Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: 'Injustice: Gods Among Us'

This is going to go into some comic book jargon, but I'll use that as a point of critique, as well, at the end. 

I probably should have done this a long time ago, but I never got around to it. So here we go. 

The "story" behind this game pushes on the eye-rolling mythology the DC universe often incorporates to the  max by a kind of ridiculous premise that on one of the bajillion Earths apart from our own, Joker tricked Supes into thinking he was fighting Doomsday  when it was actually Lois Lane. He  kills  her and their  baby, which drives over the edge- first by snapping Joker's neck, then by becoming  supreme dictator of his Earth. The Batman and Lex Luthor of that world were in cahoots in maintaining an underground resistance against him, while any living members of the Justice League are Supes's lapdogs. So Batman and  Lex summon a handful of OUR Justice League members to their own Earth (there's an  awful throwaway line by  Luthor when this is being  explained about how he "had been monitoring [their] Earth for quite some time,"). Eventuallly, you use a Kryptonite laser to incapacitate Alternate Supes and yay, the day is saved.

I won't go into too much more grousome  detail about that  story, but I will reiterate that  there were a lot of moments where I found  myself thinking (or even saying  aloud), "Really?" And  this  is as someone that understands  and  accepts that there is a lot of suspension of disbelief in order to go with everything. The nifty thing about that, though, is there are thus a few times where you're forced to fight yourself- the game makes you play as specific  characters for a few fights as the "plot" progresses. 
However, given the entire range of heroes from which they could have chosen as opponents and that are available to play as in other modes, I found it kind of stupid that there were a few repeat opponents- they could have  at least made the  "story" go in a way that made  every fight against a new person.

So another thing about the way it progresses is every so often, you have a sort of mini-challenge where you have to press buttons in the order shown on the screen to hold off an approaching opponent. I may be old fashioned, but I saw no point in these- it's a tournament style gaame, get to the rounds. 

But there are a lot of options in how to play. Apart from Story Mode, there are various ways you can fight in a pseudo-tournament way that is exactly like when playing Mortal Kombat- which makes sense, given the same people made this game. Like with  Mortal Kombat,  there's an afterword every time you win, and some of them are kind of disturbing: For example, when you beat it as Aquaman, it's revealed that he basically pulls the same shit as Alternate Supes and turns Earth into a unified government under his reign (the shot of him on his throne in Atlantis reminded me of Game of Thrones, in that there was a dude glaring and grinning menacingly into the camera). You can also choose to play against either all rogues or all heroes.

As a fighting game, it really lacks the standard  distribution of button/action applications. By this I mean there isn't a generic "kick" button you can press with any character and know it's going to make the person you're playing as kick. And yeah, that applies to everything. The Triangle, Square, and X buttons all are the buttons for regular/non-fancy attacks, but they vary in what they do depending on the character you're playing as. I find this highly problematic, since that makes figuring out a character without training mode all that more difficult. Sure, training  modes are cool and great for practice, but one  of my favorite ways to learn  characters before was make up combinations of buttons to see if they did anything fancy while playing  for real- I always  found training modes kind of silly in the first place. Which leads  me to... 

Training  mode. Injustice's training mode sucks balls. It only lets you play as Batman (and Supes briefly), and it's really easy to get stuck in one thing for far too long to retain interest (like the part where you're supposed to block another throw- holy poop, it was ridiculous how long I was stuck in that one). And it's supposed to help you figure out how to use the environment to your advantage, but you're only in the Batcave during this mode, so while sure, I can menorize the way to use that Bat computer to do something, it doesn't help me  figure out how to use any other  environments. 

I tried doing their side mission things that work as training, too, but the same thing happened with those as the more official training mode, as in once I got to a certain command I needed to do, I was stuck because the game didn't think I did it right or something... I dunno. I guess my point is the training modes are terrible, regardless of whether you're in the "TRAINING" mode, or the one that's set up like little side missions  with various characters. The best training mode I've ever seen was in Tekken 3, where you pick who you play  as, who you play against, and how high of a skill level at which they'd fight back (and you could even set them to just block and not fight back at all). Of course environment in that game  didn't matter, but if it did, I imagine you could also pick the place you were fighting at, as well.  

Also, the "wager" thing is fucking pointless. You press a button in the middle of a cutscene in combat and just have to wait and hope the NPC pressed a different one? Waste of time, and can throw a round in the wrong direction, too. 

I could spend a LOT of time on all of the female characters, but I'll spare you. Just look at the way Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman stand/walk IN THE MIDDLE OF FUCKING COMBAT and you'll see why I'd be frustrated- every woman  does this shit, projects her hips and boobs  and ass in ways that look flat-out painful (also, where the fuck does Harly pull all those gadgets out of...?).

So the last negative I'm going to give is the cut scenes. I know they're supposed to blend straight into gameplay, but that decision made the animation in any prerecorded story scenes look terrible. Their faces and mouths moved all wrong when they talked or were supposed to be reacting to something, any hair and cloth movement was far too uniform, the  shine on the skin, clothing, and hair of the characters made them all look too much  like plastic because of how white it was, and their hands would sometimes take on those weird, unrealistic shapes whenever they were using them and especially  when shown grabbing something (but they looked a lot better if the item was in their hand before the shot). If you've ever seen Reboot, the way  they  held stuff in this reminds me of that. 

I'll embed a video below for you now- a lot  of people took the time to edit together all of the cutscenes into, essentially, a nearly two-hour movie. You'll see what I mean  here about the graphics, rrand also get to see some of those silly side-mission things that happen during story mode (not every edited version has  them, though). But I mean c'mon, look at Wonder Woman's hair!

Now, I've mostly been bashing the game, so now let me give you some pros.

The voice acting is all superb. While they did get back some of the greats, namely Sir Kevin Conroy (note: he isn't actually knighted, but he's been the animated voice for the Dark Knight for twenty years now, so that's good enough for me), anyone  new is pretty fucking awesome- Troy Baker, for example, sounds almost exactly like Mark Hamill, the original voice of the Joker- and he's so good that he'll be doing Joker in Arkham Origins (which you'll end up seeing a review for eventually, no doubt). While sometimes horrible dialogue and AAAAACTING can be adorable in games, it usually just makes them painful to play. This one doesn't do that. While sure, there are a lot of cheesy one-liners to get fights going (and end them), that works for this sort of game- not only because it's a fighting game, but it's a fighting game set in a comic universe. 

And okay, so I bashed the cut scenes for their graphics, but the reason for the crappy cut scenes led to some pretty sweet/sleek in-game graphics. I mean, my God, look at this stuff (this video is of Aquaman, my favorite to play as):

And on a related note, I hope you watched that vid of Aquaman- that super-move of his is pretty fucking wicked, and I think more of them are equally as badass than aren't. Batman summons the Bat Mobile and runs  you over; Green Lantern makes a bunch of crazy-awesome stuff with his ring , Raven summons her dad (meaning, you know, Satan), Ares grows a bajillion times larger and stomps on you... A few could have been better, but I like most of them. 

Despite the lack of uniformity to what buttons do, as long as you're with other people at the same (minimal) level of skill, you'll have a fun enough time just button-mashing, too. Most of the characters move quickly enough to avoid each other (and the  ones that don't are easily spotted just by looking at what appears if you hover on them during character selection). I've had a lot of people that have never played try it in my living room,  and  I think every one of them was able to figure out a few moves on their own, so it's possible.

Even though the story mode relies on some pretty awful plot points, I do think it's just insanely fun to play as some of the coolest DC characters out there- hero and rogue alike. I guess that  while it may suffer from trying to do too much at once, it's still pretty enjoyable and not so difficult I'd want to quite, but not so easy I find it pointless, either. I suppose I'd give it a 7.5/10.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Being Afraid and Caught- "Name" by the Goo Goo Dolls

I may add a post-script if necessary. We'll see. 

I've loved this song since it was new, and have always, always found it highly applicable to my life, because my life is often a lot of repeats of past mistakes or hurts, as well as a lot of the same feelings of emptiness, longing, and weariness- not to mention remembrance of past pains- brought up in it. 

And even though the moment passed me by
I still can't turn away

I have this bad habit of clamming up when it's probably in my best interest to actually speak up. This comes in all varieties and situations- I don't stand up for myself when being bullied or mistreated most of the time; I don't tell people, particularly men I'm attracted to or want to go into something deeper than a platonic relationship with, how I really feel (which means I'm also not always the best at telling my dearest friends just how dear they are to me, although just to clarify, I mean this about friends I love platonically); I hold back on expressing my true feelings when people ask me what they are, or when I should in order to prevent being hurt more (be it someone picking up on me being sad, or someone doing something that hurts and me not telling them)*; I apologize when either there's nothing to be sorry about, or it was the other person(s) that fucked up. Etc.

And yet, even as I'm letting the moment pass, I know I shouldn't. I should just yell or insult right back; I should say how much I care; I should speak up when someone's actions or words are unwittingly hurting me; I should be honest when someone is finally able to tell something's bothering me and just open up a little; I should stop acting like I have something to make up for, or like someone else screwing up around me is simply because they were around me, and not because maybe they did something wrong on their own. Etc. I know all this, so I often dwell on it. And I sometimes imagine/fantasize over and over again what it would have looked like if I had done the better thing, or what it would look like if  I did that the next time. I also sometimes make up fake conversations with people where I chew them out post-facto for whatever they had done or have been doing that causes me pain. I plan out and rehearse confessionals and speeches and random acts of love and appreciation for people that I never actually say or do. And it's comforting, sure, but also kind of sick, because I'm letting fantasies I concoct in my head make me feel better about reality.

Cause all the dreams you never thought you'd lose
Got tossed along the way

So along with the sort of "what if"asies brought up above, I also know I've indeed given up on a lot of dreams in my lifetime, and I'm not even thirty. And while some like, "BALLERINA!" and "FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT!" or "PLAY ALL THE VIDEO GAMES!" were the kind of stereotypical, fantastical, nonsensical fantasies one would expect from a girly political nerd like myself; others were probably things more realistic and possible. Like being  a pro-bono lawyer, or being a high school English teacher, moving to Chicago, giving  free cello lessons to inner city youth... Those are some examples, and there are a lot more. At this point (and again, I realize I'm relatively young), given the path I'm on, I don't see any of that, or any of the other ones I haven't listed, happening. But, like  with the fantasies  of telling people off, I constantly dwell on these old pipe and  not-so-pipe dreams and wonder. 

And  letters that you never meant to send
Got lost or thrown away

This one is pretty literal. If you hadn't guessed from the first explanatory part, I write a lot of emails and letters of confession or telling-off that I never distribute to the intended party. I eventually delete the emails or rip up  the letters, of course. So those people never know the truth, and again, even when I should have told them, and had every fucking right to; and when concealing the truth kind of makes me a liar, too. EXAMPLES:

  • I never told a high school friend that the reason I stopped talking to her was because she was getting into drugs, promiscuity, and basically taking the steps into the arena of "white trash" that I refused to take (but easily could have). I let her think we just "grew apart" when I left for college and she stayed in Vegas getting wasted/high/arrested all the time. 
  • The guy that raped me still thinks I was cool with it and was "having a great time" because we had been on a date; and that I "just [didn't] think it would work out between us" as the reason I didn't want to talk to him again. I also haven't told the vast majority  of the people that knew him around here what he did, so they talk all nice and sweet as they reminisce about when he was still around, meanwhile I'm trying to avoid having a gorram panic attack as I remember how he pinned me down and... Sigh.
  • The person in my department  that told  everyone when I (willingly) lost my virginity never knew how much that hurt, and I probably will never tell them. I'll never trust them again, but they'll never know it. And I don't think they'll care (which kind of makes it worse). 
  • I had a great email for the dude that dropped me like a rotten bag of potatoes (literally, he practically threw me out of his car in front of my apartment) after I slept with him, turning all of the lines he had used on me back in his  face and using them as proof that he's a womanizing, sexist, douchbaggy bro that needs to grow up and get a life. Instead, I basically forgave him months later when he (over FB) asked me to. (I still haven't seen him since he dropped me off that time, though, just so we're clear.)

I had speeches and emails all set in all of those cases, but those people will never know.

Let me just say now that the fact that I'm planning on saving a post-script in case I need it is pretty fucking apropros. 

And now we're grown up orphans that never knew their names
We don't belong to no one, that's a shame
But you could hide beside me
Maybe  for a while
And I won't tell no one your name
I won't tell 'em your name

I take this as when applied just to myself, the feeling of not belonging or knowing precisely  where it is one belongs in the first place. The "hiding" part is sort of a hope that someone with a like sense of unbelonging could join me and we could basically be okay with not fitting in together, because we'd have each other. 

Scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far

Well, that's pretty simple. I and everybody else have/ has a ton of personal baggage being carried around constantly. And a lot of things remind us of them. And I often relive some of what has hurt me in the past in those cycles and circumstances where I don't speak up- same story, different book. That's why it was so fucking easy for me to open with some general statements about it. I do it so often, it's like shampoo instructions. I lather, I rinse, and then, alas, keep repeating. And even if I don't repeat, I don't forget.

The only upside is that I do try to embrace the notion that all of the pain I have experienced before has made me a good, loyal, dependable, desirable person. I don't always succeed in this, but I at least try my best to believe it.

And did you lose yourself somewhere out there?
Did you get to be a star?
Don't it make you sad to know that life 
Is more than who we are?

I have a lot of regrets in my life. Not like I've, I dunno, run over a baby carriage or something. But I've hurt people by accident, even though that's "not me." A lot of times, it doesn't matter who you are on the inside, it's what you do that matters. And this especially upsets me because while I'm an activist at heart, my life right now is anything but one of promoting social justice and activism. Somewhere along  the way, I got caught up in the current and now I don't know where I am or where I'm going in this  direction. And it kills me.

You grew up way too fast
And now there's nothing to believe
And reruns  all become our history 

I did grow up too fast. Again, life was hard when I was little, and in a lot of ways has only been getting harder. My family life regressed from the American (wet) Dream to something out of a really fucking depressing movie nobody would want to watch because it would make them sadder than the end of Life is Beautiful or something. My family life is a tear-jerker that never gets better; it just gets worse. We went from laughter, movie nights, and board games to death, alcoholism  and abuse. It's just  too much for a kid  to handle without causing  some trauma and forcing some innocence to bleed out (sometimes literally).

So a part of me thinks the whole idea of "family" is bullshit. I crave one so much, but I'm afraid I won't be able to prevent the spiral of badness mine went through, and that I'd fuck up my spouse and kids way more than my parents and myself and my siblings have been fucked up.

A tired song keeps playing on a tired radio

I still want a family, though. I may be the experiential equivalent of ninety by now, but I still keep singing  the song of having a "good" life. The mechanism producing the music is worn  down and out-of-step, but it's still trying.

So the more optimistic thing to add, then, is that I'm like a vinyl record player. Kind of quaint and nifty in how awkward I am. And I hope to be appreciated in the same way- the way some people prefer the gritty sound of a vinyl, I hope someone can accept and appreciate me for my scars. I want to be loved for my flaws, not in spite of them- otherwise any sort of "love" between me and anyone else wouldn't work and eventually have to be ended. This goes for any relationship- there's a big difference between "tolerating" or "putting up with" something, versus actual acceptance. I want (and deserve) the latter.

And I won't tell no one your name
I won't tell 'em your name

But I rarely tell this part to anyone. This part about "because" rather than "in spite." I let people point out the tiniest imperfections in me and blow them way out of proportion in my own head. And I let the fear of my imperfections scaring people off rule me enough to not let my imperfections out. I don't name my deepest desires or hurts. I let them fester within me.

I think about you all the time
But I don't need the same
It's lonely where you are
Come back down
And I won't tell 'em your name

I think about this stuff a lot. Hence my ability to articulate it here. And even though the specific examples above are post-high school, I've been interpreting this song the same since I was a teenager, when applying it broadly.

Of course, I apply it specifically every time I blow it by not telling a dude I want to be with him until it's too late, or not even doing it at all. The first boy I ever loved (and I do think you can love and not be loved back, by the way), I turned some of the lines on how he was always pining for this other girl and such, and instead of the scars being about my family life, they were about the two of us and how I kept letting him kind of string me along. Of course, we were seventeen and eighteen at the time, so when I stupidly whispered that I loved him while hugging him goodbye in his car one night, I lost one of the best friends I'd ever had because I didn't tell him what I meant, and that I wasn't expecting or even really WANTED for him to say he loved me back; that I meant that since I loved him, I wanted him to be happy, and FUCK that other girl, he should look for someone else, and for crying out loud, I'd help him find her. And that it would have been awesome if he thought of me, but I'd be okay in the end, as long as he was happy. I never got to tell him that. I don't know if he knows or ever will know how sorry I am for losing his friendship, and how sad it makes me that I won't be there when he marries his fiancé.

So I guess this song works for me because it's, simplistically, about being afraid of what could happen, not letting the truth out, and constantly repeating the same behaviors and thus getting caught in the same emotional shooting grounds over and over again. 

*I'm doing it right now- saying to a friend that changing their plans on me is "totally okay" via text message (plans we've had for nearly two months by now). But I'm actually crying a little because I could really use the companionship right now because of what inspired me to use this song and write this post in the fucking first place. I dig my own grave so bloody much... 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

'Star Trek: Into Darkness' (No, NOT 'Star Trek 2')- Natives and Federations Done and Doing Wrong

I'm nitpicky, so good God, man, don't call it Star Trek 2THIS is Star Trek 2. Kthx...

Obligatory image for thumbnail purposes
I figure I may as well follow the trend and  do some analysis of 'Into Darkness,' but  let me preclude it with the fact that I haven't listened to any podcasts or read any reviews or analyses save  the two I'll link to soon. And this isn't a review, it's an analysis. There's a difference. 

A good friend/fellow nerd and I were talking about the movie the night it came out (we're devoted and both saw it as soon as we could, given our constraints with  grad school). Here's a link to her review. (AND READ HER BLOG SHE'S MADE OF AWESOME)

So we discussed most of what she brings up together. Overall, though, the problems I care most about are succinctly thus: 
  • An opening sequence relying on stereotypes of primitive indigenous people.
  • An iconic character that was formerly intended, portrayed, and described in film/ television as a person of color being portrayed by a white actor, with that backstory conveniently left out.
  • Cryogenicly freezing a group of (alleged) criminals. 
  • A power structure that revolves around peace and non-violence producing large quantities of war machinery.
I want to focus on the indigenous stereotyping, as well as what I see as some pretty dodgy practices on the part of the Federation in the movie. And I want to lastly go into a brief comparison to Iron Man 3. But first, for a lovely and eloquent discussion of the whitewashing of Kahn, do read this piece from by Marissa Sammy:

Star Trek: Into Whiteness. 

So as Amanda  said, the opening scene is something straight out of Indiana Jones or any other adventure/explorer movie where our hero is, for some  reason, chased by angry  natives; like with Dr. Jones, Kirk  and Bones are holding a sacred object that the locals worshiped for some reason. And their reason for stealing it, like with various explorer movies, is one of imposed preservation- in order for them to "play God" (the words of Admiral Pike) and stop a volcano from erupting all over the people, they need to distract those people. Why? Because they're operating within the confines of the Prime Directive, wherein societies without technology are in no way to interact with peoples or pieces of technology from societies in the post-warp-drive era. Also, like other adventure/explorer movies, the  people  on this planet appear to be barely "civilized,"- we don't even really see any dwellings, they're barely  clothed (and barefoot), use spikes and  rocks, and  their language probably  sounds like  what  the Germanic people sounded like  to the Romans (which is to say, "Bar-bar-bar-bar," hence the word "barbarian"). 

I think this goes further than some other movies, though. At the end, once the people on this planet see the Enterprise, they immediately go from worshiping the thing Kirk stole to worshiping the ship- the last shot of these people is of one drawing in the sand an image of the Enterprise with a staff, while everyone else is genuflecting around him, their gestures aimed at what he's drawing. The problem with their reaction, from a Star Fleet officer's perspective, is exactly why the Prime Directive exists. 

But really, this speaks to broader, white cultural narratives in which persons of color are labeled as less (or entirely not) civilized and less (or again, entirely not) intelligent as whites.

The way the conversation with Pike goes suggests that the Prime Directive was agreed to, in part, to prevent the very  thing that happened- a culture being changed because it encounters something else. The assumption, then, on the part of the Federation, is that every non-technological civilization encountering Federation technology will do what these people did. So they're assuming that the civilization in question would be unable to discern that there is an organism-made object in front of them, not a celestial/immortal/whatever being that needs to be added to a pantheon of deities already being worshiped (or replace one or any). So sure, you could say the Federation  was right, even justified, since here's a case where what they attempted to prevent happened- but it's highly racist/speciest/whatever to assume your own is so awesome that it'll "convert" anybody else that's, essentially, naive/gullible/dumb enough to believe you. And it also suggests an underlying assumption that any society without the technology on its own wouldn't be able to handle it. The reasons for this, of course, could be varied, but there's an unstated assumption of incapability for pre-warp (read: Other) civilizations, and thus implicit suggestions of (moral) superiority on the part of post-warp civilizations (read: Self). 

But then, the fact that the filmmakers chose to show those people as that gullible is problematic, too. Sure, it's kind  of funny to see them bowing to a sand sketch of the Enterprise. And yeah, given the constraints of the film with respect to length and such, it's no surprise we watched an instantaneous, rather than gradual, incorporation of the iconography of a Star Fleet vessel into their culture. But this follows a huge trend in vast numbers movies depicting indigenous peoples as "backwards," dangerous, and easily duped: It only took a few minutes and one sighting of the thing, and their  entire worship system is altered. So often, protagonists are mis-perceived  by other species/ cultures/ entities as gods or muses or something, either through coincidence or deliberate manipulation- they become "living versions" of gods (Pirates of the Caribbean 2, The Road to El Dorado, Doctor Who).* And then, quite often, the hero(es) are supposed to be offered as some sort of sacrifice or eaten by the indigenous people. So lack of technology equates stupidity or savagery, oftentimes  both.

The turn to cannibalism, I assume, is a leftover from the stereotype that any person of color is dangerous, and especially persons of color that are indigenous to a given area in which white people are becoming  acquainted. This  isn't an example of the Noble Savage, but I sort of feel like the latter was a hyper-reactionary to critiques for the former; yet the inherent desire to view anything one can consider Other as scary, dangerous, threatening- it leads to somewhat indirect references to that fear. Rather than have the tribe/people show up with weapons in-hand and yelling incoherantly and making whooping battle sounds, they instead adorn the hero with flowers and feed them lots of yummy food while making gentle cooing noises (and women  usually wink suggestively at him if he's a he). So okay, Into Darkness doesn't resort to cannibalism, but the older stereotype of incoherent babbling and throwing rocks is pretty fucking obvious, here.

And while we're on the subject of sounds, I mentioned above that the "tribe" in the beginning of Into Darkness makes lots of somewhat disjointed-to-the-western-human-ear sounds, suggestive of lack of any actual grammatical structure. I highly doubt J.J. Abrams and his helpers actually took the time to come up with  a true language for those people, but alongside the rest, it's suggestive  of the  idea that language equals thought, which goes hand-in-hand with the gullibility/stupidity thing. If they were smarter, their  language would sound nicer, and we'd be under the impression it would make sense if we learned it, that it would have "rules" and the like. Again, if  they sound  different  enough, they must be unintelligent. So you get shit like  terribly broken English and stuff like the scene with  the "Indians" in Peter Pan ("Squa getum firewood!") (which is called Tonto Talk). These people are so stupid, they can't come up with something we'd constitute a "language structure." And if they were to try to speak our language, they'd do poorly at it.

But back to violence.. I'm not going to go into a huge history lesson, but look at American pop culture over time. Old Westerns thrived on the "cowboys v. Indians" narrative (that  would every so often contain a token individual Native that was able to communicate and would sometimes ally themselves with the cowboy(s)) (Tonto, of course, of The Lone Ranger). These narratives are a result  of American jingoism and the manifest destiny bullshit that led to the conquering of North America by white colonialists in the first place. And when I say "conquering of North America," I mean the conquering of her original people, not the land. So of course the indigenous are, sooner or later, going to start fighting back- but then, of course, they're perceived as the bad ones, the violent ones, because after all, it's our God Given Right to have this land, aye? Oh but wait, we're nice to the ones that learn our ways, so it's not like we're in the wrong!


Anyhoo, so, point, opening scene uses a lot of negative tropes and stereotypes about indigenous populations (while granted, in a scifi setting) in order to give us some comic  relief (and an excuse for Kirk and Spock to be in different areas of the room during the attack on all the captains and first officers). I'll admit, it was rather humorous, but really, now, this is the 21st century, and Abrams is supposed to be advanced. Instead, he's using primitive storytelling tools to do what more sophisticated writers would poo poo.

(See wut ah did thar?)

Small point now. They're mostly naked, covered in colored mud, and their tools are all run-of-the-mill tribal bullshit- rocks and sticks and spears. You can  harp on me about how those are quintessential "primitive" tools, but let's not forget these are supposed to be aliens on a different planet- why the hell must we assume the way human tools developed is the exact same way every single other sentient species would have theirs develop, too? I don't buy that "natural evolution of tools" argument. And taken into context, given all the other stereotypes, it just fits- I find it highly unlikely the producers/writers would have sat down and given the tools so much thought if they didn't think about, like, anything else.

Lastly, I'd like to bring up the reason the Enterprise crew  was there in the first place. Okay, sure, the race would have died without their help, but... well... that's kind of the point. They're helpless without the Good Guys swooping in and saving the day. It's a vague example of Mighty Whitey, but  more closely resembles the all-too-famous, post-colonial White Man's Burden. No, the the tribe isn't being taken away from their homeland, but they're still portrayed as helpless without the Enterprise crew. And the suggestion is that they need to change and  be more like the  Federation, otherwise they'll die (which fits better with the Wiki page  for the poem that inspired the name  of the trope- I was just sticking with TV Tropes because that site is fucking  awesome; the idea that it's up to the white people to save the colored people from themselves is rampant in cultural discourses, popular and academic alike) because they won't have the technology they "need" in order to survive on their own planet- as if the Federation knows best. 

Why is all of this problematic? Because indigenous cultures and peoples are still too often portrayed in fetishistic and devalued ways, that's why. It being sci-fi and these being a different species is entirely beside the point, too, so don't bother trying to throw that out at me. In fact, I'd argue the alien aspect makes it worse, because the people there are entirely fictionalized, yet  their entire portrayal makes them look stupid, savage, and helpless. And the producers didn't even bother to try to give them any distinct physical characteristics differentiating them from humans- they couldn't have given them, I don't know, tails or something? They may as well have been humans- they were shown no differently than humans, down to their physicality.

I imagine if you asked this person if it was racist, they'd say yes and laugh at you for asking.

Now, for the Federation itself. What the fuck?

As I said above, the Federation does a couple things that are pretty gorram shady, either as part of discovered backstory or described as taking place over the course of the film. The two kind of weave together, though, so I'll just talk about them inerchangably, because they  amount to at least one similar conclusion: 

The Federation is a bunch of hypocrites.

At least in JJ Abrams's world.

See, the Prime Directive, and thus the Federation itself,  is  all about non-intervention, peace, and  discovery. Yet they wake up a guy that Admiral Marcus claims  had been frozen for being basically a genocidal conqueror. Marcus's other decisions aside, I actually see no reason not to believe him about that, so then why would the Federation see getting the perspective of Kahn or any of his fellow super-humans as a good  idea?

But wait a second, they were frozen. And get re-frozen.

I think this freezing thing is a really convenient way for the Federation to get around its "no death penalty" policy. But why can't they  just store them in prison cells and try the rehabilitative practices they use instead of the death penalty on anyone else? We aren't told whether or not this was ever even attempted- and if the goal of the Federation is peace, they should try and try again at it, regardless of how many times it failed in the past. They shouldn't give up on rehabilitation. But instead, they  do. But since they can't technically kill them, they mostly do- because honest, how different is being frozen from being actually dead? They retain brain function, ,but that's it. TECHNICALLY, they aren't dead, but what kind of life  do they  have? None of any normative value. 

This may come as a surprise  to anyone  that knows me personally and happens to be reading this, but I honestly don't consider a vegetative state to be meaningful. Sure, it's life, but life and meaning share a space on a venn diagram- they aren't mutually exclusive, but I don't think they entirely overlap, either. Now, if a person is born with a cognitive disability, or experiences something that causes their mind to regress, that's different. Natural or un-intentional circumstances are one thing, and yes, the rights, autonomy, and humanity of those persons should never, ever, ever be disregarded or devalued; at the same time, quality of life must be taken into consideration, so while I'd never choose to pull the plug on someone that didn't say for me to, I've told myriad close friends and family members that if I ever get in an accident and, after being revived, need life support and am entirely unresponsive, etc., to jjust let me go.

But being forced into a state like that, be it by getting frozen, or through some other (likely horrific) circumstance (lobotomies, anyone?) is entirely different. So an institution such  as the Federation, one that professes the preservation of life and sentience, could then deprive a whole group of people (72, to be exact, right? I guess 73 if you count Kahn himself) of their sentience. It's not quite genocide, but only because of what comes down to, basically semantics. They're getting away with mass murder on a technicality, when their very accusation against these people is just that, mass murder.

This is why Kahn is actually pretty easily sympathizable (aw yeah making up words!). We know what  the Federation is doing is fucked up- but the thing is, this actually, I think, is meant to apply more to the militarization aspect than the freezing one.

Which is bollocks.

The militaritarization aspect goes hand-in-hand with this freezing thing, because it represents the Federation's arrogant stance for other peoples to take , which is basically, "Do as we say, not as we do." It's cool for the  Federation to have hugeass nukes, because other, more dangerous people do, too, and they're Bad. It's cool for the Federation to essentially kill a bunch of people,  but not someone else.

Sound familiar?

'Murica, FUCK YEAH.

I don't know if this parallel was intended or not, nor whether if it was made on purpose, if it was also meant to be a critique of this imperialist jingoism that's so prominent in the U.S.

Part of the ambiguity (intentional or not) comes from us conveniently not knowing just how much Marcus was acting on his own. He certainly presents himself as Federation-sanctioned, and that in itself is problematic. Even if the Federation didn't approve his actions, though, I think the assumption that they would have is enough to label the  Fe
deration as a group of imperialist assholes. 

But to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, I know from experience that it's often really hard to fight if you're operating under a different set of rules than your opponent(s). If the Federation refuses to have weaponry, any member societies will be extremely vulnerable to societies with more violent desires. So defensive measures are, you could say, entirely necessary. Of course, the limitation, then, is that they should never strike first. And framing the Klingons for blowing up the Enterprise unprovoked is definitely manufacturing a first strike on the part of someone else. 

I guess my point about the Federation, though, is that for all its self-aggrandizing philosophical dogma it projects and that thus comes out of the mouths of some of its members (ahem, Spock), there's a lot of hypocrisy and selective following of its own rules that forms a very intrinsic part of its operation. And that, my friends, parallels the way current imperialism and militarism are justified in our real world right now.

Finally, I promised some Iron Man 3 comparisons. Both movies obviously get at a lot of hypermilitarisation and state-sanctioned violent themes (although I don't really address those when analyzing Iron Man 3, as a commenter was ever so kind as to point out). But one thing both share in common is this whitewashing thing. The  Mandarin was portrayed by Ben Kingsley at first- which in itself is ish, since he played Ghandi before and does have at least some connection to persons of color; but  then he actually ends up being Guy Pierce, who is, as I put to a friend in person yesterday, "less not-white than Ben Kingsley." 

That's two major blockbusters in a month that did the secret-whitewashing thing that Marissa Sammy talks about in the article I linked up above, and she even brings Iron Man 3 up, too. And that's a serious problem. And while there could be some truth to the argument that Cumberbatch may being in lots of money, that's actually the problem- the bottom line is the main concern. And anybody  that knows me knows I'm a Cumberbitch. But for crying out loud, Abrams produced Lost, a show featuring this hunk of manmeat, goes by the name of Naveen Andrews:

I'm the first to demand Benny have my babies,
but Naveen Andrews... boy does he get my
ladybits a-goin'. 
And okay, I know I'm being silly, but honestly, apart from how fucking gorgeous he is. Andrews is a fantastic actor. The way he played Sayid in Lost was heart-wrenching, believable, insanely badass (one example of about a hundred from the series), and entirely on-par with anything Benedict has done in the past. And as riveting and badass as Cumberbatch was, I genuinely think Naveen Andrews could have done just as well. I'm kind of disgusted with Abrams for not having a person of Indian descent play Kahn, especially when he has access to Naveen. Shame on you, JJ. Shame on you. 

So disclaimer, since I know now I'm gonna get poo-pooed. As I said, this isn't a review, it's a critical analysis. I thought it was a pretty fun action flick. Was it a good Star Trek movie? Eh, not really, and far less so than the last one. But that discussion would be another entry... 

*A movie  I love that totally fucks with all of these tropes and more is Stargate. That movie is a gem. I could rewatch it weekly. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The "Settling" Problem (With a final note on power structures)

So my poor self esteem has led to me having multiple consciousnesses at once. One of them recognizes how awesome I am and that I shouldn't conform to make people like me, that they should like me for who I am, etc. That my body shouldn't matter in making friends or finding a romantic partner, because what's on the inside is probably a bajillion times better than the nearest "hottie." But there's enough doubt in other versions of me that thinks I often  "settle" when it comes to friends (as in I associate with people that treat me like shit far more often than I should put up with), and is afraid I'll end up "settling" for the first asshole that says he loves me. I know I do the former, and I haven't had the opportunity (if you can call it that) to test the latter- fingers crossed, it won't actually need to be tested, right?

Settling in relationships, of course, leads to dissatisfaction in them. I put up with people treating me like shit because I still have that kind of unhealthy desire to be liked- but then when they take advantage of me, take me for granted, knowingly say or do things that'll hurt me, I internalize the accompanying feelings of ickiness and often don't say anything.

There's that saying, "I don't get mad, I get even." Mine is, "I don't get mad, I get hurt."

So I imagine if I did end up in a serious romantic relationship with a total  Grade A, FDA Certified Douchebag, I'd probably take his crap and be miserable. Because who else would love me? I'd be lucky to find that guy, and I should thank him for stooping so low.

Yeah, I know, I'm fucked up.

But again, there's a part of me that knows I shouldn't do that, and I'll do my best to let that part have the last say in the matter, should it ever be necessary.

But there are situations where I'm forced to settle by societal structures and practices. And it pisses me off a lot. 

People, I'm talking about clothing shopping, here.

And let me say now, I recognize most people hate clothing shopping because it's hard for them to find stuff. I'm not trying to marginalize the perspectives of anyone else- I'm just highlighting  my own  experiences here to elucidate some overarching structural inequalities that are inherent in the system of the clothing manufacturing world. 

So okay, disclaimer done.

I know there are a lot of factors in my physique intersecting together leading to this whole "clothing" business being so gorram complicated and resulting in sub-par outcomes. 

1) I'm short. 5"1.5', to be exact. This isn't to say there aren't adorable clothes in the petite sections of most places, but...

2) I'm overweight. I've been so since I was like seven, so yeah. What a lot of people I know currently don't realize is I weighed over 230lbs when I graduated from college. I lost nearly  eighty of that before grad school. Yay! Right? Well, I blame grad school for how I look now (partially- yeah yeah, self responsibility, yadda yadda, I'll get to that soon), because I lost five sizes over those two years between degrees, and I've gained back three since grad school. Sigh.

3) My boobs. I'm not trying to sound, like, pervy or, "BOYS LOOK AT ME!" or anything- it's an objective fact, they're large, and I invest money in good, um, hardware to keep them in control and in the proper area of the ribcage to minimize back pain and such. I still do have back pain, but the one consistent thing I can say about my doctor visits is when they talk to me about that kind of pain, they tell me to keep doing what I'm doing. So I'll keep using the same underwires until I'm told otherwise, thank you very much. I call them The Girls. 

4) I have like no butt or thighs. You'd think that'd be a good thing, but since most of my excess weight is in my upper body, it leads to some pretty ridiculous chicken-leg-esque stuff. 

Assuming things are the right length, I have these problems:

Shirts- Either too tight around The Girls (sometimes ridiculously so), or a huge, billowy, pillowcase-ee thing around the rest of me if The Girls are comfortable (and in shirts that aren't supposed to be billowy, I'll add). And there are also the shirts I can't even get around The Girls, too. Even when I can tell they'd prolly go around the rest of my torso alright.

Pants- If they fit around the waist, they're baggy in the crotch/thigh. Like, to the point sometimes where they resemble MC Hammer pants. Or pants that are good around the thigh and rear are too tight around the waist, and/or often do that disgusting cameltoe thing in the front. 

Skirts- Hug or hang from my rolls in ways that are just not cool. 

But often, there are problems in length. Clothes seem to be made in such a way that as width/size increases, so too does length. So sure, the pants may fit my waist and thighs fine, but they're also a foot too long. Or capris look more like highwaters. Or knee-lengths look like capris. Etc. Shirts? They sometimes look more like dresses (but not in a way I can pass off as if it was meant to be that way). Just way  too long. And this can go for the sleeves,too. Skirts are a major Hellstorm to navigate- skirts meant to fall mid-calf go to my ankles, etc.

Now, while I know I'm also sort of conforming  to the hegemonic societal determinants of attractive and such by wanting to minimize how visible my flab is and such, I still find it ridiculous how hard that compliance is.

Just because I'm fat, doesn't mean I'm eight  feet tall.

But because of all of these weird things, I end up settling for things in a lot of ways. 

-I'm pretty much resolved to the fact that I'll not be able to fully close a button-up shirt and will have to leave some open and have a cami or tank underneath. Whenever I do find a button-up that somehow, miraculously, closes, I freak out and buy it, and I don't care how much it costs. I once spent $45 on a shirt because of that. Which is utterly ridiculous. 

-I often get skirts that are too long and just wear the waistband up really high on my torso in order for them to be the proper length. This tends to result in part of a cute pattern being lost under my shirt. And also in me wearing kind of wonky shirts to cover the fabric of the skirt that's practically reaching my bra.

-I get the cameltoe pants and wear really long shirts that I'd rather not have to wear (much like with the skirts).

-I roll up the bottoms of capris so they're actually capris.

-I'll buy the capris and wear them like regular jeans or leggings. This usually results in a lot of tugging downward, and sometimes massive rolling up by the end of the day to get them at the length/spot they're supposed to be in the first place.

-I get shirts that really are too loose around the rest of me because they don't squeeze The Girls as if they were about to fall off.

-I'll get pants that are both too billowy in the thigh and too long, resulting in more really long shirts as well as really worn, tattered, dirty pant cuffs. I'd sometimes trip over the pieces of denim trailing around under me when I was in high school.

-I usually don't bother trying on dresses- I do better with blouse-skirt combos, but again, I often have to compromise with those, somehow. 

-Blazers and jackets either don't button/zip the whole way because of The Girls, or if they do, the sleeves are ridiculously too long, as is the actual length of the coat. So I get kind of loose jackets, and blazers I just don't bother trying to close- at all. 

-More solid colors than I'd prefer because patterns tend to put huge blotches right over one of The Girls (in a way that is just bloody distracting), or stripes following all the wrong places,  or they're just plain hideous. 

Sure, I go to plus sections of stores, but This Tumblr Says It All. I mean, seriously, plus size manufacturers assume a bunch of crap about fat women, seem to think we're all...

... at least six feet tall. Apparently I'm doing something wrong, here, because I didn't get taller when I gained that weight back. But seriously, all the "average" length pants in plus I've ever tried on were even more ridiculously long than regular sized. And so many times, shirts hang down way too long and just look plain ridiculous.

... desperate to look like couches, curtains, or other upholstered items around the house. I don't  get it, but like WTF Plus is great at pointing out, it's as if manufacturers are trying  to "help" by providing outlandish or scenic patterns, like those are supposed to, what, distract from the fat?

... into wearing burlap sacks, or things shaped like them. Seriously, I am so fucking sick of the Goddamned mumus and wraps and shirts that are shaped like  squares. Honesly, if we're "supposed" to be  hiding our bulk, wouldn't billowing like a fucking sail as we walk past sort of defeat the purpose? Ugh. 

... rolling in dough and have millions of dollars to burn on said clothing. The "specialty" shops for heavy ladies always  cost way  too much- like fifty dollars for a pair of jeans. And come on, seriously, that's fucking stupid. I know there's no point in going into some of the plus sections in some pretty nice stores, too, because a plain black T-shirt is going to cost me twenty dollars (while the same shirt in Misses is fifteen), and the sales rack is filled with the stuff of nightmares. And those sales racks look that way because anything worth leaving the house in has been purchased already. (Yeah, I know this happens everywhere, but it's exacerbated in specialty sizes because the selection already consists of fewer items.) And the sales racks at specialty plus stores do that, too- they're hideous. 

And this isn't just an in-store trend. I'm signed up for a few flash  sale/ here until it's gone-type stores, and the plus  clothing  always has some pretty aesthetically offensive pieces. Here's some I got from the email for one I'm signed up just this morning:

This pattern looks like an accessory stand  vomited onto
a dalmation. And  the cut is  like a sheet. 

The way that top poofs is weird enough,
but being above that pattern,
it just looks like a mistake.

Let's go out of our way to accent
on a woman's body!

While I love the color, again, it looks  like
something was draped. Reminds me of this:
So I guess I'd feel like a princess
wearing it, eh?

So it's either get stuff that's cut in such a way, it's probably not as flattering as I'd like, or get the stuff that's basically cut well enough, but with patterns that could give a person an aneurysm if they stared long enough. In other words, settling.

This isn't to say my entire wardrobe fits incorrectly or looks like an accident  involving a paint truck  and a wild animal- I have enough stuff to get by, at least. It would just be great if I could pay the same price as non-plus-sized women and get clothes that fit me.

And premiums because of fabric amounts or whatever my ass. Sometimes it's blatantly obvious there's a fat tax on clothes, at least some of it.

And same with short or petites. If anything, you'd think those would cost less- but no, it costs more. As if there has to be some specialized machine that makes smaller versions of stuff...? Sure, petite sizes aren't standard, but the thing is


Even within the same fucking store or brand label. A Medium in shirt 1 is twice as large as the Large in shirt 2, but it's pretty fucking obvious that 1 isn't supposed to be billowy and 2 isn't supposed to be skin tight. Size A waistband in one pant is way too big, when it's obviously too small in another, but Size B in yet another pant is too small, so you go all the way up to D and are like, um, excuse me? Seriously, whenever I shop, I look at a whole range of three different sizes in shirts, just to be safe, and I've found myself doing the same in the end with things like jeans or slacks (because I'll take one in the fitting room, it doesn't fit, so I try another, and that doesn't fit, etc.). 

So the arguments for either, a premium on plus or petite clothing, to me, seems bogus. What the fuck are they comparing it to? Can't even be their own  factories, because shit coming from the same factory seems to be randomly assigned size and shape. 

And  while I'm discussing  petite, I think some assumptions  about petite fashion are made, too. All women under 5'6"...

... are old ladies. While sure, there's some decent professional stuff, when I bother to look in petites, way too much of the "casual" stuff looks like the things my grandmother on my dad' side would wear- she's nearly eighty, I believe, and wears a wig every day- yes,  she's one of those little old retire-ees*. We're talking t-shirts with  embroidered flowers and glitter and studs all over the place. I like to think  my grandma on my mom's side would wear better stuff than that, but she passed away a long time ago, so the only outfits I remember her wearing were pretty generic jeans and shirts. But what is it with the audaciously  colored capris with shit embroidered on them, too? And the huge, gaudy applique? Shit like this is ubiquitous:

... are either doctors themselves, or married to one. Again, like with plus, petites cost a fortune, and for no apparent reason other than it's an excuse to charge more, tacking that "petite" label on the clothing. See above rants about standard sizing and the cost of plus clothing and what's left on the sales racks. It's the same thing with petite sections and  stores- too expensive, with  sales racks that make me want to laugh hysterically or vomit (the latter, I sometimes wonder,  may look prettier) because anything actually wearable has been snatched up already.

... are skinny. Not only have I never seen a plus petite, but I know from talking to friends and personal experience that yes, lengths are shrunk in petites, but also circumferences. So a regular medium is more like a small in petites for what goes around the torso. So it's like the reverse of plus clothes getting longer/taller. Petites are expected to be skinnier. 

So I'm going to pull an  Obi Wan and make a generalization to criticize the generalizations being made. 

I think the problems with sizing  and cuts stem from vast misunderstandings of the human body and how it develops on the part of mass-market designers and fancy runway people, too (because  let's not forget that pivotal scene in The  Devil Wears Prada about how bargain buys can be traced back to elite fashion peeps). I think there are misunderstandings and assumptions that bad ideas like harem/parachute pants that look good on the runway will then look good on regular  women, so they get translated into stuff like this and this when mass-produced.  But even those runway designers have to tailor their stuff to the individual models  with which they're working, so why  mass-market people can go after styles that really only work for very specific body types... well... they want money, of course. The thing is, every single body  develops and changes in its own way, due to age, stress, weight-gain and loss, pregnancy, hormone shifts, depression, medical conditions... Every single one. Now, some change in similar ways, but to assume that width and height always increase proportionally, as if the human body was a pixelated image in Microsoft Paint or  Adobe Photoshop- that's fucking ridiculous. To assume that every person of the same height is going to have the same build is willful ignorance. And charging extra money for products that'll be purchased by people that don't fit into those utterly preposterous boundaries is unethical.

But here's one caveat. Like I said in the beginning, my size/body  shouldn't matter. This post could very easily turn  into one about fat-shaming, something I detest almost as much  as ableism. But I'm not going to go there right now. But I'll push again something I alluded to already- it's terribly ironic that there's a hegemonic discourse that places a pejorative connotation on "fat," but so much of the clothes for "fat" people only make them look fatter. As if  to mark them out more than the bodies in which they inhabit by putting costume-like shit on them. I understand  and  agree with concerns about health, but saving the shitty fabric for fat people is cruel and  furthers the Otherization of bodies that aren't conforming  to the arbitrary standards of society. As long as a person's health isn't at risk, they shouldn't be criticized for their  weight. A lot of people simply can't get below a certain size without endangering themselves in another (I'm one of them- when I lost all that weight a few years ago, my doctor told me to stop because even though I was still a double-digit size, my build and other health conditions made getting much smaller risky, too).

And  THIS  relates to how power works in myriad other settings. The group in charge defines the terms of what's acceptable  and  points out every time a member  of another group is doing something  deemed unacceptable under said terms. Yet at the same time, the rules of the game often make compliance for out-groups nigh impossible. The standards are either so high that they're nigh impossible for outsiders, or those outsiders are confronted enough with deliberate barriers to meeting those standards that it just becomes a losing  game for them. And then,  when the  outgroup expresses dissatisfaction, the blame is placed on them.

So the counters to my upset would be stuff about how I should lose weight, and it's my fault for being poor, or some shit like  that.

Fuck you hegemon. Fuck you with a spiked pole in the ass.  I like who I am, and  I like  the things I like. And  if people don't like me  because I'm in clothes that look weird, they  should turn  their  attention to the fashion industry and blame them, not sneer at me because I have a few extra pounds.

Besides, nobody could have boobs  like mine and be a size 0 without having  medical problems.  So kiss my fat, Native American ass, Judgy McJudgerpants. 

*My favorite story to tell about her is our first conversation after she moved to Arizona. "How do you like it out there, Grandma? Handling the heat okay?" Her reply, in her southern Mississippi accent, "Gab, huh-ne, mah wig melted."

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Myth of the Supercrip, Disease, Ableism, and 'Iron Man 3'

My favorite website to dick around on, Overthinkingit (link in the sidebar, mwahahaha), has been having some issues with trolls lately, and while they usually show up on posts related to gender, sexuality, sexism, etc. (basically, any time someone says women are still treated unequally in any context), they've decided to ease back from the identity politics biznass for a while, let the waters simmer, etc. I dig, but that means my Disability and Disney idea got passed over. Poop. Well, the chief editor was (genuinely) gracious enough to warn me a piece about Iron Man 3 and disability was about to be published- and I had already started this entry, having seen the movie myself and come out with some rather strong opinions (go figure- me? Strong opinions? Perish the thought, right?). So here's a link to the article there, by Jordon Stokes (a great problematizer, as you'll see if/when you read it), followed by my direct response to it; after that, I'll, uh, change fonts and add in what I had been thinking of posting myself that didn't get covered by said response to Mr. Stokes:


Oh, and it prolly goes without saying, but...

In answer to your more specific call for comments: There isn’t a straight answer from the research and theories out there on disability that I’ve encountered in my research yet- but I’m only a Ph.D. student, and I know I’ve only dappled into the literature thus far. Everybody cites everybody else, though, so I’m guessing I can basically make a semi-informed assertion and it’s alright... Anyhoo, so there’s a large debate within the  disability studies community/literature, as well as in the community of disability advocacy organizations, about how much we should recognize/acknowledge disability, and what constitutes personhood. On the far side, the “critical disability theory” camp proclaims that disability needs to be considered no more of a big deal than a person’s hair or eye color. Groups like Disability is Natural exemplify this, from their promotion of PFL (person first language- nuances of verbage and sentence formation wherein connecting words like “has” and “with” are used, rather than the all-encompassing forms, such as “with autism” or “has a disability” as opposed to “autistic” or “is disabled”) to their rather vociferous claims for disability being  basically ignored because it’s nothing more than a social construct. Members of this camp, whether academic or advocate, are proponents of society complying to anomaly, sometimes to the point where even violent behavior as a result of a specific condition isn’t even frowned upon or prevented, for eample (or, rather, they claim it shouldn’t be, in the very normative , society needs to do X, kind of way). Then there’s the camp focused on a civil rights perspective- these academics and advocates see the disabled as a protected class that needs legal assistance in order to achieve full citizenship. The National Disabilities Rights Network is a perfect example, as they focus on court actions and legislatures; and while they, too, promote PFL, their approach is more from a perspective that disability needs to be recognized but not be-all-end-all, and, further, the government needs to make up for the institutional oppression persons with disabilities have experienced since forever. Finally, on the other end of the spectrum of the critical disability scholars, we have the camp that treats disability like a disease. These scholars and advocates promote knowledge about the causes and treatments of disability- academics focus on what constitutes disability and what genetic or environmental factors lead to it, while advocacy groups, such as the National Autism Association usually promote funding for research for causes and cures, as well as “awareness” campaigns to “alert” people of disability. Both academics and advocates alike in this camp tend to emphasize the role of the non-disabled in the lives of those around them or for which they're responsible (that have disabilities).

Group one criticizes two for its definitions of citizenship in the first place- legalistic definitions of “citizenship,” so the story goes, come from an ableist dialectic that claims disabled persons must be made or thought of exactly like non-disabled persons in order to be “citizens” in the first place. Both one and two criticize three for a dehumanizing and paternalistic perspective and treatment of disability and persons with disabilities- disability needs to be incorporated, not quarantined, they say, and eradicating it removes integral parts of the personhood of these people; also, they criticize three for removing autonomy from persons with disabilities. Group two criticizes one for being unrealistic and ignoring the fact that the “oughts” of society are often in direct contrasts with the “is,” and demanding immediate change would be too traumatic and basically impossible to achieve. Group three criticizes both for not taking  disability seriously enough, framing the issue as if one and two are heartless for desiring the disabled and their loved ones continue suffering.

My reading of the movie, then, is that it’s treating disability like group three. As I said on the notes for the podcast about the movie (here's a link to that), the serum is symbolic of the inherent desire within society to eradicate disability. Because while sure, groups one and two exist, they’re fighting against a much larger hegemonic structure that devalues disability/anomaly to the point where it’s feared. Like you said, though, the serum is more like a drug than a cure within the world of the movie, but taken in the broader cultural context that created the movie, it represents the desperate search for an end to disability through some outside or humanly manufactured force, rather than a societal shift that doesn’t construct disability as problematic in the first place. So it may not be called a "cure" directly, but that's what it's supposed to be- both in the movie and as a symbol for the culture in which the movie exists. 

I think groups one and two would see the “utopia” of the movie as one of ableism. The “true being” is one without disability- Tony and Pepper are, essentially, “cured” of their disabilities, and as they’re part of the group of protagonists, this is a Good thing. Ableism is more than just using “retarded” pejoratively- it’s a discourse in the muti-faceted sense of the word, one that establishes modes of behavior and moral hierarchical structures in society. It devalues disability and places lack of disability as morally superior. So a “true” person in the utopia of the movie is one without a disability, like Tony and Pepper in the end. Group three would be fine with this utopia, as it’s the one they strive for, while one and two would be displeased with this. 

But a point of compromise comes from Wrather’s comment on the podcast, too. He asked about surgeons reattaching limbs on the battle field, and why that should be morally okay, but retroactively regrowing limbs wouldn't. I actually think the surgery Tony has and the removal of the serum from Pepper represent this. In the middle of battle, the soldier’s life is in danger, after all, and while okay, you can live without your limb, preserving the person as close to what they were before being injured is the goal. And the shrapnel and serum were exogenous factors, themselves not natural to the internal development process, that then become not just inconvenient- they become life threatening. Pepper could have blown up; Tony’s heart would have been torn to shreds. There’s a fourth camp (uh oh!) that really focuses on the intersections of queer and gender theory with disability theory, and they go beyond saying disability is just a social construction (as group one does) and more than just a civil matter (group two); disability is more intrinsic to processes of becoming and identity formation, rather than societal or legal structure, per se. They assert that anomaly plays a role, whether present in the body or mind of the individual or not. They assert this as a direct result of ableism, and pound in the normative character of how disability is thus constructed (even deconstructing the word “disability” a lot, for example). But they’re also highly pragmatic- they recognize the social, political, and environmental factors contributing to processes of becoming, of assigning and internalizing stigma, etc., and they focus on individual well-being, rather than group consciousness. So this group would say, basically, take the approach that has the best outcome for the individual immediately affected. Since the shrapnel would friggn’ kill Tony, get rid of it. And that’s okay! And this group would ask questions like, “What societal structures led those veterans to be so desperate to get rid of their disabilities, they’d risk their lives and moral/ethical compasses in order to do so?” And the answer is the hegemonic discourse (DRINK!) and paradigms created and enabled (hah!) by ableism.  

As for the Cartesian self, groups one through three all fall implicitly into that paradigm (even when the disability is of the mind, for they view that as a brain malfunction, i.e. something physically wrong with the brain leading to the more corporeal abnormalities). That may sound wonky, but it’s a lot easier to do than one would think, and I actually believe it’s something we do in everyday discourse, whether about disability or not, and even if not on purpose. Group four explicitly rejects this, though, as their emphasis is on how the lived body interacts with other bodies as well as the environments in which it exists, and that bodily experience directly influences the metaphysical. I haven’t seen it in any literature from group four thus far, but I think a nuance they’d probably  be down with is saying “theirself” as opposed to “their self” to emphasize the inseparability of physical experience from corporeal epxerience. 

Lastly, I must respectfully disagree with the assertion that this movie isn’t about disability. So many of the messages in pop culture aren’t explicit, but rather heavily implied- so while nobody ever says “disability” or “cure” in this movie… well, it’s kind of hard not to see the corollaries. Further, the conflation of physical and corporeal disability as “the same thing” in this movie is exactly parallel to much of the ableist paradigm in the real world- actually, this conflation is quite essential to it. Ableism depends on that binary of with- and with-out disability, and it lumps anything that’s a “with” together. This is evidenced in lots of ways, for example in how legislation such as ADA addresses emotional, mental, mobile, visual, developmental, hearing, etc. impairments all the same. So the fact that the movie is reflecting the real world’s problematic distortion of the wide, porous range of disability doesn’t make it not about disability- if anything, I’d say that makes it more profoundly so, as it’s not even attempting to problematize how disability is perceived and presented, but instead regurgitating it flatly. The audience is expected to buy into these assertions that PTSD is the same as illness is the same as losing a hand is the same as addiction because that’s the operative discourse in the real world. I’m glad you could see how problematic that is, but seeing it as problematic in the movie doesn’t make the movie not about disability.

So here are my additions:

I want to talk about Aldrich and the vets a bit more, because they represent two pervasive, negative stereotypes of disability that are often shoved at the public through film, literature, and media coverage. First, as I spoke of on the podcast’s comments, is the “supercrip.” This is the person with a disability that “overcomes” their disability. They usually end up being practically superhuman or something- think Lance Armstrong or Christopher Reeve- by doing what even non-disabled people wouldn’t try to do. This stereotype sets up persons with disabilities negatively in two ways: 1) It sets incredibly high standards (the running, somewhat snarky remark among disability scholars is that people in wheelchairs may as well learn to pop wheelies when they see curbs without accessibility lips), and 2) implies any person with a disability that doesn't achieve such greatness is somehow inferior to the supercrip. It contains a moral superiority/high-horse-type message within it. 

Well, Aldrich definitely comes across as a supercrip when he breathes fire, and we see the veterans demonstrating superhuman strength and their regenerative capabilities willy nilly. And the guy Tony watches from the stock footage while in the van, the vet that says something about not letting the disability be the end of him or whatever, that exemplifies the rhetoric of the supercrip mythos (and yeah, I admit I don’t remember precisely what the dude says, but I remember thinking it sounded just like something a generic supercrip would spout). While "supercrip" isn't used, "supersoldier" certainly is myriad times in the movie. I realize I was probably hypersensitive to it, but I felt like I was being beaten of the head with a hammer of subtletly about this supercrip/soldier metaphor. 

What I’d like to add, here, is that the supercrips (except, of course, Tony and Pepper) in this movie are all presented as bad- which can be a good thing, sure, because that could tell us the myth of the supercrip is false; but it also leads to stereotype two, which is the disabled person as sinister, evil and criminal. Movies and media present serial killers and stalkers as “crazy,” and consistently emphasizing their “craziness” as the reason for the crimes committed. Discussions about shootings, murders, and even acts of terrorism become “regular” people being worried about mental stability and sanity backgrounds, rather than the socio- and geo-political structures contributing to whatever actions being covered. Persons with disabilities aren’t usually shown as regular characters in fiction, but when they do, and if it’s not a plot-point that they have a wheelchair or Downs or something, they’re usually someone with a mental disorder that attacks someone or does something traditional frameworks of morality would consider wrong. Disability isn’t just otherized neutrally, then, but rather otherized in a way that’s exacerbated by fear. Other is deadly and will murder you and not care about it. All the baddies in this movie (except the VP) are examples of this stereotype, because the negative effects of Extremis lead to them going “crazy” and being totally okay with killing people. Like you said, Stokes, their moral compasses are compromised when on Extremis, and whether we’re viewing them as inhuman  because they’re addicts (which yes, society absolutely constructs addicts as less-than-human), or if we’re just keeping the fact that they had limbs blown off in the back of our minds, either way, they’re disabled and doing Bad Things. 

Another thing I'd like to emphasize is the VP. It's brushed upon a bit by Stokes, but I think our expected reaction to his daughter's leg is highly important. The shot of that little girl are a Big Reveal- her leg is focused on for a few seconds, and danger music starts as the camera zooms in on the space that we'd expect to be occupied by a lower shin, ankle, and foot. We're supposed to feel shock, having not expected this (as we've been given no reason whatsoever to think there was an inside man at all up until that very moment) (which is actually kind of crappy writing, just saying). But we're also supposed to at least sympathize, if not empathize, with the VP and why he'd want to help someone with a serum that could regrow her leg. And in order to do that, we're supposed to believe disability is a bad thing- if it weren't, why would we be remotely understanding of a Vice President  that's willing to betray his President and Country? 

The image of the little girl is doubly-exploitative. It's a kid, and it's a kid in a wheelchair. Heartstrings: SNAPPED. Actually, the more I think about it, the more that whole subplot pisses me off. They could have done away with it and the abduction of the President would have worked just fine. Hell, it actually could have been kind of cool if they had been able to figure out it wasn't Rhodes in the suit, but at the last second or something, or if someone on Air Force One that figured it out/ had been told and was trying to warn others had been killed. Instead, two cheap, exploitative tropes were used to justify a minuscule plot-point. Ugh. 


As a scholar of disability theory (see? I usually don't pull that shit, but this is my dissertation, for Pete's sake...), if I was to sum up my feelings about the movie's portrayal of disability succinctly (hah, me succinct, that's pretty hilarious, right?), I'd say that it's operating from the overarching abelist paradigms already in place in modern society- at least modern Western, 'Murican paradigms and discourses. It takes myriad assumptions for granted because that's how ableism itself operates, and its non-questioning of those assumptions implies reinforcement, not challenge, to them. Extremis symbolizes the drive to eradicate disability off of which ableism garners tacit- if not explicit- support. The veterans are nearly caricaturized versions of the myth of the supercrip and the murderous disabled person. But ultimately, the movie takes a stand that could help persons with or without disabilities live in this world with one another. 

I'd like to push things a little and say that maybe, since we see how the "cure" isn't really a cure, but rather becomes another addictive/harmful substance, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, the writers are trying to say we shouldn't strive for a cure for disability, and  that maybe we should live with conditions once they reach the point  where they're irreversible. I think this sort of falls apart with Tony (since he has found a way to live with the shrapnel), though. Still, I'd like to think there's at least a little merit to this, as I did like the movie so much.

On that note, I really, really enjoyed the movie. More than the second in the franchise; it has been so long since I've seen the first, I cant't quite say if that's still my favorite now. My love of critiquing things I love is something I've done for ages, even when I didn't realize that was what I was doing. Christ, when I was a little kid, I'd go from asking my mom why Ariel was such a bad girl (deliberately disobeying and getting into a shouting match with her dad? TOTALLY naughty!) to singing "Part of Your World" in the bathtub, acting out this scene entirely (and making a mess in the process). Skills and capabilities have grown, but the basic idea has remained the same.

I think that's probably why I fall into the fourth camp. I have my ideals and  aspirations, but I realize there  are a lot of real barriers to them.  So I can enjoy  Iron Man 3 but still recognize it has some serious flaws or problematics embedded within its scenes, characterizations, dialogue, visuals... etc.