to a lesser extent with cis-gendered women, but the prevalence of expressions like “I see who wears the pants in this relationship” and “you throw like a girl” goes to show that it is still more desirable to be “like a man.”

All of this historical context has a point. Zara is doing exactly what one would expect a gender neutral clothing line to do. If it were only advertised as gender neutral it could be seen as toeing the party line, but Zara chose to name the line “Ungendered.” That suggests something more inclusive. The masculinity of the “Ungendered” line further enforces the idea of male style as the default and stereotypically female clothing as somehow inferior. This does a disservice to feminine presenting people, particularly those whose gender is not sanctioned by societal norms to dress femininely.

If women have shown that pants are not just for men, the same could certainly be true for men reguarding skirts and dresses. It is disappointing Zara did not take this opportunity to press the norms, even subtly. Sure, given that so many people perceive dresses as strictly for women, it may have been seen as too radical to include dresses on an “Ungendered” clothes line. But perhaps a tunic or a wider variety and range of color choices, instead of the neutral whites, blues and blacks.

Even with external pressure, nothing in fashion will change until retailers start taking risks. Zara could have done that here, but instead they decided to profit off of social progress, not create it. Their new line may be gender neutral as most people see it, but it is not “Ungendered.”

Larissa Banitt ’19 (banitt1@stolaf.edu) is from Portland, Ore. She majors in English.

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Wall Street encourages unhealthy work habits

The American Dream is founded on the belief that if you work hard enough, eventually you can earn your way to financial success. This rags to riches narrative is deeply ingrained in our culture. Many people have either been a part of it themselves or can name relatives that came from little and worked their way up to becoming much more successful than their parents. The American work ethic is part of what has made this country great, but when does working hard become working too much?

According to The Atlantic, the amount of workers putting in more than 50 hours a week has been climbing steadily for the past decade. For the middle and lower classes, this increase in work has been necessary to make the same amount of money, but even many professionals on Wall Street, whose take-home-pay is consistently in the six figures, are pushing themselves past the point of exhaustion and putting their health and lives at risk.

Their incentive for these dangerous work habits is to prove themselves to their superiors. The New York Times reports that, because many of their jobs do not require creative thinking, the only way to set those on Wall Street apart from the other workers is sheer endurance. Those who are willing to sleep under their desk, work several days without sleeping at all or sacrifice holiday time will climb higher in this competitive world.

After several accounts of seizures and suicides from younger, newer employees working under tremendous stress for several days on end, some of these firms have sought to put limits on how much employees can work. Goldman Sachs prevents its junior bankers from working from 9:00 p.m. Friday to 9:00 a.m. Sunday, and Barclay does not allow its analysts to work more than twelve days in a row.

Such limits seem like a step in the right direction, but the culture of overwork is so established that it is a source of pride among these young workers. They take pride in their strenuous work schedules.

When considering this culture of overwork in a broader context, it is apparent that this is a national issue as well, though it may make itself seem much more immediate in the high-stakes jobs found on Wall Street. The United States is the only advanced economy that does not require employers to provide paid vacation time for their employees.

In fact, almost one in four Americans lack any paid vacation time or holidays. When compared to places like Canada and Japan that guarantee 10 days of paid vacation time a year, and especially the European Union which guarantees workers 20 days of paid vacation time a year, the U.S. falls woefully short in providing for its workers.

This may be shifting in the near future though, as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been calling for paid maternity and sick leave, and candidate Bernie Sanders is also calling for these changes, as well as for the institution of paid vacation in the United States. Such campaign trail promises indicate that politicians have noted that the American worker needs respite from a demanding workplace.

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