I Hate Zoe Barnes

How amazing in House of Cards on Netflix? It so good that it makes me forget that I know creepy things about Kevin Spacey—that’s how good it is! It’s near perfection. Robin Wright? Stop it. Just stop being so perfect! She’s brilliant in this! She looks amazing, she’s made Claire completely three-dimensional, I want to be Claire Underwood. Kevin Spacey, you cheeky bugger! Spacey has always been a brilliant actor and there’s no part he’s played that he hasn’t killed. This is just another example of his talent.
For those of you who haven’t watched it yet, go do it. It’s all on Netflix and you will not be sorry. It’s a political thriller that revolves around Claire and Frank Underwood. It’s political chess, it’s drama, it’s intense, and it’s gorgeous. I just love everything about it. Well, almost everything. I hate Zoe Barnes.
Zoe Barnes is a young up and coming writer trying to make a name for herself. She starts a working relationship with Congressman Frank Underwood. He’s her source, she’s his puppet. I loved that angle. Then of course, they start having an affair. Whatever, that’s fine, these shows always do something like that. But I hoped that when they moved in that direction that it wouldn’t be so high school. Truth be told I hoped it wouldn’t happen at all. Sex complicates things and I needed this relationship to be uncomplicated!
See, Zoe fancies herself and independent woman. She lives in a crap apartment because she refuses to ask her parents for money. She’s going to make it on her own! She even talks Frank into becoming her source. She’s a clever girl. Then she starts turning into a needy girl. Asking for Frank’s advice on everything from what meetings she should take to calling her Father on Father’s Day.
Claire, Frank’s wife, is aware of the affair and seemingly doesn’t care. This is just moving a pawn in their game. However, Zoe showing up to an event and shaking Claire’s hand—ugh you suck Zoe Barnes. She stands there in her too-tight-white dress and acts like she belongs there and isn’t there on the good graces of the Underwood’s. All I’m saying is a little self-awareness goes a long way.
I don’t want to ruin the series for anyone so I’ll cut it short here. Basically, I feel like if you’re going to write a character like Zoe Barnes you either have to make her likeable (like she started out) or completely detestable (like she’s becoming). I know some people would argue that’s the Walter White effect. But, the thing is Walter White is the guy you’re rooting for and he slowly turns into the bad guy. But he’s the lead guy—you always root for the lead guy. Zoe is a secondary character and the Underwood’s are the bad guys you root for.
In short, Zoe Barnes is the weak link in House of Cards mainly because she’s a cliché. This was the first season of the show and the first foray into scripted “television” for Netflix. Maybe next season they’ll get it right. There better be a next season. Man, how good is House of Cards?!?

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Watch This: Once Upon A Time

photo of once upon a time pictures
You guys, my Super Best Friend has only recently started watching Once Upon A Time. He and I tend to watch a lot of different television shows and put off watching others or giving others a try. When we finally do, the result is usually similar to Squidward’s first time tasting a Krabby Patty on SpongeBog Squarepants: “All the wasted years!”

I mean, he’s the guy who first got me to watch Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Dante’s Cove, Titan Maximum, and Gundam Wing. And, soon, Revenge, which I know is totally up my alley. “This is not a story about forgiveness.” That line could be the blurb under my biography.

Right, so, the show comes on ABC on Sunday nights and, honestly, I was not all that impressed when I watched the first few episodes. Well, the first episode. It’s one of those shows that has an awkward beginning but gets better and better until you can no longer remember a time when you were not in love with the show. Every week slows to a crawl as you anticipate the arrival of the next episode.

Yeah. This show also has a very rabid fandom.

I want to talk about the women on the show. Women have not, historically, had the best roles in fairy tales. They tend to be the villains or the helpless damsels. And while Disney “villains” are typically the most interesting parts of the films (and ABC is a part of Disney, so there are overt references on the show to Disney’s interpretations of a few fairytales. Jiminy Cricket is a character, the “Evil Fairy” from Sleeping Beauty is called “Maleficent,” etc), the princesses did not really possess a great deal of agency until more recent years.

Regina Mills is, as far as I am concerned, the main character. In season one, the writers try to make her out to be the primary antagonist, but …

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Mean Girls: And None For Gretchen Weiners

photo of mean girls pictures photos
There is a lot of talk these days about bullying. And that’s good. Bullies in the real-world aren’t typically the inexplicably large, awkward trolls that they were in 1990s television and film.

I was relatively lucky: after middle school (where everyone is the worst that they will ever be), I never had to deal with any bullies at school*. Part of that was because I went to a really good high school where the students were generally too diverse, too numerous, and too chronically exhausted to devote the kind of time and energy required to bully each other. We had a lot of homework. Part of it was because I was slowly becoming aware that I am kind of a giant, even though I spent years oblivious to the fact that I towered above most of my classmates. I went through my high school life thinking that my generation was one with few bullies, and in which homophobia was almost completely absent. Unfortunately, that is not true, and my high school experience took place in a magical alternate universe.

But, as we all know, bullying is a real thing. It is prevalent. It happens in homes, on playgrounds, in malls, at schools, at work, and over the internet. People whom you would never imagine being bullied, like one of your favorite authors, can be the targets of serious and potentially dangerous bullying. It happens with males typically in the form of ridicule and open mocking, exclusion, and physical violence towards the victim and his (or her) property. This is most often male-on-male bullying. We also talk about female bullying, the “mean girls” who are often more subtle but also more cruel and long-term in their social wars with each other and with their victims. There is a lot of talk about this, in fact. People say that the ways that girls conduct themselves socially is worse than how boys do it.

You guys, words are never worse than violence. Ever. They might be crueler and perhaps less instinctual, but words are always preferable to violence. Let’s stop kidding ourselves.

Also, let’s stop vilifying scheming girls, especially scheming high school girls. It is wrong to be cruel (cruelty is just the flip-side of mercy, and both are deviations from justice, so I dislike them both), and it is wrong to harass people and victimize them. But it is NOT wrong to scheme. And, depending upon what you are doing, it is not wrong to manipulate.

Knowing how to make friends, keep friends, and influence people is a vital life skill. And so is lying, actually. You shouldn’t lie compulsively or sloppily, you shouldn’t manipulate people compulsively or sloppily, and you shouldn’t use those skills—or any skills—to hurt innocent people. But reading people, predicting their behavior, and subtly influencing their behavior? That’s good. And it can be a tool for good. It can help you to succeed in the business world, or it can help you have more fun.

Mean Girls is one of my favorite movies. You shouldn’t be like Regina George because she is vicious and she is willing to tear down everything in order to get even with people. But you can still be a powerful, self-assured girl (or boy) who knows how to get ahead in life. I would love to see these powerful female characters portrayed in positive lights, in contrast to their vicious bully counterparts, in books, television, and films. And I would like to see it more often.

So we can vilify the actual bullies of the world without criticizing people who use their social powers for good. Otherwise, we’re the bullies.

*My horrible father was a bully, but that’s a very different situation. And not at school or among my peers, which is what I’m talking about.

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