Book Review: My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates.

 

My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike had me at hello its first two sentences:

“Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto ‘survivors.’

“Me, I’m the ‘surviving’ child of an infamous American family…”

My favourite book being a fictional account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne, I’m a sucker for true crime and conspiracy theories.

My Sister, My Love is the fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsey murder of Christmas 1996, a story that has captivated me since it hit the newsstands some fifteen years ago.

It is written by the awesome Joyce Carol Oates, whom I’ve never read in novel form before, but whose articles I have come across online. Since its publication in 2008, I’ve longed to read it, and serendipitously came across it in a secondhand bookstore earlier this year. It has taken me since then to read it!

But coming in at 562 pages, it’s not exactly light reading, both in size and subject matter.

The book focuses on the life of Skyler Rampike, brother to child ice-skating prodigy, Bliss Rampike (nee Edna Louise Rampike), and he and his parents’ struggle to come to terms with her murder.

The book is somewhat longwinded, but thoroughly enjoyable. Some parts before and after the murder could have been spared, but it’s all part of Oates’ effort to build the story and the characters within it.

The story is written from Skyler’s perspective, but switches rapidly from first- to second- to third-person narration, which can be jarring at first but ultimately lends itself to the insight we get into the twisted and troubled mind of Skyler.

Oates also borrows from other high-profile pop cultureisms, like the Simpson murder (Skyler’s boarding school for troubled/famous children girlfriend is most definitely supposed to be Simpson’s daughter), Wicked (“Popular! In America, what else matters?” [p. 152]), and The Catcher in the Rye, with Skyler calling faux snow “phony-looking” (p. 319). In fact, I think Oates’ key inspiration was probably J.D. Salinger’s most famous fictional outing.

It’s hard to separate the fictional Rampike family Oates has so expertly crafted from the real Ramsey family, which has fallen to pieces since JonBenet’s murder. As in real life, mother Betsey died, and father Bix remarried. But what do we know of Burke Ramsey, whom Skyler was based on? Nothing much.

And that’s where Oates saw an opening: to tell one of America’s most fascinating unsolved murders from the perspective of the person who, by a lot of peoples’ accounts, is the prime suspect.

Related: Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Book Now, Bendigo.

Stacked.

It’s All About Popular… Lar, Lar, Lar, Lar.

The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Event: Melbourne Writers’ Festival—Journalists & Trauma.

Journalists & Trauma was a free event that occurred on Saturday morning.

I had originally planned to go to an advanced screening of The Help and associated brunch put on by Sunday Life magazine, however tickets sold out way in advance, so I thought I might as well fill my morning with something else worthwhile.

The event was hosted by Margaret Simons, and featured Dennis Miller, author of a new book on Black Saturday and the role of the media in it, and Di James, a survivor of the Marysville bushfires.

The talk focused on a report by the Centre for Advanced Journalism entitled “In the Media Spotlight: The Survivor Series”, which studies the role of the media in gathering material in the event of a tragedy, consent from those they gather material from, and the problems faced by both the media and the public affected in those situations.

There was a heavy focus on the first 48 hours of a tragedy, in which Di recounted her story of fleeing to a neighbour’s home to watch her house, car and business (the famed Marysville lolly shop) go up in flames, being cut off from communication and being unable to tell her children she was okay, having the a media chopper arrive before the authorities, and using the media to her advantage to get the message out that a) there were people there who needed to be evacuated, and b) she was alive.

James was, understandably, a bit teary in recounting these events, but all in all, she agreed with Miller’s findings that the media needs to be more sensitive when covering tragedies and trauma.

While I can see where James is coming from, having been involved in Black Saturday and seeing images of herself and her friends (some of whom didn’t make it) plastered on newspapers and being shown on television two years later (without her consent), I do believe the public has a right to know about these things.

Mia Freedman wrote in her most recent Sunday Life column about suicide and its coverage in the media. Personally, I am a sucker for details, and will go to extreme lengths to find them out. (Googling crime scene pictures of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman wasn’t my finest moment.) Enquiring minds want to know. But do they need to?

And in this day and age of Twitter, blogs and live streaming (Journalists & Trauma was live Tweeted and streamed), most details do get out. Like anything, I think we should have the option of seeking this information out if we so wish, and shunning it if we have no interest in it.

I understand the hardships of those who are involved in tragedies, and wouldn’t wish any undue stress to them, but in the long run, I think if said enquiring minds are satisfied, they will move on to something else, leaving those affected to grieve in peace.

Thoughts?

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Suicide Contagion. Does it Exist?

Image via Melbourne Writers Festival.

Event: Melbourne Writers’ Festival—A Long Long Way to Go: Why We Still Need Feminism.

We’re in a post-feminist era. Feminism is dead. Has feminism failed?

From the arguments presented by Sophie Cunningham in her Melbourne Writers’ Festival address, titled after the line in Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” (and the title of a book I thought Cunningham mentioned she’d had/is having published, but upon further inspection, this doesn’t seem to be the case), these post-feminism assertions are null and void.

While Cunningham stated at the beginning, after her introduction by Monica Dux, that she’d be focusing purely on feminism as it relates to Western women, but to keep the big picture in mind, I was disappointed that she kept her key points to the lack of women (or recognition of women) in writing, music, film and the arts in general.

Having said that, though, she made some pertinent points: that in 2009 and 2011, the Miles Franklin Award shortlists were all male; that for a woman in Australia to be paid the same as a man in the same job, she would have to have a PhD to his Bachelor degree; that a 25-year-old woman will earn $1.5 million over the next 40 years, whereas a male will earn $2.4 million (to which Dr. Anne Summers responded, “There’s a $1 million penalty for being a woman in Australia today.”); it’s safer to be a soldier in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo, than to be a woman; women do two thirds of the world’s work for 10% of the pay; that when literary submissions are read blind, the inclusion/choosing of women increases sevenfold. (This is epitomised in The Big Issue’s latest fiction edition, in which six competition pieces were read without names attached, and five [possibly six; it isn’t clear if Nic Low, whose piece Slick appears in the anthology, is male or female] are from women writers.)

To really illustrate the “invisible woman” syndrome in the “writing culture crisis”, and amongst many other industries, Cunningham used an anecdote about a female reporter who attended a Liberal rally organised by Tony Abbott and was taunted by the crowd for daring to question Malcolm Turnbull (I think; don’t quote me on this)*. To escape the abuse that threatened to get physical, she disappeared into the crowd, becoming “invisible”. If only Lara Logan, whom Cunningham spoke about, was able to do this in Tahrir Square.

Cunningham brought up the notion that in terms of women’s equality and feminism, our society is regressing somewhat. This is a contention I agree with. Therefore the “invisibility” of women has become “normalised”.

Aimless Panther writes on Feminaust:

“Yay, Aussie women now make up 12% of board members! Wait… seriously, is 12% something to CELEBRATE?!?!”

My sentiments exactly.

In film, Cunningham talked about the Bechdel test and how the feminist movie of the year, Bridesmaids, makes the cut, whereas Cowboys & Aliens doesn’t. Not to toot my own horn (okay, I’ll toot away!), but has Cunningham been reading The Scarlett Woman?!

She also mentions Pixar’s first film featuring a female protagonist, 2012’s Brave, about a strong, assertive and “brave” (duh!)—hence “ugly”—redhead. My, how far we’ve come!

Where Cunningham saw a sort of “bottleneck” in modern feminism, where white, privileged feminists like myself don’t understand the problems facing feminists of colour, feminists with sexual orientation other than straight, feminists with gender other than cis, and feminists with disabilities, she praised the “grassroots” feminism sprouting in the young feminist community, epitomised by SlutWalk. (SlutWalk has been criticised by non-white, non-middle-class feminists for excluding them. Cunningham defended the protest, but by only speaking about issues that affect the feminists SlutWalk caters to, perhaps she could be seen as contributing to this bottleneck?)

She longs for a fourth wave feminism, and finished the talk with this. Some would say we are in/entering a fourth wave, where sexual liberation and reproductive rights still reign supreme, but there is more of a focus on the needs of different types of feminists, as mentioned above, and “serious”, Third-World feminism, where some view the movement is most needed.

Those who are instigating these grassroots movements; this fourth wave; these feminist blogs; are arguably the 25-year-olds who “don’t get feminism”, as Cunningham asserted. While I don’t wish to demonise her for questioning my, and my peers’, motivations and understanding of the movement we so lovingly work towards, I was thoroughly offended by this comment. If Cunningham, and an elderly audience member who spoke up during question time by reiterating that young people don’t “get” what “real” feminism is all about, took a look around the function room at BMW Edge at Federation Square, they would have realised that the majority of people in attendance were under or around 25. Some of them were men, which signifies that yes, while we do still have “a long long way to go”, there are people on our side.

Furthermore, I remember last year there was a bit of tension in the ranks between second- and third-wave feminists, which has also contributed to the bottleneck Cunningham speaks of.

I think we, as feminists, need to be careful about who we call a “real feminist”. Is she the man-hating “HLL (Hairy Legged Lesbian)” stereotype? The woman who shuns all pain-killers to have a natural, home birth, and shames all those who don’t? The “expert”? The grassroots SlutWalk organisers? According to Cunningham, perhaps it’s not the young, beautiful women who “don’t understand” the real issues of concern for feminism because, well, they’re 25 and still have men drooling at their feet. (I’m paraphrasing here, but this is basically the gist of what I interpreted Cunningham to mean). There’ll be more on this to come throughout the week. In the meantime, what do you think?

*Updated 05/09/11: It was actually Alan Jones, at the Rally of No Confidence in Canberra, who lead the crowd in a verbal barraging of journalist Jacqueline Maley after she asked him if he had been paid to speak. I have added the link to this information below.

Related: Has Feminism Failed?

“Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

Witch Trial: Burning at the Stake on Charmed.

Bridesmaids Review.

Cowboys VS. Aliens & Indians… Does it Really Matter? They’re All the Same Anyway, According to the New Movie.

Rachel Berry as Feminist.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

Melbourne Writers’ Festival: Never, Ever, Again—Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform by Caroline de Costa Book Launch.

Surfing the Third Wave: Second-Wave VS. Third-Wave Feminism on Gossip Girl.

Elsewhere: [ABC’s The Drum] A Prize of One’s Own: The Case for an Aussie Orange.

[Feminaust] Welcome to Monday August 29 2011.

[Sydney Morning Herald] The Fee, Me & Alan Jones: How Question of Money Turned Crowd Nasty.

Image via Melbourne Writers’ Festival.

Event: Melbourne Writers’ Festival—Never, Ever, Again: Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform by Caroline de Costa Book Launch.

Last year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival was pretty lackluster, and I didn’t attend any events.

This year, however, is jammed packed with hard-hitting seminars, news-related talks and all-day workshops. There are more events I’m interested in than there is money in my pocket.

But to kick things off was a free, no-bookings-necessary book launch at ACMI’s The Cube on Friday afternoon for Caroline de Costa’s second edition of Never, Ever, Again: Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform (review to come in the next few weeks).

Honestly, I didn’t think I’d heard of de Costa before, and just saw the word “abortion” and knew I had to attend!

However, when the author began speaking about the abortion drug RU486, I remembered reading her work a few weeks ago on MamaMia, and featuring said article in “On the (Rest of the) Net”. It is an article I recommend checking out wholeheartedly.

In this article, De Costa asserts that we need to increase sex education and access to contraceptives in order to bring Australia’s high abortion rate down.

In de Costa’s address at the event, she said no woman enjoys having an abortion and that there’s “no such thing” as “pro-abortion”, an assertion that I don’t 100% agree with, but I do think it is a damaging label pro-lifers sometimes paint pro-choicers with.

Ultimately, de Costa says we “should be concerned about the health and safety of every pregnant woman” as opposed to the biologically dependent mass of “unwanted tissue” in her body.

The other speakers at the event—the MC whose name I didn’t catch, long-time pro-choicer Dr. Jo Wainer, former Minister for Women’s Affairs from 2007 to 2010, Maxine Morand, and Dr. Chris Bayly from the Royal Women’s Hospital—reiterated de Costa’s sentiments in her book, that the “hidden business that is women’s business” of abortion needs to be destigmatised and legalised in order to increase access to safe pregnancy terminations.

Finally, the revised edition of the book includes an extra chapter on the Queensland trial of Tegan Leach and Sergie Brennan, who were charged with procuring an illegal abortion in 2009 when they purchased the drug RU486.

Dr. Wainer noted that when Leach was on the stand being questioned as to why she felt the need to abort her baby, it was the “21st century equivalent of putting women in the stocks”. Or burning at the stake for her “crimes”, if you will.

It’s something that, as the book’s title suggests, should happen never, ever, again.

That’s why abortion law in Australia needs to be reformed.

Related: Grey’s Anatomy Final Asks “When Does Life Begin?”

Private Practice: Pro-Choice?

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] RU486, Sex Education & Contraception. That’s All We Need.

[MamaMia] The Couple Facing Jail Because They Tried to “Procure an Abortion”. Hello, Queensland? It’s 2010.

[Televisual] The Changing Economics of the TV Abortion.

Image via Melbourne Writers’ Festival.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

“The Case for Dry Humping: Why Being Prude is a Feminist Statement.” [HuffPo]

Alone time is my siren call. Here, Jezebel’s Social Minefield tells you how to get more “me time” without offended those who want to have “we time” with you.

One woman goes mirror-free for a year. [Jezebel]

Lady Gaga’s run out of people to plagiarise, so she’s turned to herself for inspiration in her latest video for “Yoü & I”. [Fashionista]

Nipple slips from Khloe Kardashian, Nicki Minaj and Kelly Rowland in quick succession: shock, horror! [The Washington Post] (SFW)

Camilla Peffer on Beyonce as the anti-feminist. [Girls Are Made From Pepsi]

The gender politics of Justin Bieber. [FBomb]

Is there a need for women to have their periods?:

“… I do want to raise the question that while we do the work of destigmatising menstruation and teach young girls to be proud and excited about their menarche don’t we also have a responsibility to question its necessity? We tell women they don’t have to have sex to have children, that breast cancer can be beaten, that they can have their tubes tied and then re-connected and their faces lifted and de-wrinkled. We live in a modern world with modern solutions, isn’t it time we started seriously thinking and talking about the need to bleed?” [Feminaust]

Porn star and new mum displays picture of her breastfeeding her newborn daughter in an exhibition challenging the Madonna/whore dichotomy of motherhood, controversy ensues:

“The idea that there is something inherently prurient about a porn star breast-feeding plays right into that classic either-or thinking: Her breasts are erotic in one venue, so they can’t be wholesome in another. It’s a wonder anyone lets her breast-feed at all! On the one hand, it’s surprising to see this attitude coming from a pornographer; on… [yet an]other hand, it’s perfectly appropriate given the way motherhood is fetishised in porn.

“…We don’t like to think of moms as sexual beings—except for in the taboo-busting world of porn (paging Dr. Freud). It’s fitting for a porn star mama, the rare industry ‘MILF’ who is actually a mom, to remind folks that, generally speaking, one has to have sex in order to become a mom.” [Salon]

Anne Hathaway’s new effort, One Day, has a “bleak worldview of co-dependence where men need women to improve them, and women need to improve themselves to deserve men’s notice and achieve their purpose,” with The Film Stage dubbing it “the most toxic romance of the year”.

Also at The Film Stage, a breakdown of Katherine Heigl’s stereotype-reinforcing rom-coms, from the career-making Knocked Up, which she subsequently dissed for being sexist, to the just-as-sexist Killers and Life as We Know It.

Here’s an extended version of Erica Bartle’s debut piece for Sunday Life. While I don’t necessarily agree with her sentiments on faith most of the time, this is a great read. Better than the published piece, dare I say? [Girl with a Satchel]

Taylor Swift VS. feminism. [Autostraddle]

Is it “time for an abortion pride movement”?:

“… Women should not merely have the right to end unwanted pregnancies, they should have the right to be proud of having done so. Surely, there is enough suffering in this world already without adding infants with Tay-Sachs disease and Lesch-Nyhan syndrome to the mix. Women who step up to the ethical plate and have the strength to say, ‘This is the wrong time,’ or ‘This is the wrong fetus,’ should hold their heads high in the streets.” [Opposing Views]

Oh, the hilarity of Photoshop on this Glee/Vogue/Fashion’s Night Out advertisement. [Styleite]

It’s not just women who get the short end of the stick when it comes to Disney films: “Sexism, Strength & Dominance—Masculinity in Disney Films.” [FBomb]

The awesomeness that is Adam Lambert. [Autostraddle]

One from the vault: Buffy’s Willow Rosenberg destroys the world when her lesbian love is killed, calling into question the show’s support of the LGBT community. [Salon]

A mother’s perspective on the dysfunctional Twilight-saga relationship between Edward and Bella. [Persephone Magazine]

The politics of the SlutWalk. [New York Times]

Five of The Simpsons’ best recipes, including 64 slices of American cheese and Vaseline toast! [Warming Glow]

Image via Chubby Wubby Girl, Styleite, Salon.

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes*.

 

Proposition me with a trip to the movies to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, ordinarily, I wouldn’t be interested. Sci-fi, James Franco… not a fan of either.

But show me the trailer, with a heavy focus on the humanity of apes and how they’re  “just like us!” and hella yeah, I’m down to see it.

The film begins with James Franco as a scientist, who has been working on an anti-Alzheimer’s drug by injecting it into apes to see if their brains can repair themselves. Not only does the drug A-1-12 do this, it also creates new pathways in the brain, which means the recipient knows and can do things they couldn’t before.

Bright Eyes, the ape who produced such results, goes ape-shit, so to speak, and is put down. What was thought to be the drug’s fault is attributed to Bright Eyes’ unknown pregnancy and birth, and “she was just being protective” of the baby ape hidden in her enclosure.

The experiment is shut down and Franco’s character, Will Rodman, sees no option but to take the baby ape home to the San Francisco house he shares with his Alzheimer’s-inflicted father, Charles, played by John Lithgow.

Fast forward three years and Caesar, whom they’ve named the now-super ape, has had the A-1-12 transferred to him at birth, it is discovered. He has his own play area in the attic, and he gazes down at the human world below him, aching to experience life outside the confines of the Rodman home.

During this time, Will steals some vials of the A-1-12 drug and secretly gives them to the ailing Charles. The results are overnight and miraculous. With the introduction of Freida Pinto’s veterinarian Caroline, who barely has five lines in the movie and is literally the only female character, bar Bright Eyes who is killed off in the first five minutes to further the story for the male characters, it’s all one big happy family.

Five years later, Will is struggling to care for his dad, whose body has developed immunity to A-1-12, and to wrangle the increasingly smart, inquisitive, lonely and strong Caesar, who attacks a neighbour for roughing up Charles when he tries to drive away in his luxury car in a dementia-induced stupor.

Will is forced to send Caesar away, to a primate enclosure in the city. Unbeknownst to Will, Caesar and the other apes are treated like crap by the attendants, who are the first victims when the apes stage a revolution.

Each time Will and Caroline come to visit Caesar, he gradually wants nothing to do with them. He begrudges Will for abandoning him and allowing him to be treated “like an animal”.

This notion is really at the crux of the film. We treat animals like beings less than ourselves, even though we know more than ever about their thinking and feeling capacities, and we will live to suffer the consequences.

There are consequences when we treat them too much like humans, too. (Paging Paris Hilton.) We can see that when Caesar leads the motley crew of apes freed from “sanctuaries”, like the one Caesar and the other apes escape from, laboratories and the zoo, and when he tells (yes, apes can speak now. The miracle of A-1-12.) Will he’s “home” with his own species.

This is after the climactic Golden Gate Bridge fight scene, where man versus ape in an overwhelming victory for the latter. This scene perfectly illustrates the “pack mentality” we accuse sports stars of, and is illustrated by the London riots and the gang-rape of Lara Logan.

Other subtle and not-so-subtle metaphors in the film include the dichotomy of war, racism, prison, how we treat refugees, how we treat those we don’t understand, testing on animals (which, in this film, is null and void: Franklin, a lab technician who dies towards the end of the film after being exposed to the virus strain of A-1-12, A-1-13, proving it may work on apes, but it certainly doesn’t on humans) and, of course, the aforementioned way we treat animals.

I’m a sucker for an animal movie, and cried pretty much through the whole thing! And these “animals” weren’t even real! But, in retrospect, the flawless special effects and underlying meaning weren’t enough to save the dismal character development and non-ape related storyline. Pretty much all the characters were interchangeable.

I’m not a big fan of James Franco, and in this movie he didn’t annoy me with his James Franco-ness but, having said that, I would rather that than a repeat of his Oscars coast-through, which his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a mirror image of.

In terms of Pinto being the only woman in the movie, perhaps her no-character Caroline could have been spared in favour of one other female character with a bit of substance, a backstory, and a driving force in the storyline: mother Charlotte instead of father Charles.

But really, this reasoning is clutching at straws, as Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really all about the… erm… apes. Humans are merely transposable caricatures.

*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.

Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” August 16, 2010 Review.

Asylum Seekers: Have a Little Compassion.

Image via IMDb.

 

The Truth About Cats and Dogs.

From “Cats, Dogs & Asperger’s Syndrome” by on MamaMia:

“A solitary cat, surviving in a room full of boisterous dogs. Its every move being analysed, interpreted and modified based on the framework of rules, behavioural patterns and ingrained habits of the canine species. And as a result, being disastrously misunderstood.

“Dogs wag their tails as a sign of happiness and anticipation of social interaction. Cats swish their tails as a warning to back off and give them much needed space. Dogs always welcome affection in whatever way it is offered to them. Cats will also offer heartfelt affection but it needs to on their terms, at a time that suits them. Sometimes they just need to be left alone. Dogs depend on your approval for their emotional wellbeing. Cats depend on certain things being in place in a routine that they can depend on, and will then reward your reliability with their unwavering friendship.

“Dogs are inherently social. They are pack animals with deeply entrenched hierarchical rules of canine society and as a result are desperately eager to please, and occasionally challenge, the pack leader. As puppies, they will romp and play delightedly with their littermates until they fall into an exhausted, but happy heap on top of each other at the end of the day. They rarely turn down an offer of affection and will warmly greet their family with furry hugs and sloppy kisses when they get home.

“On the surface, cats may seem more aloof, but cat lovers around the world will be quick to tell you they are always keenly observing every detail and will reward those who take the time to understand them with warmth, affection, loyalty and love. Dogs are less discriminating in whom they shower with their boundless love, and this is part of their universal appeal, but it is a trait that cats simply don’t understand … or tolerate. Their love needs to be earned.”

Not to trivialise Asperger’s Syndrome, but as much as I love dogs and would choose to be one if I could be any animal, I am very much a cat. Ask anyone.

Then again, maybe I have a mild case of undiagnosed Asperger’s…? It wouldn’t be unheard of.

I know two people with Asperger’s (perhaps more who haven’t divulged their condition; one who very obviously struggles with social interaction, the other; I couldn’t even tell they had it, based on what we’re told about Asperger’s in the media.

What about you? Asperger’s aside, do you relate more to cats or dogs?

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Cats, Dogs & Asperger’s Syndrome.