I haven’t posted anything here in a while, but I have a perfectly good excuse. I was on the moon. With Steve.
(Actually, no. It’s just that between work, a sudden influx of activity on my other blog, and life, I just haven’t been able to summon the focus required for the sort of thing that I like posting here.)
In any case, I just wanted to announce that this blog now has an associated Tumblr page, Chasing Smaller Sheep,where I’ll be posting whatever interests me that doesn’t require the whole post treatment. Also, I am now writing comic book reviews for The Trade Paperback Reading Order, a website focusing on graphic novel trade paperbacks. The first one is a review of the third volume of Archie: The Married Life, which among other things features the wedding of Kevin Keller and his therapist boyfriend Clay Walker, and the plan is to produce one new review a week.
So yeah. While it’ll probably take a while, I still plan on producing content for this blog. But until then, I’m far from gone.
Thanks to a variety of circumstances, I had managed to avoid directly consuming the twin phenomenons that are the Twilight series and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic for the majority of their lifespans. Twilight never interested me except as something to dissect, and although I was interested in My Little Pony based on good word of mouth, I believed that it wasn’t available by legal means in my neck of the woods.
Last week though, circumstances changed when it came to both: dad rented Breaking Dawn Part. 1, giving me both the opportunity to watch it without having to spend three to six dollars and an impetus to watch the final movie in theaters. Better yet, I realized that another channel besides the unavailable The Hub carried Friendship is Magic, meaning I could watch two episodes per day if I so chose. So, throughout the week, I caught six random episodes of ponies, and watched vampires decapitate one another on Saturday.
It’s weird. Twilight, when taken as a whole, is an incredibly problematic work. As a work of cinema, breaking dawn has little to recommend it when it comes to pacing, character development, tone, plot, originality, camera work, visuals, etcetera, etcetera. Meanwhile, My Little Pony was created/developed by the woman behind the excellent Super-Best Friends Forever shorts on DC Nation, has a devious sense of humor, likeable characters, a nice aesthetic, and, according to others, a certain something that makes it appealing to groups outside of its original intended demographic. And yet, after watching them both, I can say without reservation which one captivated me more, and it’s not the that most people in my circle would consider good.
I’ve mentioned that I tend to appreciate interesting concepts coupled with flawed execution more than I like the opposite. Generator Rex may have squandered every opportunity it had to be awesome, but in the end, it was a show about a world in which every organism in the world had been infected by a virus that could randomly mutate them into random monsters at random moments, which meant that I was willing to forgive a whole lot of bullshit if it meant not missing the moment when all that promise was realized (it never did).
The power of that sort of premise, to me, is it’s ability to suggest. Now matter how comprehensive the show is, there will always be tons of stuff they won’t be able to cover, which allows my imagination to step in and fill in the gaps.
As relates to Twilight, my lack of familiarity with most of the story helps immeasurably. Breaking Dawn is a story about characters with a history; they have had specific interactions that have led them to become the people on the screen. Given the series, the canonical version of that history probably isn’t all that all that interesting, but in any case, my ignorance of it allows me to set it aside in favor of whatever I put my mind to. I can think of Alice and Bella as besties, or that Bella and Edwards’s relationship is actually based on mutual respect for one another. As far as I know, the Volturi, the awesomely campy cabal of vampire baddies in hoods that form the locus of conflict in the second movie have done nothing to make me doubt their competence. It makes it much easier to root for the characters, who are generally played by actors, who if nothing else, are very pretty and don’t take me out of the action–that’s the director’s job.
Sure, the first part, dealing mostly with Bella’s wedding, honeymoon is rather boring . But it’s an interesting kind of boring. It’s boring I’d never seen attempted before and features Ashley Greene as Alice and a cameo by Anna Kendrick, whom I’ll always have time for (I can’t believe I missed Pitch Perfect). The second part, on the other hand, deals with vampires all over the world (a lot of them with superpowers that come in addition to the standard vampire deal) choosing sides for the conflict that may ensue due to Bella and Edward’s half-vampire kid. It features the good guy vampires reuniting form a war council, which is a trope I have excessive amounts of love for, and actors like scruffy Lee Pace (love) and Rami Malek, who steals every scene he’s in as Benjamin, a vampire who is basically also the Avatar. Basically, there’s pretty people and oddball accents galore, culminating in a battle scene that ends in a way I think is both a cop-out and brilliant. By the end, when the credits start rolling in a really retrospective-y way that highlights, again, the history the actors have with each other, I was getting a little misty, not because I cared about Bella or Edward, but because I was saying goodbye to a ‘verse, that, with a little love and tender care, could have been something special. I may never get to see that spin-off movie where Alice and Benjamin travel across the world being awesome, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
Ironically, Friendship is Magic, which I feel is supposed to be about the power of imagination, doesn’t manage to press those buttons. Although the world-building is solid and surprisingly well thought out, and I have little doubt, way more coherent than Twilight’s, the episodes themselves feel too pat to elicit curiosity. Coupled with (as far as I’ve seen) rather predictable plotting, it does little to elicit my attention. It’s not a bad work, but its one that is clearly not aimed at me, and that’s fine.
On the ballot were a measure to reduce the size of the island legislative branch in a way that would consolidate power among the current ruling party and make it impossibly hard for third parties to obtain seats in it, and another to severely restrict the right to bail. And while the results were scarily close, and the side supporting both measures had much better funding, both measures were soundly defeated. And how does that make me feel? Here’s a hint:
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.
(Content Note: Body Policing)
So yesterday I came across this picture, depicting artist Claire Hummel‘s indignation at a particular scene in the U.S. trailer for Pixar’s new movie Brave. In it, the film’s hero, Mérida, complains as she is laced into a corset. And while I don’t agree with everything Hummel says–or possibly how she’s saying it–my first thought after finding out about this scene was “this again?”
Scenes like this one should be familiar*–women complaining about their corsets have appeared from films as old as 1944’s Meet Me In St. Louis to more recent fare like Pirates of the Caribbean, where it was used as a set-up for one of its more quotable lines. Nowadays, its main use appears to be as shorthand to depict how women were oppressed back then, and the hero’s dislike of them as a sign that she is a Strong Female Character.
I’m a big fan of women in corsets–I’ve found the garment fascinating since my age was in the single digits, and feel that there’s very little they can’t make sexier. Thanks to this fascination/fetish, I’ve gotten to learn about, and interact with, women who have worn them and who have a variety of opinions regarding the garment. Some indeed dislike it and find it uncomfortable. Others find it comfortable, beautiful, even confidence boosting. In essence, they’re no different from mountain climbing or high heels…and yet somehow this never seems to come across in movies.
Now, does western society have a history of hostility female agency? Yuppers–still does, in some very significant ways. Is forcing women to wear clothing they don’t wish to wear oppression? Affirmative. Is it a good thing that movies acknowledge this? What bothers me isn’t the attempt at highlighting oppression, but the way repeated use of the tropes has stripped all nuance out of the issue and turned it from “body policing and forcing people to wear clothing they may not wish to wear is bad ” to “corsets bad, disliking corsets good”. It reminds me of people who insist that coverings like hijabs and burqas are inherently oppressive and would seek to ban them, while ignoring the fact that it’s perfectly possible to wear those while still having and/or demanding agency.
In Brave‘s particular sense, the detail doesn’t appear to even make much sense. Like the drawing states, corsets like the one she wears didn’t exist in the era the film appears to be alluding to. It feels especially lazy here, particularly since it’s not like there’s a shortage of examples of oppression they could have drawn from. Granted, from the previews, the premise of the movie seems to be precisely about a girl who fights gendered cultural expectations oppressive norms, but if that’s the case, why is this particular element required? Mérida is perfectly justified in not liking corsets, but I feel there’s no reason why this should be an issue in this particular movie, other than as an easy way to score feminism points.
Sometimes I think that the reason why this particular trope is used is because corsets are no longer something women must wear, and therefore depicting them serves as a way to highlight oppression without suggesting that it continues to exist. It’s safe in a way that say, highlighting the way society–including, yes, Hollywood– continues to police women’s bodies isn’t.
So what do I want? Basically, I’d like corsets not to be treated as something that would garner a monolithic reaction. I’d like an acknowledgment that just as women who dislike corsets exist, then so do women who enjoy wearing them, and that where one falls on that spectrum isn’t an indicator of their worth as a person. Maybe then scenes like the one in Brave would feel organic, rather than pandering.
* Obligatory TV Trope Link: Of Corset Hurts. Fun fact: The trope picture? Mine.
Note: This was originally posted on my Ninja Turtles-themed blog Monsters of New York, hence the general lack of context about characters and concepts. If anybody would like some additional information about just what the heck I’m talking about, feel free to ask.
On The Technodrome.com’s thread on the latest issue of the current TMNT comic, a discussion sprung up over the possibility of revealing that a particular character was gay in this latest incarnation of the franchise. As my contribution, I noted that given that as far as I knew, no a character in the turtles’ quarter-century history has ever been identified as gay* or as any of the other letters in the QUILTBAG** blanket, and that I really wished that this newest incarnation could include some—possibly someone like Baxter Stockman or Karai, who are historically major characters and whose sexualities hadn’t been established yet in this version of their tale. I found the general response…dismaying.
I’ll admit it: I’m no good when it comes to identifying potential triggers–a good breakdown about what that means can be seen here— in what I write. I’m just not very good at the particular type of empathy necessary to see what can and can’t be bothersome to others. While I’m not yet sure whether I’ll include Trigger Warnings in my completed works, I would like to include them in any excerpts I post online, so given my own inability, I turn to my readers. If you see anything in my posts that you feel may require a trigger warning, let me know and I’ll add it ASAP. Thanks.
Some context: a few months ago, I decided that I’d pool all my writing energy into a project I called “Wander”, a post-post-apocalyptic story inspired in equal parts by Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo and the “The King of Fighters” videogame series. Eventually, I got around to writing chapter 5, which was a flashback to protagonist Pari Okhovat’s high school days, and would have been vastly different from the rest of the novel. However, as I wrote about characters and scenarios which I was planning never to reference again, I started thinking of the flashback story as the stronger one, or at least one where I had something in particular to say, and the one that stood the best chance of actually being completed. So, for the moment, I’ve decided to set “Wander” aside and focus on Pari’s high school days, in a project I call “Faerie”. What’s it about?
Well, there’s high school in it. It has cheerleaders and jocks and devout Christians. It also has two Muslim girls with vastly different views of their religion, Lindy Hop, and at least one reference to The Amazing Race. As in most stories, it ends with the characters in rather different places than where they started. It is my sincerest hope that it doesn’t suck.
So! I’ll be posting excerpts, drafts, and snippets here as I come up with them, as well as comments, questions, and assorted stuff regarding the creative process. I’ll also be posting most of this stuff at Wishful Writers, a forum for aspiring writers operated by (maybe? I’m not 100% sure about this) J.D. Montague and Ana Mardoll, so there’s that.
One of the reasons I was super-excited about going on my trip to DC was because, with Borders gone, Puerto Rico has had no major bookstore, meaning that there was no way to get stuff like Pratchett or Bujold without relying on Amazon, which isn’t particularly . While the situation with comic books isn’t as dire–Metro Comics, PR’s biggest comic book shop, generally satisfies my needs–it’s still good to head outside once in a while to fill in any gaps (for example, I was looking for copies of Berserk Vol. 35 and Brodie’s Ghost Vol. 2., neither which I found. ;_; ), which means that I was glad for the chance to go visit another store. So, three days and approximately $100 later, this is what I bought:
- Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry: I’ve had my eye on this book ever since Harris-Perry started promoting it, and from what I’ve read so far, it does not disappoint, being informative
- The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle: I’ve always loved the movie version of Unicorn; unfortunately, getting the book is one of those things that I never quite manage to remember to do, and something that probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t seen a copy while browsing for something else. I’m super-excited to read it.
- I Am America (And So Can You), by Stephen T. Colbert, others: Found in the discount racks, and so I quickly picked it up. Colbert can be a tad predictable, and this is especially so here, where there’s no room for improv, but it’s still fun.
- Thud! by Terry Pratchett: It’s a Pratchett Squad book, which means it’s always a good time. I really didn’t like the subplots involving Angua and Sally though–not only am I way tired of “women in the workplace can’t be friends” trope, I don’t like how they meddled in Tawneee’s relationship with Nobby. It’s none of their business.
As for comic books, my list looks something like this:
- TMNT (Vol. 6) (IDW) #7: I’d given up on the comic after the first arc, and returned for a bit to see what was being done with Krang, one of my favorite characters from the original cartoon. It still doesn’t catch my attention.
- Polly and the Pirates Vol. 2: I’d run into the first volume of this graphic novel series at Metro Comics, and bought it on the strength of the cover, which made it seem like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, if The Wind Waker had starred a girl. It is utterly and completely charming, and I was gobsmacked when I found a second volume. Haven’t read it yet, but when I do, I’ll probably review it.
- Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 5: Lone Goat and Kid: Stan Sakai is like the comic book version of Pratchett, regularly crafting UY comics with a shockingly consistent level of quality for the past 25+ years. This volume does not disappoint, and happens to feature not only the introduction to the Lone Goat and Kid (a riff on the Japanese Lone Wolf and Cub story), but also what is my personal favorite moment involving the “Kid” half of that equation. Also, with this volume I know have all but the most recent of the UY collections, so I am finally completely caught up, more or less.
- Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan: I bought this for dad’s birthday as gift, so don’t tell him, ‘kay?
Surprise “I can’t believe I forgot this” (actually, I totally can) edit!:
- Castle Waiting Vol. 2, by Linda Medley: I bought the first volume of Castle Waiting some years back after hearing Paul O’Brien speak complimentary about the series, and I found it to be an excellent read. It’s hard to do a work where the mundane is made interesting, and she did it rather effortlessly. It is totally on the top 3 series I’d recommend for people who are tired of standard (read: super-hero) comic books. We’ll see how Volume 2 pans out.
Note: Since I have not received any authorizations by any of the private people mentioned here to talk about them here, I have replaced their names with non-arbitrary, non-initial letters, and refrained from using gender-identifying pronouns. If any of the people who I’ve mentioned here would prefer to be identified by name, let me know and I’ll gladly do so.
So I came back from Washington D.C. yesterday, after spending the weekend hanging out with old friends, making new ones, and getting interviewed as part of my application for the JET Program. It was quite fun, and a nice break from Puerto Rico. I kinda wish I could have stayed longer. In any case, some random notes.
- Dupont Circle is not Logan Circle, and Logan Circle is not Dupont Circle.
- Dupont Circle, on the other hand, is mostly unrecognizable for me. With the exception of the circle itself and one of the Metro Station exits.
- On the other hand, it had been six years since I’d last lived there.*
- G, who allowed me to stay in hir appartment, was an awesome host. Zie gave me a bed, made me food, took me drinking, and introduced me to hir equally awesome (and, if I may be utterly and completely superficial for a moment, quite good-looking**) friends. I was also really, really glad to see hir again and catch up after nearly four years.
- Books-a-Million did not have a copy of Melissa Harris-Perry’s. Sister Citizen. Kramerbooks—a nearby bookstore which I can only describe as “indier”, based on the three minutes I spent there–did. I wish I could have spent more time there, but I was carrying the ton of books I just bought, and just wanted to get home.
- Also, I would by anything written by Melissa Harris-Perry. If she ever decides to write a version of the phone book, I’d pre-order that thing in a picosecond.
- S, my friend/former boss-person, whom I went to have lunch with on Friday, has personally met Chris Hayes. That is AWESOME.
- As a Puerto Rican, winter snow causes inscrutable feelings of nostalgia and longing, and makes me feel like a kid. Winter rain, on the other hand, is the worst thing ever, and can fuck off. Guess which one I got?
- The one bus I took had a $1.70 fare–$.95 cents more than Puerto Rico buses. On the other hand, the D.C. buses arrived when they said they did, and could be depended on when making plans without having to leave a two-hour window to account for them. Advantage: DC.
- In opposition to suggestions by individual Washington Center, I chose to take the Metro Green Line during my trip. I am so a rebel.
- Most of the people at the Japanese embassy that I managed to see were, somewhat surprisingly, not Japanese. I’m not sure if this is always the case, or something that’s particular for the occasion. The interview I thought went reasonably well, with the only particularly disappointing part being the last part, where I was asked a series of questions in Japanese, with the expectation that I answered in Japanese. I do not feel I did particularly well–I mostly deal with written Japanese–and I fear that that part will turn out to be the deal maker/breaker. In any case, I rather enjoyed my experience there. Now all that’s left is to knock on wood furiously***
A list off the goodies I bought and one-sentence reviews is upcoming.