Chris Benoit Double Murder–Suicide: Four Years On.

A few months ago, I blogged about the disgrace of Charlie Sheen and John Galliano, and how Two & a Half Men  and Christian Dior were right to fire the men and disassociate their brands from them.

In that post, I also wrote about professional wrestler Chris Benoit who, four years ago today, committed a double murder–suicide, strangling his wife, Nancy, and their 7-year-old son using chokeholds, then killing himself using a weight machine.

At the time, the mainstream media had a field day with the tragedy, especially when it was speculated that steroids and their side-effects—specifically ’roid rage—played a role. Outspoken, right-winged commentators like Nancy Grace and Bill O’Reilly had no shortage of perspectives on the case, and used “expert” witnesses (some credible, like fellow World Wrestling Entertainment stars John Cena, Chris Jericho, and Bret Hart, and some not-so-credible, like former WWE wrestlers Marc Mero and Steve Blackman, who both had axes to grind with the company) and opinions to bolster their arguments that pro-wrestling is nothing but a homoerotic display of extreme violence and degradation of all that is good and right in American culture by a bunch of ’roided-up, “fake” performers.

Books such as Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family & Crippled a Sport  by Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy, Irv Muchnick and Greg Oliver and Matthew Randazzo V’s Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit & the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry have examined that case and divided fans on the topic.

When I originally wrote the article below for a university paper, then subsequently re-edited it for a wrestling website, I struggled to reconcile the “family man” and 20-year pro wrestling veteran that fans and co-workers loved, with the monster who orchestrated a horror weekend involving domestic violence and obvious mental illness on Benoit’s part.

I have to admit I’m still biased, and still don’t feel as badly about Benoit as I should and do feel about someone like Charlie Sheen. As I wrote in “Minus Two & a Half Men:

“On the one hand, I felt his legacy as one of the best professional wrestlers ever to grace the squared circle shouldn’t be forgotten, however, Benoit took three lives…, sullied the reputation of professional wrestling and sparked a debate on steroids and drug testing that raged for years; the smoke of which still lingers today…

“Benoit was obviously seriously mentally ill; the (not-so-) funny thing is, his friends, family and co-workers never picked up on it.”

So, without further ado, here is a version of the article I mentioned above, originally written in 2008, with regular edits thereafter. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Over the weekend of 23rd and 24th June, 2007, the world of professional wrestling was rocked by the double murder-suicide involving World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar Chris Benoit, his wife and seven-year-old son.

Benoit was scheduled to appear at a WWE pay-per-view on the night of Sunday, 24th June, but had to return home abruptly a few days earlier, claiming that his wife, Nancy, and son, Daniel, had food poisoning. Suspicions arose when Benoit sent five odd text messages to co-workers and friends, repeatedly stating his “physical address”, which door to his suburban home was unlocked, and where his dogs were tied up. When repeated phone calls from the WWE went unanswered, and inquiries into local hospitals in the Atlanta, Georgia, area proved fruitless, WWE contacted authorities, who had a neighbour search the home, finding the bodies of Nancy, 43, and Daniel, 7. The body of Benoit, 40, was found hanging from a weight machine in his home gym.

At first it was thought the gruesome body count was the result of a triple-murder, and WWE ran a special three-hour tribute edition of their flagship show Raw, dedicated to the memory of Benoit. However, about 26 hours later news broke that it was actually Benoit who killed his family and himself. All mentions of his name were banned from WWE programming, and repeats of the tribute show were cancelled in international markets.

Doug Frattallone, a television producer, reporter and anchor, and author of the “Professor Wrestling” column on The Pittsburgh Channel website, says, “If there’s police tape around the home of one of your employees—and your employee and his family is inside, deceased—that might be a signal that there’s foul play. It’s certainly not the time to immortalise someone [with a tribute show]”.

The media, particularly in the US, had a field day with this story as more aspects of the crime came to light. Bad press has surrounded sports entertainment pretty much since its inception, and has only increased as the juggernaut that is WWE becomes more popular on a global scale. For example, when the Chris Benoit tragedy was revealed, US news programs, such as FOX’s controversial OReily Factor, were quick to point out that four prominent professional wrestlers had died since the book Wrestling Babylon by Irv Muchnick was published in 2007, adding to the industry’s negative profile. In the tome, Muchnick reveals 2002 and 2006 studies that focused on the premature deaths of 62 power lifters and 3, 850 National Football League (NFL) players respectively, and how the bigger men and men suspected of using steroids died at rates much higher than their non-drug-using counterparts. These findings lend themselves to the theory that Benoit committed his crimes while experiencing “’roid rage”, which I will return to later. But, Muchnick says, little attention has been paid to “the mortality rate of pro wrestlers…” because “…they’re just, you know, wrestlers”, and “are not actual human beings”.

Although not a wrestling fan at the time of Owen Hart’s death, a fatal accident that occurred during a pay-per-view where Hart was involved in an entrance via a cable from the rafters, I can only imagine the bad press generated at that time. And at the end of 2005, Eddie Guerrero, a second-generation wrestler and one of Benoit’s best friends, died of heart failure resulting from heavy drug use earlier in the wrestler’s life. This death didn’t cause as much controversy as Hart’s and Benoit’s (The Los Angeles Times newspaper dedicated almost ninety times as much info on Benoit as it did on Guerrero’s death), however there was some debate over drug use in sports entertainment once the toxicology report was released. WWE have overhauled their Wellness Policy, in which wrestlers are monitored on and penalised for drug use more stringently.

Kevin McElvaney, Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine and WrestleZone.com columnist, shares his thoughts on the Wellness Policy:

“Chris Benoit was obviously either allowed to ‘slip through the cracks’ or somehow circumvent the Wellness Policy through a loophole or with a cheating device… There was a recent change implemented in the Wellness Policy which addresses the possibility of cheating in urine tests. Wrestlers must now lift their shirts and pull their pants down to their knees while giving urine samples, while a representative of the testing team observes. Some people were probably using urine filtration devices to produce clean samples, and it’s possible that Chris Benoit did the same thing… One problem with the… policy—at least as of June 2007—was that doctors notes excused plenty of drug abuses that would otherwise have been punished…”

Fellow WrestleZone.com reporter Keelan Balderson echoes McElvaney’s concerns on the legitimacy of the program:

“…There are a few major loopholes that wouldn’t be allowed in the Olympics, for example… If you have a legitimate doctor’s prescription for a substance… it’s allowed to slide”.

Benoit had a doctor’s prescription, from the corrupt Dr. Philip Astin, who was charged with 175 counts of illegally prescribing drugs to Benoit and others, and has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

While I don’t believe Benoit’s actions were in any way justified, and I am disappointed that they may have jeopardised Benoit’s chance to be recognised purely for the tremendous athlete that he was, I don’t think it’s right that the WWE has ostracised one of the greatest wrestlers ever from the WWE family. “He will never be in the Hall of Fame. Vince [McMahon] said it himself: ‘you will never hear the name Chris Benoit mentioned on this show again’ (at least words to that effect)”, Balderson says.

Yes, I acknowledge that Benoit’s actions were selfish, heinous, and deplorable, but I can comprehend the desperation he felt, too. Consider the way the body of Daniel was arranged in his bed and the how killer took time to place a Bible next to each of his victims. This says more about the state of mind Benoit must have been in, and that the public shouldn’t be so quick to shun him, than if he had stabbed them to death in a violent rage. It doesn’t change the fact that three lives have been eliminated, but maybe in the future we can celebrate the life of Chris Benoit, rather than focus on the tragic circumstances surrounding his death. [Early Bird note: Four years later, I have changed my mind and I do not feel it is appropriate to "celebrate his life". But wrestling fans will always be able to separate the wrestler from the murderer in discussion and debate.]

When reading the many farewell messages on the websites of Benoit’s peers and fellow wrestlers at the time the news broke, it seemed that some of them subscribed to the above school of thought. Former WWE Champion and current commentator for the SmackDown! Brand, Booker T, said on Houston, Texas, news program KHOU:

“I feel like the human life is a delicate piece of equipment and everyone has their breaking point. We don’t know what his breaking point was… We’re all human. I just think it was a huge malfunction and whatever it was, we may never know”.

Controversial former WWE Superstar Bret Hart, brother of the late Owen Hart, was interviewed extensively in the wake of the tragedy, saying Benoit was a locker-room leader and never expressed any signs that could have signified the events that occurred. “It knocked you off your feet the second you heard it…”, Hart said, “I can’t imagine Chris killing his son…”. In fact, Hart revealed that as a child, Benoit “reminded me of my own little son…”

Rob Van Dam, a former WWE Superstar who is known for being outspoken, holds Benoit in the highest esteem:

“Chris was truly a role model’s role model. You simply had to respect him and admire his focus and unmatched discipline. If I ever got asked a question about who I looked up to the most in the business… it’s Chris Benoit—in the ring and in the dressing room and with his family”.

However, there are others who view Benoit’s actions as unthinkable. Former WWE Diva Victoria, who chose to vent her feelings on MySpace, said the murder-suicide was “selfish” and “hurtful”, fearing that the high profile of Benoit “glamorises the situation”.

And of course there’s the official statements from WWE and Vince McMahon (whose WWE character and alter-ego “Mr. McMahon” was involved in a murder angle in the weeks leading up to Benoit’s death, which was immediately abolished in light of the tragedy) who appeared on US morning show Today, and his wife and WWE CEO Linda McMahon on Good Morning America. In Vince’s interview, he said that Benoit doesn’t represent what the WWE is about (although when he was alive, many people in the company, wrestling insiders and wrestling fans would say that Benoit was exactly what the WWE was about, or should be about), and that there was “no way of telling that this man was a monster”.

The WWE knows how smart their fans are in terms of knowing what goes on outside the ring, so why not incorporate some of that into the product? As Balderson mentioned above: Chris Benoit will never be mentioned on or in WWE programming and publications again. However, to my knowledge Benoit has been mentioned twice on WWE programming since his demise [up to May 2008]: once in an onscreen address from Chairman McMahon the night after the Raw tribute show aired, saying that references to their disgraced employee will cease immediately, and during Ric Flair’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech (which has been edited out of the forthcoming WrestleMania XXIV DVD, on which the ceremony is a bonus feature). Due to the sensitive nature of the crimes it’s obvious why they haven’t been used to bolster the product.

Many are wondering what drove Benoit to murder his wife and child and take his own life over the span of three days. (Nancy was killed on Friday 22nd June, Daniel on Saturday 23rd June and finally, Benoit on Sunday 24th June, according to medical reports.) Much speculation revolved around “’roid rage”; violence stemming from the use of steroids. However, the rage usually only occurs for a few minutes after taking the drug, and with the murders taking place over three days, ’roid rage seems unlikely. Balderson says, “…There have been no studies that prove it even exists and on top of this there was method in Benoit’s actions—you can’t kill your wife, son and yourself in one quick burst of rage”. Heath McCoy, writing in Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport, agrees: “… there was much about the incident that indicated deliberation, not rage”. Contributing doctors on the case revealed that withdrawal from steroids does cause bouts of severe depression, fatigue and mood swings, which seems a more likely scenario. But the abundance of steroids found in Benoit’s possession (Dr. Astin provided the wrestler with ten months worth of steroids every few weeks), isn’t evidence to support withdrawals. Though, “to be safe, I think steroids should be treated as the cause of the problem, but so should concussions, mental health, and personal problems,” says McElvaney.

From my point of view, the factors in Benoit’s life mentioned above may have contributed to the tragedy. Benoit suffered a broken neck eleven years ago, and if he was still feeling the effects of the injury, it could have impacted tremendously on his emotional and physical wellbeing. The travelling involved with being a WWE Superstar results in being away from home for long periods of time, which can take a toll on personal relationships. Reports surfaced that Benoit and his wife Nancy fought constantly for the wellbeing of Daniel who, it was alleged, had Fragile X syndrome, a form of inherited mental retardation that can be accompanied by growth problems (Benoit had apparently been injecting his son with Human Growth Hormone [HGH] in an attempt to counteract that) and autism. Benoit may have transferred his paranoia about his own size onto his son. It took the wrestler years to break into the mainstream American market because he was “such a small man”. Bret Hart says when he met Benoit as a teen, he “remembers him looking closer to nine or ten”. Balderson explains:

“I think all smaller wrestlers deep down feel that they need to be bigger to make it [in the WWE] because that’s how Vince [McMahon] likes it… Vince continues to push wrestlers… because of their size [as opposed to actual wrestling talent], so there is an ideology that to make it in this industry you have to be big, or at least ripped for your size.”

Which Benoit was. McElvaney goes on:

“…Chris was self-conscious about his own size and, apparently, insecure about Daniel’s size. The latter is completely unjustifiable, to me. I think the fact that Chris Benoit injected his son with HGH affects my opinion of him far more than the fact that he, himself, used steroids.”

Daniel’s condition had been pretty well concealed, as McMahon, Benoit’s closest friends, and even Nancy’s parents were not aware of it (they deny that their grandson suffered from Fragile X). As stated earlier, grief over the death of friend Eddie Guerrero may have been a contributing factor to the killings, or at least Benoit’s state of mind. Greg Oliver, another author of the book Benoit, was in contact with the wrestler at the time of Guerrero’s death:

“‘… I do not believe that I will ever find someone that I will bond with and be able to understand and be understood as I was with Eddie… My wife Nancy bought me a diary and I have started to write letters to Eddie…’”

Said diary was not found by the authorities.

Also, it surfaced that Nancy filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order against her husband in 2003, signaling that perhaps domestic violence was an occurrence in the marriage. (The divorce petition and restraining order were later dropped.) It had also been speculated that Benoit was to be demoted in the WWE. Just weeks before the tragedy, it was reported on many wrestling news websites (not WWE.com) that the WWE creative team didn’t feel Benoit had a strong enough on-screen persona or microphone skills to be a top Superstar or champion. However, the pay-per-view that Benoit missed the Sunday that he died was the day that he would once again be a World Champion. Chris Jericho weighed in on this at the time on Nancy Grace:

“… He was about to become the ECW Champion… ECW is more with some younger guys that are just learning, and Chris was a great trainer and so well respected, they wanted him to be kind of more of a trainer to some of these younger guys… So to move Chris to ECW, Chris would not see that as a demotion”.

His other stint as World Heavyweight Champion was at WrestleMania 20 in 2004, where Daniel and Nancy came into the ring to celebrate with Benoit. “… A hundred years from now, at WrestleMania 120, they’ll look back and see [that] Chris Benoit made Triple H tap out at Madison Square Garden…”, Benoit has said. No, he won’t. McCoy believes what Benoit did “to drag it [wrestling] down and scandalise it in the eyes of the public would have shamed [Benoit] to the core”.

Once again, WWE’s decision to pull all mentions of Chris Benoit from their product was the socially responsible and ethical thing to do. “Future generations will never know what a great performer he was, and that’s a shame,” says Oliver. “He epitomised what professional wrestling could and should be: hard-hitting, dramatic, serious action between high-calibre, exciting athletes”.

“We can… never forget or forgive these horrible acts… And that overshadows everything else in his life. But you can’t tell the story of pro wrestling without talking about Chris Benoit,” says Jericho.

Much like you can’t tell the story of the history of the world without taking the bad with the good. And, if turning on the nightly news is anything to go by, there’s still a lot of bad.

*

Three years after I wrote this article (with some edits I made just now), my feelings have changed somewhat. But if reading the copious amounts of literature on the subject of Benoit and questionable behaviour in sports entertainment (some of which I’ve mentioned here and, if you have any interest in this topic whatsoever, I advise you pick up. Perhaps I could even lend you a copy ;)), professional wrestling companies aren’t completely innocent in all this. One of the sections I edited out of the piece for publication on The Early Bird was about wrestling legend Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka who, in 1983 after a domestic violence incident, was suspected of murdering his girlfriend. Yet he still appears frequently on WWE television as one of the greatest high-flying wrestlers of all time. I guess it goes to show that domestic violence, drug use and all manner of other crimes are passable in the entertainment industry (sorry to bring his name up again, but Charlie Sheen comes to mind), just as long as you’re not found guilty of murder. Then you’re really done for.

[WTAE Pittsburgh’s Channel 4] Homepage.

[WrestleZone] Homepage.

[MySpace] TNA Knockout Tara AKA WWE Victoria (TNA Knockout Tara)’s Page.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Minus Two & a Half Men.

Image via Who’s Dated Who.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

If you didn’t get a chance to catch Go Back to Where You Came From on SBS last night, Wednesday or Tuesday night’s, check it out on the website. Do yourself a favour: it really is eye-opening stuff, whichever side of the asylum-seeking fence you sit on (and you’d better be on the right one, dammit!). And here’s MamaMia’s Rick Morton’s take on the show.

Also at MamaMia, “The Weiner Photos”.

Who is Coco?

“The ‘Scary Dad’ Phenomenon.”

It’s a year today since Julia Gillard took over as Prime Minister of Australia.

According to Dilbert creator Scott Adams, men are square pegs in round, vagina-shaped holes. Consent or no.

The Angelina–Louis Vuitton–Cambodia debacle.

Gala Darling on body image and beauty in style blogging:

“… Whoever these girls are that we choose to compare ourselves to, they’re just living their lives—and honestly, if that makes us feel bad about OURselves, it is OUR issue.”

Well said, girlfriend!

Forget Women in Refrigerators. “Dead Men Defrosting.”

“Likes Girls”? Dianna Agron on equality.

Born this way, or pray the gay away? Jezebel, via Autostraddle.

“Liberals tend… to believe that the more socially liberal actions (deciding to make less money and help others) were when people were being true to themselves, and conservatives tend… to believe that socially conservative actions (renouncing homosexuality) were more authentic. So! That solves the case, no? Everyone thinks they’re right, in philosophy as everywhere else in the world.

“Maybe that’s true; maybe what matters are our opinions more than our choices or our biology.”

Freeman-Sheldon sufferer Jes Sachse and photographer Holly Norris challenge the hipster-sexy American Apparel ads with their own “American Able” series of images.

–Phobia and –Isms in Glee.

Now this is how you write an anti-SlutWalk article.

“Why I Walked the SlutWalk.”

Still with the SlutWalk, this time from a man’s perspective.

Girl with a Satchel on Bridesmaids, feminism, taste and “public v private appropriateness”.

Images via West Coast Show, Fell Down the Rabbit Hole, MamaMia.

Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

Bienvenue à Toronto! (Welcome to Toronto!) (02/05/11).

I must admit I feel like I have squandered a lot of my time thus far in Toronto. I am yet to do anything incredibly touristy, unless you count walking the streets and taking photos of pretty buildings. Walking around everywhere has helped me to learn my way around the city and a lot of the street names, as well as find some hidden gems. I do intend to see the view from the CN Tower, get some culture at the Royal Ontario Museum and revel in all things the Maple Leaves at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Instead of acting like a tourist I’m at the point in my journey when I need pieces of home. And for me that means seeing my favourite band, Anberlin, who happen to be in town, and catching a roller derby bout next week. Not exactly Australian past times but they do equate to a relative state of normalcy for me. After Disneyland satisfied my love of shopping (and added to my collections of badges, Mr. Potato Heads and stuffed toys), Toronto alleviated my impulse to buy dresses. I got a super cute white and blue speckled summery number from H&M.

H&M also had a staff wanted sign up too, which brings me to my other mission while in Toronto: finding a job, and hopefully a house. I’ve seen a few signs around, which is more than I can say for the online classifieds. I also got into apartment hunting, mainly to see what is out there, but it all seems scarier in a foreign place. After only a few days here I deemed it responsible to extend my stay at the backpackers another two weeks. While living at the hostel I’ve managed to meet some good people, mostly boys. One I have nicknamed “Dreamboat”, a particularly charming and adorable man, who I have already written to my best friend, girlfriends and mum about. But being in a backpackers and talking to other travellers has meant I’ve heard many a travel/life story over beers, good old pub grub and games of pool. How very Australian!

“United Nations of Awesome!” (09/05/11).

So week two of Toronto life got a little more productive and a lot more exciting.

After chatting in the bar with a friend, James, I ran into one of my old roomies and another boy I’d met through him. Despite my lack of shoes, they tried to talk me into coming along on a pub-crawl. With a bit of arm twisting, and a mental self reminder to “roll with the punches”, I was recruited.

Being after midnight by the time we left, we only had a few hours before last call (which is 2am for a 2.30am close here in Toronto). With no real idea of where we were going we set off down the road and headed into a nearby pub. After having all our IDs checked and purchasing drinks, we settled into a large table, accommodating all 12 or so of us, and started to get to know one another. Everybody had some connection to someone else there, but most of us were new to one another.

With time against us, after downing one drink, we headed to our next location, a bar all of one minute from the last.

The second pub was much the same as the first. Everyone ordered a drink and we got chatting. We discovered that our little group consisted of seven different nationalities and after my flippant comment, “We’re just like the United Nations”, another Aussie, Luke, piped up with, “Yeah, the United Nations of Awesome!” A wonderful name that I will forever associate with that night.

CN Towerific (11/05/11).

The Toronto Blue Jays at practice. Break me off a piece o’ dat!

After the events of the pub-crawl, I managed to meet a great group of people.

With a lot of them either leaving or staying in different hostels, there weren’t many to be seen around the backpackers. However, I did get a new roommate, a New Zealand traveller named Hannah.

We were pretty friendly, pretty quickly. We talked about our travels and our intended travels, as well as life at home.

Later that night we ran into each other in the bar and got chatting again. We subsequently met two guys from the hostel,  another Aussie and an Irishman. After talking to them for a while, the suggestion of tequila shots came up. I passed but was obviously ignored as a shot was placed in front of me, just like the other three. This was to be my first ever tequila shot, at the ripe old age of 25! With free alcohol being supplied by the Irishman and his inability to understand the word “no”, I proceeded to drink another four tequilas and two vodka sunrises, to end up just a wee bit tipsy. However, I did not realise the alcohol’s affect on my senses until I tried to stand still for a little bit and could feel myself swaying. Quite an interesting experience as I rarely drink so much in such quick succession and have never even felt tipsy before.

Having lost Hannah to the company of another, I spent some time with my Irish friends from the pub-crawl. They reminded me of their plan to hit up the CN Tower the following day, so we arranged a time to meet up and I headed off to bed.

(If there was one thing I was excited about doing in Toronto it was seeing the CN Tower, a structure built to deal with the growing telecommunication needs of the city. There’s something about seeing a whole city from a bird’s eye view that makes me happy.)

The group consisted of myself, my new roomie Hannah, fellow Aussie Sol, the birthday girl Tanya, her boyfriend Peter, and their friend Sarah.

We made our way up the 114 storeys, 346m (1,136ft), to the observation deck. I spent a lot of time taking photos of every bit of the city I could see with my amazing camera. When everyone was done we headed down to the glass floor level.

This level is much like the one above but a section of the floor has been replaced with glass panels. The idea is to stand over the panels (they can hold the weight of four rhinoceroses) and look down at the plaza below. That’s 342m down! Being not afraid of heights, just a tad afraid of falling, and having done The Edge experience at the Eureka Skydeck back in Melbourne, I was very surprised to find myself feeling physically ill when I came within a foot of the glass floor. (I’m blaming the 5 shots of tequila from the night before!) It took Sol pushing me across the floor to get me on the glass panels and even then I couldn’t bring myself to look down. I snapped a few photos through the floor but could only stand there for about 30 seconds before I thought I’d lose my breakfast, which consisted of Tim Horton’s, naturally.

We did get a few rather good photos of our feet and our mugs as we stood over the glass floor. 

After some gift shop purchases (I didn’t earn the nickname Gift Shop Girl for no reason!) and an epic air hockey battle, with the birthday girl being the victor, we made our way back to the hostel.

Once home, we all settled in for another night of drinking at our hostel’s bar and our newest tradition, late night early morning McDonalds!

“I’m Niagara Fall-ing for This Place” (12/05/11).

My lovely roomie, Hannah, convinced me to accompany her on a day trip to Niagara Falls and so I obliged. Despite a little direction-related tiff between the tour guide and the bus driver, the hour and a half drive was rather pleasant and very informative.

The guide spoke about the history of Toronto, Hamilton, St Catharines and Niagara, as well as the significance of buildings or districts that we travelled through or past. I learnt about the Mississauga,  Etobicoke and Iroquois tribes and that the name Spadina Avenue (the road next to my hostel) originates from the Ojibwa word ishpadinaa meaning “sudden rise in the land”, and that Toronto was a Mohawk word meaning “where there are trees standing in the water” which, according to the tour guide, referred to the trees the natives used to tie their canoes to.

After my education, and nearly crossing the US border, we arrived in Niagara Falls to be hit by the extreme beauty and awesomeness of the falls and their surrounds.

First on the agenda was our Maid in the Mist experience, where you go on a boat down into the falls. Just looking at the falls from the bus, or even the road, was spectacular, but being down there, right in the falls, was incredibly awe-inspiring. We may have looked like giant, blue condoms but having the pristine water mist over you as you get a hands on experience was well worth the extra $16.

After taking too many photos, water logging our cameras and drinking our own piece of the falls (trust me, you can’t help but get at least a mouthful!), Hannah and I headed in the direction of food.

I wanted nothing more than a hot dog and chips and Hannah felt like ice cream so we found a hot dog stand right next to an ice creamery (!) and then took our loot to an amazing memorial park that overlooked the falls, escaping the mini-Vegas that is the main street.

It was the most picturesque way to spend an afternoon. 

With not much time remaining until our bus departed, we ran over to the Hershey’s store for a sticky beak. I discovered they make York mint patties, which I had been meaning to try since first seeing the ad on US television. Departing with a massive bag of them, and having had our photos taken with the giant Hershey’s Kiss character, we legged it to the bus stop, where we realised neither of us remembered what kind of bus we rode into town on. 

Finding other lost souls from our bus, we found the vehicle and made our way to Niagara-On-The-Lake, via the whirlpool, a section of the lake, which branches off but in the centre the churning water looks like a whirlpool. There we spotted a hot boy, a fellow Aussie who had gone unnoticed on our bus, who laughed along with me at Hannah’s reluctance to go anywhere near the cliff face.

At Niagara-On-The-Lake the first place I spotted was a store with stuffed toys in the window and a hilarious sign, “The Owl & The Pussycat, at the Sign of the Pineapple”. (I forgot to ask the cashier to explain said sign.) I dragged Hannah inside and found myself a hand puppet version of Red from Fraggle Rock! Han wasn’t too familiar with the show—let’s just blame her youth—but a lady in the street commented, “Oh, you’ve got yourself a Fraggle!” Glad to know the average Canadian appreciated my purchase, too.

Let’s Get Zoological (14/05/11).

The Saturday brought Sarah’s birthday, a bunch of rain and a trip to the zoo. After an hour and 45 minutes and one streetcar, a subway and a bus, we arrived at the Toronto Zoo.

Our group consisted of myself, Sol,  birthday girl Sarah, Tanya, Peter, Thomas and Declan.

Following consultation with the map we made our way towards the polar bear enclosure. We found one of the two bears swimming adorable laps of his pool. We watched and took amazing photos for about twenty minutes. He looked so peaceful that all I wanted to do was cuddle him. I could have watched him all day!

With that checked off my wish list I would have been happy to head home, as Thomas would probably agree. (He shares my love for polar bears!) Despite the miserable weather we soldiered on. We explored more of the tundra region, the Australasia area and finally the African region, finding many other animals along the way. We spent about ten minutes trying to get Sol a picture of a cheetah and roughly the same time trying to get a snow leopard to scale his fencing so we could get the perfect shot.

We decided after another downpour that we’d see a few more animals before heading home.

We checked off another tiger, orang-utans and eventually giraffes, after we located them hiding from the weather in a shed.

We had planned to check out the North American section, as I wanted to see a grizzly bear and the birthday girl was eager to see a moose, but we decided to call it quits just before closing time.

I made an obligatory pit stop at the gift shop (I didn’t get the nickname McGiftshop Whore for nothing!) and purchased myself an adorable hoodie—all white save for a couple of black eyes, a little black nose and the words “Toronto Zoo—Canadian polar bear in a snow storm”, which I had wanted since I first saw it in a souvenir store downtown. I also got a few badges to add to my ever-increasing collection.

—April Bonnick.

[Explorational] Homepage.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada.

Movie Review: Bridesmaids*.

*It has come to my attention that I give away too much in my movie reviews, so the asterisk will now serve as a blanket *spoiler alert* from now on.

Diarrhea, vomit, the c-word, (Judd) Apatovian-esque.

Those are the plot points, along with Maya Rudolph’s character, Lillian, getting married, as her best friend, Annie, played by writer Kristen Wiig, struggles to come to terms with it, that have been floating around in the lead-up to the most anticipated “chick flick” of the year.

Let me say, straight off the bat, that I hate Judd Apatow movies. I find them crass and full of sophomoric toilet humour. Knocked Up was the worst movie I saw in 2007, and that was also the year of the first Transformers and License to Wed, so that’s really saying something!

So I was a bit apprehensive that the film was being compared to Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Hangover. So if Bridesmaids was just going to be equating the feeling of sandbags to breasts and and showing crowning from a female’s point of view, you could count me out.

I’d been hearing about the hype surrounding the film for a few months on Jezebel and, in turn, the Australian media as its June release date came closer and closer.

I’m here to tell you that it does live up to said hype.

Bridesmaids deals with besties Annie and Lillian, and how their friendship begins to change—not for the better, in Annie’s mind—once Lillian gets engaged and fellow bridesmaid Helen comes on the scene.

Helen is played by Rose Byrne, who I’m not biggest fan of, but after seeing her in this, I have to acknowledge her acting chops. Byrne made my blood boil with her portrayal of Helen, an entitled Stepford wife who takes over the planning of Lillian’s hens weekend, bridal shower and—eventually—her wedding, too.

I audibly grunted every time she was on screen, each time more infuriating than the last, making her a contender for villain of the year, in my book.

Wiig was so endearing as Annie; someone you would want as your own best friend. Until she starts to let Helen get to her, subsequently ruining Lillian’s hens weekend with her drunken airplane shenanigans, and trashing her French-themed bridal shower, the idea for which Helen stole from Annie and claimed as her own… with take-home Labrador puppies as party favours! Animal cruelty, much?!

It is very easy to empathise with Annie. She dates a jerk who puts her down all the time and won’t commit, but is drop dead gorgeous (Jon Hamm, please stand up), so doesn’t realise it when an actual good guy comes into her life and is encouraging and supportive. She “opened a bakery in a recession” and went bankrupt thereafter, so she really can’t afford weekend getaways to Las Vegas or $800 (“on sale!” as Helen exclaims) bridesmaids dresses. She gets fired from her job in a jewellery store for calling a teen customer a c*nt, evicted from her shitty, housing-commission-esque apartment she shares with British brother-and-sister odd-couple, played by Little Britain’s Matt Lucas, and Australia’s own Rebel Wilson, and eventually ends up moving in with her mum. All of this on top of the end of her friendship with Lillian because of Helen’s interference. Or so Annie thinks, and whiles away her unemployed days watching Castaway and feeling sorry for herself.

The movie is worth it for the aeroplane scene alone, in which the funniest joke of the movie resides. I won’t give it away as I’m pretty confident most everyone—men and women alike—will go to see it. It’s like the Hangover for girls, don’t you know?

Not all chick flicks have to suck! :P

Images via IMDb.

TV: Witch Trial—Burning at the Stake on Charmed.

2009: The year Michael Jackson died, 173 people perished on Black Saturday, and America’s first black president, Barack Obama, took office.

However, in Charmed’s imagining of a futuristic 2009, 1999’s flashforward episode “Morality Bites”, witches have been exposed and are now being burned at the stake.

Phoebe is set to burn for taking justice into her own hands and using her powers to avenge a friend’s death, “seeking to defy human nature with her way of life”.

Fastforward two years to 2011, and it’s not such a different place.

Uganda tried to push through the Kill the Gays bill, women still have to march in (Slut)walks to exert freedom of sexuality and reject blame for sexual assault, and Australia is still floundering over a carbon tax.

I’ve written on this here blog before that sometimes I get the feeling the world is regressing, especially in terms of the environment and reproductive rights.

We still vilify those who dare to lead a lifestyle outside the norm, whether it is viewed as a “choice” or not. In Charmed’s fictional world, witches could be seen as a metaphor for the “other”: people of colour, the gays, people with disabilities and, most pertinently in 2011, transpeople.

The episode could also be a metaphor for the death penalty.

When Phoebe kills baseballer Cal Greene for killing her friend, she takes the law into her own hands, and is therefore sentenced to death. An eye for an eye.

Before Phoebe accepts her fate and submits to burning alive, she tells her executioner, Nathaniel Pratt, that while she’s paying for her crime, there will come a day when he’ll have to pay for his, too. While the death penalty isn’t an issue in Australia (if it were I’d be—controversially, perhaps—for it. However, there seems to be something sickly satisfying for victims and their families to see a perpetrator rot in prison for life… Jaycee Duggard’s abductors, anyone?), the question of who decides if a person dies and who administers the lethal injection (or in this case, “gathers the kindling”) remains. And how can a person live with that on their conscience.

Charmed may be all fluff, unrealistic demon-fighting outfits and “nipple fats”, as my friend Eddie noted, but every now and then it does deal with the big issues, consciously or not.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Charmed: The Power of the Work/Life Balance.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] A Woman Can’t Even Get on FHM’s Hottest 100 Women List.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Rihanna’s “Man Down”: Revenge is a Dish Best Served in Cold Blood.

Images via Wikia, Gamespot, PPP The Power of 3, Hopeless Obsession.

Who Wore It Better? Kate Middleton VS. Blair Waldorf.

While I wasn’t a fan of Blair’s hairdo the night of her engagement to Louis Grimaldi on Gossip Girl, as Rachel Zoe would say, I died for her baby pink sequinned Jenny Packham gown.

Princess Catherine also broke out the Packham for a charity event with hubby Wills recently.

In this case, I’d have to say royalty wins hands down. Sorry Blair!

Images via Celebrity News, Sognisorrisi.

Battle of the Friday Anthems: Rebecca Black VS. Katy Perry.

Black’s preternatural “Friday” has been removed from YouTube due to copyright reasons, so it looks like we’ll just have to get our fix of the so-bad-she’s-good teenager in “Last Friday Night (TGIF)”, in which she makes a cameo, along with Glee’s Darren Criss and Kevin McHale, Kenny G as Uncle Kenny, the Hanson brothers, and Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson as Kathy Beth Terry’s parents!

So it turns out it’s not a battle of the Fridays, but a joining of the day before the weekend that everybody’s looking forward to (or however the ditty goes!) forces!

TGIF!

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Who’s the Copycat Now, Katy Perry?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Whipped Cream Feminism: The Underlying Message in Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” Video.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Katy P. VS. Lady G.

Images via YouTube.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

The disturbing, tragic life of Hustler’s Larry Flynt.

Dubai isn’t the pink-buildinged, “Middle-Eastern Shangri-La” of materialistic Sex & the City movies it’s made out to be.

“All Work, (Almost) No Pay” for the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders. Fascinating stuff.

The cult of Oprah.

The case for women to serve in combat roles in the armed forces.

Hypocrisy and “male narcissism” in “political sex scandals”.

Got a problem with SlutWalk? Finally, some solutions to make it better.

Also, for all you anti-SlutWalkers out there, This is What Slut-Shaming Looks Like”:

“1. Was I suppose to just take it in stride that random pervs found out where my little sister went to high school and speculated about whether she, too, would become a ‘whore’? An anonymous asshole emailed her last fall asking her that. Don’t tell me that’s normal criticism.

“2. What about the manufactured ‘scandal’ that Internet vigilantes began in hopes of getting my boyfriend kicked out of his Ph.D program? They decided to email the entire sociology faculty list. I was a junior at the time in the same department. Do you have any idea how incredibly difficult it is to force yourself to graduate when your professors have all read about how you’re supposedly being ‘raped’ on a regular basis? That is not criticism.

“3. Is trying to get me fired also normal? In 2009, when I was working for an education non-profit during my time off from Harvard, someone wrote a fake article about how my employer was so embarrassed to have hired a ‘porn blogger’. There were made-up quotes from ‘company reps’. They disseminated it online, not realizing that I actually told my boss about my blog during my initial interview. (He emailed me the article and totally had my back. It was one of the most touching things I’ve ever experienced from an employer, no joke.)”

I originally blew off Roseanne Barr’s New York Magazine take on sexism in Hollywood. But I read it this week and couldn’t recommend it enough. Great writing.

The Smurfette principle:

“Little girls learn to split their consciousness, filtering their dreams and ambitions through boy characters while admiring the clothes of the princess. The more privileged and daring can dream of becoming exceptional women in a man’s world—Smurfettes. The others are being taught to accept the more usual fate, which is to be a passenger car drawn through life by a masculine train engine. Boys, who are rarely confronted with stories in which males play only minor roles, learn a simpler lesson: girls just don’t matter much.”

This article on the sexual misconduct of AFL players from 2008 is just as pertinent today.

“In Defence of Prudes.”

“Women are pieces of art, men aren’t”?

What is the average Australian’s yearly income?

Sarah Ayoub-Christie writes her final post for Wordsmith Lane.

Why Psychology Today hates women.

How the celeb sex tape ruined America (NSFW).

Movie Review: Super 8.

E.T. meets Tomorrow, When the War Began meets Signs meets The Goonies. That’s how I would describe Super 8.

Going into it on Tuesday night, I didn’t have much of a clue what the Steven Spielberg-produced, J. J. Abrams-written-and-directed effort, named for the type of film used in the late 1970s, was about. I saw a review in Who that looked promising, and I was intrigued by the almost all-kid cast.

The alien aspect, which is introduced when the kids are filming a zombie movie over the summer and they witness a purposeful train derailment, is neither here nor there to the actual story, which is a “coming of age” tale of Joe Lamb, whose mother died in a workplace accident a few months prior.

Joe’s dad, the town deputy, is struggling to deal with the death of his wife and being a more present father to Joe than before the accident. He holds a grudge against the man whose shift his wife took the day of her death, who just so happens to be Joe’s friend Alice’s drunk father. Joe and Alice are forbidden from seeing each other, but that doesn’t stop them from working together on their friend Charles’ Super 8 film about zombies, the full version of which can be seen in the credits.

After the train derailment, which is caught on film by the kids, they seek out the truck that caused the accident, driven by their biology teacher, Dr. Woodward. He tells the kids not to mention a word of the accident to anyone or risk death.

Strange things start happening in the town, like abductions, lost dogs and power lines disappearing into thin air. My friend Eddie had the theory that the “alien aspect” had something to do with the Soviet space dogs used in experiments in the 1950s and ’60s. Personally, I liked this notion very much, but it wasn’t to be.

I’m not a big fan of supernatural films, especially those with aliens, and some parts of the movie were scarier than I expected. In all honesty, the movie could have done better to not be centered around aliens.

The kids and Deputy Lamb independently piece together the mystery as the Air Force arrives in the town for the clean-up. Dr. Woodward has been killed by Colonel Nelec, the man in charge of the investigation, when he didn’t offer up the information they wanted.

The kids break into the school to access Woodward’s files, which reveal him as a researcher with the Air Force in 1958, when an extraterrestrial crashed on Earth. The government captured and tortured the creature in an effort to understand more about it. Woodward was empathetic to the alien’s plight, and wanted to set it free so it could return to its home planet. That’s what he was doing on the train tracks that night.

The E.T. parts of the film got a bit convoluted at times, and my friend Sallie commented on aspects of the storyline that didn’t add up.

But the inclusion of the endearing troupe of kids and their adventures made up for any inconsistencies. Think Stand By Me, but with aliens.

 

 

 

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Who Speculates About Domestic Violence in the Affleck/Garner Household.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Movie/Book Review: Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden.

Images via IMDb.

TV: Glee Season 2 Final in Pictures.

In last night’s Glee final, New Directions make it to New York! (New York! I love New York!)

They eat designer sandwiches on the steps of some landmark that escapes me at the present moment, reminiscent of Blair, Jenny et al. having lunch on the steps in Gossip Girl.

From here, they sing a mash-up of “I Love New York” and “New York, New York” in Central Park while Santana gets her flirt on with a cop.

Finn is inspired by the group’s songwriting efforts (that they’ve come to the Big Apple with nary a song to sing at Nationals only days before the competition speaks volumes about the laissez-faire attitude of both the New Directions and their leader, Mr. Shuester), and asks Rachel out on a date now that he and Quinn are toast. He takes her to Sardi’s, where they run into Patti LuPone, who Rachel accosts, telling Patty she’s one of her idols. Patty tells Rachel to never give up (or something), and that Finn is cute. Sage advice there!

Meanwhile, the other man in Rachel’s life (no, not Jesse St. James Douche), Kurt, wakes Rachel up to go have Breakfast at Tiffany’s, followed by a Wicked duet at the musical’s home theatre, the Gershwin, of “For Good”, harkening back to their season one sing-off of “Defying Gravity”. It was a teary rendition for me!

Mr. Shue also has his Broadway moment, singing a song from April Rhodes’ musical, CrossRhodes, which can conveniently be found on Matthew Morrison’s debut album! He later chooses to shun his New York dreams in favour of staying on at McKinley.

Cut to Nationals, where the New Directions perform their two hastily composed original songs, “Pretending” and “Light Up the World”. During the former, Rachel and Finn share an impromptu kiss in the heat of the moment, which the whole club berates and blames them for losing the competition.

Oh, Sunshine also makes an appearance. No doubt to segue into a cameo or recurring role in season three.

Back in Lima, Kurt and Blaine are having coffee when they encounter Mercedes and Sam, who claim they “ran into each other in the parking lot”. When they think Kurt and Blaine are out of ear- and eyeshot, they hold hands whilst waiting to be served. New couple alert!

In the hallway of McKinley High, Will and Emma marvel at the banner erected to congratulate them on their twelfth placing in the competition, and Mr. Shue presents the class with a trophy for their (dismal) efforts. Until next year’s Nationals…

[Jezebel] Glee: Can’t Make it There, Can’t Make it Anywhere.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee Gets Down on Friday at the Prom.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Born This Way” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Original Song” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Gwyneth Paltrow Addresses Tabloid Culture & Her Haters.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee “Sexy” Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Blame it on the Alcohol” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] How to Make a Woman Fall in Love With You, Glee Style.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee “Silly Love Songs” Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Furt” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The (Belated) Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Duets” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Grilled Cheesus” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Britney/Brittany” Episode.

Images via MegaVideo.