If there’s one thing I’ve confirmed while watching Pixar’s Brave, it’s that I’m way more forgiving of things I consider to be good stories told in a flawed manner (see: Robotech) than I am of stories that I see as flawed but are told well. Brave feels like the latter, and while I was already predisposed to disliking it–partly because of hype backlash (I am not as enamored of Pixar as a lot of people are); partly because of its use of the “corsets are oppressive” trope, which suggested the writers and I would not exactly see eye to eye; and partly because of the fears raised in this thread seemed terribly justified–I was surprised to see how much I actually disliked it, in the end.
“Back in MY day we localized the hell out of Japanese stuff. We took three different shows, jammed them together, called it “Robotech”, and we LIKED it!” — Youtube commenter TheGreatLordZedd
Robotech is easy to appreciate but hard to like. On one hand, it’s a decade ahead of its time, featuring a level of complexity, realism, and ambition that Western Animation wouldn’t even begin replicating until Batman: TAS and which still hasn’t been equaled in some aspects. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny that it’s held together by nothing but duct tape and passion, and a level of amateurishness permeates the whole production, which prevents me from calling a lot of it “well-made” a lot of the time.
But damn if I don’t love it anyway. It’s got charm and guts and heart, and the way it came about was so unlikely that I can’t help but be impressed. Here’s a story composed out of three completely different–yet thematically similar–anime, stitched together to form an overarching narrative. And it works. Oh, sure, you don’t need to look very hard to find the (many, many) seams, but if you squint just right, it’s a fantastic story.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
[Content Note: Sexual objectification of women, rape, sexual assault, and rape culture]
So less than twenty-four hours after the Kotaku article detailing how Tomb Raider‘s executive producer wanted players to feel “protective” towards Lara in the newest reboot, Crystal Dynamics sent out a statement “clarifying” the situation.
Y’know, if this response had said something like “We were not aware of the implications of the scene in question, and since it was not our intention to do harm, we’ll work with the objectionable content to try to ameliorate harm in any way possible within the time available.” That at least would have demonstrated good faith. This, however? This is just vile.
Say we take them at their word and believe them when they say that they did not intend Lara’s climactic “kills for the first time” scene to involve sexual assault. There are hundreds of ways a scene like that could have gone, and had the scenario played out with a male character, you can bet your ass that it would have played out differently. And yet for some reason they go for the one invoking rape and all its implications despite explicitly not intending to do so?
Somehow I do not buy that.
Now, do the objections against the game’s narrative mean that no story ever should be allowed to deal with rape, as some people have (perhaps dishonestly) claimed? Not at all (although I generally feel that videogames in particular tend to be a bad medium for dealing with the topic sensitively). However, this is not the way to go about it at all–see here and here for good breakdowns of the reasons why this is the case–and people who believe that they can show a story’s hero get sexually assaulted and not deal with it are not the people who should be doing it.
Content Note: Rape, Objectification of Women, Fetishization of Helplessness
So there’s a new article on that new Tomb Raider game out—one that seems to confirm what some thought of the latest game in the series.
In the past, Lara Croft didn’t need protecting. She was a fearless daredevil, a crack shot in short shorts with enough attitude to scare off a pack of bloodthirsty gorillas.
But in the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot, things will be different. She hasn’t become that woman yet. And executive producer Ron Rosenberg says you’ll want to keep her safe.
“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character,” Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.
“They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'”
“She’s definitely the hero but— you’re kind of like her helper,” he said. “When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character.”
I’ve never played any of the Tomb Raider games; everything I know about the series has been filtered through third parties, each with their own biases. Still, I understand that the first couple of games were actually quite good, which helped buffer up her sudden status as the PS1 era’s leading lady (if only by default), but that once the quality of her games dropped, it became harder to claim that she wasn’t a sex object first and a character second. So when it was announced that Lara would undergo through an extensive makeover for her latest incarnation, reducing her proportions to ones that did not imply tough times finding comfortable bras and which bring to mind the movie version of Katniss Everdeen, people who felt embarrassed for enjoying her games breathed a sigh of relief.
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So today I found out about the existence of a book called I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, which I instantly decided to buy, not only because it sounds fascinating, but because it’s kind of the subject of the novel I’m working on, and while I’m fairly confident in my ability to actually make my characters into individuals and not stereotypes, getting to actually know more about their variety of experiences can only help me improve on that score.
Occasionally, I find myself finding out that somebody somewhere has already used a story concept that I’d individually decided I’d like to use. This in itself is fine–it’s nigh impossible to come out with completely original concepts, so it’s not something I worry about too much. The problem lies in deciding whether I’d like to actually see the completed work using that concept: on one hand, it allows me to see just how similar the takes on the concept are, but on the other hand, it allows me to see just how similar the takes on the concept are. If I find that a particular element I intended to use is replicated in the existing work, I suddenly end up feeling much less secure about it. Plus, it makes it impossible for me not to be influenced by the earlier work, which makes my work feel like less of my work. And although the situations aren’t equivalent–unlike Faerie, I Speak For Myself is non-fiction–I fear that may hold true here as well. What to do, what to do…?
On another note:
Yesterday I bought the book Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History (note: cover includes historically offensive and racist depictions of black people), by Fredrick Strömberg. A collection of excerpts from various comic (both newspaper comics and comic books), it aims to show and contextualize the way black people have been represented across the history of the medium. While I feel it’s problematic in parts–Strömberg approaches the book from the viewpoint of a comic book historian who found an interesting angle, rather than somebody who is particularly interested in race, so it sometimes seems that his understanding of the latter isn’t quite up to the 101 level–it’s a worth taking a look like if you’re a fan of the medium.