Zootopia, an Animal Movie About Humans

By Aaron Bumgarner



It wasn’t surprising to see Disney Animation’s new movie, Zootopia, top the box office during its opening weekend. The biggest competition was London Has Fallen, the sequel to the underwhelming Olympus Has Fallen from 2013. It was still almost expected when Zootopia was number one again the following weekend, since the only other new opener with a chance was niche thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane. But this past weekend, when Zootopia bested the third Divergent movie, making it the number one movie three weeks in a row, it was time to pay attention.

You honestly already should have been paying attention to Zootopia, for its quality if not for the quantity of dollars it’s bringing Disney. Again, even in the area of quality, Zootopia wasn’t really a surprise. Disney Animation (separate from but friendly with Pixar, both of which are under John Lasseter’s management) has released great movie after great movie, starting in 2010 with Tangled, then Wreck-It Ralph in 2012, Frozen in 2013, and the Marvel collaboration Big Hero 6 in 2014. With this track record, quality was to be expected. But what was wholly unexpected was the kind of movie Disney ended up making. Zootopia is not only an exciting, zippy piece of children’s entertainment but also an insightful and timely plea for human decency.

Of course, it takes a movie about animals to demonstrate our need for human decency. Zootopia follows Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a rabbit from the country who wants nothing more in life than to make the world a better place by becoming a police officer in the great metropolis of (you guessed it- congratulations!) Zootopia. Zootopia is filled with animals of all kinds, both prey and predators, but Judy would be the world’s first bunny cop. We see a montage of Judy working hard at the police academy, and then a scene of her being badged in which we learn Judy is the first officer instated under the mayor’s new “mammal inclusion program”. That phrase alone should give you an idea of which side of this movie’s bread is buttered.

And yet it goes in a completely different direction. You’d think this might be a harmless movie that uses Judy’s story of succeeding against prejudices within the police force as a paean to both hard work and inclusion. And the movie does explore that angle to great effect. But Zootopia goes further, giving Judy an assignment to find a missing otter with the help of an untrustworthy fox (Jason Bateman) and finding ways therein to comment on police violence, identity politics, and fearmongering politicians. What starts as a “you can be anything you want to be” fable becomes a kind of social commentary unprecedented from Disney.

I feel comfortable designating Zootopia a liberal movie because of the ways that it comes down on a lot of these issues. But ending my description there (as I often have over the past few weeks when describing the movie to friends) has seemed incomplete in retrospect, especially after a conversation with a few of my good friends last weekend. We talked at length about the concepts of privilege and diversity and what the costs and benefits are of a culture that uses such demarcations. We disagreed on a lot and agreed on some, but by the end it was clear that we were all seeking solutions to the same problems: disunity and disharmony. Zootopia, while being decidedly in favor of liberal ideals, is far more in favor of unity and harmony, and the movie recognizes that achieving those goals in the real world is complicated.

And that’s why Zootopia is such a special movie. Some have gone so far as to call it anti-Trump- that’s probably a stretch, since it went into production before our country’s Trump situation had reached peak Trump. But I suppose it’s inherently anti-Trump just by virtue of being pro-human decency. More than anything- more than a celebration of diversity or an ode to hard work or an argument for inclusive government programs- Zootopia is a movie that values harmony above all. And in the midst of this divisive political campaign, harmony seems to be what we need most.

Aaron Bumgarner is a speech-language pathologist for Oklahoma City Public Schools, but he’s mulling over a move to Zootopia.

The 2016 Grammys and the Morning-After Anger

By Aaron Bumgarner

Kendrick's performance was riveting

You’ll be easily forgiven if you decided to skip watching last night’s 58th Grammy Awards. I’m not going to recap the entire awards show, because recapping something that lasted 810 hours sounds like a lot of work. Instead I’ll focus on the big moment, the one that had Twitter all aflame, the one that perhaps should have had me seething but instead just made me further resigned: Taylor Swift’s 1989 beat out Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly for Album of the Year.

I saw a lot of angry people on Twitter afterwards; chances are, if you’re reading this, you were one of them. I’m not going to tell you how to feel, but allow me to provide a little context, first in favor of what happened and then in condemnation of it.

Taylor Won

The temptation in the face of Taylor Swift beating Kendrick Lamar one year after Beck beat Beyoncé is to lump last night’s show in with #OscarsSoWhite or to simply cry racism. That’s not wrong, but it also doesn’t tell the whole story. First of all, Morning Phase, the Beck album that beat Beyoncé’s self-titled statement album last year, is lightweight stuff. It won’t be remembered even as one of Beck’s best albums, let alone as one of the best albums of 2013-2014.

1989, on the other hand, is an industry monolith. For 2014-2015, Taylor Swift ruled the world with that album as her scepter. She was dominating the industry on Adele’s 21 levels. Did we really think that the industry as a whole wouldn’t vote for an album as successful as 1989? Swift’s Album of the Year victory isn’t questionable in the same way that Beck’s was.

And on top of that, the little thing that Swift mentioned in her acceptance speech (no, not that little thing) about being the first woman to win this award twice is no small matter. In the 58 years that award has been given out, 18 women have won it, and that’s including toss-ups like John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Fleetwood Mac, the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack (which was probably actually given to T-Bone Burnett, but featured a lot of women), and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. Maybe you noticed that everyone who came up onstage with Swift was a man. That’s very indicative of the music industry as a whole.

As much as Swift may feel like she’s a part of the establishment to you, she is one of few women in the industry who can truly take ownership of her business, and the fact that the Academy is recognizing her matters. We should celebrate that. There are multiple points of discrimination in the music industry, just like in the outside world, that need addressing. We can celebrate progress in one area without neglecting other areas.

Kendrick Lost

And yet I’m still shaking my head that an album like To Pimp a Butterfly was snubbed. I don’t want to jump to conclusions and claim institutional racism without knowing the facts first, so let’s look at Grammy history for a second. This isn’t like the Oscars; because the Grammys give so many awards and split those awards into different genres, you can’t just count the number of black nominees versus white nominees. But Album of the Year is the Academy’s premiere award, and… well, only 16 people of color have won it. Remember, this was the 58th Grammys.

The last person of color to win it was Herbie Hancock, which makes it sound like it happened in 1968, but don’t worry, it was 2008. There was actually a relatively rich 10-year period from 1999-2008 (it feels like forever ago, but it wasn’t that long!) in which 6 people of color won: Lauryn Hill, Santana, Norah Jones, OutKast, Ray Charles, and Herbie Hancock. Of course the last 8 straight have been white… but still.

I think what we’re seeing is a complicated kind of discrimination, and it appears rooted less in blatant dislike of a people and more of a resistance to a culture. It’s telling that the last African-Americans to win Album of the Year were Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock, both of whom were pioneers of their specific genres and had crossover success to the pop charts in spite of their blackness. When those men were young, I can imagine parents turning up their noses at their music and covering their kids’ ears in fear of what kind of effect their black music might have on them.

And yet over time Charles and Hancock became part of the good old boys’ club, and their music was celebrated. Our perspective on those artists reflects how much their work has permeated the industry since then and become part of what we think of when we think of the establishment. Hip-hop, as much as it dominates the charts, is just now beginning to seep into the foundation of the industry. I wonder if the Grammys don’t see hip-hop the way Bill Cosby did in the ‘80s and ‘90s: “Pull up your pants, boy!”

So Did We Lose or Win?

The Grammys’ awarding of Taylor over Kendrick isn’t a rejection of Kendrick but a continued rejection of hip-hop culture. No rap album has won since OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below in 2004, which is fine, except that rap has been the dominant pop music medium since then. The lack of hip-hop winners is a resistance to admit that black culture has won.

The memes of audience members watching Kendrick’s outstanding performance of “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” highlight this nicely. The Academy appears to be holding onto the supposed whiteness of rock and pop and folk, even though you can trace much of those genres’ roots back to black artists. I wouldn’t be surprised if Grammy voters were shocked to find out last night that Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes was black.

People are going to tell you that the Grammys don’t mean anything. And in a larger sense, in the bigger picture, maybe they’re right. In 25 years, we’re going to look back on the 2010s and remember Beyoncé and To Pimp a Butterfly (and good kid, and channel ORANGE…) as some of the most defining albums of the decade. It won’t matter that they didn’t win the big award at the Grammys, which will be remembered as out-of-touch and tone-deaf and white (and male!). But in the here and now, those of us who recognize that it is black culture that is producing the most vital and vibrant art of our time are tired of having to hang our heads the morning after.

It’s a Marvel Nerdsplosion!

By Aaron Bumgarner



This post isn’t breaking news or anything; it’s already been a week since Marvel’s announcement altered the very fabric of our universe. To recap (Feel free to skip over the recap if you don’t care about Marvel, insightful commentary lies on the other side!):

  • Captain America: Civil War (May 6, 2016): Civil War was a popular storyline that every fiber of my being wants to spoil for you, but the laws that govern blogging mandate that I don’t. I can tell you that it involves the government mandating that superheroes reveal their secret identities.
  • Doctor Strange (November 4, 2016): Are we excited about this? Do we know anything at all about Doctor Strange?
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (May 5, 2016): Already bought my ticket. Okay, not really, they’re not on sale yet, but in spirit.
  • Thor: Ragnarok (July 28, 2017): Nothing to say about this one, mostly because I’m still not sure if Ragnarok is a villain or a disease.
  • Black Panther (November 3, 2017): This is by far the coolest announcement. Yes, because it’s a black superhero, but even more because of the actor they chose to play Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman, of 42 and Get On Up. This is super promising.
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (May 4, 2018): I think this is where Thanos finally does stuff.
  • Captain Marvel (July 6, 2018): Another exciting one, because it’s Marvel’s first movie devoted to a female superhero. More on this in a second.
  • Inhumans (November 8, 2018): This one’s intriguing, because Inhumans are a little more obscure than everyone else on here, with the exception of the Guardians. Inhumans figures to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s cosmic side even more than the first Guardians already has. Also, there are rumors that Marvel wants Inhumans to become their version of X-Men, since Fox still has the rights to that and won’t be giving them up anytime soon.
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (May 3, 2019): Man, I wish they’d stop splitting the third book into two movies…wait, you’re saying this is based on a comic book? Man, and all this time I thought these were adapted from real literature.

And there you have it: your cinematic schedule for the next five years. Don’t schedule anything on those dates, or you’ll be such a loser.

First things first, this is freaking awesome. I love the Marvel movies, and they keep getting better. A quick power ranking of all the Marvel movies so far, from best to worst: Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk. That’s a lot of movies already. Feel free to argue the rankings in the comments, but don’t you dare disagree with me. As a side note, I love that Marvel announced this after DC revealed their comparably paltry lineup. No love lost there.

I’m also really excited that Marvel is giving us a black superhero and a female superhero. We should be excited about this. Superhero movies have been en vogue since the turn of the century, and the only solo super-women movies we’ve gotten have been half-assed versions of Catwoman and Elektra, two dynamic characters in the comics that were obliterated onscreen. Fortunately, though, Hollywood has given us plenty of movies devoted to black superheroes, and…oh, just Blade? Really? Wow.

See, here’s the problem with this big Marvel announcement: It’s too late. I’m happy about the announcement, and I’ll go see every one of these movies. But they dropped the ball. Black Widow should have had her own movie years ago. At least before Rocket Raccoon, for the love of God. Maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe they couldn’t get scheduling worked out with Scarlet Johansson, maybe the script just wasn’t ever right…or maybe Kevin Feige (the head of Marvel studios) just didn’t care enough. Regardless, the lack of priority on diversity has been abhorrent.

And as far as a black superhero goes, they didn’t even have to make a movie about one of the comics world’s many black heroes. They could have done what Fox has done with the Human Torch and ignored his race entirely. In the comics, the Torch is the white Johnny Storm, but in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, he’ll be played by the very not-white Michael B. Jordan. They cast Johnny based on talent, not on race. I would have been fine with that for any of these characters.

Sitting here right now, the idea of a black Captain America onscreen instead of a white one is tantalizing. Or why couldn’t Idris Elba have played Thor instead of Chris Hemsworth? They could have done anything in those first few movies. They would have angered the fan base, but after Iron Man the demand for superhero movies was so high, alienating an extremely small subset of the fans wouldn’t have made a dent in their profits.

So no, I’m not going to give credit to Marvel for trailblazing or championing diversity. To be clear, I think the comic book division of Marvel is doing a stellar job of pushing diversity in their titles. They’re not perfect, and they still make mistakes, but they’ve made big strides. The sins of Marvel’s movie division are more egregious and more public. So far, they’ve announced one movie for one female superhero and one movie for one black superhero. Woohoo, I guess. Should women and African-Americans thank Marvel for the scraps? I’m all in on both Captain Marvel and Black Panther, and I hope they’re brilliant blockbusters. But when it comes to assessing Marvel Studios, it’s too little too late, and it will take a lot of time and effort to even come close to repairing the damage.


Aaron Bumgarner is a speech-language pathologist for Oklahoma City Public Schools, but he’d be okay with Marvel Studios offering him a job.

Lessons from Katrina?

A Break from Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

By Aaron Bumgarner

Memorial in Water


Having read a book about Katrina hardly makes you an expert on Katrina or New Orleans or hurricanes. But you learn enough to see that being an expert hardly means you make all the right decisions. Five Days at Memorial covers one New Orleans hospital’s ordeal before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina hit. The hospital was named Memorial Medical Center, and it received national media attention after Katrina for accusations of doctors and nurses euthanizing patients during the disaster. Author Sheri Fink is meticulous and thorough in her reporting, giving detail to the lives of everyone affected and making clear the medical, legal, and political bureaucracy involved at every stage.

The most fascinating section of the book is also the most heartbreaking, the five days at Memorial, when the hurricane hit. We get an intimate look at the horrifying conditions and the desperate doctors, nurses, and patients fighting for survival. The hospital didn’t flood completely, but enough that some of the electricity was knocked out and the heat became sweltering.

Taking care of the patients became increasingly difficult to the point that some patients appeared to be suffering on the verge of death. This hostile environment, coupled with the unwilling ignorance of the volatile situation in the city outside, presumably contributed to the tragic decisions made to end patients’ lives without their permission.

Fink writes that it was later revealed that some of the more senior doctors had taken some breaks from the hard work of caring for patients and running a hospital in crisis by retreating to a part of the hospital unaffected by the storm to run fans and watch TV. Somehow they failed to suggest that the patients be moved to this more amenable environment or that the hospital’s overworked nurses seek similar respite.

Pop Culture and Katrina

Five Days was released at a curious time: in 2013, eight years after Katrina. After you read the book, though, you appreciate the utter immersion Fink endured to tell the full story, and eight years seems surprisingly brief. But in all that time, there’s been a surprising dearth of popular culture dealing with Katrina. Fink writes about one prime example most relevant to Memorial, an episode of Boston Legal, of all things, in which the court rules in favor of a doctor who euthanized patients during Katrina. Some that I’ve encountered include the homemade movie Trouble the Water and the epic non-fiction Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. And of course, there’s Treme, the inscrutable HBO show by Wire genius David Simon.

There’s just not much out there, which I suppose shouldn’t be too surprising. America has exhibited a disturbing trend recently of not processing its tragedies in its art. This goes for 9/11 too, of course. When trailers for United 93 played in theaters, there were cries of “Too soon!”, though it was released five years after the event. We now only allow our major filmmakers to make movies about the wars we’re in overseas, not the disasters within our own borders. And that’s only true if they’re marketed as heroic victories, even when the stories they tell are morally ambiguous cautionary tales.

I say all this not because we can’t handle the truth. We handle it just fine when the narrative is packaged nicely for us, such as when the Saints won the Superbowl in 2010 and it was painted as a win for the Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. That Saints win was important; it provided hope at a time when hope was still hard to come by. But that’s not the only function of pop culture. Art should also be able to shine a light on misdeeds so we can learn from history and do better next time. The fact that popular art has ignored Katrina isn’t unexpected, but it is unacceptable.

Learning for the Future

Five Days at Memorial received a lot of attention last year. It won the National Book Award for non-fiction and appeared on the New York Times Best Books of 2013 list. The story has been optioned for a movie by Scott Rudin, producer of The Social NetworkMoneyball, and Captain Phillips. Those may be the best movies you could want as examples for the kind of quality this story deserves.

Popular culture doesn’t solve problems, but it does teach. Five Days at Memorial is an instructive book, but movies obviously have a higher profile. When popular culture engages with current events like this with a high level of public exposure, then regular culture has no excuse. When catastrophe strikes again due to a failure of bureaucracy (like, say, an Ebola crisis), learning from disasters like Katrina is what will save us. If we don’t learn, it will look much like the above episode from Five Days, in which the nurses and patients suffer in the heat and the doctors relax in cool air conditioning and watch TV. It will be the poor and underprivileged who suffer the consequences.


Aaron Bumgarner is a speech-language pathologist for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Entertainment Reads (August 12th, 2014)


Each week on Tuesday we’ll post our favorite links to articles from the pop culture world. They’ll at least tangentially pertain to education or sociological issues in general, and they’ll be from the past week. There will be a few bonus exceptions though, usually in the form of a link that was too fun to pass up. Because we too like to have the fun.

I did take last week off, so we’ll have TEN links this week. Enjoy.

In things I wish I wrote: Amy Nicholson tells you to support female-driven movies by not going to see Lucy. (LA Weekly)

In political correctness: Shaq is being sued because he made fun of a man’s appearance, much of which is altered due to a condition. (ESPN.com)

In it’s complicated: A music festival in Ohio dropped R. Kelly from its lineup due to complaints from other bands and sponsors, seeing as many still think he’s guilty of child pornography. (Pitchfork)

In more NBA: The first deaf NBA player is passing on his wisdom to hearing-impaired children. (Deseret News)

In maybes: Noah Berlatsky explores the idea of a transgender woman playing Wonder Woman in a movie. (Comic Book Resources)

In I must like the NBA a whole lot: The San Antonio Spurs (they’re a basketball team, you may have heard of them) hired a woman (Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Stars) as an assistant coach last week. (48 Minutes of Hell)

In it’s been complicated for a long time: Brian Eno has opinions on Israel and Gaza. (Stop the War Coalition)

In N.W.A. would be proud: Spike Lee is mad at the NYPD, and he’s letting them know through art. (BuzzFeed)

In college sports: So the NCAA lost a court case, and college sports conferences are autonomous. Wow. (Grantland)

In the tragedy in Missouri: Celebrities speak out on social media about Mike Brown’s slaying. (Rolling Out)

Bonus not for fun: Robin Williams was a great actor, and he died yesterday. Noel Murray has a moving tribute to his artistic legacy. (The Dissolve)

Entertainment Reads (July 29, 2014)


Each week on Tuesday we’ll post our favorite links to articles from the pop culture world. They’ll at least tangentially pertain to education or sociological issues in general, and they’ll be from the past week. There will be a few bonus exceptions though, usually in the form of a link that was too fun to pass up. Because we too like to have the fun.

In marvelous diversity continued: Spider-Woman is getting her own series. (IGN)


Noah Berlatsky takes a closer look at whether or not women are reading comics. (The Atlantic)

In potentially game-changing games: Hello Games is nearing its release for No Man’s Sky, a game with the potential to have repercussions across all tech media. (Grantland)

In potentially movie-changing movies: Nelson George discusses recent African-American cinema in light of the new James Brown biopic. (The New York Time)

In things worth collecting: William Foster III has quite the collection of comics featuring black characters. (The Middletown Press)

Marvelous Diversity

A Break from Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

By Aaron Bumgarner

Kamala Khan



When I was a kid, I watched the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons of the ‘90s as often as I could. I loved many shows (luh ya Wishbone), but these two cartoons were probably my favorites. I spent many hours pretending I had superpowers of my own, inserting my own superhero into the stories of Peter Parker and of Professor X’s supergroup. Many of my ideals were shaped by these shows.

But I’m white and a guy, so it was easy to look up to Spider-Man or Cyclops or Wolverine or Gambit. These were people who I could imagine myself being someday; if they wouldn’t let me have the superpowers, I could at least see myself standing up for my ideals and taking care of the less fortunate, the way Peter Parker did in the more mild-mannered version of his life. Pop culture always provided me with a role model. I never lacked for examples to fashion myself after.

There has been excitement about the new developments at Marvel Comics, and there has been backlash. I sit firmly in the excitement camp. This post is a celebration. There’s time later for airing out any concerns about how long these changes will last, whether or not they will amount to anything more than a publicity stunt, and if they ever plan on making such bold moves in their cinematic universe. For now, let’s appreciate the gold that they’re spinning instead of sifting through it looking for the stray strand of straw.

Consider the facts:

  • The new Thor is a woman. She is not transgender; she is not Lady Thor. The old Thor has been deemed unworthy to wield his hammer, Mjolnir, so the new Thor will wield it. And she will be a woman. That’s all we know so far.
  • The new Captain America is black. It’s all but totally and completely certain that Steve Rogers will be Captain America again someday. But for now, after being a sidekick for the majority of his superhero career, Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) will be Captain America. Our Captain America is black.
  • Marvel has, for some time now, outpaced DC in its treatment of its women characters. While there is still over-sexualization of women in Marvel comics, recent titles such as Captain Marvel, the new Storm, She-Hulk, and the recent all-women X-Men have done a good job of depicting their heroines in practical outfits and as the equal of their male counterparts. DC, to the say the least, is far behind.
  • One of Marvel’s most successful new series, Ms. Marvel, has handed that well-used moniker over to a Pakistani-American teenage girl named Kamala Khan. She’s Muslim.

If you were to see a woman, a black man, and a Muslim walking in a group toward you on the sidewalk, you may not think twice about it. America is a melting pot, after all. But the world of comic books is absurdly behind. If the world we lived in reflected the Marvel or DC Universes, you’d seldom see black people, and if you did, there would only be one and he would be in a group of white people. If you saw a Muslim, they probably wouldn’t know English, or they’d be the villain in your story. And if you saw a woman, chances are they would have back problems from their surreal anatomy.

I don’t know what Marvel’s endgame is. Will their female-centric series start seeing more support from the main office and from marketing? Will Falcon get his own series when Steve Rogers comes back? How long will any of these changes last? I don’t know. I do know that for the foreseeable future, white boys won’t be the only children with heroes to model themselves after in the pages of Marvel comics. That’s something to celebrate.


Aaron Bumgarner is a speech-language pathologist for Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Entertainment Reads (July 22, 2014)


Each week on Tuesday we’ll post our favorite links to articles from the pop culture world. They’ll at least tangentially pertain to education or sociological issues in general, and they’ll be from the past week. There will be a few bonus exceptions though, usually in the form of a link that was too fun to pass up. Because we too like to have the fun.

In Captain Falcon: Hayes Brown both gets excited and slows his roll for Marvel’s announcement that Sam Wilson (who is black) will be the new Captain America. (Think Progress)

In hot sports takes: This is the article that spurred the Tony Dungy mess earlier this week. The Dungy part is really small, and the actual article is interesting as a look at tolerance in the locker room. (The Tampa Tribune)

In movie history: Saul Austerlitz explores how recent movies have revealed the LGBTQ community’s place in America’s history. (The Dissolve)

In chipping away at the glass ceiling: Natalie Nakase wants to be the NBA’s first female head coach. (The New York Times)

In something a little more close to home: The late James Garner had intimate ties to Norman and to the University of Oklahoma. (The Norman Transcript)

Bonus for fun: The key to life is found in the face inside Joaquin Phoenix’s forehead. (YouTube)

Entertainment Reads (July 15th, 2014)



Each week on Tuesday we’ll post our favorite links to articles from the pop culture world. They’ll at least tangentially pertain to education or sociological issues in general, and they’ll be from the past week. There will be a few bonus exceptions though, usually in the form of a link that was too fun to pass up. Because we too like to have the fun.

In sports teams from our nation’s capital: The blogger the Washington Offensive Slurs hired to defend their name quit after two weeks. (The Washington Post)

In superheroines: A writer from Alabama is writing a comic book starring a woman who isn’t a sex symbol. (AL.com)

In the Middle East: A dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival. (Indiewire)

In Russia, which sounds delightful: Russia might have plans to censor Marvel Comics released there. (CNET)

In learning about movies quickly: A sublime video that sums up the history of cinema in less than 10 minutes. (CineFix)

It’s Miranda Lambert’s Country

A Break from Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

By Aaron Bumgarner




Young girls have a lot of options from which to choose when looking for an idol or a role model in the music world today. But if I had a daughter, I’d be thankful for artists like Miranda Lambert and Beyoncé. Neither is perfect; I don’t think Lambert and I would agree on America’s gun laws, and, if I were a father, I’m sure I’d be uncomfortable with my daughter relating to Beyoncé’s overt sexuality. But both singers have released albums of substance within the last year, albums that declare their womanhood to the world with artistry and conviction. I’d be happy having my daughter look up to either of them. (What gives me pause with Beyoncé is that she’s married to the man that released Magna Carta…Holy Grail.)

I’m not a father though, so my only frame of reference for this discussion is my middle-school students. Granted, it’s a lot easier to imagine my students listening to Beyoncé than to Miranda Lambert, given that 90% of them are Latino. I’m not saying that Latinos don’t listen to country music. I have a Latino friend that really enjoys country music. But he’s not a middle schooler living in an urban area and heavily influenced by peer pressure. So I’m going to go ahead and assume that most of my students don’t listen to Miranda Lambert.

But I wish they would! I want my female students to feel empowered to make their own life decisions. I want them to see that women can have the power to start their own businesses. I want them to see that a woman can be married and not be subservient to her husband. I want them to see that a woman can take ownership of her sexuality and not be exploited. I want them to love themselves enough not to define themselves by their relationship to a boy. And I don’t want them to find their identity in their beauty.

Miranda Lambert addresses all these issues and more on her new album, Platinum. She subverts the daddy-daughter song in “Girls” with a chorus of “If you think you’re the only one she’ll want in this world / Then you don’t know nothin’ ‘bout girls”. In “Bathroom Sink” and “Gravity Is a B***h”, Lambert deftly explains that she won’t let what she sees in the mirror become how she defines herself, while extolling the virtues of both her personality and her beauty on “Platinum”. Instead of the crazy ex-girlfriend anthems that have become so popular in country music (and which she’s already mastered), she kisses off boys that ain’t worth her time in “Two Rings Shy” and “Little Red Wagon”. And the only time she explicitly mentions her marriage to Blake Shelton is in a song about her own similarities to a different woman, Priscilla Presley. The lyrics end up hardly being about Shelton at all.

This is an album by a woman about being a woman, regardless of any men. Platinum is all the more impressive when you consider what a boys’ world country music is. Since 2000, over twice as many men in country music have had Number 1 albums on the Billboard 200 than women. Subjectively, it’s hard for me to think of who the women on that list would be aside from Lambert, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift, whereas I could think of 7 of the men off the top of my head. It’s even worse in pop music; there may be a lot of female artists in the Top 40, but name one female producer making hits right now.

The worst part about this is the lack of role models for young girls to look up to. Just like there aren’t enough black women starring in movies to inspire young black girls, there aren’t enough women (white or black) making waves in the music world for young girls to respect, and the few that are tend to be presented through the male gaze. If I want my female students to take ownership of their lives and have confidence, Miranda Lambert’s Platinum is a great place to start. Too bad they don’t listen to country music.