le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Course planning

I've been obsessed with my Representing Adolescence syllabus. What was supposed to be a week of intensive reading and planning turned into most of the month of July with my head stuck between the pink covers of girl books (and a handful of others, including Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, possibly the best YA book I've ever read).

The Ongoing Problem of the Teen Girl Novel has yet to be resolved, though I'm rapidly approaching my absolute deadline for submitting my book order, so resolution is also rapidly approaching. So - a book with a female protagonist WILL be chosen by week's end.

I have decided, definitely now, to teach at least one episode of Huge. I've been dabbling in reading some Fat Acceptance/Fat politics stuff, on and off for over a year (pointed in that direction, actually, by Rebecca Rabinowitz's blog), and my reading of the stunningly smart and insightful Fatshionista has led me to be much more Fat-aware. Because of the Fatshionista's blog, I started watching Huge online (new episodes go up Tuesday mornings, following TV airing on Monday nights).

And it's great. The show is fantastic. There are some aspects of it that I don't care for (mainly concerning Hayley Hasselhof's acting ability or lack thereof, and her relationship with the boys' counselor), but on the whole - this is a great show. As of episode six, we've had a character who identifies as asexual; we've had an anatomical-boy (who is clearly queer) select a female name for his spirit name; we have some LARPing; we have Fat Pride (body fascism!); we have more queerness in about six different ways; we have a girl shamed for sexual activity with no mention of the boy's responsibility; we have a character in a 12-step recovery program; we have a mixed-race family.

And that's not even getting to any of the plot.

Part of what pushed me to give Huge a try was the discovery that it is developed and produced by the mother-daughter team of Winnie Holzman and Savannah Dooley.  Holzman is the genius who brought us My So-Called Life, which should be all anyone has to say to convince people to give Huge a chance. Dooley clearly has talent of her own, in addition to being openly gay and engaged with queer issues.

It would have been really easy to make this show a catastrophe, but it's not. Part of what it does - as Fatshionista points out - is "normalize" fatness: we see a bunch of fat kids doing what every other set of kids in America does. There's lots of onscreen fat, no real fat-shame, unless it's part of the character's personality. Fat kids kissing, fat kids crushing on each other. Fat girls wearing tank tops unashamedly. Even more, fat kids standing around in bathing suits on the first day. And we're not meant to be grossed out by, or pitying of, these kids because of their fatness. Our empathies are engaged by who they are as characters, not by how they look, which is amazing.
Along with it's kickass politics (fat & queer especially), the show is very well written (with only a few slip-ups) and, aside from Hayley Hasselhof, very well acted. Nikki Blonsky is the lead as Will (who is misread as gay by the very boy on whom she has a crush), and she's phenomenal. I never did get around to seeing Hairspray, but this girl's got skills.
Gina Torres and Paul Dooley (Winnie's husband, Savannah's father, and the dad in Sixteen Candles) play the camp director and her long-estranged father.
But the kids are the real stars, of course - the teenagers, I should say [god, I'm old. Everyone under the age of 25 had become a "kid" to me].
Raven Goodwin plays Becca, who is a LARPing nerd (she's actually created an entire, complex role-playing fantasy world) and is constantly reading [in one episode, she's reading The Hunger Games, which is kind of a funny, ironic joke]. Raven Goodwin is also absolutely one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen, far more attractive than Hayley Hasselhof's Amber.

My personal favorite, though, is Alistair, played by Harvey Guillen. Alistair is the queer boy, the one who knits and loves LARPing and selects a cat-hybrid as his character for the role play. Alistair's sexual identity is not clearly spelled out at this point, but he is breaking binaries every time he turns around. It's Alistair who selects a female name as his spirit name (he chooses Athena, goddess of wisdom), and insists on being who he wants to be, regardless of societal norms and expectations. This doesn't make life easy for Alistair, who is mostly an object of teasing and torment to the other (male) campers. But he's an adorable boy, a wonderful, wonderful character, and I really, really, really wish we'd get more of him. I want to know more about him as a character. Also, he sleeps with a stuffed animal, what appears to be a duck. Which is awesome.

There are so many things going on in Huge that my brain almost can't stand it. I think it'll give us, as a class, a lot to talk about, and I also think (and kind of hope) it will shake things up a bit. If nothing else, the first episode, with all those fantastic fat kids in their bathing suits, will make everyone a little uncomfortable, which is a good place to start.

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