(Spoilers for Power Rangers ahead.)
So in my Power Rangers review, I happened to write the following:
A good amount of time is spent on Kimberly’s angst, and on how her recent actions have alienated her from her social circle, and made her begin feeling a measure of self-hatred. When we’re told what the inciting incident to all this is—she maliciously shared a nude pic of a classmate to humiliate her, it feels a bit out of proportion to her response, but that’s just me an adult and official old person. She believes this makes her horrible, and that’s what matters.
It got some critical feedback, which is good, not only because it means that somebody read the review and cared enough about it to disagree, but also, because there’s a lot worth criticizing in the statement, notably, the suggestion that sharing a nude pic of a friend–a female friend, at that–is no big deal.
To be absolutely clear, what Kimberly did is objectively terrible, and Kimberly is right to characterize herself as terrible for having done it*. I know this, I knew it when I watched the film, and I knew it when I wrote the review. Despite this, my main takeaway from that scene, while watching it for the first time and writing about it, is “Kim, you sweet, beautiful overdramatic child.” The terribleness of it doesn’t really come across on any emotional level, and I’ve spent some time since then thinking of why that is the case.
Part of it is my own damn fault, of course, for not immediately seeing all the angles even when made plain and empathizing more about the character I cared about rather than the ones she’d harmed. Another part of it, though, is the way the film deals with that moment and how it characterized Kimberly in comparison to the people she betrayed, and, more in general, with the film’s portrayal of Kim as a mean girl in the larger context of mean girls on film and TV. If Kim’s actions don’t feel as the big deal they are, it is because as terrible as Kimberly’s betrayal of her friends and general slut-shaming (and, technically, illegal distribution of child pornography) are, they are positively dwarfed in that larger context.
Pretty Little Liars starts out with the girls having blinded a classmate, and is steeped in blackmail and murder. Riverdale is headed in that same direction. Mean Girls has Cady manipulate Regina George into altering her body in unwanted, possibly irreversible ways. Heathers was all about murder, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had its characters slut-shame as casually as they breathed. And it’s not the antagonists that do this–or rather, it’s not only they who do it. It’s (also) the heroes, the ones we’re made to root for, while being all glamorous and pretty and sympathetic, without the self-recrimination Kimberly displays during her confession, in stories where the effects of their actions tend to be downplayed, victims tend to be less affected the more time we’re meant to spend with them, and forgiveness is granted with disturbing ease. Taken together, it has a definitive desensitizing effect, making the terrible feel not so, or even awesome at times. Mona Vanderwaal may be a killer and blackmailer, but damn if I don’t love every bit of her.
And really, the film itself doesn’t help. Kimberly’s victims aren’t really characters, they’re extras whose main quality is being catty in a way designed to draw sympathy away from them and towards Kimberly; they are pissed, and rightfully so, but they do not seem harmed. And we really don’t get to see pre-epiphany Kimberly, which means we’re left to draw our conclusions from the version we see on screen.* All of which makes the confession scene feel unbalanced, with only Naomi Scott to sell it. As mentioned in the review, she succeeds, to some degree, but perhaps not all the necessary ones.
The thing is, though, that none of that should matter. Kim is clear about what she does, and what she does is terrible. And yet it does. There are a lot of dimensions to Kimberly’s story, and those dimensions all got the short shrift in my review, and my thoughts were expressed in the worst, most dismissive and harmful form–one that I, for all it’s worth, apologize for.
* There’s one moment in the film where we get an unvarnished hint of what Old Kimberly may have been like, and that’s the moment when she takes pleasure at seeing her former friends’ car wrecked during the Goldar battle, perhaps not considering that she and her friends were a few feet away from being squashed. There are a lot of arguments that one could make about that scene, as it goes on to suggest a whole lot of things about Kimberly’s story arc that don’t really get elaboration, and make it feel as if its missing some necessary pieces rather than simply unfinished, as, say, Trini’s. That said, I’m not sure I see that ambiguity as a flaw, and I hope it’s something the writers either intentionally included or noticed after the fact, and that it gets more development in subsequent films. It deserves to.
(Content Note: Misogyny, Slut-Shaming, Rape Culture)
So Tony Harris is an artist whom I usually had a lot of time for. He did a lot to make Starman what it was, and I tend to think that his art in general is fantastic. Unfortunately, it turns out that artistic skill and the ability to be a decent human being don’t always go together. Today, he posted this on his Facebook page.
(Content Note: Nice-guyism, Consent, Sexual Assault, Rape, Stalking)
I’ve mentioned that the newest, Nickelodeon produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series displayed several problematic elements when it came to April O’Neil and women in general. While some of my concerns have been ameliorated somewhat—namely, Ms. O’Neil has obtained a modicum of some much-needed focus—the show still feels like the product of people blissfully unaware of their male privilege and how it can manifest. One of the reasons why this is the case is the continued lack of women in the universe—April continues to be an exception in an exclusively male world. Another is the way they’ve turned Donatello into a Nice Guy™.
Wherein Ian Delves Into Sexism in Media, OR Why the Pilot Episode of TMNT (2012) is Highly Problematic
(Content Note: Objectification of women. Abstract descriptions of racism, fat hatred, dehumanization. Words…so many words.)
So I wrote about my thoughts on the first two issues of Nickelodeon’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show. Then I went to The Technodrome.com, home of the largest TMNT fan community on the web, and shared my opinions in their forums there, particularly those on how disappointed I was at what I considered their treatment of April O’Neil sexist.
The comments were not particularly well received. This was not particularly surprising.
As someone who’s been part of the board for years, my impression of the TMNT fandom as represented by the board—and people there can correct me if I’m wrong–is that when it comes to gender, a vocal plurality of the believes that the status quo is acceptable, that a work is not sexist if there’s at least one woman in it who is not “useless” and/or can kick ass in some way, and that it’s a subject that never needs to be brought up ever, lest Venus de Milo be suddenly legitimized as a character. Or something.
As a feminist, I disagree. As both a fan of the TMNT and someone who believes that sexism helps makes works worse than they would otherwise be, I have an interest in doing what I can to help make it not be that way anymore.
When I first began hearing news about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon–this one produced by Nickelodeon–I wasn’t sure what to think. While I was skeptical of the idea that it would win my heart the way the previous TMNT series did, several of the ideas seemed intriguing, and the direction of the toon didn’t seem like a bad one to go with. Plus, with it being backed by Nickelodeon, there was no way it wasn’t going to have the best production values of any of the series to date.
The show’s two-part pilot “Rise of the Turtles” aired today, introducing the turtles, Splinter, April, and the two groups who appear to be the main antagonists for the immediate future, the Kraang and The Foot. Given that the franchise has historically had very good first episodes, this version had a lot to live up to, and while it doesn’t quite succeed in that regard, it has enough interesting bits to keep me watching, at least for a while.
If we were to measure the series on a scale from A to 10, where A is the original comic book and 10 is the original cartoon, this incarnation probably rates a nine. It takes a lot of liberties with the original material, some of them intriguing—Splinter was a father before he ever met the turtles (*), the Utroms are now The Kraang and have identical-looking human disguises and an amusingly stilted speech patterns—and some which I’m not at all sure work—April is now the turtles’ age. It’s also far more focused on being a funny show than it is in being an exciting or emotionally complex show, although shows like Adventure Time have taught me that initial impressions can be misleading. In any case, what it does it does reasonably well; all in all, it feels like a worthwhile incarnation of the series—moreso than the IDW comics, anyway.
(Content Note: Rape and Rape Culture, Privilege, Sexism)
So in my last post I argued–perhaps not all that coherently–that, given the prevalence of rape in our society, it was a good thing for there to be comic books that spoke honestly on the subject, and expressed my hopes that, as long as it was bringing up the issue at all, Sword of Sorcery would be that comic.
Upon thinking some more about the issue and reading some additional commentary–some of it right on, some of it not–I feel I should clarify that my thinking on this a bit. I fear that, in saying what I did, I may have inadvertently also said, in effect, that the need for that conversation was more important than women’s need and/or desire for comic books that didn’t deal with the issue.
Sorry about that.
(Content Note: Rape and Rape Culture)
On episode 91 of their House to Astonish podcast, Paul O’Brien and Al Kennedy discuss the return to Amethyst to comics and her debut in Sword of Sorcery #0. The bulk of their review is spent discussing a scene in the protagonist Amy Winston stops the attempted gang rape of Beryl, an unpopular girl whom she’d met earlier that day, by three of their high school classmates. Kennedy, in particular, considered this scene as the low point in the issue, being utterly unnecessary, disruptive of the book’s general feel, and yet another example of comic book writers’ use of rape as a source of cheap drama.
To quote the Slacktiverse, I think it’s more complicated than that. While I am like Kennedy rather sick and tired of the way rape and sexual assault is usually presented in fiction–as something that doesn’t exist beyond the actual act, is often presented in an misinformative manner, and is at times fetishized–I’m not sure altogether sure that the scene shown here was an example of what he refers to.
Batman: The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent movie. It is efficiently plotted, has excellent actors, and manages to be both exciting and fun. As I sat in the movie theater with my mother, enthralled, taking everything in and bristling every time my phone vibrated, forcing me to dedicate precious seconds to texting variations of “¡NO MOLESTE! ¡BATMAN!”, a though had settled into my head and refused to leave.
Why the hell couldn’t Blake be Reneé Montoya?
“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.