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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Geek love

No, not the utterly creepy and strangely beautiful novel. Over the past few days, as fans have shown their racist asses to the world and other fans have lambasted OTHER other fans for not being "real" enough, I have been very disappointed in the nerd world. Being a geek is supposed to be about passion and excitement and loving things, not about racism, poor reading comprehension, and flat derision. So I decided to give the Internet geek message boards a rest for a bit and consider all the wonderful nerds in my life who aren't racist or sexist or cruel or exclusionary.

There's my best friend, with whom I share everything from Animorphs to Star Wars to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

There's my friend dead-girl, who can always be relied upon for a run through Jurassic Park, a marathon of Doctor Who, or a long chat about fantasy novels (complete with property-appropriate food).

There's the group of people I've been lucky to hang out with here in Cleveland--my first friends here, really--an amazing collection of people who love comics, among other things. Guess what? Most of them are men, and a more nice and welcoming slew of dudes you will never meet. I've yet to be condescended to and I think it'll stay that way.

There's my bud Sara, a fellow nerdbrarian, a new comics fan, and a serious Whovian and lover of all things British literature.

There's some of my favorite Tumblrites: the-houxbois-academy, antioxidantsuperhero, and fyeahlilbitoeverything. Emma Houxbois brings the Marvel, antiox brings the Young Justice and Tammy Pierce love, and fyeah...well, as the name implies, that Tumblr's got some of nearly every geek property under the sun. 

There's my Shauna, for the times we've spent watching Firefly and Futurama and talking about Girls With Slingshots.

There's my youngest cousin, with whom I enjoy talking about books and movies, and who is just starting to read comics (her gateway drug was Batman: Arkham City), and my third-youngest cousin, often my date to the comic store when we lived in the same city. 

There's everyone at the Tao of Scoot and everything they love: anime and manga, Transformers, creepy old kids' films like Dark Crystal, Dune, Star Trek.

There's my gentleman, my companion to cons and comic shops and bookstores and action films, for always.

In short: there are very kind, very cool geeks out there, men and women alike.  For every dickbag there's five more friendly people like the ones I'm lovin' on here. If you haven't found your karass yet, you will. And to my various karasses, thank you for embodying the best of our communities.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Women who love women

Occasionally I pop over to Feminist Mormon Housewives to see what the forward-thinking members of the LDS community are up to. Recently there was a post about female friends which struck me. I don't think our society is very interested in female relationships, not when there's a possible male/female romantic relationship to be had. Lots of popular cultural memes revolve around the concept of "frenemies," women as backstabbing and untrustworthy friends, women as gossips, and so forth. A lot of young women end up with the feeling that it's easier to be friends with men, because there's "less drama." There is also the impetus of fitting into the boys' crowd and being "one of the guys"; I venture for some women, being the odd lady out and having male attention is somewhat of a powerful feeling. 

I can relate to this as a woman who was deeply unpopular in high school and was not used to having appreciative male attention, but I strive to not feel and act this way. A lot of my interests are traditionally dude-heavy: I like science fiction, action films, comic books, and heavy metal. I have a lot of male friends. I like hanging out with guys and I get along easily with guys. BUT: I also love women. I love being around women, talking with women, and having relationships with women. I do not subscribe to either the idea that men and women can never be friends without sexual tension fucking things up (literally) or the idea that women's relationships will always be drama-filled and emotionally dangerous. I also don't really find that boy friendships are for one thing (going to cons, headbanging, attending sports events) and girl friendships are for another (getting pedicures, venting about love lives, watching Moulin Rouge!). There doesn't need to be any kind of false demarcation in the lives of our relationships. People like what they like and hang out with who they hang out with. There are horrible people in every gender group and of every sex and sexual orientation. There are women who will demand to check your credentials when you tell them you like such-and-such kind of music; there are men who will gossip about you behind your back. 

Once upon a time I parroted the idea that "I just think it's easier to hang out with guys"--I know of what I speak. This attitude is rooted in sexist tropes about men AND women. This attitude reinforces the idea that most women are "girly" and useless, unintellectual, petty, out to steal your man--that smart women prefer the company of the compelling male personality. This attitude needs to be combated. Women's relationships are valuable and valid and deep, beautiful, strong, and ALL women are real women. Women are interested in sewing and interested in reconstructing medieval trebuchets; women like to read romance novels and books about entomology; women listen to Rascal Flatts and Slayer. Throw out the snap judgments--they are a way of not having to do the hard work of relationships. Incidentally, this discussion on fMh dovetails into yet another debate in the geekosphere about "fake geek girls." Do they exist? If so, why do they exist? What is their purpose? What are they trying to prove? These questions aren't the point; the point is the furthering of the "boys' club" mentality and the woman-on-woman crime present in these discussions, since a good amount of the shit being flung is coming from women. Women accusing women of not being real, because REAL women have curves and REAL women want to be mothers and REAL women don't start fights and REAL women this, that, the other. I reiterate: all women are real women. Women who are just discovering comic books because they loved Thor are real women, and real geeks. Women who are learning how to play videogames are real women, and real geeks. Women venturing into the hefty pages of George R.R. Martin because someone DVR'd Game of Thrones for them are real women, and real geeks. I hate seeing geeks lambast one another for perceived lack of cred and I especially hate seeing women nerds doing this to other women. I hate seeing the same old tired-ass falsehoods, that "fake" geek girls are trying to get attention or start drama.

As mentioned previously in this post, a lot of the things that I am into have a largely male fan community. I have faced and will continue to face questions about my credibility as a metal music fan, as a comic book fan, as a sci-fi fan. Because the bar is so low, I expect this from men. I don't expect it from women and I hate it when it happens, because it feels like a betrayal. Surely they know what it's like to be sneered at or disbelieved! Yet it still occurs, because internalized misogyny is insidious and difficult to root out. So I say, Be strong in your relationships. Be welcoming and try not to be judgmental, in geeky matters or on Ravelry or in any community you are part of. We already face so much bullshit from all sides, so let's not add to it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games (spoilers)

So, The Hunger Games! I was looking forward to seeing it, because I am a big fan of the books, and I saw it, and I liked it, and now I will need Catching Fire to be released as soon as possible.

Things I liked:

  • how the film was able to expand the POV of the story. In the books, we have Katniss' point of view at all times, which makes for tense reading but doesn't give as much scope as maybe some readers would like. So it was very cool to see sweeping crowd shots, the faces of the people back home in District 12, and especially how the Gamemakers went about controlling things. That was maybe my favorite part, actually--seeing a slew of people creating forest fires to drive Katniss toward the Career Tributes and setting the mutts on the battlefield.
  • Seneca Crane's enlarged role. Similarly, I think choosing to give Seneca a reasonably large part was a good move. Watching Wes Bentley and his magical circus beard stride around the control room and smarm on television were good ways of showing just how soulless the Capitol and Games are.
  • The acting. I had some issues with the casting process of this film, as many people did, but there's no denying that Lawrence did an ace job with Katniss. Lenny Kravitz was also very good as Cinna (restrained but clearly caring about Katniss), Stanley Tucci was wonderful as zany talk show host Caesar Flickerman, Amandla Stenberg was perfect as Rue, and I can't wait to see Donald Sutherland really bust it out as President Snow in the next two films.
  • Capitol fashion, yo! The Capitol crowd scenes were really great in terms of nutty hair, clothes, and makeup. For the next film I kinda want to dress up as some Capitol fashionista (though I did wear some Cinna eyeliner for this one). I would have liked to see more of Venia, Octavia, and Flavius in their brilliant glory though.

Things I didn't like:

  • the mutts. Without the utter creep factor of what the muttations really are, they came off as simply giant wolfy things. However, I venture that explaining about the mutts would have taken too much time (especially with the film already clocking in at nearly 3 hours). When I told my manfriend what mutts are in the book, his face was exquisite.
  • the end battle. Similarly to the first point here, I found the final scene at the Cornucopia not quite what it might have been. Though I suppose having Cato be eaten alive for hours would have both taken too long and been a bit much for a PG13 film.
  • the mockingjay pin. Cutting out Madge didn't bother me TOO much, but would it have been that hard to have Katniss' mother give her the pin? As it played out in the film, it just didn't seem significant enough.
  • the marketing of Team Peeta/Team Gale. OH MY GOD YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT.
  • the casting of Katniss. This isn't an issue with the film itself--since Lawrence was very good in the role--so much as a prior-to-the-film problem, but it bears repeating. Katniss' ethnicity is never stated in the books and based on her physical appearance (black hair, olive skin, grey eyes), it is entirely possible that she is of color. I think it would have been pretty great to see an actress of color in that role.
So yes! A good time was had by all. Very much looking forward to the second two movies (please please PLEASE cast Finnick soon. Hell, I'll save you the trouble: Armie Hammer).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wonder Woman #7 (spoilers)

So, Wonder Woman. I talk about her every now and then. The seventh issue in her new title came out this week and lots of people are discussing it, so I might as well add my voice to the chatter. Warning: this is going to be looooong.

WW #7 is an incredibly well-written comic. Brian Azzarello is one of the most talented writers working for DC (or any comics company), and I was very glad to see Cliff Chiang back for the art too. There is quite a lot about it that I loved--the updating of Eros and Hephaestus, the continuing interaction between Diana, Hermes, and Lennox (though I already miss Zola!). It is also a problematic issue, one that I read twice and have been picking over in my brain for some time. I'm a mythology nut, and when I was a kid I was all Greek myth, all the time. Those are the myths I know best. I still love them, but as I've gotten older, read analyses of them and retellings, and considered them in their own time, I have naturally begun to view them with a more critical eye, because they are largely male-centered. Goddesses and women do not come off well in Greek myth. Unsurprising. And I have been disappointed to see Wonder Woman fall back on the trope of Hera as Queen Vengeful Nag, with no updating or changes at all, especially in light of how very interestingly Hermes, Eris, and other deities have been written.

Amazons are a feature of a few Greek myths, and an idealized form of them is found in the Wonder Woman mythos as a community of immortal women living on a paradisaical island. Other writers have reworked the Amazons as well (Xena comes to mind); when I was reading WW#7, the portions wherein Hephaestus explains the "real story" of the Amazons reminded me of The Firebrand, a retelling of the story of Troy by Marion Zimmer Bradley. In this book the Amazons are a tribe of women who meet once or twice a year with a male tribe, the Kentaurs, to get busy and further the people. If the babies produced from these meetings are female, they stay with the Amazons. If they are male, they go with the Kentaurs. For all the problems with The Firebrand, this still seems like the best possible way of formulating such a sex-segregated tribal structure. In WW#7, something similar happens, but in this case, the Amazons seduce male sailors and then kill them; if male babies are born, the Amazon women throw them into the ocean, as Hera threw Hephaestus into the ocean. Having strong feelings about this sort of thing, Hephaestus rescues the boys and raises them to work in his forge.

Now. Seeing the Amazons portrayed as heartless succubi and infanticidal, uncaring mothers bothers me...a lot. I felt for Hephaestus, as I always have (and LOVED the way he was drawn!), and I liked that the men of his forge were happy to be there and felt that their lives had purpose. I loved that Diana embraced her legions of newfound brothers and cousins as family and tried to help them. I didn't even particularly mind that the Amazons occasionally had sex with men and sometimes produced male children (although I still have fiery feels about Diana's own birth story). I do mind that the Amazons are recast in a nightmare role, the role which history has always accused and suspected us of: as soul-sucking succubi, as man-eaters only interested in sperm donors, as lethal temptresses who literally get away with murder. There are also undertones of rape in the way that the Amazons deal with the male sailors. Perhaps if I were reading this story in a vacuum, I would not be as bothered, but I'm not. I'm reading this story after weeks--hell, years--of hearing that I am a slut and a prostitute, that my body is not mine to make decisions about, that men far removed from me will continue to make decisions for me. I'm reading this story after hearing about more of the pernicious racism and cruelty which continues to murder innocents in our country. I am a female reader in a world which wars on women and sexual and ethnic "others" constantly and with intent. I am a woman in a country where a serious candidate for president is actively attempting to bring about a theocracy.

I like reading about the possibilities of a peaceful society. I like reading about relationships between women which are good and helpful and positive and healing. I like reading about powerful women, and quite frankly, I occasionally like to read about women who have absolutely no male influence in their lives. So to see the Amazons brought down to the same old bloodthirstiness, to see them saddled with the sins of using male bodies and discarding them (something which has been done to women throughout history and continues to be done), was disheartening. What is DC afraid of? Why is the idea of a women's society so threatening? Are we really still in a time where the concept of women thriving without male approval and input is terrifying? Most of the news bulletins and congressional blathering these days say a resounding YES. The white men are scared and it reflects in our art and culture. Maybe that's why on Earth-2, in a few of DC's new upcoming titles, the Amazons are all dead. Maybe that's why in the recent Flashpoint event, the Amazons were castrating, murdering harpies.

I continue to think that there is editorial fiat at work here. I do think that DC's top people have a real problem with unfettered greatness around their female characters. I think that DC would never even consider changing Batman or Superman's histories so radically and in a canon, flagship title. I think that DC has never cared much for Wonder Woman, period (especially given the wildly varying levels of time and devotion in terms of creative teams and promotion they've given her). I think DC thought Diana needed to be made "cooler." Well, news for you, bigwigs: she was already cool. She was already inspirational and amazing, smart, strong, powerful, and complex. She will continue to be so no matter what you throw at her, and make no mistake: I will not stop reading this book. I will support this book because she's mine and no one can take her from me. I continue to hold out hope and trust for this creative team and I hope--exercising naivete like only nerds can--that I'll be rewarded for that. I think Wonder Woman will rise above her new origins; I think she will understand that it is how we were raised and the choices that we make, not our biology or our family history, that shapes us. But that doesn't mean that I have to like these changes that have been made to her family and her people.

(Now, Moon Knight #10, the other comic I alluded to in an earlier post this week...that's just classic fridging, nothing complex or noteworthy about it.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On fire

Yes, I am going to The Hunger Games this weekend.

Yes, I will be wearing gold eyeliner.

Yes, I will have cried all said eyeliner off by the time I leave the theatre.

Non, je ne regrette rien.

I have some catching up to do on a couple of notable comics titles. Expect a post about one or more of them this weekend.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Holy shit SEASONS!

Say what you will about public transportation, but if I drove a car I'd probably be missing the glory that is new buds on trees and misty sunrises and deer flirting their white flags in the woods outside work.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday sexytimes

In her latest post, Sulli at We Were Going To Be Queens talks about sex and the (LDS) church, including a quotation for discussion from Alison Bechdel to kick things off: "Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death."

I think this is an elegant summation of one of US society's most trenchant issues. Being raised in the Mormon church, I found that this broader perennial problem was percolated to a fine brew of feverish guilt Kool-Aid. It's probably the same in other churches, but as ever I can only speak to my own experience. As Sulli points out, in LDS doctrine sexual sin is second only to murder in God's Litany of Bad Things; in this case, "sexual sin" covers everything from cheating on a spouse to non-standard relationships--such as polyamory, ironically enough--to homosexuality to sexual abuse to masturbation to French kissing your boyfriend and possibly even oral sex within the bounds of marriage, depending on who you talk to.

This doesn't mean that church members in good standing never ever do these things (I recall overhearing gossip among the married women in my ward back home which singed my precious teenage ears). It certainly doesn't mean that sexual abuse never occurs or that Mormon babies are never born out of wedlock. What it did mean for me was that a disconnect grew between how I thought about sex on an everyday basis and what I expected would occur once I got married. Mormon youth are bombarded with messages about how their sexuality should manifest and express itself and what should be done about sexual urges. Effectively a good Mormon has no erogenous zones until a wedding ring appears on the left hand. Body shame is instilled early and reinforced often, and LDS members are expected to bounce from "sin second only to murder" to participating in and enjoying conjugal activities once married. I can't provide any real insight on Mormon marriages and sex lives, since I skedaddled before that happened--not that it was likely to. But I did get to go through the process of learning about my body and sexuality outside the confines of LDS doctrine. Thankfully, I had libraries and Internets full of health information to guide me, because no mistake, one of the most real consequences of the LDS attitude toward sex is teenage mothers. As I recall from my ward growing up, there were three teenage girls who became pregnant while I was nearing teenagehood myself. THIS CAN BE AVOIDED. It is frankly criminal negligence to lie to children about sex and the facts of life in the twenty-first century modern world. I was lucky in that I managed to rip out most of the shame I associated with sex all by myself, though sometimes remnants of it still surface. I was not ashamed enough to not find out everything I could about the way my body worked; I read tons of books, surfed Scarleteen, and talked to my more experienced friends. But what about the young men and women who are overwhelmed by that shame, who are afraid to ask questions or have no one to ask?

Doctrines of shame do no service to anyone save those in power.
The death which stems from sexual shame is the death of part of a person's self. Shame is inherently about hating yourself; guilt is about the things that you do--it's easy to see where the two intertwine. A church that teaches its children, youth, and adults to hate themselves does not come from a place of divinity. Another death is that of a person's sex drive, for how are we to repress a thing for many years (many, many years depending on when a church member gets married) and then suddenly expect it to flourish?
I recall a woman in my ward who was single and had never been married; I remember my mother saying that she was "angry"; and now I think to myself, Of course she was angry! She was in her forties and probably had never gotten any! Had I kept on in that church, I likely also would have become angry and depressed, since by the age of twenty no right-thinking LDS man had shown any interest. I mean, sweet Zombie Jesus, I was practically an old maid! Another death resulting from sexual shame is in the realm of self-love, and I don't even mean the Divinyls kind, although let us be clear: jerking it occasionally is important for most people. Self-love here refers to love and reverence for ourselves as humans. My experience as an LDS youth was a cycle of perceived sin and repentance, and apparently this is how it should be; keep in mind that I never actually had the opportunity to do anything tragically bad--I never dated anyone, let alone got close enough to do some sinnin'. I never masturbated. I didn't read or look at porn (except on accident, like when I discovered the novelization of The Wicker Man. O was that ever a night for repenting!). But that shame was there, always. I knew even thinking about kissing the cute guy in physics class was wrong. We are not whole humans if we can't acknowledge all parts of ourselves. Shame leads to fear, fear leads to hate...we know where this goes. So much hate manifests in the LDS church from the shame associated with sex: hate of homosexual people, hate of interracial marriages, hate of those who choose to marry outside the church.

Body and sexual shame forces bodies to be battlegrounds, and though I might
joke about it, it's serious business.
Sexual shame demonizes bodies, both male and female bodies. It lays blame for rape at the feet of victims. It places the onus of responsibility on women while creating men as animalistic and out of control ("You should dress more modestly to help men's thoughts remain pure"). Once upon a time I refused to be ashamed any longer and though it is a continual process of reworking and relearning, I will never look back. I am not ashamed of my breasts or my legs or my ass or my hair. I am not ashamed of my desires. I am not ashamed of my opinions and beliefs and morals. I am not ashamed of how my face and body look when I'm getting busy. I am not ashamed to embrace myself, to tell my gentleman that he's sexy and I want him, right now. I am not ashamed to bring a basket of condoms to the CVS checkout counter, and frankly I hope someday to be utterly shameless.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Once upon a time in Tampa

O Tampa! It's not my hometown, but it's where I spent six of my most interesting formative years, and despite myself I'm very fond of the place--indeed I miss it much, much more than I anticipated since moving to Cleveland.

This longing for a sometimes boring, often frustrating, wickedly humid patchwork city was further intensified a few weeks ago when I watched the 2004 Punisher for the first time since the film came out. In case you weren't aware, the film was partially set and completely shot in the Tampa Bay area. This is one of the only times that my fair city has been committed to film in a reasonably major way (the others being Lutz featuring in Edward Scissorhands, the Lowry Park Zoo used in Goodfellas, and one of the area racetracks in Ocean's Eleven), and watching it was a bizarre, weirdly moving experience for me as a former Tampon. Is this how New Yorkers and Vancouverites feel when they see the thousands of films and TV shows which feature their home cities? Is this how longtime Clevelanders will feel when they view Avengers in the spring and recognize portions of our downtown? Because it is strange, very strange, to see long shots of Tampa's business and club districts, to see Fort DeSoto masquerading as Puerto Rico, to see John Travolta holding court next to a tall downtown building which goes by the local vulgarity "The Beer Can." I even got a little maudlin when a scene happened to take place in a location which looks a lot different now (the old ampitheatre behind the art museum, if you're following along).

(aforementioned Beer Can and the "Saints and Sinners" club)

That paltry night skyline! The neighborhood where my sister and I owned a house! The beautiful mosaics of the Columbia! The bridge to Davis Island! The spires of UT! 2001 Nude Odyssey! That's me: that's my city: a glorious sprawl of strip joints and mansions and tawdry apartment complexes and rotting cigar factories which could be historic if someone would just give a damn.
So, Thomas Jane and company: thanks for this, at least.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Happy birthday, Cully Hamner!

Yes, it's true, today marks the birth of one of my favorite comics creators: Cully Hamner. You might know him and aren't aware of it--the movie RED (yes, that magical vehicle of Helen Mirren shooting things) was adapted from his book with Warren Ellis of the same title, and its sequel is currently in production. Hamner has also drawn my favorite nonpowered DC heroine, Renee Montoya, in her guise as The Question for an amazing run of Detective Comics (with writer Greg Rucka, featured in the picture below...and of course I am also lucky enough to have an original Hamner Question sketch!), drew the first three issues of the excellent limited series The Shade, and designed the Jaime Reyes incarnation of the Blue Beetle.

Have a wonderful birthday, Cully! Thank you for all the amazing art.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Body Appreciation Monday: #problematicvaginas

I'm actually not feeling real appreciative of my body today, since I have a cold/weird new allergies/something that is causing my head to be cotton-woolly and my nose to run like a tap, but whatevs, because the best recent hashtag on Twitter, #problematicvaginas (courtesy of Elon James White), encapsulates something I do love about my body, all the time: it pisses people off.

Just by existing! Man. Talk about making the personal political.

And I was thinking...if all these old white dudes are really interested in my problematic vagina * (because, rest assured, it is QUITE problematic. Why, just a few days ago I allowed a man I'm not married to into the vicinity of my lady parts for reasons unrelated to procreative sex!), if they want to nose up in its business, are they entirely sure what that entails? Somehow I think not. I get the impression that none of them actually know anything about female anatomy. So in a way, it's a good thing that my problematic vagina will be here to teach them! Oh, they'll get to learn all sorts of interesting things about cervical mucus, why Excedrin is actually the best painkiller on the market, what to say to the TSA people when they insinuate that you're storing drugs in your junk after seeing a strange little item on the backscatter image, how often you need to shave your bits (and how often is too often? Old white dudes, ingrown hairs are no joking matter!), the exact quantity and quality of dead uterine lining which exits via my problematic vagina with reasonable regularity...

Are you ready to LEARN, old white dudes? 'Cause if you want to legislate my problematic vagina and the various things attached to it, you best know what the hell you're talking about.

*vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Bloody policy-makers

A brief note on my lunch break: I was surprised and pleased to read these posts on Feminist Mormon Housewives regarding the issue, har har, of menstruation and temple visits. As I have posted about in the past, my experience as a teenager and young adult in the Orlando, FL area was that menstruating women were not allowed to perform baptisms for the dead. I was unsurprised and displeased to see that the Orlando temple remains among the LDS temples which restrict women in this manner.

At any rate, I encourage anyone interested to take a look at the Google Doc linked in the fMh posts and see how the temple in your area fares.

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