Friday, November 30, 2012

Is Blair Waldorf a Feminist? (Gossip Girl)

As promised on Wednesday, today we tackled one of the great questions of our time. Is Blair Waldorf, Queen of the Upper East Side and generally admitted bitch, a feminist?

If you’ve ever seen the show Gossip Girl, you probably had an instinctual reaction either way. Blair is not a character who inspires lukewarm feelings of apathy. No, she’s more of the heads on spikes type. Everyone has an opinion. But before we get into that, let’s talk about the show.

Gossip Girl is a long-running CW show based on the even longer running book series. Weirdly, the show is actually better than the books (I think, at least), and features some very notable changes. For the record. It follows the lives of privileged, insulated Upper East Side kids, starting when they were in high school, and now following them into their adult lives. The kids all went to the same school and are in the same circles, circles that are defined by intermarriage, infidelity, and rivalry, so just like real life. There were also a couple of poor kids thrown in to keep it interesting, but those characters are either rich or written out by now.

Mostly involving the emotional relationships and tumultuous lives of our heroes, the show featured a slight gimmick where all of our characters were stalked by a gossip site – Gossip Girl. They don’t know who GG is until way into the series (and even then it makes absolutely no sense), but it’s there just so that the voiceover (Kristen Bell) can give a quippy little recap in each episode. Handy, that.

Okay. But who is Blair Waldorf in all of this?

Well, in the beginning at least, she’s the bad guy. The show ostensibly follows Serena Van Der Woodsen (Blake Lively) a reformed bad girl just back from boarding school, who used to be Blair’s (Leighton Meester) best friend. Since Serena up and left Blair right when Blair was in a very hard point in her life and never said a word about it (and also slept with Blair’s boyfriend), Blair is a little pissed. We’re supposed to root for Serena and her new paramour, Dan (Penn Badgely), while booing Blair’s evil scheming ways.

The problem was, most of the viewers actually really liked Blair. And it’s hard not to. Her best friend was a gorgeous Amazonian blonde who slept with her boyfriend and flounced off to Europe while Blair’s parents got a divorce and her world fell apart. Then said blonde flounces back and proceeds to get everything handed to her on a silver platter, while Blair has to struggle and strive. It was really hard not to love Blair and her obsession with old movies, spying on people, and the headbands. Also Dorota. So Blair quickly became a popular character, and the show had to deal with the fact that Serena’s a little hard to like.

None of this, though, is super relevant to the issue of feminism.

Now, an argument could be, and has been, made that Blair is actually an anti-feminist character. The reason for this is that Blair is an unabashed romantic who really really wants to be a society wife and eventually matron. She wants to marry rich and become a grande-dame of society. It’s a little weird for a sixteen year old to want that, but whatever.

It’s notable, though, because for the longest time on the show, Blair doesn’t really have a goal besides finding a husband. She wants Chuck or Nate or some other guy in her life (Marcus, Dan, insert other here). She wants to get married and start her life. Sounds a bit unfeminist to me.

The reason we can’t just write her off, though, is that Blair doesn’t wait for her life to happen to her. She doesn’t wait to meet Mr. Right. If she wants something, she runs at it full speed. To quote her, “Destiny is for losers. It’s just a stupid excuse to wait for things to happen instead of making them happen.”

That’s pretty feminist.

Whether or not her goals are something you can agree with, Blair goes about her life in an unabashedly feminist way. By this I mean that you can never argue that Blair Waldorf is not the acting agent of her own destiny. Life does not happen to her. She happens to other people. So even when she’s scheming to get a husband, she’s still the principle actor in her story, which makes her a much more active agent than Serena ever is, and far more than most Disney Princesses. Blair is feminist because Blair tries and does.

She’s also feminist because she never ever settles. Her romantic past is pretty rocky, and she’s dated a lot of guys, even married a couple. But the reason it looks so much like a battlefield back there is simply because she refuses to settle for anything less than the best. What could be more feminist than demanding that the person you commit to be worthy of that commitment? She’s romantic, sure, but she’s also practical. And she knows that when it comes to marriage, you want to make sure the shoe really fits.

What I’m saying is that, yeah, Blair Waldorf is a feminist, she’s just not a feminist we’re used to seeing. Yes, she’s obsessed with getting married, and yeah, she can be really manipulative and mean. But neither of those things make her anti-feminist. What they make her is interesting.

Feminism doesn’t mean refusing to shave your armpits and driving a Suburu (fabulous cars though they are). Being a feminist means, simply, insisting that you have equal rights under the law, equal opportunities insofar as they can be regulated, equal pay, and the chance to be the acting agent in your own life. That’s it.

So, yes, Blair Waldorf is a feminist. But if you ask her to wear flannel, she’ll probably have you executed.

Mildly terrifying? Sure. But Blair Waldorf is still my lifespiration.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Does It Matter If Writers and Directors Are Good People?

Today’s article is less analytical, and more just musing. The question I feel the need to pose is this: what responsibility do authors, actors, and other content creators have to act as the arbiters of culture? Okay, I get that this seems like a lot, but I think we can unpack it pretty easily.

This thought has been coming up for me over the past couple of days as a result of two separate events. First, James Gunn was announced as the director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel Phase 2 movie. And, second, John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars among other things, was voted “Favorite Author” in Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainers of the Year Awards.

I am aware that these seem like totally disparate events. Don’t worry. Have I ever steered you wrong before?

The reason I even care about who directs Guardians of the Galaxy at all (I’m not much of a director girl, I tend to care more about the writers) mostly has to do with the setup of the franchise. Guardians is one of the few Marvel franchises (or any comic franchises) that consistently has at least two women on the team at any given time. Now, granted, they also have a talking raccoon on there, but still. 

I’m invested in this movie and the way that these female characters are portrayed, because this could set a strong precedent for Phase 2. We haven’t yet had a standalone female superhero movie in the Marvel master plan, and I would desperately like one. With the introduction of some unique and largely unknown characters in Guardians, there’s room for a breakout hit. Which would be awesome.

So imagine how disappointed I felt when I discovered that James Gunn is not the next Joss Whedon. Oh no. He’s is a right berk. By which I mean, the guy’s an asshole.

Back in February 2011, when Guardians was but a gleam in Marvel’s eye, James Gunn posted an article to his webpage listing “The 50 Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With.” This article has since been removed, but thanks to the internet, we can still read it, and trust me when I say that it is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen. Ever. I don’t even have a joke about that.

I’m just going to quote the Huffington Post here, because I just can’t. No.

In the controversial post, Gunn refers to Gambit as a "Cajun fruit" and says the thought of this character in a threesome "makes me sick to my stomach." He writes about Tony Stark potentially being able to "turn" the "lesbian" superhero Batwoman. Of Batgirl Stephanie Brown, the director writes, "Being a teen mom and all, you know she’s easy. Go for it."

I think I’m gonna throw up. Awesome.

Now, some people have pointed out that Gunn is well known for his wicked sense of humor, and even Whedon himself thinks that Gunn will be a great director because he has such an “off the wall” take on comics. But I don’t think the ability to make racist sex jokes has much to do with an ability to move a camera around, do you?

Which brings us to our larger point. Should we care?

James Gunn is a total scuzzball, I think we can all agree on that, but will that in any way affect his ability to direct the Guardians movie? This article had already been posted online when he got the job. The people in power seem confident that, horrible tendencies aside, he’ll do a good job. So what right do we have to be upset about stuff he said or things he did that are unrelated to his ability to do his job?

In order to answer that, I’m going to bring us to a different example. John Green, like I said in the beginning, is having a pretty great year. His new novel, The Fault in Our Stars, spent weeks at the top of the NYT Bestseller list, he’s made Entertainer of the Year, he even sold the film rights. In fact, people got so jazzed about him and his writing that one of his older books, Looking For Alaska, even popped back up on the charts. Nice!

But what you might not know is that Green actually spent this year doing a couple of other things. And when I say a couple, I really mean a bunch. He and his brother, Hank, started Crash Course, a free online series of video lectures on World History, Biology, and now Ecology and Literature. I mean, this guy literally sat down, wrote, filmed, and produced forty-two twelve minute episodes that explain the entire history of the human race. Just because.

They’ve also worked with their organization, DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome), to start Esther Day, a day to tell your friends how much you love them, raise money to help victims of Hurricane Sandy as well as continuing relief efforts around the globe, and used their reach to publish books, put out records, and make art. Oh, and he makes three web videos a week, while working on his new novel. Dude is busy.

Other than thinking that John Green is an excellent example of our species, though, what does this have to do with James Gunn, exactly? Well, both Green and Gunn are content creators in our culture, and they’ve taken that responsibility very very differently. To Gunn’s eye, directing is his job and anything else he does is his own stuff in his own free time, so no one can judge him for anything. Green, on the other hand, seems to believe that as a content creator, he has been placed in a unique position to shape our culture and to make it better.

Instead of thinking of what he does (write) and who he is (awesome) as two different things, he has decided to combine them and use his influence with young people (his books are primarily young adult, but really anyone would enjoy them) to cause beneficial social change. He explains taxation policy in three minute videos. He gives life advice that’s actually useful, and he responds to viewer questions with enthusiasm and love.

And here’s the thing: John Green’s supreme excellence as a person makes me want to read his books more. He’s a good person, and, really, that makes me trust that, even if I haven’t read a book of his, I’ll probably be okay recommending it to someone. It’s not likely to suddenly descend into racist slurs or terrifying homophobia. He’s a good man, and his books reflect that.

I can’t mandate that James Gunn not direct Guardians of the Galaxy because he’s a bad person. That would be judgmental and probably illegal on my part, and awfully narrow-minded. But I will let it color how I view the movie. I’m a little less hesitant to be excited about this film now, because I don’t trust his perception of the world. When he posts incredibly offensive stuff in the name of comedy, I start to think that this is how he views the world. And that makes me worried about how his movie will turn out.

There’s no law saying that a director has to be a good person. But there’s also no law saying that you can’t point out how awful they are either.

Upshot is, I'm still excited for the movie, but now I'm also really wary too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blair Waldorf Gifday

I am considering making Wednesdays officially gifdays, since I find myself busier these past few weeks, what with having a job and all, and it's harder to crank out a whole six articles a week. We'll see what happens.

But, for now, a preview of Friday's article on Blair Waldorf, Queen Bee of the Upper East Side, and officially one of my guilty pleasures. And maybe a feminist?

And, some words to live by:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You Know, Women Were Around in WWII Too (Enigma)

The whole issue yesterday got me thinking. While in Haywire I was complaining that (among other things), there was only one woman of note in the film and that was weird and bad, I can think of lots of other movies where I’m super grateful for the lone woman.

In some movies I’m ready to raise the red flag and go to war if they don’t meet the Bechdel Test, and then there are other flicks where I’m absolutely flabbergasted that they managed to get what they did and I’m positively thrilled with how they handled it. And that’s a bit interesting. Why do I have this double standard?

Like we talked about on Friday, it all comes down to context.

In my general perspective, any film set in the present day, dealing with just about anything that isn’t a monastery or an all boys school or something of the like, has no excuse not to have at least two competent, fleshed out female characters. There is female representation in nearly every industry in our country.

Now, if your film is set in a different part of the world, there might be other reasons you don’t have female characters, but if you’re making a basic movie about basic western stuff, then shame on you if you don’t manage to include a couple ladies. We are half the population, after all.

But. I am completely aware of history. I am fully cognizant of the fact that for centuries, women were not involved in the stories that shaped history – not (and this is important) in any recorded way. So when a filmmaker does happen to think, “Gosh, I bet women were involved in this somehow, and not just with their lady bits and their silly romantic notions,” I tend to get very excited.

I’m talking here about Enigma, a really fabulous drama from about ten years back that stars Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott, Jeremy Northam, Saffron Burrows, and probably some other people you’ve heard of. Oh right. Matthew MacFadyen. Anyway, it’s about the codebreakers of Bletchley Park during WWII, and it’s bloody brilliant.

The basic plot of the movie is as follows: Tom (Scott), a disgraced mathematical genius, is being brought back to Bletchley to help break back into the Nazi’s enigma code. They had broken the code before, with Tom’s immeasurable help, but now the Germans have gotten wise, and they have to break it again.

Tom left because he had a complete nervous breakdown when Claire (Burrows), a beautiful type analyst working in one of the huts, dumped him. As soon as he’s back, he’s off looking for Claire, only to discover that she’s gone missing, and her roommate, Hester (Winslet), is the only one looking for her. Also that she might have been a spy.

From there on, it’s a rollicking and tense thriller with car chases, codebreaking, Tom and Hester desperately trying to figure out what happened to Claire and how to break the enigma code, and all of it terrifically British and engaging. It’s a lovely film, you should definitely watch it.

But none of that is why I brought it up here.

I mentioned Enigma because the characters of Hester and Claire are actually, well, good. Unnecessarily so, in fact. World War Two was still a time when war, and codebreaking, were dominated by men. We have historical evidence that women contributed, as typex girls and analysts of course, but the film had no more obligation than usual to portray this. They easily could have gotten away with a bland picture of romance and female stereotypes, and the movie would have been poorer for it, but not noticeably less functional. What I’m saying is, they didn’t have to give us historically accurate, interesting characters. But they did.

When we meet Hester (we only see Claire in flashback throughout the film), we see her entirely through Tom’s eyes. She’s a slightly dumpy, cranky, unglamorous file clerk with a massive chip on her shoulder. She is also, however, undisputedly brilliant. One of the first things we know about her is that she won a crossword competition in London a few years ago. She beat two men. All of them were recruited to Bletchley, the men to become cryptanalysts, and her to become a file clerk.

That. That right there.

The film doesn’t make a stand on this. They don’t reverse history and give her a place in the cryptanalysts room, or decry the horrid sexism (truly horrid though it was). It just states this. As a fact. As a real, historical fact that really faced hundreds of women recruited to the war effort. I freaking applauded that scene.

Later on, while Hester and Tom are on their fact-finding mission, they go to one of the outer stations and talk to the transcribers. The person they’re looking for in particular happens to be a woman. Actually, all of them are. It makes sense, when you think about it, because all the eligible men would be out on the front, but it’s still a moment when you think, “Oh, right. Women did this sort of thing throughout the whole war, didn’t they?” 

The movie made no effort to cover that up or even to dilute it. They show the women for what they were: hardworking, dedicated, and extremely talented. I mean, they were simultaneously listening and transcribing Morse code of complete gibberish, and were known for their extremely high level of accuracy. It’s pretty cool.

What’s even cooler, though, is how the narrative, quietly and simply, recognizes the heroism in these women. Before they leave, one of the women stops and asks Tom if what they’re doing is actually important. And he tells her the truth. That it’s the most important thing in the war.

So, what am I really saying here? That I like Enigma and think you should watch it? Obviously. But I’m also saying that there’s something to historical representation of women, and there’s even more to doing it well.

The movie didn’t have to do nearly as much to address the issues of women in the codebreaking services as it did. None of this was directly relevant to the plot, and in cases they had to go out of their way to get it in. So why do it?

Because it is important. It’s important to actually show the world that characters live in, with all of its flaws and facets. The world of WWII Britain, remarkable though it was in many ways, was still a world marred by sexism. The movie doesn’t try to erase that. It just tries to represent it.

After all, you can’t solve a problem you don’t know exists, right?

Also, Dougray Scott does a great furrowed brow.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Punch to the Jaw of Sexualized Violence (Haywire)

When the movie Haywire came out, there was a surprising and mixed reaction from the audience. On the one hand, most people were pretty stoked to see a female protagonist action movie that didn’t look fake (because it wasn’t), and on the other, it seems a little awkward to watch a movie that is essentially just a lady getting beat up for an hour and a half.

Both of these are pretty valid points, really. I mean, I like me an action movie where I can see a really competent woman kicking butt, but I also like knowing that she’s not being victimized. What to do?

As always, the solution is simple. I had to watch the freaking movie and decide for myself. So, here goes.

But first, some backstory. Haywire was famously conceived when director Steven Soderbergh went to see an MMA match and was able to witness champion fighter Gina Carano demolish her competition. It occurred to him that she was very good at the whole fighting thing, and not altogether bad to look at either. So he wrote a screenplay for her, cast Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Michael Fassbender, and went to work.

True story.

The plot of the film follows Mallory, a talented military contractor who’s been set up by her old boss and is now being hunted down. It turns out that she was set up because she broke up with him and decided to leave his company, and he was jealous / afraid she’d steal all his business, so he decided to have her killed. That’s not the important thing.

The important thing is that the movie is really just an excuse for Gina Carano to beat up your favorite actors for an hour and a half. Which she does. With gusto.

Now, it seems like it’s all smooth sailing from here, right? If Carano is just a female action hero kicking butt, then why all the fuss? She’s cool, and it’s just some mindless violence, right?

Not so fast. As with all things, we have to look a little closer. The motivating factor in the movie is simple and a little skeevy: revenge. Kenneth (McGregor) is mad at Mallory (Carano) because she left him. At its heart, this story is about a relationship gone bad. This sexual connotation, that Kenneth is killing Mallory because she turned him down, makes the whole film feel a bit like a domestic dispute. The ugly kind, where someone invariably ends up in handcuffs and the other person is in witness protection.

What saves this from being a really uncomfortable journey into Lifetime movie territory is Mallory herself. Mallory is never a victim, not even when Michael Fassbender is kicking her against a wall. She is always a competent fighter, and she always comes out on top. So there’s that.

There’s also, though, a complete and utter lack of sexualization in the violence. In most action movies, even ones with “strong female characters”, the violence these characters face is extremely gendered. They are choked so that we can see their heaving bosoms, or they are stabbed in a way that is awfully reminiscent of rape, or they’re crippled in some ways.

What I’m saying is that in a lot of films, the violence against women seems to be more a facet of them being women than of them being enemy agents that need to be taken out. The violence factors in their femininity and reacts accordingly. So a lot of it is very uncomfortable, sexualized, the gasping last breath and the torn clothes and the smeared lipstick. You see it a lot.

But Haywire isn’t like that. It makes no bones about this being violence and aggression, and makes it clear that Mallory can hold her own. Even when Gina Carano is squeezing Michael Fassbender’s neck with her thighs (which was super impressive, by the way), it never feels sexual. It’s just a fight.

This is not to say that Mallory is in any way a desexualized character. She’s clearly comfortable with herself and her sexuality, and we have multiple references to that fact in the film. Not so many as to be uncomfortable, but enough so we get it. She walks around in a flowery bathrobe. She has fitted shirts. Mallory is a woman who is totally chill with herself, and is capable of taking out anyone who gets in her way. I like that in a protagonist, don’t you?

There is one other beef I have with the film, which I do feel the need to air. While it is beautifully shot, artfully told, and impressively cast, it’s still lacking the one thing that would make me love this movie: another woman with a speaking role. Or even on camera. Outside of crowd shots and a waitress, there is only one non-Mallory female soul on screen for the entire hour and thirty-two minutes of this film. And she’s a prostitute.

Look, I’m not expecting mountains here. I just wish that at some point in her great revenge mission Mallory might have run into a woman who wasn’t either sleeping with Antonio Banderas, or her. Once?

But that’s my biggest complaint. When it comes to a female action hero that I actually really buy, and who I think is cool and worth appreciating, Carano’s got it nailed. She might not be the world’s best actress, but she gave Mallory a strength and certainty that most actresses wouldn’t have. She made Mallory completely fearless, and therefore made the violence nonsexual, and just impressive.

And terrifying.

By the time you get to the end of the movie, this is a viscerally enjoyable slap.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Links to Perdition (Fake Geek Girls, Romola Garai and More!)

Oh Saturdays. The day when I get to curl up with my Netflix queue and organize it. Also watch it. That too.

In news this week, we found out that Jim Lee is apparently the more important person in comics, which is nice. Andrew Scott is filming for Series 3 of Sherlock. And we celebrated 49 years of Doctor Who. Also Thanksgiving. But mostly Doctor Who.

So, curl up with a hot cup of movie, and enjoy some links.

1. In telling-us-things-we-already-know news, io9 is making the bold declaration that there is no such thing as a “fake geek girl.” Which is true. Good job io9! Kidding aside, though, it’s a good look at why geeks are so territorial and what we can do about it. Article can be read here.

2. In I-said-it-first-yay news, Forbes is decrying James Bond as an exploiter of sex trafficking victims. It’s an incisive look at the history of Bond’s sexual conquests, through the lens of social justice, and all I can say is, “I told you so, Patrick!” Read the whole thing here.

3. In no-you’re-not-fat-shut-up news, both Romola Garai and Jennifer Lawrence would like you to know how hard it is not to be scrawny in Hollywood. Actually, they make some good points. Read the Romola Garai bit here, and the Jennifer Lawrence bit here.

4. In bravo-good-sir news, Jim C. Hines (fantasy novelist) is pissed off about how men pose on fantasy and sci-fi covers. Also romance novel covers. Basically all the books. Because there is no way this isn’t weird. He also did a series on female poses, but I find the male ones more interesting because of the lack of objectification. Anyway, check it out here.

5. In good-to-point-out news, Comicmix has a good article talking about male body image and how the overmusclification of superheroes, especially young ones, could be a very bad thing for us as a culture. See it here.

6. And, finally, in fabulous-geek-affirmation news, have a fabulous geek affirmation from Felicia Day and Jed Whedon.

That’s it for this week! Tune in tomorrow at 2pm PDT for Crossover Appeal. See you back here on Monday!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Guest Post: Why Context Is King

Since today is Black Friday and I spent it at Ikea wrestling crowds, and because it’s also Doctor Who Day (49th Anniversary of the first ever episode), I couldn’t be bothered to write anything today! So, have a guest article from the inimitable Kyla Gorman of gamestrogen.

Fanfiction: The Meta-Article OR Why Context is Everything

I was recently bumming around the great time-wasting site, "Know Your Meme." They do video articles on the origin and spread of individual memes using fakey pseudo-scientific trappings, but their actual informational content is usually quite good. So when I saw that they'd done an episode on fanfiction, my interest was piqued.

I have to say, I went into the video already skeptical. I've read a lot of people's articles on fanfiction and fandom, and there have only ever been a handful that sounded at all like they knew what they were talking about. (I'm not including here articles written by fanfiction authors about specific aspects of fanfiction; more general overviews of fanfiction written to explain to the general public what fanfiction is.) As I watched the video, I was disappointed to note that not only did they fall into that 'sounds-like-you're-just-reading-off-the-wiki' tone of disingenuity, they also committed one of my personal pet peeves in articles of this type: they quoted from specific works of fanfiction.

This is going to get a little specific, but bear with me. I have larger point. You’ll see…

Article authors and journalists think that by providing an excerpt of fanfic, they're giving readers a window into what fanfiction is really like. The sections of fic that were read aloud in the video were unbelievably awkward, even for me - and some of them were excerpts concerning characters that I normally enjoy reading about! This sort of awkwardness implies to the uninformed viewer/reader that this is the nature of fanfiction in general: all fic is this slightly awkward exercise committed by geeks who don't have the social finesse to realize how uncomfortable they're making everyone.

However, if we learned anything from Role Models (the LARPing thing, keep up!), we know that that isn’t true. By quoting from these works of fanfiction, the authors of these articles are making two big mistakes:

First of all, they’re quoting bad fanfiction. Let's assume for the moment that the authors of these articles didn't go looking for the worst, most awkward possible fiction they could find for the comedic value, in order to write an article intentionally pointing a finger and laughing at fanfiction and its associated fans. These people probably don’t know their het* from their gen**, so it’s not hard to imagine that they had a little trouble finding fanfic to reference in the first place.

So they googled fanfiction, and like anything that you blindly google, they found some weird stuff. It’s the nature of the internet. They clicked on a show or movie that they recognized, and read the first five fics listed. And they were terrible. Because that’s how the internet works. 

The thing is, people who read fanfiction regularly know where to find good fanfic. Just like people who listen to a lot of scream metal know what the good bands are and which ones still suck. There's plenty of really really good fanfiction on the internet, and tons more mediocre-to-not-bad. But you have to know how to look for it.

People who read fanfiction regularly have places they go for it. They seek out recommendation lists from people they trust, they belong to livejournal communities or follow tumblrs that specifically post the sort of stories they're looking for. Finding good fanfiction is not a simple task; it takes a lot of seeking and weeding. Would you really go into a bookstore, choose a random aisle, and buy the first book that came to hand? That's in a scenario where everything has to have at least met the minimum quality standard necessary for publication. And this is the internet. Shudder.

But my second point is slightly broader: namely, context is everything.

Invariably, articles that quote fanfic quote a scene either leading up to a romance/sex scene, or sometimes actually from the middle. It’s uncomfortable and sounds super weird. But you know the thing? Anything sounds weird when taken out of context. Think about it. 

Have you ever walked into a room when someone is watching a TV show you don't recognize, and it's on a particularly dramatic scene? To the person on the couch, it's an exciting moment, full of drama and tension, the culmination of weeks’ worth of buildup and arc plot. They know these characters intimately, and they recognize that this scene represents a fundamental turning point in who the participants are as people; these characters' lives will never be the same.

But to you, just walking into the room, what do you see? You see a bunch of actors being hilariously over-dramatic. You see people waving guns around and shouting about 'What you did to my wife!' It's silly. It's a bit funny. You think, 'woo, dramatic,' in a sarcastic sort of way, and continue on to the kitchen to fix yourself that sandwich you came in for. You and the person on the couch have dramatically different experiences of that same scene, because they have context and you don't.

You know what scene is particularly hilarious out of context? The three-way duel scene from 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.' If you don't have any idea what the movie is about, or who the characters are, the idea of the three-way duel is pretty funny. It's just three guys standing - SUPER TENSE - with increasingly close-up shots of everyone's eyes, and then a guy shoots another guy. It's really a very silly scene. You know, unless you've watched the rest of the movie and you know the stakes, and you're invested in the characters.

What I’m getting at here is pretty simple. Basically, in the world of fiction, context is king. It’s most notable in fanfic, where there are specific tropes and character shorthand that a person embedded in the subculture can recognize, and even someone into the subject matter might not understand, but context is really important everywhere. Without context, who cares if some girl named Dorothy gets to go home? We only care because we know the story.

So. Internet people? Stop being dicks and snarking on the fanfic writers. Fanfic writers? Understand that some people may need context to get what you’re writing about. And everybody else? Remember that what you’re reading or seeing probably makes sense to someone, somewhere, and that’s okay. If you’re interested, find out what the context is. If you’re not, don’t. But don’t be a dick about it.

What these images all have in common is that they're hilarious if you get the context. You're welcome.
*Story about a heterosexual relationship.
**Story where romance is not the main focus.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Breaking Dawn Is A Terrible Movie. I Mean, Awful.

I went to see Breaking Dawn tonight. Now, I went to see it with a friend, and neither of us are particularly big fans of the franchise (by which I mean that we intentionally went in order to heckle it), but we did run into some guy friends in the lobby who were there to see Red Dawn. To those guy friends, who mocked our movie choice, I have this to say:

You missed out on a hell of a comedy.

When you’re like me and you spend most of your time complaining about the various social injustices represented in the media, you, one, don’t get invited to many dinner parties, and, two, are expected to have very strong feelings about the Twilight franchise. They’re the worst thing to happen to feminism since the birth of Pamela Anderson, or they display an incredibly disturbing vision of domestic abuse, or they’re just plain CREEPY. All of these things are true. I don’t dispute that.

But my real beef with the Twilight movies, my real grievance, is that they don’t even have the courtesy to be good movies.

Like, I can deal with an emotionally damaging portrayal of the world’s most codependent “love story”, if it’s compellingly told. I watch Sons of Anarchy, you think I can’t handle a little freakiness in my romance? And unfeminist? I can deal. Really. I just demand that it be actually good.

Which this was not. At all.

Now, before all the Twi­lovers start complaining about how this was the second part of the book, and clearly I can’t just judge it without taking part one into consideration, allow me to make one thing clear: I don’t care. I went to this movie to see a movie. I have not seen Breaking Dawn Part One, though I have seen all the other movies, and I really have no desire to. My intentions in skipping it were to never see the icky teeth scene, and I am thrilled to have succeeded.

But even aside from my personal aversion to this franchise, a film can’t stand on its predecessors. Even if Breaking Dawn Part One – Creepy Baby Time was amazing, that still doesn’t give this one the right to suck. Every movie must stand on its own merit, and this movie really really doesn’t.

SPOILERS. But if you’re reading this you either don’t care or already know, so whatevs.

The film starts out with Bella’s awakening as a vampire. This is then followed by some really badly written scenes in which she tries to figure out how to be a vampire without killing anyone. She nearly kills a mountain climber, but it turns out that she has super self-control (as in, it is literally her superpower), so she doesn’t. Then she goes to see her baby. The baby is clearly CGI. Also Jacob is in love with it. We are fifteen minutes in and I am laughing so hard I nearly pee.

Bella’s father is worried about her, so Jacob goes to see him and explains that Bella’s a little different now. As a way of explaining, Jacob decides that it is absolutely a good idea and not weird at all to spend the conversation slowly stripping in front of his best friend’s father. This is not meant to be funny. I think.

Duly convinced that there is something supernatural going on, Bella’s father, who incidentally is played by Miles from Revolution and boy am I happy that guy has a better job now, goes to see Bella and meet her CGI baby. He is creeped out. Sad day.

Bella and Edward are given a Thomas Kincaid painting, I mean house, in which to live with their preternaturally good baby. Also they have sex. It is utterly irrelevant to the plot, and shot in such a way that I have no idea what kind of sex they were trying to have. I think it was butt stuff.

The CGI baby grows up very quickly. This is important because plot, I guess.

Some evil vampires think the baby is an evil vampire baby, so they want to kill it. I am reasonably sure this is the actual plot of the movie. Our heroes (I guess) decide to find allies to help them stop the evil vampires.

They look for allies. They get allies. Another fifteen minutes is wasted. I am now less amused and more bored. This movie is slow as balls.

There is an epic speech about how they need to be ready to fight because evil vampires blah blah. Jacob is creeping on a seven year old girl, that’s freaky. Bella and Edward continue to be the least interesting characters in the movie. Also Alice ran away for some reason. Don’t care.

Bella trains to become better at her other superpower, the power of having a shield. She becomes immediately awesome at it after three tries. There isn’t even a training montage.

Lee Pace is a vampire. Finally something I approve of, other than Taylor Lautner’s abs.

A vampire we know almost nothing about becomes irritated when it looks like Bella is protecting her daughter. He leaves. We never hear from him again in the film. I have no idea why he was in it in the first place. Seriously. Can someone explain this to me?

Eventually everything comes to a head in a big confrontation on an empty snowy spot. The evil vampires get ready to attack, but it turns out that they are willing to listen to reason, and are told that the baby isn’t as evil as they thought. The fight is averted.

But, wait, no! The evil vampires are too evil for that, and therefore they must fight in order to destroy the child because, I don’t know, fear or something. Big fight, lots of people die, sad day.


It was all a dream! Alice used her mind powers to show the evil vampires that if there was a fight they’d lose, and then she somehow managed to find the only other half-human half-vampire and make him tell the evil vamps what was up. 

So that’s it. The movie’s over.

In the epilogue we find out that Bella also has the power of flashbacks. I am not making that up.

Okay, so other than just amusing the snot out of me, why is this movie bad? I mean, I don’t like the Twilight books, but I think there was a way to make them into movies that were more than just literal filmic interpretations, and actually good movies in their own right. What went wrong?

Fundamentally, these movies focus on entirely the wrong things from the books. They aren’t well written, and they’re too tied to the source material to actually be good. The novels have a very un-movie structure, and that’s fine. They’re books. But in making a movie, you need to make sure that the pacing is consistent. These films didn’t do that.

In adaptation you have to be brutal to the source material. If something pays out in the book, but you can’t fit it elegantly into the movie, it has to go. You don’t keep anything that doesn’t work for you, no quippy asides or rabbit trails unrun. A movie needs to be clean and compact.

And you absolutely can’t let a movie devolve into self-indulgent reader fantasy. Not if you want it to be good.

A large amount of the appeal of the Twilight “saga” is that Bella is a stand-in for the audience. She gains amazing powers and so we are allowed to feel like we have too. It makes sense that the book spends hundreds of pages on her new powers, because it’s a book.

But in a movie, we don’t have that kind of time. You can get across information without letting the movie get slow. Layer scenes together, so that there is a tension and a level of stakes to every scene. Have Bella actually struggle with self-control when she sees her father. Layer together her discovery of her power with the development of her daughter. Create some freaking interpersonal tension, maybe?

A good book can meander and ramble through its pages. A good movie can’t. It has to be tight, it has to fit together. There’s no room for rabbit trails and wild geese.

So, while I wholeheartedly believe that Twilight is bad for our kids, I also think it’s just plain bad. It’s a bad movie. And somehow, that’s a little comforting.

It's. Just. So. Bad.