Abusive Relationships and Victim-Blaming in the Legend of Korra

[Content note: flashing gifs, abusive relationships, child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, violence against children, dating violence, misogynistic slurs, misogyny, racism]

Remember that time Grey’s Anatomy made physical and emotional abuse seem totally okay, as long as it was aimed towards disabled people?

Well, now comes part 2! (Huzzah). Yes, everyone, it’s time to sit down, gird our loins and talk about that time a show primarily aimed at kids turned physical abuse into a hilarious joke.

I am talking, of course, about the second season of the Legend of Korra, and the relationship between Bolin and Eska.

Now, there’s been a lot of really screwed-up stuff going on in the second season of Legend of Korra. A total lack of female characters, the disappearance of really cool characters like Katara and Lin Bei Fong, the return of the terrible love triangle ( NO ONE CARES), inconsistent characterization, nonsensical sexism, plots that make absolutely no sense etc. etc. etc.

But right up there in the Hall of Horror with the sexism and the bad writing is the way the show turned a physically and emotionally abusive relationship into a “funny” punch-line.

nopetopus gif nope

You may remember Bolin as one of Korra (the protagonist’s) best friends. In the first episode of season 2, Bolin becomes enamoured with Eska, Korra’s cousin. Eska decides Bolin’s cute, and hey presto, they’re dating.

Eska, Bolin, Legend of Korra

Eska on the left, Bolin on the right.

Ah, young love. Sweet, adorable and…

Wait, what’s this?

Eska, Bolin, Korra, gif, Legend of Korra, icebending,

Eska, Bolin, Korra, Legend of Korra, icebending, episode 2

… did Eska just use a wall of ice to physically drag Bolin away from Korra?
Did she seriously just physically prevent her boyfriend from touching one of his best friends?

DID THE SHOW JUST PLAY THAT MOMENT FOR LAUGHS?

Uh, not okay, Korra. What Eska did is the equivalent of physically grabbing and restraining Bolin. That. is. assault. It’s  a pretty major red flag for abuse. 

I wish I could say this moment in episode 2 was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, over the next few episodes, Eska becomes more and more abusive towards Bolin – and the show continues to portray the abuse as a joke.

In fact, given how the show has portrayed the relationship as *hilarious*, you may not even have realized all the gross, abusive shit that’s been happening!

Here’s a (shortened) recap:

A. Eska uses threats of violence and emotional abuse to force Bolin to stay in a relationship with her.

1. When Mako tells Bolin to”tell [Eska] you’re not into her anymore”, Bolin appears terrified, and says “”Oh no, no, no, I don’t think she’d like that.”

2. Then when Bolin takes Mako’s advice and tries to break up with Eska, she threatens to freeze him in a block of ice and feed him to dolphin piranhas. In case you think this is hyperbolic, let’s remember that this woman trapped Bolin in a block of ice when he hugged his  friend.

3. The next time he tries to break up with her, she forces him to accept a marriage proposal and drags him away. The image makes it clear that Bolin is in pain as she pulls him.

Eska and Bolin, abuse, dating violence, domestic abuse, Legend of Korra

4. When Bolin finally manages to get on a boat and escape the southern water tribe, Eska chases after him with on a massive water wave of doom, and it’s pretty clear that she’s prepared to use violence to get him back.
Eska, Waterbending,Bolin, domestic abuse, abuse, Legend of Korra,

B. Eska consistently humiliates Bolin, and enjoys watching him in pain.

1. At the beginning of episode 3, we see Bolin forced to carry Desna and Eska in their cart. He’s very obviously unhappy about it. When Eska makes a joke, she orders Bolin to “laugh at my humerous quip!” and we see him look terrified and laugh.
I feel like I have to make this clear: forcing your boyfriend to pull you in a cart and then laugh at your jokes is pretty fucking gross. And, in most contexts (including this one) pretty abusive.

2. Later in the season, Eska tells Bolin: “Boyfriend! Bow to me before I exit!” Looking, again, terrified, Bolin throws himself on the ground. Eska grins: “You are so sweet when you grovel.”

Bolin, Eska, Legend of Korra, humiliation, abuse

GDSH(#@HGSUDB:OSGKK

HILARIOUS! THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A HILARIOUS MOMENT! AS OPPOSED TO A “HOLY SHIT THIS RELATIONSHIP IS SO FUCKING ABUSIVE” MOMENT!

… sorry. I needed that.

3. When Eska forces Bolin to accept her marriage proposal, she does not even wait for him to say yes before she puts the betrothal necklace on his neck and drags him away, telling him he can “express his joy with tears.” Crying, Bolin says “[The necklace] is really tight”

Bolin, Eska, abuse, legend of korra, Bolin and Eska

And we’re expected to laugh at all of these scenes. We’re expected to laugh at someone being forced into a betrothal. We’re expected to laugh as their partner physically drags them away and they cry in pain. This is Legend of Korra‘s idea of a joke.

[There are, of course, relationships where physical violence and humiliation are okay: consensual BDSM relationships. But what's happening between Bolin and Eska is pretty clearly nonconsensual]

To recap: Eska (non-consensually) humiliates Bolin and enjoys watching him in pain. She controls his actions and his emotions. He’s not even allowed to talk without asking for Eska’s permission first. And she uses fear and abuse in order to prevent him from leaving the relationship.

Yup! That’s abusive! Almost any of these moments, taken in isolation, would be a red flag for abuse. Together, they’re a  Massive Abuse Warning Siren that screams: “BEWARE: HERE THERE BE REALLY GROSS ABUSE HAPPENING.”

Now, I don’t actually oppose showing abusive relationships in TV shows. Hell, I don’t even oppose showing abusive relationships in children’s TV shows.  What I oppose is showing abusive relationships as lighthearted and funny.

Legend of Korra isn’t trying to make a point about how gross abusive relationships are. They’re trying to make a joke.

I know this because the Avatar Universe (of which Korra is a part) has a history of portraying abusive relationship with nuance and sensitivity. I know what it looks like when an Avatar show portrays abuse with nuance and sensitivity: it looks like Zuko’s relationship with Ozai, his father.
Ozai is a horrific parent. He forces his thirteen-year-old son to duel against him when Zuko speaks out of turn. After Zuko refuses to duel his own father, Ozai burns his son’s face, permanently scarring him, and then banishes him from the Fire Kingdom. Later, he tries to kill Zuko when his son turns against him.

Zuko, Ozai, abusive parent, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Fire Lord, Flashing Gif

Avatar: the Last Airbender never turned Ozai’s actions into comedy. And it never allowed us to forget that Ozai is a terrifying, violent and manipulative parent.

In Legend of Korra, on the other hand, the relationship between Bolin and Eska is a non-stop, unrelenting joke.

****

There are, I suspect, two forces at work in the “hilarity” of the Bolin/Eska relationship: first, the  myth that men can’t be abused (which means that domestic violence against men isn’t “serious”), and second, the “bitches be crazy” corollary (which means that women acting violent against men isn’t “serious” either).

In other words, Eska’s abuse of Bolin is hilarious because she’s a woman abusing a man.

Let’s parse these problems separately.

First, it’s pretty clear that no character in the Korra universe thinks Bolin is being abused. In fact, they blame him for his treatment at Eska’s hands.

When Bolin tells Korra and Mako that Eska threatened to freeze him in a block of ice and feed him to dolphin piranhas, they both shrug it off, and act annoyed that he’s ruining their date. Neither Korra nor Mako – Bolin’s brother –  seems the least bit worried that Eska told Bolin she would kill him if he tried to break up with her, even though they’ve already witnessed her being violent towards Bolin (when Eska traps him a block of ice to prevent him from hugging Korra)

Hey, what’s to worry about, am I right?

Bolin starts to hide in order to avoid Eska. His friend Asami tells him he should “stand up for himself” – and later, when she witnesses Eska ordering Bolin to bow, she says: “Don’t LET her treat you that way.”

Mako, Korra and Asami’s reactions put the blame for Eska’s abusive behavior squarely on Bolin. Bolin should have known better than to date Eska. Bolin should “stand up for himself.” Bolin is LETTING Eska treat him this way. It’s his fault his girlfriend is violent and abusive!

Not to put too fine a point on it, but those guys are the worst friends.

They’re also doing a superb job of reinforcing the idea that abuse just can’t happen to men. In this worldview, no matter how violent or how manipulative a man’s partner is, a man just cannot be abused. Their relationships are always under their own control – they can put an end to them at any time and “stand up for themselves” whenever they want to.

No wonder none of Bolin’s friends take his problems seriously. They know that what’s happening to him isn’t serious at all – after all, he’s a man!

It gets worse. When Eska forces Bolin to accept a marriage proposal, he rejoins his friends, wearing a traditional betrothal necklace.

Korra: “I’m pretty sure the guy is supposed to give the girl the betrothal necklace.”

It’s FUNNY because Eska has forced Bolin to take on a FEMALE role. HAHAHAHA… so gross. . It’s the other side to the “Men can’t be abused” coin: if men are abused, they are like women. They become feminized by their abuse.

And we could get into the misogyny that idea implies, but frankly, we have enough on our plate.

In most of the world – maleness is defined in opposition to victimhood. Men aren’t victims. They’re the aggressors, the winners. They’re strong, in control. Our definition of manhood, therefore, leaves no room for people who are victims, who are used and abused and wounded. After all, if you can’t protect yourself, you’re not a “real” man.

In this twisted logic, Bolin – and other men and boys in similar situations – aren’t experiencing abuse. And if they are, it is either because they choose to stay, or because they aren’t “real” men.

It’s pretty clear that the “joke” of Bolin’s abuse relies on the assumption that  Bolin’s relationship with Eska is totally under his control. If he were only able to stand up for himself, the abuse would just magically go away. It’s also “hilarious” because Bolin’s inability to stand up to Eska shows how incompetent he is as a man (“the guy is supposed to give the GIRL a proposal necklace”)

Moreover, if you take a wide view of the season, you’ll see that Eska isn’t the only woman who physically abuses her partner. For example, when Korra and her boyfriend, Mako, have an argument, Korra earthbends his desk into a wall. Which is pretty fucking threatening, in my opinion.  And if your partner is throwing things while you’re arguing?  Massively abusive.

When Lin Bei Fong, Mako’s boss, walks in the room and notices the torn-up wall and the broken desk, she asks Mako what happened. Mako tells her he broke up with Korra, and Lin smiles: “You got off easy. You should have seen Air Temple Island when Tenzin broke up with me.”

Oh, yeah, hilarious.

In both cases, we have women physically destroying things at their boyfriends. And as someone who has experienced people breaking things at me, I can tell you right now, it’s terrifying. It’s an obvious threat. I’ve been in cars with someone who starts driving really erratically when they get angry at me, and oh god, it does not make you want to make them angry ever again, because I was terrified we were going to drive straight into a tree. Which is exactly the point. It’s behavior that’s supposed to teach you not to go “out of line” again – or you’ll be next.

(As a note, abusers who throw or hit objects in when arguing with you almost always escalate to violence eventually)

All of these moments – Eska’s violence towards Bolin, Korra’s violence towards Mako, and Lin Bei Fong’s violence towards Tenzin – are meant to be comedic. Korra and Lin Bei Fong are both characters we’re supposed to like – I highly doubt the show wants us to read them as abusive, even though that’s exactly what they are, at least in these moments with their partners. It’s supposed to be funny that Lin Bei Fong destroyed Tenzin’s home when he broke up with her.

So what is with this trend of comic portrayals of abusive women?

That’s the second half of the Bolin/Eska joke – the “bitches be crazy” corollary.

This season has had a plethora of the “women are so hysterical and crazy in relationships” trope. Korra’s behavior this season with Mako is a  prime example – he can’t do anything without making her blow up. And that’s an incredibly misogynistic trope to begin with. But it also has really unpleasant consequences when you line it up with abuse, because it makes it seem like Korra, Eska and Lin’s violent behaviors are just “crazy” things women “naturally” do.

Because women, am I right? They’re just “crazy.” And men have to put up with it, because women, am I right?

This narrative transforms abuse from an aberration into something “natural” and comedic.

I think, moreover, that there’s something more than your average “bitches be crazy” trope going on in The Legend of Korra. I think the show is having a  hard time coping with their female protagonist.

You would not thing a strong female protagonist would be a problem for the writers of Korra, given that the previoous series, Avatar,  is full of strong, interesting women:  Katara, the waterbending master, Toph, one of the greatest earthbenders to ever live, Azula, who… I mean, how do you even talk about the powerhouse that is Azula? And Mai, Tai-Lee and Suki, three non-benders who could stand toe-to-toe with any bender and come out on top.

But in Avatar, unlike in Korra,  there was always one male character who was theoretically more powerful than any given woman:  Aang, by virtue of being the Avatar. In Legend of Korra, however, the protagonist is female. Aang is dead and Korra is the new Avatar – the most powerful person in the entire show. Once she’s fully trained, nothing will be able to stand against her. There is no male character more powerful than Korra.

People have… problems with that kind of female power. A whole lot of writers just have no idea how to deal with it, especially in the context of western patriarchy and western-prescribed gender roles (most of the characters of Avatar are POC, and the areas they live in correspond to asian and first nations locations, but the writers of the show are mainly from north america). There aren’t a whole lot of creators with the kind of talent and chutzpah to deal with a world where women and men are on equal footing – and where a woman is the “savior” of the world.

Which is where you get weird stuff like the Korra abuse narrative. The writers are unable to separate the world of Korra from western ideas about gender and patriarchal structures. More specifically, they’re unable to conceive of a world where the strength of women doesn’t come at the expense of the strength of men. They’ve moved beyond the patriarchy by flipping it.

Thus, in Korra, gender equality doesn’t mean that relationships will become healthier and more equitable. No – a gain in power by women must mean a loss in power by men, since we’re still stuck in gender hierarchies. Thus, if women are the “strong” ones – if women are captains of industry (Asami), police chiefs (Lin Bei Fong), Avatars (Korra) and incredibly powerful waterbenders (Eska) – then the men must be the “weak” ones. Thus, we get all the heterosexual relationships where the women are abusive and the men are passive.

Which, I should note, tells you a whole lot about how the writers conceive traditional male-female relationships. And a whole lot about how the writers conceive “strength.” They seem unable to conceive of a woman with stereotypically male attributes – like Korra, who is very physically strong, who acts first and think later, who is competitive and impulsive – without also making her borderline abusive. I don’t know if it’s because the writer’s vision of masculinity is so entwined with strength-as-abuse, or if it’s because they can’t help but see a character like Korra as an aberration, and thus infuse her with “bad” qualities. Whatever it is, it’s disturbing.

It’s also a pretty disturbing message about female strength. Women are only strong and in control, the narrative goes, because men have ceded the place to them. If men *wanted* to be in charge again, they could.

The other explanation for the woman-as-abuser and man-as-passively-accepting-abuse trope in Korra  is the narrative of men being “whipped” by their girlfriends. In a sentence: men allow women to walk all over them because they love/admire/desire the women so much – or because they’re just too lazy/stupid to exercise their male control over the relationship. This brings us straight back to the victim-blaming: Bolin and Mako are abused because they “let” the women abuse them. Moreover, it makes it seem like abuse is the price you pay for a woman’s love. Being in a relationship and having access to women’s bodies is worth the emotional and physical abuse – a storyline that plays directly into the stereotype of men being voracious, mindless, sex-pursuing velociraptors.

(okay, so I made that part about the velociraptors up).

Oh yeah. There’s a whole shitload of toxic stuff wrapped up in the “joke” of Eska abusing Bolin.

****

Let’s be clear, finally, and explain exactly why the victim-blaming, misogyny and toxic masculinity at the root of the “comedy” of abuse is so disturbing:

Because abuse is a thing that happens in the real world.

And abuse is a thing that happens – in spite of the myths –  to men. Often it happens to them exactly how it happened to Bolin. And often, people will react exactly the way Bolin’s friends reacted to him – with laughter, with victim-blaming, with a complete lack of support.

According to the latest study by the CDC, approximately one in seven men have experienced some form of domestic violence (compared to one in four women). 1.4% of men have been raped, while 6% have experienced some form of sexual coercion. One in nineteen men have been stalked. One in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

Abuse happens to men. Abuse happens to men a lot. And just as  it’s socially unacceptable for women to talk about their experiences with rape, sexual violence, harassment and domestic violence, it’s also socially unacceptable for men to admit to being the victims of rape, harassment and domestic violence. Because we see those stories as funny.

Yes, men are threatened, stalked, hurt and emotionally manipulated, just as Bolin was on the show. It’s not funny when it happens to them. And it’s not funny when it happened to Bolin.

The abuse-as-comedy trope is particularly harmful because Korra is aimed at children and young adults. And guess who is most at risk of abuse?

That’s right! Kids.

More than one in four male victims of rape experience their first rape when they are ten years or younger. Of the men who have experienced stalking, 1/3 have been stalked before the age of 25. 53% of male victims of domestic violence experience their first incident before the age of 21.
Of the men who have experienced rape, stalking or physical abuse by an intimate partner, 15% had their first experience when they were between the ages of 11 and 17. 38.6% of them had their first experience between the ages of 18 to 24.

So when you turn abuse into a joke in a kid’s show, you’re basically teaching the most vulnerable male demographic (children and young adults) that abuse is funny, not serious, and to be expected in  romantic relationships. Right as they’re entering their first dating years – and the years where they’re most likely to experience abuse.

Great job, guys. No, seriously.

Here’s another important fact: Bolin is a man of color (as are Mako, Tenzin, and every other male character on Korra). Which is great! But dismissing the abuse of men of color as “funny” carries particularly damaging connotations, since men of color are much more likely to experience rape, stalking and domestic violence than white men. Approximately 1/5 of white men reported experiencing sexual violence, rape or domestic violence. In comparison, one third of multiracial men, one fourth of latino men, forty percent of black men and 43.5% of american native and alaskan native men reported experiencing rape, physical violence and/or stalking in their lifetimes.

To put it bluntly:  men of color are more likely to experience rape, sexual violence and/or stalking. So turning a man of color’s abuse into a joke? Is really not okay.

(this is not to say that 20% of white men experiencing abuse is in *any* way okay – it’s just that men of color experience higher rates of abuse)

****

Is this the lesson we want to teach the young audience of Korra? For that matter, is this the lesson we want to teach the older audience of Korra? That abuse is acceptable? That abuse is funny? That abuse is the victim’s fault? That men can’t be abused? That abuse is to be expected in a romantic relationship? That abuse is a fair trade for romance, love and sex? That men should fear female strength because it leads to emotional and domestic abuse?

What a toxic message.

And what a disappointing narrative from Korra, a show that follows in the footsteps of the wonderfully progressive Avatar: the Last Airbender, where abuse was treated seriously, and gender hierarchies were ignored in favor of good storytelling.

Sure, it’s just a show. But if the writers of Korra didn’t want to shoulder the responsibility of treating abuse with nuance and sensitivity, they shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. Because it’s not “just” abuse, not when it’s happening to one in seven men.

Since I started writing this post, the show has gotten, if possible, worse on abuse. Bolin has turned from abuse-victim into rape-culture perpetrator, when he kissed his co-star, Ginger, against her will, and then told her “I think you liked it too.”Ginger eventually goes out with Bolin, because he’s rich and famous – and women don’t mind sexual assault as long as it comes from a rich and famous dude! This, again, is played for laughs, because if there’s anything funnier than abuse, it’s sexual violence.
Then Eska and Bolin reunite, and it’s clear that Bolin still harbors feelings for Eska. Which I don’t have a problem with in and of itself (often, abuse victims remain emotionally attached to their abusers). But since the show keeps pretending Eska hasn’t abused Bolin, I have no reason to believe they’ll treat the romantic subplot with any kind of nuance or sensitivity. The writers have turned what used to be a joke subplot into an actual romantic subplot. With both narratives, they’ve ignored Eska’s abusive behavior.

So since the show won’t say it, let me, once again, emphatically explain: What Eska did to Bolin is abuse. It is physical and emotional abuse. What Korra, Mako and Asami did to Bolin is victim-blaming.

And none of it is fucking funny.

****
Commenting guidelines:

1. Do not try to explain that Eska’s behavior is not abusive. It is.
2. Do not victim-blame Bolin (or any other victim of domestic violence)
3. Please don’t start blaming abuse on misandry.
If you engage in any of these three activities, I may just delete your comment, because LOL, I am not playing the “but physically dragging people around isn’t ABUSE” game.

****

Resources:

1. CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: Executive Summary
2. CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: Full Report
3. Domestic violence red flags: one, two, three, four, five (includes red flags specific to men experiencing domestic violence)
4. One in Six: A group that helps male survivors of child sexual abuse
5. Male Survivor: Group for male survivors of abuse

Hotlines:

1. Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women: 1-888-7HELPLINE
2. Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project: 1-800-832-1901
3. National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: 1-866-331-9474
4. National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
5. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233


Batman and the Case of the Missing Women

*MASSIVE SPOILER FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, I AM NOT EVEN JOKING, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, DON’T READ THIS POST*

So. Er. Did anyone notice that here really weren’t any women in The Dark Knight Rises?

Audrey Hepburn Shock gif

U Serious, Girl?

Everyone Else On the Internet: “… No?”

Yeah, I’ll admit this seems like an out-of-place critique. Compared with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises was practically FLOODED with women.

We had not one, but two female characters! They both had big important roles! And both of them were defined by more than just Bruce Wayne’s romantic interest in them!  We finally – FINALLY – got Catwoman.

But I, the resident Feminist Batwoman, still have some complaints about the presence (or lack thereof) of women in the movie.

In the immortal words of Selina Kyle:

Selina Kyle Catwoman Deal With It

Okay, so, I will gladly admit that there are actual women in The Dark Knight Rises. I will even gladly admit that they are interesting, well-rounded characters. We have Miranda/Talia. We have Selina Kyle. We even have Selina’s friend Jen. And then we have, er…

Other women?

Hem.

A quick search of IMDB informs me that the other women included Maids #1-#3, a female security guard, and Ra’s Al Ghul’s wife, who never talks (and honestly, we never even see her face).

So… not so much in terms of “other women.”

Oh, but maybe The Dark Knight Rises just doesn’t have a lot of named characters! Maybe that’s why there aren’t that many named women!

er… no.

Least you ask, there are some fifteen-odd named male characters in The Dark Rises, including Bruce Wayne, Fox, Alfred Caine, Commissioner Gordon, Blake/Robin, Dr. Pavel, The Mayor, Strykker, Daggert, Ra’s Al Ghul and Foley.

Talia Al Gul GIF

“Equal Representation is a strong phrase to throw around The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce.”

It’s a product of how few women there are in action movies full stop that we look at two (or three) women in a superhero movie as a lot. Named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises are vastly outnumbered by named male characters. So while I’m pleased that we’re finally moving towards having more well-rounded, interesting female characters…

I’m not ready to start baking feminist cookies yet.

cookies baking gif

No cookies for you, The Dark Knight Rises.

Okay, so, not a lot of named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises. Sure.

But frankly, it wasn’t the lack of named female characters that struck me. It was the lack of unnamed female character. The lack of female extras.

The lack of women in the movie’s background.

The Dark Knight Rises is filled with people. The filmmakers must have hired thousands of extras to create all of their crowds; it is, after all, a film about a city.

And most of the crowds are divided into very specific groups: Groups of terrified civilians. Groups of Bane’s henchmen. Groups of cops. And groups of young children.

According to my very un-sophisticated analysis, the four “groups” that were the most important in terms of the plot were the henchmen, the cops, the prisoners (both in the Gotham and the Bane children) and the children. All four get big chances to shine, both as heroes and as sympathetic (or antipathetic) figures. There are, I will admit, a lot of shots of terrified crowds, but they’re more important in terms of atmosphere than in terms of thematic importance. The scene of the police advancing on the henchmen, or the children stuck on the bridge, is much thematically important, in my understanding of the movie, than the shot of all the bankers screaming as they exit the stock exchange.

Perhaps most importantly, the henchmen/prisoners, the children and the police serve as mirrors to the larger themes of the movie: sacrifice, service, loyalty and family. The children and the police are the two sides of Bruce Wayne – the innocent, wronged child, and the protective, warrior-adult. The police, moreover, are the lawful side of Batman’s quest – they too, work to protect hte civilian population.  The henchmen are the more brutish manifestations of Bane and Talia Al Gul. And the prisoners are in the middle – symbolic of Bane and Talia’s past, but also of Bruce’s challenges. They are the dark side of the population of Gotham, the angry hordes hidden inside prisons, just waiting to be released.

So. Four major groups of people. Huge thematic importance. Thousands of extras.

And you know what?

There aren’t a whole lot of women in those groups.

In fact, in most of those groups, there are no women at all.

Catwoman Selina Kyle Anne Hathaway GIF

Selina Kyle: “Not a whole lot of women ’round here…”

Try to think of a female policewoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Any. There were hundreds of police officers in that movie, both in and out of uniform. They’re everywhere.

And I will be highly impressed if you manage to find one woman in the mass of teaming cops.

I saw the movie twice; the second time I was specifically looking for these elusive background women. I think I managed to catch a glimpse of one female cop near the middle of the movie. I can’t be sure.

Sure, I think we could probably find one or two women cops, if we looked hard. But one or two women in a group of hundreds – or thousands – of policemen?

… that’s all kinds of ridiculous.

And I will bet you actual cash (not a lot of it – remember that I’m a poor college student) that you cannot find a single female henchman. Again, I looked pretty damn carefully, and I did not see any.

There are a LOT of henchmen in The Dark Knight Rises.

None of them are women.

Bane’s group of merry terrorists are solely and exclusively male.

Not surprisingly, there are also no female prisoners

(with the notable exceptions of Selina Kyle and Talia Al Gul, but crucially, but women are cited as EXCEPTIONS. Selina is in a men’s-only prison, as is Talia Al-Gul, and in fact, prisoners are so coded as male that no one guesses the escaped prisoner (Talia) might be female. Also, both Talia and Selina are named female characters – there are no random female prisoners walking around as extras).

So yeah. Women can’t be “normal” bad guys (henchmen/prisoners) and they can’t be “normal” good guys either (the police).

Now, I can hear the objections already.

Oh, well, that’s just ACCURACY, that is. Because there AREN’T a lot of female cops or bad guys in real life, so The Dark Knight Rises is just being ACCURATE. 

Veronica Mars GIF

OH REALLY?

I HAD NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT.

(that was sarcastic, in case you couldn’t tell).

Okay, Point the First:

The Dark Knight Rises is about a man who dresses up like a bat and fights bad guys in the dark of the night. I’m not sure it’s going to win any prizes for accuracy. Also, that part where Bruce Wayne’s back is broken and all his cartilage has been destroyed, but he gets back to top physical form in less than, like, two months?

TOTALLY ACCURATE.

Point the second: There aren’t female terrorists or female cops in real life?

Selina Kyle Bitch Please GIF

What she said.

… no.

In the United States, most local police departments have at least 12% female officers. In big cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago (one of the places where the Batman series was filmed), nearly one fourth of cops are women. In Canada, TWENTY PERCENT of cops are women.

Female cops EXIST.

Rookie Blue Cop Celebration Women GIF

“HURRAH, I am not a construct of someone’s imagination!”

There is no good reason why, in a movie with dozens of shots of hundreds of police officers, we can’t spot more than one or two female officers. That would indicate a 1% female enrollment, which is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than the actual rate, even if you take the lowest one one (12%).

Missy Peregrine Rookie Blue GIF

“Yo, you may not believe female cops exist, but this female cop can still *shoot* you.”

And henchmen? No female henchmen? Oh, right, there have never been any women involved in terrorist movements, or resistance movements, or populist uprisings.

… with the small exception of ALL the terrorist movements/ resistances/ populist uprisings.

There are women suicide bombers and female members of terrorist groups. Some populist resistance groups/ freedom fighters are mostly female. It’s ridiculous that I even need to do a  historical overview, because women freedom terrorists are so damn ubiquitous it would be like trying to prove the existence of MALE terrorists.

[Sidenote: I'm about to cite a whole host of groups that have been classified by the west as terrorist organizations. This does not mean that I personally believe they are terrorists; it's just that the popular western imagination SEES them as terrorists, so they're organizations that someone like, say, Nolan, would look to to craft Bane's group]

Here are just a few examples of women in terrorism: Women have been central figures in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers (a group that pioneered female suicide squads), Chechen terrorism (the “black widows”), the liberation movement in Algeria (where women smuggled weapons, planted bombs and served as spies), the Shining Path in Peru, the Japanese Red Army (founded and led by a woman), the Weathermen of the United States and the Ku Klux Klan of the United States (okay, these guys are definitely terrorists, no qualifications needed. They’re also racist assholes).

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of female involvement in terrorist groups.

Believing that a Bane-like revolt movement would not have any female participants involves such a willful ignorance of history and social realities, it’s somewhat mind-boggling.

The tales of your incompetence devil wears prada gif

Details of your historical incompetence…

Miranda Priestly Meryl Streep GIF

Of course, the place where the whole “but there aren’t that many women in those groups ANYWAYS” argument *really* falls apart is with the children.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are usually approximately the same number of male and female children, right? That’s a thing, right?

So why the hell are there no female children in The Dark Knight Rises? (I will get to the notable exception later; don’t kill me).

Uuurgh.

I mean, the filmmakers even make a POINT of coding children as male: they make sure to specify that Blake went to a home for young boys and when Blake tries to save the children, he returns to that same home for young boys. When the Wayne Mansion is converted into an orphanage, it’s pretty clear that it’ll be a boy’s orphanage (I didn’t spot any girls in the crowd of children running in, and I was looking pretty closely).

Where the fuck are all the female children, that’s what I want to know. Do they get fancy orphanages? Are there any organizations taking care of them? Does anyone bother trying to save the orphan girls during the nuclear explosion?

Why don’t they matter enough to be a part of the narrative?

Did some kind of plague kill all the girls?

OHMIGOD, HAVE THEY ALL BEEN KIDNAPPED?

BATMAN! GET ON IT.

Do women just pop out of the ground, fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus’s head?

Selina Kyle Princess Diaries Gif

How Ladies are Made: MAKEOVERS.

What aggravates me is that children – or, more precisely, boys – are SUPER important thematically. The orphan boys represent Bruce Wayne’s past; they also represent Gotham’s future protectors (since both Blake and Bruce were once orphaned boys). Moreover, they’re symbolic of what Batman has to protect, both with his fortune (by building orphanages) and with his life (by sacrificing himself so the boys don’t die).

[note that even in the previous movie, The Dark Knight, the child Batman saves at the end is a boy]

And women are completely excluded from that. They’re excluded from this narrative of loss, and eventual growth:

They don’t get to be protected. They don’t get to be the orphans who grow up to be heroes. They’re not part of Gotham’s future.

Because all the children in The Dark Knight Rises are boys, the Batman cycle is an exclusively MALE cycle: young boys with dark pasts grow up to protect other young boys.

It’s also quite disappointing to see this lack of girls in the movie because of Selina Kyle. In the comics, Selina Kyle was also an orphan. After her parents died, she was put in a juvenile detention center; she escaped and, in order to survive, she became a child prostitute. Later, she transformed into Catwoman in part to protect and feed (with her ill-gotten gains) her fellow child-prostitutes.

Thus, in the comics, Selina Kyle serves as another side of Bruce Wayne’s narrative of loss and protection. The movie, however, refuses to let her mirror Bruce in that way.

Selina Kyle proves that the Batman story – the story of loss and eventual heroism – is not an exclusively male narrative; instead, The Dark Knight Rises CHOSE to make it an exclusively male narrative.

Selina Kyle Steals Car GIF

“Personally, I cope with my history of loss by wearing driving fast cars and wearing fabulous masks. Who does that remind you of?”

***

Random People object: ARE YOU SAYING NOLAN IS EXCLUDING WOMEN BECAUSE HE HATES THEM AND HE’S A MISOGYNIST? YOUUUUU SUCK.”

Answer: Yes, I do suck, but for other reasons.

And to be fair: No, I do not think Nolan and his fellow filmmakers excluded women on purpose. I think it was almost entirely unconscious.

That’s what so damn depressing.

I will bet you a giant pile of jellybeans that when Nolan and Co. looked over their crowds of policemen, henchmen and children, none of them thought: “Huh, there aren’t a lot of women.”

And I will bet you another giant pile of jellybeans that most people who saw the movie weren’t thinking that either.

In fact, both the filmmakers and their audiences probably saw these giant, male-dominated crowds, and thought it was perfectly normal.

They also probably didn’t think “oh, look at all those men.”

They probably thought: “Oh, look at all those people.”

If you’re casting for a pretty gender-neutral group of extras – like, say, policemen or children (yes, I think policemen are gender neutral), you would assume that in a gender-neutral world, people would cast their crowds approximately 50-50. But in our world, you can cast an entire set of extras as men and not have anyone (except me) bat an eye

Because men are the default.

That’s why we don’t notice when we see all-male crowds, or all-male movies. Men are the default. Men are people. You grab women when you specifically want a woman (like for Catwoman), but you don’t cast women to just be people. People are men.

That’s why feminists – including me – did a happy dance when Barack Obama used a default female pronoun to describe the life of an average American child. Because we’re so used to thinking of these average workers, average children, average voters – as men.

Women are other.

If men weren’t the default, I guarantee you that I would not be the only person ranting about this gender inequality. I don’t think people didn’t notice it because they’re sexist, I think people didn’t notice it because we’re used to having men be the default. I don’t think Nolan cast his extras this way because he’s sexist, I think he cast the movie this way because he’s used to having a male default. Need a random bit character? Cast a man!

Hell, if men weren’t the default, there would be tons of female henchpeople serving Bane, and no one would say anything, because of course women are henchpeople, why wouldn’t they be?

Catwoman Batman GIF

Selina: “For the record, Bruce, I’m totally willing to take you on as a henchperson, even if you are a man.”

***

Here’s the really important part. The part I think everyone – mostly superheroes – need to understand.

If you assume a male default, you’re REALLY SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT.

Look, the only reason Miranda/Talia managed to pull off her whole “hiding in plain sight” routine is because everyone assumed the “child” that climbed out of the prison was a boy. The child had short hair, no one called her a “girl” – so Bruce assumed it was a boy, and thus assumed it was Bane. If he hadn’t assumed it was Bane, maybe he would have, you know, done research to check the evidence.

And the reason the cops let Selina Kyle go during the bar shoot-out scene is because they assumed that a frightened, screaming woman couldn’t have anything to do with the kidnapping. WHOOOPS.

Assumptions are a dangerous thing. Because we’re so used to seeing women in action movies as a single role – the love interest – most of the audience didn’t even consider that Miranda/Talia could be anything but that.

You assume a male default, you’re basically allowing women an automatic advantage of surprise.

batman catwoman gif PSYCHE

PSYCHE!

…And I really don’t think someone like Selina Kyle or Talia Al Ghul needs any more advantages. They’re pretty badass already.

Women can be bad guys. Women can be cops. Women can be children (no shit). Once we start moving away from these huge inequities and gendered assumptions, we won’t have to construct plots based on the major surprise of “OH MY GOD, THE CHILD WAS A GIRL.”

So yeah, I’m not giving The Dark Knight Rises a feminist cookie. Like I said, I appreciate that there are more named female characters. I’ll appreciate it even more when women aren’t treated like exceptions or like “surprise bad guys” or Othered in various ways. And I’ll appreciate it EVEN MORE when I can see a crowd of police ready to take on the bad guys… and half of both the bad guys and the police are women.

Thinks women are people cookie

I’m keeping this cookie for now.

There’s a point in The Dark Knight Rises where one of the Baddy McBadGuys (Daggert), flush with his evil victory, says “Hey, can we get some girls in here?”

You know what, Mr. Baddy McBadGuy? Much as I disagree with your morals, I very much agree with the sentiment. Can we get some girls in these movies?

… I don’t think it’s going to bring the quality of the action down.

Selina Kyle fighting GIF

***

GIANT POSTSCRIPT:

I should note that I loved The Dark Knight Rises. LOOOOVED it. I want to follow Selina Kyle around and give her buckets and buckets of roses and champagne and pearls. I want to give Alfred a big hug. Hell, I even want to give Talia a high-five for pulling one over Bruce Wayne. You are one BAMF, Talia. I salute you.

And I was SOBBING through the end.

snape crying harry potter gif

EVERYONE in the theater could probably hear me.

Stitch crying lilo and stitch gif

HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME, NOLAN?

I just have a lot of feelings about these characters

And for the next three days, I was just like:

I don't know what my feelings are doing

Kristen Bell sloth GIF

tina fey high fiving angels liz lemon

So… yeah.

I really loved The Dark Knight Rises.

Which I think speaks to the fact that art is COMPLEX, and people are COMPLEX, and we can have COMPLEX feelings, and be having joygasms over awesome things while also pointing out the ways in which they suck.

It is possible to like problematic things, everyone!

Talk amongst yourselves.

 

[BRUCE WAYNE x SELINA KYLE OTP]


Dear Snow White and the Huntsman: Kissing. You’re Doing it Wrong.

And I’m back online, everyone! Sorry for the two week hiatus – as mentioned in my last post, I am the goddamn Feminist Batwoman was having some health issues, so I took a break from the internet to save the world while wearing an awesome cape while I got better at kicking bad guys.

And now that I’ve finally defeated the forces of darkness gotten better, I will be posting more in an effort to keep up my cover identity as the billionaire college student and feminist blogger “Culturally Disoriented”

Ahem. Back on the internet! YAY!

everyone else: *crickets*

***

Gird your loins, everyone. We’re going to talk about kissing. Making out. Embracing. Frenching. Smooching. Swapping spit. Tonsil Tango (my favorite euphemism).

Sadly, we’re not going to talk about fun, consensual, awesome kissing. I’m all for fun, consensual, awesome kissing. But there was no fun, consensual, awesome kissing in Snow White and the Huntsman.

Callie and Arizona Grey's Anatomy Kiss

A brief demonstration of “tonsil tango”

[Warning for MASSIVE SPOILERS]

No, there was only creepy kissing.

Let’s back up, shall we?

I recently saw Snow White and the Huntsman with my brother. And I’m not going to lie: I enjoyed it. Yes I did.

Well, okay. Let’s be a bit more precise about what “enjoyed” means in this context, shall we?

… I was not bored. I was moderately entertained. There were pretty colors. [I have no shame].

Charlize Theron Raveena Snow White and the Huntsman Dress

Oh, and the Evil Queen’s clothes were FABULOUS. I want.

Were there lots of deeply problematic moments that made me want to throw my popcorn at the screen?

Yep.

Was I particularly upset about those problems? As in “stay-up-until-three-in-the-morning-writing-a-blog-post” upset?

Not really. My brother and I had a good discussion afterwards where we unpacked the misogynistic elements of the movie, we both agreed that it wasn’t that great (but that the colors were pretty and Charlize Theron was awesome), I moved on. Frankly, so many movies are not-great and sexist that I don’t have time to get seriously “stay-up-until-three-in-the-morning-writing-a-blog-post” upset about all of them. Or I wouldn’t sleep.

crazy writer rant

Rant! Rant! Rant Rant Rant Rant RANT! RAAAAAANT!

A week after I saw the movie, however, I was reading Batwoman: Elegy (which HOLY SHIT IS INCREDIBLE) when I sat bolt-upright in my bed and exclaimed: “Whoa! There was technically a lesbian kiss in Snow White and the Huntsman!”

Which is when I realized that the technically-lesbian kiss was also the only consensual kiss in the movie. And that while this consensual kiss led to Snow White’s demise, the non-consensual kiss imposed on Snow by the Huntsman… ends up saving her life.

Headdesk Stephen Colbert

Are you *bleeping* kidding me?

And that, dear reader, is when I got angry enough to write a blog post.

Because Kissing: Snow White and the Huntsman is Doing. It. Wrong.

I’ll start by recapping all the kisses experienced by the protagonist, Snow White. I think you’ll see the creepiness emerging pretty quickly.

[SPOILERS]

(it should be noted that Snow White’s name is never actually uttered in the movie, so for all I know, she’s called Porky McPorcupine. But Porky McPorcupine takes too long to type, so…]

1. Kiss #1: Snow White goes wandering the woods with her childhood friend, William. They’ve just reunited after a long separation. Snow White decides to kiss William because… he’s her childhood friend and he’s rather attractive? The movie never really makes it clear. But she decides to kiss him. Hurrah! Good for you, Snow White, for expressing desire and going after the things you want (in a safe/consensual manner)

No. Not good for you, Snow White. Don’t you know that a lady NEVER initiates a kiss? And that to do so is grounds for horrible punishment?

Because unfortunately for Snow White, William is actually NOT William, but Raveena (the Queen) in a very clever disguise. Which is why I consider this a lesbian kiss: it is, in fact,  between two women (although only one of the women is aware of that fact). After Fake William and Snow White kiss, William continues the flirtation by offering Snow White an apple. Snow White, who has clearly never read a fairy tale in her life, takes a bite of the apple… and starts dying. Fake William taunts her, transforms back into Raveena, and tries to cut out her heart.

And that, Snow White, is why a lady NEVER initiates a kiss. [Who do you think you are, a man?]

Snow White and the Huntsman Kristen Stewart Kiss Apple Death

This is what kissing leads to, ladies.

2. Kiss #2: Fortunately for Snow White, the two ruggedly attractive gentlemen in her escort – the Huntsman and the Real William – burst out of the forest and chase off the Very Well Dressed Raveena. Unfortunately, Snow White is still dying, and has  lost almost all consciousness.

Prince William Sam Claflin Kiss

Behold! I am ruggedly handsome!

Which, for some reason, prompts the Real William to kiss her.

I can’t even -

3. Kiss #3: Snow White is dead. She’s been placed on a bier in a church (because she’s pure) and dressed up in a white gown (because she’s pure). The Huntsman comes in, and explains to Snow White that he loves her because she reminds him so much of his dead wife.

Because that’s not creepy at all.

Then the Huntsman kisses the (dead) Snow White on the lips and leaves.

NOT CREEPY AT ALL.

Huntsman Chris Helmsworth Snow White and the Huntsman

Behold! I too am Ruggedly Handsome!

A few minutes later, Snow White wakes up – presumably resurrected by the Huntsman’s kiss – and proceeds to defeat the Evil Queen.

As of which point, there is no more kissing (thank Maud)

On the other hand, there’s also no moment when Snow White turns to the Huntsman and says “So, the kissing thing. I’m not necessarily opposed, but… that was creepy. Also: your dead wife? Really?”

I’m sure you’ve caught on to the basic problem, right? Yes?

Let’s recap:

There is exactly one consensual kiss in this movie, and that’s the one where Snow White kisses Fake William. She kisses him. She expresses desire. She is an active participant. The kiss is obviously consensual: both women are awake, alive and participating.

And as a result of this kiss – the one Snow White actually wants and consents to – Snow White dies.

The kiss is also proven meaningless when we realize that Fake William is actually Raveena, who only kissed Snow White in order to trick her into eating the apple.

Snow White neither consents nor participates in the two other kisses because she’s dead or dying.William actually kisses her as she’s dying, which is particularly horrifying.

Pro tip #1: If you’ve got an unrequited crush on someone, the moment of their death is not an appropriate time to tell them. And it’s especially not an appropriate time to kiss them. What if they don’t like you? What if they hate you? Then the last moment of their life is spent being kissed by someone they despise. What if they want to spend their dying moments thinking about their family? You’ve just coopted their death for your own purposes. And what if they DO return your affections? Then they die going “aww, shit, if I’d known earlier”…
Great job, Casanova. No, really.

Pro tip #2: If the person you are kissing is unconscious, asleep, dead or dying, you are doing it wrong.

This can all be summed up as: if the person you are kissing is incapable of saying “No” [or of using sign language to say "No," or of pushing you away, or of clonking you on the head with a baseball bat] to your advances, then you are doing it wrong.

In the movie world, however, kissing an unconscious woman who is completely and utterly unable to consent is romantic.

Neither William nor the Huntsman have any idea of whether Snow White has romantic (or sexual) feelings towards them. But remember, everyone. Snow White’s desires do not matter. Neither man gives them a moment’s thought. Only their desire – and their pain – is important.

Because William and the Huntsman love Snow White. So it’s fine for them to use her body in order to express their grief and thwarted love. It’s even romantic.

And hey! One of these non-consensual kisses saves Snow White from death. So it’s totally okay! Am I right?

Yeah, no. Not romantic. Creepy. And extraordinarily problematic

Pro-tip #3: If there is no way for someone to convey that they are interested in kissing you, do not kiss them. No matter how much you long/love/lust for them. If you kiss them anyways, you are doing it wrong.

[There is an exception to this: if you are in a long term romantic relationship with someone and they die. If your partner dies, and you two have talked about consent/negotiated your boundaries, and you thus have a fairly good idea of whether they would mind being kissed post-death... you're fine. However, this is not true of either William or the Huntsman. They have absolutely no idea how Snow White feels about them, or whether she would consent to being kissed. They are also not in a romantic relationship with her]

Pro-Tip #4: In the Real World, kissing someone who is unconscious (or otherwise unable to consent) is sexual assault. And in fact, many people in the Real World are raped or assaulted while they are asleep/unconscious. Now, I know that the Ruggedly Handsome William and the Huntsman are not rapists (of course not! They’re ruggedly handsome!). But if the way you’re kissing someone closely resembles rape/sexual assault, you’re doing it wrong.

***

Now, let’s be fair. There are certain moments of sexual assault in Snow White and the Huntsman that are NOT portrayed in a positive light.

Near the beginning of the movie, we find out that Queen Raveena’s brother Finn often visits Snow White in her cell and watches her while she sleeps. When he comes to take Snow White to Raveena, he sits next to her prone body and caresses her chest. We’re obviously meant to read him as a sexual predator. We’re also obviously meant to fear that he will assault or rape Snow White.

This scene is, in almost every way, a mirror to William and the Huntsman kissing Snow White.

Man’s desire for woman? Check. Lack of female consent? Check. Woman unconscious or otherwise unable to make an active choice? Check.

But unlike the Huntsman and William, Finn is neither young nor conventionally attractive. He is also evil (as evidenced by the fact that he is neither young nor conventionally attractive)

Snow White and the Huntsman Finn

Behold! I am NOT ruggedly handsome (and thus am clearly EVIL)

Obviously, since Finn is not a ruggedly handsome/good-hearted young man, his advances towards Snow White [who is unable to consent because she's in prison and he's her JAILER] are assault.

Headdesk Kitty

There is not enough *Headdesk* in the world

Pro-tip #5: If you assume that being conventionally attractive/young/not evil means that everyone automatically WANTS to kiss you, and so therefore they have obviously consented, and so therefore it is okay for you to kiss them when they are unconscious/dead, you are doing it wrong.

Even if you are Ruggedly Handsome, everyone does not automatically want you to kiss them. I know. This is a shock.

Pro-tip #6: Just because you are conventionally attractive and/or Young and/or Not Evil, does not mean you are unable to sexually assault someone. No. Really. I know this comes as a shock to you, but rapists/assaulters are not all Ugly/Old/Evil. In other words: even if you are conventionally attractive and/or young and/or a “Good Person,” kissing someone who cannot consent is not okay. And you are doing it wrong.

Let us recapsulate all of the Very Important Lessons the movie puts forward about kissing:

1. Female consent and female desire are deadly and disgusting. When Snow White shows real desire and real agency, it bites her in the ass.

2. As a corollary, two women kissing is deadly and disgusting, and can only happen because one woman is trying to kill the other. Female desire, everyone. Have I mentioned how Deadly and Disgusting it is?

3. Only Evil and Not-Conventionally-Attractive Men can sexually assault someone.

4. It is impossible for Good and Ruggedly Handsome Men to sexually assault someone.

5. A Ruggedly Handsome Man’s Desire for a Woman, coupled with that same woman’s Lack of Consent is very romantic, and will bring around salvation/resurrection.

So ladies, remember. Don’t show desire. Don’t kiss people you’re interested in. Real love only comes when a (handsome) man expresses his desire for you (while also disregarding your agency).
If a not-handsome man kisses you while also disregarding your agency, on the other hand, that is ASSAULT, and it’s not okay.

This is not a mixed message AT ALL.

Pro-tip #I Can’t Even Count Anymore: Assault is not romantic. Assault is not attractive.

You know what’s romantic?

Respect.

You know what’s attractive?

Consent.

I’m going to say it again, because frankly, it bears repeating:

Loving someone does not give you permission to disregard their feelings, or their right to make a choice. If your beloved is, for some reason, unable to make a choice (because they’re asleep/unconscious/dead) well, that’s unfortunate. But  you still don’t get to violate their consent. That the movie portrays male love as a blanket excuse for violating a woman’s right of consent is extraordinarily problematic.

***

Here’s what’s really ironic:

The movie proves the Evil Queen Raveena right.

Raveena, after all, becomes “evil” because she believes that men use women to serve their own desires while disregarding any desire the women may have.

Which is exactly what happens when the Huntsman and William use Snow White’s unconscious body to satisfy their own desires  (thwarted love! grief! pain!), and then never bother to apologize when she wakes up, or to ask her how she feels about either of them. And which is exactly what the movie does to Snow White, when it refuses to allow her a reaction to William and the Huntsman’s actions.

In other words: men’s desires are still The Most Important Thing, women’s desires are Still Unimportant and Queen Raveena is Still Right.

Yes, Raveena’s whole “let’s-impoverish-the-people” thing is bad. And I’m not okay with Raveena murdering people.

But Raveena isn’t defeated because she’s wrong. She’s defeated because a more desirable woman appears. Snow White even tells her that she’s lost because she isn’t “the fairest” anymore.

Pro-tip #One Billion: If the movie is trying to prove that men don’t use women/disregard women’s desires, then it is doing it wrong.

***

Why does this bother me so much? I mean, besides the fact that I’m an angry feminist, and I must complain about all misogyny.

It bothers me because this movie’s portrayal of romance isn’t the exception. It’s the norm. Taken to an extreme, sure. But it’s still the norm.

If it wasn’t the norm, more reviewers would have remarked on it. More people would have pointed it out. But no mainstream reviewers did. Because that’s just the way things are.

It bothers me because, at a time when sex-education is terrible, people learn about desire, relationships and sex  from movies (and assorted cultural narratives). And when, over and over again, cultural narratives show that assault is romantic, that female consent is irrelevant and female desire is dangerous… it has an effect.

It bothers me because every time I come out of a movie theater with my younger brother, we have to have a little chat where we deconstruct the Terrible Messages. Because even though I know my brother is smart, and respectful, and he cares about consent and about people’s boundaries…

It has an effect.

Hell, it had an effect on me.

In my admittedly VERY limited experience with relationships/sex/desire etc., the hardest question for me to ask is: What do I want?

And right here, right now, as a feminist who thinks female desire and consent are very important… I feel like a terrible person for even typing that question.

Because what does it matter what I want?

On the other hand, I’ve never had a problem considering what guys want. And I never had a problem putting men’s desires above my own.

Those pro-tips about consent and desire? I need to learn them too.

In fact, let’s have a review, shall we? Because I clearly need the review as much as anyone else.

1. If your partner is Awake, Conscious, Able to Consenting AND (obviously) Consenting

Brian and Justin Kiss Queer as Folk

Congratulations! You are Doing It Right!

2. If your partner is Unconscious, Unresponsive, Or Otherwise Unable To Consent:

William Snow White Kiss Snow White and the Huntsman

Sorry, my friend, but you are Doing It Wrong.

And you should stop Doing It Wrong.

This has been a lesson about how to Kiss Properly from Your Friendly Neighborhood Feminist Batwoman Blogger. Pass it along.

***

Frankly, the movie would have been a lot better if, when Raveena and Snow White kissed (in a consensual manner), the two of them realized they were secretly attracted to each other.

Snow White and the Huntsman Charlize Theron Kristen Stewart Kiss

Then they would hash out their differences over a marriage contract; we’d get a kingdom ruled by two badass queens in a lesbian relationship, and William and the Huntsman could go… take a hike.

Or, you know, engage in some Consensual Tonsil Tango of their own.

It would have been a much more interesting and nuanced movie.

Charlize Theron Kristen Stewart Snow White and the Huntsman kiss Raveena

All Hail the Queens

And less rapey.

I would appreciate less rapey.

Maybe in 50 years, someone will remake the movie and use this scenario.* Now that’s a movie I’d pay to see!

*[I'm not holding my breath]


The Friendship that Dares Not Speak its Name: Female Friendship in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Xena Warrior Princess Lucy Lawless Angry

“Is anyone here going to be my friend? Anyone? I have a shiny sword!”

[Content note: This is another one of my giant tl;dr posts of doom. Be forewarned before you venture into the abyss]

I’ve decided that I don’t want to be a Sci-Fi/Fantasy hero. Sure, the armor/spacesuits/dresses would be cool. And I’d like to fight a glorious battle. Or meet an alien. Or turn into a dragon. Or turn into a dragon while I meet an alien and wear a cool spacesuit dress.

But.

I’ve been noticing something weird about SF/F heroes. Specifically the female ones.

They don’t have a lot of friendships with other women.

Hell, there are some SF/F movies/books/etc. where the women barely speak to each other at all.

Is it just me, or does it sometimes feel like all those heroines have been cursed by a horrific spell? A spell that prevents them from making friends with other women without dying instantaneously?

Or do they just all have allergies to other women?

Because something’s going on. And I’d like to know what.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy has quite a few iconic male friendships – you’d be hard-pressed to find a book, tv series or movie that didn’t have a prominent friendship between two men.

Frodo and Sam. Spock and Kirk. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Ender Wiggin and Bean. Hugo and Charlie on Lost. Saul Tigh and Bill Adama in Battlestar Galactica. Magneto and Professor Xavier.

But iconic female friendships?

I can’t think of many.

And lest you ask, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. When I first got the idea for this post, I went through my reading lists for the past three years. I scoured the web. I look through my bookshelves. I looked through my brother’s bookshelves. I lurked around Amazon.com for three hours.

After a good week of research, I concluded that not only were there very few Sci-Fi/Fantasy narratives where female friendships featured prominently, there were very few Sci-Fi/Fantasy narratives where female friendships featured at all.

Black Widow Scarlett Johansson

” Look, it’s not that I don’t want to be friends with women, it’s just that for some reason, I’m never allowed to talk to them onscreen.”

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that women are still underrepresented as characters in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. We’re still stuck in the “lone woman” or “exceptional woman” phase of gender equality. Consider all the movies/books/comic books etc. where there is exactly one major female character. Black Widow in The Avengers.* Trinity in The Matrix. Wonder Woman in the early years of The Justice League. Petra in Ender’s Game. Molly Million in Neuromancer. Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings. 

[*Emphasis on major. I liked Maria Hill and Pepper Potts as much as anyone else, but they weren't on the same level of importance to the narrative as Thor, or Black Widow, or even Nick Fury]

Hell, Mulan in Mulan, while we’re at it. Even feminist narratives often have “lone women,” because so many of them tell stories of the first woman to join the army/become a knight/become a scientist/fly to the moon/play professional foozball. And, don’t get me wrong, stories about how women overcome the odds to join male-dominated professions are important.

But what about the stories after that one? What about the one where there are finally two female superheroes? What about the one where the science lab has a 50-50% gender distribution? What about the one where the army has an entire squadron of female knights?

Where are the stories about women mentoring other women? Where are the stories of women who have been best friends since childhood? Where are the stories where two wacky women are thrown together on an intergalactic adventure? Where’s my female Sherlock Holmes and Watson duo?

Where are my stories of epic sromances (rather than bromances) where the (female) hero would cut through entire armies to save their (female) friend?

[By the way, I fully purloined the term "sromance" from a blog post written by the fabulous Karen Healey]

Mulan Sword reflection

“Touch my BFF, and I will cut you.”

Those stories are a lot rarer.

We’re not that interested, it seems to me, in telling stories where there are many women, not just one. We’re not that interested in portraying worlds where women are the norm rather than the exception. We’re still stuck on the “lone women” phase of gender equality.

We’re not that interested in portraying relationships between women. We’re still stuck on how women relate to men.

***

Even when there are multiple women in an SF/F narrative [HALLELUJAH], they rarely ever meet. Or speak. Or have any kind of relationship. Maria Hill and Black Widow in The Avengers? Never say one word to each other. Eowyn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings? They’re in love with the same man, they’re fighting the same enemy… they never speak. In the Game of Thrones series, there are several important female characters, but they’re rarely in a room together. And if they are, they’re not friends. They’re enemies.

You would think women in Sci-Fi/Fantasy narratives would have something to say to one another. Even if it’s along the lines of:

“So, what’s it like to be the only woman in a group of superheroes?”
“Oh, you know. It’s not bad. Reminds me of that time I was stuck in an airport in France…”

Or:

“Hey, you know where I can get some tampons in the middle of this god-forsaken wilderness?”

Or just a plain, normal, non-gendered conversation like:

“Wow, we’re about to get eaten by a dragon.”
“That’s a problem.”
“We should run.”
“I agree. RUN!”

But no, apparently not. Apparently women just can’t talk to each other in SF/F.

It’s very bizarre. Because – and I hope SF/F authors and scriptwriters know this – there are a lot of women in the world.

It is practically impossible for a woman to go through her life without having a conversation with another woman. It is practically impossible for a woman to go through a single day without talking to another woman. Women are everywhere. Heck, I’ve even  heard they make up 50% of the earth’s population.

Given these parameters, it makes absolutely no sense that the majority of female SF/F characters almost never talk to women. The only way they could pull it off is if they were actively avoiding talking to other women.

This is why I suspect that female heroes of SF/F are all under some terrible curse that prevents them from speaking to other women. It’s the only logical explanation.

[[It's either that, or most authors are doing a terrible job of representing women's reality... and since authors have never historically struggle with representing female experiences, I think we can safely rule this explanation out. Right?]]

So. There’s a curse.

And if there is, I must be honest with you: I don’t think I want to be an SF/F hero anymore.

Because I wouldn’t want to live a life without female friends.

It would be horrible. Are you kidding me?

For one thing, how the hell am I supposed to go into battle and save the world without my female friends by my side?

Don’t get me wrong. I have friends who are guys. I would not want to give up those friendships either; some of my best friends are men. But women are friends with men in SF/F narratives, so that’s not really an issue.

[I feel like all my guy friends who read this are going to go: "You don't love me? " and run away. So, pre-emptively: "NOOOO, guy friends! I do love you! Don't leave me!"]

But frankly, most of my closest, most important friendships have been with other women.

The friends who know my deep, dark secrets? Mostly women. The friends who know that I spent a year of my life breaking into my house through a window instead of telling my parents I’d lost the keys? Mostly women. The friends who have survived my propensity for seven hour walks? Mostly women. The friends who put up with my social anxiety, my inability to answer emails and phone calls? Mostly women. The friends who tortured me with high-school drama? Mostly women. The friends who listen to me rant about stuff they’re completely uninterested in? Mostly women.

The friend I have epic conversations with when we pull simultaneous all-nighters? A woman. The friend who talked me through my academic insecurities? A woman. The friend who rearranged my work schedule when she realized I was exhausted – even though it meant she was picking up extra hours? A woman. The friend I went camping for (I hate camping)? A woman. The friend I went running for (I hate running)? A woman. The friend I stopped writing a paper for so that I could help her find her cat? A woman. The friend who turned me into a compulsive biker? A woman.

If I were an SF/F heroine, I would want these women on my team. I’m just saying.

That’s, I think, why the lack of female friendships in SF/F is so striking to me. When I look at the friends I would walk through fire for, the friends I would fight armies for, the friends who I cannot imagine life without – most of those friends are women. And when I look around me at women I know, I see that yes, in fact, these women too, have friends who are female.

Women are friends with women. Imagine that.

Female friendships aren’t an urban legend. They aren’t a statistical anomaly. They’re not all hiding in the forests like werewolves. Unless the nine places I’ve lived in my life have been exceptions to the norm, female friends are a fairly common phenomenon.

Elizabeth Swann Pirates of the Caribbean Keira Knightley

“Where the frack are all the other women in this blasted movie? Did they get eaten by the Kraken?

So just for the sake of realism, there should be a few more female friendships in SF/F.

Not to mention the fact that female friendships are interesting.
They’re fun. Exciting. Dramatic. Low-key. Tense. Anguished. Tortured. Competitive. Sweet. Bizarre. Twisted. Cool. Captivating. Multifaceted.

If you’re not writing about female friendships because you think they’re boring? You’re not too clever. And if you’re not reading books with female friendships because you think they’re boring? You’re missing out.

Isn’t it sad that we can imagine faster -than-light-travel, fire-breathing dragons and cyborgs, but we can’t imagine two women talking to each other?

Is there really a curse? A curse that says: two women can’t be friends in SF/F? Two women can’t speak in SF/F? Women can only relate to men, and to no one else?

Well, if there is, I’m sick of it. I want to see as many awesome female friendships in SF/F as there are awesome male friendships.

I’m breaking out the curse-breaking equipment, people. I’m compiling a list. A list of SF/F narratives that do have awesome female friendships.

Because it’s time to end the darn curse.

Here, in no particular order, are nine SF/F narratives with prominent female friendships. Seven books; one TV show; one Comic Book series.

I know these are not the only SF/F narratives with prominent female friendships. I have not read everything. I have not seen everything. Heck, I haven’t even ever seen Star Trek (I’m working on it!). So this list is not meant to be comprehensive. I’m sure I’m missing things – and I’d love to hear suggestions!

Curse-breakers, unite!

[And now I feel like I'm either in Pirates of the Caribbean or a Tomb Raider movie. For the record: if this curse-breaking turns into an epic quest where we all become living skeletons and have to pour the blood of Orlando Bloom on a giant pile of gold to end the terrible curse... my apologies]

****

1. Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce

Trickster's Queen cover Tamora Pierce

This was a tough one, because Tamora Pierce always does a fantastic job with female friendships. Keladry and Lalasa. Keladry, Yuki and Shinko. Alanna, Thayet and Buri. Alanna and Daine. Sandry, Tris and Daja. Beka Cooper and Clara Goodwin.

Pierce’s female friendships are all the more impressive because most of Tamora Pierce’s protagonists are women entering male-dominated professions. Two of her series (Song of the Lioness and The Protector of the Small) follow the journeys of the first women to train for Knighthood. Yet even though Alanna and Kel are surrounded by men (and make friends with men) they managed to be friends with women too. Female friendships are the norm in Pierce’s writing, not the exception.

The Trickster duology, however, probably has more friendships between women than any of Pierce’s other series.

After being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Copper Isles, Aly discovers that the Raka natives are finally ready to throw their luarin overlords. And they need a spymaster. Aly, through bad luck, trickery and manipulation, gets herself that job.

The Raka rebellion aims to put a Queen, not a King, on the throne of the Isles. It’s quite a gender-equal revolution: women and men both act as warrior, spies, mages and leaders. Not surprisingly, Aly cultivates quite a few important friendships and alliances with other women, from her cautious loyalty to Duchess Winnamine (the stepmother to the potential heiress), her easy camaraderie with Chenaol (Aly’s first friend in the Copper Isles and the rebellion’s weaponmaster), her wary “please-don’t-hit-me” friendships with Ochubo (head of the Raka mage network) and Junai (her bodyguard) and her long-distance friendship with Daine.

Aly’s most important friendship, however, is with Dovesary Balitang, a clever and wise thirteen-year-old half-Raka noblewoman. The rebels believe Dove’s older sister, Sarai, is the prophesied twice-royal Queen. Aly’s relationship with Dove is arguably the most important relationship in the book, full stop – the two women’s admiration, wariness and respect for one another is fascinating to watch. And their evolving friendship becomes integral to the rebellion’s success.

It’s a genuine sromance. And it always makes me tear up.

“I don’t need a maid,” Dove said. “I need a friend.” [...]
“I will be your friend till the end of time,” Aly told the younger girl.

2. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens Libba Bray Cover

Friends don’t let friends wear Maybelline

Picture this: a plane full of teen beauty queens crash-lands on a desert island. They must survive. They must practice their pageant walks for the Miss Teen Dream pageant. They must keep exfoliating. And they must foil the plans of an evil organization of evil people hidden in a giant evil volcano at the center of the island. [ Yes, this is speculative fiction. It's a dystopia. Don't argue with me]

And there are explosions.

I know you just ran away from the computer screaming “WHY HAVEN’T I READ THIS YET?” I know. I feel your pain.

This novel is a high-wire act. It would have been so easy for Bray to spend the story making fun of the teen pageant queens and their silliness. But no. Beauty Queens is a satire, yes, but not of the teen girls themselves. It’s a satire of everything in our society that constrains them, that dis-empowers them, that puts them in competition with one another, that forces them to conform to silly gender norms.

Instead of being a “let’s make fun of the silly girls who parade around in swimsuits and sashes,” book, Beauty Queens is about how all these women – the dumb ones, the blonde ones, the silly ones, the mean ones, the women-hating ones, the ones with trays stuck in their head, the ones who love lipstick and the ones who love swordfighting – are actually awesome. It’s a book that’s incredibly supportive of girls and their friendships and their culture. It’s a book that’s also incredibly good at portraying a diversity of female experiences – we have, among others, a transwoman, several women of color, a lesbian character, a deaf girl, a die-hard beauty Queen and a girl who hates beauty pageant (among others). And it’s a book that manages to be critical of oppressive gender norms all while being fantastically optimistic about the potential for making those gender norms explode (and the potential to live fulfilling lives in spite of them).

As the book goes on, the teen beauty queens stop being wary acquaintances playing their prescribed pageant roles and learn to respect and like one another as real people. These developing friendships allow the teen beauty queens to unravel the secrets of the island – and the secrets of their own identity. They discover who they are outside their beauty queens personas. And then they blow things up.

Empowerment and blowing things up.

You want to read this. Trust me.

Mary Lou: “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

3. Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts Power and Majesty

In Power and Majesty, the first book of the Creature Court trilogy, Velody, a dressmaker, discovers that she is the potential new King of the Creature Court, a group of magicians who defend the city of Aufleur during the night. The Courtiers are almost all men; the King has always been a man. Should she become King, Velody would be the first woman to ascend to the throne.

Power and Majesty is one of the rare books where a woman enters a male-dominated profession yet still manages to maintain her old female friendships. She beats the curse! Whoo!

Velody lives with her two best friends: Rhian, a former rich girl whose family disowned her for going into business, and Delphine, a florist recovering from an old trauma. Rhian and Delphine are as important in Velody’s journey as the beautifully dangerous men of the Creature Court.

Rayner Roberts’ portrayal of Velody, Rhian and Delphine’s love and loyalty for one another is beautiful, smart and insightful.When Velody enters the Creature Court, her first priority is protecting her friends. She battles other Courtiers to keep them from hurting Rhian and Delphine.  When Rhian and Delphine discover that Velody’s the (potential) new King, their first priority is protecting her. They enter into the dark world of the night to support their friend (as best friends do).  They enter into the world of the Creature Court, I should add, almost completely defenseless, since Rhian and Delphine, unlike Velody, have no magic. But they want to protect their friend, and they find ways to do it. Because that’s what you do for your best friends. You go into the night and you fight the bad guys and you find ways to protect them. No matter what.

And it proves that yes, stories about women entering male-dominated fields are not incompatible with stories about powerful female relationships. It’s sad that more writers haven’t realized this.

I haven’t read the next two books in The Creature Court trilogy because they are only available in North America via kindle, and my kindle is down for the count (if anyone knows where I lost my power cord, please tell me!) But reviews assure me that the Rhian/Velody/Delphine relationship remains a huge part of the series. I can’t wait.

“From that day forwards, Delphine pretended she had intended to take the ribboning apprenticeship all along, and neither Velody nor Rhian every challenged her on it.
That was what friends did.

4. Air by Geoff Ryman

Air Geoff Ryman cover

I’ve talked about Air before, in my “Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women” post. Possibly because I love it madly.

Chung Mae lives in Kizuldah, a small village in the fictional country of Karzistan. One day, the authorities conduct a world-test of a new technology called Air. Air is like the internet – in your head. The villagers, who don’t own computers or television, are thrown into a panic by this test. One person dies.

Chung Mae, who is nothing if not resourceful, realizes that the village needs to adapt quickly if the villagers are going to survive the full implementation of Air. She launches a large-scale campaign of preparation. And the people she recruits for her campaign?
Other women.

The women are the engines of change in Kizuldah; it is through their relationships, their ambition and their pragmatism that the town survives. Chung Mae and her friend Wing Kwan, for example, use the television to set up a fashion business selling traditional clothes to fashion houses in the USA. Chung Mae and her friends – and rivals – fight and bicker. They create alliances and friendships; they hide their activities from men; they roam out in the world; they help one another protect their families. It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of female friendship I’ve ever read. These relationships are familiar to me. The women are  real people, and their friendships ring true – intense, fulfilling, and sometimes destructive.

“Kwan looked sober. “We’ve been through a lot together.”
“Oh! You could say that ten times and it would still not be enough.”
“But we came through.”
“We came through.”
Kwan hugged her. “You can stay, you know.”
Mae touched her arm. “I really do not know what I would have done if my friend Wing Kwan had not been so kind. There would have been nowhere else for me to go.”

5.The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

delia Sherman freedom maze cover

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that three of the nine things I’m recommending are young adult novels (The Trickster series, Beauty Queens and The Freedom Maze) Young Adult SF/F tends to do a lot better in the female friendships department. Perhaps because YA has a wide female readership and authorship, and female friendships have become an established YA trope.

The Freedom Maze is a very recent read of mine, and I can’t recommend it enough. Sophie, a teenager living in 1960s Louisiana is spending a long, boring summer at Oak Cottage while her mother takes accounting classes in the city. One day, Sophie wanders into the garden maze. When she comes back out, she’s been transported to 1860 – the adventure-story-loving Sophie assumes this is the start of a grand time-travel trip.

But things go wrong very quickly: the Martineau family mistakes Sophie for a slave because of her tanned skin, and put her straight to work.

Sophie begins to form friendships with her fellow slaves – specifically with Africa, a smart, strong hoodoo practitioner who helps protect other slaves from their white owners, and with Antigua, Africa’s headstrong daughter. As she becomes closer to these two women, Sophie moves deeper into the reality of slavery. Like Kindred (another time-travel slave-narrative), The Freedom Maze pulls no punches in its depiction of slavery. Sophie’s experiences as a slave are horrific, a far cry from the “Gone with the Wind”-esque picture of happy darkies she’s been taught.Her allegiance to her old ideas of racial politics, her family (the Martineaus) – and even the time period of her birth – begin to fade away. Instead, Sophie relies on Africa and Antigua’s help to survive – and in return, helps devise a plot to save Antigua from being sold downriver to New Orleans.

The novel is very much concerned with the similarities (and disparities) of women’s experiences across races and time periods. It’s also a brilliant portrayal of the way black women’s friendships and relationships helped slaves survive, and even gain agency, under horrific conditions.

“Come with me then,” Antigua turned to her, eyes glinting in the lamplight. “Come take the boat with me, we be free together.”

6. The Female Man by Joanna Russ

The Female Man Joanna Russ

The Female Man is one of the most important SF/F works of the 20th century. It a difficult, confrontational, knotty novel that will chew up your brain and spit it back out. And it’s almost entirely centered around women’s relationships with other women.

The story follows four women on four parallel worlds. Joanna lives in a world much like ours. Jeannine lives in a world where the Great Depression never ended and Adolf Hitler died in 1936. Janet comes from Whileaway, an all-woman planet where the men died in a plague eight hundred years ago. Jael’s world, meanwhile, is a dystopia where men and women are engaged in a literal “battle of the sexes.”

Near the beginning of the novel, Janet mysteriously shows up in Jeannine’s world, then manages to drag Jeannine to Joanna’s world (our world). Eventually all three women end up on Jael’s world. The four women become friends and allies (with varying degrees of success) as they try to understand their predicament. The novel is, essentially, an incisive and moving examination of how women relate to other women. Who are these women to one another? What are their experiences of womanhood? Can they understand one another across these vast cultural differences?

Complex interpersonal relationships between four women who are essentially the same woman (they share the same genes)? Parallel worlds? Feminist utopias?
Count me in.

7. Yoko Tsuno by Roger Leloup

Yoko Tsuno On the Edge of Life Cover Roger Leloup

I almost didn’t include Yoko Tsuno –  though it includes some of the most interesting and intense female friendships I’ve encountered in Science Fiction – because it’s a french comic book series.

And I didn’t think there were any English translations.

BUT THERE ARE.

Two of Yoko’s alien adventures have been translated as “The Adventures of Yoko, Vic and Paul.” Six of her other books have English translations – The Frontier of Life, The Time Spiral, The Prey and the Ghost, Daughter of the Wind, The Dragon of Hong Kong and The Morning of the World. Most of these are out of print, but you may be able to get them at libraries or amazon (I saw some cheap copies). I don’t know if the translations are any good, so this isn’t a ringing endorsement… but I’ll try to find out.

Anyways. Back to the point. The series, which served simultaneously as my introduction to science fiction and as my introduction to comic books, follows Yoko Tsuno, an electrical engineer  who has a propensity for getting herself involved in epic adventures. It’s an action series, and a science fiction series. But it’s also a series which, at it’s core, is about friendship. Yes, Yoko has her constant traveling companions, Vic and Paul. But Vic and Paul are a background noise; they’re not central to the series. Yoko’s most important friendships are with women: of the 23 books I’ve read, 18 feature a prominent friendship between Yoko and another woman.Indeed, most of Yoko’s adventures come about because she’s trying to help a friend.

And instead she ends up in the middle of a volcanic eruption.

Yoko is deeply, fiercely, uncritically loyal to the women she becomes friends with. It does not matter if you’re a criminal, an heiress, a time-traveler, an alien, an assassin or a rogue scientist: if Yoko likes you, she’ll be friends with you. And once she is, she will walk through fire for you. Or travel to a galaxy a hundred light-years away for you. Or fight the devil for you (this is an actual plot; I am not even kidding). Or time-travel for you.

Honestly, Yoko is a bit like James Bond. Every movie, Bond has a different girl he sleeps with; every book, Yoko has a different woman she become friends with. Unlike Bond, however, Yoko stays close to these friends, who remain important characters throughout the series. Her navigation of her complex relationships with a diverse group of women is a highlight of comic books.

James Bond. Except with less sleeping around. And more awesome.

Yoko Tsuno Khany Roger Leloup

Yoko and her friend Khany, the leader of Vinea

Eva: “Careful! Do you always drive this fast?”
Yoko: “Yes – when I think I’m about to find a friend.”

8. The Orphan’s Tales by Catherynne Valente

Catherynne Valente The Orphan's Tales In the Night Garden Cover

Someday, I will stop raving about Catherynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tales, and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. But today is not this day.

Yes, on top of being a feminist retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, The Orphan’s Tales features women who talk to other women. Lots of women who talk to other women, in point of fact. There are many tales, and there are many female friendships. There are also many male friendships and many male-female friendships, all of which are rendered exquisitely by Valente’s  storytelling.

Listing the many female friendships in this series would take far, far too long. So I’ll just focus on the crew of the Maidenhead.
The Maidenhead is an all-female ship: the Captain, the navigators, the deckhands – all of them are women. All of them are also monsters – satyrs, three-breasted women, fox-women etc. They go around the world, rescuing other monstrous women and welcoming them into their ranks. They mentor one another – one of the most important friendships is the one between Tomomo, the Maidenhead’s first Captain, and Saint Sigrid, the Maidenhead’s second Captain. And they become renown the world over… before disappearing mysteriously in the deep blue sea.

Sigrid, an old woman who worships Saint Sigrid (and who used to be a bear), befriends Snow, a white-haired orphan. The two of them go on an epic quest to discover the location of the Maidenhead; they eventually get themselves swallowed by the same giant whale who swallowed the Maidenhead a few hundred years ago.

This is an epic, “fight-armies-for-you,” “get-swallowed-by-a-whale-for-you,” group of awesome, loyal, sromantic female friends. The kind I always look for in my fiction.  And it is glorious.

“Of course we’ll take you,” The Saint said. “Tommy bade us never turn away a recruit. We are a family of monsters, and the birth of new beasts is a cause for joy.”

9. Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena and Gabrielle

Don’t mess with success

I couldn’t make this list without putting Xena: Warrior Princess on it. Xena and Gabrielle are perhaps the only truly iconic female friendship in SF/F culture.* They’re our Kirk and Spock, our Frodo and Sam, our Holmes and Watson.

{when I say “iconic,” what I mean is: everyone knows about them}

And yes, I know. They’re sleeping together. We all know they’re sleeping together. It’s a truth universally acknowledged in Xena fandom that Xena and Gabrielle are a couple.

But despite all the queer subtext, the two women never have a relationship on-screen. As far as the show is concerned, they’re just very close friends. Very, very close friends. So  I think it’s safe to call them friends for the purpose of this list.

Besides, they started as friends.

Xena: Warrior Princess follows the travels of Xena and her companion, Gabrielle, as Xena tries to make up for her dark past as a warlord by saving the helpless. There are a lot of explosions. And swordfighting.

The two women are constant companions. Gabrielle is initially a naive farmgirl who joined Xena to have adventures (and avoid an arranged marriage), while Xena is… a formerly evil warlord. Many of the individual stories involve Xena saving Gabrielle (or Gabrielle saving Xena). And the major emotional arcs in the series center around Xena and Garbrielle’s friendship.

They’ve died for each other. They’ve fought armies for each other. They’ve saved – and killed – each other’s children. They’ve gone to heaven and hell together. They were crucified together. They raised a daughter (Hope) together. The show calls them “soul mates.” They’re reincarnated together.

They’ve got the most epic friendship of all times, is what I’m saying. As far as I’m concerned, Kirk and Spock, Frodo and Sam and Holmes and Watson can all go take a hike. It’s Xena and Gabrielle all the way for me.

Xena: “Gabrielle, the love that we have, it’s stronger than Heaven or Hell. It transcends good or evil. It’s an end in itself! Our souls are destined to be together.”

[Ares, upon discovering that Xena is pregnant]
Ares: “I didn’t know you were looking for a father.”
Xena: “I’m not.”
Ares: “Well then, someone clearly has the job.”
Xena: “Yeah, Gabrielle. “

Xena and Gabrielle Friends

Xena: “So… you’ll be my friend?”
Gabrielle: “Sure! I love a woman with a shiny sword.”
Xena: “HAHA, we’ve beaten the curse!”
Gabrielle: “The curse?”
Xena: “The curse that says no two women in SF/F can speak to each other without dying.”
Gabrielle: “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s a myth.”
Xena: “Uh, Gabrielle, we live in ancient Greece. One of our best friends is a Centaur. The other ones are Amazons and Gods. It’s quite mythic around here.”
Gabrielle: “Okay, so it’s not a myth. It’s an urban legend.”
Xena: “You’re an urban legend.”
Gabrielle: “Oh, ha-ha. You’re lucky I like your sword, or I’d go find a smarter friend.”

Edited To Add:

I’m keeping a running list of all the books/TV shows/whatever with prominent female friendships that I remembered AFTER writing the list. [I'm only adding things to the list that I've seen or read, just because it's the only way I can vouch for their...veracity. Doesn't mean I don't agree with other suggestions!]

1. Cold Magic and Cold Fire by Kate Elliot. How could I forget about this series? (which I love) Cat and Bee 4ever!

2. Sailor Moon. For obvious reasons.

Related Posts:

Why I Don’t Read Comic Books: A Call for Recommendations 

May Reading Roundup: Who Saw the Fantasy?

I Never Wanted to Be A Boy (A Tribute To Authors)

How the Power Rangers turned me into a Feminist


May Reading Roundup: Who saw the Fantasy?

This morning my brother and my stepsister woke up at five (am) to – and I quote – “work on their abs.” Because they’re going to a waterpark today, and they need to look good in their swimsuits.

Hedgehog Headdesk

**Headdesk**

I will refrain from comment. At least they didn’t wake me up. [Thank Maud for small mercies]

***

Anyways! Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Now that WisCon is over – and now that I’ve gotten a couple social-justice related rants out of the way – it’s time to move back to what really matters in life: giant lists of books.

Because why did I start blogging if not to inflict my bizarre reading taste on the public? [Let us ignore the fact that "the public" right now is my brother and a few devoted friends]

In spite of the fact that this month included: the return of the “four times a week” migraines (joy), a transnational move, a Feminist Science Fiction Convention and at least four gazillion doctor’s appointments (if one more person asks me for my family medical history, I’m going to throw myself off a cliff), I did manage to do some decent reading. HURRAH!

Twelve books! Woo! Five better than last month! (yes, yes in fact I am ridiculously competitive, why do you ask?)

Reviews follow the list:

1. A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
2. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
3. Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
4. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente
5. The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
6. Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
7. The Orphans Tales: In the Cities of Coins and Spices by Catherynne Valente
8. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
9. Chicks Dig Time Lords ed. by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea
10. Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston
11. The WisCon Chronicles Volume 6: Futures of Feminism and Fandom ed. by Alexis Lothian
12. Impolitic! by Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin

[Fair warning: the longer the summer goes on, the longer these lists are likely to get. I think my record last year was 22 books in a month]

This is a very WisCon inspired list – seven of the books (The Orphan’s Tales, Shine Coconut Moon, Chicks Dig Time Lords, Redwood and Wildfire, The WisCon Chronicles and Impolitic!) were read in anticipation of the convention.

I’ve talked about Redwood and Wildfire, The WisCon Chronicles and Impolitic! at other points during my WisCon recaps, so I won’t go over those again here. Because yes, I do take pity on my devoted readers. I will say that all three books are fantastic and well worth reading, particularly if you’re interested in WisCon, or the Tiptree Award.

WisCon also inspired a rare event at the House of Disorientation: two re-reads. Yes, in fact, I have already read both The Orphan’s Tales: The Night Garden and The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coins and Spices. But I presented a paper about the series at WisCon, so I needed to re-read them for research [I have over thirty pages of notes. Have mercy upon me]. If you’ve never read Catherynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tales, you really should. They’re some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking books I’ve read in the past few years. Plus, Valente is an incredible prose writer, and her style has never been better.It’s quite difficult to explain what the series is about, so I’m going to cop to the very-basic and somewhat-inaccurate description: it’s a feminist retelling of One Thousand and One Nights.

The Orphan’s Tales are also tailor-made to my interests – they explore gender, bodies, monstrosity, mythology, storytelling, and above all, the concept of belonging. And part of the reason I love them so much is that the books aren’t a critique of fairy tales – they’re a reconstruction of tales along feminist lines. The books show us how stories could be different – they’re rebuilding an entire tradition from the ground up – which I think is arguably harder than just deconstructing a genre.

And the last scene of the last book makes me cry every time. It’s – you know the last two scenes of Lost? When Jack walks into the church and sees all the castaways again, and he remembers? And if you’re me, you completely lose it? Yeah. It’s like that. *sniff*

Okay, let’s move onto a happier note, shall we? [Sorry - the final scene of Lost always gets to me]

Seanan McGuire! Seanan McGuire is always a happier note.

When I discovered Mira Grant’s work, I wanted to read all her books.  ALL her books. Unfortunately, there was only one them out at the time. Whoops. [There are now three books. Yay!] So I was thrilled to discover that Mira Grant was a pseudonym for author Seanan McGuire, who had published LOTS of books.

After reading the first book of McGuire’s popular October Daye urban fantasy series, Rosemary and Rue, however, I was… underwhelmed. It was good, sure. But it didn’t quite work for me.

And then I read the second book, A Local Habitation.

A Local Habitation Cover Seanan McGuire

(great covers, by the way)

HOLY FREAKING MAUD I MUST READ ALL THE BOOKS NOW! NOW! WHERE ARE THEY? WHEREEEE???? I NEED THEM NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! I MUST HAVE THEM OR I WILL -

Hem. I, uh, really liked the second book. As in: forgoing food and sleep in order to finish reading it. As in: reading it on the plane (which is a terrible idea, since I get motion sickness). As in – okay, I need to stop with the fangirl SQUEE. Calm down, C.D. Remember that people read this thing. It’s public. Get a grip.

Okay.

So, er, plot summary. Yes. I can write cogent thoughts.

The October Daye series centers on October “Toby” Daye, the only changeling (half-human, half-faery) to have earned Knighthood. She’s also a faery detective operating out of San Francisco. In A Local Habitation, Toby’s liege lord, Sylvester, sends her to the County of Tames Lightning (Fremont,CA), to check on his niece, the CEO of a computer games company.

And after Toby arrives, the county is suddenly cut off from other Fae domains, and employees begin to die, one by one.

I love these sort of tense, psychological, edge-of-your-seat narratives, and McGuire writes them like none other. Her characters are fantastic – Toby alone is a masterclass of a character, one of the best urban fantasy heroines I’ve ever encountered.  Add to that McGuire’s portrayal of Faery politics, her exploration of the Faery world, and the computer-science-magic that emerges near the end (a dryad uploaded into a computer, for example), and A Local Habitation is sheer, frackin’ brilliance.

Oh, and it’s terrifying.

Love. It.

Also, as your resident Literature student nerd, I should point out that all the titles of the October Daye series are taken from Shakespeare’s Plays.

Rosemary and Rue – Hamlet
An Artificial Habitation – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Literature nerd alert, everyone!

I also read Discount Armageddon, the first book of Seanan McGuire’s new urban fantasy series (Incryptid).

Discount Armageddon cover Seanan McGuire
The protagonist, Verity Price, comes from a long line of cryptozoologists  – people who study and protect creatures whose existence has not yet been proven (also known as monsters). But Verity only wants to do one thing in life: dance. So she moves to New York to pursue a ballroom dancing career.

But don’t let the sequins and the high heels fool you. Anyone who can high kick over their head is someone you don’t want to mess with. Verity straps guns and daggers under her dance costume, and she knows enough about the lifecycle of unicorns to scare off a ghoul.

So when a professional monster-hunter shows up in the city and monsters begin to disappear, Verity is ready.

And the result is awesome. Discount Armageddon is the most entertaining of McGuire’s work so far – it’s sheer, ridiculous fun.

One of McGuire’s best traits as a writer – both as Seanan McGuire, and as Mira Grant – is her humor, which laces throughout all her work. In Armageddon, McGuire’s humor isn’t a sidenote, it’s front and center. I could not stop laughing.

“When in doubt, play dead. Well, unless you might be dealing with a ghoul, or a basilisk, or something else that likes its meat a little ripe. Actually, when in doubt, just start shooting.” (44)

“I really don’t think you should put your hand inside the manticore, dear. You don’t know where it’s been” (1)

“Mother nature is a freaky lady who probably created pot so she could spend all her time smoking it.”

Verdict? Fantastic. Like Buffy the Vampire slayer on steroids – if Buffy were protecting the vampires. Can’t wait for the next book.

One of my most anticipated reads of the month was The Killing Moon, the first book of N.K. Jemisin’s new series (Dreamblood).

N.K. Jemisin The Killing Moon Cover

Orbit does the best covers. Seriously.

I  became an instant fan of NK Jemisin after reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms last year, and I’m convinced that the Inheritance series is one of the most best and most original epic fantasy trilogies to come out in the past ten years. So naturally, when I saw The Killing Moon was available a few days earlier than expected in my local bookstore, I bought it.*

(and by “bought it,” I mean “I started caressing it and murmuring “my precious” over and over, until security asked what was wrong”)

Needless to say, I had very high expectations.

Blown. Out. The. Park.

Seriously, I need to start reading some bad books, or people are going to be convinced that I love everything. I really don’t.

But equally seriously: The Killing Moon is incredible. It’s quite different from the Inheritance trilogy, which is good – I do eventually get bored with authors who are too one-note.

[Spoiler: Ninja Priests. Ninja Priests in the city-state of Gujareeh, on a world with two moons]

In Gujareeh, peace is the highest law. The city worships Hananja, the goddess of dreams. The magic-system is based on dreams, which citizens tithe to the priests of the Hetawa. The priests, in turn, use these dreams to heal, to guide, to soothe and sometimes, to kill.  Gatherers – the aforementioned Ninja Priests – bring death to those who are on the verge of dying – but also to those judged corrupt. You don’t die in your sleep in Gujareeh. You are Gathered.

But when Ehiru, a powerful, faithful Gatherer, is sent to Gather Sunnandi, a diplomat from Kisua, he discovers a corruption that taints everything from in Gujareeh.

The world N.K. Jemisin has created is so different, so rich, so well-thought-out, so vibrant and internally consistent, that it feels genuine. Alive. Real. There’s almost no suspension of disbelief necessary, Jemisin’s work is so thorough. And her world is one that isn’t, unlike 90% of epic fantasy secondary worlds, based on a pseudo-european-medieval setting. And hey, I love european-medieval epic fantasy, but damn if it’s not refreshing to see something else for a change. And damn if it’s not refreshing to see something so fantastically well-constructed. We’re so used to medieval settings, we stop noticing how flimsy a lot of the world-building is. Jemisin’s is so superior that it highlights the fault lines in other works. With this book, I have little hesitation in saying that Jemisin is the most original world-builder we have working currently. She’s also one of the most original writers of magic we have working currently – an entire system built on dreams and dream theory? Really? Whoa.

The characters and their trials are equally well-depicted. Although I don’t have space to discuss these in great detail, I would like to briefly highlight what for me was the heart of the book: the relationship between Ehiru and his gatherer-apprentice Nijiri. Although the two are deeply loyal to one another, there are dark elements to the relationship. Ehiru starts to lose control of his magic about halfway through the book, and asks Nijiri to Gather him – to kill him – before Ehiru himself becomes corrupt. Meanwhile, Nijiri is in love with Ehiru. Ehiru is aware of this, and relies on Nijiri’s love, despite not being able to reciprocate it (Gatherers are celibate). That Ehiru uses Nijiri’s love for him to (try) to convince Nijiri to kill him is a fascinating, and repelling, dynamic. This is one of the book’s great strengths – the characters (and the city’s) ambiguous, complex morality.

I’ll leave the final word to my brother, who read the book right after I did.

“God, I love N.K. Jemisin so much!”

(Indeed).

This seems to be my month for fantasy – now that I’m looking over the list, it’s evident that I read almost no science fiction. The Cloud Roads is sort of science fiction, if you squint and look at it sideways. But everything else is fantasy (or just literary). With the possible exception of Chicks Dig Time Lords, which is about science fiction (although it’s nonfictional).

Chicks Dig Time Lords Cover

Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It is a collection of interviews, essays and cartoons written by female fans of Doctor Who. The contributors examine their relationship with fandom, and their love of the series.

Now, I’ve never watched Doctor Who (I know, I know. It’s on the to-do list). And I still found this book immensely entertaining and insightful. As a fan, I love watching other fans indulge in SQUEE. As a female fan, I’m always interested in seeing how women engage with fandoms that are typically viewed as “male.” And as a science fiction fan, I always like looking at analysis of science fiction shows! So I was quite pleased. SQUEE, science fiction and gender analysis all wrapped up in one shiny package: it’s like my birthday came early.

The book is extremely well-edited – it varies in both tone and content, so it never feels repetitive or one-note. There are essays that are pure fannish SQUEE. There are essays that address the specific trials and tribulations of female fans. There are essays dissecting particularly Doctor Who companions. There are near-academic essays. There are fun stories. There are sad stories. There are interviews with Who Actresses and writers. There’s a discussion of costuming at Doctor Who conventions. There’s even a comic (from the creators of Torchwood Babiez)

Chicks Dig Time Lords won a Hugo Award last year – and now that I’ve read it, all I can say is: Well deserved.

Before I close, a quick shoutout to the books I’m not reviewing in depth, but that I still loved: Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Demon’s Lexicon (great, snarky, dark YA; fantastic narrator; cannot wait to read the next book) and Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads (old-fashioned fantasy in the best possible way; wonderful prose; interesting social dynamics)

And that’s it for May! I’m already well into June reading, and I’ve tentatively titled this “The Month of All The Incest” – because seriously, three books, all with incest. What’s going on?
But the books are good, so there’s that!

Finally, my self-policing statistics (for gender and race):

12 books

14 authors (or editors)

14 women (I swear, this was not intentional).

10 white editors/authors
4 People of Color editors/Authors
(better than last month)

Related Posts:

I Never Wanted to be a Boy: A tribute to Authors

Please Don’t Tame the Shrew: WisCon 36 Wrap-Up

April Reads are Trapped in Heiddeger’s Hermeunetic Circle

March Monthly Reading Roundup is Winning the Alliteration Award

 


April Reads are Trapped in Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle

First, I would like to thank my mother’s computer for allowing me to put up a blog post. As some of you know, me and my computer have been forcibly separated by circumstances beyond my control (*cough* Olive oil *cough*) and until some kind of brilliant solution is worked out, I need to mooch off of other peoples’ computers to get blog-related work done. So thanks, Mom! (and Mom’s computer. I’m sorry I made fun of you for not having an alarm clock.) It’s also a minor miracle that my mother and I are in the same city, so thank you, giver of miracles.

[My mother would like to take this opportunity to note that:
1. She doesn't like my blog theme (hey, you should see the other ones. But shall work on it.)
2. She thinks it's too hard to comment on my blog (fair point. Shall work on it)
3. She thinks I should talk more about why the title of the movie Shame is an example of America's moralizing puritanism (yeah...that's probably not going to happen)
4. If I don't talk about why the title of Shame is an example of America's moralizing puritanism, she threatens to take over my blog for a day and do it herself (oy! Get your own blog!)]

Secondly, I would like to register my outrage at the fact that Skylar Laine was eliminated from American Idol this week.
Skylar should not have gone home in fifth place. Let’s just say that when I found out, I used language that I would not repeat on the internet.

Skylar was not necessarily my favorite contestant – I kept switching between her and Jessica Sanchez for the female contestants (and Joshua Ledet for the male contestants) – but she was a bloody incredible singer and performer; she was charismatic and always fun to watch; and unlike certain other contestants, she was consistently improving, consistently pushing herself, consistently staying on pitch and on key, consistently challenging the boundaries of her vocal abilities.

SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE GONE HOME FIFTH PLACE, is what I’m saying.
Heck, she made me, a non-country fan, like country music. Which is Saying Something – one of my best friends has been trying to get me on board the country bandwagon for years.

Skylar Laine American Idol The Show Must Go On

Skylar Laine: She was Born this Way (ie: Awesome)

Her ouster is particularly frustrating because the one contestant who messed up both of his performances (I’m sorry, Phillip Phillips fans, but he was off-pitch for most of the night, and the melody got beaten into a bloody pulp in his first performance) was STILL nowhere near the bottom 3. At this point, I think Phillip Phillips could kill a kitten onstage, and he’d still sail through to next week.

And no, I still won’t blame teen girls. I don’t need to. Last week, after a particularly bad Phillip Phillips performance, Jennifer Lopez said: “I need you to do songs that are going to get you to that last show so you can win.”
Did she say the same thing to Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez or Skylar Laine in one of their less-spectacular performances?
No.
Even in Phillip Phillips’ bad performances, he’s still tagged as the winner.
Bias? What bias? I don’t see bias!
(And Lopez, let’s be clear, is the judge who has explicitly said she wants a girl to win idol this year)

Bah. I shall bring this rant to a close, because, in the immortal words of Skylar Laine, the show must go on:

On with the (book-related) show!

Moulin Rouge Jim Broadbent show must go on

April Readings: Brought to you by Moulin Rouge

This is, of course, my monthly act of reading-related naval-gazing, whereupon I list and discuss all the books I read in the past month. Let’s look at my reading list for April, shall we?

1. The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
2. After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
3. Libra by Don Delillo
4. The Vor Games by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. The Jew of New York by Ben Katchor
6. Cold Fire by Kate Elliot
7. Chime by Franny Billingsley
8. The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

For those of you who have been following my monthly reading roundups since the start (ie: my brother)… have you noticed the drop? Eight books! Eight! That’s well below my monthly average of thirteen (for last year), and it’s a four book drop from March.
I would be worried, but, let’s face it: it was finals.
It’s surprisingly hard to read when you’re trying to memorize a hundred and fifty pages of lecture notes, or desperately trying to find your way out of Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle. (What is the hermeneutic circle, you ask? Don’t ask. You don’t want to know).

On the other hand, I enjoyed every single book I read, which is… rare. Very rare. It’s why I didn’t star and italicize the books I would recommend – because I would honestly recommend any of the books I read this month. Very bizarre. Very VERY bizarre, even. Maybe I’m becoming less picky in my old age? (hey, my brother thinks I’m old. And I can buy alcohol in the United States. That’s pretty old).

I even enjoyed Don DeLillo, who I was convinced I would dislike based on the reviews I’ve read of his work. I also tend to dislike contemporary American “literary” writers (*cough* Jonathan Franzen *cough*), but… I liked DeLillo. Maybe it was just the pre-finals adrenaline rush. Maybe it was just the fact that Libra is a spy novel, and I like spy novels. I’ll have to read something else of DeLillo’s, and make my mind up then.

The Jew of New York Ben Katchor Cover

The Jew of New York was the most painful read of the month, but it wasn’t the book’s fault (necessarily). For some reason, every time I tried to read it, I would fall asleep, which would, in turn, make me freak out that I wasn’t going to finish the book before my Graphic Novels final. Not a good reading experience. In the book’s defense, I think my falling asleep was due more to my finals-related exhaustion than to the contents of the novel – it’s not a boring read. Once I’d had a couple hundred cups of coffee, I really enjoyed it.

Of course, in a moment of supreme irony, I spent the days before my graphic novels final desperately finishing The Jew of New York… and it ended up being the only book of the entire course that I couldn’t find a place to talk about in the exam. We read 13 comics. I managed to talk about every  single one except this one. GAAAH. ( I added it to my definition of graphiation, just so I could say I’d covered every book. Yes, I’m slightly obsessive, why do you ask?)

The Vor Games Lois McMaster Bujold Cover

April would have been a good reading month if only because I continued my foray into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Yes, I do now understand why everyone in Sci-Fi is obsessed. I read Shards of Honor and Barrayar during winter break, and was immediately hooked onto the series (as evidenced by the fact that I put both books in my list of great SF books for women). Sadly, Young Miles, the omnibus that  contains The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game, was unavailable at my local bookstore, and checked out of the city library… so it took me a while to get my hands on it.
I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t like Miles as much as I loved his mother, Cordelia Naismith (the hero of the first books in the Vorkosigan Saga). But although my love for Cordelia is eternal, I have managed to find a place in my heart for Miles, who is just… divine.

Miles Naismith Vorkosigan lives on Barrayar, a planet where physical strength and military ability are valued above all else. Worse yet, his father, Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, is an intergalactically reknown military hero (his mother, Cordelia, is also a military hero, but Barrayar is a highly patriarchal society, and thus prefers not to talk about a woman’s military achievements).
Unfortunately, Miles is a dwarf. A biological attack on his parents while Cordelia was pregnant with him permanently damaged Miles’ spine and bones, leaving him short and disabled. His bones break easily; he needs leg braces and canes to walk correctly. On Barrayar, someone like Miles would usually be aborted; only the courage of his parents saved his life. As someone with extreme physical disabilities, Miles has no real place in Barrayar’s militaristic society. Indeed, the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice sees him failing out of officer training when he breaks his legs on an obstacle course.

So Miles needs to find… alternatives.

Alternatives which include (among others): commandeering an ship, running guns to a besieged planet, impersonating an admiral and, somewhat accidentally, gaining the control of an entire mercenary fleet. For kicks, Miles wins a war and then goes to save the emperor of Barrayar from an evil plot.

He’s pretty resourceful, is what I’m saying.
All of Miles’s achievements should feel ridiculous, but Bujold crafts the character so well that I bought them, hook, line and sinker. I never felt like Miles was a Gary Stu. He’s real. And the stakes are sufficiently high, and the plot is sufficiently dark that the books are more than just a caper. When I started to worry that Bujold was making things too damn easy for Miles, she hit me with a great plot twist, and I was satisfied: there are consequences to Miles’ actions.

Yet even with the darkness, Miles is just so damn fun to read. I found myself laughing at the sheer audacity of his schemes, or cheering at his ridiculous and hard-earned successes. You can’t help but enjoy him. Case in point:

“Am I reading too much into all that innuendo, or did you in fact just connive to assassinate Gregor in one breath, offer to cuckold him in the next, accuse your father of homosexuality, suggest a patricidal plot against him, and league yourself with Cavilo—what are you going to do for an encore?” (Bujold, The Vor Games)

I, for one, can’t wait to see what Miles does for an encore. Damn, I love these books.

After the Apocalypse Maureen McHugh Cover Small Beer Press

I’ve been trying to read more short stories – they are not my genre of choice, sadly, but I’m learning to appreciate them. Since I was a big fan of Maureen McHugh’s novel China Mountain Zhang, I thought I would pick up her short story collection, After the Apocalypse.
That turned out to be a good decision – as it turns out McHugh is one of a very few writers whose short stories I enjoy every time (Octavia Butler is another of this rare breed).

All the stories in this collection are linked by the title theme – they tell stories of people surviving after some kind of major, apocalyptic change. And, just as she does in China Mountain Zhang, McHugh focuses in on the stories of individuals, and the way they live (or don’t) in the midst of these changes.

Although I admired all of the stories in the book, I was particularly impressed by four: “The Naturalist,” “Special Economics,” “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” and “After the Apocalypse.” I’m actually glad I was spoiled for the ending of “After the Apocalypse,” because I think it would have been too much of a blow if I hadn’t known it was coming – it’s a tale of mother-daughter survival that… does not go the way reader’s expect (I shall refrain from spoilers). “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” is a bit of a companion piece to “After the Apocalypse” – it too, focuses on mother-daughter relations, although in this case, the “apocalypse” is a degenerative disease.

“The Naturalist” has a fascinating premise: Zombies have been confined into a sort of natural reserve; the government drops criminals into the reserve as punishment. One of the criminals (our protagonist) becomes fascinating by the zombies, and starts using his fellow criminals as bait so he can observe the zombies’ behavior when they feed (I mean, people have to find a way to occupy themselves…).
I suppose one of McHugh’s central questions is whether or not “natural” relationships and instincts are that “natural” when people are in extreme circumstances. Do mothers and daughters remain close in the face of the apocalypse? Do we keep our link with our humanity, even when we’ve been abandoned to die?  McHugh’s exploration of this theme is brutal (if fascinating) which is why I appreciated ‘Special Economics,” a somewhat more light-hearted take on two women navigating an exploitative Chinese company.

Kate Elliot Cold Fire cover

I also thoroughly enjoyed Cold Fire by Kate Elliot, but have no idea how to review it without giving spoilers for the first book in the series, Cold Magic. I’ll just say that you should check both books out: they’re pretty fantastic.
The series as a whole is:“An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.”
And if that’s not enough to send you running to the bookstore, the series also includes irritatingly handsome men who would be more attractive if they weren’t trying to kill you, cat-human shapeshifters, dragons, trolls (the intelligent descendents of troodoons), witty (and less witty) banter, and an awesome protagonist who has her priorities straight (when married off without warning, first: locate food. When sent to the spirit word, first: locate food. When exiled to an island full of zombies, first: locate food. Priorities: Cat has ‘em).

Oh yes. There are now zombies.
Seriously, why didn’t I know about Kate Elliot earlier?

(Dear Universe: When there are awesome authors I should read, please let me know about them early, okay? An intergalactic newsletter will do just fine! Thanks!)

Chine by Franny Billingsley Cover

Worst. Cover. Ever.

Okay, I lied before: the worst part of my reading this month was the cover of Chime. Seriously. Worst and least accurate cover ever. Yes, it’s pretty…I suppose. But why does Briony look like a half-buried barbie? For that matter, why is she so darn pretty? The cover makes it seem like poor Briony is off to a very, very bizarre school dance (she’s not).

If you can’t already tell, I REALLY dislike this cover. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood decapitating my barbies and burying them in the backyard (totally normal behavior!). Or maybe it’s because the book is about a girl who is convinced she’s a horrible witch who deserves to be hung, and not about a girl going to her prom (not that there’s anything wrong going to your prom).Chime is dark and edgy and tortured and the cover… is a very pretty version of that.
On the other hand I really liked the book, which is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read this year.. It’s very rare to read a young adult character quite as self-loathing as Briony, who is convinced she’s a witch, and responsible for the death of her stepmother, and the mental illness of her twin sister. Briony’s voice and her journey is fascinating. I was disappointed by the ending, which was a bit too pat for my taste – I was hoping that such a nuanced character would merit an equally nuanced ending. Or perhaps I wanted this nuance to translate to the rest of the “monsters” in the story. If Briony is redeemable, shouldn’t witches be redeemable as well? Are all (other) witches evil? Are all dark creatures evil? Did anyone else feel unsatisfied by the ending, or is that just me?

I also feel like there’s a trend in YA these days to write about protagonists who would usually be the villains – I’m thinking of Briony, of course, and also of  Cassel Sharpe in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series. But maybe that’s always been a trend, and I’ve just missed it? The villain-as-hero seems particularly pertinent to the YA genre, in any case (since the genre is oriented towards teenagers).

The Stepsister Scheme Jim C. Hines Cover

I’ve been following Jim C. Hines’s blog for a while, and he did me a big favor a couple of days ago (he doesn’t know he did me a favor, and I don’t know him personally. He just wrote something very helpful on his blog). So I figured since I was getting so many benefits from his blog, I should probably buy one of his books (rather than just mooch off his free stuff).

The Stepsister Scheme is the very, very long epilogue to the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinderella (Danielle) and her prince (Armand) are happily married. Unfortunately,  Danielle’s evil stepsisters haven’t given up on marrying Armand themselves, and kidnap him (they’re persistent, you have to give them that). Danielle goes off to save Armand; she’s joined by two of the Queen’s employees, Snow and Talia.

It took me a while to get into the plot of The Stepsister Scheme – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. Since the story begins in medias res, it was harder to attach to the characters – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. I know, I just said I wanted more info-dump. I’m sure the universe will punish me for this horrific statement somehow…

Once I was hooked, however, the book was very good. What’s fascinating about the story is that it’s not just the epilogue of one fairy tale – Snow turns out to be “Snow White,” and Talia turns out to be “Sleeping Beauty”  The interactions between the three princesses – Danielle, Talia and Snow – are also quite interesting. They’re all deeply traumatized by their “fairy tale” experiences, and who can blame them?

I’m intrigued to see what else Hines does with the series – the characters are great, and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in the rest of the series. Plus, I’m hoping for the appearance of Little Red Riding Hood. Apparently, she’s an assassin now.

Random Other Stuff

Apparently, when I’m super -stressed out for finals, I find awesome things on youtube. Yes, those two things seem… incompatible. I am a woman of many skills.

BEHOLD!
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: a video-blog (re)telling of Pride and Prejudice. I loves it very much. It is my precious. And it is helping me get over the end of my Austen course.

And BEHOLD!
America’s Next Top Doll
It is a truth universally acknowledged that I, to my great shame, have watched every single episode of America’s Next Top Model. More than once. Yes, I pretended it was some kind of deep sociological problem, but really? I was hooked. Hooked on the weaves and the photoshoots and the drama. And hooked on the weirdness of Tyra Banks.

(For the record, my favorite cycles are 3, 6, 7 and 13).

I have since gotten over my obsession, but the scars of those months run deep. Very deep. And this youtube parody has helped me heal. With the gift of laughter.
(Oh, Michael Slezak, where would I be without you?)
Sadly, the season is not complete (and probably never will be…) , but my money is on Zombie-girl to win it all.

And that’s all for now! Hopefully my computer will be fixed soon, and I can return to some kind of normal blogging schedule… but until then, I remain, as ever, trapped in Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle.

(p.s: in my next post, there may be a cat. No promises, but I figured I’d give advanced warning just in case for those allergic to cat hair. And cuteness)

Related Posts:

March Monthly Reading Roundup Wins the Alliteration Awards

February Reading Roundup

Why Can’t Girls Win American Idol? (Hint: It’s not Teen Girls)

Eight Great Books of Science Fiction for Women


Can Michael Fassbender Be On My Marathon Team? A Review of Shame

FINALS ARE OVER!

Oh Frack. There’s nothing I can do to change my grades.

Oh God. I think I’m going to throw up.

Veronica Mars Crying

I am not as awesome as Veronica Mars. But I agree with the sentiment.

Okay. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. It’s okay. Even if this semester goes down the tubes and my life plans are irrevocably destroyed, I can be a great bum

Yes. That is my plan B, and I shall stick to it.

Sadly, my time of stress is not yet completely over, since I have to come up with a brilliant honors essay proposal and an equally brilliant honors application in the next five days. So the blog posting will continue to be sporadic as I desperately try to learn everything about Feminist Science Fiction in the ’70s and ’80s, and then try to condense that knowledge into a 250 word proposal.

Also – again, if you’ve sent me an email in the past few weeks, I can almost PROMISE I haven’t gotten it (unless you know my real name and thus my main email address). But I will go back to that mailbox soon, and answer emails. (assuming I haven’t become a bum in the meantime).

And without further ado, I give you my review of Shame… and the only blog post of mine my mother has promised to read. Exciting! It’s also the last of my pre-written blog posts (yes, I stored some up for the finals madness), so…I’m actually going to have to write two/three posts a week now, instead of just editing them and putting them up.

****

I’ve been on a bit of a Michael Fassbender kick lately. I saw him for the first time this summer in X-Men: First Class, where he played Magneto. Because of his kick-ass acting of an equally kick-ass character (Nazi-hunter! Tortured soul! Wearer of Awesome Turtlenecks!) I immediately developed a (small) obsession.

Now, this obsession might not have made that much of a difference to my movie-watching routine, since I almost never go see movies during the academic semester. But after I went to see A Dangerous Method with my friends, one of them copied my example and fell into a mad obsession with Fassbender.

Michael Fassbender X-Men first class

It's the acting, I'm telling you.

I’m sorry, I got distracted. What?

Oh, yes. My friend, me, and Fassbender.

Given our mutual obsessions, we’re probably going to work our way through Fassbender’s entire back catalogue – which is fine by me. I’m looking forwards to re-watching X-Men – that should yield a good week’s worth of blog posts – and possibly seeing Hunger for the first time (hunger strikes being a fabulous way of boosting one’s post-essay depression). And we’re deeply disappointed that we won’t be in the same city when Prometheus comes out.

Prometheus the movie Ridley Scott

Already Obsessed

But, of course, Shame is still playing in Montreal. So as a reward for surviving our papers, my friend J. and I headed to the theater, planning to giggle wildly (I make no pretense to maturity).

I’m pretty sure everyone in the western hemisphere has heard the basic plot of Shame, but I will repeat it once more. Brandon (Fassbender) is a thirty-something New Yorker suffering from sex addiction. His life is thrown off-kilter when his sister Sissy (Carrie Mulligan) moves in with him. Not surprisingly, Sissy’s presence  prevents Brandon from relieving his addiction the usual ways – prostitutes, hook-ups, masturbation, sex-video-chat (is that what those things are called?) etc – and also brings up buried emotions.

Now, the reason everyone has heard of Shame is simple: it involves full frontal male nudity (hence why I was preparing for some highly mature giggling). There’s an interesting discussion to be had about why full frontal male nudity causes everyone to drop their tea tray, slap an NC-17 onto a movie and talk about an actor’s “bravery,” while the plethora of naked women in Hollywood barely merit a movie an R mention. I’m not going to have that conversation now, due to space constraints. But still. Interesting discussion. As one of my favorite professors would says “think about that.”

(I will note that none of the women who went full-frontal in Shame got a “bravery” stamp of approval)

There was no false advertising about Shame. The movie indeed contains a lot of nudity. A LOT of nudity.  The first time we see Brandon, he’s walking around his apartment, naked. In flashbacks, we see him with a woman – a prostitute – undressing. Later on, we see Sissy when she’s in the shower – Brandon thinks she’s a thief, and breaks down the door of the bathroom. Most of Brandon’s conquests (paid or unpaid) are shown with their clothes of, as is Brandon himself.

What’s striking about nudity in Shame is that it’s not artificial. In most movies, sex scenes involve lots of clever angles and artful cuts so that the audience can see tantalizing bits, but the film can retain a PG-13 rating. The actors are usually airbrushed to the point where you couldn’t find their real skin cells without a forensics team.

But not here. Like I said, two of the major moments of nudity take place outside of a sex scene – Brandon walking around his apartment, and Sissy yelling at Brandon for scaring her. All the actors look like real human beings – there is no special lighting or posing. The nudity, in other words, doesn’t seem like a performance. Unlike the self-conscious nude actors of Hollywood, these characters don’t seem aware of being watched.

It’s fascinating because, for all the sexualization of popular culture, this sort of unstaged nudity and un-artificial sex is still shocking. We’re cultural prudes: it’s okay to show sex, but only if the people are perfect. Only if they’re performing according to a pre-approved script. Which is why even the naked women in Shame are shocking – we’re so used to the artificialized Hollywood nudity that these “natural” naked women look completely alien.

The result is that the viewers feel like voyeurs. It’s quite discomfiting. The director, Steve McQueen, plays up the audience discomfort. In the one vaguely “romantic” sex  scene, the camera is perched at an odd angle vis Brandon and Marianne’s bodies, putting the audience in a bizarre viewing position. For three to four minutes of foreplay, the camera never moves. The camera never cuts. We become slowly aware that the actors, Fassbender and Nicole Behari, actually performed the entirety of the scene in one take. It wasn’t “okay, kiss, now cut,” then “now you lie down, now cut!” They actually made out for a good four minutes. Once again, I was struck by the difference between this scene, and our typical Hollywood fare, where sex scenes are designed to seduce and tantalize the audience. The lack of artificiality makes us feel uncomfortably like intruders. Like voyeurs. We cannot enjoy it.

Beyond the nudity, Shame is more a character study than an action-driven movie. It does have a core plot, but it doesn’t have a great deal of forward motion. Brandon moves through his life. We see him jogging, working, going out with colleagues, taking the metro, picking up women, reading porn.  His sister shows up to disturb his preciously-guarded peace, and he spirals out of control, but even this loss of control is low-key. Shame is a quiet movie in more ways than one. It’s telling that two of the movie’s climactic scenes – Brandon’s attempt to seduce a work-colleague, and his discovery of his sister at the end – are lacking in any kind of soundtrack; one of those scenes doesn’t have sound at all.

Character-driven movies like this one are successful based on two things: how interesting the character(s) are, and how good the acting is. Fortunately, Brandon is a complex, convoluted, knotty sort of character; he’s fascinating to watch. The movie works in large part because of the contrast between the subject matter – sex – and the person. Brandon is no happy-go-lucky party animal hosting orgy after orgy in his house. He is quiet, sad, pained. He seems to take no pleasure from sex. He just does it. There’s a fantastic scene right at the start when he makes eye contact with a woman in the subway. There’s a mutual attraction there, but while she smiles coyly, he is grave and sorrowful.

Similarly, in Brandon’s many late night jogs, he passes through space at a painful, glorious speed (seriously – Michael Fassbender’s got a career as a marathoner if this movie star thing doesn’t work out) – but he never engages with the city around him. Life, the city, sex – they’re just things to be gotten through. A duty he cannot avoid. Brandon is a man trapped in his own body, imprisoned by desires he neither wants nor receives any pleasure for.

Brandon Jogging Shame

Why is Brandon this way? He’s an interesting man, quietly likeable, a valued worker at his company – no one would suspect him of being a sex addict. In fact, even when his boss finds out Brandon’s hard drive is filled with porn, he doesn’t think Brandon had anything to do with it. What pushed Brandon into this life? Why can’t he survive without it? The movie (wisely) refuses to tell us. We are never given an explanation for why Brandon is the way he is. We get little insight into Brandon’s bizarre relationship with his sister. Nor does the movie offer any kind of commentary on Brandon’s actions, moral or otherwise. This lack of a moral imperative makes Shame one of the most even-handed portrayals of addiction I’ve ever seen. There is no judgment. There is no moralizing. Brandon’s addiction to sex is neither bad nor good. His decisions are neither praised nor punished. They simply are.

I should talk about Michael Fassbender’s acting. I should, but I’m afraid if I do, I’ll start ranting about the Academy’s complete lack of taste. How in the name of the Patron Saint of Justice and Truth did Fassbender NOT get an Oscar nomination for Shame? For that matter, why didn’t Fassbender WIN an Oscar for Shame?

Yes, he’s that good.

I’m not interested in calling Fassbender “brave” for the nude scenes, or for picking such a controversial character. I don’t think bravery should be rewarded in and of itself. Casey Abrams’ attempt to cover “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on American Idol was brave, but it didn’t make his performance any better (*shudder*). Fassbender need not rely on bravery to get him accolades – nude scenes or no nude scenes, he gave one of the, if not the, best performances of the year. He was in-fracking-credible.
Because Shame has so little explanation of Brandon’s addiction, the weight of the movie rests on Fassbender’s shoulders. He must make us care about a character that we do not, and by necessity cannot, understand. It takes a truly fantastic actor to make you feel for them when you are completely estranged from what they’re feeling. To make you care about a character that’s so alien to your experience.
There’s a scene where Brandon listens to his sister sing at a restaurant in New York. The camera closes in on his face, which is set in his typical impassive mask. The camera lingers. Slowly, his face shifts. His breath shifts minutely. A tear runs down his face. We do not know why Brandon reacts this way to the song. We should not care. But Fassbender makes us feel it nonetheless. He makes us care about Brandon. He makes us want him to conquer his addiction.

On another note, I thought Fassbender should get an oscar just for the way he fits in clothes – is there anything that looks bad on this guy? Seriously.

Michael Fassbender Shame Scarf

My friend J. would like it known that she does not approve of Brandon's scarf.

Sadly, the academy, as usual, does not listen to me. I don’t understand why – I shout loud enough for them to hear me!

One of the things I most enjoyed about Shame was its deconstruction of romantic comedy tropes. We are given several classic “meet-cute” scenarios. Brandon flirts with the girl in the subway. He goes out to a bar with his colleagues, and ends up attracting the woman his boss is trying to pick up. He tries to break his cycle of self-destruction by going out with a vivacious work-colleague. But the movie refuses to fall into the narrative of romance. This is no redemption tale – Brandon cannot be saved by a beautiful woman. Instead, all the encounters are tinged with desperation. Everything that could be romantic is exposed as nothing more than a routine exchange, a coming-together of disconnected people trying to feel something. Somehow, I think Shame’s portrayal of the dating (or hookup) scene is more accurate than usual romantic comedy fare.

Interestingly, most of the women Brandon tries to pick up with are “taken” in some way – they’re in other relationships, they’re prostitutes – and are thus not possible relationship partners. When the relationship could be something more – when it could actually be a moment of connection, or intimacy – Brandon backs away, terrified.

Speaking of “savior” women, I was pleased as punch to see that the one woman Brandon does try to date was African-American. I realize that this is not a big deal. Correction – it SHOULD not be a big deal. But it is. We get so few interracial relationships in mainstream movies that I had a big “Oh god” moment when I saw Brandon’s dinner partner, Marianne, played by the lovely Nicole Beharie. Here we have an African American woman portrayed as an attractive, intelligent, desirable life-partner –  she’s probably the sanest character in the entire movie. Nor is Behari’s race a plot device so that the movie can talk about the Very Important Subject of Interracial Dating. It’s such an exceptional state of affairs that I just have to give Steve McQueen a round of applause. Bravo, sir. And to the rest of Hollywood: take note. Learn. Follow McQueen’s lead. Make it so that well-rounded characters of color are so common in American movies that I never, ever have to comment on them again.

Beharie also does a great job – she’s only in the movie for fifteen minutes or so, and she was playing a relatively understated character, but she did such interesting things that I still remember her two months later. Honestly, I remember her character more than I remember Carey Mulligan’s character (who has much more screen time). I’m keeping an eye on her work – I hope we see a lot more from her.

Nicole Beharie Michael Fassbender Shame

I’m not the only one who has noticed Marianne as an exceptional character. Steve McQueen, the director of Shame, was very aware of Marianne’s status as a black woman in a Hollywood movie (McQueen himself is black, although he’s not African American). In an interview with Elvis Mitchell, McQueen says that when he wanted to cast Beharie as Marianne: “What was interesting was there was all kinds of  objections about this, of saying, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen there. That wouldn’t exist.” I said, “What, I don’t exist?” It was a very odd thing, having these conversations about having a love interest that was a Black woman with Brandon (…) But then, what also fascinates me is you have a lot of white American filmmakers who never cast a Black person in their movies and they made quite a few movies. How can you avoid that? That’s kind of weird. It’s like walking around with blindfolds on. How can you make movies in this country–and consistently make movies–and not cast Black characters in the main leads?”

I defer the rest of the discussion of race in Shame to Racialicious, which has a very interesting review of the film, and of Brandon’s relationship to Marianne – I fully purloined their link to McQueen’s interview with Mitchell: http://www.racialicious.com/2011/12/14/shame-the-interracial-relationship-the-casting-the-homophobia/

But while we’re on the subject of things the movie gets right with regard to representation, I should also mention what the movie gets wrong: homosexuality. I was actually pleasantly surprised that Brandon had a homosexual encounter in the film, and I will admit, I didn’t see it as problematic until I started reading the blogs. At the time, I thought it would have been worse NOT to have a homosexual encounter at all, in that it makes no sense for someone with a sex addiction to view male partners as any better or worse than female partners (since it has nothing to do with attraction or romance). If the movie hadn’t had the gay club scene, I would be complaining that “sure, it’s fine to have a sex addict paying for prostitutes, but we can’t possibly have a gay scene, because that’s just PERVERTED.” It would reinforce the idea that homosexuality is a particularly depraved sort of sexuality. Even sex addicts don’t have sex with people of the same gender. Putting the gay scene in, I thought, made gayness as normal an option in the sexual landscape as anything else the movie portrayed.

BUT, as many have pointed out, the gay scene does come when Brandon is at his absolute worse – which makes it possible to read homosexuality as the most perverted of sexual pleasures (right above threesomes). In the absence of another gay encounter when Brandon is not at “rock bottom,” the movie makes homosexuality “the film’s shorthand for “sexual depravity”” (to quote Andrea (AJ) Plaid, who wrote the racialicious article above). So I’m glad the gay scene is there, I think it could have been handled much, much better. If Brandon ahd had a gay encounter BEFORE he’d hit “rock bottom,” for example, this wouldn’t be problematic.

Despite the problematic portrayal of homosexuality, however, Shame is a fantastic movie. It’s sometimes painful to watch, but it’s well worth a trip to your theater. And not just because of how good Fassbender looks in clothes (and out).

I’m kind of hoping I see a bad movie soon, because these laudatory reviews are getting a bit boring. Maybe I should go watch The Help again, I’m sure that would yield a rant that lasts longer than one of Brandon’s jogging marathons.

Related Posts:

Is that a Log in your Dream, or Are You Just Happy To See Me: A Review of a Dangerous Method

Why Women Don’t Win American Idol: (Hint: It’s not Because of Teen Girls)

My Brother and I Fix the American Education System.


March Monthly Reading Roundup Wins the Alliteration Award

First, I would like to apologize to everyone who reads this blog (aka: the CIA and my younger brother) because this post… is very late. For three weeks – three weeks! – I managed to stick to a carefully constructed schedule and put up a post every two or three days. But not this week. And I feel very guilty. In my defense, I had four papers due, so the prospect of writing a blog post – ANY blog post – made me want to curl up in a ball and cry.

But I shall stop being a narcissist now, and get to my March reading list!

(Apparently not being a narcissist involves talking about all the books I read. Obviously, what I really need to read is the dictionary. Hem.)

(Also: I will be a narcissist again at the end of my post. Apologies in Advance (And that’s Alliteration #1).

Yes, in fact, to my great surprise, in March, I read things! I don’t know how I did it, since I was dying of schoolwork, but… books were consumed! By me! Many of them for class!

Discussion of said books follows the giant list.
(note: any book that is starred and in italics is a book I liked enough to recommend).

1. Was by Geoff Ryman **
2. My New York Diary by Julie Doucet
3. Emma by Jane Austen **
4. God’s War by Kameron Hurley **
5. Deathless by Catherynne Valente **
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins **
7. Jazz by Toni Morrison
8. Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord **
9. Palestine by Joe Sacco **
10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
11. Persuasion by Jane Austen**
12. Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts **

As you can probably tell from the excessive italics/stars, March was a fantastic month for books. Which was good, because March was a terrible month for my life, so I needed good literature to keep my faith in humanity alive. Hell, even the books I didn’t like were interesting (I ended up writing an essay about My New York Diaries, which I didn’t enjoy at all, but which I admired quite a bit).

I obviously loved Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord,  but I’m not going to talk about it again (because I wrote a giant review).

Unfortunately, The Marriage Plot was the low point of the month. I kept waiting for it to get better, because I Trusted Jeffrey Eugenides To Do Right By Me (he wrote Middlesex, a book I loved), but instead, it kept getting worse. Five days, I spent reading that book. Five Days. And the ending! Let’s not even talk about the ending. Well, actually, let’s (Spoiler Alert). Is it just me, or is it deeply problematic in terms of the gender politics? The woman has no agency in her romantic decisions. Her husband leaves her because that’s the Best Thing For Her. Her best friend decides not to marry her because that’s the Best Thing For Her. He does start a relationship with her, because that’s ALSO the Best Thing For Her. Her parents support the Best Friend because they think he’s the Best Thing for Their Daughter.

(Everyone is so considerate of this poor woman. It fills my heart with joy)

We don’t once hear what the poor woman wants for herself (note that she’s been a viewpoint character, so it’s not like she doesn’t have an opinion in the rest of the narrative). Does she want to n0t-marry her best friend who is now in a relationship with her? I don’t know! And no one seems to care!

What? The Ever-Loving? Frack?

Colonel tigh frack

Even Colonel Tigh is confused.

I want to give Jeffrey Eugenides the benefit of the doubt, because I can’t believe the guy who wrote Middlesex was so tone-deaf. I want to believe that he was trying to put forwards these stereotypes in order to question them. I really want to believe that.

But instead, he managed to fail so spectacularly that the novel only ends up reinforcing misogynistic gender sterotypes. Or else he subverted them so subtly that even I didn’t notice, and since I’m pretty damn attuned to gender politics, he must have been VERY subtle.

Bah.

Let’s move away from the Ugly, shall we? Because there was a hell of a lot of good. I greatly enjoyed Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay – okay, that’s a lie. I didn’t enjoy Mockingjay at all – but it was not a novel made for enjoyment. Unless you enjoy being emotionally tortured. Which I do, sometimes (Deadline, I’m looking at you), but Mockingjay was not that kind of torture. Unlike most of the fans of the Hunger Games trilogy, I thought Mockingjay was a very good ending to the trilogy – and in fact, I think it’s the darkness of the final two books that elevate the trilogy, that make it more than a good YA series and propel it towards greatness. Mockingjay is brutally, unrelentingly honest. Which is not fun. But it is truthful. And I do so admire truthfulness.

Cover of God's War by Kameron Hurley

I raved about God’s War by Kameron Hurley in my Hugo Nominations post, and two weeks later, I haven’t changed my mind. It’s a sensational novel, in every sense of the word (I’m really overdoing it with the alliteration, aren’t it? Sensational and sense? Really?) It was a deeply uncomfortable read, but again, that was the point. I usually don’t enjoy detective stories (I never managed to like Lauren Beukes’s novel Zoo City in spite of the fantastic worldbuilding, because it was too much about the mystery) but Hurley makes the detective work so much a part of the backstory and the worldbuilding and the character development that it worked. It didn’t feel like “mystery story set in Sci-Fi world”. Which is quite an achievement.

The book was also deservedly nominated for a Nebula for best novel.

Cover of Deathless by Catherynne Valente

I haven’t yet raved about Deathless by Catherynne Valente, but I shall take this opportunity to do so. Catherynne Valente is one of my favorite contemporary writers. You can tell she’s one of my favorite contemporary writers because, when I had the opportunity to meet her at WisCon, I ducked into a stairwell instead (The extent to which I admire an artist is directly related to the extent to which I will avoid meeting them).  In my defense, it was a pretty awesome stairwell.

Catherynne Valente’s Deathless is a radical reworking of a Russian folktale about Koschei the deathless and his bride, Marya Morevna. I was not on-board with this plot. Stories about marriages tend to bore me – especially stories about unequal marriages, like the ones between a god-like figure and a human. Yes, yes, those unions can never work, blah-blah, unequal power dynamics, angst, hot boys, angst, blah, blah, etc. Why do we care so much? I don’t know about you, but I’ve just stopped caring at all.
Oh, but Valente will make you care. She made me care. She has an uncanny capacity for getting to the heart of what makes stereotypical stories so damn compelling, and then ripping those tropes apart and sewing them back together them until your mind reels with the wonder of what she’s constructed. By the end of the novel, I cared so much about Koschei and Marya’s marriage that I started to tear up. I can’t explain why. Valente’s work defies the kind of superlative criticism that is within my capacity to write.

I also feel guilty that I didn’t read Deathless in time to nominate it for the Hugos. At least I didn’t have to make a sophie’s choice over which novel to throw out to make room for it. Still.

Cover of Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Also: note the fabulous fashion.

My final read this month was Tansy Rayner Robert’s novel Power and Majesty. I am planning to write a full review sometime soon, so I won’t say too much. I will say that there was no novel this month that I enjoyed more – I’m having trouble remembering a novel this year that I enjoyed more, in point of fact. I kept smiling during the days I was reading it, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had a giant paper due. I was freaking out. Why the hell was I smiling?

And then I remembered that once the paper was in, I could go back to the world of Aufleur. And Velody. And the smiling made total sense.

Power and Majesty is urban fantasy, technically, although I think it shades into the epic. It takes place in a city with a quite a few similarities to ancient Rome (I have no doubt those similarities are a complete coincidence, especially since Rayner Roberts doesn’t know anything about Rome, what with her PhD in Roman History (Hem)). Velody and her friends have come to Aufleur to make their fortunes as dressmakers, ribbon-makers and flower-arrangers. Unbeknownst to them, they’re also about to get dragged into a world of magic, warfare and gratuitous nudity (which turns out not to be gratuitous at all).

The “random girl discovers she’s actually the key to the success of an epic war” narrative is pretty well-explored in the fantasy genre, but Rayner Roberts manages to make it fresh. I think a lot of her success is due to the contrasts in the story – it’s chugging along, light and frothy and fun, and suddenly you hit an intense, violently emotional moment. And those moments are never the ones I expected to be violently emotional. When Velody negotiates a pact with the people she’s supposed to be leading into battle, for example, it should feel cold and stark and political (particularly since all of those people want to kill her and drink her blood) but instead, it’s so intimate that you feel like a voyeur.

In any case, if you like urban fantasy – or epic fantasy – or hell, if you like fantasy, full stop – you should buy Power and Majesty. I’m so pleased to be able to buy it at all: Rayner Roberts is an Australian writer, and until a few weeks ago, her work was only available in Australia. Which was quite frustrating for me – I am a big fan of Galactic Suburbia (witness my freakout over their Hugo nomination) a podcast Rayner Roberts runs along with her friends Alisa and Alex (the alliteration never ends). Based on the strength of Rayner Roberts’s genre commentary, and the fact that I greatly enjoy urban fantasy, I was pretty sure I would love her fiction – but I couldn’t get my hands on it. So it is to my unending delight that there is now a kindle edition that you can purchase in Canada, the UK and the USA.

Jump. On. It. NOW. Like I said, it’s possibly the most enjoyable book I’ve read all year. Which is high praise – have you seen my booklists? It’s not like I’m not enjoying myself.

And in an attempt to prolong my enjoyment of the book, I will be writing a full review. Soon. After my finals. Okay, so… not soon. But soon. ish.

That’s the end of my (giant) Monthly update on my reading list. I do have some blog-related things to freak out about, so if you feel like indulging me, keep reading.

I will apologize AGAIN, because I need to be super-self-indulgent and talk about the fact that, as it turns out, people who aren’t the CIA and my younger brother have actually read this blog.

Apparently, if you write a post about a super-topical topic (the Hugo Awards! Also: “topical topic?” Why can’t I stop with the alliteration)
And you link to other people who have written about said super-topical topic (“said super topical topic” = double alliteration!)

THEN people will read what you wrote. Specifically: people who you wrote ABOUT in your super-topical post will read what you wrote. And then they’ll write to you and say nice things. Or they’ll link back to you.

All this leads to the events of this morning, when I checked my (blog-related) email in the middle of my class (I realize I am a bad person and going to the special circle of hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater).

And started grinning like an idiot.

You know, I am fully aware of the fact that it’s weird for me to be surprised because the POINT of blogging is for people to find your blog and read it. But it’s still a shock for me. And I don’t know how to deal with it. I literally keep checking my email to see if the email in question is still there (I’m convinced it’s a hallucination).

And then I keep trying to formulate a response. And fail.

As I mentioned, I usually duck into broom closets when my favorite authors come near me. What am I supposed to do when they read my blog? Or link back to me? Is there an internet broom closet? Or stairwell? (not that I’m unhappy to have gotten the email or the link. See: grinning like an idiot in the middle of class).

Anyways. This is the end of me being self-indulgent. Thank you for…indulging.

(someday, I will learn not to be a narcissist. Today is not this day).

Related Posts:

February Reading List

Reactions to the Hugo Awards

Review of Tam Lin

Self-Policing:

Since I so often complain about the lack of race and gender diversity in literary awards, best-of lists, reviews etc… I will be examining my own reading habits for race and gender biases. I may add more biases as the year goes on. Because it’s interesting. And because I think I should live my life according to the principals I tell others to espouse. I mean, I don’t mind being a hypocrite, but if I can avoid it..

So. In March, I read 12 books.

3 by women
9 by men

2 by authors of color
10 by white authors

(This is the statistic that bothers me the most, honestly – I make a conscious effort to read more books by women, and I should be making a much bigger effort to read more books by people of color. I’m working on it.)


Reactions to the 2012 Hugo Shortlist: Continuing Chronicles of the Hugo-Snatcher

ChiCon WorldCon Logo

The Hugo Shortlist is out, gentlemen, gentlewomen and gentle-people-of-non-normative genders. And I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees. Remembering, of course, that I’m pretty damn passionate about the Hugo Awards, full stop. I am, after all, the girl who got dressed up to watch the Hugo livestreaming last year. So it should come as no surprise (not to repeat myself) that I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees.

I may (or may not) have screamed in (happy, happy) shock when I got to best fancast. I may (or may not) have hollered in appreciation when I saw how many times Ken Liu, Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire were nominated. I may (or may not) have rolled my eyes when I saw certain nominees. I may (or may not) have yelled at the computer for a good three minutes when I realized certain crucial works had not received nods.

But since my incoherent yelling has never helped anyone, let’s go through the nominees, shall we? I’m going to list each category, and post my thoughts. Warnings: All Caps will be used. Frequently. For reference (if you’re interested), here’s my original ballot.

Best Novel:

  • Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
  • A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
  • Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
  • Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit)

I can’t help feeling a disappointed at this shortlist, despite the fact that it contains three of my five picks. It’s just so… expected. I mean, I am pleased as punch to see Among Others, Deadline and Embassytown on there, don’t get me wrong! I’m ecstatic to see Mira Grant get another nod, because damn, that woman can write. And thank the voters that Among Others is on there – it’s a stupendous piece of work. But I have to admit, these five novels have a lot of in common with each other.

I like to think of it as a menu. Classic science fiction and fantasy is chocolate cake, and who doesn’t like chocolate cake? But at the same time… do we want five pieces of chocolate cake? Because that’s what this shortlist feels like. Leviathan Wakes, Embassytown and Among Others are all nostalgic novels, throwbacks to “classic” science fiction. Now, in reading Embassytown and Among Others, I thought both re-vamped the style of “classic” SF in really interesting ways… and yet. They might be chocolate cake with unexpected filling, but they’re still chocolate cake. A Dance with Dragons isn’t classic SF, but it’s classic Epic Fantasy. My impression – having read neither book, but having read a fair amount of reviews for both – is that A Dance with Dragons is the fantasy equivalent of a Leviathan Wakes. It’s comfort food – again, chocolate cake, albeit chocolate cake with swords rather than spaceships.

Deadline is the closest thing to a truly innovative novel here – it’s a postmodern zombie story that melds horror and SF. I don’t think there’s anything like Deadline on the market today. It stands on its own. I’m so glad the series is receiving continued recognition – it does all kinds of fascinating, provocative things with fear and science and family relations, things that take real guts and talent to pull off. The fact that it’s so popular speaks well, I think, of the tastes of the Speculative Fiction reading public. But it’s also an expected choice, in the sense that the first novel in the series, Feed, almost won the Hugo award last year. So Deadline isn’t chocolate cake, but it’s still chocolate. Chocolate mousse, maybe.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with chocolate cake (and mousse). But only chocolate cake? When we have an entire menu of options to choose from? It feels a bit restrictive. Where is the love for people who took real narrative risks and pulled them off? Where is the recognition for authors who whipped up a batch of peanut-butter-kiwi-upside-down-cake and managed to make it delicious despite the terrible name?

To me, the three most innovative novels of the year (that I read) were Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, N.K. Jemisin’s The Kingdom of the Gods and Kameron Hurley’s God’s War. I would have given up a slice of chocolate cake for some Raspberry Souffle (Valente), an Irish Coffee (Jemisin) or a big chunk of Baclava (Hurley). I think those culinary shocks are necessary to keep the genre fresh. Remember when Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest landed on the Hugo ballot two years ago, and the community exploded with shock and horror? Where’s THAT reaction? I see a lot of people in the blogosphere who are disappointed, but there’s no real outrage. Give me some outrage.

(astute readers may note that I did not nominate Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, and so I shouldn’t complain about it not showing up on the Hugo Ballot. This is a perfectly valid point. However, I hadn’t read it by the deadline, and although I suspected I would love it with a passion, I couldn’t in all honesty nominate it without having finished it. I did love it).

The other thing that makes me call the list restrictive is the race and gender stuff. Because I am your humorless feminist social-justice crusader, and I must complain about these things. Unless I’m making a terrible mistake with Leviathan Wakes, all five novels are set in either North-America or a Western-derived landscape. Yes, Leviathan Wakes occurs in space, but it doesn’t seem to be God’s War or Firefly, which take place in a non-western outer-space. All the authors are white. Excluding A Dance with Dragons, which has no central protagonist (as far as I know), three of the four protagonists are white men. The heroine of Embassytown has no stated race (as I recall), but the default assumption is that she’s white. Not to beat a dead horse, but… I mean… speculative fiction is the literature of alienation (at least according to China Mielville. And me). And we can’t even alienate ourselves away from North American settings and heroes?

Okay, complaints done. On the other hand, there are no duds (again, I haven’t read A Dance With Dragons or Leviathan Wakes, so I may change my mind about this). This isn’t 2010, when The Windup Girl got a nod despite being a terrible sandwich of cultural appropriation with rape fantasies as the amuse-bouche (fortunately it didn’t win…oh, wait). I can appreciate a lack of duds. I just wish there was some pizzazz.

I’m reviewing the short fiction sections as a group, since I know far less about them:

Best Novella

  • Countdown, Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • “The Ice Owl”, Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “Kiss Me Twice”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s)
  • “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s)
  • “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”, Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
  • Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)

Best Novelette

  • “The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s)
  • “Fields of Gold”, Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
  • “Ray of Light”, Brad R. Torgersen (Analog)
  • “Six Months, Three Days”, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
  • “What We Found”, Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Best Short Story

  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld)
  • “The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s)
  • “Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s)
  • “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (Tor.com)

If you consult my Hugo ballot, you’ll note that I didn’t have a whole lot of nominations for the short fiction field. Mostly because it’s not my field of expertise. I’m working on it! That said, I’m ecstatic to see some of my favorite authors on the list. Ken Liu, my short-fiction crush of 2011, is on there twice. Catherynne Valente gets a nod for her first major work of science fiction, which – yes. I say Yes, and I add “Please, sir, can I have some more?” Science Fiction needs Catherynne Valente desperately (let us note that I haven’t read Silently and Very Fast, so I might…change my mind. But I doubt it). My favorite novella of 2011, “Kiss Me Twice” is also front and center (ah, Mary Robinette Kowal). And Geoff Ryman and Rachel Swirsky, two authors I adore, are both nominees.

If anything, I’m excited by all the incredible short fiction I’m going to get to read in the next months. I’m thrilled that I finally have a good excuse to read John Scalzi, whose non-fiction work I adore. And apparently, the short story he wrote was an elaborate April Fool’s Joke, so I know I’m going to love it. All of this quells my slight disappointment at not seeing Karen Joy Fowler’s fantastic “Younger Women” or Catherynne Valente’s “The Bread we Eat in Dreams” get a nod.

(There’s also a lesson here: the less I know about something, the less likely I am to complain about it).

Best Related Work

  • The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight (Gollancz)
  • Jar Jar Binks Must Die…and other Observations about Science Fiction Movies, Daniel M. Kimmel (Fantastic Books)
  • The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers (Abrams Image)
  • Wicked Girls (CD), Seanan McGuire
  • Writing Excuses, Season 6 (podcast series), Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Jordan Sanderson

Best Graphic Story

  • Digger, by Ursula Vernon (Sofawolf Press)
  • Fables Vol 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)
  • Locke & Key Volume 4: Keys To The Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (The Tayler Corporation)
  • The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan, created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • Captain America: The First Avenger, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely; directed by Joe Johnston (Marvel)
  • Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss;
    written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R. R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten, and Alan Taylor (HBO)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner Bros.)
  • Hugo, screenplay by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount)
  • Source Code, screenplay by Ben Ripley; directed by Duncan Jones (Vendome Pictures)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • Doctor Who, ”The Doctor’s Wife”, written by Neil Gaiman; directed by Richard Clark (BBC Wales)
  • The Drink Tank’s Hugo Acceptance Speech”, Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon (Renovation)
  • Doctor Who, ”The Girl Who Waited”, written by Tom MacRae; directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who, ”A Good Man Goes to War”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Peter Hoar (BBC Wales)
  • Community, ”Remedial Chaos Theory”, written by Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna; directed by Jeff Melman (NBC)

I know absolutely nothing about the Best Related Works and Best Graphic Story shortlists, but I’m, as ever, looking forwards to discovering them as I make my final selections. I can’t say I’m that excited about the Best Dramatic Presentation shortlists (either of them) although I think it’s fantastic that Game of Thrones got nominated as an entire series – I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. Given it’s popularity, I think it might give even Harry Potter a run for it’s money. I’m also quite happy to see that Community got a nomination, because I just started watching, and I absolutely love the series – even if it’s not “traditional” science fiction (well, it’s not science fiction at all. But that’s not the point).

I will pop up as feminist commenter 101 to point out that ALL the best Long form dramatic nominees (except Game of Thrones, which doesn’t have a central protagonist) have male heroes. And that none of them (again, excluding Game of Thrones) pass the Bechdel Test. Harry Potter does if you squint sideways, and count a conversation as a woman saying something to another woman for three seconds and receiving absolutely no reply. I don’t.

(By the way, if you want to argue with me about the Bechdel Test, you must watch this video first, because it explains the definition I follow)

But I shall move on from the Bechdel test (sigh). Especially since next year, we’ll have Prometheus. There are women in the trailer for that movie. Hopefully they will talk to each other. Hopefully the movie will be nominated for a Hugo. Oh, and we’ll have The Hunger Games, which passes with flying colors. Which will also (hopefully) be nominated.

Although it is sad to see the continuing dominance of Doctor Who – not because Doctor Who is a bad show, don’t get me wrong – but because there are other great SciFi shows that deserve to be nominated. Fringe, anyone? Individual episodes of Game of Thrones? The British version of Being Human? Doctor Who is not the only player in the field, but you wouldn’t know that from the ballot. And especially when Fringe has been so consistently mind-blowing… and is a science fiction show about a woman… which would get me to shut up about gender equality for thirty seconds…

Oh, and as someone who watched The Hugos live last year, may I just say that Christopher Garcia’s Acceptance Speech absolutely deserves to be on the shortlist? Because it does. I might even vote for it.

Best Semiprozine

  • Apex Magazine, edited by Catherynne M. Valente, Lynne M. Thomas, and Jason Sizemore
  • Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
  • Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams
  • Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, et al.
  • New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by David G. Hartwell, Kevin J. Maroney, Kris Dikeman, and Avram Grumer

Best Fanzine

  • Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
  • The Drink Tank, edited by James Bacon and Christopher J Garcia
  • File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
  • Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, et al.
  • SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo

Best Fancast

  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
  • SF Signal Podcast, John DeNardo and JP Frantz (presenters), Patrick Hester (producer)
  • SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente
  • StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

I don’t really have much to say about best Semi-prozine. I am shocked that Clarkesworld, which has won for the past two years, wasn’t even nominated, but I’m wondering if the magazine didn’t withdraw itself from consideration like Girl Genius did. Anyone know? Oh, and I’m ecstatic to see Catherynne Valente nominated for her work on Apex – she did a fantastic job, and it’s a much-needed magazine in our field.

I have absolutely nothing to say about fanzines – I’m not even going to wade into the “are blogs fanzines” debate, because I’m just not informed enough.

However.

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

GALACTIC SUBURBIA WAS NOMINATED FOR BEST FANCAST OH MY FREAKING GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, GALACTIC SUBURBIA AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! YEs!

YES!

YES!

YES!

YES!

(congratulations to all the other nominees, by the way)

Galactic Suburbia and Cake

Also, they make cake. They understand the importance of what is Culinary.

YES! GALACTIC SUBURBIA FOR THE WIN!

I actually let out a loud WHOOOP when I saw Galactic Suburbia on there. I hoped beyond all hope they would get a nomination, but because they’re a feminist Australian podcast, I didn’t think there was any way they would. The fact that they did – that they got this kind of recognition – makes me absolutely ecstatic. I hope the nomination brings them even more visibility; they deserve it. They bring us news and recommendations, but they do it with that little extra something – and with that feminist analysis – that makes me want to listen to them all day. They’re also just damn fun – you wouldn’t think three women analyzing gender issues in speculative fiction would be a barrel of laughs, but I laugh so hard when I listen to them. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s addictive, it’s brilliant. Whenever I listen to other podcasts, I always end up thinking “I wonder what Tansy, Allysa and Alex would say about that?”

I’m so FREAKING HAPPY they got nominated. To me, it makes up for all the disappointments in all the other categories.

Yes, thank you very much. I will have that giant box of feminist cookies (Galactic Suburbia) and leave you to your cake. But as you can see above, they also have CAKE. So you should listen to it. For the Cookies. And the Cake.

(Yes, I am aware that I’m making no sense. I’m so pleased I can’t think straight)

Finishing up with the final categories:

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Lou Anders
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Anne Lesley Groell
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Betsy Wollheim

It is beyond me why Dev Pillai and Jeremy Lassen didn’t score nominations for their fantastic work on the NK Jemisin trilogy and the God’s War trilogy respectively, but I will refrain from comment, since I don’t know much about their competitors. I am pleased to see Anne Lesley Groell and Liz Gorinsky get nods, however.

Best Editor, Short Form

  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Stanley Schmidt
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

No comment!

Best Professional Artist

  • Dan dos Santos
  • Bob Eggleton
  • Michael Komarck
  • Stephan Martiniere
  • John Picacio

No comment except… you know what’s coming… five men, no women? Wow.

Best Fan Artist

  • Brad W. Foster
  • Randall Munroe
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Maurine Starkey
  • Steve Stiles
  • Taral Wayne

And still, I say, no comment! Except that I hope to discover their work soon.

Best Fan Writer

  • James Bacon
  • Claire Brialey
  • Christopher J. Garcia
  • Jim C. Hines
  • Steven H Silver

I only follow Jim C. Hines closely, but I’m pleased he got a nomination. His blog is fantastic. And hilarious. And he covers lots of feminist issues. If you want a great example of his work, try this one on book covers. 

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Mur Lafferty
  • Stina Leicht
  • Karen Lord
  • Brad R. Torgersen
  • E. Lily Yu

Really pleased to see Karen Lord on there, obviously, since I gave her first novel such a resounding YES MORE PLEASE of a review. And since I predicted she would show up on many genre award shortlists in the future. I do like to be proved right. I’m also glad to see E. Lily Yu on the list; I loved (and nominated) her short story The Anarchist Wasps and Cartographer Bees.

Again, I’m looking forward to discovering all of these authors’ works so I can vote for them properly.

So overall – well, I’m mixed. I’m ecstatic about some things – the multiple nominations for Catherynne Valente, Ken Liu and Seanan McGuire; the fact that Seanan McGuire broke the glass ceiling and became the first woman to ever be nominated FOUR TIMES (twice as her alter-ego, Mira Grant) for the Hugo; the nomination for GALACTIC SUBURBIA IS THE BEST THING EVER. I’m really excited over the prospect of discovering new fiction, art, essays etc. as I prepare to vote. But I am a bit disappointed that the shortlist for best novels feels so restrictive. It does seem like a step back from last year.

But there’s one thing I’m certain about. I cannot wait to be at the Hugo ceremonies. I’ll be the girl throwing herself under chairs rather than come within a ten foot radius of my favorite authors, many of whom have threatened to be there (famous people scare me). I’ll be the one freaking out because I just caught a glimpse of Catherynne Valente. I’ll be the one taking notes furiously. I’ll be the one clapping at people’s awesome fashion.  I’ll be the one muffling screams when my favorites win. I may even be the one with an awesome younger brother (if I can find a way to bring him with me, he’s coming).

I can’t wait.

Kaylee Dress Hugos

Already Choosing my Dress

Related Posts:

The Nebula Nominations are Wearing the Awesomepants

Invasion of the Hugo-Snatcher

Let the Djombi Eat Cake

Other Reactions to the Hugos:

Comments on the Hugo Shortlist by Staffer’s Book Reviews

My contribution to the Genre Meme

Quick (but not fast) analysis of the 2012 Hugo Award Nominees for Best Novel on The Of Blog.

Hugo Nominations Out: What Will You Wear? by Tansy Rayner Roberts

And Catherynne Valente’s Perfectly Reasonable Reaction to getting Three Nominations

Not to forget Seanan McGuire’s Response to getting FOUR Nominations and her followup post, with a plea for people to buy memberships and VOTE

Also, an important post on gender and fanwriting from Rose Lemberg: Best Fan Writers Hugo – And Women Writers

I don’t have time to do a gender and race breakdown of the nominees right now, although I will be posting one once school gets out. In the meantime, James Nicholl has published a gender breakdown


A Review of A Dangerous Method: Is that a Log in your Dream, or are you just Happy to See Me?

Freud to Jung: “This log in your dream. I think you should entertain the possibility that the log represents the penis”

Log Freud

Freud: turning logs into penises since 1899

I’m a big fan of David Cronenberg. His criminally underrated A History of Violence and Eastern Promises are two of my favorite movies of the past five years. I’m also a big fan of Sigmund Freud, even if I do make fun of him quite a bit.

(It’s not my fault. So many inappropriate jokes, so little time).

However, although the movie A Dangerous Method promised to unite two things I liked – Freud and Cronenberg – I was more than a bit skeptical.

After all, for the past few years Cronenberg’s films have been saturated with violence. His movies are like a funeral director’s wet dream. What was he going to do with Freud and Freud’s great invention, the “talking cure”? Was Cronenberg going to have patients brawling in the corridors of Freud’s cramped apartment? Would Freud beat his critics with his cane? Was Carl Jung going to be a secret member of the mafia?

I was not convinced. I was even less convinced when I saw the trailer. “Oh no!” I groaned. “Not a love triangle. Please, not a love triangle. And why in the world is Keira Knightley’s russian accent so terrible? Don’t they have vocal coaches?”

But a even bad trailer could not detract from the lure of Freud. I figured it would be a fun movie. It would get things very wrong, and my friends and I would laugh, and deconstruct it (as literature students are prone to do). And Viggo Mortenson would be awesome, even if he wasn’t carrying around a big sword. (insert immature joke about phallic symbols here).

Well, it was a fun movie, filled with lines about logs and penises. And Viggo Mortenson showed off his impeccable comic timing (someone hand him an Oscar).

But it wasn’t just a fun movie. In fact, A Dangerous Method was – much to my surprise – simply sublime.

What I forgotten in my cynicism is that David Cronenberg isn’t interested in violence for violence’s sake. You don’t make A History of Violence if you’re just interested in blowing things up. Instead, Cronenberg is interested  in violence as a symptom of a wider human condition. Why do we keep at it? Is it inevitable? Or is it something more – a collective delusion? A ritual?

In A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg pans the camera back, opening the view. Instead of looking at violence as a symptom of the human condition, he focuses on the lives of the people who changed our view of the human condition forever. It’s the story of the people who, at the turn of the 20th century, mapped the landscape of the human mind.

The movie opens with Sabina Spielrien, a violent, hysterical young woman, being dragged into a mental asylum. From her first seconds onscreen, we’re placed in an uncomfortable position: there’s something about Spielrien – especially about her inhuman movements –  that makes us both want to watch her with fascination and to pull back in disgust. Nothing has happened, and yet we’re thrown off balance. The movie continues much in this vein: every normal event is slightly skewed, underlain with a quiet tension that seems ready to snap at any moment.

Spielrien’s doctor, Carl Jung, believes he can help her using a method pioneered by a Viennese physician named Sigmund Freud – the now-famous “Talking Cure.” As Spielrien improves, Jung begins a correspondance with Freud to document his success. From there, the movie tracks the developing relationships between Jung, Freud and Spielrien.

A Dangerous Method is an immensely self-contained piece of work. It focuses on the interactions between these three people to the exclusion of almost everything else. With such a narrow frame, A Dangerous Method risks being overly simplistic. But because Spielrein, Freud and Jung are so fascinating, the story is one of delicate complexity.

Too often, movie narratives fall victim to the obvious plot. Most of my movie-related rants have to do with how cowardly scripts are these days – every time a story stumbles across somewhere original, it runs back towards the obvious like a kid running towards a platter of chocolate chip cookies.  I was pleased to see, however, that in A Dangerous Method, there are no such chocolate chip cookie characters. Jung, Freud and Spielrien are fascinating because the writers weren’t afraid of making them challenging or unlikeable.

Though Jung comes across as a find, upstanding man, he’s infuriatingly blind to his own neuroses. He will throw the people he loves in front of buses if they get in his way. Hell, he sometimes just throws them in front of a bus because he’s not paying attention. It’s not malicious – it’s just natural for him to put himself first, always first. And if the universe doesn’t bend his way, he’ll make it bend. Not surprisingly, his privilege drives Freud – and others – up the wall. Jung probably describes himself best as “nothing but a philistine Swiss bourgeois – a complete coward.” Sadly Jung’s self-awareness doesn’t lead to any character growth – he knows he needs to change, but is unwilling to do it. And unlike Freud or Spielrien, Jung’s not someone who has had to struggle in life, which makes his ultimate cowardice all the more unforgivable.

Freud is a case study in quiet brilliance. Every word out of Viggo Mortenson’s mouth is ambiguous. His dialogue seems filled with flashes of insight or moments of compassion; yet every phrase he speaks can also be read as an insult. He always seems to be reveling in a private joke.

Despite his brilliance, or perhaps, because of it, Freud is constrained by his fear of the outside world. Freud has spent so long as the poor, besieged doctor in Vienna, his theories mocked and his practice threatened, that the slightest hint of insubordination terrifies him. If Freud and Jung are alike in anything, it’s in their isolation – they’re both so smart, so new, so cutting-edge, that no one has yet joined them on the frontier of the human mind. Their shared interests and mutual respect should make them the perfect partners, and for a large part of the movie, they are. Freud acts as Jung’s mentor; Jung, in turn, idolizes Freud.

Carl Jung Sigmund Freud

I think they should consider the possibility that the cigar represents a - oh, you know.

But Freud and Jung are separated by privilege and pride. In a revelatory moment near the beginning of the film, Freud tells Jung he doesn’t want to venture outside the current theories of psychoanalysis because the practice is already stigmatized enough as is. Casually, Freud adds: “and, of course, it does not help that all of the patients and practitioners in Vienna are Jews.” Jung replies “I don’t see why it should matter,” to which Freud rejoins “That, if I may say so, is an exceedingly protestant remark.” Jung cannot set aside his privilege long enough to see the difficulties Freud confronts. Freud, meanwhile, pushes Jung away to protect himself: he cannot fight against the world and fight against his friends at the same time. And he cannot open up to Jung either – he’s spent so long fighting that the slightest appearance of vulnerability would destroy him.

I loved Freud and Jung. I came to the movie specifically to see their interaction, and it did not fail me.

But though I came for them, I walked out cheering – and a little teary-eyed – for the third wheel of the trio, Sabina Spielrien.  Spielrein is no doubt the character audiences will be most unfamiliar with – the majority of people have at least heard of Jung and Freud.  I worry her relative obscurity will make her difficult to identify with, which is a shame, because she’s absolutely sublime.

It’s so refreshing to see a female character like Spielrein in a (somewhat) mainstream movie. In movies, male characters are almost always allowed more complexity than their female counterparts – but not in A Dangerous Method.  On paper, Spielrein was have been a disaster – a woman with serious mental health issues who sleeps with her (married) physician. When I walked into A Dangerous Method, indeed, I was convinced poor Keira Knightley would be stuck playing the femme-fatale who distracts the Great Men from their Great Work. Which is SUCH an annoying stereotype. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The writers avoid reducing Spielrein to a love interest. Treating a woman like a full human being, regardless of her romantic state, seems like an easy task. For some reason, however, it’s a task the majority of Hollywood movies fail to accomplish.

Though Jung “cures” her, Spielrein doesn’t suddenly become a gorgeous princess. There is no dreaded Hollywood makeover where the disturbing “crazy” girl becomes a stunning leading lady. It’s also nice to see a movie that doesn’t pretend mental illness just goes away after a few therapy sessions. Spielrein continues to struggle with her mental illness over the course of the film, fearing, among other things, that her “insanity” will prevent her from becoming a physician. She still speaks haltingly, shyly, and retains most of her uncomfortable physical tics from earlier in the film. It’s still hard to look at her sometimes – she’s not embodied in a normative way.

Spielrein and Jung A Dangerous Method

Spielrein is also strong-willed and unapologetic about her desires, sexual and otherwise. Nor does the movie “punish” Spielrein for her ambitions – too often, ambitious women – women who desire, women who dare to want – are, well, punished (and not in a kinky S&M way, although we do get some S&M action in A Dangerous Method). If anything, Spielrein’s willingness to articulate what she wants is her saving grace – unlike Freud or Jung, she’s not destroyed by her unspoken desires.

True, Spielrien does fall in love with Jung, her physician, but of the two, she’s the one who behaves with the most maturity. When he breaks up with her and lies about their relationship, she doesn’t cling, she doesn’t rant and rave, she doesn’t spend the rest of the movie trying to bring him down. Which is quite impressive, given that Jung has just thrown her under the bus by telling Freud that Spielrien is a delusional lunatic who made up the affair.

Instead, Spielrien forces him to admit the truth to Freud, deducing (correctly) that this will convince Freud to take her on as a patient.** She finishes her dissertation. She becomes a physician in her own right. She’s widely respected in her own field: at the end of the movie, Jung’s wife asks Spielrein to take a depressed Jung on as a patient. It’s a neat reversal of the initial premise.

Even better, Spielrein is not “saved” by her romantic relationship with Jung. Instead, she saves herself through the “talking cure” and her academic work in the psychological field. Moreover, Spielrein’s intellectual development and her contributions to the psychoanalytic field are just as important as Freud’s or Jung’s – I was surprised, for example, to discover that it was Spielrein, not Freud, who first theorized the death instinct. I greatly appreciated the fact that neither Jung nor Freud (or anyone else) ever said something like “but you’re a woman! Women shouldn’t be psychoanalyzing/writing about sex/ going to college.” Or even “Well, as a female physician, you may have some problems.” They treat her as an intellectual equal. They collaborate with her on different projects. Freud even respects her enough to suggest that she take on some of his patients.

** Again, I am pleased to note that Spielrien takes control of her own mental health. When she breaks up with her boyfriend/therapist, she immediately finds a new therapist. Not a boyfriend. Girl has her priorities straight.

Spielrein and Jung kiss

"In my experience, it is usually the man who takes the initiative"
"I think there are elements of the male and the female in every human."

Besides, Jung and Spielrein’s interactions are quite interesting to watch. As fellow psychoanalysts, they’re always dissecting their own behavior towards one another. When Spielrein kisses Jung for the first time, they (of course) have to analyze the moment for the next five minutes. You can almost see Jung taking down mental notes, thinking of all the papers he could derive from a single brush of the lips.

As actors, I thought Michael Fassbender (Jung), Viggo Mortenson (Freud) and Keira Knightley (Spielrien) were all out of their comfort zones, which makes their superb work in A Dangerous Method all the more impressive.

Knightley is near-unrecognizable in her role as Spielrien. Her accent is spot-on – I don’t know how they managed to make it sound so terrible in the trailer. From the beginning, she strips any impression we had of her as the “young romantic lead.” Her moments  as a hysterical mental patient are so powerful that they’re difficult to watch: when her body crumples and tangles as she forces herself to confess her “vile corruption,” I could barely keep my eyes on the screen. After Spielrein begins recovering, Knightley wisely keeps her from ever becoming a femme fatale, instead imbuing her with a physical awkwardness and a halting, intense pattern of speech that manages to simultaneously convey the woman’s strangeness and her fierce intelligence.

Fassbender, meanwhile, gives emotional depth to Jung’s  love for Spielrien, and his defiance of Freud. Without this much-needed layer of vulnerability, the audience would be unable to stop themselves from despising him as an insensitive coward. His looks don’t hurt – my friend said she thought she was swayed towards Jung’s side because of Fassbender’s, er… charming appearance. And the way he looked in early 20th century garb

(I would like to add that I agree. Turn-of-the-century clothes look great on Fassbender. Just sayin’).

Mortenson’s work as Freud… well, he’s just fantastic. As always. He’s the master of double-speak in this movie – I never knew what he meant when he said anything. Which was the point. Mortenson also infuses Freud with a great deal of authority – a difficult task, given that Freud spends most of the movie sitting in a chair. I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as Mortenson’s Freud, is all I’m saying. I’d probably start babbling like an idiot. Or walk into a wall. Or babble like an idiot while walking into a wall. Perhaps most impressively, Mortenson manages to suggest Freud’s self-consciousness without undercutting his imposing presence.

From the script, to the directing, to the acting A Dangerous Method is an incredible movie. It gets under your skin. It avoids the obvious. It zigged when I expected it to zag. It’s also just damn fun to watch.

I therefore have no idea how A Dangerous Method did not get nominated for twenty five thousand Oscars. I would have put it up for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Support Actor. The only actor I wouldn’t have nominated was Fassbender – not because he’s any less inspiring than Knightley or Mortenson, but because Fassbender was going to get nominated for Shame anyways, and then he was going to win and -

Oh wait.

Screw the academy, man.

Seriously. To my mind, Knightley and Mortenson shouldn’t just have been nominated – they should have been frontrunners. And so should the movie. The Help was nominated, and this wasn’t? If that’s not a sign that Hollywood isn’t interested in original stories, I don’t know what is.

Yet, even with the Academy’s Bad Attitude, I came out of the movie with joy in my heart. And not just because of the movie’s general awesomeness (although that accounted for much of my elation). I was also thrilled because my friend had just discovered Michael Fassbender.

I know.

“What else is he in?” asketh she.

Me: “X-men… uh, Jane Eyre… uh, Shame. That’s playing now, I think – “

Her: “We’re going.”
Unfortunately, that means everyone who reads this blog*  will be subject to another “what the hell is wrong with the Oscars” post quite shortly since, yes, I have now seen Shame. And it’s even more incomprehensible to me why Michael Fassbender wasn’t nominated for best Best Actor.
But I’ll be reviewing the movie! And I promise, it’ll be shorter!
Oh, that was a tangled web of lies. It won’t.

I’m also now holding out hopes for a sequel, where Freud analyzes the wonderful modernist poet H.D. Can I suggest Noomi Rapace as H.D.? Would that not be wonderful?

H.D. Poet

H.D

Noomi Rapace

Noomi Rapace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*And by “everyone who reads this blog,” I mean the lovely CIA agents whose job it is to monitor all internet activity. Hi guys! Thanks for protecting us from the forces of evil! (and darkness. I also appreciate your protection from the forces of darkness)

Quick Stats on the Movie:
Passes the Bechdel test: YES! Right near the end of the movie, when Spielrein and Emma Jung discuss Spielrein’s career and their children. The movie also takes a surprisingly long time to pass the reverse Bechdel – not until Freud and Jung meet do we have a male-male interaction. It’s another sign of how this movie isn’t just about the men, which is lovely.

Presence of non-white characters: Absolutely not. Argh. Then again, it is turn-of-the century Europe, so the lack of POC makes some sense. But… still.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 850 other followers