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Best of The Tempest 2018: 9 Stories from Pop Culture

It’s been a peculiar year in the realm of entertainment. We’ve had such big, progressive victories and such big setbacks and anachronisms in terms of representation, transparency, and inclusivity. Many LGBTQ+ artists thrived, and 2018 was dubbed 20GAYTEEN by singer Hayley Kiyoko. It was the year of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, and yet big name studios are still out there producing films that are imbued with racism, sexism, homophobia, and fatphobia as well as often promoting rape and hate.

We’re still light years away from consuming the egalitarian entertainment we deserve. I knew that very well when I became Pop Culture Editor at The Tempest. I understood that I would have to look closely at many media products that would make me mad, which I would rather ignore and avoid at all costs, but I gladly accepted the challenge. I believe our mission is to shed light on everything that is going on, and that includes denouncing the many injustices that occur in the entertainment industry. We can’t possibly stay silent about the things we deem wrong, because silence is complicity.

But we also don’t like to only see the glass half empty, and we love to admit that there are many things to praise and to celebrate. Without further ado, I present to you 9 of my favorite Pop Culture stories we published in 2018, a mix of the good and the bad.

1. Why are blockbuster films pretending that lesbians and bisexuals don’t exist?

Why are blockbuster films pretending that lesbians and bisexuals don’t exist?

Despite the good representation that television and the music industry gifted us with this year, blockbusters are still actively promoting the erasure of female queerness as well as employing queer bait. This is a trend that needs to stay in 2018.

2. What time is it, Hollywood?

What time is it, Hollywood?

What about what happens behind the camera? This article explores some trends of the entertainment industry from the inside out, because actresses are not the only people we need to protect. Let’s say #TimesUp to all kinds of discrimination.

3. Dislikeable female characters aren’t inherently feminist – but that’s okay

Dislikeable female characters aren’t inherently feminist – but that’s okay

There is a big misconception in fiction and in critique: that a female character who dares be different and dislikable is automatically a great feminist heroine. She’s not, and that’s okay.

4. Why I’m boycotting J.K. Rowling and her “Fantastic Beasts”

Why I’m boycotting J.K. Rowling and her “Fantastic Beasts”

We are tired of people giving J.K. Rowling a free pass for everything just because she wrote a beautiful book series 20 years ago. For a while now, she has been twisting things to appear “woke” instead of honestly admitting that as the times progressed, she also wants to be more inclusive. There is no need to say that she was planning plot twists all along when in reality the implications of that make her way more problematic. Read why in this piece!

5. Bollywood item numbers are more dangerous than we think

Bollywood item numbers are more dangerous than we think

If you don’t know what an item number is, you need to read this piece. If you do know, you need to read this piece. It’s eye-opening and I will never look at a Bollywood film the same way again.

6. This director’s approach to diverse female characters completely changed my movie-watching experience

This director’s approach to diverse female characters completely changed my movie-watching experience

Contrary to what some haters will have you believe about feminists, we do celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of men, when they deserve it. This article is a clap on the back of an Oscar-winning director for an amazing film that contributed to making 2018 better.

7. Yes, The Bold Type is unrealistic… just not for the reasons you think

Yes, The Bold Type is unrealistic… just not for the reasons you think 

You may or may not know this show, which was a true revelation for its honest representation of working (and woke!) millennial women. However, the show has been accused of portraying a utopistic world of equality (but it really doesn’t, the protagonists deal with misogyny, racism and homophobia every day). This article cleverly responds to that claim, contextualizing it particularly within the journalism world (where the main characters spend most of their time) that we know too well.

8. Karma has finally come for Chris Brown, and we can thank women for that

Karma has finally come for Chris Brown, and we can thank women for that

Abusers deserve to be held accountable for their actions. After the tidal wave that was the #MeToo movement, it’s good to see that celebrities are still being taken down after abusive behavior.

9. My mind tells me to read, but my body is overwhelmed and overworked

My mind tells me to read, but my body is overwhelmed and overworked

A constant struggle in the transition to adulthood is that we are burdened with too many responsibilities and we have too little time to do the things we actually want to do out of sheer pleasure, like reading. It does not help that books have gained a very strong competitor for our time and attention, the “monster” that are streaming services.

We’re ready to kiss 2018 goodbye. In the hope that 2019 will be a more satisfying year for women, people of color, and all oppressed minorities, happy new year from the staff of The Tempest!

Movies Music BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

Bollywood item numbers are more dangerous than we think

On some scale, the item number has always been a part of the Bollywood film.

Generally defined as a musical number in a South Asian film that has no relevance to the plot and is purely for marketing purposes, item numbers have existed since as far back as the 1930s. Back then, the vamps performed musical numbers to inject an element of risqué sensuality into otherwise fairly tame cinema. In 2010, two lovely fictional ladies called Munni and Sheila changed that.

Their eponymous item numbers revolutionized the place of item numbers in Bollywood.

[Image description: The actress Malaika Arora and five male dancers dancing to the song Munni Badnaam.] [Image description: The actress Malaika Arora and five male dancers dancing to the song Munni Badnaam.]
Before the release of Munni Badnaam and Sheila Ki Jawaani in the same year, item numbers were a novelty. Since then, they have become a regular occurrence. Considering that the basic premise of an item number revolves around a scantily-clad ‘item girl’ who is almost always depicted dancing provocatively for an exclusively male audience, the gender implications are impossible to ignore.

There is a very clear message that is obvious across these iconic songs: The ‘item girl’ is an ‘item’, an object put on sexual display. It’s common for item numbers to be composed of an audience of leering unknown men who have gathered to watch the dance, performed by the item girl either alone or with faceless backup dancers. The women are always dressed in sensual clothing and the lyrics highlight female sexuality and desirability.

On paper, item numbers form the perfect formula for female sexual empowerment.

In reality, they mostly result in the most blatant objectification. Camera angles zoom in over gyrating hips and linger over bare waists as blatantly as the eyes of the ogling men with no subtlety. The gaze in these dance numbers presents itself as vaguely voyeuristic, at best.

There is a very deliberate implication present; that the item girl is not only inviting the leers and jeers,but she is also enjoying them.

[Image description: Actress Katrina Kaif is pictured wearing a gold bra-top and skirt, surrounded by a group of men who lean in to stare at her hips as she shakes them.] [Image description: Actress Katrina Kaif is pictured wearing a gold bra-top and skirt, surrounded by a group of men who lean in to stare at her hips as she shakes them.]
It sends an ugly message, one that not everyone agrees with. Film-making giant Karan Johar has admitted to the implications of item numbers and themes of stalking in Bollywood, promising not to use them again. Veteran actress Shabana Azmi has also been particularly vocal about her stance against them. “These item numbers are forced in the movies. They think that the movie will do well because of the item number when the truth is they have absolutely no connection with the film and story,” she reportedly said. Actress Sharmila Tagore, on the other hand, opined that not all item numbers are “vulgar”, but sexuality is presented similarly in most forms of media.

That said, in a society that already champions hypermasculinity and male dominance, showing a woman happily submitting to being a whirling piece of meat for a crowd of lechers is nothing short of catastrophic. Does that translate directly to rape culture? Maybe not.

South Asian society is not yet at a place where discussions of rape are commonplace in most places. The effect of these seemingly harmless songs is much more intrinsically sinister.

When you put an absurdly catchy tune on the television for weeks on end, people will be caught. They are drawn to that song, getting it stuck in their head whether they like it or not. Item numbers are fun, catchy and often irresistible. It’s understandable.

But when that song shows a woman who has no significance to the plot and exists purely to be a sexually submissive pastry to glorify how appealing and desirable the male protagonist is, it sends a message that this is a women’s place. They have to be submissive and sexually available and, most importantly, enjoy being leered at.

A considerable percentage of society considers this level of harassment normal. They think boys will be boys and girls should be flattered if they’re catcalled. They think women are forgetting the difference between harassment and flirting. When Bollywood gives us iconic dance numbers that say yes, women love attention like this, why shouldn’t people believe it?

It’s just teasing and flirtation, right?

It doesn’t seem to matter to the film industry at large that uses item numbers as a major marketing tactic, even if impressionable children are regularly exposed to them. As a result, maybe one can argue that they don’t promote rape culture but, are you sure?

They sure do promote the toxic mentality that gives birth to it.

Movies Pop Culture

In Bollywood, getting married can ruin your career

One of the first Bollywood films I remember watching was Karan Arjun. It came out in 1995 and featured both Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan, opposite Kajol and Mamta Kulkarni. Their ages then were 30, 30, 21 and 23 respectively.

The latest film I watched by either man was this year, with Salman Khan in 2016’s Sultan and Shahrukh Khan in 2017’s Jab Harry Met Sejal, meaning that both actors were 50 or above in the film. The love interest in both films was Anushka Sharma, who was under 29 years old at the time.

Unfortunately, the 20+ years age difference is not an isolated incident in Bollywood. It’s the norm. When an actor hits it big – and they always seem to hit it bigger than the actresses – he will spend approximately the next 40 years playing a dashing young hero, until he finally admits to himself that he is old enough to play the aged father role. Before that, however, he will spend years playing a supposedly charming love interest to a much younger woman. The curse of ageism may never strike him.

This problem is endemic to the Bollywood industry.

Women are shamed for everything, from their age to their weight, and it’s not fair. Marriage is the end of most actresses’ careers. Cinematic powerhouses, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit have been reduced to being a rare on-screen treat because women sacrificing their careers for their family is just something that happens.

It’s not surprising.

In the rare case, that marriage is not the kiss of death for their cinematic careers though, once they cross the invisible age line that hinders their marriageability, it’s game over. Rarely do older women appear as the leads in commercial (especially romantic) cinema. Instead, they are relegated to doing more serious roles – whether they want to or not. As soon as an actress crosses 40, being a mother is basically the only avenue left open to her, never mind the ages of her sons. They can be the justice-seeking wives of wrongfully murdered men or the young mothers of film heroes, but never again are they the heroine again.

Meanwhile, age will rarely count as even a single nail in a male actor’s Bollywood career.

Actors like the two aforementioned Khans are presented as being as charming and desirable at 50 as they were at 30, while the women featured opposite them get younger and younger. It is rare for their contemporaries, like Kajol (currently 43), Aishwarya Rai (44), Juhi Chawla and Madhuri Dixit (both 50), to appear in films by now and rarer still for them to appear as romantic interests. It appears that for Bollywood, the expiration date for these powerhouse women has passed. On the occasion that they are allowed to appear as desirable figures, women past a certain age must be absolutely flawless, nary an ounce of cellulite in sight.

Signs of aging are simply not acceptable in women.

I grew up watching Bollywood films with my parents, and the main characters were about the same age as them. They belonged to the same generation and, in my mind, they were roughly equivalent to my mum and dad. The men still are, only they are far more buff and well-coiffed than your average middle-aged father. Women like my mum – average, middle-aged, working-class real women – just don’t exist in most films.

And it’s not that the industry is not aware of how deep the problem runs.

In regards to a film he did in 2016, where he was paired against the much-younger Sonam Kapoor, Salman Khan himself described the on-screen love story as “romancing Sonam Kapoor, [his] friend’s daughter.”

The public eye won’t allow actresses to age easily, but Bollywood doesn’t have a place for them either. Actresses like Anushka Sharma and Deepika Padukone (29 and 32 respectively) appear as often against their own contemporaries as they do against much older co-stars.

So what, exactly, is Bollywood trying to tell us?

That women expire early and become undesirable and matronly? Or that men are attractive at all ages, unlike women. Either implication is, frankly, really bloody gross and I’m done with it. Hey, Bollywood? You can do better.