Wednesday, March 30, 2011

River Song and Lois Lane; Don't Call Them Cougars. They Might Hurt You.

With less than one month until the return of Doctor Who (eee!) a new trailer was released today. 

There's a lot of awesomeness right there, but mostly there's River Song.  Because River Song is amazing.  (If you don't like River Song, feel free to tell me why.  Try not to base it on Rose Tyler, though, because then I will pay absolutely no attention to you.)

River Song isn't just amazing because of her innate bad-assery, intelligence, and beauty.  River Song is amazing because she's being played by a forty-seven year old actress, in an action-heavy part, against a twenty-eight year old actor.  In a love story.

Over the weekend, there was a lot of buzz around the decision to cast Amy Adams as Lois Lane, because she's thirty-six, and Henry Cavill is twenty-seven.  The questions about whether she's too old are ridiculous, but keep coming.  Mostly from big media outlets.  And then the counter-voices mention that the classic Lois/Supes combo of Kidder/Reeves involved an older Lois. 

There's a lot of talk these days of fanboys and what they can and can't handle, what they will and won't freak out about, and what studios will and won't do to please them (and whether they should). 

I'm not saying there's 100% overlap between Doctor Who fans and Superman fans.  And, sure, the Doctor is a 900 (ish) year old Time Lord who could regenerate into the body of a seventy year old man (though that doesn't seem to be the way the BBC is going, does it?).  But we all know looks count, and we all know plenty of us have fandom overlaps.

I think maybe the media outlets who keep perpetuating this age thing should look around various fandoms.  The people who care about the age aren't the hardcore fans.  Because we know better.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch: A Dreamer's Nightmare

I just got back from seeing Sucker Punch.  Yep, opening day by myself.  I'm working on getting over the idea that the movies need to be a social event, especially since I can just come home and be social about it with people on the internet. 

While I was in the theater, a friend of mine tweeted a link to an article at i09 about how terrible the movie is.  It makes a few good points, but I look at it in a very different way.

[Spoilers both at that link and in the rest of my post.]

First let me say that there are definitely some issues with the movie.  I'm not into the school girl thing or the naughty nurse thing, so the outfits of Emily Browning and Jenna Malone sort of rubbed me the wrong way (as opposed to the right way, which I think was the intent).  But some people are into that, sort of like I'm into the Grunge-Lady-Knight of Sweet Pea or the Steampunk-Soldier of Blondie (Abbie Cornish and Vanessa Hudgens, respectively).  Their nicknames were ridiculous and seemed to come from nowhere with absolutely no explanation: a definite failing.  And I really really could not get past Emily Browning's looking like a 15 year old - but that's an issue I have with her in everything, not just this movie.  The fact that she's going to be the lead in a retelling of Sleeping Beauty is super disturbing to me.

Abbie Cornish as Sweet Pea.  Included 'cause she's my favorite.
But this is a mainstream action movie release in which all of the heroes are women.  There are no romantic sublpots.  Please feel free to let me know if there's another "big release" action movie out there with no romance involved, especially ones with supposed female leads, because I can't think of any off the top of my head.  So basically it's a pretty intense movie just for its mere existence.

This doesn't excuse it from its faults, of course.  After all, mainstream action movies, no matter who the story is about, are marketed towards dudes.  That's just how it is.  There may be women who want to go see this movie, there may even be lots of them, but the marketing machine (and therefore producers and other execs that make decisions) aren't aiming for them.  

Still, the main criticism seems to be in the form of "girl in insane asylum imagines herself into whorehouse and then imagines herself into cheesy action movies" makes no sense whatsoever.

Not gonna lie, that was pretty much the thing I had the least issues with in this movie.  Why?  Because I use my imagination to escape the often crushing anxiety and depression I face in my day to day life.  I have since I was a little kid.  And I don't face things nearly as frightening as what Babydoll (sigh) faced.  I incorporate my friends.  I incorporate my surroundings.  And I definitely make myself the superhero in my own action movie (and though I may wear more clothes, sometimes the lady I'm rescuing doesn't).  I create an augmented reality in order to process the real reality in a way that doesn't leave me completely paralyzed.

So I've got not problem with the final level of the dream.  And the whorehouse level... I think it was used as a gateway.  And this reminds me of the debates I'd listen to (and sometimes partake in) all through college and law school.  About pornography/prostitution and women's agency.  Maybe Babydoll was giving herself agency by writing herself into a story about a prostitute who gives herself agency.  Maybe in her mind - which is clearly not fully developed - it's a step up.  Maybe it's a way for her to translate the horrors she's facing into something more glamourous, but nearly as terrible.

And that is the real problem with the story:  too many maybes.  We spent a lot of time seeing stylized action, or long close ups of Babydoll's (sigh) childish face.  We didn't spend a lot of time on character development.  So this is a so-so story, but a fun action movie starring women who do their best to take their awful, terrible lives into their hands.

I'm not a Snyder apologist.  This is still a film made by a man (I often wonder what Deborah Snyder's role in making these movies is) for an audience expected to be mostly male.  And framed that way, there are plenty of reasons that this movie isn't empowering (plenty).  But I don't think it's a misogynist film any more than 300 was anti-Arab.  I enjoyed watching women kick some ass.  I enjoyed them forming bonds that weren't destroyed by jealousy over men.  I enjoyed the fact that none of them kissed each other (I know, I know).  I enjoyed the bittersweet ending, and the fantastic feel of the whole thing taken from start to finish.  I also really enjoyed Abbie Cornish and would like to see her in more action films as the lead.

Oh, small tangent: I really enjoyed the soundtrack, which was almost exclusively female-fronted bands.  It also had "Army of Me", by Bj√∂rk that was in the Tank Girl film during a big moment that took place in a stylized whorehouse.  Yep.  (Tank Girl was directed by a woman, actually.  And there are a few other similarities that I noticed during the film, from animated, imagined action sequences to outfits.)

Where was I? 

Lots of issues with this film.  Absolutely.  Definitely not the most empowering movie out there (though I don't find Steel Magnolias empowering, and some people seem to).  But I (personally) enjoyed it, and my problems with the film don't stem as much from the plot as the characters.  I think Zack Snyder thinks he's made the next Buffy (though probably not consciously).  He hasn't.  But Buffy wasn't really Buffy either, if you really look at the characters and the situations they're in (that's a death-wish-laden thought for another time, though).

I don't really have a rating system.  I'm not sure if I'd recommend this film to a lot of my friends.  But I'd recommend it to some.  And I don't regret seeing it, unlike some other movies I've seen recently (cough, Jane Eyre, cough).  So.  Take that as you'd like, and feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Responsibility to Educate

One of the things that happens when you write about Stuff is that people ask you questions about Stuff.  

About a year ago, I wrote about the portrayal of Batwoman, Kate Kane, femininity, etc. and received a lot of comments on that post.  One of the comments (if you don't feel like reading the link) got angry at me for calling Kate Kane a femme (I think the commenter misunderstood, personally, because I was only calling Batwoman a femme) and we got into a "discussion" about gender theory.  I asked the commenter to inform us, since she (self-identified as a she) was very angry and not very clear.  The response I got was that it's not her responsibility to educate.  I agree.  In fact, I said:
I'm not here to delve into the trenches of critical gender theory, I'm here to use my background of critical gender theory, my love of pop culture and comic culture, and my personal experiences to rant, rave, and/or praise the comics (and comic-related things) that I read and see.
The same stays true (though obviously expanded from comics).  Obviously, writing the blog  - and ranting a lot on twitter - means I want to share my viewpoints with a larger audience.  And to that extent, I always welcome questions and conversations.  

But how much are we - whatever the we is that's being tokenized - expected by people to educate just because we exist?  If someone says a homophobic comment, do I have to tell them why they're being a homophobe, or can I just walk away?  Is it my responsibility, as self-identifying gay person, to step up?  Is a straight person expected to step up, too?  I honestly don't think they are.  A straight person may choose to say something, but I think that if they were to walk away there would be a lot less judgment on them.  

I hate to say that it feels like it's very much "us vs. them", but it too-often does.  And sometimes the us are part of the them (I am white and I have white privilege, and that means I will often be part of Them, and that's something I deal with) and that's something a lot of people have the ability to ignore.  

When I talk about a comic book or video game's portrayal of gender and sexuality, it's because I choose to.  But a lot of times, particularly when talking about issues of non-binary gender identity, I feel like it's because I have to.  There aren't enough people saying these things. 

I thought about this question a lot over the last weekend, at PAX East.  I was frustrated - not by anyone in particular - by this idea that you have to speak up when something negative occurs, that you have to work to educate the community, because they won't educate themselves.  Why won't they educate themselves?

Because they don't have to.

I think about Audrey Lourde's The Master's Tools a lot. I think about the heavy gender assumptions that go along with a lot of the critical gender and sexuality pieces I read about things I'm interested in.  I think about all of the very feminine teenage girls on television who are coming our or defying labels, and I think about Franky Fitzgerald and how she's one of the most radical characters on scripted television since Lieutenant Uhura.  

Franky Fitzgerald, from series five of Skins.

It makes me think I have a lot to say.  But that's my choice.  Right?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gender and Mass Effect. Part One: Why? And Why Should You Care?

I just got back from a whirlwind weekend of gaming at the PAX East convention.  The gaming there isn't just video gaming, which is nice.  In fact, 90% of the gaming I did this weekend was tabletop.  I discovered a lot of cool new games (co-op and competitive) and made new friends.  It was a shiny happy weekend of gaming!

During the weekend, there were also a bunch of panels on a bunch of things.  Two of them, as I wrote in my last entry, were focused on gender.  The third was a talk about diversity in general but that, of course, includes gender diversity.  

Two of these panels were awesome in very different ways.  One, sadly, set itself up to fall by making the focus on female characters and choosing to then focus on their physical aspects.  Failure or success of the panel, though, the Mass Effect series did not get enough mentions.  

It's really hard to find Mass Effect marketing image that doesn't involve m!Shep.  Shame.

Yeah, that's right.  Anyone that follows me on Twitter will not be surprised in the slightest that I brought ME up.  Still!  I have a valid point!  Lesley told me so!  In fact, at one point during the second (better) panel on gender issues in gaming, I leaned over to her and said something along the lines of "dude, this could be a whole panel.  better yet, I'm going to write something about gender in Mass Effect," and she said something to the effect of "you are awesome, and I support your idea" and then we high-fived (this is the gist).

Okay, so why do I think the Mass Effect series should get a series of blog posts (I know it's been discussed elsewhere, but I don't recall seeing something beyond the asari angle)?  And why should you care if you have never even heard of Mass Effect?
Answer the first: 'cause BioWare kinda did a damn find job of portraying female characters in their universe.  Not only that, they did a decent (which is less than damn fine, but better than a lot of the games I've played) job of portraying female sexuality in their universe.  

They also, and I'll talk about this, did a good job of portraying a relationship/relationships that are either gender blind or same-gendered, depending on your view (more on that when I talk about Liara and the asari), and of setting up a feeling of queerness that's there if you've got your receptors tuned.  There's also a big, unfortunate hole there, but more on that later, too.

Basically, in a nutshell (what kind of shell would have me for a nut?), I think MassEffect has done it as right as any mainstream game out there.

But the reason you should care if you're not a gamer is 'cause MassEffect has done it more right than pretty much any form of mainstream media out there (besides comics).  And if you're reading this at all, it's because you care about media.  Or because you're my friend and are supportive.  Either way, I appreciate you.

Speaking of friends, this discussion is going to be focused on two games (and some comics maybe), with brief comparisons if I feel like it.  If you want to read what will be an awesome discussion of gender in gaming as a whole, go read my friend's blog at

In the next few weeks, I'm going to spend some time delving into the universe of Mass Effect with an eye towards a critical discussion of gender and sexuality.  Hopefully it'll be fun, entertaining, informing, and vaguely interesting.  At the very least, it gives me an excuse to play through the games again...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's PAX [East] Time!

Tomorrow is the second PaxEast convention here in Boston.  I'm more excited than I was last year because I'm way more involved in the gaming world than I was before.  And a lot of that is because of last year's PaxEast.  If not for the "girls in gaming" panel last year, I probably wouldn't have turned my critical eye towards games.  I'd always had a kind casual awareness of gender/sexuality issues in gaming, but that panel lit a fire of rage in the belly of my... uh.  Never mind.

Anyway, I'll be live-tweeting a lot of the panels I go to (it helped dispel my ire last year), but specifically the gender/sexualty based panels.  There are a few on-topic ones this year:
  • Females on Female Characters (Saturday at 3pm)
  • The "Other" Us: If We're All Gamers, Does Our Gender Matter?  (Saturday at 6:30pm)
  • One of Us (Sunday at 12pm)
I'm also going to a female gamer brunch meet-up on Sunday, which I'm suuuuper excited about, and not just 'cause it's brunch.

I'm also hoping to attend - and this is completely at the whim of my ability to schedule things - the Legal Issues in Gaming and the Video Game Comics panels (though I think the latter is scheduled against the keynote, so...).

For those out there with any interest in my opinion, the raw version will be on twitter @retconning and I'll try to condense and filter my thoughts into an eventual blog post here.

Also, my friend who writes way more often (and better) than I do is starting up a series called "Beyond the Girl Gamer", which you should go read at her blog, Your Critic is in Another Castle (

So!  Have a good weekend, hope to see people at Pax, follow me on twitter, etc. etc. etc.!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Am Definitely Not Spartacus

Over the last month or so, I've been watching Starz' (Starz's?) version of Spartacus, which is streaming on Netflix.  I was resistant at first.  I'm not sure why there was resistance.  It's set in ancient Rome, an era I like, it's about fighting, an activity I like, it stars Xena (er, Lucy Lawless) and half the supporting cast of various episodes of Xena and Hercules, and I was told "it's a lot like 300".

Eventually, when I saw it streaming on Netflix and I was in between video game moods (I had beaten Mass Effect 2 for the fifth time and was getting stuck in a lot of subway tunnels in Fallout 3) I gave it a shot.  (Also I found out Erin Cummings was in it.)

Woo boy.

Spartacus is sort of like 300 if they add in sex and Rome and the word "cock".  A lot of the word cock.  Mostly referring to Jupiter's.  I can understand the comparison; stylistically it's very similar.  There's a lot of CGI backgrounds (some better than others), muscley dudes wearing very little clothing, and lots of fighting.

Also Peter Mensah.

Doctore.  Also the Persian dude that gets kicked into a well by Leonidas.

But there are a lot of differences also, and (blasphemy!) I sort of ended up liking Spartacus, overall, more than I liked 300.  I think it benefits from the serialized nature of television in that it can tell a whole bunch of stories beyond just "buff dudes fight, blood, die!" (though the 300 movie fleshed out Gorgo's story from the comic, it was still pretty basic).  

And that's where I stop comparing them, because Spartacus stands on its own.  Despite the subtitle, it's about more than just Killing And Stuff.  There's a lot of intrigue and weaving and interweaving of storylines, which is something I like.  So props to the writers on that.

The acting's not half-bad, either.  

I went into the show knowing that the lead, Andy Whitfield, wouldn't be continuing after s1 due to illness.  So I tried not to get too attached.  But the dude was so damn good.  I'm giving Liam McIntyre a chance (he's a very charming, if not active, twitterer @Liam_J_McIntyre), but he's got a really large set of sandals to fill.  Or boots, depending on the scene. 

Andy Whitfield: Spartacus I

By now you can probably tell how they dress in this show. 

Anyway, Whitfield brought a lot of depth to Spartacus that I wasn't expecting.  He wasn't just sad, frustrated, smart, or arrogant. He was all of those things.  And he evolved.  I've written before of my love of character development, and Spartacus did well with it.

I think the most interesting character was the one I hated the most at first: Crixus.  Crixus is the Alpha of the Gladiator pack, and is a big arrogant ass of assiness.  For a little while.  But by the end of the first season, I was actually sort of rooting for him to make the right decision (granted, history sort of spoiled me by being, well, historical... but still!).

And then there were the villains, Batiatus and Lucretia, played soooo well by John Hannah and Lucy Lawless.  Lucretia especially.  Being a woman in Roman times wasn't exactly the best situation, and Lucretia is basically one rung above a slave in the social construct, being the wife of a Plebian (not that they ever use the word).  She is a master manipulator who, even when you think she's out-maneuvered, will somehow have gotten her enemy into a corner.

Well, until the end.  (But that's history, so no one yell at me for spoiling.)

And after the spectacular end, we got a prequel.  The six-part miniseries Gods of the Arena, which just finished up last week and managed to be nearly as awesome as the first season, with less episodes and no Spartacus.  (It did have Jaime Murray, though.  So there's that.)  It rested heavily on the shoulders of John Hannah and Lucy Lawless, but they totally delivered.  Someone give Lucy Lawless an Emmy or something, because Lucretia has become one of those most interesting, nuanced female roles on television.  So give the writers an Emmy or something, too.  And the relationship between Batiatus and Lucretia is really... strangely wonderful.  They really love each other, they just happen to be twisted by their circumstances.

As you can tell, somewhere between the "this show is gonna suck" mentality I went into, and my annoyance that Netflix didn't have the finale of Gods of the Arena  until daaaaaaaaaays after it aired, I got hooked on the show.  I think it's because beneath all that blood, sand, sex (props again to them for having full-frontal male nudity to go along with the female nudity, because most "daring" shows don't give it the equal treatment) and cock-talk, there's actually a pretty deep show about class divides, social mobility, freedom, and the way human beings relate to each other.

The sex and violence are just sort of... red herrings.  Pretty red herrings (yes, even the violence, because martial arts are neat), but not the point of the show. 

By the way, the violence is violent.  I'm not going to suggest this show to the faint of heart, even though sometimes it can be comic-style over-the-top violence.  'Cause sometimes it's not.  And even the over-the-top stuff can be fairly graphic.  So if you can't handle violence, don't watch the show.

And if you can't handle the sex, grow up.  (Ahem.)