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I play a girl.

I have ulterior motives, but I also like role-playing. These are role-playing games, I tell myself, and why not play the furthest role from what I am. What I am is a middle-aged man, thick with beard and tattoos, who never lost his love for video games, and I choose a girl. The smallest, most feminine model. Long red hair and eyes like the sky. I know what men want so I shape it in front of me on the screen, fit my design to their desire.

My desire — my ulterior motive, because I have two daughters entering an adult world they know nothing about — is to smash men in the mouth with my shield. I like the idea of this small, frail female avatar slicing them with steel. So I shield her with armor, with bracers and belt, gauntlets and greaves, until she is completely covered. Because I know, from my years walking around in a man’s skin, that the male players are thinking of putting their own swords inside her, at the moment just before she fucks them up. More… “The Princess is in Another Castle”

Paul Crenshaw’s essay collection This One Will Hurt You is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press in spring 2019. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by Houghton Mifflin and W.W. Norton, Oxford American, Ecotone, Brevity, North American Review, and Glimmer Train, among others. @PaulCrenstorm

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Romantic comedies are not new to us. You know the story: boy meets girl, girl likes boy, romance ensues. Boy or girl leaves before realizing that they’ve made a big mistake and the two of them are destined to be together. Cut to a chase scene: they run towards one another at a wedding or in an airport before jumping into one another’s arms and living happily ever after.

Romantic comedies have been around since the 1930s, over the years, the focus and themes shifting from class differences to compatibility to sex and back again. Screwball comedies became popular during the Great Depression, parodying love and class differences through a battle of the sexes in films like It Happened One Night and The Philadelphia Story. The 1980s introduced romantic comedies with a focus on teenagers, with coming-of-age films like The Breakfast Club popularized by John Hughes. The 1990s and 2000s saw an abundance of rom-coms like Pretty Woman and Legally Blonde with staple stars such as Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon.

Over the past decade, though, romantic comedies have become less and less popular, with tickets sales dropping from 90 million from 2000 to 2008 to 42.8 million from 2009 to 2016 according to Vanity Fair. That is until 2018 revisited and revived the genre both in theaters and on Netflix with films like Crazy Rich Asians, The Kissing Booth, and Set It Up. More… “Pulling Out the Pedestal”

Camille DiBenedetto is a staff writer for The Smart Set and an English major at Drexel University. In her free time, you can find her watching romantic comedies, listening to slam poetry, or rereading The Summer I Turned Pretty for the 27th time.

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As every cinephile knows, we go to the movies for all kinds of reasons, but escapism is probably the most common. We gather in darkened rooms to see an enhanced version of life where the people onscreen are better-looking, wittier, braver, more dynamic, and generally livelier than we are in real life. Movies give us a sense of what our lives might be like if only we were different people. Love stories epitomize this idealization as no other genre does because while some people might fantasize about being a soldier, a detective, or an uncatchable criminal mastermind, I think the Blues Brothers had it right: at one time or another, everybody needs somebody to love.

This is where the typical love story tropes tend to build up our expectations only to end up letting us down. No matter how much we might wish otherwise, let’s be real — not everybody finds somebody in the end. Maybe this is why stories about love lost are a lot more relatable than those about love found. However many times you’ve seen Casablanca, you still hope against hope that this time Rick won’t let Ilsa get on that plane and fly off into the rain with her husband, Nazi resistance be damned. It might not have worked out for those two in the end, but at least they were together for a little while and besides, they’ll always have Paris. More… “A Brief Escape”

Matt Hanson lives in Boston and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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As we all gear up for the 2020 Presidential race with candidates from the left volunteering themselves as tributes, we have also hit my favorite time of the year every year: Oscar season. This particular ceremony gets lumped into a lot of conversations about taste and value, which considering the show’s raison d’etre prove futile and often boring. An attempt in the 1930s to rebrand and reinvigorate Hollywood during the 1930s, The Oscars were born as a means to entice people back to the movies. The audience might not have been super interested in a film, but a prize winner or a prestige picture, might gain some interest. The awards were and continue to be a smoke screen.

But I love them. I loved them as a kid. Growing up overseas on military bases, they started late on Sunday night, too late for me to stay up on a school night. This lead to a lot of bemoaning on my part to my mother about the injustices of the world – of the Super Bowl being accessible (I can’t remember if it was live or not), but being unable to view the Awards as they happened. Some might call me an advocate and a hero, but I was just a deeply passionate fan of film. I didn’t know what The Crying Game was, but I wanted to be involved regardless. As I grew up and began actually watching more, I became even more obsessive. I screamed at the television when I thought the incorrect choice was made. I was overwhelmed when the person I wanted to win, won. It was as if we triumphed together. More… “‘Tis the (Oscar) Season”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.

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In 2012, a good deal of popular attention greeted a book, translated from the Japanese, entitled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The book was, as its title announced, about decluttering and organizing the home, but it overlaid these mundane chores with a missionary zeal that somehow spoke to a substantial audience of millennials and their mothers. The book’s popularity was such that it spurred a second book, Spark of Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. The author of both, Marie Kondo, had by now become a celebrity, and her principles for decluttering and organizing had been branded with a formal name: the KonMari method.

As with all products and services that penetrate the fickle consciousness of the consumer, the next step was to extend the merchandise into a new arena. Kondo’s lessons have, accordingly, been adapted for television in the form of a Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The producers understood that the appeal of the books could be amplified by the physical presence of their author, a diminutive figure who looks like she has been neatly folded for maximum efficiency, much the way she teaches her clients to fold their clothes. More… “The Regressive Magic of Tidying Up”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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Literature cannot be the business of a women’s life & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are, you will be less eager for celebrity.

So pontificated the English poet laureate, Robert Southey, in a now infamous letter to one Charlotte Brontë in 1837. And while commentary on this letter has focused, understandably, on the senior male poet’s urging of private domesticity on the emerging female artist, here’s the phrase that captures my attention: “eager for celebrity.” Southey was intently calling upon a relatively recent usage of the word “celebrity;” though the OED tells us that “celebrity” was in use since the 14th century, originally to suggest public esteem or the pomp of sanctified rites, from the mid to late 18th century, connotations of the term “celebrity” bifurcated, and celebrity came to be distinguished from the less evanescent and more socially respectable “fame.” So in using the term, he was quite mindfully connecting a desire for down-market fame with misdirected femininity. There is a long history of what I call the “unseemly woman:” women who disregard Southey’s warning and who are widely understood, whether rightly or not, to be desirous of fame in a way that is considered overly “eager.” Today, those women suffer public denunciation in terms that are just as gendered as they were in 1837: think, for instance, of one of our more repellent current phrases: “fame whores.”

Backing up to the 19th century to consider Brontë’s imputed celebrity whoring might seem anachronistic or inappropos. Dare we conjoin the name of the author of Jane Eyre with that of Miley Cyrus? It’s important that we do. To assist us, we can call upon the burgeoning academic field of celebrity studies that is devoted to analyzing the condition of public visibility. But in spite of the existence of several perceptive studies of celebrity in earlier historical periods, such as Tom Mole’s Byron’s Romantic Celebrity and Julia H. Fawcett’s Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 1696-1801, a quick glance at the large, stimulating international conference that the journal Celebrity Studies sponsors every two years show us a discipline that is still, to a great degree, stuck in the present. But our thinking about celebrity must be anchored in a thoroughly historicized frame of reference, and so it follows that any thinking about today’s “unseemly” fame-hungry women needs to ground itself in a rich history of that denunciation. I need to go back much further than Brontë, in fact, to the 17th century, to the scientist and writer Margaret Cavendish (1623-73), jeeringly referred to as “Mad Madge,” who wrote frankly and unapologetically of her desire for fame in her memoir, A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life. I need to return to her near contemporary, Aphra Behn (1640-1689), playwright, novelist and spy, thought scandalous for her sexual frankness, who wrote, “I value fame as much as if I had been born a Hero; and if you rob me of that, I can retire from the ungrateful world, and scorn its fickle Favours.” In the annals of unseemly, fame-eager women, Behn’s proclamation qualifies as a 17th-century mic drop. More… “Unseemly”

Lorraine York is Senator McMaster Chair of Canadian literature and culture at McMaster University. She is writing a book on reluctant celebrity.

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“You can never make that crossing that she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross. Every day. You understand me? In you that journey is.”
Angels in America, Millennium Approaches, Act 1, Scene 1

At the end of Ithaca College’s production of Millennium Approaches in October 2017, the lights flickered and we — the audience and Prior Walter — met the Angel for the first time. As both a reader and an audience member, I have immersed myself in this play countless times over the last 25 years — at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in 1995, in the Off Broadway revival, during many viewings of the superb HBO production. I look forward to seeing the current Tony-award-winning version of the play, its first Broadway production in the Trump era. When we finally meet the Angel at the end of Millennium, it is a spectacle. In the text and in previous productions, her entrance is preceded by a giant boom that causes part of the bedroom ceiling to crash down to the floor. When she descends and asserts, “The Great Work begins!” it is significant, stunning, and terrifying. In Ithaca College’s otherwise phenomenal production, the Angel entered . . . on roller skates. More… “The Great Work Begins Again”

Jennifer Tennant is an associate professor of Economics at Ithaca College. A health economist by training, her research focuses on disability and mental health policy. She has written a number of articles on health economics and disability policy and has recently started writing creative nonfiction. Her first piece of creative nonfiction, a personal essay, will be published in Pleiades in January 2019. An image text essay, created with the photographer Nura Qureshi, was published in July 2018 in A VELVET GIANT.

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At first glance, Bull Durham doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would get the Criterion Collection treatment. A cinephile’s delight, Criterion is usually associated with more esoteric films: their staggeringly comprehensive editions of the works of Ingmar Bergman and Josef Von Sternberg are alluring indeed, but not what you’d call mainstream fare. Kudos to Criterion for being open-minded enough to notice how progressive, subversive, and worldly-wise Bull Durham really is. Brilliantly written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, the film shows authentic affection and respect for America’s pastime but doesn’t shy away from the deeper questions that go beyond calling balls and strikes. Bull Durham is a thinking person’s sports movie, containing a deep, unapologetically intelligent and mature understanding of the world both inside and outside the ballpark.

We follow the The Durham Bulls, a very minor league baseball team based in North Carolina. Most of the players know that they aren’t destined to be superstars, nor are they meant to be, which is mostly just fine by them. They’re in it purely for the love of the game, enjoying the laid-back camaraderie of athletes, content to horse around beneath the bright lights on warm summer evenings. Choosing to focus on this often-ignored aspect of the sporting life is particularly pointed, since the mid ’80s was a time just before baseball (and sports culture at large) got a metaphorical (and, it must be said, quite literal) shot in the arm, causing salaries and egos to run amok. The amiable Durham Bulls aren’t obsessively driven to be champions, which flips the implicit triumphalism of most sports movies on its head right off the bat, so to speak. More… “All-Star Flirtation”

Matt Hanson lives in Boston and writes for The Arts Fuse,  Boston’s online independent arts and culture magazine.  His work has also appeared in The Baffler, The Millions, and 3 Quarks Daily, and other places.  He can usually be found in the nearest available used bookstore.

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My first real memory may very well be the opening scene from Star Wars: A New Hope, in which, after the floating text tells us the world is at war, Darth Vader and his stormtroopers seize Princess Leia’s ship. While rebel soldiers line the hallways, stormtroopers blast open the air-locked door and begin firing lasers. A moment later, Vader comes through with his black mask and heavy breath, cape sweeping the ground behind him, and sometime after that we see lightsabers and landspeeders, X-wing and Tie-fighters, the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star, and I’ll say now “ignite” is too weak a word to apply to what that movie did to my imagination.

Suddenly we were all looking at the stars, wondering what went on above our heads. Or we were arguing if lightsabers were real, if we could learn to use the force to move things with our minds or convince our mothers to take us swimming if she said no the first time. I still wonder, occasionally, when I’ve left a light on after climbing into bed, if I couldn’t just turn it off with the wave of a hand. More… “Watching the Skies”

Paul Crenshaw’s essay collection This One Will Hurt You is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press in spring 2019. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by Houghton Mifflin and W.W. Norton, Oxford American, Ecotone, Brevity, North American Review, and Glimmer Train, among others. @PaulCrenstorm

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Busy, busy, busy. So much to do, so many traitors to be shot. You’d think a victorious tyrant would have his hands plenty full in the aftermath of Spain’s murderous 1936-39 civil war. It turns out, though, that Generalissimo Francisco Franco had long nursed a secret desire, one he was uniquely in a position to satisfy at the outset of his nearly four decades in power. But where in the world did he find the time to write the screenplay for a feature-length film? Never mind that the end product is as artistically shoddy and morally repugnant as anything that ever defiled celluloid, it still gives a fascinating peek through the thick velvet curtains that lead to the lobby of a dictator’s mind.

Film-buff Franco didn’t often go to the movies. The movies came to him. On engagement-free Saturday evenings a projectionist would be admitted to the head of state’s residence on the outskirts of Madrid where a screening room had been installed. Ministers on urgent business would be roped into attendance. It went on like that until old age began gnawing at his attention span, decades down the road. Hitler, too, was acutely conscious of the cinema’s potential for manipulating the masses, but left the hands-on part to his deputy, Goebbels. And Mussolini certainly praised the carbon-arc projector as “the world’s most effective weapon.” But his movie producer son, Vittorio, revealed that Il Duce could scarcely make it through 15 minutes of virtually any film you could think of without dozing off. More… “General Franco Jumps the Shark”

Robert Latona is a journalist based in Madrid, Spain.

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