Jewel Tones, Damasks, and Ninja Turtles: A Vision Board for a Chilly April Afternoon

In which Emily recommends that you take gorgeous costumes, stunning music videos, and happy podcasts as inspiration on this surprisingly chilly day.

So, change of plans. I totally announced last post that I was starting a series of posts about title sequences. But really, I should have known better than to announce future plans for TTLP’s oh-so-spontaneous content-production. This Monday I find myself still overly excited about the Outlander costumes I praised last time, and really very much in the mood to curate bubbly and bad-ass awesome things to improve a brisk spring afternoon. This week, then, in the name of happy-making pop culture, silly links, and powering through the busyness of the last month of the semester, I present: A Vision Board for a Chilly April Afternoon.

Outlander Costumes

Holy Madame de Pompadour, the costumes on Outlander are STUNNING, whether you love knitwear, kilts, and wool

or whether you’re fascinated by the gorgeous fashions of pre-Revolutionary France on display in all the publicity stills for the nascent second season.

John Oliver Sending Ninja Turtles to Yankees Games

While we’re talking about people wearing fantastic things at famous locales…

Dude Watchin’ With the Brontes

Because Kate Beaton is glorious and Anne Bronte is tragically underappreciated.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: The Romance Novel Special

I’m completely in love with this hour of smart ladies amusing themselves, talking romance novels, and taking a very silly quiz.

Another Round: Our First Year

In which awesome ladies Heben and Tracy reflect on a year of podcasting, giggle lots, and discuss the evils of mongooses — mongeese?

“Atomic Number,” case/lang/veirs

After laughing along with the PCHH and Another Round ladies, perhaps it’s time for moody acoustic-y music from the new collaboration between Neko Case, k.d. Lang, and Laura Veirs.

Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period

Or if you’re really digging the bubbly-ness of silly but sincere podcasts, I highly recommend Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. Honestly, I just found this podcast (thanks NPR One!) and haven’t listened to much of it yet. But that title’s just the most charming thing ever.

Beyonce’s Formation Video

You know you’ve watched this a few dozen times already. But is it possible to watch it too many times?

Enjoy your afternoon!


Title Sequences, Outlander, and Framing Nostalgia

In which Emily talks about desserts, paratexts, and a TV show about the Jacobite Rebellion.

Title sequences are like candy wrappers.

Some are more elegant. Some are more recognizable. Some just make you happy.

But no matter how sophisticated or silly they are, title sequences tell you something about what you’re going to find inside. Like footnotes, they’re paratexts.

(And yes, if you clicked on that link, you might well wonder why I keep comparing paratextual apparatuses to desserts. But wouldn’t you write about dobos tortes and Mozartkuglen if given the choice? A group of delightful medievalists on twitter persist on tweeting about #medievaldonut, and it’s got me associating awesome textual history things with sugar. I can’t help myself.)

Anyway, paratexts deliver text to an audience. For theorist Gerard Genette, the paratext is the threshold. Just like your front step isn’t your house, but you still put out a wreath and a welcome mat to make it look nice, the paratext isn’t the text but it invites you into the text. In books, paratexts are things like title pages, cover illustrations, footnotes, author attributions, copyright pages, introductions, and indexes. They’re everything that’s not the author’s primary content. In television shows, they’re things like closing credits, producer cards, and — yep — title sequences.

I’m fascinated by paratexts. Because they so define one’s experience of a text. I don’t know about you, but for me the pale green of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince emphasizes just how much edgier and creepier that book is than its angsty blue sibling.

And just from looking at the covers, you know that The Royal We is a much more adorably rom-com sort of book than is Never Let Me Go.

Through its paratexts — especially book covers and title sequences — a story first instructs you, as a reader or viewer, how to interpret it. Paratexts give you clues as to texts’ themes, preoccupations, intended audience, and genre. They might even give you approximations of their thesis statements — distanced and coded in visual emblematics, of course. Just about a year ago, Leah made this very point when she wrote about Orphan Black for us.

Of course, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a title sequence isn’t much more than a title. There are certainly enough stylish shows out there that present simply a short title card, with little framing, score, or imagery. (I’m looking at you, Agent Carter.) But a good old-fashioned title sequence is still a true work of art.

So this week I want to start a series of blog posts that take seriously the title sequence as both work of art and paratext. I’m going to turn my attention to a few awesome title sequences, and talk a little about why they work and what they say about the shows they preface. I’ll talk about allusion, about editing, about score, and about imagery. And I want to start, today, with the title sequence that’s had me wandering around my apartment all week humming “Wha’ll Be King But Charlie?

Outlander (a show that’s about to start its second season in a week or so) is an interesting and complicated show about time-travel, romance, and eighteenth-century politics. Claire, our hero, is a WWII combat nurse who falls backwards in time to the Highlands of Scotland in 1743, just before the failed Jacobite Rebellion that attempted to put Bonny Prince Charlie on the throne of England (but in fact led to the Highlands being firmly quashed by the British). Frank is her twentieth-century husband both mourning her loss and trying to figure out how and why she disappeared. Jamie is her eighteenth-century Scottish Highlander love interest, who’s very tied up in inheritance concerns surrounding the lands of the different Scottish clans. It’s a show that I have somewhat complicated feelings about, in parts, but it’s also a gorgeous epic adventure story that privileges the experience of a lady protagonist (who has both gorgeous knitwear and a very attractive love interest) that has been kind of fascinating me in the last week or so.

Because of the rugged terrain of the Highlands, the traditions surrounding history fiction in the wake of Sir Walter Scott’s foundational and hugely popular Waverly, and the capital-R-Romantic notion of the Jacobite cause, it’s pretty common to position the Scottish Highlands as a nostalgic landscape mired in the past. The Highlands, in popular culture, get figured as a rural landscape lost to the mists of time: a landscape still associated with Robert Burns, tartan, and heather on the hill. (For Heaven’s sake, the Highlands of Scotland are the setting of Brigadoon, the weirdest, most nostalgic musical ever to have been written about a time-travelling town stuck a few centuries in the past.) Outlander takes advantage of that nostalgia to great avail — although it does take trauma and hardship really seriously, to complicate any hopes that we or the post-war Claire might have had that the world used to be easier or more simple than it is now.

Fundamentally, for me at least, Outlander is a story about nostalgia. About love, grief, loss, memory, trauma, and our romanticization of both the past. It’s about romantic love, and nationalist spirit, and wistful longing for things past. Centrally, in all of this, it’s about the female experience. And all that comes through, for me, in the show’s GORGEOUS title sequence.

In this title sequence, we’ve got a slow motion montage of the magic and mystery of female-centric semi-pagan traditions, the flora, fauna, and sunsets of Scotland, intimations of violence and of sex, men in kilts, women in forests, and Redcoats firing arms. Take out the Samhain dancing and the 1940s imagery, and it could be something written by Sir Walter Scott. And this imagery sets up the romantic possibility of the show: you know you’re entering into a misty adventure story about bonny lasses and lads with swords and plaids.

What makes this title sequence work so well — and really captures the essence of the show — is the sequence’s FANTASTIC rendition of the “Skye Boat Song.” It’s gorgeous and slow and a bit melancholic: to that end it fits the tone of Outlander. Also, the lyrics beautifully fit the story of Outlander: Claire is a “lass that is gone” who finds herself in-between two times and haunted by the reality of having to choose one over the other.

But what makes the song choice SO SMART is that the “Skye Boat Song” wasn’t written for Outlander. It’s a song that emerges out of the Failed ‘45 — the doomed Jacobite Rebellion. It’s actually a song about Bonny Prince Charlie escaping from the Highlands in the face of Scottish defeat. It’s a song about nostalgia and hope and memory and melancholy: the wistfulness of the Highlanders themselves. The title sequence follows, almost word-for-word, the Robert Louis Stevenson lyrics to the “Skye Boat Song.”

And that idea of being ALMOST word-for-word is what makes this title sequence even MORE awesome. Outlander is a historical fiction that focuses on women’s experiences of the past: complementing that, McCreary presents a rewritten historical text that foregrounds the female subject. Charles Stuart, here, doesn’t “sail on a day.” “She” does.

In its title sequence, Outlander sets out its thesis for a lady-centric consideration of grief, memory, and romance in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a delightful minute-and-a-half of awesomeness.

So give Outlander a shot — or at least don’t skip past the title sequence next time you’re marathoning something!

Happy watching!

Ten Pop Culture Knit Picks

Hi there – Emily here!

When it’s cold and snowy and all-too-wintery outside, all I want to do is stay in my warm apartment and knit cozy things. Sweaters, blankets, scarves, socks – even cute little hand-made stuffed animals – all make January seem more cheerful. As I’ve been sitting around knitting this week surrounded by mounds of fluffy purple, orange, and particularly gorgeous blue wool, I got thinking about my favorite knitting media.

Pop culture is filled with knitters. From clever ladies…

…to ruthless ladies…

…to particularly intelligent dogs…

a whole lot of modern pop culture depicts characters who like to knit. Knitting fulfills a lot of different rhetorical functions in pop culture: sometimes it signals old-time-y comfort; sometimes, when characters take the time to make things for each other, it’s a marker for close personal relationships; sometimes it’s purely practical — or even somewhat laughable. But regardless of the thematic importance of knitting in particular examples of media today, some knitting-centric pop culture just makes me just long to buy more yarn and start a new project. So this week, I want to reflect on some of my favorite pieces of knitting media. (For the purposes of this list, knitting media does not include pop-culture-INSPIRED projects, although a quick search of tumblr, pinterest, or etsy will serve up truly overwhelming amounts of those.) Here, then, are some of my favorite pieces of pop culture that make me want to knit:

1. Doctor Who – There are few pieces of pop-culture-related knitwear more iconic than Tom Baker’s impractical but awesome ten-foot-long scarf. Also, knitting a ten-foot-long scarf seems like the perfect project to undertake while getting sucked into binge-watching the classic BBC show about a time-travelling alien traversing the cosmos with his friends and companions. Who needs practical garments when you have more than three decades of silly science fiction to catch up on? (Amy Pond’s delightful Christmas sweater deserves an honorable mention for awesomeness.)

2. Pushing Daisies – Holy Zooey Deschanel’s ukulele, Batman! We’ve mentioned before just how extraordinarily adorable and twee Pushing Daisies is. Pie shop owner Ned can bring the dead back to life by touching them, and throughout the show he teams up with private investigator (and stress-knitter) Emerson Cod to use his particular gift in order to solve murders. Emerson Cod avoids knitting in public but, as the Narrator notes, “he often left the house with the needles in his pocket, should the opportunity to rib-stitch a ski cap present itself.” That is a sentiment with which I can wholeheartedly sympathize.

3. Gilmore Girls – Okay, we admit that we’ve been talking A LOT about Gilmore Girls ever since it showed up on Netflix this fall. But season seven has a whole episode based on a town-wide knit-a-thon. “Knit People Knit” celebrates the joy of getting together with your friends and lots of skeins of yarn for an afternoon of crafting which manages to be simultaneously lazy and productive. It’s glorious.

4. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood – At the beginning of each episode of the iconic children’s television show, Mister Rogers enters the room, takes off his sport coat, and puts on a cardigan sweater. Each of those sweaters was hand-knit by his mother (and one now hangs in the Smithsonian). Fred Rogers’ sweaters look comfortable, warm, and made with love. In turn, the act of changing into the sweater at the start of each episode signals an entrance into the gentle, whimsical space of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood.

5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – In the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film based on Truman Capote’s novella, Holly Golightly is a naive society girl — and a charming but perhaps inept knitter. When her neighbor / love interest Fred comments upon her current knitting project, she confesses:  “Actually I’m a little nervous about it. Jose brought up the blueprints for a new ranch house he’s building. I have this strange feeling that maybe the blueprints and my knitting instructions got switched. I mean, it isn’t impossible that I’m knitting a ranch house!” While I imagine that few of us have ever managed to switch a ranch house for a sweater, Holly’s concern about her ability to recognize her knitted product is certainly a familiar feeling! I recommend putting on Breakfast at Tiffany’s to feel better about your own knitting prowess the next time you turn your yarn stash into one big nest of tangles.

6. Outlander – Since it came on the air in the summer, the new Starz drama about a World War II nurse who finds herself in eighteenth-century Scotland has attracted some very well-earned attention for its gorgeous knitwear. Claire’s sweaters, shawls, and shrugs look just as cozy and inviting as does her Highlander lover.

7. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins’s dystopian YA novels and the films based off of them might not seem like the most obvious pick for cozy, warm knitting media, but have you SEEN Katniss’s cowl/scarf/shawl/sweater/wrap thing? It’s the perfect one-shoulder accessory for the kick-ass lady archer in your life.

8. Penelope – Christina Ricci plays Penelope, a woman cursed to have a pig’s snout for a nose in this whimsical romantic comedy. Penelope has been hidden away all her life for fear that she will be reviled for her looks. So when she decides to experience life and venture into the “real” world, she wears a particularly stunning scarf to cover her face. Although the film hinges on her coming to accept herself and leave off her scarf (and, you know, fall in love with James McAvoy), the scarf itself is rather fabulous, and I can imagine few afternoons better than one spent knitting yourself a Penelope scarf while watching Penelope over again.

9. Firefly – In a mid-season episode from the beloved one-season Joss Whedon show about a ragtag group of space cowboys (more or less), dangerous mercenary Jayne Cobb receives a package from his mother: a homemade hat and a letter. The hat isn’t actually a particularly attractive garment but it’s the thought that counts when Jayne pulls on the hat, inspiring countless Firefly fans to do the same. After all, as the ship’s pilot, Wash, observes, “Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.”

(Emily’s birthday gift to her sister last year. It’s a cunning hat.)

(Emily’s birthday gift to her sister last year. It’s a cunning hat.)

10. Harry Potter – The wizarding world is rife with knitwear. Albus Dumbledore reads knitting patterns while recruiting Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, Hermione Granger knits clothing for house elves, and Molly Weasley is stunningly amazing enough to produce a sweater for each of her seven children (and Harry!) every year for Christmas. You know you want a Weasley sweater. And a Hogwarts scarf. And a house elf tea cozy / hat.

Happy Knitting!