Saturday, March 16, 2013

THE POWER OF A PICTURE

 I’ve used Lisa Simpson as my avatar online for years. I love her cocky yellow grin, her pearls and her spiky hair. I thought she was a perfect avatar, symbolizing cartoons and smarts on a gorgeous lime-green background.

I paid no attention to those who said they heard my tweets and posts in the youthful, high-pitched voice of actress Yeardley Smith. I ignored those who tweeted down to an eight-year-old cartoon who wouldn’t know a paragraph from a Post-it. I assumed most people would know that the person represented by a cartoon was unlikely to actually be a cartoon, let alone a squeaky yellow girl.


But I underestimated the power of a picture. Worth a thousand words you say? Idiocy, ignorance and stupidity are apparently some of the words conjured up by the image of Lisa Simpson. Which is odd, as she was created by UCLA and Harvard-educated writers who’ve given her a complex and charming character: the talented and smart daughter in a family of dolts. 

Being treated like Lisa Simpson would be rather flattering but many readers, including highy educated people who should know better, seem to confuse Lisa with
Homer, doh! Or, more likely, they don’t know the TV show and just see any cartoon as puerile and gormless and anyone represented by one as equally gormless. 

I worried that, as my book is set in the animation industry (more cartoons!) and I’ve tweeted and blogged quite a bit about animation, perhaps I'm in danger of being taken for a feckless nincompoop by agents and publishers as well

The last straw came when a reader, who consistently talked down to me, told me hautily that 1066 was an important date celebrating Norman the Conqueror, took it upon herself to critique, uninvited, a summary of my book with hilariously incorrect corrections and when I didn't respond, she attacked me on Twitter saying I'd been offended by her "brutal honesty" then she misconstrued my Tweets as being about her when they weren't. After that several followers with PhDs unfollowed me, seeming to confirm the power of an avatar or the opinion of a misguided follower or both.

While my writing and I have our flaws, we are not dolts. So, I decided I needed to put a stop to such misunderstandings and the possibility of more. After much thought and designing, I changed avatar to something more serious, a cartoon pencil. It's my own design, more neutral and without all kinds of inappropriate character associations. 

Goodbye Lisa. I’ll miss you, a much misunderstood avatar.
Yeardley Smith, actor, writer, artist, voices Lisa Simpson.
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Friday, March 8, 2013

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

 The story that this celebration originated after a protest in the US is apprently apocryphal.
It was probably substituted for the fact that the first celebration of working women was observed in 1909 in the US following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America because the aforementioned Socialist Party of America has fallen out of favour in the US.

    Frankly, I find this a feeble fête, a token gesture. It doesn’t have a fraction of the clout of Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. We’re not even showered with flowers, cars, chocolates and diamonds on this day like the other “women’s” holidays. Heck, this not even an official public holiday, a day off worldwide as would befit the celebration of such magnificent creatures as us. In France this is called la Journée de la Femme, prompting a writer friend to say wryly: "Quelle femme?"
    But seriously, as sure as I am that we all enjoy being showered with champagne and diamonds, do we really need another soft, flowery celebration of women’s wonderfulness? Wouldn't a solid foundation of respect and human rights, decent pay and freedom from routine beatings and rape be of more use to us?                       
    International Women’s Day should be an occasion to pass laws worldwide that would improve the lives of women who still have to fear being raped on a bus and generally disrespected.
    Respect is a better gift than flowers and chocolates.

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March 8, 2014: This year's celebration seems a little more muscular than the last one, things like equal pay are being mentioned in a more energetic way, but a hundred years is too long to wait for pay parity. Higher salaries and wages must be demanded and contracts negotiated more fiercely.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

WHY WE LOVE STORIES

Have you ever wondered why we like to read or listen to stories? Ever since Neanderthals told tales around cave fires, the human race has been fascinated by stories. Oral histories, gossip, books, movies, we just can’t seem to get enough.
My theory is that we need all the ideas we can get about life and survival and how other people do it so we can keep up, surpass or simply marvel at the ingenuity, inventiveness, idiocy or dirty rotten evil of our fellow humans.
    We’re told that a good story needs conflict. Why is this? Maybe because readers want to know how to compete, overcome, surmount, conquer and prevail. We empathise when good or bad things happen to the protagonist and we feel we could do as well in the same circumstances or we store the information away for use the next time those circumstances show up in our lives. Haven’t we all sworn we’d never throw ourselves under a train or steal a loaf of bread or swanned around for a few minutes like Scarlett O’Hara, d’Artagnan or James Bond?
    And we particularly like to hate villains because we think they’re not like us. Villains make us feel virtuous and superior. We recognize similar traits in the people we know and feel better armed to deal with them. But we rarely if ever feel villainous or evil ourselves. We know we have good reasons for our bad behavior and that deep down we’re fine, upstanding people. I’ve never met anyone who says wow, I really see myself in Iago, Javert, or Voldemort.
   Reading makes us feel informed, enriched and better prepared for life because of the characters and events we’ve read about. Better human beings, even.
    I always feel as though I’ve eaten a delicious, colorful and fattening meal when I’ve finished a good book. I’m always sorry it’s finished and I need to take a while to digest it before starting another.                                              *