Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Post-Turkey Consumerism Festival! Also, Still House Hunting.

Accurate depictions of me yesterday.
I was going to have a real article today. Honest. But then it turned out that I could go see an adorable little two bedroom in a cute town that would be closer to work and screw everything that takes precedence. So. Entertain yourselves.

Or shop or do whatever you were already doing. I trust you.


Accurate depiction of house hunting.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Day of the Doctor Wasn't As Good As What I Wanted It To Be

It’s kind of hard to believe that the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special has now come and gone. As a latecomer to the party, I’ve still been a fan of the show for a full third of my life, and even went so far as to write my college thesis on it. That thesis? Was how I ended up doing this, talking to all of you nice people about popular culture. So, sometimes it’s hard to stop and think about how much Doctor Who has impacted my life.

Well, now that that’s out of the way, let’s rip this special to shreds!

I kid. Somewhat. The Anniversary Special, heretofore to be referred to as “The Day of the Doctor” was good, fun, very Whovian, and a pleasant romp through some nice nostalgic bits of Old and New Who. There were guest appearances, lots of Doctors, and a reference to the running gag with Queen Elizabeth I. All that is lovely.

But there were things, other things, that weren’t so lovely. Not that anything in the special was awful or offensive or anything like that, just that, well, I wanted more. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t cry. And I have it on good authority that I’m not actually dead inside, so it wasn’t just me. This special didn’t connect to me in the way I really wanted it to. And I think I know why.

If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve watched “The Day of the Doctor” and therefore will not be recapping it. But generally, SPOILERS.

There are a lot of parts of the special that I quite liked. I enjoyed getting to see pieces of Old Who woven in with the new, and honestly it was refreshing to get to see bits of Gallifrey again. While I appreciate the decision the show made to separate The Doctor from his home planet in the new series, I miss the place. It’s a cool place, and there were always interesting stories to tell there. So, I liked that we went back.

I thought the premise of the episode, that The Doctor must make a moral choice about whether the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, was very timely and emotionally convicting, but I do think that it stumbled a bit in execution. While I loved all the parts with John Hurt and Billie Piper snarking at each other and having deep philosophical debates, I hated all the stuff with the Zygons, which was cheesy, and was utterly bored by Elizabeth’s inclusion in the plot. Didn’t need her. Just made it more confusing. Like always.

Actually, while I enjoyed the episode, especially the parts where John Hurt’s Doctor got to stare into his own future and confront the reality of his choices, I felt a bit let down emotionally. It was all just so…Moffat. You know what I mean?

Maybe you don’t. Here’s what I mean: I mean that it was all flash, and no real substance. It was clever, full of witty lines and silly moments, with lots of running and zippy dialogue and beautiful women saying just the right thing at just the right time. It had space art and the importance of saving children and Billie Piper vamping it up in weirdly post-apocalyptic sweaters.

But it didn’t make me cry. It didn’t have emotion, real emotion at its heart.

I’m not entirely sure why this special didn’t emotionally connect for me. It might be because neither Smith nor Tennant is really “my” Doctor – I swear fealty to Christopher Eccleston, who wasn’t in this one. Or it could be because even though we felt a little bit of the chaos on Gallifrey as the Time War raged we’ve never actually gotten a really good feeling of what that war was all about, and therefore an entire episode debating the moral intricacies of a conflict we really know nothing about was kind of weird.

Or it could be that I am sick and tired of hearing about the damn Time War, and I want us to talk about something else. Because I’m tired of The Doctor being a “lonely god” or “the only one who can save us now” and I want him to just be The Doctor again, a weirdo who stole a time machine because he didn’t want to be a grownup anymore. I miss The Doctor helping people not because he’s the only one who can, but because he’s in the neighborhood and it’s the right thing to do.

I miss the everyday courage of Doctor Who. I’ve had my fill of prophecies and universe saving heroics. I want The Doctor to help a shopgirl see the stars, or try desperately to get a flight attendant to the airport on time, only to constantly be hijacked off into time and space. I want The Doctor to do normal things with normal people and have them be extraordinary for no other reason than that they might as well be. I’m done with exceptionalism. I want The Doctor to be a man again.

Again, this could just be me, but I really don’t think it is. Like I said in the Rose Tyler article, I love characters who are ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances. The Doctor’s never going to be exactly normal, sure, but he can be normal-esque. He doesn’t really have any special skills, does he? And his preferred weapon is a really useful screwdriver. He runs from his problems. He’s just like half my ex-boyfriends in that sense.

What I mean is, I want to be able to relate to The Doctor. I think we’ve missed that. We’ve gone way too far in the other direction. And having Clara be the companion, pretty, perfect Clara, certainly doesn’t help.

Because Clara always knows the right thing to say. She’s the one who opens the door everyone else thinks is locked. She can tell when The Doctor’s about to make a decision and talk him around about it. She can do anything. She’s magic.

I mean she’s literally magic. We established that last season. And have I mentioned how much I hate that? Because I do. I really do. Can’t we have someone normal on this show for once? Seriously. I am really sick of everyone having a destiny or an epic journey or some kind of “only _____ in the universe” deal going on. It’s exhausting.

Speaking of exhausting, it was a bit tiring seeing Matt Smith and David Tennant enthuse at each other during the show. While both of them have very different takes on The Doctor, their styles are similar enough that having both on screen at the same time was hard. It was just so…bouncy. Flippant. Hair gelled.

Though, seeing the two of them together did give me the lovely mental image of seeing Christopher Eccleston and Peter Capaldi being The Doctor at each other, all repressed swearing and angry eyebrows. And that made me happy.

On the list of things I actually quite liked about the special, and I know this one is controversial, I personally loved that Rose wasn’t actually Rose in this. I am aware that this is virtually heresy, especially since I have established that I love her character, but hear me out.

I didn’t want Moffat to really get his hands on Rose to begin with, because I don’t trust him, but also because I quite like where Rose ended up. I mean, think about it. She lives in a parallel reality where her mother and father are alive, happy, and together. Where she has a baby brother and a job she loves. Where people ride around in zeppelins. Oh, and she happens to live with another version of The Doctor, one who can kiss her and love her and grow old with her.

I really, really didn’t want to see a story where Rose wasn’t in that happy world anymore. I want her in that world. It’s a good world.

So seeing that Rose wasn’t Rose here, but rather an Interface taking Rose’s shape was pretty cool. It meant that we got some nice Billie Piper action, but that it didn’t take over the story. Also cool? The idea that after The Doctor regenerated into his next form (Eccleston’s Doctor) he retained some vague memory of a “bad wolf” and a pretty blonde girl. And then he met Rose.

I do like that it comes full circle there.

And I have to admit that I like that the whole thing about The Doctor murdering everyone he’d ever known has finally been resolved. That’s a good thing. Maybe we can get away from the lonely god stuff now. Please, please let us get away from it.

But here’s my real disappointment with “The Day of the Doctor”: it wasn’t as good as the story I had in my head. And that’s always a bummer.

Now, the story in my head, what they could have done, though not what I actually expected them to do, isn’t particularly filled out, but I think it stands. I didn’t want to hear about the Time War. I didn’t want to discover a new, unspoken regeneration. And I really didn’t want to see David Tennant’s Doctor kissing people to figure out if they’re Zygons or not.

No, I wanted to see The Doctor before he became The Doctor. I wanted to see what he was running from all those years ago. I wanted to see the man before.

Imagine that John Hurt wasn’t playing another regeneration of The Doctor, but rather an earlier age of a regeneration we’d already met. By that I mean, his first regeneration. That John Hurt was playing The Doctor before he was The Doctor, back when he went by his real name, when he was friends with The Master (really friends), and when he lived on Gallifrey. What happened? What was so wrong that he ran and never stopped running?

What did he do that made him decide to never ever do any harm again?

That was what I wanted to see. And while I can appreciate that this episode was very clever and pretty and well done, which it was, it wasn’t what I actually wanted to know. And none of it touched my heart.

Call me a romantic, but aren’t things like anniversaries supposed to be about heart? Isn’t something like the fiftieth anniversary supposed to let you feel the things you’ve always loved about the show, and to drag your emotions around? I don’t want something clever. I want something true.

I also want Moffat to not be the showrunner anymore, to be honest. I think it’s time we had a bit more feeling and a bit less clever.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Think of the Children! Tuesday: The Emperor's New Groove

I know you’re all impatient to get to talking about Day of the Doctor, or at least I am, but I need a little bit longer to cook my opinion, so in the meantime, let’s talk about one of my absolute favorite animated films, and also one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.

You guessed it (from the title), we’re talking about The Emperor’s New Groove.

One of the lesser known Disney films, The Emperor’s New Groove came out in 2000, just as Disney was starting to slide into mediocrity again at the tail end of its “Renaissance”. Starring David Spade as the voice of Kuzco, an Incan emperor in pre-colonial South America, the story is weird, original, and surprisingly progressive for Disney. Which was borne out when the film was released to solid numbers, but bad ones for Disney. The company made a couple of direct-to-video sequals, then pretty much just let this thing rot.

Which is a real shame, because digging in a little deeper, the film has a couple of things very few other Disney films, or kids films at all, can claim: actually good life lessons.

Also it’s hilarious.

I figure you know what I’m talking about. When you start to think at all critically about children’s films you begin to realize that most of the morals here are either neutral in their morality or actually downright harmful, the kind of thing you wouldn’t want any child to learn, no matter how annoying he is.

I’m talking about how Beauty and the Beast condones domestic violence, and how The Little Mermaid is about changing yourself to be more attractive (and also stalking), and how Sleeping Beauty and Snow White both glorify date rape, and Pocohontas is blearily racist, and so is Peter Pan, and so on and so on and so on.

Really, when you come down to it, there aren’t very many kids’ movies that don’t have a disastrous moral lesson attached.

Except for this one. Which is pretty funny. The movie, which was originally conceived as a more standard Disney flick based around Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, eventually ended up as both a surrealist exploration of South America, and as one of the few childrens’ movies with a decent ending.

Like I said above, the movie is about Kuzco, an Incan emperor, who rules absolutely and loves every single second of it. Having been considered a divine leader since his birth, Kuzco has a sense of entitlement big enough to choke a man. He has no sense of proportion or humility. His people adore him because they have to, and Kuzco sees nothing wrong with that. So when he wants to build a new summer palace, the emperor sees nothing wrong with picking a spot already occupied: a sweet little mountaintop village, inhabited by the gentle farmer Pacha (John Goodman) and his family.

Unfortunately for Kuzco, his chief advisor, Yzma (Eartha Kitt), kind of sort of hates his guts with the fire of a thousand suns, and is plotting to kill him. But she can’t just kill him kill him, mostly because that isn’t diabolical enough for her. She’s not the most complex of villains.

Eventually, Yzma decides to just poison Kuzco. That way he’ll die and she can rule the empire. But since her assistant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), was chosen for his studly good looks rather than his mental capacities, it all goes wrong and instead of ending up dead, Kuzco ends up a llama. And then instead of ending up drowned, Kuzco winds up in a sack on the back of Pacha’s cart, headed out of the city.

Hijinks ensue.

Or rather, Yzma decides that if Kuzco isn’t really dead then they have to go after him and finish the job. But Kuzco, who wakes up a llama and is very displeased, has made a deal with Pacha to help him get back to the palace. If Pacha gets him there in one piece, then he’ll agree to build his summer palace somewhere else. Yay!

What commences is a race to the finish line, full of weird adventures, emotional growth, and lots of jokes that only adults will get. Kuzco tries to go back on his word about every five minutes, while Pacha deeply questions his life choices and why he is so honorable as to save the life of a man (llama) who is perfectly happy ruining his. Yzma and Kronk are hilarious and diabolical – well, Yzma is diabolical while Kronk is mostly good-natured and lovable – and the whole story flows with a sort of zingy, madcap feel.

Which is to say that it’s very good and I like it. But the ending is what I like best.

By the end of the film, our heroes have finally made their way back to the palace, only to find Kronk and Yzma waiting for them with the proper potion to turn Kuzco human again. There’s a scuffle, some attempts at magic, and finally a decision. Pacha hangs from the edge of a ledge, dangling and about to fall to his death. The vial that contains the all important potion hangs off of another ledge. Kuzco can’t reach both. What does he do?

Well, this is a Disney movie, so he saves Pacha, and then together they get the other potion. All good and standard, right? Kuzco learns his lesson and builds his summer palace somewhere else, Yzma gets turned into a cat, and Kronk gets to go off and live a life of peace and quiet and teaching small children how to talk to squirrels.

Have I mentioned that Kronk is my favorite character? Because Kronk is my favorite character. In pretty much everything. We’ll get to that more in a bit.

So Kuzco learns his lesson, that his problems aren’t actually the center of the world, and everyone gets a nice happy ending. And that’s good, don’t get me wrong. That does in fact happen. But it’s a little bit more subversive than that. You see, the ending, where we actually get to see that Kuzco has learned his lesson shows us that in addition to learning that Pacha’s livelihood has value and that he shouldn’t be so selfish, Kuzco actually comes to repudiate his status as emperor. Not insofar as he actually gives up the throne, but enough that instead of building a summer palace (near Pacha’s house, instead of on top of it), Kuzco builds a little hut.

Okay, I get that this seems really tiny and insignificant, but it’s not. It says something a lot deeper than, well, pretty much everything else.

It means that Kuzco didn’t just learn humility, he also decided that some of the trappings of his office were actually unfair. He didn’t inherently deserve more than Pacha did. And so, he decided to be Pacha’s equal. That is big, guys. Bigger than big. That’s huge.

I mean, we talk a lot about the real hidden messages in movies on here, but I think this is one of the cooler ones. Kuzco comes out of his ordeal with a new perspective on life, and it’s one that is shockingly anti-wealth. Which is great. The Emperor’s New Groove is a story about a spoiled young boy who learns humility, respect for others, and that material goods only matter insofar as you let them.

Which is awesome, and also probably explains why Disney is so happy to forget about this movie. Because how the hell do you merchandise that?

One last thing before I go. Kronk. Let’s talk about Kronk. Or, more specifically, let’s talk about how Kronk, despite being kind of sort of the bad guy, is actually the most moral person in the entire film. I just, I just love him. I love how he’s super sensitive and sweet, how he looks like he should be Yzma’s henchman and muscle, and he’s clearly supposed to be, but Kronk is much happier making spinach puffs and hosting dinner parties and making friends with the wildlife. Basically, I love Kronk because instead of the normal henchman role, we got a huggy, sweet, happy man-child who just wants to do the right thing. And that’s fabulous. Also surprisingly progressive. So yay on all fronts.

The movie even passes the Bechdel Test. And all of the characters are non-white. And it takes place in pre-colonial South America. It’s weird and weird and weird and hilarious and I love it.

Okay. I’ll stop talking about this now.


Go watch it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hunger Games: Catching Fire Lacks Resolution. Good.

I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume that most of you saw Catching Fire this weekend. I make this assumption based first on the fact that you’re reading a review of it right now, and let’s be real, very few people read reviews before they go see a movie. At least I know I don’t. I read them after, so that I can have opinions at things.

Second, I’m making this guess because the movie did obscenely well at the box office, has already earned enough money to qualify as a hit (and earned back most of its budget) and will undoubtedly go down in history as the highest something to ever something for some reason. I don’t really care about the numbers.

I do, however, care about the story. So let’s talk about that. And also let’s talk about moral decisions, the importance of failure, and how a lack of resolution can be a good thing. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

SPOILERS for everything ever.

Catching Fire, like The Hunger Games before it, hews very closely to its source material. That material, of course, is the book by Suzanne Collins, part of the trilogy of books devoted to Katniss Everdeen and her struggle against the Capitol. Catching Fire is the middle of this story, the Empire Strikes Back, if you want to use a metaphor. Catching Fire is where everything goes to crap and then kind of sort of doesn’t get better. At least not for a while.

The story starts with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) dealing with her new role as a victor and representation of the Capitol’s power. Because she and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) won and beat the games by forcing them to have either two victors or none at all, Katniss now must prove that she is a loyal citizen and not about to start any revolutions or anything. This is problematic, as she kind of already has.

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) therefore gives her a very clear command: pretend to be just a silly girl in love or prepare to lose everyone you love. So Katniss tries to comply. She can play house with Peeta and keep everyone safe. Right?

Nope. Not even a little bit. As Katniss and Peeta go along their victory tour, visiting each of the twelve districts to pay their respects to the dead tributes and flaunt the Capitol’s control, the signs become more and more clear. Revolution is coming, and nothing they do can stop it now. Which would be great, if they weren’t exactly in the firing line. They try to stave off the end by making a distracting announcement, that they’re getting married, but it has little effect. If anything, it makes it all worse.

Snow knows that he has to do something about this, and his solution is simple. Katniss and Peeta must be eliminated, but so too must all the other victors, in case any of them think to speak up against the games. Since this year’s Hunger Games are the “Quarter Quell” (every twenty-five years the games get a little weirder, just for kicks), Snow declares that the tributes this year will be reaped from the existing pool of victors.

And Katniss, as the only female victor from District 12, is screwed.

But Katniss doesn’t really care. She’s come to a simple conclusion in this past year: she doesn’t actually want to live with what she’s done. She’s ready to be finished. She doesn’t want to die, exactly, but she doesn’t want to live badly enough to kill again, and that’s kind of a thing when you’re headed into the games. She wants to protect the people she cares about—her mother, her sister, Gale, Peeta, Haymitch—but she worries that she herself is a bad influence on them. Well, maybe not on Haymitch. But certainly on the rest of them.

So Katniss decides that of the two of them, her and Peeta, Peeta has to live. She makes Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) swear that he’ll try to make it happen, but Peeta volunteers in Haymitch’s stead. She’s stuck going off to the games again with a boy she loves trying to make sure he doesn’t die.

Which pretty much sums up the rest of the movie. Katniss is good at the games. That’s the thing they’ve never tried to hide about her character. Katniss is going to survive and fight and probably win. But what if she doesn’t want to? Katniss is the character best designed to succeed in these circumstances. So what’s interesting is to make this a story where her primary goal is to make sure someone else succeeds.

And you know what? She fails.

We’re not going to go into details about how or why or any of that, because I figure that you probably already know, and if you don’t then I’m not telling you. But I want to dwell on that for a minute. Katniss doesn’t actually save Peeta. She fails. He falls into the Capitol’s hands. And that’s really, really important.

Why? Because if Katniss didn’t fail then there wouldn’t be any story here. If Katniss succeeded then it would be her and Peeta against the world still. She would still be able to lean on him, be able to take comfort in him, and be able to believe in his moral superiority. If they were together, then they would go into situations together. They would be used by the media together. And Katniss would never have to figure out who she is.

The thing that I think we all forget in this story, because Katniss is so prepossessed, so sure of herself, is that Katniss doesn’t really have a strong sense of personhood. She defines herself first in relationship to her family, then to Peeta, then to the Capitol, and then to the revolution. But in the end, Katniss has to define herself in relation to her own actions, and that’s when she figures out who she really is. You have to be alone to hear your own voice sometimes, and that’s true of her here.

Katniss needs to lose Peeta so that she can save him.

It’s funny. I actually saw this film with a couple of friends, two of whom are actually the movie’s intended audience. By that I mean that they are teenage girls, and perfectly okay with that fact, thank you very much. At the end of the movie, one of them complained to me that the movie was so faithful to the book. I pointed out that I tend to like this in a movie, but here, she complained that she wanted a happier ending. More resolution. She wanted Peeta to not be gone.

And that’s a fair point. We crave resolution. If there’s one thing I didn’t enjoy about the movie it was the very end, when you realize that you’ve got another year before you get to see how things turn out.

But, and I wish I had thought to say that at the time, that is a good thing. That sense of unrest, unresolved-ness? That’s good for you.

You have an entire year to spend thinking about the end of the movie. An entire year wondering if Haymitch and Finnick and Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) did the right thing in getting Katniss out. A whole year to wonder what happened to Peeta. I mean, you could read the books, but it’s different to see it on screen. You have a year to grapple with who Katniss is if she fails, and a whole year to think about the cost of revolution.

These are all good questions. These are all important questions. And these are all the kinds of questions we hate to ask.

Why? Because they’re good for us.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Linksgiving (Women and Gender on Television - Part 1)

Well, it has been a few weeks (months) since we last did that, and that's kind of a shame. Mostly because in the weeks that I have been neglecting to post this linksgiving, my bookmarks folder has been gradually swelling in size, and it's honestly just getting even more ridiculous than it already was. For the record.

But, without much further ado, let's talk about women and gender in television. Or tangentially related to television, the making of television, the appreciation of television, all that stuff.

Doctor Who

1. The Creators of Doctor Who Were a Scandal from True story, the people who created Doctor Who were a motley crew of non-white people, female producers, and "the wrong sorts" for the BBC. It's kind of an awesome story.

2. Genderswapped Doctors Are Our New Favorite Form of Doctor Who Cosplay also from Goes into the logic and sociology of crossplay and femmeplay and why women want to dress up as male characters. Or vice versa, for that matter. But usually not.

3. Doctor Who Really Does Need More Female Writers also also from What? They have a lot of good stuff. And this one is exactly what it sounds like.

4. Not Some New Man: The Hidden Pattern Behind the Doctor's Regenerations from The title is pretty self-explanatory, but the article itself is fantastic and one of the best theories I've heard on the matter.

5. The Doctor Who Post I Can Never Write from Completely unadulterated fluff and you're welcome.


6. In Defense of Shoshanna from Jezebel. I'm going to be honest, I don't actually watch this show. But the article is very good. A reminder about how we should view female characters.

7. "Girls": What the Hell Was HBO Thinking? from MotherJones. Erm, so on the side of people who don't like the show very much...

8. It's Different For "Girls" from NYMag. And on the side of people who do like it. Different strokes, and all that.

Game of Thrones

9. NY Times Wakes the Dragon By Insulting Game of Thrones Viewers from The MarySue. Yeah, so someone at the NY Times flat out said that women don't read fantasy. And then the internet ate her.

10. Watch Game of Thrones' Amazing Tribute to Its Many Dead Characters from It's a lovely video, and there are a lot of dead characters. Like, a lot.

11. You Really Don't Want Game of Thrones to Last 10 Seasons from A perfect explanation of why this show, and really every show, needs an expiration date.

12. All the Game of Thrones Fan Theories You Absolutely Need to Know from I don't think I have to explain this one.

The Newsroom

13. Sorkin's "Newsroom" Is No Place for Optimism from NPR. While some would argue that The Newsroom is a hopeful view of our potential as a country, this article argues that it's actually really cynical.

14. Are Aaron Sorkin's Women "Silent Bearers of Sexism"? from The Guardian. I think I can answer this one: kind of.

New Girl and The Mindy Project

15. Jess and Mindy: A Look at the Progression of Female Comedy Characters from Women and Hollywood.

16. "I Kind of Like It When She Calls Me a Bitch. It Makes Me Feel Like Janis Joplin": Third Wave Feminism in "New Girl" from Bitch Flicks. I love this article. It makes me deeply happy.

Sons of Anarchy

17. The Power of the Feminine in "Sons of Anarchy" from Bitch Flicks. So, here we have an argument in favor of Sons of Anarchy as a feminist show...

18. "Sons of Anarchy" Is the Most Sexist Show on Television from Salon. And here we have an argument on how it's the least feminist show on TV. And possibly ever.

19. Something Rotten in the State of SAMCRO: Hamlet and Sons of Anarchy from quiteirregular. And here we have an analysis of the Shakespearean influences in the show.


Yeah, so it turns out that I have a lot of links on this. Enough that we're going to revisit this topic again next week. If you have suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments or email them to us at Tune in next week for more of Women and Gender (and also other various things) on Television, Part 2!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Strong Female Character Friday: Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

The time has come, it has actually finally come, to talk about Doctor Who and its fifty years of awesomeness. Now, in the years that this show has been on the air, it's had a lot of really amazing female characters. There's Ace, who loves to blow things up, Romana, who is delightfully smug, and Layla, who believes in violence like some people believe in Santa, to name just a few. 

But none of these characters is as close to my heart as Rose Tyler. Why? Because Rose was our road back into Doctor Who and because Rose Tyler is not, in fact, the most important girl in the world.

Yeah, okay, so that might have been a bit confusing. Allow me to give you some background.

Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was the first companion we got to see on the new and restarted Doctor Who that came on in the air in 2005. And while this may be surprising to those of you who just started watching Who in the Moffat-era, Rose wasn't anything special. She's introduced as one girl out of thousands in London. A nice pretty girl who works in a shop and likes junk food and lives with her mother in low-income housing. Who has a boyfriend that's more nice than passionate, a job she doesn't much care about, and who didn't really finish high school. She's not particularly clever, or ridiculously beautiful (well, she's Hollywood Homely, but you get what I mean), and she's not especially inspiring to talk to.

She can be whiny, and she can be selfish, and sometimes she accidentally almost ends the world because she's so insufferably human. In short, Rose, out of all of the companions, is the one that is hands down easiest to relate to. She's just a normal girl. Screwed up, kind, and looking for an adventure.

So it is important, crucial even, that Rose was the first companion we got to meet. Why? Because Rose isn't special. And that makes her extraordinary.

Stephen Moffat has a habit, and it's not one I like, where he creates female characters that have some sort of magical ability or relationship to the Doctor. There's Amelia Pond, "The Girl Who Waited", and Clara Oswald, "The Impossible Girl", and River Song, the child of the TARDIS. 

All of these characters, fun as they can be, exist only because of the Doctor. They're only there, traveling in the TARDIS because the Doctor needs to figure out something about them. Whether it's why Amy has that crack in her wall, or why Clara keeps appearing and then dying, or what on Earth is going on with River, the Doctor has found a mystery and must solve it. All of these women are important, and because they're important, they're not very relatable.

Rose, though, Rose is relatable. She first runs into the Doctor by complete and total chance. She's closing up at the shop where she works, and the Doctor pops in and saves her from some homicidal mannequins. And then later he shows up at her flat to save her again. Why? Because he's just passing through. There's no bigger mystery or story to how they meet. They just happen to run into each other. Then, later on, after Rose has helped the Doctor track down the evil plastic, she saves his life. And he thanks her. But it's not remarkable or even particularly graceful how she does it. Rose just screws up her courage and uses her high school gymnastics skills to pull him away from a fall. 

And that's awesome. Because Rose doesn't have to do any of this. She doesn't have to help him, she doesn't have to save him, and when he asks her come away with him in the TARDIS, she doesn't have to go. Rose travels with the Doctor because she wants to, and he asks her to come sheerly because he wants her with him.

Do you get how awesome that is?

When they're traveling, Rose makes mistakes, she screws it up, and she constantly is getting lost or kidnapped or stumbling onto someone's evil plan. On one memorable occasion she ends up hanging from a barrage balloon during the London Blitz wearing a Union Jack t-shirt. Good times. 

But honestly, Rose's ability to wind up in trouble is part of what makes her such an awesome character. Because Rose really gets out there. She tries everything. She doesn't wait for the Doctor to tell her what to do, she just runs full tilt at the alien-ness of her surroundings. And sure, it gets her in trouble more often than not. But that's okay. It's human. She tries.

I don't think I have a great prophecy concerning the destruction of the Earth hanging over my head. I'm pretty sure that I wasn't born to save the Doctor, and I have a reasonable amount of certainty that I'm not the center of the universe. I'm rather average. And that's okay. Because that means that I can choose to be great.

What Rose Tyler has that the others don't is a choice. If she wants greatness, she has to choose it. And she does. Rose decides that she would rather live a life of danger and adventure and aliens alongside the Doctor than live a safe life at home with her mother. 

Even when she knows that she's going back into a situation where she might die, Rose will move heaven and Earth and a really big truck to make her way back to him. Not because she has to or because she even really thinks that her presence will change everything that much. But because she believes that there is nowhere in the universe she would rather be. 

I want to be that kind of person. The kind that inspires people not with my big words and my important actions, but with the courage and depth of my heart. There's a reason Rose is both loved and reviled by the fans. She's the companion we all relate to best, and she's the one we all know we could so easily be. And I don't mean that in a bad way.

I don't really know what's coming with this 50th Anniversary Special. I'm a little leery of it, to be honest, because I don't love Moffat's storylines as much anymore, and because I'm afraid of how he'll write Rose, but I don't think it'll ultimately change how I feel about her character. 

For all that she was sometimes whiny, sometimes irritating, how she could be so single-minded and focused, Rose is the companion that I most want to see by the Doctor's side. Not because she has to be, but because she wants to be.

And because Rose, more than any other companion, changed the Doctor himself. He didn't really change her at all. Maybe gave her a little more confidence, room for sass, and a larger view of the universe. But Rose in the finale is the same as Rose in the pilot. Same girl, different day. The Doctor? He has changed.

He's changed because he's gotten a view of how the ordinary people live. He gets to see her heart and her priorities and her grief and her love. He's sat on the sofa with her baby cousin, wrestling over the TV remote and yelling uselessly for her family to quiet down. He's celebrated Christmas with her in her tiny destroyed flat, pulling crackers with Mickey and arguing with Jackie. He's seen her mourn her father, and he's blown up her job. 

While other companions find themselves becoming slowly more alien and remote from the lives of ordinary people, Rose has the opposite effect. Rose is human, so human, and her time with the Doctor makes him human too. 

Even when she becomes Bad Wolf, when she takes the heart of time and space into herself, she's still Rose. It doesn't really change her. In fact the whole point of it being her to do that is that it didn't change her. It didn't destroy her. Instead, she brought life. She saved people. She saved the Doctor. Not because she had to, but because she wanted to.

I'm a huge fan of choice. The choices we make are what define us, and that's what's so infuriating about the recent companions. None of them have any choice about whether or not they go with the Doctor and whether or not they leave. Their lives are already written. Rose has a choice. So does Martha, and so does (sort of) Donna. They all choose this life, because they want to. That matters. That makes a huge difference.

So remember Rose. Remember her when you're tired and upset and your job sucks and you can't pay the rent. Remember that Rose is human, and ordinary, and that she had bad days. Remember that there really wasn't anything special about Rose, and that instead of being born amazing, she chose it. Remember that you have a choice.

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who.

Don't screw it up.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm House Hunting, So Just Amuse Yourselves

Yeah, like it says above, the time has come for me to move out of my cushy adorable alarmingly cheap houseshare and find a new one. *Sob.* And, as it turns out, spending all your weeknights spelunking around creepy empty houses doesn't leave much time for writing. Who knew?

So while I would love to regale all of you with what I thought of Almost Human or American Horror Story: Coven or really anything at all ever, I can't. Because of reasons.

I guess what I'm saying is that you have the day off, internet. Take a break, go watch something bad for you, and I'll be back to guilt trip you about it tomorrow.

Seriously, though, why are rental properties so creepy?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Don't Be That Guy (WTNV's The Apache Tracker)

Carrying on with our tradition this week of thinking really, really hard about stuff that most people don’t think about at all, let’s talk about cultural appropriation!

Yes, I know, you’re just as excited as I am. Or, it’s possible, deeply confused. What is cultural appropriation, I hear some of you ask? Well, don’t worry. That’s what we’re going to talk about today, in depth and detail and probably some other things besides. Specifically, though, I want to talk about Welcome to Night Vale and its approach to cultural appropriation, because it’s, well, kind of different.

But first, let’s set the stage and talk about what precisely Welcome to Night Vale actually is. Which is hard. Because what it is, is weird.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, put out by Commonplace Books. It’s voiced by Cecil Baldwin, who also gives his name to the main character, and consists of news reports, a la News from Lake Woebegon by Garrison Keillor. The news reports are just the kind of dull community radio highlights that you can imagine really originated in the small town of Night Vale, New Mexico, except for the part where they are completely horrifying and detail parts of small town life that no one outside of a Stephen King story is very familiar with.

What do I mean? Well, in the very first episode, Cecil, the radio host, gives some tips on letting your children play out in the desert outside of town. Specifically, those tips include taking cover when the helicopters come, but only when certain colors of helicopters come, because some of them belong to the Sheriff’s Secret Police, while others belong to the Shady Governmental Agency, and still others are probably military, while some are scary and mysterious and we don’t know where they come from don’t make eye contact.

Also there is a dog park into which no one is allowed to bring their dogs, and at which no one should look for fear of upsetting the mysterious hooded figures.

So, yeah. It’s a little hard to explain. What makes the show work, though, rather than just being a biweekly half hour of terror, is that the characters in the town are made to come alive. There’s Cecil himself, a perpetually chipper and genial resident of the town who thinks it’s all lovely here, Old Woman Josie, who lives out by the used car lot with a bunch of angels named Erika, and Mayor Pamela Winchell, who is facing reelection soon and going up against Hiram McDaniels, a five-headed dragon in prison for tax evasion, and the Faceless Old Woman Who Lives In Your House. Also, there’s Carlos, a scientist studying the town, with whom Cecil is hopelessly besotted.

It’s not just random weirdness, because while these characters sound completely bonkers, they actually have stories and motivations and arcs and all that. They aren’t jokes, they’re people.

And of those people, one of them is perfectly suited to the discussion of our point. You see what I did there? I did a thing. Appreciate my segues. They take effort.

One of the recurring characters on the show is The Apache Tracker (no other name given), a white man who wears an “insulting” Native American costume and claims to have ancient Indian magic. And sadly, that wouldn’t be all that weird for a character on a science fiction or fantasy show. We run into it all the time. No, what’s weird here is how everyone reacts to the Apache Tracker. Specifically Cecil.

Cecil freaking hates the guy.

It’s really interesting. Every time Cecil mentions the Apache Tracker, even when congratulating him for something, some heroic action, or whatever, he starts by commenting on how distasteful the Apache Tracker’s cultural appropriation is, and how insulting his costume is, how he isn’t fooling anyone, all that stuff.

Cecil makes it very clear every time that the Apache Tracker’s use of Native American culture for his own benefit is not okay, and will never be okay.

Now, the issue gets a little weirder when the Apache Tracker disappears for a few weeks, only to turn up again as an actual Native American, who can only speak Russian. Did I mention it’s a weird show? Well, anyway, this throws kind of a level of confusion into the works, regarding whether or not we can now say that the Apache Tracker is performing acts of cultural appropriation. And no real easy answer is given.

But the question is asked.

And in a weird way, that’s what matters. When the Apache Tracker appears as an actual Native American, it doesn’t erase what he did before. It isn’t all okay now just because his skin tone matches his claims. His behavior is still called into question. Which is a good thing.

Welcome to Night Vale isn’t just making a joke about stupid weirdos here, it’s making a pretty strong statement about how we should view acts of cultural appropriation, and how we should think about our ties to our own culture. Going back to the beginning, cultural appropriation isn’t just a thing where you borrow from another culture, it has to do with intent and usage. It’s when you take an idea or a story or a costume or a religion out of context and use it for your own purposes. It’s when you take from a culture and claim it as your own.

The Apache Tracker is slammed, not just because he’s kind of a strange guy, but because he has taken Native American culture and used it for his own ends. He’s appropriated it. And a magical skin change doesn’t make that go away. It’s attitudinal. It’s, well, I feel like we’re talking about this a lot this week, but it’s a form of selfishness.

You can tell I work with kids, can’t you.

Anyway, the Apache Tracker is slammed not for appreciating Native American culture, but by using it in order to make himself more interesting. He’s not disregarded because he thinks its cool. He’s a jerk because takes what he finds valuable about the culture and uses it for his own gains, rather than leaving it in context. That’s the real problem with him.

Because there is cultural appropriation, and there is also cultural sharing. When I went to Vietnam, we traveled to the very north there and, in visiting a market where local indigenous tribeswomen sold their clothes, I bought a jacket and a couple of belts. Now, is this cultural appropriation? Well, it’s complicated. When I bought the items, I did it because first of all, they’re beautiful, second of all, I wanted to financially support these really cool women, and third because the women saw me and my whiteness and pretty much grabbed me and shoved me into the clothes because they thought it was hilarious. (It was. We have pictures.)

That’s cultural sharing. They wanted me to wear and buy the clothes because they thought it was fun, and also because they, like most people, like money.

But. I don’t really ever wear that jacket now that I live in the US again. I mean, I pull it out occasionally, but mostly I leave it in the closet until I can find a better way to display it. Why? Because outside of that situation, there really isn’t any reason for me to wear that jacket that isn’t for my own edification. When I wear it now, it’s not because I need to keep warm – I have much warmer coats. It isn’t to fit in – this thing does not fit in, trust me. And it’s not because I’ve been invited to do so – I doubt those women even remember me, and no one here is particularly invested in my wardrobe.

If I were to wear the jacket tomorrow, I would only be doing it because I want to look cool. That is cultural appropriation. And that is what the Apache Tracker is doing.

Really? Really? Really.
Why are we talking about this now? Well, this is Native American Heritage month, which is fitting. Thanksgiving is a time of weirdness, here in America, when we look back out our past and pretend we can’t see all that nasty genocide, choosing instead to focus on the happy things, like a nice dinner and some cultural sharing.

But in the process of sanctifying Thanksgiving, we seem to have done a few other things as well. Like dressed our kids up as “Indians”. Or made little headdresses out of construction paper. Or told decontextualized Native American myths at the dinner table in the hopes of bringing some “authenticity” to the proceedings.

No. Stop. Don’t.

I’m not saying it’s bad to be interested in Native American culture. It’s not. It’s genuinely very interesting. But I am saying that it’s important, crucially important, to not cross a line. To do it because you are genuinely interested in them, and not because you want people to be interested in you.

Don’t do it for selfish reasons. That’s kind of the whole thing. Just don’t be a jerk. Don’t be the Apache Tracker. Just don’t.

I'm just gonna leave this here.