Thursday, July 17, 2014

'The Killing' is Kinda Killing Me

SPOILERS for True Detective, Twin Peaks, and The Killing

I haven't finished it yet, but  there are two things in The Killing  that led to me  thinking it is just... Reeeeeally problematic. Okay, so if there's one trope I'm really tired of, it's the "whore gets killed" one in film and on TV (and yeah, I'm sure in books). One version is the Disposable Sex Worker trope, wherein the drama in the piece of pop culture in question centers on the quest to search for the murderer of at least one prostitute. A recent example that garnered much critical acclaim is True Detective. Now, don't get me wrong- I thought it was a fantastic piece of television, and it did a fabulous job of raising some poignant questions. It was well-acted, well-directed, and well-filmed. But the entire plot rested on the objectification of women's bodies, and not a single damn woman in the series had an existence that didn't depend on a man's. Because even the prostitutes at the brothel the detectives visit at one point, their whole schtick and reason to exist in the series is to service men and to be interviewed by the male detectives (or saved, too- another tired trope) (of course, SPOILER, dude ends up sleeping with her later... ugh). Anyway, my point is, I enjoyed the miniseries, but there was no humanity given to any of the victims, not even the main one whose murder the detectives were trying to solve. She's described basically as a whore and a junkie, useless and trashy.

Another and related trope, one I wish had an entry on TV Tropes but doesn't, is what I'm going to call the "Good Girl Has Secret Sex Life (That Kills Her)" trope. I started to really put my finger on this one when watching through Twin Peaks with my roommie in the fall. As Agent Cooper looks into the murder of Laura Palmer, we discover she wasn't the sweet, angelic highschooler all the adults in town thought she was- rather, she was a promiscuous drug addict that knew all sorts of shady dudes that could have potentially been the one(s) to rape and murder her. There's even this really disturbing subplot that she was having sex with her psychologist and left him sexy recordings of her voice. And so as Cooper discovers more and more about her, she's changed from a vivacious homecoming queen to a secret fille fatale that goes after adults instead of "silly highschool boys."

So this brings me to The Killing. In this one, the victim is another highschooler, like Laura Palmer, that supposedly everybody liked and was a good girl and all that kinda jazz. Her name is Rosie. But we quickly learn there's a dude she's been having sex with for at least a year; when a video made the night she was killed is found of that guy and one of his friends raping her (or at least it sure looks like rape), and the two highschool boys are shown it, they both smirk and laugh and dismiss it, one of them flat-out saying, "You ain't got shit." And later in that same episode, the police show Rosie's parents some huge high heels and costume jewelry that they don't recognize as being Rosie's, but those detectives are pretty sure it is. And finally, at the end of the episode, it's heavily implied that Rosie was sleeping with one of her teachers. The thing with the teacher is dragged on and on through the season, and is never fully resolved (I mean, we find out he had been trying to save a Muslim girl at his mosque from an arranged marriage, but it's still never completely proven Rosie and the teacher didn't have inappropriate relations). And toward the end of the season, we find out that she was sneaking around with a fake license to do things like go to casinos. And in the end, it turns out she was basically pulling a Laura Palmer and was taking part in an "introduction service" (read: prostitution/call-girl service) and it was through this that she met her killer.

I should point out, the marketing was strikingly similar between Twin Peaks and The Killing, too. The question of, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" was one of the taglines for the show; "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" is one for The Killing

Yet much of both of these shows emphasizes the sex life of the girl whose murder is being solved, not her killer. Seems a little disingenuine, and the tagline should really read, "Who did [character name] sleep with?" or, "How trashy was [character name]?"

SIDENOTE: There's also some backstory with the main character, Detective Linden, involving a former case that drove her a little over the edge. Said case involved a "dead hooker" (direct quote) that had been "slashed in her apartment" and dead for two weeks- with her six-year-old son trapped in there with her. It's not directly related, but still of note because it's framed as a defining thing for Linden, and it involved a "dead hooker." Literally the only description this victim gets, aside from the word victim, is the aforementioned "dead hooker" line. Her only purpose for being  brought up is as a plot device for angst and mental instability on Linden's part.

And it's important to note that while some time in the first couple episodes of S2, when the sorta-boyfriend gets interrogated again, he claims he and Rosie never slept together because  she'd cry  whenever he tried, we were certainly led to believe for nigh a whole season she had been having regular sex with him, or at least used to- and that this fact somehow contributed to her death. So, you know, teenaged girls can't have sex without being raped and murdered. 

And why does this bother me so? Well, for a few reasons.

I feel like both versions, the out-right prostitute, or the "whoring good girl," so to speak, put the victims on trial. Their backstory and history comes under scrutiny, their humanity is diminished, and they become less of a homicide (and usually rape) victim, and more of a Bad Woman/Girl that got what she deserved or, not-quite-literally dug her own grave. The investigation becomes an attack on the character as a person, under the ruse of tracking down the killer.

And I know prostitutes do get killed, etc. But that's not the point. These overused tropes are easy ways to build up edgy suspense. When the viewers are thinking, "What shady business was that girl into that got her killed?" rather than, "What sick asshole would do that?", we're emphasizing the wrong thing. Because no woman "deserves" or "asks for" being raped, let alone raped and murdered. It's just like how in real life, when a rape victim comes forward, she gets asked how revealing her clothing was, did she guard her drink, why was she out that late in the first place, etc. From a cultural standpoint, it's problematic, because it reinforces notions that a woman is somehow at fault or responsible for whatever violence a man inflicts on her*.

And also, the idea that if a teenager has consensual sex with a boy  her own age, she's a whore that deserves to die... it's just... I mean God. I get that perhaps underaged sex is problematic, but to send the message that it's going to get the girl killed (and, note, the boy doesn't even go to jail for anything, despite being caught drinking more than once). That just says sex is scary and leads to lack of information which leads to more teen pregnancies and just... (And no, I'm not saying that teen pregnancies are going to rise now that The Killing has aired, I'm just saying, teens are gonna bone, it doesn't have to always be about jealousy and murder.)

And when it comes to writing in general... it's lazy. Can you not come up with anything more original?

Really, when it comes to Rosie's backstory, the writers are just throwing tropes against the wall like they were spaghetti: Shady past, alleged teen seductress, the "who's the daddy" game (there's drahmah about that in S2, too), the best friend that's jealous because she's Hollywood homely and Rosie is the one all the boys paid attention to (turns out it was her in the video that looked like a rape)... I'm sure there are more, I just can't think of them. Except with respect to the Native Americans in S2

Which brings me to the second big problem  I'm having with the show. 

In the S2 opener, Rosie's bloody backpack turns up on her parents' front porch. This is like two weeks after she was found, and after the D.A. filed charges on a member of the Seattle city counsel that was running for Mayor (it comes out that the current mayor faked some pictures to frame him). So this is shit-tastic scary- if the killer is out of commission (the city councilman got shot in the S1 finale), why would her backpack show up out of nowhere?

Enter the local natives: So the casino that Rosie was going to in order to presumably meet men through that service was at an Indian casino on tribal lands, property of the fictional Kulamish tribe. And in Season 2, the detectives dig deeper into the casino, and they come across Chief Jackson, a hardass gal that runs the casino and the tribe. In our introduction to her, she goes on about Sacred Mother Earth and some other vague hippie stuff people always assume  is associated with indigenous culture. 
In the first couple episodes of the season, the writers bait the audience into thinking maybe Chief Jackson is in on the murder: She uses thuggish scare tactics with her minions, going so far as to having Linden's partner ASSAULTED by a group of tribal men, she keeps a special room that our detectives are certain has evidence off-limits, she tries to cover up the fact that one of her tribe's members was the person that found Rosie's backpack, and she and her thugs all make claims of trespassing on the part of the Seattle police (she even says it to the councilman running for mayor)- and, importantly, us that as justification for said beating of Linden's partner (when it's really because of the cover-up aspects). And most of the Native adults speak in that kind of forced high, slow, overly-careful, Shatner-esque way that the dudes in this video fake when the white people enter their store (and Chief Jackson does it too, but only sometimes- she has the "accent" during her little storytelling session, but it's gone when she has her meeting with the politicians):

And why does this bother me so? While we do find out that (WHEW!) Rosie was just a maid and waitress at the casino, not a prostitute, it's at the expense of indigenous culture. And this fictional tribe is portrayed as basically a mafia, with a ruthless, bloodthirsty mob boss (Jackson- what an ironic name) as their leader. It's so hard to find representations of Native Americans in pop culture, and when they occur, they usually suck. I know I'm young, but I'm already bloody tired of Noble Savages and Tonto Talk, and now this? What, now tribes are actually just the Sopranos, but with casinos (read: tribal-run brothels) instead of strip clubs?

It's problematic because stereotypes are all the vast majority of white people know. And when that's all they know, they think they're legit. That's why there are still people that think Washington D.C.'s team name shouldn't be changed, that Tonto is "accurate" and (shudder) "culturally sensitive," that wearing a Pocahottie costume is a "tribute," why a lot of people genuinely assume every Native American just gets a "free check" every year for no reason, other than their being  Native American. 

So what is The Killing doing by turning its chief Jackson into a mafioso-type? Adding new, negative stereotypes to the mix of all of the preexisting ones- that tribal casinos are actually sex trafficking rackets that are run as rough and tumble as the Bada Bing, and that any white person that sets foot on tribal lands without the intent to spend money (or, you know, buy a whore) will get put in the hospital. What the fuck, writers?

And I know I'm drawing at straws, here, but while they spend at least the first half of S2 setting Chief Jackson up as yet another potential killer, or at least facilitator of the murder, she doesn't have her own entry on the Wiki page for the show's characters. Which says to me they really don't give a damn about her or the other indigenous people,  really, but rather are just using the Kulamish tribe to set up future plot stuff,  like  the potential for the falsely-accused councilman to eventually become corrupt or something, or to demonstrate how corrupt the current mayor already is- as in, for the development of the white dudes.  Which, like with all of the tropes surrounding Rosie and  her  backstory, is just lazy writing. AN ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE ARE A PLOT DEVICE. Could they not think of something better for the tribe to do? How about Chief Jackson giving a damn about the dead girl? Or at least show us more as to why she's such a hardass. 

I'm like halfway through Season 2. I'll finish it, make no mistake- if only because I want to know who the frak actually did it. I mean, I'll give the writers this, they're definitely doing all they can to toss red herrings and confuse the audience. But I wish they could do it in ways that weren't reductive of women and indigenous people (and that weren't just overdone in general). Maybe the next curveball will be better- I'm hoping so, at least. But it just kinda  kills me- it's obvious the writers are good. And there are lots of great things about the show- I think my favorite plotline involves how Rosie's dad is affected (her mom, though, ugh...). He breaks my heart. So do her brothers, and her aunt. Rosie's family is the best thing about this show. And I also really like the councilman and his story- his backstory is pretty good (although it DOES rely heavily on the death of his wife, ugh), his relationships with both of his campaign advisers are very different but both very emotional and touching, and his scenes are some of my favorite. So yeah, I'll keep going, and I'm rooting for some characters. And these writers, too- that they break out of some of these overdone plot elements and come up with some new stuff. And I'm hoping we figure out more about the fictional Kulamish people (although again, if Chief Jackson doesn't have her own character entry, I'm guessing  she's only going to show up one or two more times at this point).

Here's hoping, at least.

*Yes, I know violence happens  to men, but these tropes only really occur in pop culture with women being killed by men, and the stereotypes perpetuated IRL are the same. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Diversity in Geek Culture, Part 1: A Black Man (!?!?!)

I'm going to do a series of an as-of-now undetermined  number about diversity in Geek Culture. 

I hate how during debates over having a woman or a POC as the lead in the next comic movie franchise, dudebros end up saying they "don't want diversity for diversity's sake." It's such an oversimplification of a highly complex matter, but they're categorically dismissing a very simple solution when doing so. A knee-jerk reaction like that, without considering the merits of the proposed character, is about upholding the status quo. And as I've said before, oppression thrives on its facade of normalcy and neutrality, as its position as the "status quo." And objectively and in a vacuum, I can agree with that statement- I want quality diversity, otherwise failures will be used as examples of why it doesn't work. (I know I'm always talking about Catwoman and Elektra, but they're the pinnacle examples of that crap.)

The thing is, when I or anyone else is asking for a female lead, or a Black person, or an Hispanic person, to be the star, we aren't just asking for that. We're asking for something of quality, something that's as close to objectively "good" as any mainstream, straight white male cis thing. 

So my first big stab aimed directly at diversity is about making a Black man lead a franchise. Why? Well, I think the fanboys will take to a Black man before a white woman, and it's pragmatic to go for the easy sell first. When you consider the hierarchies in society when it comes to actual, active power, white men rule the day, but they're followed by men of color. Then it's white women, and  last, women of color. Within this hierarchy, non-straight is devalued over straightness in any category, and for reasons I don't have time to get into, trans women of color are at the VERY bottom of the totem pole. So picking a Black man is the easiest argument to make, and I've actually been sitting on this piece for a good month and I think it's time to let it out.

This isn't to say that there isn't normative value in a Black man being the star of a superhero movie/franchise. I think it's really important to include any and all people doing the saving, beating the odds, overcoming personal hardship. Importantly, though, we need stories about minorities that are about them as people, and not centered around their minority status. Tragic stories of the inner city or slavery, movies all about the queerness of the lead character, or where the entire story revolves around a disabilty... they do more to fetishize the plight and not enough to relish the humanity outside that plight. I get tired of the "look at how bad they have it" stories about marginalized people. True equal representation is when they're just part of the group, or the central character because they're the central character (not the central character because of their status). In other words, the movie shouldn't be about a "poor Black kid, struggling with racism and poverty," but "a young boy growing up in our messed up world." And I don't see why "Black" movies can't just be, y'know, movies. And this goes for any group- and it's not to say that minorities shouldn't have their own art, but rather they shouldn't NEED a "specialized" market in order to MAKE that art. Their art shouldn't be regulated to an offshoot. It's like the "go be diverse over there" problem that can arise with centers made by those in the majority, meant to serve particular cultural or ethnic needs. It's good they have a place to feel safe, but it becomes a form of de facto segregation once that becomes the only place those people can feel safe.

I guess what I'm saying is, part of the big reason to have a superhero movie star a Black man is because we need more mainstream movies starring minorities, and a Black man would do just fine for me.

So that being said, I'm going to go about this a little differently. Before I've focused mostly on characters or franchises first. This time, I'm going to start with an actor I kind of dare the fanboys to sneer and turn up their noses at.

Taye Fucking Diggs. 

That's right. I went there. And allow me to give you a list as to why I think he'd be a great lead in a comic franchise, or at least a solo film.

1) He's a solid actor. Check out his IMDB page. You prolly forgot he was in a lot of those things, but I'm going to argue that that's okay- most likely, the movies you forgot he was in were all really good and had phenomenal ensemble casts that it was easy to get lost in. Like Chicago- he did a great job there, proving he can do everything, really. Because, like another constant lead in comic movies, dude's been on Broadway. But now think about some of the more mediocre movies he's been in. Like Dylan  Dog: Dead of Night. Or Equilibrium. He steals every scene, even though the scripts he's working with are kind of terrible. It's hard to do that- I mean, I love me some Christian Bale, but in Equilibrium, I was kind of "meh" about him most of the time. But Diggs's character, my gosh, Diggs did so well, I was on the edge of my seat whenever he was onscreen, anxious to see what he'd do next. He can be funny, scary, romantic, intimidating... He's on a new show, Murder in the First on TNT that just started. In the pilot alone, he demonstrates his ability to be convincingly funny  and  sarcastic, as well as demonstrating some  pretty high-volume vulnerability. Go watch it now. (It also has Tom Felton playing, once again, a rich asshole.) I got sniffly, and it was just ONE EPISODE. He's WAY better than his  opposite, a kind of annoying (fake) blonde (go figure- that's a terrible trope to be addressed some other time).

2) He's badass. Again, that IMDB page has a few action movies on it. And he's good at that- I mean, replace this gun  with whatever power the superhero has,  and voilla!

3) Given some of the weird-ass movies he has been in, and the fact that he was able to shine in them, he'd be able to adapt to whatever wonky backstory he's presented with just fine. Again, he sells it in Equilibrium and Dylan Dog, and I'm giving  this its own category because it's a distinct thing. To do well in a story that is just plain bizzare or unrealistic, that's a different kind of acting chop, separate from being a sultry romantic lead or a funny, sensitive dude (I'm thinking of The Best Man). Sean Connery is a great actor, but you could tell he wasn't buying into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at all- and while I'd like to think that had more to do with him being dissatisfied with how they changed Alan Moore's original comics, let's be real and admit he probably just thought the script was too ridiculous. Taye lets it go in his "weird" roles, so he'd be able to sell whatever origin story or powers the character he plays has. 

4) He's easy on the eyes. I'll just let the evidence speak for itself on this one:



Look at the first one in this set. Dat body, right? But think about this in terms of superhero movies. Dude's already built for it. If they'll give a hulky lead role to this guy, why not one that's already donning  the physique? One less thing to deal with in production, right?

5) Another one that may seem like repetition, but look at his smile, in those, and here's a link  to a search for itSee, I think this is actually really important- HOW can you resist that smile? And I think that would be GREAT for a dude figuring out his powers. Imagine a grin like that on the face of a dude flying or shooting energy for the first time- it'd be pure elation and infect the audience with the same joy the character, as played by Diggs, is feeling. 

6) He's done a little comic stuff already. Again, back to Dylan Dog, but he was also a voice for Black Panther once. And there have been a few times where people have kind of double-dipped- Chris Evans was in The Fantastic Four and is currently Captain America, and Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johansson were a duo in The Spirit (bet you forgot about that one- I don't blame you, it's terrible) before joining together in Iron Man 2. There's obviously no rule saying a person can't be in more than one comic movie, and I think experience in one can help with another. 

So now the question is, Who could Taye Diggs play? I can think of a few roles because they're Black men, but I don't want to make it seem like that's all I care about. Because switching a role from white to Black isn't just about diversity for diversity's sake- but it can send a positive message and be a source for more progressive attitudes about race in the media. But I think I coincidentaly have them in order from easiest-to-most-difficult to convince people about. But keep in mind, I'm listing characters I think Taye Diggs could be- not just characters I want to see in movies. 

1) Victor Stone, AKA Cyborg

He became most famous through Teen Titans, but the DC studios, actually listening to the fans for once (unlike in other cases), picked up on that and decided to make him a founding member of the Justice League of America when they rebooted it in the New 52. This is huge, people. Before, Martian Manhunter had been a founding member (we'll get to him in a few, don't worry). But this time around, Cyborg's origin story is a key part of JLA's founding. Cyborg is newer and more modern, and his character would be a great outlet for a lot of conflicts we have in the real world today. He's basically Robocop, right? In this upcoming Batman v. Superman movie, Dawn of Justice*, DC really missed an opportunity to set up another side-franchise by not including him (as far as we know- movie is still two gorram years away). But it's not like it'd be impossible to come up with a way for Victor to become Cyborg. But I think this character is particularly an easy sell right now because of his recent popularity. He made the cover of Injustice: Gods Among Us, over staples like Green Arrow and Aquaman, and his role in that plot is pretty important- he gets one of a handful of little semi-cut-scenes where you have to do a Thing (I rag on those in my review**, but that he has one says a lot about how DC views him as a character and his importance to the family). I think fans right now would say, "Oh yeah, that guy, he's pretty cool." 

2) John Stewart, AKA Green Lantern.

Stewart is arguably as famous as Hal Jordan's Green Lantern, at least among comic fans- I actually think I know more people that say he's their favorite, come to think of it, than Hal. And he was one of DC's first Black heroes, so why not give him his due? His origins, as Hal's backup, are a little tricky to deal with, but there are good stories about kids filling their parents' shoes all the time, setting his up like that could work- kill Hal off in the beginning ala The Comedian in Watchmen and give us some tension with John trying to become his own Lantern. There's potential for lots of drama, there. And while I really don't like the idea of his wife getting killed, there's some potential for some good romance between him and Katma as she's training him to use his Ring. Or, alternatively, work him in via the JLA- have Hal bring  him along as a helper in one movie, have Hal die somewhere in there, then give him  his  own movie. Again, another missed chance for DC/Warner Brothers, but it's not insurmountable. 

3) Martian Manhunter.

Another original  member of the JLA, people forget about this guy a lot. But he's pretty awesome- he's basically Superman Plus- he's superfast, superstrong, has laser eyes, can move himself through solid surfaces and move stuff, and can read/fuck with minds like Professor X from that other comic studio. And his alter ego, John Jones, is Black, so keep it in your pants, fanboys, no race-bending, here, aight? But seriously, he's been around since 1955 for bloody sake. MMH actually is a great response to Professor X- he's basically the JLA's in-house therapist because of his ability to understand people so well. Which of course makes him wondrously compelling, since he's, you know, a Martian. Once past the social norms, he's like a sensei or wisened uncle when it comes to the interpersonal relationships in the JLA. I love the idea of him being in his own movie where he uses those skills as a profiler for the FBI or CIA on the side- one where it's not really made entirely obvious that he isn't even human until at least 1/3 through the movie, even, so that people unaware of him will be surprised by it- blow them out of their seats because the guy who was able to talk down a suicidal person or totally read the body language of a killer was actually a friggin' Martian! A MMH movie could combine good old fashioned detective drama with the superhero spin. And while  yeah, another possible missed chance, this dude I think works the easiest by himself- let someone in his unit figure him out, sure, but I don't think he really needs other superheroes with him. 

4) Oliver Queen, AKA Green Arrow.

Yes, usually a white dude. But what does race matter? Anyone saying it's "unrealistic" for a Black man to be in charge of a company like Queen Industries is being racist- if they argue about how "it's fiction, it's in the backstory!" about bikinis and high heels for women, they can suck it up and accept a Rich Black Man; and saying it's not in his backstory for him to be Black is racist, too. Because again, the status quo itself is racist, and arguing against race-bending to improve minority representation, especially when the color of their skin is the only trait being changed, you're arguing for the status quo, one that keeps POC vastly underrepresented. I've linked this blog before, but here it is again. Shit matters.  This is what I was getting at at the beginning. Sure, it's diversity for diversity's sake, but these assholes that claim they "don't see race" then need to put their money where their mouths are and not care if a Black Man plays a white one- so suck it up and let Taye  Diggs play motherfucking Oliver Queen. He'd do the snark SO GORRAM WELL. And he'd definitely be able to pull off the Rich Partyboy By Day persona- a guy that looks like  Taye Diggs would need to do no convincing the audience that he could very easily take home three ladies at once. As for GA himself, well, Oliver Queen is one of my favorite DC characters. The arc where he loses his fortune and he becomes a legit Robin Hood is so awesome- THAT would make a great movie, where the playboy loses his money and starts helping poor people in his city. I wouldn't even really need to see a supervillain to enjoy it (but,  then again, I'm way into social justice, hence most of this blog).

5)Arthur Curry, AKA Aquaman.

Stop laughing. I mean it, stop laughing.

I've thought for ages that Aquaman deserves more respect, and legit for most of the same reasons this guy lists. If he's so pathetic, why has he lasted so long and always been involved in JLA stuff, huh!?!?!? And yes, he can talk to and control sharks- his mega-attack in Injustice is SICK (in the best of ways). And lightning with his trident- A TRIDENT, by the way. Dude's a badass even in hand-to-hand combat. And there's some precedent, since Aqualad from Young  Justice is Black. And again, sure, dude usually looks pretty gorram Aryan, but again, so what? He's from Atlantis, they could have BLUE skin for crying out loud. My idea for an Aquaman movie, one that would be easily worked in, could be something like this: Just take an example from Justice League: War and have a teaser scene at the end of Dawn of Justice in which Aquaman show up angry at the destruction the Big Battle caused on the  creatures of the ocean. And have the next movie be more about him adjusting to land-life after (in the  first ten-twenty minutes, of course) he forgives Bats, Supes, and WW for the damage. And I think as long as the writers weren't too heavy-handed with the green politics (which I think any Aquaman movie is going to have to include, at least in minor doses), it could avoid being cheesy and just be good. Fact: The CW did, in fact, try a pilot, and even though it screen-tested well, they didn't actually make the show because Reasons. Aquaman is a cooler character than he gets credit for, and a movie with Taye Diggs playing him would draw in plenty of viewers, if only out of sheer curiosity, if nothing else. 

Ok, so I know my list is all DC characters. That's because the few other Marvel characters I'm familiar with either have movies already, or are ones I plan on ranting about on their own. I already gave Black Widow a shot, after all. But if you, dear reader, know of anyone else Taye  Diggs would be great as, let me know!

*Collective groan for that title. I'm telling you, things do not bode well for this movie at all. Uuugh.

**And I actually think I need to re-visit that game, because I've come to appreciate it more recently. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Girl Nerdery 3: #YesAllGeekGirls

So rather than directly addressing the Eliot Rodgers stuff, I'm going to put my nerdy spin on this whole #YesAllWomen thing. Because as I've said before, nerd culture is sort of a microcosm and hyper-active space for "normal" hierarchies and behaviors. So let's start with this piece from io9 (I'll quote the relevant section here):

I've been a fan of the X-Men since the early 90s, when I watched the (awesome 90stastic) cartoon. I've enjoyed (most of) the live action films, especially the most recent, X-Men: DoFP. I've never been able to keep up with the comics, but I'd like to read about the important story lines, character origins, X-Men history, etc. The problem is that there's a ton out there and I haven't a clue where to start. Do you have any recommendations? Perhaps there are some compiled anthology-type materials?
I've asked at a comic book store once and the guy just rolled his eyes at me and said they weren't girly comics, so I shouldn't bother...
Well, screw him. I want to get into this, but I just don't know the best starting points.
Please help!
Okay. I really want to help. But first there's something I've gotta do.
Dear Mr. Comic Store Employee Who Told Lori To Stick To Girly Comics, and Every Comic Store Employee Who Has Ever Done or Said Something Similar: Eat shit.
Seriously, go to the bathroom, take a dump, don't flush, go grab a spoon and fork, and just eat that shit up. The fact that it's 2014 and you have the fucking gall to assume a woman who enters your comic store does not want or somehow cannot handle a superhero comic is both insane and fucking horrible.
Is this the most awful act of misogyny in the world? Unfortunately, as recent events have shown, it obviously isn't. But it's so needless, so petty, so clearly, transparently incorrectnowadays that it drives me insane that this is still happening, or that it ever happened. And I don't mean just morally wrong, I mean factually wrong. Unless this idiot has somehow ignored all the women who have entered his store, and never been to a con, and never been online, there is copious proof that women like all the same nerdy stuff men like. ALL OF IT.
And I get extra offended any time a nerd pulls this shit. I remember being a nerd in the '80s and '90s, being ostracized by my peers, and the fact that any nerd would willingly choose to do the same thing to anyone, let alone another nerd or potential nerd, appalls me. We should know better. We do know better. Second of all, I remember a severe dearth of nerdy girls growing up, and I would have done horrible, horrible things to live in the gender-even nerd renaissance we live in now.
He is a Neanderthal. A nerdy Neanderthal. A NERDANDERTHAL. Fuck him.

I say, "Slow clap," for the most part. And in an exceptionally timely bit of happenstance, a gal on a forum I'm part of on FB just happened to post a picture of herself with a crapton of X-Men comics a friend of hers let her borrow for the same reason the gal seeking advice above had. When I posted a link to this article, a dude posted the following hashtag:


Now granted, this is still while the battle over #NotAllMen vs. #YesAllWomen is being raged on blogs and forums in all of Inernetdum. So my response?


Because, well, yes all geek girls

I know the guy was being at least a little facetious, but it's so goddamned true

I'd say the one thing I disagree with the columnist about is their final part, goes like this: "Second of all, I remember a severe dearth of nerdy girls growing up, and I would have done horrible, horrible things to live in the gender-even nerd renaissance we live in now."

I'm going to have to call..

Because this is a two-pronged fallacy, here. First off, what, we didn't exist in the nineties? Excuse me? How about the fact that you dudes were, indeed, ostracizing and excluding us? Women may have become more nerdy recently, sure, but we didn't not exist. Remember when I said the boys didn't let me play Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering with them? Yeah, I didn't make that shit up. I still have some weird complexes about acceptance and being "who I am" that I'm sure are related to this. Also, I have a nasty scar on my left knee from the time the cargo pants I was wearing got caught on a nail. I AM LITERALLY SCARRED BECAUSE THE  BOYS WOULDN'T LET ME PLAY WITH THEM  IN THEIR NERD THINGS!!!

Second, this assertion that we live in a "gender-even nerd renaissance" nowadays? What rock is he under? I mean, not to, like, ovarysplain, here, but the author of the column  is a dude, and I just... I don't think he realizes how pervasive this kind of shit is for us women/girls/ladies/gals.  Anita Sarkeesian is still getting trolled and threatened for her videos;  reviewers of video games that point out underdeveloped female roles are still called hypersensitive, and the whole "male characters are objectified, too!" bullshit gets tossed (along with plenty other bits of textual fecal matter) in the comments; and there are YouTube channels dedicated to teaching other dudes how to harass women gamers.*

"Nerd renaissance?"

Excuse  me while I count to ten...
See this is exactly what perpetuates the problems. This ignorance with respect to the systemic issues geek girls face on a day-to-day basis as they go about their nerdery and geekiness. I mean, sure, I'm glad he's pissed, but his indignation is misguided in his assertion that this comic book store employee is somehow an anomaly. His (what I can only assume is) shock and disbelief stems from his total oblivion to the real problems women in the geek world face. I mean, granted, I agree and like the term "Nerdanterthal," it's pretty apt- it rather cleverly points at how backwards this mindset is. But I think this columnist is missing the key fact that this "Nerdanderthal" is one of millions of asshole geek men that assume women don't know anything about nerdery and that deliberately exclude us. I've had very similar interactions with comic book store workers in my own lifetime- I'll be perusing, often looking for a specific title, when the dude behind the counter saunters from his post, walks up next to me, and asks with a tone you'd reserve for a child you caught doing something naughty,

"Now, is there anything I can help you with?" When I say no, they inquire again, as if giving me a second chance to "come clean," "Are you sure?" I tell them no, I'm really okay, thank you, and they say, the way you give in to someone that refuses assistance, despite it being devastatingly obvious they need it, "Okaaaay, if you're suuuure. I'll just be over here if you need me, okay?" Sometimes it's not an "if," but rather a "when," by the way.

Fuck, even when I go to Hot Topic, if it's not a gal behind the counter, the dude gives me these really condescending looks and smirks as I buy my Batman or Walking Dead merch. I even had one ask me if my boyfriend watches the latter once- I promptly responded, "It's for me, is that a problem?" I guess the pink shirt and big, dangly earrings threw him off.

And so excuse me  for being a little  frustrated.

I get it. Not all geek guys are sexist. Not all of them drool and stutter when a human with boobs walks into the comic book store. Not all of them assume ladies only like rom-comics. Not all geek guys harass female gamers. Not all male nerds would turn down a lady that asks to join them and throw down some Magic cards. But it happens so often that geek girls come to expect it, or at least come to be entirely unsurprised when a male nerd assumes ignorance on their part. Or suggests they try some other media that's more "girly," too. Call me a cynic, but I'm actually surprised when it doesn't happen, when the dude treats me  as an equal, not like some little child pretending to understand something like thermodynamics or how to fix a jammed printer. And for a geek guy to act surprised and indignant when confronted with an example of a fellow male nerd being sexist, it shows how, just like in the world outside Nerddom, dudes are putting their heads in the sand and pretending there's no problem- without realizing that actually creates more problems. 

And too often, they assume it's a personal attack and blame game, rather than a call for awareness and responsibility when it's pointed out in their midst- often because they're positive that they're open-minded and socially aware, too. They think that because they may not have ever behaved that way, it's an affront for them to be exposed to critiques of other dudes. They are obviously not a part of the problem, so why point the finger at them? (I can't tell you how many times I've heard a dude say, "Hey, I'm all for diversity, I like [name drops Black male character], I just don't think [insert female character name here] should get her own movie/series/etc." or something along those lines when I bring up the lack of female/POC representation in comics and movies. That's the equivalent of the, "I have a Black friend," argument.) But again, it's about responsibility, not blame. 

There is everyday sexism in Nerddom, folks. So next time a gal tells you a story about something she experiences, don't waste time on acting shocked and appalled. Just get right to the point and tell her you get it, that geek culture is a cesspool of concentrated rape culture and misogyny, and brainstorm things you can do as a [insert gender identity here] to help change the discourse.

Because there are things you can do. Like calling out sexist comments. Like encouraging a woman being mansplained at to stand up for herself as it's happening, or saying something to the dude mansplaining at her later (because we do need to be careful about White Knighting, too). Like giving a woman  the benefit of the doubt and not questioning her credentials when she expresses interest in anything nerdy, walks into a comic or game store, sits at your nerd table. Like not freaking out if you get beat by a woman in a game because she's a she (I mean, it's cool to be mad you lost, but to be all, "I CAN'T BELIEVE I LOST TO A GIRL," is just plain ridiculous).

Do I need to give you more?

The anti-woman sentimentality underpinning crap like what the gal writing the letter described is why women feel unsafe in lots of geeky environments. It's what leads to Anita Sarkeesian getting rape threats and having her personal info spread around and a flash game where you beat her face in made. And while no, geek girls haven't been targeted by a mass murderer as of the writing of this post, the fact that they get threats online when they beat men in games along the lines of, "I'm going to find you and rape you then kill you," doesn't make me think it's entirely out of the question for the future. I hope it never comes to that, but by golly, if that Eliot Rodgers isn't a catalyst for the problems in society, I don't think even a big brawl at a gaming convention caused by a dude being upset he lost to a woman would make much difference to anybody, either. It's sad, but really. If THAT shit doesn't lead to some change, I don't know what else could. 


*Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the whole racism thing, if he's going to have the balls to call it a "nerd renaissance." 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Side Characters in the Spotlight: A Case for Black Widow (and Other Sidekicks etc.)

Some minor spoilers for Cap 2

So I had a frustrating "conversation" the other day on the comment thread under this share on FB:

In those comments, a dude first used the old "Elektra and Catwoman were bad, so Wonder Woman prolly doesn't deserve a movie" excuse, then said something about how Black Widow is a better character when helping other Avengers and shouldn't get HER own movie, too. The OPer pointed out that Harley Quinn has her own series that's made of awesome, but no matter how many times the OPer said that, and no matter how many times I made my point by rewording, dude just kept saying things like, "Catwoman  is her best when she has Batman to contend with," and, "Harley Quinn isn't interesting without the Joker." Never mind dude hasn't even read Harley Quinn's solo stuff, but whatever.

And so the point I kept trying to make was twofold. That 1) The assumption that a side character couldn't possibly hold their own and a blanket unwillingness to be even open to the IDEA of them getting a solo shot is stubborn and based off of past characterizations that revolved around other characters- and the result of poor writing and the limits of the scopes the writers are willing to give those characters, not the limits of the characters themselves. And it's also foolish, because some of the biggest "solo" characters (ones he said he liked) started out as side characters, such as Wolverine, Thor, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, basically ALL OF THE X-Men*. The line I liked that I repeated the most was, "Characters are only as limited as the people  writing them." And 2) That knowing full-well there are fans too stubborn to see a Black Widow movie because she's "a better side character," comic and film exec use that information for sexist ulterior motives- so even if the dudes saying they don't want spinoffs aren't intentionally being sexist, their attitude is touted for sexist reasons. And those very reasons come from sexist motivations, too- writers and execs aren't willing to write well-rounded female characters (or POC). Being that dickish about it as a "fan"** only perpetuates the cycle. 

So now, since this is my blog, I'm  going to rant about those two points in more detail.

1) Let's lead off with that line I repeated to the dude that was "talking" to me.

"Characters  are only as limited as the people writing them."

I want you to consider that characters like Superman and Batman always seem to be able to get out of scrapes because they suddenly have something they'd need. In Superman's case, it's that he uses a power he supposedly always had but never used; Batman, it's either his utility belt, or it's just assumed he had been able to anticipate the need for whatever gadget, prototype, etc. he had waiting that helped with whatever situation. These "powers" or gadgets are end- and limit-less; they show up and are accepted. Sure, people kind of rag on it in both characters, but the fact that Superman has a power for everything, and Batman has a gadget for everything, is just okay with fans.

So then what happens?

Writers come up with newer, more inventive ways to "trap" the characters, then come up with matching powers/gadgets to get the characters out of said traps. Meaning  what? Meaning the writers are bending over backwards to be creative, innovative, with these guys. That they're creating complex webs of conflict in order for these male characters to get themselves out through some newly-used, made of awesome trick or toy.

So why the fuck can't they do that for female characters?

The reason the guy I was talking to thinks side characters are better as side characters is because they're always written as, well, side characters. But in the sense that they aren't the main active characters in those stories. They may be there with Supes or Bats as things get really bad, but in the end, it's Supes or Bats that does the real day-saving. 

Take what I said in an earlier post about Black Widow vs. Iron Man in The Avengers. She's the one that closes the portal, but he tosses the nuke into space through it, and the way it was filmed and written, we're meant to care and invest more in what Tony is doing than Natasha. That very same scene could have been written with Tony having no trouble at all getting the nuke in the portal and coming  back out, and instead it could have been turned into the tense moment where Black Widow may not be able to withstand the intense energy in the staff long enough  for the portal to close, and then what? Then it would have been more about her, and the dramatic tension would have revolved around whether she could or couldn't finish her job, not whether Tony could. 

She plays a very similar role in The Winter Soldier. She runs around and does a lot of cool stuff, but she gets rescued by Cap more than once in the movie. Like when the secret base gets blown up, she goes unconscious, and this happens:


Great, heroic moment for Cap, sure, but c'mon. And of course it's his actions we're meant  to care the most about at the end. Understandably so, as it is a Captain America movie, after all, but that's kind of the point- she's written as a side character in The Winter Soldier, and my deeeeeep critique of Avengers is that she's just a conduit for the males' stories there, too- she's Fury's lap dog and gets the troops together for him, and is constantly under sexual threat in ways that more often than not showcase the males threatening  her- the exception is her opening scene, but how entirely sexualized the whole thing is, it has Male Gaze written all over it. 

I'm rambling...


Black Widow will be viewed as a side character until she's written as a main character, as saving herself every time- the gets-self-out-of-scrape-as-means-of-introduction cliche is so, well, cliche and tired. And closed-minded fans won't view her as anything but a side character until she's written as a main one, and written by a writer that's talented enough that whatever issue, story, movie, etc. in which she flies solo becomes popular and gets enough positive buzz to convince stubborn people to "give it a try, even if they're skeptical about it having any shot at being good."*** 

And for God's sake, have some open-mindedness and imagination! Are you that un-creative, that you can't even think outside the boundaries yourself? Even speculate on potential story arcs over someone that's never had their own? Do you really need the writers to do all the work for  you? 

And so this leads into how 2) Execs use that very stubbornness on the part of fans to perpetuate the mediocrity of side characters like Black Widow- side characters that are women. Men and women often get their own spinoffs, sure, but if you compare the way some of the women's spinoffs play out versus the men, you'd notice the women are still very much more beholden to the male characters from the originals. So they're still written as side characters, just with, like, their own episodes. Like the "Ghostfacers" in Supernatural- we all know it's really the Brothers Winchester doing the work in their episodes, but the Ghostfacers think they're hot shit.  

Batgirl, for example, keeps taking orders from Batman. Whereas Nightwing does his own thing, goes on his own missions and even, gasp, clashes with Bats sometimes! 

Look, I'm not going to repeat what I've said before about executives being resistant to female leads. But what I haven't emphasized enough is that while some of the excuses they make are pretty thin, at best, this idea that fans wouldn't want to see a spinoff because side characters are just that, side characters- that it's extremely harmful because it means a lot of dudes are unwittingly contributing to the lack of well-written female side characters, let alone females as leads. 

I'd like to think unwittingly, but here's the thing- I also think some of them use it just knowingly as the same executives.

And let me demonstrate this by commenting on this guy I was "taking to"'s behavior as allegory. See, he kept focusing on side characters and how Wonder Woman is better in the Justice League and more interesting when she's supporting Batman and Superman.

But, wait a tic... Why bring up side characters?
The fact that he views fucking Wonder Woman as a side character? I think that says a lot about what he thinks "real" lead characters are like. Meaning he thinks they have penii. Not ovaries. Wonder Woman as a side character?

Wonder Woman did not, in fact, start as a side-character in the Justice League. Her first comic was in  1941 and didn't join up with anyone else, as far as I know,  until she was part of the Magnificent 7 in Justice League of America's first issues in 1961. Which means she was a solo character for twenty fucking years before being part of a team. Yet this guy is saying she's a better side character? My guess is that, much like with Harley Quinn, he hadn't read any solo WW stuff, and was just paying lip service because he knows Wonder Woman is basically in the Holy Trinity of DC characters (the other two being, of course, Bats and Supes). Everybody, even if they've never even read the comic page in the gorram newspaper, knows who Wonder Woman is, and that if any female comic hero deserves a movie,  it's her.

Also, she had more independent beginnings than a lot of her fellow Justice League-ers that are now considered independent. JLers that are men.

So I can't help but think  this guy is/was more sexist than he was willing to admit- to me, to the OPer, and most importantly, to himself. I mean, I agreed with him when he said he didn't want want a WW move simply because she's a she, and that he'd want it to be good, but he was so against it in the first place, coming up with any excuse as to why she shouldn't have a movie, I can't help but think his motivations are at least subconsciously gendered. Because even if a body doesn't like a character as popular as her, they should be able to acknowledge that she's long overdue  for a movie, especially amidst stuff like Guardians of the Galaxy and the two Thor movies from That Other Comic Studio, and the now eighth movie with Batman/ seventh movie with Superman from her own. 

He was being  deliberate. Using any excuse to be anti-Wonder Woman movie. Every  excuse in the book. Which is exactly what the executives do.
And so this, of course, relates to male nerdery in general. I think a lot of these guys are more sexist than they are willing to admit. Because they're okay with gimmicks involving male characters and ridiculous "plot" ideas involving men- like a talking raccoon and tree are fine because that's unique! But a woman? Oh, HELL NO. It just doesn't make any sense why there's always this huge battery of reasons as to why a Wonder Woman movie isn't a good idea or would be difficult to write or what the fuck ever, when you don't hear that about other movies being made/in the works. Why did everyone get all excited over the first Thor movie, when his backstory is even hokier than Wonder Woman's, as the comic strip at the beginning of this post points out? "I can't wait to see what they do with it!" all the time over Fabio, Jr., but the mere prospect of Wonder Woman gets the fanboys' panties all in a twist. Why does the "I'm wary because I'm afraid they'd do a bad job" thing get used for her but nobody else? 

Because the plumbing of the main character looks like this:

And again, I don't think all of these guys even realize they're doing it- which makes it  worse, I think, because like the "not all men do it" thing, like the pervasive "nice guy" thing, they don't think they're contributing to the problem with their attitudes toward female characters. But they harp on the female characters and let all kinds of bullshit slide for the males. They hold female characters to entirely different standards than male ones- standards that are nigh impossible to meet. And they just inherently view female characters differently- talking about them in ways that have nothing to do with their actual characterizations, ways that leave no room for the women to actually shine. 

And in the end? They're the ones missing out. Because holy shit, if you're a straight dude that doesn't think two hours of this would be entertaining, not even taking into consideration that a Black Widow movie would be a kickass military-espionage-martial-arts-fest (come on, she's Jason Bourne with tits), then you really don't have a pulse:

I'm a cis female, and I totally
recognize the hot-and-bothered
potential of this woman
There's speculation that because she's wearing an arrow necklace in The Winter Soldier, she and  Hawkeye  may be a "thing."  Or at least that this may end up being important in The Avengers 2. Okay, fine. That doesn't mean she can't star in her own movie. I've said before, I'm not against romance- not in the slightest. I was totally shipping a Cap-Black Widow pairing by the end of The Winter Soldier. But a Black Widow movie has the potential to be  both gritty and  witty, if in the right hands, even with a subplot of romance at her fingertips. Because she can kill a dude with her own hands, and yet she's sharp as a tack and doesn't take bullshit. She can hack computers, use all sorts of weaponry, knows myriad hand-to-hand fighting styles, and can improvise a weapon out of you-name-it. Again, she's Jason Bourne with tits- she could totally do any of the improvised, MacGyver-esque things he does. 

A Black Widow movie, in the right  hands, could be a fucking amazing movie. Fast-paced, entertaining, easy on the eyes, and what with the backstory being built for her in the Marvel movies, that "red on her ledger" could make for some very in-depth characterization and dramatic moments. But she won't get a movie until stubborn assholes in the fandom get off their asses and at least become open to the idea of it.

And that would mean them acknowledging that they're biased, that they've been duped by the straight, white men in charge of the comic  and movie industries into believing that Black Widow can't carry her own weight. And they need to start voting with their wallets by buying more comics starring female characters, and going to see movies starring women on opening weekend, even if they aren't entirely "sold" on the idea of either.

The main fear I have for Black Widow, just as I've said before about Wonder Woman, is that she'll get a bad script that'll be used against her and any other female character in the same way Elektra and  Catwoman are still used. I don't want the sexist dochebaggery to have any more fuel in its fire. Another bad female-starring superhero movie will only  put  things that much further behind. So no, I don't want a Black Widow movie for the sake of diversity per se. I want  them to invest in it the way  they invest in the movies starring male protagonists. I want them to come up with a script that  makes for a good movie, not just a good comic movie. Something people could enjoy even if they aren't into comics, the way (most of) Batman's movies have been, the way the first Iron Man movie is, the way Cap 2 is. You don't really need to know much about those characters, let alone comics in general, to enjoy those. Get a script that good, and you'll get butts in the seats.

Now, of course, it'll also show the true colors  of fanboys. Nitpicking it and saying it doesn't deserve a sequel when it prolly does, objectively, would be a good cue. Let's be honest, if  it's better than fucking THOR, it deserves a sequel.  
I mean I know the fanboys pick any comic movie  apart, but I imagine the nature of the critiques  given would be a good indicator of how that person really feels about having women star in comic movies. Refusal to see it would be a big indicator, too- since the usual behavior is, "It's a movie starring a superhero, I'll see it," if their 'tude there suddenly changes and they, out of the blue, develop some high moral standard and say, "Oh, I refuse to see it on principle because I know they'll ruin Black Widow." Yeah, bullshit. 

But I mean it when I say it. I felt this way before I saw The Winter Soldier, and seeing that (twice) only solidified my belief that a Black Widow movie is a potential gold-mine with enough going on in it that it could draw in a huge crowd. And Black Widow would be really easy to transition into her own movie- she's been in now three Marvel movies, and we've had lots of hints  about her backstory before, so my God, just have an opening sequence from her past that acts out something she's talked  about before, then jump to now, and bam, you have your exciting first ten minutes and we're totally absorbed. You get all this talk about how Wonder Woman's backstory is "tricky," right? How fucking  tricky is a backstory we've already heard huge chunks of? Seriously, she's a shoe-in, and the fact that there aren't even any really substantial rumors of a Black Widow movie  (the most you get is that Marvel is considering it, that they're speculating or think it is a possibility) is  highly indicative, and disappointing.
And on a final note- I think ANY side character could be a lead, as long as they  were written as one. It would just take the same kind  of creativity and effort already given to the main characters from whom they'd be jumping off in order to get there. 

*I mean yeah, I'm exaggerating, but for real, dude was talking like Green Lantern started out as individually as Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman, when HE DIDN'T. 
**Yeah, I'd call him a "fake nerd boy" if he hasn't even read 'Batman: Year One'- I asked if he had, as an example of a great book about a side character, or at least as equally, and he had a comeback about how what really made it compelling was the Batman stuff... I mean come ON, really? Any comic fan with an iota of creativity and appreciation for storytelling recognizes the most compelling stuff in that book is about Gordon. So he either has NO TASTE or hasn't read it. And if he's bitching about how "Catwoman's most interesting when she has Batman to play off of" then I'm guessing he's only seen the animated series and Nolan movies, at best, maaaaybe the Burton movies. Has he read any? Doubtful.
***What that guy said about the HQ comics after condescendingly saying we had a "good back and forth" right after saying one of my points was "BS." Right. "Your argument is bullshit. Good talk!"  Uh-huh, yeah, sure. I went  back to the convo later, and he made fun of me for not being able to handle swearing after I called him out on saying something I had said is "BS," so yeah, he proved my point, that he was never open to discussing anything.